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Gaining Perspective

The Future of Ballroom Dance

By Joel Torgeson

Whenever I go back to my hometown and visit with people, the first words out of their mouths when they learn I’m a ballroom dancer are inevitably, “So when am I going to see you on Dancing with the Stars?”

Internally, I roll my eyes a little bit, mostly because I get asked this question every time. But also, I don’t really want to end up on Dancing with the Stars. It’s not that I’m particularly against their dancing (though a frame—or even connected dancing every now and then—would be nice); it’s that I’d rather be competing in the finals of the Ohio Star Ball than performing next to a celebrity. Will my dream be realized? Not likely, but it’s a nice thought to work towards.

It is hard to ignore the huge impact that Dancing with the Stars has had on the ballroom scene, however. I’ve talked with multiple people—professional, amateur, or otherwise—who comment on the increase in ballroom dance interest, especially in men, that Dancing with the Stars has brought in.

This leads me to question what will happen when the show goes off the air. It has been running for eighteen seasons now, and all shows must eventually end. What will this mean for ballroom dancing and, more generally, partner dancing? Let us examine the scene.

Ballroom dancing, as much as I love it, could conceivably be a dying art. Why do I say this? Think in terms of how many people are introduced to it each year. The music and the dances themselves are no longer the mainstay of social interaction for the current generation, and largely have not been for at least forty years. Dancers of today are more likely to be found dancing in small circles or groups, pumping their fists and stepping from side to side. I have nothing against this form of dance, necessarily, (more people dancing is always good!) but I must admit it has had little appeal to me since joining ballroom.

A quick survey of group classes and social dances reveals the predicted dynamic: the majority of social ballroom dancers, it would seem, are above or around the age of fifty. Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that older dancers are less valuable in any way. It is worth pointing out, however, that this is not an indefinitely sustainable demographic group. This could be an effect of increased financial stability and free time leading to an exploration of this interest, but I think it is more likely that these people simply grew up with ballroom dancing and ballroom music, so for them it is more natural to choose this kind of dance.

What is to be done about this? I’m not sure, and I am certainly not qualified to do much more than ask the question. To say that no young people are interested in ballroom dancing would be an utter farce, as anybody who has been to Dance Fest, Star of the North, or any of the collegiate (or predominantly collegiate) comps could tell you. Young people are dancing; there is no doubt about that. It will be interesting to see, however, how partner dancing in general will change in the coming years. Dancing is always changing, and nobody can predict where its evolution will bring it.

Ballroom’s future seems tenuously optimistic, in my eyes. From my experience working in the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club and speaking with many other people my age, there remains interest in ballroom dancing. I hope that, in the coming years, we as a ballroom community will be able to capture the minds and hearts of these young people (like mine has been) and put it to good dancing use.

To end with an almost irritatingly accurate cliché: only time will tell.