It is interesting that most people have not been missing the material aspects of life before Covid-19 as much as the opportunities to engage and connect with others.
Many ballroom dancers agree with this, for example when asked by DanceSport.com what they miss the most, responses included the following: “the feeling when you enter the dance studio, the rides to and back from a show, sharing emotions, and the social aspects of dance.” Life during the pandemic has shown us the value of healthy human interaction. It has become simpler and slower, and many of us have the opportunity to listen more closely to our thoughts and to what our bodies and hearts are saying.
The current pandemic’s impact is being felt on all levels; political, social, economic and psychological. UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, stated that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since World War 2. While we do not know what the long term consequences will be within the world of ballroom dance, we have a sense that life won’t be exactly the same as before, and that we will have to collectively figure out what the “new normal” looks like in our respective disciplines. At Dance-Intelligence we are reflecting on what ballroom dancing may be like in the aftermath of the pandemic. During times of change there is often a splitting of values and ideals within a community; those who hold onto the status quo, and those who are curious and open to change. An integration of traditional and contemporary norms usually provide a balanced outcome, but this integration is not immediate, it is part of a transition and renewal process.
Literature on ballroom dance indicates that it has been a constantly changing cultural force for hundreds of years. During times of war and social upheaval, for example, the world of ballroom underwent dramatic changes. New dances emerged during both world wars; the foxtrot made its debut in 1914 at the outset of WW1, and ballroom tango also emerged during that time, before officially becoming a hit in 1921. During both wars there became a distinct preference for less complicated dances. This shift allowed those who were previously excluded from the “elitist” past-time, to be included into the exuberant dance hall experience. The social foxtrot replaced the pre-war popularity of the waltz, much to the chagrin of traditional ballroom teachers. Other more light hearted dances, such as swing, emerged after WW2. These comparatively easy dances were perfectly suited to a war-time clientele, which frequently included soldiers on leave. Those unable to attend regular dance classes were keen to focus on the sociability that such dances afforded. Again, traditionalists regarded these modern interpretations as corrupt ballroom behavior. However, dancing during war times was clearly an antidote to depression and anxiety, as it provided a healthy distraction and a means for psycho-social support, which was actively encouraged by governments.
Ballroom dance for the most part has remained “bulletproof” as it has displayed a tendency to flourish and adapt in adverse conditions. According to DanceSport.org, ballroom is regarded a form of lifestyle medicine, being a natural antidote to 21st century chronic diseases. It combines physical strength with agility, and promotes discipline, respect and teamwork. However, some believe that nowadays there is too much focus on the competitive aspect, that the original art form of the social dance has become compromised or diluted. In some ways dance-sport has become an extension of a world addicted to over-achievement and over-stimulation, chasing unattainable goals of perfection. Competitive dance has even been criticized for becoming political and superficial. In addition, many dancers are physically, mentally or emotionally burnt out. As a result they have become emotionally removed from their reasons for initially starting dance.
An autotelic experience is often at the heart of why many people choose to dance. Enjoyment and intrinsic motivation is rated as far more rewarding than the extrinsic benefits of a chosen activity. The act of doing something purely for external gain, for example, to make others happy, or to win, is rarely sustainable and emotionally satisfying. At Dance-Intelligence we have also noticed that even though ballroom dancing is suitable for everyone, the competitive world of dance-sport may not be for everyone.
We believe that a re-evaluation, both individually and at an organisational level, is needed to secure the immediate and long-term future of social and competitive dance. Perhaps with the relational pause placed on dancing by the COVID-19 pandemic, competitive dancers have come full circle. Time is being used to reflect on more enriching connections with self and others, revisiting the autotelic experience with dance. Such a connection with ballroom, still steeped in tradition and etiquette, without the emphasis on output at least for a while, could likely create happier and mentally healthier dancers in the longer term.
The therapeutic aspect of dancing has historically helped people connect with one another during times of trauma, but the focus this time is being placed on the relationship with self, developing personal qualities such as wisdom, compassion and courage. The new normal could well be constructed with emotional and intellectual understandings we have learned from the pandemic. Perhaps this can be conveyed in a post-covid dance era through a different aesthetic, one of simplicity of style and a return to the heart and soul of ballroom. In this different place we imagine frantic and frenetic being replaced with mindful and meaningful. This includes conversations with individuals you respect in the dance world, such as mentors, coaches and psychologists, which are as important as those you are currently having with yourselves.
-John & Jodie-