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Competitive DanceSport
Posted by BigTop
5/21/2004  1:40:00 AM
I think everyone would agree that competitive ballroom dancing is a physical activity, an athletic endeavor, a performance, and a competitive event. But is it really a sport??

To me, a sport involves (a) an objective of beating an opponent, (b) a strategy for reaching that objective, and (c) some sort of scoring system which requires a certain athleticism to score points (offense) or to prevent the opponent from scoring points (defense) (or both).

Most team sports that immediately come to mind fit this description. Individual sports such as tennis or boxing also do. What about bowling or golf? I think most would call these more a 'game' than a sport. The 'player' has only to do his best and really has no way to stop or defeat his opponent. Any 'win' is passive once the player has put forth his best effort. However, the same can be said of swimming and many track and field events, which are looked at more as a sport.

When I think of competitive ballroom dancing, I put it in the same category as competitive ice skating or gymnastics. In these, again, the player (or couple in ballroom dance) simply performs to the best of his ability with little in the way of strategy or offense/defense. But unlike even swimming and track & field, these events have no objective means of scoring. How can dancing be considered a 'sport' when it doesn't fit any of the qualities normally associated with a 'sport'? The question is where did the name 'DanceSport' come from -- why not 'DanceArt'?

O.K. Now that I have you thinking, here is a big argument I've been having with some professional dancers. Last year, I attended a DanceSport competition as a spectator. In the Professional open smooth competition, there were perhaps 6 couples on the floor. I noticed one couple (a world-class, well-known couple who I'm sure many of you would recognize their names) purposely corner another couple (also a world-class DanceSport couple and friends and rivals of the other couple). Here's how it went down. Dancer A made a mistake by going too deeply into the far corner at the end of the short side and stopping to perform oversways and other picture poses. With all smiles while basking in the adulation of the audience, Dancer A did not even notice Dancer B stopping just in front blocking his line of dance down the new long side. Dancer B then began his oversways and picture steps, drawing them out long enough to make Dancer A look pretty foolish wondering how to get out of there. Obviously, there's only so long you can stop and do picture steps before the judges start knocking points off. The outcome was that Dancer B won the competiton, and Dancer A looked like a fool. The point is, Dancer B saw that Dancer A made a mistake and took advantage of it -- in my mind a key ingredient of 'sport'. Whenever a player has the ability to maximize his chance of winning a competition actively (not just passively by doing his best), that defines 'sport', and yes, it was a moment when I knew why they called it 'DanceSport' rather than 'DanceArt'.

I know what I saw, and it was a thrilling moment, especially looking at the panicked face of Dancer A. But everyone, including long time dance instructors and professionals to whom I relate this anecdote deny it. They say I was imagining things. This never happens. Ballroom dancers are gentlemen. They would never conduct themselves like that! Well, I'm just a social dancer of 6 years, but I do know what I saw. So my question is this. Is there any strategy in DanceSport? Do dancers take advantage of other couples' mistakes? Any comments?

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