Author Archives: danadinh@usc.edu

Pre-Competition Cheer

“Basically, when I was doing cheer, whenever we had a competition we would stand in a circle and put our arms around each other’s shoulders, and then we would rock back and forth and yell “S-T-O-R-M-E-L-I-T-E” because that was our team name. And then we would put our hands in the middle, go up and down five times, and then we’d yell break. If we didn’t do that five times, or if we didn’t spell Storm Elite, we would lose. But if we lost, at least we had done it, so we lost because of something else, not because we didn’t do it.”

Background Information and Context:

The informant’s cheer squad performed this ritual at each competition, right before they stepped on stage. The informant cheered for two years in Wisconsin when she was 15-16 years old. This was a private team that she paid to join, not a school team. They did dance, stunts, and tumbling, but no actual cheering.

Collector’s Notes:

This is definitely not the first time I’ve heard of this pre-competition good luck tradition. It’s a great example of multiplicity and variation. My own high school tennis team did a “Terriers on 3! … 1-2-3! Terriers!” before matches, putting our hands in and breaking just as the informant’s cheer squad did. What I find most interesting about this example is that, although forgoing the cheer would lead to a loss in the eyes of the informant’s squad, doing it and still losing didn’t necessarily take away the validity of the superstition. Pre-competition traditions are often not logical or actually lucky, but, nevertheless, they serve the additional roles of getting the athlete in the right mindset and instilling a sense of team comradery.

Don’t Bring Pork on the Pali Highway

“In Hawaii, there’s a big stigma about the Pali Highway. You’re not supposed to carry pork on it from the windward side to the leeward side because it has to do it the belief in the Hawaiian gods The windward side, [my sister] said it was the Kamapua’a, which is the pig god, and then the leeward side is the embodiment of his ex-girlfriend, which is Pele, which is the goddess of fire. If you if you bring poured across the Pali Highway from windward to leeward, you’ll get cursed with bad luck. You’re supposed to bring tea leaves to protect yourself, and that’s why you don’t drive with pork.”

Background Information and Context:

“[I learned about the superstition] through one of my teachers, my Modern History of Hawaii teacher, I believe, because he used to tell different stories and things, so use telling the history of the island and about how we have a really like big mixed culture but also, like, indigenous Hawaiian cultures. So, I would modern Hawaiian culture, at least, is like an amalgamation of a bunch of different things that are mixed into [indigenous Hawaiian culture]. So, different superstitions, too. All of the older aunties and uncles, especially native Hawaiian and aunties and uncles, will be steadfast about superstitions, but I have never met anyone who like really really strict about this one. Still, even if they’re not really really strict about it, like they don’t super believe in it, they won’t do it anyway because it’s just one of those superstition things that you just don’t do.”

Collector’s Notes:

What I find most interesting about this superstition is that, although the informant has never met anyone who truly claimed belief in the superstition, she considers it something you “just don’t do.” This shows the power of cultural expectations and explains why superstitions are so resilient to fading. Moreover, I find the informant’s knowledge of and education about Hawaiian history and culture intriguing because she was neither born in Hawaii nor is she of indigenous Hawaiian descent, showing that the adoption of local traditions does not have to occur from a young age.

If you hear this song, stop what you’re doing, and warm up

“Jonathan likes to use the same warm-up song over and over again if he can, and he does these exercises that are always the same for warm-ups because they work. Tendus and other things, exercises where you work your hips while pointing your feet (still seated, he locks the fingers of both hands together, holds his arms in front of him, and moves his feet in an approximation of one of the warm-up exercises) and other actions to really build up muscle memory for the articulations that you need to have in order to do good rhythm dancing – cha cha, rumba, etc. So, whenever I hear, ‘She’s up all night ‘til the sun. We’re up all night for good fun,’ (he sings these lyric) or whatever the actual words of the song are. Get Lucky, I think. Daft Punk. Whenever I hear that on the radio, or in the supermarket, or especially next to Jonathan, I’ll immediately stop what I’m doing, stand up, put things down, and get into my warm up posture (he demonstrates the warm-up posture again), and do the stuff, because that’s the song that I warmed up to a lot a couple of years ago. He thinks it’s pretty funny. It’s ruined the song for me. Actually, it’s made the song great for me. It’s a pretty good song, and it suits the warm ups well.”

Background Information and Context:

Every coach has a different style of teaching and different preferences for warming up (if they even guide their students through warm ups at all, instead of expecting them to warm up before class). What the informant described is a pre-class ritual of sorts that seems distinctive of Jonathan’s rhythm classes. Jonathan is the rhythm coach of the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team, which means that he instructs cha cha, rumba, east coast swing, mambo, and bolero. His style of teaching and warm-ups are very different from those of the team’s smooth coach, who teaches waltz, tango, foxtrot, and Viennese waltz. He never skips warm ups, even when running late, and plays the full length of the song at least once, if not twice, until he feels that the students have been properly warmed up before reviewing figures from the previous class. The habit of breaking out into the warm-up routine at seemingly improper times is not unique to this informant, as it is a habit shared by multiple active members of the team.

Collector’s Notes:

Traditions and associations are no less powerful because they only affect a small group of people. It doesn’t matter that nobody else knew what was going on when a handful of team members started twisting their hips and pointing their toes in perfect sync in the middle of a restaurant because it was a sign of their connection, formed through shared knowledge and experience. On a small scale, the warm-up exercises also have their own multiplicity and variation based on when one joined the team. The informant described an association with “Get Lucky,” but my friend Sara and I (who joined the team last year) have the same association with “Moves Like Jagger,” while my friend Queenique (who joined this year) associates the warm-ups with “Feel It Still.”

“Don’t date your dance partner”

“Something we tell our new people is a warning that you shouldn’t date your dance partner. So, here’s the thing: this used to be followed all the time. When I got here, nobody was dating anybody on our team, and this is out of 50 people on the dance team – I don’t know the real number – and about 20 competitors…wait, I take it back. There was one couple: Nick and Claire. Nick and Claire were dating, but nobody else was dating. Nick and Claire came in as a couple already, and so they became dance partners. They didn’t dance together for everything, though they did dance together for some things. What we don’t like is when people meet through the ballroom dance team, dance with each other for a while, and then say, ‘You know what? I’mma date you.’ This happens in the professional world a lot. Professional dancers, they’re usually 16-17 years old – they’re young – when they meet each other. Well, sometimes they’re 23-24 years old when they meet each other, but usually it’s fairly young, and they dance with each other for a while. Whatever the exact age, they’re young, and they’re all kinds of hormonal, and they’re dancing with a very attractive person, these professionals. ‘I’m hormonal. I’m dancing with a hot person, and this hot person knows how to use their body. Yes, I’m going to try to make something out of this,’ and they do, all the time. They get married sometimes, and then they divorce each other. It almost always happens. I mean, there are a few cases where it doesn’t happen – they’ve learned how to make it work – but it’s usually a disaster in the professional world to date your dance partner, because you break up, and then you can’t dance together anymore, and the you gotta go find a new partner, but you’re older, and everybody’s already taken. Then, your career is done. So, finding somebody you click with is important, and then not trying to have sex with that person is equally important once that first part is done. On our team, we recommend the same thing. If you have a dance partner, that’s great. Work really hard to not date them or try to be more than friends with them, because if you do, when you try, it’s an easy way to lose a dance partner. So, it’s a little odd that we had a lot of people over the last two or three years end up dating the people that they dance with. Sometimes, they started to dance with the people that they’re dating. That happened to me. That happened to…actually, I think that happened to most people. They met first, started dating, and then said, ‘hey, we’re going to dance together.’ Usually, we’re still pretty good about being like, ‘We’re going to dance together. Oooh, I like you. Let’s do this thing.’ It’s easier when you go from dating to dance partners than from dance partners to dating, but it still carries risks, so we advise people to treat your dance relationship like your regular relationship: talk about things and seek help from others when you need it.”

Background Information and Context:

What the informant is describing is based on his years of experience on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. There is no way to say – at least, not without surveying members of multiple dance teams – whether the phenomenon of having a lot of couples on a dance team is exclusive to the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance team or, if it is not exclusive, if the couples on other dance teams act like those on USC’s team. Although, I have heard similar advice of being wary of the person with whom you start a relationship in other teams and in other contexts, such as work. This part of our conversation was more personal in nature than the topics that preceded, and I was mildly surprised that the informant, for the most part, kept his personal opinions out.

Collector’s Notes:

What was interesting about this topic is that I hadn’t originally intended to ask about it but noted to the informant that I found it odd that both of us are dating our dance partners. I’d heard the general opinion that dating your dance partner leads to unnecessary complications in both the romantic and dance relationship, but still, nobody dissuaded me when my boyfriend first asked me out, months after we’d started talking about becoming competition partners. On our team, there didn’t seem to be any negative examples of such a relationship to make me worry beyond the passing thought. I think it’s interesting that dancing, especially ballroom dancing, is heavily romanticized, and performers are criticized if their dance lacks passion, romance, tenderness, etc., but actual romance, specifically a new romance, is met with wariness. Moreover, it is interesting that popular media so often portrays romance/attraction and drama/angst as inextricable from each other. The connotations of dancing and romance seem at odds with each other.

Appropriate Apparel for Ballroom Dance Competitions

“When we go to competitions, everybody dresses different ways. There’s this expectation that all the girls are going to be in dresses, and boys are going to be in suit jackets and/or, like, pants and other things (He gestures toward his torso, then his legs, as he names the items of clothing). This is a trend that we’re not happy about because people should be able to wear what they want when doing things, but ballroom is such a stereotyped endeavor that you tend to conform to these norms, and it is expected that you conform to particular gender norms. One of the gender norms that we have to go for is that the men all have their hair slicked back (He makes a hand motion above his head, miming slicking back his hair). There is, like, one hairstyle for men. If you have very nice hair that you already know how to style, like a part, and it’s a little bit high on top anyway, then you can leave it exactly how it is. Otherwise, you gel your hair directly backwards. I have seen some people recently try to do a part, but I’m not wild about that. It should be as directly back as you go, and this is stuff that I got from the University of Minnesota ballroom dance team as well. Everybody’s got the same hair. Some teams take this a step further, and all the men are wearing the exact same outfit. The BYU team, the Bringham team, all of their leads look exactly the same. They are cookie cutter copies of each other. They are all wearing the same black tie, black best, white shirt, black pants, black shoes, same haircut, same everything. They’re very uniform, and it’s terrifying because when they dance the same, it looks very scary. While the boys are expected to be cookie-cutter versions of themselves, the girls, from my perspective, are expected to wear different things to be flashy and show off. The standard is for the boys to look as boring as possible and the girls to look as exciting as possible: a dress that flows (he stretched out the work, gets louder, and starts making big gestures with his hands), and does a thing (he flutters his hand, mimicking the way skirts twirl when dancers turn), that is colored. It’s nice when boys’ outfits can match their ladies’ dresses, but it is usually done by maybe a matching a shirt. It’s becoming more common these days, often by matching a tie or sometimes socks, but never the pants. Never does the whole outfit really compliment her. It goes with the idea in the ballroom world that it’s more about showing off your partner as a lead than about doing the things yourself. That isn’t always true when you become a professional dancer, but mostly it’s about ‘Look at my partner! Isn’t she great? Isn’t she sexy?’”

Background Information and Context:

The traditional dress and gender roles that the informant shares here are based on his attendance at collegiate dancesport competitions as well as some observations of professional dancesport, which collegiate dancesport mimics in many ways. What he described is how almost all members of the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team dress at competitions. The informant has been a competitive ballroom dancer in the collegiate circuit for about six years and has taken on a sort of mentor role on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team, frequently giving new members advice on what judges expect of them at competitions. He began talking about the gendered differences in dancesport apparel when prompted to talk about competition costumes, which look unlike what most people would see in regular fashion.

Collector’s Notes:

Gender norms exist in every culture and aspect of society, but the strange world of dancesport (competitive ballroom dancing) often seems backwards, and not just because the dances in which we compete are very old. Even though it is appropriate for women to wear pants in everyday settings in America, even in more formal situations like business meetings or award shows, the sight of a woman in pants on a competitive dancefloor would be strange, even unwanted. The gendered nature of dancesport seems to be ingrained in the concept of a male lead and a female follow, mirroring (somewhat declining) societal expectations of male authority and female subservience. I found it interesting that this inequality is approached a slightly different way by informant, who seems to regret the absence of clothing choices for males and the nature of attention-grabbing turns and tricks, which mostly place the female at the center of attention. Still, the nature of this attention is questionable, as one could argue that it is not beneficial that the roles require the “sexy” partner to be shown off by her male partner.