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Fun and Art: They Can Co-exist

by Sandi & Dan Finch

For much of the past century, the world has looked up to the English for the near-art form of dance they created, and dancers around the world emulated that International style of dance. The English chastised America for being too casual, not having dance steps uniformly standardized in a syllabus, even into the 1960s.

It was odd, then, that an English coach wrote a tongue-in-cheek editorial in an American dance magazine saying the English have always felt slightly inferior toward all things American. “For one thing, they never got over the Declaration of Independence, and a further blow to their national prestige was undoubtedly the American invention of the hot dog,” wrote George Land, an English studio owner. “After all, England had the sausage long before America.” Of course, the inferiority complex didn’t extend to dancing, at least not at first, he said.

As he described it, the English had been complicating simple social dance in a way that made it impossible for anyone but a highly trained expert from England to perform and suddenly found most of Europe copying it. With that success “and probably with that business of the hot dog still rankling in the back of their minds, a number of English teachers took it into their heads to invade America,” he wrote in the January 1968 Ballroom Dance Magazine. The English style swept through America in the 1960s.

What Americans didn’t know back then was that the English style—with its precision and near-art form of perfection—was popular with only about 20% of the dancing public in England, he said. The rest were content with social dancing. “The international style is unsuitable for social purposes,” he wrote, “as it requires a vast amount of floor space to be performed correctly.” He also called it anti-social because a dancer needs lots of practice with one partner to perfect it, meaning mixer (party) dances are not for them.

Social dancing had been the mainstay of most American dance studios, and he said he hoped they would not forget that. The English, in fact, had finally caught on that America had a leg up, after all, and were starting to recognize the value of pure social dancing. “Any day now,” he wrote, “ you may be visited by a delegation of individuals each carrying a rolled umbrella and wearing a bowler hat. They will be English dance teachers come to learn American social dancing,” he predicted. “It would be a pity if, in promoting International style, the American teachers had forgotten their social dances.”

Does that sound familiar? We have dancers at the intermediate level who dance for the pure fun of it and those who strive for more, for that near-art form of dance. They both have a place. We laud the teachers who work with beginners, and through Round Dance Teachers Association, we encourage all levels.

The Round Dance Teachers' Association of Southern California (RDTA) was concerned that the intermediate dancers didn’t have enough dances purely for them and in the past year has started sponsoring phase 2-3-4 dances throughout our membership area. The first was in Orange County last October and the second was this spring in Northridge. RDTA hopes to continue them with dances in the Riverside area and San Gabriel Valley.

Not to be forgotten, the advanced dancers are given the first half hour of the all-level party dances put on by RDTA in June and December.

Life is about perspective, and in regard to dancing, about not losing sight of what we are good at.

From a club newsletter May 2016, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, August 2018. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


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