Pro-Am Dancing Down – Truth AND Damage

Ryan Kenner Photography

I love DanceSport. That is why I am so deeply troubled by the things that may slowly kill it. Just to be clear, I do understand that nothing is perfect, and no one thing can kill an industry, but it makes sense to pay attention to the things that are clearly problematic.

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The topic of today’s conversation is “Dancing Down”. For those who do not know the term, it is when a competitive dancer, knowingly competes in one or more heats that are clearly below their skill level.

This pretty much only relates to Pro-Am, as there are strict rules that define when others must progress. For amateurs for example, the USA Dance Organization indicates that: “As you participate in competitions, you earn proficiency points. When you accumulate sufficient points at a given level you are precluded from dancing at that level and must move up.” Other organizations have similar rules for amateurs. However, nothing like this exists for Pro-Am competitors. The most that is said for Pro-Am is that a dancer should not compete below his/her level, but there are no specifics and no enforcement. By the way, if you are wondering whether invigilating levels based on the level of the steps is good enough, think of Yulia and Riccardo doing bronze figures beside a top bronze student. A fair match?

So, let’s touch on 4 main reasons why a Pro-Am dancers would Dance Down:

Ryan Kenner Photography
Ryan Kenner Photography

1. “ To help me warm up and get used to the floor”… “Because, I want to dance as much as possible in every competition” … “To build up my confidence, before the heats I really care about.”

These are, probably, the most common, and frankly, some of the most horrible reasons. First of all, a competition is an experience that is designed for many people. It can not be just about the whims and desires of one dancer. Second, this group of reasons almost always comes from people with more than a comfortable amount of money. Dancing heats that you don’t care about tends to happen only when you have money to burn. This makes it a pretty exclusive practice, and excludes a lot of people in many ways. “Dancing Down” steals the opportunity to win or place well for people starting out in their first competitions, where the level they enter is the only reasonable level for them to dance. It also steals the investment of people who are not overly wealthy, because they can only afford to dance a few heats at their level, and likely made significant sacrifices in order to do even that. Furthermore, Dancing Down is very obvious to an observer and does not get that dancer much respect. Someone who Dances Down regularly is probably surrounded by a lot of people who do not tell them the truth. Otherwise how would the dancer feel OK doing it?

Let’s also look at how Dancing Down poses a risk on Pro-Am industry overall:
At larger comps, (many of which officially allow dancing at 3 or 4 levels much less what is done unofficially at all comps), we are now seeing less and less “new blood”.

  • The C category for dancers over 50 years of age, have multiple rounds.
  • The B category is getting smaller and smaller, and
  • The A category, with dancers under 35 years, is becoming almost non-existent.

So, what does this tell you about the future of Pro-Am DanceSport?

One really must look at any and all issues that keep new dancers from competing or continuing to complete. The frustration caused by seeing others Dance Down is surely one.

Ryan Kenner Photography
Ryan Kenner Photography

2. Some Pro-Am dancers Dance Down, to pet their ego with a “Win”

No much to say about this. It is just really sad. There are cases where students bully their instructors into accepting the “Dancing Down” practice. And, of course, there are cases where instructors encourage it too. Need I mention financial greed as a motivator here?

Ryan Kenner Photography
Ryan Kenner Photography

3. Confusion about the Levels

This may seem like an unlikely excuse but it truly is a problem for anyone new to North American Pro-Am. Silver in a small regional comp may really be Bronze. Silver in a large national comp may really be Gold. This is not just in terms of proficiency. Every level now has Open heats, so even the steps may not fit the level. While it is true that larger comps are more competitive in general, it is hard to deny that there is also more Pro-Am Dancing Down at larger comps. Why? Large comps are more likely to encourage dancing at 3 or 4 levels, and actually attract dancers who can afford to Dance Down.

Ryan Kenner Photography
Ryan Kenner Photography

4. There are Instructors who take so many students of the same level to a single comp, that some have no other choice but to Dance Down.

This is a practical challenge and an unfortunate situation. Sure, no one likes to be left out, but I do not know anything else in life, where everyone can get everything that they want, all the time. Perhaps, it is lucrative for the instructor, but for the student, dancing with an exhausted partner, at a level where a win gives you little satisfaction is hardly a great experience. On the other side, the student is probably paying less given the sharing of expenses in a larger group, but if the group is so large that you have to Dance Down, even if you are OK with it, you are still taking a fair opportunity from someone else.

Ryan Kenner Photography
Ryan Kenner Photography

So… What now?

I have heard the argument, that Pro-Am is just for fun anyways. Winning shouldn’t matter so much and neither should Dancing Down. Well, I completely reject this argument! Anything that is clearly unfair, is not fun. That is a true statement even if the goal has nothing to do with winning or losing. There are some who say that fixing this is impossible or not a good idea. Why would an organizer decline entries, right? If the big money students want it, why shouldn’t the industry support it? These are very real and practical questions. So the solutions need to be practical as well.

Solution #1 – Invest more in proficiency heats.

These are hugely valuable because the dancer gets feedback from adjudicators instead of just a rank. Proficiency heats can also serve the purpose of enabling more dancing without hurting others; warming up in a way that gives you insights to improve; and getting a score so you can measure progress. The organizers and instructors also get the same fee as in a competitive heat.
Right now, it seems they are under-promoted and way under-used.

Solution #2  – Increase the number of age categories and have even a voluntary guideline for Pro-Ams.

Pro-Am competitors can currently dance in younger categories. More categories would provide more opportunities to dance many heats, but within one’s own level and one up not down a level. Right now, if a Pro-Am competitor won at a particular level in 30 plus comps, there is nothing to say that they should move up. Some comps have rules of 1 win for bronze scholarships, but it is increasingly rare and generally not done for any other levels.

Ryan Kenner Photography
Ryan Kenner Photography

That said, when the 1 bronze scholarship rule is in place, since results are posted and the rule is specific, most dancers follow it even if the organizer does not enforce it. Specific guidelines are critical, even if voluntary. You will always have some people who do not follow voluntary guidelines, but if the guidelines are specific and measurable, it at least it gives something tangible to dancers, which can be used as a friendly reminder from one dancer to another, versus the bitching behind the scenes that happens now.

But… This is just my opinion

Anonymous Dancer

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