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Competitive Ballroom Dance - Dancesport

Updated on January 27, 2011

Dancing with the Stars ?

The popular TV show "Dancing with the Stars" has been a huge hit across the world, spreading from the original in the UK to versions in the US, Australia and New Zealand. It has also brought a surge of interest in ballroom dancing, as armchair judges, decide that they could do better themselves!

So if you would like to know more about Dancesport, the sport which the professionals on "Dancing with the Stars" are all veterans of - please read on!

Dancesport, Competitive Ballroom Dancing

There are two main schools of international ballroom dance.

International Style: Developed by the British but now danced worldwide includes 5 Standard (Ballroom) dances: Slow Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, Quickstep and 5 Latin American dances Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. Competitors usually specialise in one style but for those who don't they can compete on an international 10 dance circuit

The author and partner demonstrating closed hold typical of the Standard Dances
The author and partner demonstrating closed hold typical of the Standard Dances
Tracey-Leigh Waltz, a New Vogue dance, danced by John and Nanette
Tracey-Leigh Waltz, a New Vogue dance, danced by John and Nanette
The Author demonstrating that not only the young and skinny have fun doing Latin American
The Author demonstrating that not only the young and skinny have fun doing Latin American

American Style: Developed from the style of dance made popular by Fred Astaire and differs from International style significantly - with the smooth style having many steps danced with partners apart. American Smooth Danes are: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz. American Rhythm Dances are: Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Mambo, Bolero. Competitions exist within the Sates but to compete internationally couples need to adapt to the International Style.

In Australia and New Zealand only the New Vogue style is danced competitively which includes 16 dances in the New Vogue Waltz , Slow Foxtrot, Tango and March timings. Similar to other Sequence dances competitors all dance the same steps in a circle, and similarly to the American smooth dance not all moves are in the typical closed hold of ballroom dance some steps are in shadow or semi-shadow hold with the woman in front of the man. The technique however is pure ballroom and New Vogue competitors will typically dance Standard style as well.

This is not your mother's social sequence dance class! It takes incredible amount of stamina and fitness to make it to the top level. In the videos below the competitors may have danced the same 5 routines in up to maybe 8 or 10 rounds earlier the same day!

At the highest level Dancesport has been trying to become an Olympic Sport but to date have not succeeded. The following videos though will give you some idea of the standard of fitness and beauty required to succeed at the highest level.

UK 2007 Open Amateur Latin Final (video - needs fast connection)

Kiev Open Standard Ballroom Dance Competition (video - needs fast connection)

Sorry I can't embed the Videos but they are professional quality and well worth watching!

Can I become a competitive dancer?

To become a world champion its probably fair to say that as well as being over 6 foot tall (men and women) with a long lean body shape (standard), or shorter and compact and very flexible (Latin American), it also helps to have started dancing at 15 or younger and to be physically beautiful as well as obviously well-coordinated. The young dancer should also arrange to finanically secure parents as dancing is certainly not a cheap sport, when you are looking at committing to 2-3 hours of private coaching a week.

However it is entirely possible to start dancing much, much later in life, I had never danced any style before I took up ballroom at 34, my partner was in his 40's when he started. We know competitors in their 80's who still regularly compete. In fact research is now starting to say what we've always known is an excellent form of both exercise and mental stimulation, as you try to remember the steps, timing, hear the music, and for the man, manoeuvre your way around the other couples. In fact one of the larger fields in Australia and New Zealand is the Masters or Seniors grade consisting of dancers over the age of 35, and the recently introduced grade of Masters 2 consists of dancers over the age of 50.

The key things you need to do if you want to become competitive are:

  • find a compatible partner and stick with him/her. Dancesport is above all a partner dance and it takes years to get used to a new partner. Compatible is not necessarily just physical either, the right temperament and a similar commitment in terms of money and time to the sport is also required.
  • time. When we are competition we are committing about 8-10 hours a week of classes and practice. We compete in local competitions maybe once or twice a month from March to November.
  • money. Its not cheap, but dresses can tail suits can now be purchased from China for a lot less than its possible to buy the materials to make them in the West. Similarly dance shoes too are now copied in China and available on places such as EBay for a lot less than the originals. There is also the make-up, hair styles and pieces (that's for him and her!), competition fees ($20-$30 per person in Australia), and travelling to competitions, not to mention the must have CD's and DVD's!

Dance Classes 

Whatever your ambitions are for dancing - whether you just want to have fun, get fit or take it more seriously - then you need to check out your dance classes scene. If you happen to live in the same town as I do then check out my dance classes Wellington site which will have all the news and events as well as general information on learning to dance.


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