Dancing is a lie we believe so much it becomes true.
There is something seductive about ballroom dancing that has led to to progress far from its old world beginnings. Even the general public has become enamored by it on TV shows like Dancing With the Stars. So what is it that makes ballroom so compelling?
It is the connection between two people that is endlessly fascinating to spectators and the dancers themselves. When a couple ballroom dances, they must convince the audience and the judges that the emotions they feel for each other are real. No one wants to watch a waltz that lacks romance, or a tango devoid of passion.
When you dance alone, you focus entirely on yourself and what you uniquely communicate to the audience. When you dance with a partner, there is no way to be self-centered. The dance will crash and die if you are not listening to and responding to your partner: their lead or follow, the physical connection, and the subtler, silent messages they communicate.
A ballroom coach once said to me that “devotion to the motion creates the emotion.” In order for a couple to make the audience believe in a feeling, each partner must be fully committed to each step he or she takes.
Coaches even offer lessons on how to create chemistry when you don't really feel it. Dancers in partnerships work for years to establish not just sound technique, but also an emotional connection that spectators can feel. That's what makes a couple compelling.
The ironic upshot of all of this is that the ballroom world is filled with drama. Every day the main page of the largest ballroom database is filled with news of couples who “have decided to end their partnership,” for reasons most will never know. The gossip begins after the news is broken, particularly with the better-known or higher ranking couples.
For instance, last year top Ballroom couple Victor and Anna broke up for reasons that can only be rumored. At the same time, another top couple, Anastasia and Giampiero, split. Victor went on to dance with Anastasia, while Anna joined up with Giampiero.
To make matters more complicated, Victor and Anastasia are now ranked higher than their former partners Giampiero and Anna. The couples must see each other at every big competition and compete on the same floor, and act gracious when the other couple wins, or humble when they lose.
It can be hard to find the heart among the intense competitiveness and tension-fraught relationships. But in the end, heart is something no dancer can be happy or successful without.
It's not uncommon for couples whose relationships began as just dancing to progress to romance, and even marriage. I once heard a well-known dancer say that you spend five times as much time with your dance partner as with your significant other. It certainly makes it easy for the two to become one and the same.
Proof is Peter and Kristina Stokkebroe, a Danish couple who have been dancing together since they were young. Now they're married, and rated sixth in the world in the Latin category. While their style is less flashy than some of the other top professionals, I find the sincerity and elegance of their dancing particularly moving. Watch Peter and Kristina perform a rumba routine—known as the dance of love—and see if your heart doesn't skip a beat.