The Things You’re Not Supposed to Say

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Ballroom dance in the last three years, it’s that image is everything. Ballroom dance has always had a pristine reputation with its outsiders. Shows like Dancing with the Stars portray it as a fun past time where your worries and weight fall away from you and sculpt you into a marvelous human being. It is perhaps the only industry where traditional gender roles are still in play, however. Women take a proverbial beating – mental, physical, emotional – and are expected to “get back in the kitchen,” or, in this case, frame. Suck it up (suck it in?), don’t say anything, and smile! Even if your horizontal Mambo partner is having an affair with the newly divorced Sally Soccermom who needs a hobby while the kids are in school. As they say in Show Biz, the show must go on! And not just a showcase or competition, but the portrayal that everything is OK and you and your dance partner can “still be friends.” Society wants to believe that there’s still a community untouched by the realities of human error. But dancers do not dance for fun. They dance because they love it, because they need to, because their passion for music and movement drive them to be dancesport competitors.

Like callouses developed from leather strapped shoes, there is an emotional hardening that comes with the industry. The first year is mental boot-camp. Why should your coaches take pity on you? Why should they make exceptions? They’ve seen it all before, if not lived through it. There’s a sense of brotherhood that comes from the pain. Don’t you dare talk about it with non-dancers. Don’t you dare betray the community. We’re all carrying the same hurt, but that’s what unites us.


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