Volume: 5, Issue: 3


Thoughts about "Ballroom Dance Culture"
Хорош В.А. [about]

KEY WORDS: culture, ballroom dance, self-realization, self-improvement, ‘objects’ world’, self-determination, students as organizers.
ABSTRACT: The paper written by a famous modern Russian educator describes the history and the concept of a unique project where ballroom dancing has been used as a serious multi-faceted educational intervention with numerous goals. The author shows how the project was originally born and what kind of consequences it might have for any class group and teachers.

Culture as a foundation

The term “pedagogical support” has come into education from the field of general culture. This is, probably, most important and valuable because it is not an artificially created “construction” which should be implemented. In contrast, it represents historically and culturally developed processes in the field of humanistic relations. Supporting others and ourselves, we tend to create friendly connections among people, we share energy and strengthen our spirits – this makes us stronger, more independent, and humane.

“Pedagogical support” as an idea and a term came from the works of the late famous Russian educator Oleg Gazman, who “found” this idea in “the well” of love and respect towards people; it also has its roots in the human creativity and mutual care. For Gazman, the main source of learning and knowledge was life itself in the combination with sciences and arts. No wonder, he wrote his first papers about culture during the period when national values were under serious reconsideration.

One of them was published by Teachers’ Gazette on December 13, 1988, and entitled, “Culture is the Foundation.”

In 1989, Gazman wrote an article “Basic Culture and Self -Determination” which was published in the volume with the general title “Basic Culture of the Individual: theoretical and methodological problems”.

The same year Oleg published one of his most popular (among all educators in the country) papers. That was, “Education: Goals, Tools, and Perspectives” in the collection of articles “New Pedagogical Thinking.”

Gazman was very successful in representing every spectrum of life in everything he was doing, including the way he composed his research team where he brought together educators, psychologists, and philosophers. This team was unique, and the opinion of academics was as valuable as that of the practitioners. It is also important to mention that the team was represented by educators from both fields – General and what is called in Russia “Additional Education”.

Being a poet and a musician himself, Gazman created all the necessary conditions for the emotional expression of every team member. His pedagogical theory is not just a pure theory; it is also a creative art.

… My husband Leonid Khorosh and I were lucky to participate in a couple of educational projects organized by Gazman. That was a unique experience of cooperation and self-determination. Each time after such a project, returning to our home city, Petrozavodsk, we felt more courageous and reassured in our own activities.

In Search of Something Interesting

In spring 1991, together with my husband (also an educator), we were helping students and teachers from one of Petrozavodsk high schools to organize their Spring Camp. We had 120 students and 20 teachers living together for a few days outside the city. We arranged for a full self-management, and the whole week we spent literally doing what we wanted. The most unusual was the equality of rights for both students and teachers.

This truly united high school students with their teachers. The camp was so exciting that no one wanted to leave and the main idea was – what else can we organize as interesting as this camp? The most active were students from the 11th grade. At the same time they were very sad that school would be over in a couple of months and then only graduation exams and a graduation party remained. At some point, somebody said, “Let us try to organize our graduation party in an unusual way!” And then my husband and I suggested organizing it in the form of a real Ballroom Dance though we ourselves had just a limited experience of ballroom dancing. After an animated discussion the idea was accepted and we started to develop a plan and a project. The organizing committee was comprised of students and teachers – camp participants.

Gradually, the idea of a ballroom dance took shape; ballroom outfits, pair dancing, a beautiful ritual of arriving to the ball, etc. So far, all of these ideas lived in our fantasies but literature and music helped us to create a generally and aesthetically attractive ballroom dance “picture.” We were listening again and again to George Sviridov’s waltz for Pushkin’s “The Blizzard,”2 and this music, exciting our feelings, took us away into the Russian past with its beautiful palaces and romantic relationships with ladies and their cavaliers. We couldn’t even imagine where those ideas would bring us in the future.

We just wanted to create the beauty… There was something we knew for a fact – life itself lacked a lot of beauty, and this was clearly understood by both adults and children.

About Education and the Foundation of Ballroom Dance Culture

So the first graduation ballroom dance party went very well, and surprisingly enough, there came a students’ delegation to the Palace of Creativity for Children and Youth (where we worked at that time) and offered us to organize another graduation party using the same format. At that point we did not expect anything like this, and in terms of our professional plans we had many different projects in mind.

At the same time as educators, we fully realized that the situation was unique. Just the prospect that the students would come up with an initiative and approach us with an offer to participate in a beautiful and cultural project, was an achievement by itself. And not just to participate, but what was most amazing, students were ready to organize it themselves.

After conducting an analysis of the first ballroom dance graduation party we fully realized the spectrum of the project and its multifaceted content. Though we knew that there would be many difficulties on the way but we also saw perspectives for the project improvement.

Ballroom dance, as a phenomenon of culture, reunites in itself not only all the main arts – music, dance, applied arts, but also presupposes a developed skill of communicating with people at the level of real art. The form of the ballroom dance sets a high standard and a demand for a certain level of organizational and personal culture.

Preparing for the next ballroom dance, adults and students divided up their responsibilities; adults would deal with the complicated ballroom dance structure, and students were responsible for communication and behavior culture during the event. There was a serious doubt and a question, “Would it be possible for Soviet students who had never been in the situation of self-management and free communication to behave naturally and openly during the ballroom dance?”

As is well known, ballroom dance differs from all other forms by the necessity for every participant to contribute a number of attributes to the general atmosphere – friendly smiles, generosity, openness, a capacity do dance beautifully, and splendid outfit. The general culture of the ballroom dance consists of the individual cultures of every participant. In the old days in the Russian history, noble families would train their children how to introduce themselves into society. Our students had never received this kind of training and we were supposed to help them.

Our experience prompted an approach – including every student into the process of preparing their own ballroom dance would help them develop their sense of belonging to the event. It became clear that an initial class of ballroom dancing should become a foundation of developing independence in everything – thinking, acting, and establishing a cultural exchange of ideas between ladies and cavaliers.

Before we accepted this new offer from another school we had to discuss it with the administration of the Palace of Creativity. We knew that without the support and attention of our administration to this students’ initiative we would not be able to complete this project. The perestroika freedom also “helped” us although many people would call it chaos.

My personal professional interest in the ballroom dance was fully defined when I understood that its culture is based on the “interventions” oriented towards processes with the word “self”: self-development, self-organization, self-realization, self-creation, self-improvement…

We realized that communication during ballroom dance helps to unite autonomous people into a community that embraces and respects both – personal independence and common responsibility for the whole event. Consequently, the culture of communication became the center of our program.

By this time Gazman had already published his famous collection of articles “The Basic Culture of the Individual” (1989) where he proclaimed that “an individual capacity for self-determination… should be considered the central and basic component of the individual culture.” The author of another article in this same volume was late Nata B. Krylova. At that time we were not introduced to her personally but her educational ideas were very similar to our experience. Krylova wrote, “The analysis of education as a unity of communication and activities proves that the depth of the mutual work content, education quality and effectiveness could be reached not by intensifying a number of events but by developing a creative nature of communication and raising its cultural level” (Krylova, 1989).

While arranging for ballroom dancing, educators receive a unique opportunity to shift priorities from educating teenagers to their self-improvement. It is more so important and possible as it is very exciting for the students. The whole atmosphere of the ballroom dancing is “positively contagious” for everybody – teachers and parents who become more conscientious about their manners, communication standards, and dress habits. Later on in our experience we saw how much ballroom dancing helped teachers to become externally and internally different.

At the very start we agreed on some behavior patterns, one of which was to never make critical remarks about students, as they were not just teenagers but ladies and cavaliers there. We agreed to only observe and think thoroughly of what else we would be able to teach them in the future. We agreed to just support them in all possible ways! Forms of support could vary – from a smile to a friendly glance, to providing them with a skill of dancing, and an outfit of a teacher that should have been festive and in this way – supportive of the whole idea of the event.

To hear oneself and to self-determine

Back to our beginnings. When we received a support from our administration, we faced a necessity to work out a plan and a program and its rationale. We were supposed to find new forms of classes that would better fit the idea of the ballroom dancing, new strategies and methods of instruction… But most importantly we had to be “courageous” enough to include there teenagers’ values, together with their interests and needs. Using a formal ‘business’ language we were supposed to define “communication among teenagers” as the main goal and subject of our syllabus. To that moment we did not know of any similar project.

One of the main peculiarities of our ballroom dancing was shifting it from the public life of the adult community (as it would historically happen) to the educational children’s space, uniting the school and Palace’s potentials into one whole. From Russian history we knew that in the old nobility life ballroom dancing also played its educational function. Home education was preparing children for an appropriate behavior in the society. While participating in the ballroom dancing, they were supposed to exhibit certain skills and attributes strictly prescribed by the ballroom dance etiquette.

Ballroom dancing as a phenomenon of culture set its demands to us, educators; it called for our understanding of its intercultural mixture and the necessity to create a new comprehensive type that would fit the modern society.

…Today, ballroom dancing unites different people of different ages and social groups. Consequently, we needed different ballroom etiquette.

A new syllabus “The secrets of intercommunication” originally oriented towards training for ballroom dancing, commanded that we, as educators, possessed new knowledge and new skills. Clearly a large part of this new knowledge we acquired independently through literature and music, also through attending short programs in culture and psychology of communication. Unexpected knowledge and even inventions we received in the process of dancing. We also realized a huge need of a whole block of knowledge and data in culture and cultural studies.

Students’ support

Our main partners in every project like this were our students – high school seniors and graduates. They would attend our classes at the Palace of Creativity where together we would create an image and an ideal of their graduation party, the way they saw it. For the students it was certainly an additional educational experience, a chance for their self-determination in culture.

Students would study an etiquette in real life, learned behavioral patterns while dancing and participated in the work of the organizing committee in cooperation with parents and teachers, having a chance to discuss their outfits, to select music and dancing, to put together invitation letters and lists of the invitees, together with the hall decoration, role distribution, etc.

…The experience gained in our studio “Secrets of Communication” has been used not only in Petrozavodsk but also in many other cities and places, and it is mostly due to the 1994 school graduates who shared with us their observations, thoughts, and feelings. Though I doubt that each of them fully realized the fact of becoming co-creators of something new in culture. Students’ responses to our activities were on the most part positive though once we received the following message from one of the male participants: “…I am interested in everything which is happening here but I have the feeling that teachers need it more than students…” The young man who made that observation could not even imagine how much time we spent looking for the ways of changing the situation. Hardly he understood how appreciative we felt for learning about this problem from him.

About the importance of the “objects’ world” in the cultural development of the individual

…Our first ballroom dance parties showed that young ladies were experiencing problems in choosing right dresses for such an unusual event. It was clear that their aesthetic taste and feelings would develop with time. Then to help them, we started a special seamstresses’ workshop where young women received an opportunity to try on different dress fashions, choose their “own” color, and in this way study their own taste preferences, select different variants and find ways for self-determination.

We learned that the educational support in such a process should be very indirect and delicate: it is mostly arranged through discussing ballroom dance etiquette of the 19th century, in observing photos of that epoch, in role playing while watching paintings of ladies and cavaliers dressed in all sorts of different outfits from different times.

At the first class meeting about ballroom dancing no one was surprised to see a fan but playing with this unusual and beautiful object animated the group and their emotions. Gradually we have added a number of other beautiful objects into our classes: postcards, artistically created paper napkins, multicolored and multi-textured fabrics like scarfs and handkerchiefs, shells, buttons, stones, etc. In our pedagogical collection we accumulated different fans, original and handmade postcards, seashells, and even spoons. These collections gave us impulses for creating different pedagogical strategies and methods.

When we touch any type of object, keep it in our hands; the object causes a certain feeling. Each feeling is unique. Putting ourselves into contact with a certain object, which has a utilitarian meaning and purpose, and also has an aesthetic value, we tend to think and exchange opinions. Only afterwards, enriched with this type of feelings we move on to the main topic of each class. At this stage every class participant would be fully engaged in the class topic, combining a unique self and a sense of belonging to the group.

The experience of one’s verbal expression of his/her emotions teaches young people to trust themselves.  It also develops openness to others, prepares young people to behave naturally and independently. In our case, this is extremely important for their behavior at the ballroom dance party.

Finally, finishing our inevitably incomplete story about the ballroom dance culture that we have intentionally named “thoughts,” we will make a few conclusions and suggest a few short definitions of what a modern ballroom dance means from the educational point view.

Thus, a modern ballroom dance is:

  • A democratic form of social life of people from different cultures and social layers, which helps developing their independence, responsibilities and cultural connections.
  • A meeting of two “worlds” – male and female, which allows to find mutual understanding, to develop respect and a caring attitude of men to women and to themselves.
  • A place for cultivating individuals who fully understand the value of a human unity.
  • A variant of a modern festival as a result of a creative consideration of world culture and experience.
  • A specific form of educational activities where people learn the secrets of human interaction, the importance of spiritual values’ and exchange of spiritual values and forms of polite behavior in the process of mixing old and young, and in this way arranging a true cultural enrichment.
  • A type of a creative activity that allows bringing together different types of art.
  •  A meeting point for people from different cultures and nationalities where a dialogue of cultures could happen because the “language” of international communication does not demand an interpreter, it is either performing art like dancing or music, or arts.
  • An experience of bringing together spiritual and material activities.
  •  A form of organizing one’s leisure time where one can meet his/her needs in beauty, movement, and communication with the opposite gender in the best possible way.
  • The experience of a peaceful coexistence in the society.
  • An impulse for the individual self-improvement, stimulating the desire to achieve the goodness, beauty, and harmony.
  • A process of giving birth to the best joyful feelings, a new inspirational energy, new plans, and hopes.


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1 Valentina A. Khorosh [In Russian: Валентина Алексеевна Хорош], Emeritus teacher of Russian and Russian Literature, an educator at the Palace of Creativity for Children and Youth; a coauthor (together with Leonid Khorosh) of a syllabus for a practicum “Secrets of Communication”; a coauthor and a co-organizer of an international cultural-educational project “ A Ballroom Dance of Cultures: Dancing Together” (2003-2010), Petrozavodsk.

2 Geoge Sviridov (1915-1998) is a famous Russian composer who composed (in 1964) the music for Alexander Pushkins’ novel “The Blizzard”.

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