Ballroom Dancing in Pop Culture

Rivalry. Glamour. Defeat. Passion. It’s no wonder that ballroom dancing has caught the attention of popular culture in recent years. From films like “Strictly Ballroom” and “Mad Hot Ballroom” to television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars,” viewers have grown enamoured of the spectacular and intriguing world of ballroom dance, and its popularity doesn’t seem to be dwindling anytime soon.

Baz Luhrmann’s “Strictly Ballroom” came out in 1992 and used ballroom dancing in Australia as a backdrop for a story about drama, humor, and romance. The politics of ballroom dance competitions, complete with oppressive leaders and jealous ex dance partners, was especially fresh and fitting for a twist on the ugly duckling fairytale theme.

The 2005 documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” explored ballroom dancing as an outlet for inner city youth that could effectively turn their lives around. The film shows how disadvantaged middle schoolers study ballroom dancing in a youth program and end up learning more than just dance moves at their classes; they learn about discipline, hard work, chivalry, and class. Fictional films such as “Take the Lead” show ballroom dancing in a similar light.

Many other examples of ballroom dancing in pop culture play up the competition aspects. In the wildly popular dance competition reality shows that feature ballroom and latin dancing, namely “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars,” the judges and dancing partners become as much a focus as the dance choreographies and performances themselves.

In many of these reality competition shows, each dance partnership can get scrutinized as thoroughly as a romantic relationship often is, and the dancers’ interactions off the stage seem to some viewers to be at least as entertaining as their performance on stage. Because a dance partnership is so easy for an outsider to speculate about, ballroom dancing fits right into pop culture’s obsession with theorizing about relationships.

It’s easy to see what entices people to watch movies and shows that feature ballroom dancing. The bright costumes, dramatic moves, elegance, and competition format make for engaging entertainment. The world of ballroom dancing revels in spectacle. It is appealing to the eye, intriguing to the outsider, and fittingly dramatic to remain a pop culture draw.