Ballroom Dance > What Considerations Go into Turning Pro

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by caw, Oct 28, 2014.

  1. caw

    caw Active Member

    Excluding those who become national or world champions and have nowhere else to go...

    How should an amateur know it's time to go pro? What are the consequences of going too early or waiting too long?

    If you are a pro, why did you make the switch? Was it the right decision?
  2. Dancing Irishman

    Dancing Irishman Well-Known Member

    I thought the big impulse was using pro/am as a way to get additional revenue from teaching (assuming the person's a career dance instructor either way). Also, the ability to label yourself a professional dancer lends some credibility to your teaching among the folks on the fringes or outside of the ballroom culture.
  3. ajiboyet

    ajiboyet Well-Known Member

    This. I read of some Latin couple (I don't remember who right now) who wanted to move to another country...but were having difficulty because the embassy people just didn't get the meaning of highly ranked amateur worldwide. Non-ballroom people will tend to apply the dictionary meaning of amateur...

    My dictionary defines an amateur as an unskilled person. Ha! I laugh in Swahili.
  4. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    I went pro for several reasons. One was I'd reached a plateau in my amateur competitive career that I was unlikely to break through without devoting significantly more resources - primarily time - than I was able to do while trying to develop my teaching career, and teaching was more important to me. Money was another factor, and it certainly made my employers happy that I was able to start dancing pro-am. Still another aspect was the idea that as a teacher real competition for me was my students' placements, not mine. Then there was the satisfaction I'd derived when I volunteered to dance TBA bronze at a collegiate competition, and was able to get my partner into the finals.

    The biggest motivation for me, however, was a desire to develop my bronze material to an even higher level. I was at Maryland Dancesport and was watching Ian Gillett, who had been my examiner for my bronze and silver smooth certification exams, dance pro-am with his students. In particular, I was watching him dance bronze smooth foxtrot with one of his lady students and all I could think was, "I want my bronze to look like that." Going pro gave me the ability to go back and work my bronze competition routines with the knowledge I had from silver and gold and take them to a level I never got while I was in bronze. While I'm not at Ian's level yet, the joy and understanding I've gotten from being able to go back and live in the bronze syllabus as been immeasurable.
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  5. Dr Dance

    Dr Dance Well-Known Member

    Considerations: "Are you any good?"
  6. Larinda McRaven

    Larinda McRaven Site Moderator Staff Member

    I am not sure I follow... what does delving deeper into your bronze routines have to do with the label "professional"?
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  7. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    If I'd stayed in amateur my competitive experience would have been focused on gold and breaking into open. By competing in pro-am with my students I get to go back and hone my bronze further. Not only that, I get to do it with more knowledge and understanding than when I was competing in bronze myself.
  8. dbk

    dbk Well-Known Member

    You can compete in higher levels dancing bronze steps...? The technique is the same no matter what, with possibly the exception of bronze american foxtrot.
  9. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    I think Suburbaknght is partially talking about the phenomenon of what happens when you teach something. You may have one way of learning and understanding something, but as a teacher you have to be able to understand it in multiple ways.
  10. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    Yes and no. The understanding that comes from teaching is real but I was able to teach while I was competing as an amateur long before I went pro. Rather, I'm referring to the difference between looking at the bronze material as a stepping stone to more advanced material versus something to be danced, enjoyed, and savored for its own sake. The distinction is most significant in smooth, and especially foxtrot, where much of the bronze is no longer danced once one reaches silver.
  11. Larinda McRaven

    Larinda McRaven Site Moderator Staff Member

    I still don't understand what the difference is...

    All of this can be accomplished regardless of occupation or label.
    stash likes this.
  12. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    I never said that it couldn't, but that wasn't the topic at hand. The question was, "If you are a pro, why did you make the switch?" I shared my reasons.
    freeageless likes this.
  13. caw

    caw Active Member

    While I thank you, suburbanknght, for your input, I share Larinda's confusion. Let me try to lay this out...

    1) If you stay amateur, you can improve your bronze
    2) If you go pro, you can improve your bronze.
    3) You want to improve your bronze
    4) You go pro?

    Since you can work on your bronze regardless of professional/amateur status, I can't see how that is a reason.
  14. Mr 4 styles

    Mr 4 styles Well-Known Member

    Turning pro gives you a financially incentivised opportunity to continue to work on your bronze. Staying amateur requires another motivation
    danceronice likes this.
  15. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    Exactly. I'm not seeing the confusion. If you're going to be taking a student out on the floor and you are both going to be dancing bronze only, you have a very legitimate reason to focus on perfecting the "simple" stuff. Amateur, where you're working on breaking into higher and higher levels and aren't being compensated for your time but rather are paying for it, sure, you COULD work on basic bronze and make it look flawless...but is that the best allotment of your limited time and financial resources?
  16. caw

    caw Active Member

    I see. So it's more the financial stuff. Because as an open level dancer, I practice bronze stuff a lot.
  17. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    No it's not the financial stuff. The financial aspect was important, as I mentioned, but the driving goal was to work on bronze as an end in and of itself and not as a means to something else.
    danceronice likes this.
  18. Bailamosdance

    Bailamosdance Well-Known Member

    I join the chorus of people asking why you feel that turning pro somehow is connected with being a bronze level dancer who wants to 'learn' more bronze… since you can study bronze as an amateur, or even as a pro am partner…

    Also, how do you intend to teach as a career? Are you planning to be the 'go to' guy who only dances and teaches bronze?
  19. Larinda McRaven

    Larinda McRaven Site Moderator Staff Member

    (sorry suburbaknght... didn't mean to turn the thread into where you have to defend your decisions...)
  20. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent but I promise it'll come back to your questions.

    There've been many "insider" books written about ballroom dance, from Ballroom Dancing is Not for Sissies to The Year of Dancing Dangerously. My personal favorite is Julia Ericksen's Dance With Me: Ballroom Dancing and the Promise of Instant Intimacy, but the most talked about I find was Juleit McMains' The Glamour Addiction: Inside the American Ballroom Dance Industry. By talked about, I also mean controversial. McMains is extremely critical of many aspects of the ballroom industry in the US, weighing in on everything from high-pressure sales tactics to racial overtones of "brownface" Latin dance competitions. While I disagree with many premises and conclusions of her book, I find many of her observations quite salient. Ultimately, however, the books is a failure in a way revealed by the profound disagreement expressed by many of those who've read her book: we disagree with McMains about what ballroom dance is and what ballroom culture is. We disagree with her about the reasons for dance, the things we get out of dance, the things that make it beautiful, that make us feel beautiful, that make us happy. In short, we disagree on pretty much every subjective aspect of ballroom dance, and since ballroom dance is an art a lot of it is pretty damn subjective.

    Indeed, this is the problem I have with many of the books that I mentioned. In writing about dance each author has to define what dance is and explain what it means, and in giving one definition they inadvertently exclude others. McMains began dancing as a collegiate competitive dancer, transitioned to pro competitor, and judging by the auto-biographical sections of her book, even while working in a social studio was still primarily focused on the competitive side of ballroom. Though she acknowledges a social side of dance, worked for a social franchise, and in a few sections even joyfully describes the the euphoric non-competitive dance culture she encounters in the salsa world, her competitive experience leaves her unable to see the ballroom world in any other light.

    I don't bring this up to malign McMains, who clearly has done a lot of soul-searching, but to point out something that I would consider quite obvious on this board but I think has been lost sight of in this thread: dance is different things to different people. Competition, whether in low-syllabus, upper syllabus, or open levels, in amateur, professional, or pro-am, can be a wonderful thing. It motivates us to improve, it gives us concrete feedback about our improvement, it guides our study, it's an exciting athletic experience, a beautiful artistic experience, provides excuses to travel, and opportunity to meet new people. But it is only one part of dance. Most dancers are not competitors. Most dancers are certainly not open level competitors. All dancers are there for the fun of it, though fun may mean different things to different dancers and yes competition can be fun, but most dancers' fun is rooted more in a Friday night dance party or the satisfaction of learning a new skill than in judges' scores.

    The fact is most social dancers don't advance beyond bronze, and even rarer beyond silver. Their passion is for dancing, not learning about dance, and rarely do purely social dancers have the drive for the endless hours of practice or lessons that it takes to become a successful open-level competitor. My interest is social students, and that describes most of my students. It behooves me to be the best bronze and silver dancer I can be and to understand that material as thoroughly as possible.

    This still only answers part of your question, and it raises a few other issues. For starters, if most of my students are social what does it matter if I do pro-am or not? The answer is two-fold. The first part is that most of my students are socially-focused, but not all. Of the competition-focused students I see myself as an intermediary, there to get them started and prepare them for more advanced study and help them transition to the right pro-am teacher. The second answer is that many of my social students do compete on occasion, but only rarely and even then more as a social outing with the studio; they don't go to big competitions nor are they interested in doing so.

    As for what I get out of it, quite simply it allows me to compete in bronze again. There are many reasons we encourage our students to compete, but one of the main reasons is that competition focuses one's study and practice. I want my focus to be on bronze, and I have a focus and drive now on the bronze material that I never had when I was competing in bronze or getting my bronze teaching certifications. When I competed in bronze as an amateur it was always with the thought of, "And then I can move up." It was seeing bronze as a means. Now I look at it as an end in and of itself.

    I hope that explains things. I've tried to be as thorough as possible, and at this point if someone still doesn't understand I don't think there's anything more I can do to clarify. In the end, it comes down to a personal decision. For me the choice was self-aggrandizement by focusing on my own competitive development, or continuing the path that made me want to be a teacher in the first place, which is to say helping newcomers find a place in the dance world. My talent is not great enough to allow for both, and I dedicated myself to the latter. There are attendant joys in such a decision - a phrase I use deliberately rather than the simpler word choice of "benefits" - not the least of which is a chance to savor bronze dancing as I never gave myself a chance to do before. It is not the choice for everyone or even every teacher, but it is my choice and it's made me quite happy so far.

    Finally, a personal anecdote and then I'm going to bow out. This is, I'm afraid, going to come across somewhat as bragging but it's the only way to tell the story. A few months before I went pro a new student asked to take lessons with me. Unlike most of my students, she was actually quite experienced: had danced silver in one of the franchises, switched to independent teachers and danced in upper level bronze with a very well-respected pro. I was very surprised when she asked to take lessons with me, and even more surprised when she asked if she could compete with me. The pro she'd been taking with was a much better dancer than I am and had a long list of titles. But I could do two things he couldn't: I could explain and I could empathize. I told her I couldn't do pro-am because I was still competing as an amateur, but I could do mixed-amateur. When I finally went pro, she was my first pro-am student. At our first competition, we danced against her former pro and one of his students. We won a few events against them, though not most, but my student was happier with her dancing than she'd been with him. She understood more in her lessons with me than she had with him. Looking at him and his students dancing in other events all I could think is, "Why would anyone dance with me when they could dance with him?" The answer has nothing to do with who I am as a dancer and everything with who I am as a teacher.

    And with that, I think I really have said everything I have to say on this subject. I doubt I've convinced anyone of my choices who wasn't already convinced, but I hope you can understand them.
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