To dance or not to dance, that is thy Sport… Part 1

Friday, April 16, 2010, 19:53

by Jean-Claude Dimech

When one thinks of dancing, the least thing that comes to mind is that certain disciplines are actually considered as Sport, namely Ballroom and Latin American Dancing. This style of dancing spells drama with its fancy costumes and shoes, tanned women as well as men. Despite its glamorous display; there is a great deal of physical performance involved. These series of articles are intended to clarify and explain what this Sport is about, how does it qualify as such as well as the health benefits that it possess as highlighted by numerous medical studies I have come across. The intention is also to familiarize the reader with the Association that actually represents this sport in the Maltese islands as well as shed a light on the fact that there are actually many youths and adults alike which consider dancing as a serious commitment. Last but not least is to shed off the stigma it carries in particular when it comes to male dancers; a word of encouragement for those males who prefer to shy away on a bar stool and actually realize that nobody was born a dancer, with an excerpt from a feature article from Toronto Dance Inc. “ White Men Don’t Dance”.

The question whether dancing qualifies as a sport has been toyed about for many years

“Over the years a consortium of dance organizations has fought to get dance competitions officially classified as a sport. And with some degree of success: dancesport is now recognized by the International Olympic Committee, although it’s still some way from the elusive goal of becoming an official medal sport… it’s certainly athletic. Those couples have been in serious physical training – they need to be, not just for the dancing, which tends to happen in brief sprints, but simply to survive the marathon length of the competitions. And there’s a lot of technique involved, with umpteen rules about toes and heels and lifts and suchlike. That’s certainly sporty – you need rules to have rankings.”[1]

By consequence it is definitively competitive. Other elements involved that which occupy a prominent place in dancesport are the costumes, which at first glace might seem entirely dysfunctional but central to such discipline, because it is as much about the theatrical- style, vigor, playing the audience- as the physical performance, the music is yet another crucial element to dancesport which often serves to set the pace than to dance to.

“Based on International Standards, ballroom dancing includes the Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Quickstep, and Viennese Waltz. The Latin American dances include the Rumba, Cha Cha, Samba, Paso Doble and Jive. In addition, American Style dance forms, such as the West Coast Swing, Mambo, Salsa, Merengue and Street Hustle (Disco) have also received International acceptance. Each of these dances requires a partner in which the male leads and the female follows. The standardization of basic steps and technique in ballroom dancing has resulted in an International Syllabus that is applicable worldwide. “[2]

DanceSport denotes competitive ballroom dancing at events that are sanctioned and regulated by dancesport organizations. It is governed by three major bodies: the International DanceSport Federation (IDSF), World Dance Council (WDC), and International Professional DanceSport Council (IPDSC). The WDC and IPDSC are governing bodies for professionals, while the IDSF governs both amateurs and professionals. The WDC amateur league is the largest free amateur governing body for ballroom dancing in the world.”[3]

There are a wide variety of dancesport competitions, ranging from the well known Blackpool dance festival to competitions conducted exclusively for university students, such as those hosted by the Inter Varsity Dance Association in the UK. In most cases, competitors are required to be members of an IDSF recognized organization.

Amateur competitions commonly include events that group dancers by age, experience, or both. For example, events might group young dancers by age, such as: juvenile (<12yrs), junior (12-16yrs), and youth (16-19yrs). Events may sometimes cover a wide range of ages, with groupings such as: under 21yrs, adult, Senior I (Over 35yrs), Senior II (Over 45yrs), and Senior III (Over 50yrs). Adult competitions are often further divided into categories such as beginner, novice, intermediate, pre-amateur, and amateur.

As for competition regulations there are a few basic rules regarding music used in the competition. The music for competitions is kept confidential until the event. The music always follows a strict tempo and, for a couple’s competition, it will usually have a duration of no more than 90 seconds. Some competitions are restricted to “basic” steps and others to “open” steps, but the style of dance and tempo is strictly governed. Lifts are not allowed under IDSF rules. Couples are judged according to the timing, footwork, rise and fall, alignment, direction and floor craft. DanceSport follows the same system as in Ice Skating i.e. employs what is know the skating system. It consists of 11 rules, 10 of which determine the scoring of the final round.

The first rule is for preliminary rounds (semifinals, quarter-finals, etc.). It says that for each dance of the round the judges must mark the number of dance couples specified by the Chairman of Adjudicators which they decide to advance to the next round. A score of a couple is the numbers of all “pass” marks over all judges and dances. The couples with the highest score advance to the next round. Usually the number of the couples to enter the next round is known in advance. However in the cases of ties the Chairman decides the number of dancers for the next round

Rules 2-4 specify how the dancers receive marks in the final round. The marks from each judge for each dance are the places for the dancers, with the 1st place being the highest. No ties are allowed, i.e., if 6 couples are in the final, all places 1-6 must be assigned.

The remaining rules are for the calculation of the final placement of the couples. They involve a formal tie-breaking process. Rules 5-8 are for tallying the final places for each dance separately, rules 9-11 compile the final overall placement of couples in a dance category

There is also another style of competitive dance also known as Formation Dance, whereas top dancers (usually amateurs) Competing teams must be a member of one of the IDSF. Each member country may send 2 formation teams to compete in each of the 2 international styles (Latin and Standard). These are selected by national competitions. A routine is a maximum of 6 minutes long including entry to and from the floor (a walk on and walk off). Only 4 and a half minutes of this is judged so a gong is used to clearly signify which sections are to be judged. Judges are specialized in formation choreographies.

[1] from: Is ballroom dancing a sport, feature article in dated 23rd May 2008

[2] From: Ballroom Dancing: Sport, Hobby or Recreation- Sport Nutrition Articles- The Cory Holly Institute    2005

[3] From: DanceSport- Wikipedia

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