Dancing Queens, a new reality show on Bravo about pro-am ballroom dancers, premiered last Tuesday. There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the first episode, after the trailer riled some people up. Personally, I was so curious to see how Bravo, a network known for melodramatic reality shows like The Real Housewives franchise, would portray this world. There is plenty of drama naturally in pro-am ballroom, but would it be enough for television or would Bravo’s producers need to amp things up a bit?
I had to wait until Wednesday to watch the replay of Episode 1 on Peacock+. It was not what I expected!
In short, it was actually realistic!
The show opens with a variety of intro clips: quotes from interviews cut together with clips of dancing, all to set the stage. And what do they cover first? What it costs to compete!
It felt so appropriate because it is no secret to those of us in the ballroom world that competing as a pro-am dancer (when you’re the amateur) takes $$$$$. It is usually the main factor that determines how often a pro-am student competes and even how long they stay in the ballroom world. As you advance as a dancer, the cost often increases for a number of reasons. You may invest in more lessons and/or more coachings. You may invest in a custom-made dress (even more than one) instead of renting or buying off the rack. You may be footing your teacher’s competition expenses by yourself instead of splitting them with other students because most of your teacher’s students are likely competing at a lower level, which means no one else is dancing the same day(s) as you.
I’ve written about the costs of ballroom many times. If you’ve followed my ballroom journey from the beginning, you know that finances were a constant struggle. It’s something that affects not just the students, but competitive pros as well.
Let’s meet the ladies
The four women we meet in Episode 1 of Dancing Queens do not appear to live with the same struggles. One of the women, Colette, commented that one year, her dance expenses exceeded six figures, and after that, she just stopped counting. Must be nice!
Buckle up, buttercup! This is ballroom.Leonie
The first woman we meet, Leonie, works in risk management in investment banking and has a husband and young daughter at home. Like all of our Dancing Queens, she dances at the Open level in the Latin style with her teacher Koysta. Leonie compares ballroom’s addictive quality to a narcotic, and frankly, she ain’t wrong! You’ll often hear people talking about being bit by the “ballroom bug.” It can be a very healthy addiction if you and your bank account aren’t swallowed up by it first. During a conversation with her husband, Leonie comments that she doesn’t need therapy but she does need to dance, and dance is probably the reason she doesn’t need therapy.
I loved Leonie describe her dance alter ego, Cleopatra, that she transforms into when she steps onto the dance floor. For us adult amateur dancers, ballroom is an escape from our regular lives. We are able to transform into something else, or tap into a part of our personality or character that doesn’t get a chance to shine in the office or at home. I came up with an alter ego for each of my four American Smooth dances and they helped me get into the appropriate mindset for each dance. Waltz is a very different character from Tango, just like Rumba is a very different character from Paso Doble.
Dancing keeps me sane!Sabrina
Next, we are introduced to Sabrina, a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother or “balabusta” (Yiddish word of the day!). She has not competed in two years, partly because she stopped dancing with her pro partner Stanislav (Stas for short) due to their constant bickering. But they are “on” again, and preparing to compete in a new age group. Previously, Sabrina had competed in Group A, which is typically ages 16-35. If you are older than 35, you are allowed to continue competing in Group A, but after dominating that category, it’s finally time for Sabrina to enter Group B (typically ages 36-50), which all of the other Dancing Queens ladies are in (not a coincidence, I’m sure).
“Dancing keeps me sane,” Sabrina declares in her interview. She also doesn’t dance around the fact that she loves that she gets to be the center of attention when she’s dancing. Two of the other women comment on the same, calling her “extra” and saying she loves the spotlight and doesn’t know when it stops being on her. As a traditional homemaker, she probably doesn’t get the opportunity to have her desires come first anywhere else in her life.
The stress level seems to be high in Sabrina’s lessons leading up to her first B-division competition. She even cuts a lesson short after losing her patience with the way Stas is trying to lead her. She mentions something that a lot of pro-am students have to come to terms with – the inherent unbalanced nature of the pro-am partnership. For a dance partnership to work well and be successful on the competition floor, both dancers have to show up with near-equal effort and commitment. However, in pro-am, the dancers are not of equal skill level and one of them is paying the other to dance with and teach them. There is a power imbalance that can create conflict, and evidently it does in Sabrina’s and Stas’ partnership.
I got partner dumped!Colette
The third woman we meet is Colette. She clearly has a big heart. Her home is full of life with three dogs, six cats, and two tortoises. She also has human son Kelvin, who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder that causes overgrowth and autism. When she isn’t dancing, Colette owns and operates a therapy company for people with developmental delay or disabilities. Her life can be very emotionally draining, and ballroom dance has become her outlet. Unfortunately for her, she was recently “partner dumped,” which means the teacher she was dancing with decided to end the partnership. I was also dumped by my first ballroom teacher (I called it being fired), so I completely understood when she said it broke her heart, especially to have no explanation.
It’s very common for people to change dance partners, at both the professional and amateur levels. Sometimes you just don’t mesh well together, your goals change, or a Life event like a geographical move makes the partnership impractical. For pro-am students, when a teacher decides to drop you as a client, it can be very painful because you don’t have a say in the matter. You could have invested everything into the partnership, and still, one day, they could decide they don’t want you as a client anymore.
Luckily for Colette, she found a new pro dance partner, Alex, and was preparing for their first competition together. In the first episode, while on the phone with Sabrina, she shares that Alex is very different from her old teacher, and that’s creating some nerves. It’s hard to start over with someone new, especially when you may still be processing hurt feelings.
I’m paying for a dance partner, not a gigolo!Donie
Donie has been dancing since she was 2 or 3 years old and trained in dance all the way through college. Now, her focus is on ballroom dance. She’s been with her professional dance partner/teacher Ilia for 7 or 8 years now, and while others may want a “girlfriend experience” from their teachers, Donie makes it clear that she is paying for a dance partner, not a gigolo.
I can relate. My time with my teacher was always so limited due to my limited finances, so when I had a lesson, we didn’t spend half the time chitchatting. We got to work!
Donie brings up another factor that many of us have to deal with – the “ideal” or “traditional” look of a ballroom dancer. Think svelte, graceful, attractive and white European. Donie’s nonconformity is that she isn’t beanpole thin. While it shouldn’t matter how tall, short, fat or thin we are as long as we dance our best, the judging of ballroom competitions is subjective and a more “traditional” look as Donie puts it, will garner more attention from the judges. I went head-to-head with this bias when I decided to show off my full-back tree tattoo at competitions.
Ladies B Open Latin to the floor
Our four ladies are all preparing to compete at the Tri-State Dancesport Championships, but only three, Sabrina, Colette and Donie, actually make it. After a coaching with Karina Smirnoff, Leonie decides to drop out at the last minute. She is a self-professed perfectionist and just doesn’t feel her dancing is performance-ready yet. Karina offered her advice that I think we can all benefit from – you need to give yourself the confidence and the freedom to go outside of your comfort zone. Leonie echoes it in her interview when she says she knows she’s too much in her head and she wishes she could just let go and dance.
It’s something we all struggle with at some point. There is so much detail that goes into our dancing, between the technique, the choreography, the musicality, the artistry, etc. Even in Leonie’s coaching, Karina is telling her to tweak a developpe so her leg is angled instead of straight perpendicular to the floor. Those details bring the art out of our dancing, but when you’re in a high pressure situation like a competition, you can’t be thinking about any of it! You have to be in the moment and just dance. BUT letting go like that can be very scary.
As much as Sabrina craves the spotlight, her nerves start to get the best of her while she and Stas are warming up prior to their heat (event) at Tri-State. She’s used to winning but now she has to dance against a whole different group and so she really doesn’t know how she’ll place. Colette’s also feeling the butterflies as their time to dance inches closer. This is her first competition with her new teacher Alex, and also the first time she and Sabrina will be sharing the dance floor. Donie doesn’t get nervous because she’s been performing all of her life, but she may be having stomach issues.
What’s going to happen?? (Cue dramatic cliffhanger music.)
If you can’t wait until next week to find out if everyone makes it onto the dance floor, Bravo has already posted a clip of their round:
I have to say, the biggest thing that surprised me about this first episode is how realistic it was. Which probably means some people were disappointed that there wasn’t more drama. Don’t worry, I’ve been told it’s coming!
What you see is what you get in real life though. It’s not ALL of what you get, of course. There are all of the dancers who scrimp and save just to do one competition a year, and can’t afford coachings or Boyko. But we all absolutely love what we do, just like these four women. We don’t just love to dance, we need to dance. As Leonie describes, there is a sisterhood that develops when you see the same people at competitions year after year. And as Sabrina says, unless you’re in the ballroom world, you don’t really understand it, which makes that sisterhood even more important.
There is also gossip over pedicures and bickering between students and teachers. The financial costs are enormous, and many are forced to quit as a result. Some care more about winning than camaraderie. The ballroom world isn’t all shiny rhinestones; there are some real dark spots.
Of course, the dark spots are where you’ll find the drama, so I expect we’ll be diving deeper into the abyss in the coming weeks as the show continues, for better or worse. Just remember to come back to the light after it’s over. 😉
Did you watch Episode 1?
4 thoughts on “Dancing Queens Episode 1 – Not What I Was Expecting, In a Good Way!”
I missed the initial broadcast, found it On Demand on Spectrum and was pleased that while I couldn’t fast-forward thru commercials they were very brief. I am HOOKED on this show. So much, that once I saw the episode I COULD fast-forward so I watched parts again, so I could cement who they all were. Your summary was excellent. If I had read this I wouldn’t have to watch it a second time!
Hubby thought it was over-the-top and put in ear-buds and watched something on his iPad. But he could have learned a lot of it and me if he had kept watching. I never danced at that level, but the drive, the “addiction” therapy vs dancing and other sections were very relatable. It was easy to make snap judgments on the four women (but it looks like there’ll be a 5th soon), but as I watched, they stopped being caricatures and were more real. Well, except for Sabrina, right? I’m looking forward to the next episode
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I knew a Sabrina but it was actually one of the teachers not a student! 🙄 It’s early but I’m guessing she’s going to be set up as the “villain” of the show.