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Dancing over Winter Break

The Rapid City Scene

By Seth Westlake

Moving from Minneapolis to my hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota, for winter break, I realized I'd forgotten how different the two communities were. Ballroom in Minneapolis, as I've experienced, is a large and yet still developing community, full of very devoted and ambitious dancers. Rapid City, a town similar in size to the student population of the University of Minnesota, supports a much smaller ballroom community, especially in comparison to other dance styles like jazz, tap, and ballet. More popular at social dance events are the country and nightclub two-steps, merengue, and west coast swing, although an occasional waltz or foxtrot might play.

A friend of mine was nice enough to arrange for me to be a guest instructor at one of these studios, and I had the chance to teach many of my good friends. Almost more than dancing itself, I love introducing people to their first lessons—and hopefully their new obsession—in the ballroom dancing, and this experience was such a brilliant opportunity to show people a good time and get them interested.

One of the first things I noticed while teaching in South Dakota: there's a stigma attached to ballroom dancing, and not for the reasons you might think (stereotypes about gender or sexual orientation). What people get most hung up on is the general age of participants. Only a handful of couples, particularly the ones invited by me, were under the age of thirty. Boys especially are not encouraged to try dance as an extracurricular activity, and unless girls are willing to become leads, an imbalance exists, and the growth and popularity of ballroom dwindles. With no kids or university students participating, the program is fed almost exclusively by hobbyists and couples with New Year's resolutions. I worked with some very welcoming couples over the course of the month, and many seemed particularly interested in continuing lessons, but few studios offered anything above an advanced bronze perspective. Given only a short time with them, my objective was to show the couples as much technique and as many moves as possible.

What I took away from the month was not a large quantity of dance hours but instead a new understanding of how important it is to develop and support our dance communities. New members from every age and walk of life are important, but without an influx of younger participants, programs like those in Rapid might never evolve beyond a skeleton of a community. I've seen many people fall in love with ballroom in their first steps, and it is unfortunate that, aside from moving or traveling, few resources are available to fan the flame.

What we have here in Minnesota, with excellent dance studios, instructors, university programs, and a top-notch community, is something special.