And here it is:
If you haven’t watched this reality show, then this post will not make a whole lot of sense to you. Since its release last Saturday as an online web series, I’ve been able to watch all six episodes of what is being called the first season. And so far, I’ve heard feedback that has been all over the place from fellow dancers. Which is not surprising, of course! I cannot bear “The Bachelor” but I know people who won’t miss an episode — what are they thinking?!! (haha) That being said, I just want to open up a dialogue by sharing what I think works for and against the show — totally my opinion! 🙂
So, basically, the show is set in Montecito, Calif. Located in Santa Barbara County, it is considered to house some of the most expensive real estate in the entire U.S. The most expensive home for sale is up for a cool 35 million — no big deal.
Oprah’s Montecito home
The show is supposed to follow wealthy women who are pursuing their dream of ballroom dancing and their interactions with their dance instructors.
From the producer’s description of the show: “For these working-class men, it’s their potential ticket out of the middle class; the question the series will ask is how far will they go to satisfy the demands of their clients.” (ouch)
Knowing this … it should come as no surprise to you that the docu-drama takes the spin that it does. According to one report, Montecito was tipped off by an insider as the perfect place to show this kind of drama. For the most part, by the end of season one, the female student dancers are definitely not the “heroes” of the storyline. (Again, remember the premise of the show.)
According to a local news source in Santa Barbara: “When the Montecito project was first floated, the local rumor mill was in full force, speculating about possible casting choices. It was almost like Cinderella: Which lovely lady’s foot would fit the golden slipper? Many names were mentioned, and some of the original choices who were signed were dropped as the filming progressed.”
Imagine this: a population of only around 10,000 people live in the area. Your circle of rich friends is relatively small in that area — everyone knows everyone. More than likely there’s some distinct competition going on. Your neighbor was chosen and not you? Your best friend, your relative. And not you. Or not your sister … and what if you were one of the ones who was DROPPED?? drama, drama. 😉
Apparently, the ballroom instructor David Alvarez was key in choosing the location and who to follow in the series. Alvarez has won top teacher/studio award many times. In fact, Ryan Seacrest (the producer of American Idol fame and former boyfriend of Julianne Hough) encouraged Alavarez to have his own competition and Alvarez leapt onto that wagon — his Hawaii Star Ball will be held on Sept. 23-26. Convenient. 😉
One article I read that came out before the show aired has all the female students gushing about how much fun they had doing the show and they hoped that the world would see how much they love dancing and the great dance culture they have in their area. I wonder how they feel now having watched the final product? Cue melodramatic music.
And thus … my opinion:
Was I entertained? Yes, I was. And disturbed. And finally thankful. Why, you ask? How could you stand all that? Well, to be perfectly honest, because, although it was a bit over-the-top and some of the scenes/conversations were clearly fabricated by producer/director, there was enough truth mixed up in the show for it to ring real to me. Uh-oh, before anyone gets upset, I must say, that I know people like these people in the ballroom world. And, even closer to home, I see elements of myself in the show. I am not proud to admit that. But, we should not be afraid of the truth. The producers/director of the show capitalized on human qualities that everyone could understand and magnified them into somewhat of a caricature — or extreme version. Think other reality TV shows — same formula — however, no one is that simple.
But, take a step back and think about this culture from the outside. From the perspective of someone who knows nothing of this culture it does seem somewhat absurd. I mean, $60K on one 3-day competition? 10K on ONE dress that’s only worn a couple of times. (Remember when the public criticized the First Lady for wearing that 10K dress for an event?) Women demanding attention from a dance instructor. Lots of hugging and kissing and “baby” and “darling” and holding hands and sitting in laps and affection and gifts — all between two people who are supposedly not in a romantic relationship. Remember when Rumen Atanasov‘s friends called him a gigolo — someone who was paid to keep a woman happy — those friends are considered the “normative” characters — the ones representing the everyday, common person perspective. Several instructors admit during the show that they do put on somewhat of a show to keep their clients happy. When you’re in the ballroom world, it seems normal; when you’re on the outside looking in, it seems absurd. (Here’s a clip of Rumen … also with another rich woman.)
“There are only two places where indiscriminate hugging is tolerated; in the brothel and the ballroom. “
From the TV show “Cougar Town”
I would love to interview those people on the show now that’s it’s aired. I can only imagine they didn’t think they’d come off the way they did. Mary Ann Contrares said, “The show plays up my role as an empty nester wondering what’s next.” At least, that’s what she thought she would be portrayed as. From my perspective she came across as a lonely woman who chased her teacher till he had to resist her advances, thus causing a change in instructors. Yikes. In fact, two teachers joked about her being a “cougar” and the new instructor said he didn’t mind and that he was used to it. (Alert: if there is any truth to his statement that he was used to those kinds of women … there must be a little truth to it. Wonder if she’s still his student after watching that episode?) I won’t comment on the teacher’s complicity in this — another time, perhaps.
Like all TV shows there has to be a main villain. I think anyone who watches the show would think this role is filled by Arlene Montansano — who’s ex-husband founded Lucky Jeans. She is the one who demands to come back to Alvarez’s studio after a 10-year hiatus and is put off. Of course, the drama ensues and she pursues another high-profile teacher to come from Santa Barbara and give Alvarez a run for his money. She is also the student who tries to give her teacher a 400K car to which he politely refuses and says his main goal is to see his students perform well and be successful. For me, that was a highlight of the show. 🙂
There were several gifts that exchanged hands during the season: food, clothes, parties, etc. I’ve had a few people lament on the gift of the $500 suit for extra attention and the attempt-to-gift the car and the inappropriateness of these. To which I say: there are many students who do this. They can’t afford those gifts and instead give food, wine, gift certificates, etc.; they give what they can afford. And I’m NOT saying that’s bad. Lots of students give their teacher gifts in our culture … it’s normal, right? I’ve received gifts from my students — usually it’s a thank you note with homemade goods or the proverbial joke apple. But, if those gifts are for extra service or attention or more preeminence in the studio … complications arise. This does happen at studios. I’ve met enough students and teachers now to know that it does.
I think the fraternization is a huge factor. It causes the jealousies to abound amongst the students. One student feels left out. Another student feels they should receive more attention because they spend more money in the studio and the teacher “owes” them. One student feels left out at the studio dance because their teacher dances more with someone else. Students start comparing how they’re treated compared to others. It’s difficult. And it happens in every studio I’ve had any interaction with on some level. It just does. Imagine, if you are student who gets all the focus, how the students who don’t feel. I think this is illustrated well in the last episode with the two competing students of Rumen. One student receives exponential more attention from the teacher — to the awkwardness of the relationship with the student’s boyfriend — and it hurts the less outgoing student. Honestly, I felt a little sorry for that student because I really felt like she wanted to do well at comps and her teacher did come across as leaving her out. BUT, we have no idea what went on behind the scenes.
I know of students who have left studios because they didn’t receive the attention they felt they deserved. I’ve known of students and teachers having relationships that have broken up marriages and caused a lot of drama — including lost jobs. I know of fights in the studios and drama between competing studios. Guess what — just like every other job and profession out there! No different. It would be silly of us to act like none of this happens.
I think if you don’t think any of these issues are at your studio or that you are not at all like any of those students/teachers on the show — than you are not being honest with yourself.
Enough with the negative — there’s freedom when we embrace truth!
The takeaway. Why am I thankful for this show?
Because, it helps me to be grounded. I see elements of me in those other humans who are interested in the same thing as myself — ballroom dancing — but to the extreme these are harmful. And I DON’T want to be that person. It’s a good personal check. We must remember that the ballroom world is unique and hard to understand unless you’re in it. Everyone looks odd under a microscope. But, there are pitfalls that should be avoided. Like anything! We must examine ourselves. We should strive to have good, strong, healthy, normal relationships with our teachers; have realistic expectations from him or her; and not put pressures on this unique connection that it cannot bear — it will only crumble and break. Although it does feel like therapy for some people, please don’t forget that your teacher is not a therapist. They’re a regular person, just like you, who has been trained to be a dancer and who is focusing on making you have a good experience. It’s a lot to ask someone else to take on your emotional baggage, while also teaching you the lock-step. 🙂 It would be difficult for anyone to stay “happy/positive/attentive” for 10 different students in each day — regardless of how they feel or are treated by each student. Imagine trying to make all of their many students happy at every studio event? Whew — exhausting. Also, like acting on stage, dancing passionately on the dance floor with our teachers doesn’t need to translate off the floor. But above all, STOP with comparisons altogether. (Preaching to myself, right here!) There will always be someone more talented, more beautiful, more wealthy, more connected, more charming, more … you fill in the blank. But NO ONE can be you!!! Thank goodness. 🙂
You get the picture. I think much can be learned from the show — especially to remind me not to put my head in the sand and pretend these things do not exist. They do. And for some students they are huge. So, I can help these students (and myself) face the truth and actually have a GREAT experience on and off the dance floor. Because dancing is amazing fun — as we all know! It can be a beautiful, life-changing experience!
Dancing is a bit overwhelming at the beginning. You have this great dancer/teacher who is focused on making you feel positive and happy about yourself and who listens to everything you have to say and is upbeat and supportive — who doesn’t love that?! 🙂 You gain confidence in a very nurturing environment and find yourself opening up to this new, exciting world. But, the newness does wear off and reality must be faced. And the drills and technique demands kick in. However, once you get over the “honeymoon” period and really focus on having mature, kind, grounded connections in the ballroom world — they can be fabulous! 🙂
I guess these ramblings are my 25 cents worth. Watch the series if you want. Or don’t. Like it or hate it, but please don’t dismiss it completely. There are some takeaways for people like us. 🙂 I would love to hear what you think. It was fun to see people in the background at the comps that I’ve seen dance before. I also kind of enjoyed laughing a little at our world. We shouldn’t take it so seriously! We are kinda funny like that! Ha! (It’s one of the reasons that “Strictly Ballroom” makes me laugh.) Although, I do wish Montecito had actually been more about the practicing/competing — actual dancing and not the drama that happens between people. But, I guess that’s what YouTube is for … And so, I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorites: