So, Jonathan Wilkins and Katusha Demidova are the America’s Ballroom Challenge Champions!! The top photo, by the way, is copyright of Jeffrey Dunn for WGBH, from the America’s Ballroom Challenge website. I couldn’t be happier for them. For the first time, I absolutely fell in love with their dancing, while watching them during this competition. I have always championed the couple I call the underdogs of Standard, Victor Fung and Anna Mikhed, but here I really saw why Jonathan and Katusha are the reigning U.S. Standard champions and third overall in the world. Though I haven’t studied much Standard and don’t know much about technique in that dance style, I could tell what a perfect connection they had, like they were just made to dance with each other. And they exhibited such class and charm. The way Katusha wore her hair, with her curls bouncing around behind her, particularly during their short number — their swift-footed, gleeful, sweetly flirty Quickstep danced to “It’s Too Darn Hot,” she reminded me so much of Rita Hayworth dancing with Fred Astaire. What sophisticated beauty and grace and elegance. It made me wish the Standard competitors wore their hair down all the time, instead of up in the oftentimes rather severe buns.
Though I’ve liked Latin, watching these two made me feel like Astaire and Hayworth, like class itself, had been brought back into American Dance. I wish Standard was more popular here.
Of course I love Latin. I love Latin primarily because I love learning about the cultures from which the different dance styles originate. I love being exposed to, and learning to ‘feel’ different kinds of music, with the beautiful sounds made by foreign instruments, the mellifluous foreign languages… But too often, I feel that people sexualize Latin dance, and it makes me uncomfortable. Latin dancing is really not about sex. One of my friends from my old studio, Juana, once told me that Rhumba, for example, grew out of slave culture. The Rhumba basic — a step, followed by downward motion of the back shoulder muscle toward the hip, followed by the settling of the body weight into that hip, mirrored the way the slave women who had to carry heavy loads on their shoulders would walk. I love that she taught that to me. It made the Cuban motion so fundamental to Rhumba all the more clear to me. And, I felt like I was having a mini history lesson. Funny thing, Juana wasn’t even a dance instructor, just a very knowledgeable and historically-aware fellow student. In any event, this basic movement is not sexual. Latin dancers in part wear “skimpy” costumes because this isolation of movement of a single part of the body is important to the dance, so the judges must see their backs, hips and rib cages in order to determine whether they are exhibiting proper technique. Not that the costumes can’t ever be called “sexy,” but I feel that sometimes people go too far, and reduce Latin dance to that, and thus reduce Latin dancers to sexualized objects. Sometimes other kinds of dancers can be reduced to sexualized objects as well, and I find this very disturbing. I have a lot more to say about dancers and bodies, but will save that for later. For now, I just want to say congratulations to Jonathan and Katusha for some very beautiful, very inspiring dancing