Taking Care of Our Dance Partners Is What We Do. This Is No Different.

Artwork by Rachael House (reproduced with permission)

by Natalia Romano Spica

I joined the ballroom world as a college freshman, mesmerized by the grace and musicality of a show-couple dancing to Tom Gaebel’s “It’s A Good Life” (to this day, the only alarm song that gets me to happily foxtrot out of bed no matter what’s on the agenda). I stayed in the ballroom world because of its core values, on and off the floor: a unique sense of community, of rigorous commitment toward a shared goal, and of caring responsibility toward each other. In my time as President of CU Ballroom and Chair of the Big Apple Dancesport Challenge (BADC), I witnessed all kinds of people making countless incredible sacrifices in the name of dance: partners learning elaborate hairstyles, night owls getting up for 5am practice, and working professionals choosing to get home late so they could teach a freshman the box step. Chances are that if you are reading this piece, you don’t need any more reminders about why our community is great.

And it is precisely because I know how great the ballroom community is that – as a fellow dancer, a fellow event organizer (and also just a fellow human) – I encourage you to reconsider holding large gatherings, promoting them, and/or attending non-essential events in light of the coronavirus outbreak, recently declared a pandemic by the WHO and a national emergency by the United States. If you haven’t done that already, start now. Talk to your fellow dancers. I acknowledge and share our sadness regarding the recent wave of competition cancellations, especially after a season full of practice and hard work. Many folks in our community have busy schedules and heavy responsibilities, and dance is a way to regenerate and recharge after a busy day or week. As a medical student, I too look forward to attending ballroom events so I can unwind and reconnect with my ballroom family. Yet, I hope that we can make space for all our emotions and frustrations while also acknowledging that these cancellations are a responsible decision. One we can applaud, support, and point to as a good example to follow. 

While there is a lot we don’t know about the virus, experts agree that at this point “slowing the spread of the infection is nearly as important as stopping it”. An easy but effective contribution we can all make is avoiding crowded places and non-essential large gatherings, and for everyone to practice social distancing to the best of our abilities. Let’s not equate awareness and preparedness with “panic” or “hysteria”; simply put, we all have a responsibility to be healthy and alert. Everyone is trying to do their part to protect our communities, and we should too. After all, taking care of our partners on and off the dance floor is what we do. This is no different. My friends and family live in Italy, and I am in constant communication with them. The country’s healthcare system has been so overwhelmed to the point that doctors have been forced to begin making decisions about who is worth saving

Measures like cancelling competitions, while saddening, could help remove the burden of deciding from teams, dancers and dance supporter/fans. Universities are cancelling classes or moving online; The NBA has cancelled their season; Coachella and various recruitment events have been postponed; late night TV is taping without live audiences and museums are closing. Giant events and organizations are sacrificing a lot for the safety of communities (and their own good name). No organization or community would want to be responsible for hosting an event that would potentially spread the virus. Let’s have ours be on the right side. Let’s avoid another “tango cluster”.

While young, healthy, collegiate dancers may not be classified as highest at risk, many young people have been capitalizing on cheap flights and travel opportunities: “If I’m going down may as well go down in style,” reads a social media comment that recently caught my eye, in reference to the excitement of traveling to an farther destination for a new ballroom competition given the recent cancellations. Please reconsider. I am happy to sit out a few competitions and practices if that means I can do my part to limit the virus expansion, thus protecting some of the more vulnerable members of our society. That includes individuals like a family member who was recently an ICU patient, the grandparents down the street, or individuals in your community with weakened immune systems. Raquel Coronell Uribe, a college student who only recently belonged to the former category, wrote a powerful op-ed for her school’s paper: 

“You are a part of society. Consider the ramifications your leisure activities could have on the lives of those who coexist in this community with you. Your trip to the Eiffel Tower could cause the lives of people who, without any fault of their own, have precarious health conditions.”

We can agree that you don’t need to personally know someone to immediately care. We ballroom dancers do that often, for example when we host collegiate dancers from states away so that they too can enjoy that weekend’s competition hosted by your team or city. We’ve been hosted too, at some point or another, and we know how much of a difference a good host can make. Taking care of each other is, simply, put, what our community does. Let’s continue doing so.

The decision to not attend Rutgers before its cancellation was not easy; however, sacrificing temporary entertainment for the wellbeing of the community has ultimately been more rewarding. I will make a few small changes to my life with the same eagerness as when I deck captain at BADC or dash to collect those ribbons. Competitions come and go; think back to the times when we got injured before a competition, or when a partnership split right before a competition. What did we do in that case? It was sad, disappointing, upsetting. Yet we’ve all gotten back up and made it back to the dancefloor sooner or later. This, too, is no different.

If you are able, I would also encourage you to (politely) speak up against individuals and organizations continuing to promote events, at home or in neighboring countries, or adding new categories to “steal” the collegiate crowd. Take a second to reach out to organizers, help them make the right decision. Stop sharing the links. Private message the owner of that post. We’ve seen how public pressure from our community ultimately allowed unfair restrictions to be lifted from the recent NDCA nationals, allowing same-sex couples to compete. Organizing and promoting large scale events is a violation of the CDC’s recommendations and the directions of many states, as more of them declare states of emergency.  Even if these organizers continue to hold large events, consider making the right choice yourself and for others around you. I know we live in a world in which it’s hard to believe anyone or anything, but I think that seeing the statements and decisions of some of the world’s leading academic institutions may be some food for thought. Stay informed about the circumstances in different regions and exercise your critical skills to come to a wise decision.

As eloquently said by another social media comment that caught my eye: “No one wants to miss out, but no one should have to make that choice in the first place”. While there are dancers who rely on competition placements and visibility for their income (and this topic deserves its own separate conversation); yet most of collegiate-circuit dancers should not be in that category. The recent NDCA Nationals fiasco, in which the competition was called off 3 days deep into the event, is a good example of what happens when a push for profits (and a disregard for others’ safety) overrides common sense public measures being implemented by so many others already. Who lost here? Everyone. Let’s stop this from happening again. (and if you’re coming home from Nationals, please take particular care.)

So what now? Competitions have been cancelled and you have embraced your role as a responsible citizen. Take a look below: I have compiled a very abbreviated list of the very productive things you can do to make the best out of this time. 

This morning, a specific part of my morning alarm tune stood out to me: “…And baby I was waiting, / for someone out there to save my soul, to love me in the good times. / To hold me in the bad times.” Taking care of our partners (and each other) is what we do. So, don’t keep us waiting and save some souls (and lives): love your fellow people, and (airhug)-hold them in these bad times. I will see you all on the dance floor very soon. 

A short collection of amazing things you could do in the meantime:

  • Practice your technique solo: focus on balance, weight transfer, holding up your own frame, isolating individual actions, imagining your partner’s steps (it’s life changing if you haven’t done it before I promise! And you’ll keep doing it forever!) Check out “6 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Solo Practice” 
  • Talk to your coach about sending them videos of your recent routine and getting them to comment extensively. Hop on Zoom, screenshare, and have them comment on each small step for the duration of a 45 minute lesson. Compensate them for it! (here are some notes on Zoom screen sharing/annotating and some general tech tips)
  • Strengthen your body in preparation for getting back on the floor: focus on core, quads, glutes, shoulders, arms. Calf raises! Squats! And all the goodness just one YouTube video away! Find the apps that work for you! Or reach out to your coach! 
  • Support small businesses in the dance community (and beyond) that will be affected – buy that new practice skirt now! Think about designing a new dress! Need a new vest? Get ahead on Christmas gift shopping for your dance friends!
  • Make a note of the competitions that were cancelled this year, and plan on supporting them next year! [And if you are able, don’t ask for your refund after the cancellations: you will help these organizations recuperate/pay staff and workers for the events they worked so hard to put together. It will make it easier to bounce back for next year. If that’s is not an option for you, ask if that amount can be credited towards your participation next year]
  • Reconnect and check-in: with a friend, family member, or someone whose loved ones may be affected. (Virtually) tour a museum together by sharing your screens.
  • Support your loved ones. A smile or hello on FaceTime can make someone feel less alone. The CDC has a page about supporting yourself and others in what can be a stressful time. Or, read this post. Also: check out the new unpublished Hamilton song Lin-Manuel Miranda recently dropped to add some “peace of mind”. Organize a Zoom drills session, or a Zoom group game (ask me about charades on Zoom with friends across the country!). Make a group TikTok! 
  • Look into healthy meal modifications that can potentiate your performance. Learn new recipes! Save them! Make a schedule you’ll use in the future! Test out options on your meal prep menu! Also – children from low income homes will miss out on meals as schools close. Consider donating to food banks or supporting as you are able.
  • Read more about handwashing. Or dance to Thailand’s recent handwashing viral video, or learn their choreo here! If you want to check out some important handwashing science that will make you smile (and be extra diligent), read up on this elementary school project about handwashing, whose pictures speak a million words.

Natalia Romano Spica is a medical student and a passionate member of the collegiate ballroom community. She has been President of the Columbia Ballroom team and Chair of the Big Apple Dancesport Challenge (and every other position in between). Ballroom dancing and its community have taught her so much about the elegant balance of leading and following, holding one’s balance (or a whole other person’s), or being ready for intense floor-crafting.  While she has chosen to focus on taking care of humans through medicine, she plans on bringing these precious ballroom takeaways into everything she does (she is compiling them, so if you feel like sharing any life, leadership or followership lessons you’ve learned from ballroom, please reach out to her on Facebook). If you’ve ever been to BADC, you may remember her as the overly enthusiastic deck captain, the one telling every dancer taking the floor that “you are a beautiful star now go shine!”. If you haven’t been yet, please swing by the next time to cheer on newcomers or to exchange ballroom takeaways. Consider bringing some snacks or a mango lassi, because she is often sleep deprived or underfed (a state not just limited to deck captaining). 

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