Put on that Mask: Bringing Theater to the Floor


Hello, friends!  It occurred to me that I haven’t really thought of the theatrical element of dancing.  But, after reading through my friend Stefanie’s blog posts, I became inspired to give you some tips on how to bring the theater to the ballroom.  I have ample experience in the theater.  I’ve been in numerous productions in elementary, middle, and high school.  I’m also in my local theater club at college, and I try to be in their productions as well, provided classes don’t have me by the short-hairs.  This post won’t just be about “bringing the sexy out,” which most people, myself included, seem to struggle with.  It’ll be about combining these two arts to make your dance jaw-dropping.  Let’s begin.

Theater originated in Greece as a part of the Greater Dionyisia, a festival celebrating Dionysus, god of wine and revelry.  In Greek theater, the actors wore masks in order to make it blatantly obvious to the audience who they were.  Villains might have worn a mask with a twisted, grotesque expression.  Feminine characters, played by men, were probably overly exaggerated with feminine characteristics.  What does this have to do with ballroom?  Each dance has a character of some sort, and each requires varying degrees of acting.

Here’s the point: To really make that dance shine, you have to pick your “mask” and decide how far you’re going to go with it.  So, here’s some steps to help you.

1) Pick Your Mask

Every dance has a “mask.”  Every dance will have some sort of acting involved, some more than others.  That’s where picking your mask comes in.  When picking your mask, ask yourself, “What kind of dance am I dancing?”  The more dramatic dances are the Tango and Rumba, where the character displayed can make or break it.  I’ve heard Tango described as the “love-hate dance.”  The man wants the woman, but she isn’t having any of it.  Take a look at this painting:

This is actually the Argentine Tango, a more sensual version of its American counterpart.  But, this move is arguably the most famous for the tango.  It’s called the cambio.  Look up tango on Google Images and this probably what you’ll get.  The man steps back, and the woman leans into him.  When I learned it, I was told that to turn my head away because I didn’t want the man, even though he wanted me.  Though, it might actually be a measure of counter-balancing.  Whatever the case, Tango is definitely dramatic, and you might even want to develop a character of your own for the more dramatic dances, as well as the less dramatic.  Developing a little character for your dance will help you get into character for the dance, and it might even make the dancing easier.  It’s made it easier for me.

2) Develop your Character

This is just an elaboration of the last statement above.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  On the contrary, try to just imagine a mood, or a place where you might dance this.  When dancing waltz, I always think of going to an elegant ball, so I do my best to portray that effortless ease that I always imagine from dancers at a ball.  For Rumba, I just let my feminine side take over.  You know what it says?  It says, “I’m sexy, really sexy.  And, I’m going to make you pick your jaw up off the floor with my sexiness.  Let’s do this!”  Believe me, this is not a side I’m totally comfortable with expressing, but I love acting, so it makes it less painful for me.  As for you, I can give no tips on developing individual character.  We all dance and act differently.  What works for me might just flop for you.  Just do some mental exploring, and you’d be surprised at what shows up.

3) Stick to Yourself

We’re all individuals that express ourselves in a myriad of ways.  When it comes to the theatrical part of dancing, don’t pick a model and follow it.  In the theater, that’s a recipe for banality and boredom.  You may draw from a model, but add your own twists and turns to your performance.  What’s wonderful about you, cue cliché, is that you’re you.  No one else is.  So, if you bring a bit of yourself to your dance, you’re guaranteed to be one-of-a-kind.

4) Decide the Extent

This is the hardest part of any theatrical endeavor.  How are you going to portray this?  How far, in terms of acting are you going to go?  This is where I apologize, dear readers.  I have nothing for you here.  It’s the actor/actresses job to find the answers to these questions.  Plus, any tips from me would be copying me, and not helping you.  I can’t have that.  It all depends on the dance, the person dancing it, the partner, the music, etc.  This is your time to shine.  Make a masterpiece.

All this may sound complicated, perhaps even superfluous.  After all, dancing is dancing and theater is theater.  That is true, but many of the fine arts intertwine with one another, and understanding some of each will help you put on the best performance you can.  Believe me, most of this is intuitive.  Just believe in yourself and your decisions, and you’ll be just fine.  If you have any doubts, consult a different opinion.  I promise, theater is so subtly intertwined in ballroom that you may be doing all of this without even consciously noticing.  So, I guess my post was unnecessary, eh?  Heck, even if it was, I really wanted to write about it. 😀

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