There are many differences, subtle and overt, between ballet and ballroom dance. As a student of both styles, I get to pick and choose which parts I like better. To me, one of the more irksome disparities is that of the manner in which people bow.
Ballet, as an art, developed for the audience. In its earliest forms it was courtly entertainment, and as such the bows hearken back to the deference one gives a royal audience. Dancers raise their arms to the crowd and then lower heads and bodies in gestures that say ‘thank you for watching, I hope you enjoyed.’
Photo: Kirsten Nagiba, of the beautiful and talented Devon Tuescher, alumna of my company and current soloist at ABT
Ballroom, on the other hand, developed for the dancers. All forms of competitive ballroom started in some manifestation as social dances between couples, and it has evolved along high-flying competitive channels. From what I’ve seen, dancers raise their arms up to the sky to indicate they are finished dancing—often while the music is still playing. They lower their bodies, usually still making eye contact with the audience in gestures that I can’t help but find slightly arrogant. ‘I am finished,’ they seem to say. ‘You may applaud now.’
Photo: MIT Open, 2010
Now, I have to acknowledge that I learned the ballet method first, and that makes me more likely to prefer it. Secondly, I have a related dislike of performers just ending their dance before the music is over. I realize ballroom dancers are conditioned to only go for a minute and a half, but for goodness sake just cut the music! If you are the only couple on stage, and you have provided the DJ with your songs, you have no excuse to not at bare minimum fade it out when you are finished. Thirdly, ballet performances have a much more formally defined dancer-audience relationship, with the dancers generally up on a stage and the audience expected to remain quiet until they are finished. Ballroom performances, on the other hand, are often in chaotic, noisy environments, with the audience in the round and cheering occurring on and off throughout. Often it’s unclear who to bow to, and if you are competing, there is precious little time to do it.
But overall I wish I could remind professional and amateur ballroom dancers alike that they are dancing for an audience. Even if you are in the finals at Blackpool—yes, there are judges—but what about all those eager spectators, hanging on to your every move? Those people, they are the ones who give you power, make your art meaningful. I urge you, ballroom dancers of the world, not to forget them, and bow your head in appreciation.