Ballroom dance should be awkward

“In ballroom dancing, especially in the Smooth category, there is uh, mostly for Foxtrot, but with Latin too, there is this that, if you are doing something, uh, and it feels weird, there is this idea that it should be hard, and it should be, like, difficult to make your body do it. That’s what Lorena tells me, since that’s what a lot of other people tell us, too, but Blue, who was back on the team before, he had a different approach, which is not the standard approach, which is that if you are doing something, it should be easier, that you do something right in ballroom dancing by doing it the easier way, which makes more sense to me, and it seems to hold true. I believe that’s how you look at it, but there is this systemic notion that doing things the hard way or in the way that is the awkward way is the correct way.”


The informant is a PhD student at the University of Southern California, studying linguistics. He is also a member—and next year’s president—of the University of Southern California’s Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. He specializes in the American Smooth dances (Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot), though also knows the International Latin dances and many social dances, like Hustle and Salsa. He has been in the USC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team for 2 years, and did ballroom dance at the University of Michigan for 2 years. He competes in the Silver and Gold level Smooth dances, and has placed highly in numerous competitions.


The folklore was collected by asking the informant what some of the general customs or ideas of ballroom dancing are, that are not universally taught or understood. This custom he speaks of is often spoken of, or left as an unspoken understanding, throughout the ballroom dancing world.


In the paragraph above, the informant mentions Lorena. Lorena is one of the two coaches and teachers for the USC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. The informant takes classes with both with the club and privately along with his dance partner. She has been dancing ballroom for ten years, and is a professional ballroom dancer and instructor. Blue is the name of a previous member of the dance team, who was an amazing ballroom dancer and now competes at the amateur level. He had danced for 5 years before leaving the club the previous year.


Competitive ballroom dance, like the American Smooth category that the informant competes in, is not a folk dance, as there are specific standards for it, and a syllabus of acceptable moves for each level of competition, and the competitions themselves are judged and organized based on official regulations. There are, however, many aspects of ballroom dance culture that can be considered folklore, as it is stuff one learns from other dances, without being official rules or concepts, and this culture can change and adapt itself to each person.

The folklore the informant speaks of is a common concept of ballroom dance: in order to be considered an amazing dancer, it is necessary to be uncomfortable. Ballroom dance requires a lot of awkward positions that are unnatural to do, and can be quite hard to accomplish. This includes the left-side lead of the body, the head tilt, and even the steps—forward steps in Smooth are meant to feel like one is falling forward without correcting for balance, for example. The dance frame, in particular, is exceedingly “uncomfortable” and difficult to maintain.

This discomfort is felt, and even encouraged, by many ballroom dancers. There is a saying that “if you feel uncomfortable, then you are doing it right.” This is what the informant has heard from Lorena, his instructor, and many other ballroom dancers.

What Blue argues takes this concept a step further, and there are those that agree with him, like the informant. Blue believes that although the position and steps feel uncomfortable compared to normal body motions, when done perfectly, they should also feel right. When you have a perfect position, and perfect footwork, dancing should be easier. It should be easier to lead what steps to do, and easier to follow your partner when you are in this “uncomfortable” state. This is also an understanding of many ballroom dancers that some believe and teach, though each dancer has his or her own way of looking at it.