How have we evolved?

How have we evolved?

It is certainly been my privilege to be able to speak to and work with many dance instructors and professionals over the years, and through all the years I have met so many people; most of them regular folk.  Some were introduced to this business through family, others simply because they were looking for a job after getting out of the service or school.  Marriage undoubtedly drew others into the addiction, and yet others came from artistic or performing arts backgrounds.  Vaudeville introduced America to its first generation of really home grown American dancers.  Jitterbug would introduce the next, and all of these were American as Arthur or Fred, no matter what there real names were.

Ultimately however, almost everybody in this industry is or ends up a dance teacher.  I can remember when the dance teacher was looked upon as akin to a used car salesman?  Dance teachers were and in some cases still are suspected of preying on the defenseless, whether a little old lady or some short fat widower.  In no way could a teacher be involved in such an industry simply because they liked the art of it and there was no where else to be involved.  There are people that should be recognized or at least thanked and awarded the highest honors for supporting and assisting new regulations governing our industry to the point where our industry in this country is now truly a service industry more than a sales industry.

Competitions in dance have existed since the first two jumping cavemen from the insurance industry met around the fire and celebrated the hunt only to look over and see the other person spinning longer or faster to the beat of a bone hitting against a hollow log.  You know it could not have been long before someone with an accent was telling everyone just how to turn a little bit faster.  As dancing developed so did the teacher, but society was content to assume that people learned these things on their own and getting professional help was in some way unfair.  Maybe forgetting who taught you is a universal trait.  At any rate most kids forget who taught them until later in life.  However Callers were used in old time Folk and Square Dancing to keep things going and Dance Directors were a regular institution in high and royal society of previous centuries to insure everybody did the right thing.  This was early group class.

I remember visiting a studio in England around 1970, where I remarked that I taught in a chain school in America.  The mighty accented “champion” immediately remarked that no one in England would ever teach the way they taught in America.  When I asked what that meant, she told me, “…we only teach competitive couples and the teachers there (meaning America) even dance with students in so called competitions” and no self respecting professional would do that.  Upon recognizing that I would be unlikely to receive adequate training or live long enough to be transformed into the next star or professional champion, I came back to discover that within a few years the U.S. was now being invaded by the many of the same people who earlier wanted no part of this country’s style, manner or industry.

Many of those that came with the first migration will emphatically tell you that America would still be in the stone age of dance if it had not been rescued by those that “understood” what it meant to be competitive dancers.  Societies were established, others infiltrated, and through it all dance has developed to the point that an accent is still beneficial, mostly for Judges, but also emcees, scrutineers, and ticket takers.  Somewhere in Judge School is a special class where even those from Midwestern states can learn the art of speaking dance with the proper accent or emphasis on “daaance”.  In recent years it has been fun to notice the change.  Not that the people speak differently, only that they now regard themselves differently.

Pro-Am competitions are now the rage.  A big fight continues over who should have the right to run “World” Pro-Am competitions when just a few years ago nobody from across the Atlantic would even admit they had ever seen one.  My guess is that the change has something to do with finding really avid fans in foreign countries that were willing to pay out big money to learn.  I mean really big money.  Not the paltry lifetime of dance courses where the students actually got a lifetime of dance lessons from most schools.  Not even the $100/hour charged in studios forgetting the group classes, practice parties, and amenities available and taken advantage of in most studios.  We have all heard of the super rich.  Well how much money does it take to get the really famous singing star to sing Happy Birthday to your daughter and her thirty-six 7-year old friends?  I am sure some Arab potentate can tell you.  How much money does it take to get some PHD Harvard professor to teach your kid math or chess so they will be ahead of the class?  Talent, skill and hard work don’t seem to matter nearly as much as money, private tutoring and expert preparation.  The foreign elite have made their mark by charging millions and don’t even have the nerve to make it fun.  It is a shame that these reprobates have not been adequately exposed, as I suspect that many more than the few that have been named have participated or still do participate in the same shenanigans.

While I enjoy competitions as much or more than most, it seems to me that more effort needs to be put into making sure competitions are fair.  Seeing people who have competed for years in one style successfully enter as a Newcomer in a new “style” seems no different than seeing a tennis player who competes as a professional on clay asking to compete as an amateur on grass.  Getting awards, points, or prizes seems to have evolved into a way to add income instead of recognition.  No matter how much the industry is gaining from the popularity it is now receiving ultimately teachers, and the organizers have to know that the time will come when either the popularity is so great investigative journalism will look for the scandal, or too many people will realize this may be a sport to watch, but I could never compete.  Without the Fun Factor this is just another trend that will die.  If we leave it at that then it is no surprise that some will try to rake in all they can and forget the long term consequences.  What do you expect in the future?

Michael Reichenbach

Dance Week

April 11, 2008

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