DWTS: Painting an Unrealistic Picture

A friend of mine posted a blog the other day that was about something close to her heart: weight loss. I’ll refer to my friend as Kara for now to keep her identity safe. The blog referenced the TV show “Biggest Loser.” Kara is an inspiration to myself and many other people that follow her blog. Kara was featured in Fitness magazine about her weight loss success story. When I read Kara’s blog post, she commented on “Biggest Loser” and said some of the diet and weight loss techniques were a bit extreme. She felt the techniques they use are a tad extreme for weight loss purposes and she questioned whether they were safe and even realistic for the average Joe or Jane watching the show that is not on the “Biggest Loser”. For instance: working out 6 hours a day. Is that really realistic for any severely obese person? My opinion is no. However, one of points Kara made was that these TV shows like this often represent an unrealistic picture which in turn motivates people to want to lose weight and then have unrealistic expectations and they get let down in the process.

As a professional ballroom dancer I will attest to the same exact thing with a show called “Dancing with the Stars.” When you watch an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” (DWTS for short) you see a lot of smoke and mirrors. These stars go on this show, train for around 8 hours a day and go out there on TV in a fancy, sparkling dress and the public goes nuts. The average couple (I’ll call them Frank and Sally) watching the show sees this and decide they want to take ballroom dance lessons. They get on the phone and the first studio that answers the phone schedules a private lesson for them with a dance instructor. When Frank and Sally show up for their first lesson here’s what typically happens:

1. Frank and Sally show up at the studio and are enrolled in the studio’s “Introductory Program” which consists of 2 25 minute private lessons for $25.00. They think to themselves, “Why didn’t I sign up for dance lessons sooner. This is a really great deal.”

2. When Frank and Sally get to the studio, they fill out an information form which has a section for them to write down their dance goals. In that spot on the form they will write: “We want to look like the people on DWTS.”

3. Their instructor will greet them and take them on the dance floor where they will learn the BASIC STEP in 2 or 3 dances, depending how quickly they pick up the steps.

4. After their 25 minutes is over, Frank and Sally will look at their instructor and ask, “When will we get to look like the people on DWTS? What you showed us doesn’t look like anything they do on the TV show.” In turn, the instructor will respond, “Well, the people on DWTS train 8 hours a day, several days a week and they learn a 90 second choreographed routine. The routine usually consists of more complicated steps than the star is ready for. For entertainment purposes, watching people dance basic steps can be rather boring; however an open level choreographed routine with steps that the professionals do is typically more fun to watch. The stars that you see on DWTS can only dance that set of steps only with their teacher and only to that specific song. That star has hardly any basic knowledge of the dance. They started at the top and never bothered to learn the basics of each dance.”

5. The instructor will walk Frank and Sally back to the table they met at where their completed form is sitting on a clipboard. Below that form lies hidden information: the price sheet with packages of dance lessons listed. The instructor then drops the bomb: for you to continue dancing, it will basically cost Frank and Sally $75.00 per 50 minute session. (That’s pretty cheap too. A lot of studios charge a LOT more than that.)

6. Frank and Sally schedule their second 25 minute private lesson because they’ve already paid for it. When they leave the studio they look at each other in surprise and say, “Wow that’s a lot of money to spend on one lesson a week. They realize that it will cost them quite a bit of money to look like the people on DWTS, get in their car and drive home.

7. Frank and Sally return the following week for their second 25 minute private lesson on their Introductory Program. They take their lesson. When finished, the instructor asks them if they’d like to continue and which package of lessons they’ve decided on. Frank and Sally look guiltily at their shoes and say, “I don’t think we are going to continue right now. We’re really busy right now and just don’t have time.”

8. The instructor knows what that really means: it’s too expensive for them to achieve the goals they want to reach.

Instructors do occasionally get a couple (or a single person for that matter) that will stick and continue with lessons; however, the above is a more typical situation. Like weight loss, dance is something that you have to practice at to be good at it. There are people that look at the price tag, and it means nothing to them—they will dance no matter what and find a way to make the investment because it’s really important to them. If something isn’t important to you, you can spout out all of the excuses you can pull out of your rear but at the end of the day, you’re not going to stick with it. What’s important and valuable to one person is often totally different compared to another.

DWTS paints an unrealistic picture to the average Frank and Sally watching the show. What people don’t seem to get about the show is that these stars on the show have a private instructor with them for every lesson they take. They may learn a waltz or forxtrot, but they aren’t learning basic fundamental steps that every person starts with when they step into the studio.

It’s kind of like graduating college with no experience and expecting to walk into a company and demand to be the CEO. You just don’t have enough experience or expertise. You have to start from the bottom and work your way to the top. Sure, some people have more natural affinity for dance, especially if they’ve done another style of dance (like ballet or jazz for example). But those people, myself included, all started at square one—the basic step in each and every dance. There’s no getting around it—if you don’t understand the fundamentals of the basic, you won’t understand anything else going forward.

DWTS has provided a lot of exposure for the ballroom dance industry and has become an increasingly more popular activity for people to converse about and also to do. But the next time you watch the show and decide you want to take dance lessons, please expect to start at the beginning. Chances are good it will take you a while to obtain the “quality” of dancing on DWTS—and yes, there is a glimmer of sarcasm in that statement!



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