Easy to enter this sport?

Easy to enter this sport?

This year’s United States National Latin Dance Championships were held at the Royal Pacific Resort and Ballroom at Universal Studios, Orlando.  Twenty-seven couples were vying for their chance to win, place or just show up for the title of United States Champion.  This is not to say that there are only twenty-seven couples qualified to be there.  In fact as a sport, Dancesport may well be one of the easiest to participate in at this highest level.  Few impediments stand in the way to participation.  Membership to the National Dance Council of America, the preeminent sanctioning group for these types of competitions is one, but that requires only a membership fee of around $75, a completed form and participation in one of the organizations bound to it.  Then, of course, one has to enter the competition.  Considering that some that danced were not even in the program, it appears that can’t be too hard, and it isn’t expensive either.  Costumes are needed and as with many sports they help the effect, speed and most definitely the advertising.  The ladies’ costumes are as varied as imaginable and unlike cyclists and speed skaters you see spangles and beads, fringe, flowered prints, long and short outfits and an awful lot of skin.  What you don’t see is fat.  These athletes are trim.  All fifty four combined don’t have as much fat as a super sized meal.

So when you hear of the thousands that auditioned to get on So You Think You Can Dance, it seems reasonable to ask why more didn’t show up.  A couple of reasons are worth mentioning.  This is truly dance as a sport and not an art or entertainment and only the fittest need apply.  It isn’t about swinging your lady to and fro.  It isn’t about how close you can hold her or the best line to whisper in her ears.  As a sport these athletes have a much defined and relatively small field of play; maybe 75 x 36 and that is feet not yards.  Each has the same time periods to work with; 5 x 1 ¾ minutes.  All have the same rhythm or beat to work with at the same time and music chosen by some impartial music director.  The individual teams have to pick the moves, plays or steps that they think will maneuver between, around and through the other couples while still exemplifying the best traits of the music and or dance.  This they have to do time and again in each round to the satisfaction of fifteen disparate judges who will eliminate the field to end up with the final six.  What works in the current TV shows is the simplicity of competition, the public’s involvement and the artistry of dance, not necessarily the sport of dance.  That and the entertainment value of personality which includes the life story, background, the struggle and all the rest.  Most of those that auditioned had only one style they felt competent in, often just one dance, and probably to the Judges’ dismay just one set of steps or practiced routine and then the hope to get discovered.  The criteria the producers and judges used to cull the numbers down to a show seemed to have as much to do with finding variety and developing the story and justifiably so.

Let us go back to the why so few couples have chosen to enter the National Championship event.  In addition to the registration costs there are the costs of costumes, travel, hotel, coaching lessons time off from work and more.  Some competitors have already eliminated themselves as contenders after competing in one or more of the 100+ sanctioned competitions that occur throughout the year and around the country.  These training grounds are often very large and competitive events in there own right and can provide the realization for whatever reason that the couple is neither ready nor prepared nor able to be competitive at this national level.  So we end up with twenty seven couples vying for the title.  This competition includes dances from Brazil, Cuba, Spain, and the U.S., some slow and some fast with different characteristics that reflect the music, culture and require different moves and skills to do them well.  The competitors come from California with 7 couples, New York and New Jersey with 5 couples and also Florida, Virginia, Texas, and others.  You might assume that California has such high representation due to its proximity to Latin America, but a look at the names which run from Alex through Zubava suggest every possible ethnicity and background.

The dances represent a wide spectrum of music and culture.  The pageantry of the bull fight, the sensuousness of a couple in love, the festivities of Carnival, the energy of that up-tempo Latin beat, and the vitality of the US jitterbug are all included in the choice of five distinct dances from different parts of the world.  It is as much the competitor’s ability to switch gears and styles as it is technique, speed and ingenuity that determines the ultimate winner.  It is also why so many people who may have a background in culture and family in one style of dance or type of music hesitate to try other styles.

While the TV shows continue to draw deservedly large crowds, these competitions are still enjoyed by the few “dance aficionados”.  It is hoped the shows will introduce many more Americans to the nuances of dance, choreography, competition and personality as an art.  Maybe then America will be ready to go the next year’s Championships at the Royal Pacific Hotel and discover the ability, athleticism, personalities and yes even the quirky stories of the sport’s very best.  Every sport has its personalities, and dance certainly is no different.  Just wait to hear the rest of the story.

Michael Reichenbach


Dance Week

September 28, 2007


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