Performing on the boundary of art and sport : the case of competitive ballroom dancers
In this article the author sheds light on how dancers act towards their bodies in the exceptionally competitive environment of competitive ballroom dancing. I also show how constantly performing on the boundary between two worlds, art and sport, and reconciling conflicting requirements influences perspectives on the body, how it is used, and how it physically changes. Drawing on specific examples from the field, the author argues that competition, the use of objects, appearance, emotions, and charisma during a ballroom performance are all socially created, actively reconstructed through social interaction, and shaped by institutional rules. The social context of those actions, which is formed by institutionalisation, high competition, and the aesthetics of the upper social classes, produces a specific approach to the body: treating it as an efficient tool to obtain social status. This tool requires both sharpening (strategies for constructing its effectiveness) and polishing (strategies concerned with aesthetics and transforming one’s appearance). The conclusions of the research include the finding that ballroom dancing involves the direct embodiment of cultural norms and the subordination of the human body to the ideas of the bourgeois classes. The above insights are based on data collected during a six-year ethnographic study in the social subworld of competitive ballroom dancing.