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Celebrating Femininity in Ballroom Dancing

By Lorie Hurst

I was saddened to read the article "Here to Stay" in February's edition of Sheer Dance, where the author lamented that ballroom dancing “constantly dismisses and downplays [her] worth as a woman.” The author enveloped her friends, family, and colleagues in this negative umbrella of influence cast by ballroom dancing, and credited the sport with “damaging gender schemas” and “empirically harmful behaviors.” What an awful picture of ballroom dance! I was shocked to learn that a woman could possibly feel this way when dancing, and I would like to offer a very different perspective.

I am a woman and I have been dancing for seven years. I take private lessons every week, compete in several competitions each year, and I have danced at every studio in the Twin Cities area, worked with numerous local instructors, done showcases and formations, and danced and competed in all four styles, plus showdance. I feel I am experienced enough and entrenched enough in the ballroom dance world to have a valid and grounded opinion.

To me, ballroom dance elevates and celebrates women. Women are an integral part of it. We're not there as an accessory or because we forced our way into an otherwise male-dominated sport. We are required! We are half of a partnership that truly needs us. Further, we play a unique role that is ours and ours alone. Ballroom dance, by its very nature, showcases feminine beauty. The final result of a dancing partnership is far more than the sum of its parts, but take one half away and it is nothing. Women never need wonder if they are important to the team; they are hugely so!

My first impression of ballroom dance was that it was a woman's sport. Women dominated. Women outnumbered men in all my group classes. We are the ones trying to get more men to join. In my years of conversing with non-dancers on the subject, I have found that women think it's beautiful and fun, and men lack interest. Not once have I heard a comment or opinion expressed that even remotely suggested men were the kings of this sport and women were dismissed or downplayed. We are the commercials for ballroom dance, the ever-willing extollers of its virtues, the ever-ready recruiters. We energize this sport.

I can only imagine that the “damaging gender schemas” mentioned refer to the fact that men lead and women follow. To me, this is an example of confusing good and bad with simply different. Yes, gender roles are different in a ballroom dance partnership, but that's only a negative thing if you decide that one role is good and the other is bad—not so in ballroom! Both roles are equally important, and neither deserves a weighted value placed on it. That's like trying to decide if your hand or your foot is more important or, even worse, if one is good and one is bad and therefore one has the ability to dismiss or downplay the other. The body functions well when each part performs its role rather than assuming another role is better and trying to do that instead. Similarly, a dance partnership functions well when each participant does his or her role—both are equally necessary, equally good.

Ballroom dance showcases women in a way that no other sport comes even close to doing. We are taught that women are the picture of the dance and men are the frame. Men are deliberately showing us off! Rather than downplaying us, they are elevating us. Add to this the fact that every man is wearing an identical black suit and women are decked out and full of bling in the fanciest, shiniest attire we will ever wear, and you can understand why audience's eyes are usually drawn to the woman in the couple.

I have never felt more feminine than when I'm dancing. I daresay I've never felt more beautiful, either. Life doesn't often give us the means to be so expressive with our bodies. If someone told me to strike a pose or give a smile or say a phrase to embody my feminism, I wouldn't be able to adequately convey it. But I could do that in dance. To me, it allows a basic part of my femininity to blossom. The fact that I'm dancing with a man makes me feel even more like a woman. The contrasts make the final presentation even more beautiful; the differences show the strengths of both sides.

I have been to numerous dance events, and I have never observed a woman dancing who seems to be begrudgingly participating in something that strips her worth. Countless women have discovered how enjoyable our sport is, and they are thriving in it. Ballroom dance is a sport that lets women shine; it honors us, celebrates us, showcases us, expresses us. I hope that, far from feeling downplayed or dismissed, its female participants feel and enjoy its thrill and beauty.