According to an ABC radio report, numbers are fluctuating dramatically in competitive ballroom dancing in recent years, particularly with young adults. Why? Could we be the blame as one faction of the dance industry by not helping to reinvigorate the sport to look more contemporary? Perhaps a sport that will always look old-fashioned no matter what strategies we put in place? Or, is our problem simply in our pricing structure?
The dance world in Australia is arguably in need of a revamp—finding modern ways to introduce more people back into the sport. DanceSport Australia is certainly not in denial about the decline in numbers. President of DanceSport Australia Dallas Williams told ABC radio, “If you have mentioned ballroom dancing to anybody today, of course, they would probably think of the grandparents did at a church hall on a Saturday night.” He suggests lowering the price of lesson costs and competition entry costs in order to revitalise the sport and bring the numbers back.
Mr Williams continued, “If you go overseas and you look at how the Europeans have approached this, they run massive events and the children get involved.” The dance realm in Europe is highly anticipated. Many children and young adults aspire to become professional ballroom dancers. Spectators in Europe never pay entry to watch a competition, which makes the sport that much more desirable. However, in Australia, our industry is far too small to mimic such a successful design.
In Australia, spectators on average pay around $50 to see a competition, and even as high as $100 in some arenas. It is simply not sustainable for the sport to survive if viewers are forking out money that is needed to pay bills, food and rent. Dancers are paying a bare minimum of $75 for a single hour lesson at some studios and the pricing escalates dramatically if the coach has a renowned profile. Professional dancers are taking up to four or five classes a week. It is no wonder the numbers are dropping—all these costs add up and who can live a life financially scraping through each week?
DanceSport Australia adjudicator Margot Stretch said the cost of living is far too high to justify spending large amounts of money on lessons and competition entry. “People should only have to pay a nominal fee to enter a competition and with their entry pay a fee for each event they wish to enter,” Ms Stretch said. “This way the promoter has the money up front and the competitors are in control of how much they spend. Maybe we need to run the major championships on a qualifying basis, so there is something to aspire to,” she added.
Matt Coulson, principal of a Melbourne dance studio disagreed with the ABC report. “I think our studios and governing bodies are doing the best they can to move with the times to make our sport fashionable. I believe the issue lies in our pricing structure and the fact our marketing strategies are ineffective.”
A dancer helping to revitalise the dancing industry is Daria Walczak; a highly skilled Latin American dancer. She believes the sport is doing all it can to look fresh, but there are too many obstacles in the way. “As an active member of the ballroom dancing community, I think our style has developed and modernised tremendously, so I feel it’s far from old-fashioned,” she said. “However I don’t think that translates to the general public because the style of dance does not get a lot of exposure, with greater focus being placed on commercial styles of dance in the media, and the cost of entry into the activity is very high,” Miss Walczak explained.
The Victorian Open Championship was cancelled in February this year due to “lack of entries” upon many other reasons. The competition attempted to focus more on the recreational events by shifting the event from its usual Queen’s birthday weekend slot to early in the year. This move, however, resulted in a significant financial loss for the DanceSport Victoria Board. The event managers wrote on the Victorian Open Championship Facebook page saying, “This decision was seen by the DSV Board as necessary due to the substantial loss that DSV would incur if we went ahead, which would ultimately be a loss carried by the DanceSport Industry within Victoria.” Part of the problem could also lie in where the competition is held. There is no need to spend the promoter’s money on lavish venues when we can downgrade and focus on building the sport to new heights.
Ms Stretch believes the sport is not seen as old-fashioned, but rather it is in need of a mix-up, marketing wise. “I think it should be promoted more as fun and fitness and getting people away from technology and actually socialising in person, not to mention keeping the obesity down across all ages,” she said.
Despite there being a very obvious problem in our dancing industry with inflated pricing for both dancers and spectators, the governing bodies need to look closely at how to strategically change both the cost to participate in ballroom dancing, the marketing associated with promoting the sport and of course reshaping the idea of ballroom to appeal to the younger masses. The Australian dance industry is far too small to allow numbers to decline—we need as many dancers as possible to represent us!