In the United States when someone says they play or follow a sport they usually are referring to one of the “Big Four,” which includes football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Sometimes they’ll mention soccer and even talk about a more obscure sport like ultimate Frisbee or lacrosse. Some people even claim golf is a sport. There are many sports though that do not get mentioned and one of these is competitive ballroom dance.
Now this isn’t like the dance lessons a married couples and senior citizens attend on Wednesday nights at the rec center. Competitive ballroom dance, or dancesport, started as early as 1909 and had its first official event in 1932. There are many strict rules and regulations regarding tempo, technique, style, similar to events like figure skating and gymnastics. It even has its own international governing body known as the World DanceSport Federation.
A typical dancesport competition will divide up athletes based on age and style of dance. Every team is comprised of a group of couples that practice together as a club. Each couple is made up of a man and a woman, though some organizations like the European Same-Sex Dance Association are challenging this notion. Most athletes specialize in one style of dance, though there are exceptions. The largest international competition is the World DanceSport Games, which hosts around 700 athletes from around the world. Also included at this competition are specialized events, like wheelchair dance and theatrical dance.
There are four styles of dance, two in international competition and two in Ameri
can competition. International has standard and Latin while American has similar equivalents of smooth and rhythm respectively. Standard and smooth both include the waltz, tango, and Viennese waltz, but American has foxtrot while international has slow foxtrot and quickstep. Rumba and cha-cha-cha are the only dances shared by the Latin and rhythm styles. The main distinction between international and American styles is the influence of post-WWII American dancers on the American style. There are also slight differences in the costumes worn by each style. Smooth and Ballroom require formal dress while Latin and Rhythm encourage tight men’s clothing and revealing women’s clothing.
The physical demand of the sport has been the subject of scientific research, which found that the sport is harder than many might imagine. Over the years the choreography has evolved to require a much higher level of athleticism from dances. A study by Australian
Professor Blanksby and Reidy found that the average heart rate of athletes was 170bpm and 179bpm for men and women respectively. In addition, the energy expenditure for athletes was 54.1 kJ min-1 and 36.1 kJ min-1 for men and women respectively. To put this into context a basketball player’s average heart rate during a game is 169bpm and their energy expenditure is 35.83 kJ min-1.
Michael Vollmer, an amateur dancer on the UConn dancesport team, joined as a way to exercise and “learn something that might be useful someday.” He said he hopes that the sport someday makes it into the Olympics because “There are much dumber sports at the Olympics, like dressage and golf.” With the complicated rules and physical demand required of dancers, dancesport certainly has earned a place at the adult table of international sport.