Ballroom: Strictly Stuck? #DUKFuture 2015

The Future of Ballroom: Strictly Stuck? – panel discussion
Saturday 11 April, Laban, #DUKFuture

With the continued success of the Strictly format being sold around the world, one might think the competitive ballroom world would be thriving in the same way. However, with a certain predictability in its results, and a seemingly dry format that the competitive world religiously follows, the competitive ballroom scene has not enjoyed a similar spikes in interest.

BLR Blackpool 14For this discussion, the panel consisted of Dr Gerald Schwanzer, Managing Director of DSI London, responsible for providing the spectacular Strictly costumes; one half of same sex performers the Sugar Dandies, Bradley Stauffer-Kruse and former World Open Professional Ballroom Champion, Anne Gleave.

What was a little disheartening from the outset was the poor attendance at the session, there were certainly no more than fifteen delegates present but the issues were discussed passionately. Over the course of the seminar we identified several problems the current state of ballroom but the low attendance spoke for itself; who will hear the voice of the ballroom world when it’s so small? The panel themselves reiterated how thrilled they were that Dance UK included ballroom in the conference at all.

The first aspect of discussion focussed on the current format competitive ballroom dancing takes. With multiple couples taking to the floor all at once, a public brought up on Strictly where they can focus on just one couple at a time have failed to engage with ballroom in its traditional setting. Strictly Come Dancing is the most successful TV format of all time yet this hasn’t led to any rise in attendance at competitions.

Add to the mix the lack of unpredictability in the results and the lengthy process undertaken to get there (from qualification to final six can take several days) and you can understand why compared to the instant gratification of Strictly, the public haven’t followed ballroom all the way to the competitive floor. Panellist Bradley Stauffer-Kruse made the point that on the television we see celebrities go from nothing to a seemingly accomplished dancer in just a few weeks. However, the process in real life is somewhat less instant, especially when training for the competitive floor, like with any sporting discipline, it takes years to perfect the necessary techniques.

Arunas-Bizokas-and-Katusha-Demidova-dancing-at-Blackpoool-2012-2Consequentially, what appears to be a rather dry format has not become attractive to any mainstream broadcasters. Unsurprising when you consider the time and expense necessary for the big competitions to be covered. DSI’s Gerald Schwanzer explained the service he offers dance fans through DSI TV, an online platform that allows viewers to watch one hour of the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival live and then requires a small fee if the viewer wants to see more. Schwanzer admitted this service was making a loss and viewed by relatively few. It remains a mystery then, why 150 million are addicted to the Strictly format worldwide with one couple taking centre stage on the dancefloor, but less than 1,000 want to view what is arguably the most important Ballroom and Latin completion of the year with multiple couples dancing at once.

As the discussion moved on, we then heard from a young contemporary dancer, who had had limited ballroom experience but was curious to learn more. She explained how surprising she found it that ballroom was not seen as more relevant to young dancers in training when it involves such important and unique techniques such as partnering and specific posture. Dancers looking for a career in the industry would never consider not learning the basics of ballet or contemporary, so why is ballroom not treated with similar gravitas?

Talk of training then led to discussion of dance and education and the presence of dance in schools. We all agreed that dance in education is a purely positive thing, especially when it comes to ballroom, not only due to promoting healthy activity but children can learn discipline through the various techniques and it provides opportunities to socialise, something lacking in schools today. No consensus was drawn on what could be done to solve this problem, however. The purpose of learning ballroom also came under scrutiny when delegates considered a new comer to ballroom may have no desire to compete, but simply to perform and there are very few platforms for this presently.

The 75 minute discussion was refreshingly frank and honest. The panellists present certainly conveyed an industry that wants to change but it’s doubtful that all would agree. The traditions instilled in the ballroom world mean change is rare, as Schwanzer explained, there are multiple governing authorities which makes initiating change all the more difficult. Happily however, it was encouraging to hear the success of the Sugar Dandies and the swift growth of the same sex dance scene. Perhaps if the evolution of ballroom can be embraced so positively as it has been here, there is hope for the future.

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