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Social Dancing

Social Dancing - Art or Sport?

by: Daniel Pittman

Recognizing that true objectivity for one's passion and profession is impossible. I offer here my admittedly biased views on the status of social dancing. The status I refer to is not the amount, quality or style of dancing, but the valuation and classification of dancing in the minds of the public and the establishment.

Social dancing (Ballroom, Latin or Country & Western) is variously classified by its proponents as a hobby or pastime, leisure recreation or entertainment, an art form, or a sport. Dancers generally accept that "pastime" (def - any activity that makes time pass agreeably) or "recreation" (def - a means or activity to refresh one's body or mind) are apt descriptions, but hold firm in the belief that "art" and/or "sport" are more comprehensive and accurate descriptors.

"Art" is defined as "the quality, production, expression or realm of what is beautiful - a field, genre, or category of this realm - a branch of study, especially one of the fine arts". The last phrase introduces the crux of the difficulties for social dancing. I have been in contact with many private and government bodies devoted in whole or in part to the development and support of the arts. Although a staggering number of dollars are essentially donated each year to musicians, painters, sculptors, as well as to ballet, jazz and modern dance troupes, social dancing is not considered eligible, since it is not a "fine art". I have been told by individuals who do qualify for "assistance" that they deserve funding since they practice arts which cannot support themselves through tuitions and performances. This struck me as equivalent to government funding for a manufacturer of 8-track audio tapes, justified by the lack of public demand for the product.

Today there is a strengthening movement by dancers to have social dancing recognized as a sport, but there are significant hurdles to overcome here as well. "Sport" is defined as "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature". Competitive dancing would certainly seem to fit the bill, but somehow falls short of the requirements of funding bodies as well as journalists and broadcasters. Were it not so ironical, I might find it amusing that rhythmic gymnastics and ice dancing are recognized Olympic competitive sports, while partnership dancing is not. On a brighter note, an international organization called Dancesport 2000 is currently lobbying the Olympic Organizing Committee for acceptance of competitive ballroom dancing as an Olympic demonstration sport - this is the same classification that freestyle skiing originally enjoyed before full recognition. Apparently progress is sporadic and slow, so don't hold your breath, but it might help to keep your fingers crossed.

Most often the acceptance of social dancing under either of the above categories is obtained only in the alternate camp - sport bodies decline dancing because it is an art form, and vice versa. The solution to the matter lies not in sanctioning from some august and obscure committee, but in the perception of dancing in the collective minds of the public. Any normal person readily accepts that golfing requires putting practice, tennis requires volleying practice, and martial arts require exercises and years of study, but dancing seems to be excluded from this philosophy. Many non-dancers are under the impression that one can become a proficient dancer through one or two quick classes. Students who have been taking lessons for 4 or 6 months often shock their friends, who can't imagine that they haven't learned how to dance in that time. This is not the case everywhere - in most of Europe everyone is introduced to social dance at an early age, and at least rudimentary dancing skills are taken for granted as much as common table manners. Dance competitions are commonplace and frequent, and thus dancing has gained public acceptance as an art or sport activity. Unfortunately North America has failed to adopt this attitude, especially, it seems, in western Canada. Here dancing is usually overlooked as a standard social grace or pleasurable and worthwhile pursuit, and mainly discounted as a skilled activity. If social dancing is to be recognized by the general public in what we deem an appropriate fashion, then the solution is simple - get it out to them and get them involved.

In keeping with this spirit, I feel that the best thing that has happened to social dancing in years is the advent of Country & Western as a popular activity - not since disco has the public been so enthralled by partnership dancing. I further feel that since the establishment of C&W music and culture pre-dates the current fad, then it will avoid the latter's ignominious end. We must encourage fledgling Two Steppers to fulfill their desires, but we also have the responsibility to help them make the most of the experience. We must try to guide them to learn not only the "coolest moves", but how to enjoy the dance form to its fullest by endeavoring to seek quality instruction and to apply themselves to the development of sound dance skills. We must also encourage new dancers and even potential dancers to attend or support local dances and local competitions, such as the 90's Ball, the Calgary Open Dance Competition and the Calgary Country Dance Stampede, since these functions are some of the most attractive and impressive showcases of social dance in our community. I also think that it is time for us all to make a conscious effort to do our part to overcome prejudices within the social dance community, to break down the barriers between the separate disciplines and combine and coordinate our efforts to the common goal - the establishment of social dancing within the collective social consciousness as a desirable and accessible activity, challenging yet rewarding, inexhaustible yet obtainable, and, of course, both an art form and a sport. So do your part - get out there and promote dancing!

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