Is Dance an Art Form or a Set of RULES? Is It Time For A Re-Release of Baz Luhrmann's Spectacular 1992 Film???

Okay, I must rant. Has anyone seen “Dancing With the Stars” for the past two weeks? Has anyone seen Karina’s BRILLIANT choreography for Mario — last week’s Swingy Quickstep and this week’s Standard Tango mixed with elements of Argentine? What I have always loved about Karina, and the reason I was so ecstatic upon seeing her name listed as a participant in this season’s show, is her brilliant artistry. Though fellow ballroom enthusiasts debate me about her world rank technique-wise, artistically speaking, she is by far the most exciting ballroom dancer today. Everything from her unique choreography, music and costume choices, and just her beautiful stylistics and the way she executes even basic steps — I savor the opportunity to watch her perform like I do no other ballroom dancer. Yet, the judges bashed her both weeks for not staying within the RULES — criticisms the audience clearly didn’t understand. First, even assuming arguendo that there should be rigid RULES that the dancers adhere to, Americans took traditional English Quickstep music, melded it with African-American rhythms, the music became known as Swing, and Americans originated a new dance form to that music. Today, the same music can be used for Quickstep (by the English primarily), or Swing. So, Karina was not off-base, even RULE-wise, by choreographing a Swingy Quickstep routine for Mario; it was simply an Americanized Quickstep. And it was perfect for Mario’s body and his dancing strengths. HELLO HELLO HELLOOOOOO???. This is what real choreographers do in the world of real dance, where dance is considered an art form: they choreograph according to the dancer’s strengths.

This week, I honestly didn’t even understand the judges’ criticisms. Was it that the Tango was too Argentinian and not Standard enough? (Because Tango didn’t originate out of Argentina or anything…) I honestly didn’t understand what RULE Karina’s choreography violated. And, if I, a ballroom enthusiast and student, didn’t understand, how could the idiotic judges expect the audiences to? Do the judges even realize that they are not in a formal ballroom competition setting, blabbering with other judges? Do they realize who the audience is? If they don’t, I will tell them: the audience is comprised of normal people who want to see fabulous, exciting ballroom dancing.

Maybe the problem lies in what ballroom dancing, or DanceSport, really is considered. When I was at the U.S. National DanceSport competion in Florida earlier this month, one judge remarked how wonderful it was that, with the proliferation of shows like “Dancing With the Stars,” people were growing to love our SPORT. Not art. Not that DanceSport is not a sport, of course, with the immense speed required for some of the Latin dances and faster Standard dances like Quickstep, and the strength and flexibility required for spectacular lifts in the exhibitions. But Ballet, while requiring deft athletic ability, is obviously an art as well — it would have to be for it to be watchable. And Ballet is of course meant to be watched. In Ballet, the competitions are merely a means for dancers to achieve a status high enough for them to get a job with a good company, so that they can spend their careers performing; competitions aren’t ends in themselves, as they are in ballroom. Which is probably the heart of the problem. In ballroom, dancers spend their careers competing for world titles; the title in and of itself is the goal. They then spend their post-competition careers teaching ballroom dance to students — both up and coming pro dancers and just people who want to learn how to social dance. So, they never really have performance careers. Until now. Which is why the rules regarding the RULES need to change.

And, what are rules, anyway? The desire for those in power to control someone else? Does that have any place in an art form? Artists — both performers and choreographers – need freedom to create or the art form will die.

Even in the world of competition, the RULE thing needs to take a break. All of the couples at the top levels are in excellent athletic shape and have perfect technique. Shouldn’t they be judged on their artistry too? In ballroom competitions, the same couples tend to stay on top for years and years on end, preventing new and upcoming couples from ever really making it. Which is so unfair to them — and boring for us to watch.

It’s only now, when I’ve begun going regularly to the comps, and have started doing my own student showcases and trying my hand at helping to choreograph my own routines, that I’m realizing the beauty and value of Baz Luhrmann’s brilliantly spectacular 1992 film, “Strictly Ballroom.” I saw it earlier, closer to the time when it first came out, but then I knew nothing about the rigid, staid world of ballroom dance. Now that TV shows like DWTS are popularizing the … whatever (I’ll call it ‘art’ because that’s, in my heart, what it is) of ballroom dance, and the judges are getting booed right and left for their “your broke the RULES whining”, I think it’s time for a re-release — bring back Baz!!

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