So I’m reading The Girl With the Tree Tattoo’s latest post about what makes a serious dancer and it set my mind racing a bit since this is a topic I’ve thought about before. I’m sure you’ve all seen it. If not, here’s the link.
Where did my mind go after reading that. Well, to a scene from Shall We Dance featuring this quote:
“Ballroom is all or nothing, John”
This is what Link tells John Clark in Shall We Dance when he discovers how little John is practicing outside his lessons.
Clearly Link’s statement would fit what some people believe a serious dancer should be. But let’s take a closer look at both Link and his later partner Bobbie in contrast to John Clark.
Were Link and Bobbie serious dancers? Well, I’d say the answer is yes. But what was the cost? To me, they both took a hobby and turned it into a life consuming obsession. Think back to the hospital scene after Bobbie had collapsed and her daughter is chewing her out for all the things that she does. Double shifts at a job and extra work to pay for the lessons and costumes. The good thing about that scene is that it was about the only time in the movie where it became clear that ballroom ain’t free. The struggle to keep the dream alive was real but does one have to get to physical exhaustion to be considered a “serious” dancer? They do only mention a daughter so it is easy to assume there was a spouse in the picture at some time. Did the dancing trigger a divorce because it took so much time or was the dancing a response to the divorce?
Link, it is assumed, doesn’t have the financial issues because he never mentions them and he did work as a lawyer even though all lawyers aren’t necessarily wealthy, it is likely that they could afford the lessons. Also, given that he seems to have nothing else in his life, it would easy to focus all the finances on dance. There is never any mention of a family and he is always chasing young girls (yes, as dance partners but we all suspect something more). He has to act like a different person at work because, while he enjoys dancing, he seems ashamed of it like it is something to hide. Of course, he’s proven right once he is “exposed” and the co-workers at the firm make him the butt of several jokes until he and John Clark jump in. We are left to assume at the end that he’s become comfortable with his life. Yes, he’s a serious dancer, but, until he partners with Bobbie, he really is alone and has nobody to share anything with. Is that the implied cost of being a “serious” dancer? Yes, he seems to have all the time and money to do the five hours of practice for each lesson that he tells John is required but, until the end of the movie, he never really seems like a happy person.
We know that John Clark starts dancing because he’s more interested in Jennifer Lopez (Paulina) than dancing. In one scene, that dream is dashed but he finds he still wants to dance because dancing gives him something he is missing in his life. Later, Paulina sees him practicing on the train platform as they are training for the competition. Was he a serious dancer? Yes, I think we can say that. But, was he a serious dancer for the entire movie or only when Paulina rejected him and he kept dancing for other reasons? Does the transition to serious dancer only come when he sets aside his quest for Paulina and dances just to dance? Or was it because he had the competition to shoot for that required him to spend more time practicing that made him a serious dancer?
Unlike Link, John has a family that requires his time. As he falls more and more into the obsession that is dance, he spends more time with his dance family and less time with his actual family. His daughter makes an offhand remark about how he “seems happier” which only triggers his wife to hire a private investigator because she thinks he’s having an affair. For his own reasons, he keeps his dance life secret even though it is clearly taking enough time away to become noticeable. While it isn’t clear, the last scenes in the movie imply that he’s got a stronger relationship with his wife but he is no longer a dancer. Is that what Link really meant by ballroom being “all or nothing”. If you have other distractions like family, you can’t give all that ballroom requires? In the end, Link and Bobbie are shown practicing meaning that they continue to dance and it suggests there is more to the story. So the only relationship that works for either is one that allows them to continue focusing on dance. Do you have to have a life that revolves only around ballroom to be taken seriously?
I suspect there are those who believe that to be the correct way to think about it. That it truly is all or nothing. To be honest, I sometimes get that vibe from both the Famous Franchise and Studio B. There are times that I feel guilty when I do something besides reviewing my notes or practicing steps. Shouldn’t I be doing more? Isn’t that what they are expecting of me? If I did more, we wouldn’t need to review as much? Oh, and I don’t doubt that the guilt feeds into some of my frustrations when things don’t go well. Why did I spend my Sunday watching football instead of practicing the routine and going over things? Does that make me less serious as a dancer? I’m sure there are those who would say yes it does.
Should I answer my own question? Am I a serious dancer? I’d like to think that I am. Dance has ignited a passion within me and it drives me to do more and to learn more and to continue to push myself far outside my comfort zone. It is something that I want to fully explore and see if there are any boundaries or limits (other than the obvious ones concerning my knee). There are times when I need a break and I may joke around on a lesson, but, for the most part, you get my best effort on each lesson. The frustrations and demons do sometimes hold me back but beating them into submission is part of the journey. Dancing is physically hard, it can be emotionally draining and it is certainly not a cheap hobby. If I wasn’t serious about it, I would have bailed years ago and found other ways to entertain myself.
So is Ballroom truly all or nothing? If you can’t devote the five hours for every one hour lesson that Link recommends, are you just wasting your time and money and your instructor’s time which could go to students who are more serious? I suspect that there are goal driven types who would certainly say “yes” because if you can’t fully commit, then what’s the point.
After all, there is another quote that was tossed at me a lot at the Famous Franchise. Some variant of “The only limits are the ones you set yourself”. There is truth there but when taken to extremes, you can start to believe that any choice you make is either an excuse or an attempt to rationalize your lack of commitment.
But every decision has consequences. Is it worth it to be like Bobbie and collapse on a lesson because you’ve pushed yourself too far towards winning? I’m sure to some it would be if they could end up hoisting a trophy at some point and being the best for just a brief moment. If that’s your decision, then I’m fine with it. But shouldn’t it also be fine to decide that it isn’t worth the cost and that there are other parts of life that deserve some attention as well? That its OK to skip a party on a nice Friday night because the dogs look at you like they’ll just die if they don’t get out of the house and get a walk.
Well, I wish I had something good to wrap up but, to be honest, I now feel a little guilty that I haven’t been doing more prep for my lesson or something else more “useful” with my time. I do think we have to do what is right for each of us even though for some of us, it is hard to figure out exactly what is “right.”