You cannot be involved in the dance business in any way shape and form, and not be ecstatic about the recently completed first season of “Dancing with the Stars”.  Some may be impressed with the resounding public success of the show.  Others may be pleased at the quality of instruction offered by the various professionals.  More may be in awe of just how much the Stars were able to do in such a short amount of time and still a few must be wondering how they can get the job of celebrity judge, so they too can be like Simon on “American Idol.”  Studio operators are certainly hoping the show generates new interest in social dancing as well.

At every level the show has been successful.  It appears that the show has been picked up for another season, and continues to garner interest from the public.  We should feel confident that the producers understand the public’s interest is as much if not more in the celebrities as it is in the dancing.  The dancing so far is just a vehicle to satisfy America’s craving for anything and everything having to do with the stars, and it is OK if that continues to drive the show’s success.  It is in fact what keeps America’s interest in so many things and this need not be an exception.  The ability of the show to find a good mix of stars may well be what makes or breaks the show’s future.  What should impress us the most however is the ability of the producers to get the show on a mainstream TV network.  Too many efforts to promote Ballroom dancing have been relegated to the far off reaches of cable, hoping to develop interest in the sport that might grow to a fervor that would warrant the interest current practitioners already have.  For years any slight demonstration of dancing on Channel 346 was considered a resounding coup that would lead to definite or greater success in the future.  This show has skipped all the steps and gone straight to prime time, mainstream, network TV and that merits respect and probably adoration right away.

These producers from the BBC should be given one of the “so called” benefactor awards that are currently offered with such pomp and ceremony by various competitions and organizations to thank those that gave them the most money.  Immediate entry into the “Hall of Fame” might also be appropriate, but one can only guess these enlightened few want to stay as far away from the leaders of our industry as they can.  After all being associated with dinosaurs can’t help their image.  It is refreshing to see a mainstream approach to dance and Dancesport, much like the popularity of poker on TV.  The differences should be obvious to even those that know little about dancing, and a lot about poker, but the competitive aspects are apparent and cannot be underestimated.

Just like the poker shows, where everyone knows it isn’t the star’s money, and they have nothing real to lose, this show hasn’t offered grand prizes or great money, but has involved the public.  I wrote an article that was published in DW back in 2003 that dancing might do well to allow gambling to draw the interest of the public.  These producers have been able through the miracle of the internet and 800 numbers to allow the public a say in the outcome.  This should not be downplayed in any way shape or form, since the elections of people who actually run our fair country can’t interest a simple majority, being able to get people to write down numbers, email addresses and overcome the busy signal to participate means a lot.

It also should remind those of us in the industry that we too would do well to look at how dancing can and does impact the public, rather than looking at how we can enlighten the public to understand dancing as we do.  For generations dancing has been first a way to socialize, then a way to meet and finally a way to celebrate.  Only in celebration does victory matter, but without going through the other stages there is nothing to celebrate.  Teachers should promote the fun of moving together more than stepping just right.  Studios should provide more times to enjoy each other and their craft than to compare one to another.  Even in competition, it should be the couples that exemplify what the music, culture and society demand and not what some critic has analyzed as the “best form” that should win.  A naysayer will be quick to point out that in literature, for example, it is rarely the prize winning books that are the best sellers, and that maybe the judging standards are needed to maintain quality and discipline.  In fact however it will be the popular fiction that will define our generation, and popular is defined as that which is enjoyed by the people at large, and so should it be with dancing.

So as we celebrate and cash in on the success of the show, we should work harder than ever to make sure we are offering the public what they want, as they too start to appreciate all the fun, excitement, and dynamic personalities that enjoy dancing.  The opportunity to showcase our sport is here, and even at local levels, the opportunity to broaden our audience by being more inclusive should outweigh or even push aside those that would like to maintain the “Traditions” that have gotten us this far, wherever that may really be.

Michael Reichenbach

Published in

Dance Week

September 9, 2005

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