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Ballroom dancing, a gentle sport?
By Brian Parkes.

We have all heard it, ballroom dancing isn't a 'real' sport, it's too gentle, too tame. Well, I'm living proof that simply isn't the case. I've had far more injuries in my three years of dancing than in the last 7 years of weight lifting.

Let's get down to basics, what is a 'sport'. The Olympic Commission defines a sport as any activity that combines a physical effort with a certain amount of skill. Clearly dancing requires effort, when was the last time you Jived to an entire track rather than just a 2 minute round in competition? As for the second element, skill. Even now my skill is improving dancing the basic steps.

So why is it snooker is quite readily accepted as a 'sport' while competitive dancing is not? Why is it the student papers are glued to the exploits of the rugby types whose only skill lies in carrying four pints across a crowded dance floor. In a word, prejudice. Let's take some time now to examine some of the different elements of sport and see if dancing really fits into the category.

1. Sports people are fit.

Ok the big question, are dancers fit? At an advanced level dancers need to be very fit. They may not have the bulky look of the rugby team but there is more to fitness than muscles. Dancers are well known for aerobic fitness, as their level increases so does their speed, balance and strength. Everyone at some point has watched a ballroom couple glide effortlessly across the floor. They make it look so easy but the reality is very different.

Ok non-dancers, let's try an experiment together. Stand with your back to a wall, assume that classical ballroom position. Comfortable? Now let's do it properly. Adjust your position so that you are holding both of your shoulder blades against the wall. Lower your shoulders and now straighten your back. Lift your head high and for the men slightly off to the left. Hold that position for 5 minutes and check your shoulders don't leave the wall. Still comfortable? Well than try and do it again until it's not, that's how your mean't to stand. Oh, and dance naturally...

Dancing involves using muscles you never new existed before, rear deltoids, rhombus, glutes and calfs. Latin Beginners, especially the girls are often simply not strong enough to lead and be led. Great strength is needed in the upper body to maintain the tension between partners. Men in particular are required to use their strength in order to aid the women is some of the fast spins and turns. Without support from the men most women could simply not produce enough momentum and speed.

2. Does dancing require skill?

Well, yes. Look at it this way you can get any member of the public and put them on a rugby field, volleyball court or badminton court and they can play a game. They will play badly compared to those who play regularly but at least they will be able to play a game. You simply can not do the same fordancing. You can not pick somebody off the street and ask them to compete in say Quickstep or Jive. They will not dance badly, they simply would not be able to do this form of dancing.

3. Is dancing competitive?

Yes! Anyone who is sceptical of this should go to one of the SUDA, NUDA or IVDA competitions organised by the student dance clubs around the UK. Talk about competition! People are tying to psych each other out on the dance floor, intentional contacts and screaming support from the audience. Tears, crying, cheers, laughter. The dance floor can be an emotional place.

It is not unusual for dancers to practice up to 15 hours a week and sometimes more. Some literally eat, drink and sleep dancing. Supplementing their dance practice with fitness and cross training to ensure they will be ready to compete. Before I started dancing I was a keen body builder, after starting dancing my training techniques and diet changed to develop the sort of fitness I needed for dancing. Strong, fast and durable.

To those on the inside dancing is like football. People wear their club colours with pride, people turn up from all over the country to follow their favourite dancers and teams. Club mascots are common, Cardiff University carry the Welsh flag and numerous Red dragon fluffy toys. Amongst these is Cha and Mambo, now veterans of the club. The larger six foot dragons had to be abandoned after British Rail refused to transport them.

4. But do people come and watch dancing?

Unfortunately there is rarely enough space for all the dancers and the spectators  of dancing. Owing to the nature of dancing  it is pleasurable to watch. Dancing is essentially about moving in an aesthetically pleasing way to music. People watch dancing, ladies in particular are often fascinated by the interaction between dancers.

5. Can dancing ever be 'rough' do dancers ever get injured?

Well, personally I have sprained my left achilles tendon, ruptured the right, developed Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) in both my feet. I've pulled muscles in my back, fingers and calfs. I've had my partner split my lip with her elbow in Jive and I've been assaulted by stiletto heels. Yes, dancing can get hairy! Most of the injuries dancers get result from either pulled muscles and from injuries resulting from dancing in high heels, twisted ankles and impaled toes.

6. Male dancers have a reputation of being effeminate, why?

Simply put it's because quite often we are. This does not mean we are all gay though! Dance training makes you very aware of your body, men stop slouching, they walk more gracefully and hold themselves correctly. They become elegant, less squat and clumsy.

Let's dispel a myth once and for all. Male dancers are not all gay. In a typically club there are typically 3 to 4 girls for every guy. Work it out, male dancers have great fun dancing! With such female to male ratios and the very social nature of dance clubs some male dancers consider it one of dancing's greatest benefits!

Well there you go, dancing is a sport and it's not simply for girls and gay men. Dancing is a real sport and a fun one. Dancing is not for just for old timers and the socially inept. Dancing is about expression, it's about romance, dominance, submissiveness and sex. Dancing is earthy, it's about  the vertical expression of horizontal desire. Now what other sport can you name that offers all that?

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