Different Strokes for Different Folks
Navigating the Competition Landscape
By Kevin Viratyosin
I attended two competitions this fall semester—three if you count Minnesota Ballroom Blast, which is a mock-competition/critique event. The first was the Chicago DanceSport Challenge at the start of November, and the second was the National Collegiate DanceSport Championship (NCDC) later that month. Competing in each offered me two of what I expect are many different perspectives on competitive ballroom dance.
My first thought when I entered the ballroom in Chicago was, “Where is everybody?” and frequently I would ask, “Why is it so quiet?” Then it was pointed out to me that most people were hanging around elsewhere (likely in their hotel rooms, given that the event was hosted in a hotel) and wouldn’t come down until their event was approaching. I’m not saying that the people there cared about dancing less (in fact, they probably care about it more than some of us collegiate dancers), but the general attitude was cooler—not unfriendly, but not much more than polite. Very few people had come in groups, and those who had were mostly collegiate dancers like me. Most people seemed to be solely focused on their own dancing (understandably) and paid little attention to anyone else. There also appeared to be two main motivations among the dancers for competing: “I’m here to win” and “My coach thought that my partner and I should try competing.” These aren’t bad reasons for competing, but they’re also somewhat different from those you might find at a purely collegiate event.
At NCDC, while of course many come with the goal (or sometimes expectation) of winning, many more seemed to have come, win or lose, just because they love competing in ballroom dancing, and sometimes these people freak out in surprise and joy when they do win. At the beginning of this semester, I was involved in my team’s partnering process where we interview team members in order to best arrange partnerships for the semester. We found that, to some degree of surprise, not everyone on the competition team is competitive. They’re there to have fun with friends. Most enjoy the competitions not just for the marks they might receive but also the people they meet there. At collegiate competitions, competitors come with friends, make new friends, laugh, and cheer with abandon, not necessarily even for couples they know. The environment is sparkling with energy, and no one could ever call it a quiet event.
Certainly all sorts of dancers come to these competitions with their own unique motivations, many of which may not be represented by either description, but it’s easy to see that there can be a huge difference in flavor between collegiate competitions and other amateur events. Neither is better than the other, just “different strokes for different folks,” as my friend would say.
I enjoyed both events, by the way.