Just finished this: Ballroom: Obsession & Passion inside the World of Competitive Dance, by Sharon Savoy. http://www.amazon.com/Ballroom-Obsession-Passion-inside-Competitive/dp/0813035171/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343418009&sr=1-8&keywords=Ballroom%21
The author's bona fides are indisputable: she is a multi-year champion in Adagio (a.k.a. Theatre Arts) at Blackpool, which is kind of the One Place to be a champion if you want to put it on your resumé. I will say that the writing is not what I might wish. But it is unfair to expect a world-class athlete to also be a world-class writer, and my hat's off to Ms. Savoy for doing this by herself.
The book concerns itself primarily with Adagio - how Ms. Savoy got into it (from ballet) and her experiences doing it - and, with respect to competition, to Blackpool.
Blackpool is a place where most competitive dancers will never go. Only those who compete in the International Style (or Adagio) will find an event there, for one thing. And in the Amateur events, only those who compete at championship level would (I imagine) even consider it. There is a good bit of interesting background on the venue, its history, and how the multi-day competition runs.
Here is just one of the many videos available online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2gFUlueqdo Consider that the professionals dancing this Jive - the last in their five-dance International Latin event - are doing it around one o'clock in the morning, after a full day of elimination rounds! Yes, friends, this is a sport.
Ms. Savoy's experiences as an Adagio dancer - she never competed in the multi-dance "strictly ballroom" divisions - may make some dance-oriented readers think they won't find anything of interest here. I believe they'd be mistaken.
There are many good observations about how competitions work, the politics of judging, the nature of DanceSport, and more. The book definitely had value for me as a student of the art and sport of ballroom. As an example, I transcribe one passage of particular interest:
"Although the ice skating world has had its share of scandals, its system allows less opportunity for the impression of political favoritism than our current system in the ballroom community. Ballroom dancing, aka Dancesport, made its strongest bid to be accepted as an Olympic sport with the comparison of ballroom dancing to ice dancing. The International Dance Sport Federation (IDSF) proposed that Dancesport would be to the Summer Olympics what ice dance is to the Winter Olympics. I think that supposition is extremely viable and a persuasive point of view. Much time is spent on the debate of the art versus sport aspect of ballroom dance. For me, once something is in the context of a competition, it falls into the category of sport. Art is something you watch to appreciate and enjoy, not to cheer one dancer over another. There are various artistic Olympic events, such as artistic and rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and diving."
Not to mention the numerous popular "sports" that are not athletic at all - poker and darts come to mind!
The reasons why DanceSport is not yet an Olympic medal sport are gradually being chipped away as various national dance federations (including, in the U.S., USA Dance Inc.) work on conforming their rules and policies.
DanceSport is televised internationally. It's a standing-room-only sellout event at the World Games. But it isn't televised here in the U.S., and we've got this issue with judging:
"For all the scandals in the ISU, the International Skating Union has a standard for judging conduct. During the last Winter Olympics, one of the announcers for the ice skating events was discussing the fact that the judges for the skating competitions are not allowed to fraternize with competitors, coach them, or receive any money or gifts from them.
...The ballroom world does have a rule that the judges cannot coach a couple while the competition is ongoing. They can coach them the day before and the day after, but not while the event is occurring. I don't think that rule really addresses the problem of impartiality. If and when the ballroom world becomes accepted as an Olympic sport, which would be a phenomenal opportunity for everyone involved, I hope that the judging and coaching roles will be separated. The world will be watching, and this would vastly improve the issue and appearance of fair play."
I suspect that this specific issue will need to be cleared up and standardized before we win our case and see Olympic status for DanceSport. I appreciate very much that Ms. Savoy was willing to bring these issues up - she is no longer competing, but still a coach herself, and no doubt well aware that some individuals in the dance world may vehemently disagree with her position.
I will leave this review - a favorable one, by the way - with one last rather brilliant suggestion from Ms. Savoy:
"I think it would be interesting if [competition organizers] announced a month in advance the music selection[s] that would be played for the final. It would be an experiment that I think would sift the truer musical artists from the final and possibly the overdancing element that is so criticized by television viewers."
In this passage, Ms. Savoy is referring to the hyperactive, hyper-expressive attitude of competition dancers. She even mentions Nigel Lythgoe's common critique of ballroom dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance" - that they "pull their faces" a lot. And this is very true.
There is one particular affectation that is a real turn-off for me, the "biting the air" thing that Latin dancers do. The reason dancers choreograph this extremely fake kind of expression is because they don't know what music they'll be dancing to. They can't make choreography that will ideally suit the music, so they basically have to make a dance that expresses "rumba" or "cha-cha" or whatever without any music at all.
(And unfortunately the vocabulary to do this includes facial expressions that a normal person would never make at all, much less while dancing seductively with a partner. )
So if a top-level competition published its music selections in advance, dancers could tune their choreography to suit that music. Each routine would, in effect, become a show dance the way that "Dancing with the Stars" routines are. Think what fun that could be! And it really would elevate those dancers with good musical understanding from those who are merely great athletes.
Well, 1100 words is enough for a book review. As you can tell I love this subject. Read more here: A Year of Dancing Dangerously
and here: From Ballroom to Dancesport
and here: Quick, Before the Music Stops
and there are a few more in the archives.