Dance shimmies onto the international sports stage

By Anita Chang
The Associated Press

China's Zhang Baiyu (left) and her partner Shi Lei rehearse for the Dance Sport event of the upcoming 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, on Friday, Nov. 12. (Photo by Gurinder Osan/AP)

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) — Dance Sport shimmies onto its biggest international stage when it recently debuted  this year as an Asian Games event.

Sizzling footwork and crystal-studded gowns will be featured, with 10 gold medals up for grabs as competitors in flashy finery face off in disciplines such as tango, fox-trot, and samba.

“We’re living in the athlete’s village and the feeling is so great,” said Hong Kong’s Lam Wai Yi, 21, who is dancing the cha cha cha and jive. “Normally, when we go out to competitions, few people will say we are athletes. They’ll say we’re dancers or something. Here, I feel so excited.”

Fans of dance sport hope that this is a major step toward it being adopted as an official Olympic sport. There’s currently no room for it at the Olympics, which is capped at 28 for the Summer Games, but proponents say dancing would be a fresh and unique sport that can quickly draw in fans.

“A lot of people associate sport with outdoor sports, something that you go out to do wearing shorts and sport shoes,” said Shawn Tay, general secretary of the International Dance Sport Federation. “But life has changed, lifestyles have changed, and dance sport is something you can do while you dress up nice and, in a way, glamorous.”

The sport requires partnership and is more demanding than it may seem, he said.

“You need a lot of precision, a lot of accuracy and discipline,” said Tay, who runs a dance studio in Singapore. “The male and female are equal. A lot of people regard females as the weaker sex in sports, but in dance sport, the woman has to move as much as the man does or as fast; you cannot be left behind.”

Dance’s closest Olympic cousin is figure skating, with competitors judged on technical skills as well as artistry at the Winter Games.

The right steps and posture aren’t enough, the dancers’ expressions must match the mood of the music as well: dreamy half-smiles for waltz, theatrical looks of surprise in the Latin events.

And this is no stuffy cotillion. Eye-catching costumes are crucial, as numerous pairs take the floor at the same time.

“This time, I brought three dresses. I’m going to choose one of them but I’m not sure yet. Most probably, it’s going to be black with Swarovski [crystals],” said Caroline Karam of Lebanon, describing her $1,000 outfit. “I have to look sexy … so that it attracts the judges.”

Though the dance athletes didn’t break out their costumes at the final rehearsal on Friday, their training gear gave a glimpse of what fans in Guangzhou can expect.

No singlets or running shorts, that’s for sure. One woman was dressed in cheetah print warmups while wearing strappy orange heels, another was in black pants with her name bedazzled across the seat. Zhang Baiyu, who looks like the Chinese twin of pop singer Rihanna, wore a mesh tank top over a black bra.

Competitors won’t know which song they are dancing to until they are on the floor and the music starts playing, but organizers revealed the competition song list on Friday. One tune is a mashup of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” and Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.”

Big crowds will likely turn out for the competition, which lasts two days. Ballroom dancing is wildly popular in China, where parks and public plazas are filled in the evenings with amateurs waltzing away to music blaring from boomboxes.

“It’s not just the uncles and aunties. In China, a lot of young people and kids love it, too,” said Zhang, who’s competing in Latin dances.

It’s not clear what those Chinese aunties will make of the tans. Fair complexions are prized in parts of Asia, but for the Latin dance events, competitors slather on self-tanner and bronzer to look more, well, Latin.

“Those dancers come from South America and the people there are more tan and healthy looking,” Zhang said. “If you’re too pale and soft, the muscles might not be as apparent and it doesn’t look as good, as powerful.” ♦

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One Response to “Dance shimmies onto the international sports stage”

  1. Omkar Mammen says:

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