Dear Dr. McMains,
I recently read your book Glamour Addiction. It took me all of a few paragraphs for my eyebrows to go up, and all of five pages to grab a pencil, defacing the margins with comments like “YAASSS” and “yes this!”
Allow me to explain.
We have similar back-stories, Dr. McMains. I started as a ballet dancer in a pre-professional school, and then began dancing ballroom and Latin in college. I began competing in all four styles, eventually settling on Int’l Standard. My partner and I rocketed through the collegiate ranks, but I quickly became disillusioned with the ‘emptiness’ of the comp experience, the bouncing from teacher to teacher, and the cost. Where was the connection with the audience? Where was the story? Where was the art?
In addition to ballet and ballroom, I have also dabbled in the West Coast Swing competitive world. Your book was published just prior to the rise of two of the greatest WCS superstars to date, and as such the comp scene has exploded in popularity over the last five years. And so while you do not discuss it in your book, so many of the ideas you mention are becoming applicable in the WCS context. The tension between improvisation and standardization in judging. The barrier-to-entry for competition creeping ever higher. Different style of technique coalescing. Creation of more formal studios and lesson tracks. It’s something I’ve thought about in vague terms for years, and the ideas you present in “Glamour” provide a fantastic framework for analysis and discussion of the ever-growing West Coast Swing world.
Your final chapter so clearly lays out the charge I’ve long wanted to answer—make dance, ballroom dance, for the stage, not the comp floor. And if I may be permitted to brag a little, in my erstwhile hometown of Syracuse, NY, I have made a first attempt. Myself, the Syracuse University Performance Team I coach, and a handful of local amateur competitors put together a first-ever showcase, which, as I stated in the show’s opening remarks, put emphasis on collaboration and story instead of competition and mere spectacle. It was a small production, but I loved it, and I desperately want to direct more like it, to push ballroom away from ‘sport’ and towards ‘art’.
Your book so clearly articulates the problems I’ve had with the ballroom world. I backed away before I could get chewed up and spat out by the Glamour Machine—in fact, I’m entering Florida State University for a Master’s in Dance this fall. I desperately wish I had read your book before applying to MFA programs, but I am in a way grateful I started to reach some of these ideas on my own. Thank you for your insight, thank you for validating the fire in my choreographic heart.
Deepest Regards from one dance addict to another,
P.S.: For the blog readers—this is the fan letter I will probably never send to Dr. Juliet McMains of the University of Washington. In case you couldn’t tell, this book was AMAZING and blew my mind. If you’ve ever wanted to think more deeply about the ballroom world and why it can be weird and sometimes unpleasant—you absolutely need to read this book. It’s academic, but not inaccessible, concise but thoughtful, and GOOD GAWD GEEZ JUST GO READ IT OK.