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Circulation as Destination: Considerations from the Translocal Culture of Competitive Ballroom Dance

Jonathan S. Marion


Walking in the door to Vivo Dancesport studio in Hacienda Heights, California, Nadia Eftidal, a former Blackpool Professional Latin Champion, greeted me with a surprised "What are you doing here?" knowing that I was based 100 miles to the south in San Diego. Yet bumping into each other again a couple of months later and over 5,200 miles further away (in the Empress Ballroom at the Wintergarden competition venue in Blackpool, England), Nadia greeted me with a simple "Good to see you." The seeming contradiction—between surprise within Southern California versus casual acceptance a continent and an ocean farther away—speaks to the significance of 'circulation' in the world of competitive ballroom dance.1 Participation in a circuit of locations and activities both makes and marks membership. Indeed, as ballroom dancers move up the competitive ranks, travel becomes not only the norm but an elemental necessity.

     Whether it is for competition, coaching, or costume fittings, dancers' lives are shaped and lived not in any given location but in translocal circulation, as dancers move not only around the ballroom floor but also quite deliberately navigate the translocal ballroom world. As such, being a ballroom competitor involves the development of notions of belonging and norms and practices that are implicated in broad circulations of aesthetics, cultural values, and prestige, as well as systems of social, economic, and political statuses and contestations. Wide-ranging travel is a means of making and marking membership for judges, students, clothiers, and spectators alike.

Overlapping Circuits of Circulation

This article looks at the consequences of this 'always-on-the-go' dynamic for members of the ballroom community. I examine how this activity system forms, facilitates, tempers, and molds dancers' movements, both in their dancing and across their geographical and social landscapes. For any individual dancer, for instance, national residency restrictions, standards of living, and visa eligibilities regularly intersect and clash with ballroom-specific training, teaching, partnering, and competition opportunities. Drawing upon an economic model of regional market systems, the literature on transnational dance cultures, and my understanding of participatory involvement, the article seeks to unpack the social, cultural, political, and economic dynamics of the transnational ballroom world. I highlight (a) how ballroom competitors are embedded in translocal networks of practice and (b) how these involvements influence dancers' personal and professional experiences and choices.

     Ballroom dancers start their careers locally, yet if they are to climb the competitive ranks, they must compete further afield at regional, national, and international venues. Figure 1 provides a model of this competition structure, while Figure 2 uses specific competitions to illustrate the model.

Figure 1
Figure 1. General Schema.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Specific Competitions.

Several dynamics of this system bear on 'translocality.' First, the style of dancing, costuming, and conduct required are predicated on activity-specific standards and need to be more closely aligned with these parameters the further one advances up the competitive ranks. As dancers outgrow the training available to them locally, regionally, or (for the best of the best) nationally, they start to travel in order to receive better coaching. At lower levels, this usually involves travel to various "dance camps," but as competitors continue to succeed, increasingly they bring in more advanced coaches or travel for regular coaching sessions.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Students and Coaches—Jim Gray and Sunnie Page competing at Blackpool in 2005 (left) and Jonathan Wilkins and Katusha Demidova competing at the United States Dancesport Championships in Hollywood Beach, Florida, in 2006 (right). © 2005 & 2006 Jonathan S. Marion

For example, Jim Gray and Sunnie Page lived in Oregon when they won the national Novice Standard title in 2001. With no significant dancesport population in the state at the time, it is understandable why a somewhat shocked and obviously disappointed fellow competitor was later overheard in the men's changing room saying, "Who the hell is Jim Gray?" What this person failed to realize was that Jim and Sunnie (seen on the left in Figure 3) traveled to New York on a monthly basis, staying for up to a week at a time, to receive coaching from then U.S. National Standard Champions and World Standard Finalists Jonathan Wilkins and Katusha Demidova (seen in the right frame of Figure 3). They also took lessons from the visiting coaches Jonathan and Katusha brought from England. In the years that followed, Jim and Sunnie went on to compete in Blackpool, England, the most prestigious ballroom competition in the world, and they used these trips as opportunities to seek out and obtain further coaching from many of the best in the world.

     Most significantly, however, these dynamics of competition and coaching, as well as those of costuming, function simultaneously with, and feed back into, one another. Figure 4 shows just a small piece of this larger picture, illustrating how competitors from different locations all travel to a competition. As Figure 5 illustrates, however, there is no such thing as the competition location, because competitions occur at different locations as part of an ongoing, annual cycle. A very similar pattern repeats itself as competitors travel to work with different coaches, at competitions, studios, or dance camps (see Figure 6), and as coaches are brought in to coach at different locations (see Figure 7). This circulating dynamic is also evident as dancers travel to purchase their costumes, visiting trunk shows at dance studios, vendor displays at competitions, or even costume vendors' shops (see Figure 8), and as costume vendors travel to competitions and studios to market their merchandise (see Figure 9).

Figure 4
Figure 4. Going from "locations" to competitions.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Competitions go to "locations."

Figure 6
Figure 6. Going from "locations" to coaches.

Figure 7
Figure 7. Coaches go to "locations."

Figure 8
Figure 8. Going from "locations" to costumes.

Figure 9
Figure 9. Costumes go to "locations."

Putting all these pieces together, as shown in Figure 10, we start to see the multiple dynamics by which ballroom competitors and other participants live their lives and how fundamentally 'circulation' shapes them and their world. We can begin to understand how and why such circulation itself can be said to serve as a 'destination' within dancesport, since being in circulation emerges as a goal—a cornerstone of membership, competence, and identity.

Figure 10
Figure 10. Overlapping Circuits of Circulation.

Ballroom Dance as a Service Industry: An Economic Model

Although directed toward spatial analyses of regional market systems in China, anthropologist William Skinner's approach to regional system analysis can be usefully applied to examine the dispersed networks involved in professional ballroom dance (Skinner 1980, 1985). Avoiding the fallacy that the 'sites' and 'places' that matter are necessarily geographically based or bounded, Skinner observes "regions can be demarcated descriptively or functionally" (1980: 1). "A functional region," Skinner goes on to note, "is a territorially based system of human interaction," which "is manifested as patterned movements—flows of goods and services, money and credit, messages and symbols, and of persons in their multifarious roles and statuses" (1980: 1, my emphasis). Skinner's general approach certainly helps explain and account for much of the distribution of ballroom dance centers across the landscape—especially as this pertains to smaller regional centers feeding into larger ones and so on up the chain (and as seen in Figures 1 and 2). However, it needs to be adapted somewhat to explain the social systems, distributions, and networks of performance-based industries like ballroom dancing.

     While Skinner's model does include services, it is based on tangible goods. As such, the mobility of human services (relative to goods) is not sufficiently accounted for, since the requisite skills for service-based industries allow for a mobility of service largely unmatched in goods-based economies. One consequence of making a conceptual shift to focus instead on the mobility of human services (as is true for a performance activity such as ballroom dancing) is that the points of specialization demarcating higher-order and lower-order centers in Skinner's model are not as geographically fixed as a goods-based model might otherwise suggest. At the same time, however, services are not free floating; they are skill based and, as such, carried and enacted by persons.

     Undoubtedly many (perhaps most) 'goods' depend on skills, whether for collection, processing, crafting, distribution, or any other number of ways. Still, by their very nature and definition, 'goods' depend also on physical objects as limiting factors. A renowned sculptor, for example, is obviously a highly skilled artisan, but these skills cannot be expressed in the absence of the physical objects of her or his craft, be it stone, or metal, or some other substance, as well as the tools appropriate to each. The skills related to goods are, thus, of a different nature, at least as far as issues of mobility are concerned, than such self-contained skills as those of a therapist, a lawyer, or a dancer,2 and as illustrated in Figure 11.

Figure 11
Figure 11. Mobility vs. object size.

As Figure 11 illustrates, object size is inversely related to mobility. The larger the physical objects associated with any craft or industry, the lower the (potential) mobility of those involved. Of course, this trend needs to be understood not as a causative variable but as a limiting one. Working with small objects—say, as a watch-repair specialist—does not, after all, cause those in these industries to travel but, rather, allows them to do so in a way that would not be possible for, say, a potter or an auto mechanic.3 Because the entirety of dancers' skills and knowledge is embodied, the service they offer can be provided wherever they happen to be. What this means for the dance industry (and other, parallel, performance and service industries), is that industry and activity-based centers are not entirely fixed and are, at least somewhat, mobile and transitory.

     As shown in Figures 6 and 7, dancers not only travel to work with their coaches, but they also bring coaches to them. Practically speaking, then, this means that the points of greatest specialization (that is, Skinner's calculus for higher-order centers) are not fixed for service-based industries such as ballroom dance. If "a center's level . . . is determined by the availability in it of specialized goods [or services] not obtainable at a lower level" (Skinner 1980:14), then the location of the most elite (specialized) dance instructors is, by definition, a center of the highest order; and if those instructors can move and travel—as they do—then what defines and constitutes the centers of ballroom dance activity moves and travels as well.

     More than a theoretical consideration, the assertion that specific persons—as repositories of specialized skills and knowledge—can and do function as "mobile regional cores" within the service sector is readily attested to within the ballroom world. Various annual events such as ballroom dance camps and competitions are important centers of the 'industry' insofar as they bring together concentrations of the top dancers and teachers (that is, those with the most specialized skills). There is an obvious interplay between persons and locations here, as not everyone of a certain skill level always travels to the same locations. Yet the same events attract many of the top dancers and teachers at the same times and for interrelated reasons. A few examples will illustrate how people—viewed here for the moment as self-contained skill-based centers—serve as circulating nexuses of mobile regions.

     Just as the dancing and costumes of ballroom dance competitors are designed to help them be seen on the competition floor, their wide-ranging travel raises their visibility and status as competitors and performers. This dynamic continues later in their careers as former competitors circulate as coaches and judges (see Figure 15, below). While little monetary reward comes from winning competitions, the most successful competitors are offered opportunities to perform and coach. Similarly, there is very little money to be earned by judging; but being a frequent judge, especially at larger scale and more prestigious events, generates more demand for one's services as a coach. In much the same vein, participants in the ballroom world may show up to a competition as a spectator "just to visit" and "be seen."

Living in Circulation

Moving from an economic model to an ethnographic perspective on 'circulation,' we can ask what all this means for the persons involved in these multiple, reinforcing, and cross-cutting processes. On the one hand, serious dancesport competitors, judges, and vendors often spend more time on the road than at 'home' each year. This has consequences for one's family and nondance friends, as holidays, birthdays, and various anniversaries are regularly missed. Conversely, the annual calendar with its ongoing cycle of competition dates and locations (see Table 1) provides opportunities for sharing these same events among dance friends and acquaintances. In like manner, although as a researcher I was able to leave this cycle of events more than most participants, the need to be at the next event became part and parcel of my ethnographic fieldwork process (Marion 2005, 2008). This meant that I (1) regularly missed social milestones of nondancer friends and family, (2) often missed important social milestones of dancers at different locations during any given day/week/year, and (3) regularly celebrated my own birthdays and the like many miles from home, as seen in Figure 12.

Table 1
Table 1. National Dance Council of America (NDCA) Schedule of Competitions for 2011.

Figure 12
Figure 12. Birthday away from home—Taken in 2008 in Orlando, Florida, this image shows the eighth consecutive year that my birthday happened while I was attending the United States Dancesport Championships.

     More fundamentally, many dancers relocate to create new partnerships, involving further complexities of circulation based on different countries, residency requirements, living standards, and visa eligibilities. For example, Italian-born-and-trained Maurizio Vescovo partnered with Hungarian-born-and-trained Melinda Torokgyorgy (Figure 13). They lived in Italy, represented Hungary, and regularly trained in England for ten years. After winning the Amateur World Championship and competing together as professionals for another year, they dissolved their partnership. Maurizio went on to partner with Lithuanian Andra Vaidilaite (seen on the left in Figure 14) and dance for Canada, while his former partner Melinda chose to partner with Andrej Skufca (seen on the right in Figure 14) and now dances for Slovenia.

Figure 13
Figure 13. Maurizio and Melinda—Maurizio Vescovo and Melinda Torokgyorgy, World Amateur Latin Finalists at the time, are seen here competing in Amateur Latin at the 2004 United States Dancesport Championships in Hollywood Beach, Florida. © 2004 Jonathan S. Marion.

Figure 14
Figure 14. Maurizio and Andra / Andrej and Melinda—Maurizio Vescovo and Andra Vaidilaite (left) and Andrej Skufca and Melinda Torokgyorgy (right) all competing in the U.S. Open Professional Latin event at the 2010 United States Dancesport Championships in Orlando, Florida. © 2010 Jonathan S. Marion.

     Because the entirety of dance instructors' skills and knowledge is self-contained, the service they offer can be provided wherever they happen to be. What this means for the dance industry (and other, parallel, service industries) is that industry- and activity-based centers are not entirely fixed, but somewhat mobile and transitory as more elite dancers and coaches travel across geographic, temporal, social, political, and economic landscapes. Furthermore, because demand in any one location can be saturated, circulating becomes its own end point—a destination—as competitors, performers, and coaches seek out ongoing opportunities. Looking more closely at the image of Maurizio and Andra (Figure 15), we see not only the partnership between an Italian and a Lithuanian dancer, now dancing for Canada, seen here competing in the U.S., but also the judges seen standing behind them, including

  • Michael Wentinkformer World and Blackpool Professional Latin finalist, originally from South Africa. He competed as a professional with four different partners for South Africa, the U.SA. South Africa, and Japan (seen at the far right).

  • Donnie Burns, MBEformer World and Blackpool Professional Latin Champion, from Scotland, currently serving as president of the World Dance Council (WDC), the international governing body for professional dancesport (second from right).

  • Rufus Dustinformer Professional U.S. Champion (in American style, International Latin, and Theatrical Arts) and World Exhibition Champion, born and raised in New England (third from right).

  • Maxim Kozhevnikovformer World and Blackpool Professional Latin finalist, World Latin American Showdance Champion, and U.S. Professional Latin Champion, originally from Russia (seen here at far left).

Figure 15
Figure 15. Not only competitors circulate—Just a few of the thirty-plus judges working at the 2010 U.S. Dancesport Championships in Orlando, Florida. © 2010 Jonathan S. Marion.

     Whereas Figure 15 provides a moment in time that points to the overlapping circulations of persons involved with ballroom competitions, Tables 2–5 depict the chosen circuits of specific competitors in 2010.

  • Table 2 shows the 2010 competitions contested by three U.S. Professional Latin couples: Nazar Norov and Irina Kudryashova (based in Florida); Nikolai Pilipenchuk and Natalia Skorikova (based in Maryland); and Sergey Korshunov and Michelle Hafle (based in Texas).

  • Table 3 shows comparable materials in 2010 for the top three Professional Latin couples in the world: Ricardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagorouitchenko (dancing for the U.S.); Michal Malitowski and Joanna Leunis (dancing for Poland); and Franco Formica and Oxana Lebedew (dancing for Germany). In a parallel vein,

  • Table 4 shows the 2010 competitions danced by the top three Professional Standard couples in the world: Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova (dancing for the U.S.); Mirko Gozzoli and Edita Daniute (dancing for Italy); and Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyova (dancing for the US). Finally,

  • Table 5 shows the competitions of the 2010 World and U.S. Professional Championsall dancing for the U.S. and all based in New Yorkfor Standard (Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova), Latin (Ricardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagorouitchenko), and ten-dance (Gherman Mustuc and Iveta Lukosiute).

Interesting patterns can be seen by juxtaposing these four tables, based on competitors' (1) geography, (2) dance style, and (3) level. For instance, although only North American competitors compete at the Ohio Start Ball in November, all the top couples will attend this event (unless the scheduling conflicts with a respective World Championship).

Table 2
Table 2. 2010 competitions for three (U.S.-based) Professional Latin couples.

Table 3
Table 3. 2010 competitions for top three Professional Latin couples in the world.

Table 4
Table 4. 2010 competitions for top three Professional Standard couples in the world.

Table 5
Table 1. National Dance Council of America (NDCA) Schedule of Competitions for 2011.

     It is at the individual level that such circulations are lived, however, so it is important to put a human face on these dynamics. The following images provide examples from two-time World Professional Ten-dance champion Iveta Lukosiute (from Table 5). While each of these images illustrates something in and of itself—including the preparation, performance, and aesthetics involved in competitive ballroom dance—when taken together more themes emerge, many directly related to the overlapping circuits that constitute the ballroom world (see Figure 10). Several of the circuits we see here include information about the following topics:

  • Geographicin the form of images from Florida (Figures 16, 19, and 20) and California (Figure 17) in the U.S. and Blackpool (Figure 18) in England.

  • Temporalin the form of images from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010 (Figures 16–20, respectively).

  • Spatiotemporalin the form of images from the United States Dancesport Championships from 2005, 2009, and 2010 (Figures 16, 19, and 20).

  • Physicalin the form of images of both practice (Figure 16) and competition (Figure 18).

  • Aestheticin the transitions from "daytime" dress at a competition (Figure 19), to competition grooming (Figure 17) and costuming (Figure 18), to evening attire at a competition (Figure 20).

These images highlight the fact that actual persons travel from place to place, year after year, returning to annual competitions, putting in the physical labor of practicing and competing and engaging in the aesthetic practices and social engagements that constitute the ballroom world. The colorful costumes, bright lights, careful grooming, and well-rehearsed routines that we see represented here do not happen on their own. Specific dancers invest themselves, paying the personal and financial costs of participation.

Figure 16
Figure 16. Practicing—Gherman Mustuc and Iveta Lukosiute are seen here practicing their Paso Doble routine at the 2005 United States Dancesport Championships in Hollywood Beach, Florida. © 2005 Jonathan S. Marion.

Figure 17
Figure 17. Primping to perfection—With the same attention to detail that saw her go on to win the World ten-dance title twice, Iveta Lukosiute applies the final touches to her competition makeup at the 2006 Emerald Ball Dancesport Championships in Los Angeles, California. © 2006 Jonathan S. Marion.

Figure 18
Figure 18. Ten-dancers in action—Gherman Mustuc and Iveta Lukosiute are seen here competing in both the Standard (left) and Latin (right) styles at the 2007 British Open Championships (i.e., "Blackpool") in Blackpool, England. © 2007 Jonathan S. Marion.

Figure 19
Figure 19. Always fabulous—Here Iveta Lukosiute represents the importance of visibility, appropriate aesthetics, and the always "on" nature of the ballroom world, as she just happened to be walking by a photo shoot I was doing with Nikolai Pilipenchuk (see Table 2) and Michal Towliszew for their sponsor, Doré Designs, at the 2009 United States Dancesport Championships in Orlando, Florida. © 2009 Jonathan S. Marion.

Figure 20
Figure 20. Always dressed to impress—Reinforcing the same themes noted for Figures 17 and 19, here Iveta Lukosiute is seen in more formal attire watching from floorside at the 2010 United States Dancesport Championships in Orlando, Florida. © 2010 Jonathan S. Marion.

     In light of the information provided in Table 5, Iveta serves as a powerful example of a practitioner whose work requires her to be on the go constantly and for whom professional value is inextricable from circulation and transition. Indeed, Tables 2–5 only show the competition-related movement of these dancers. In fact, all of them also travel to teach, to take lessons, and to perform far more often than they actually compete. Most significantly, the more elite the dancer's status, the more that ongoing participation in the circuit becomes constitutive of both his or her sociocultural and personal status and identity.

Circulation and Identity

In his considerations of the human consequences of globalization, Zygmunt Baumen recognizes that "nowadays we are all on the move" (1998: 77) in myriad ways but goes on to differentiate between tourists (who can return 'home' at will) and vagabonds (who cannot), and admonishes that

[t]he fashionable term "nomads," applied indiscriminately to all contemporaries of the postmodern era, is grossly misleading, as it glosses over the profound differences which separate the two types of experiences and render all similarity between them formal and superficial. (1998: 87)4

Baumen's point is an important one, especially if we recognize his two "types" as poles of a continuum. We can then apply his idea to position the casual recreational ballroom competitor who may attend competitions as 'tourists,' in contrast to active professionals (whether competitors, officials, or other personnel) who cannot leave the circuit without losing their status within the community. As E. S. Carr (2010) rightly posits, being an expert is acting like one. In the case of competitive ballroom dancing, 'acting like an expert' is certainly about how one dances but also about one's participation in the overlapping circuit of roles and goods suggested by Figures 4–10. Regardless of dancing ability, for example, it is impossible to be credited as a 'national level competitor' (let alone finalist or champion) without actually competing at the national championships. This same dynamic is at play locally for newer competitors and geographically more broadly for international competitors—likewise for those who coach and judge (and various other competition personas), who need to be seen as active to count as engaged participants and thus members of the community.

     Circulating is thus fundamental as a signal of one's belonging within the competitive ballroom world. Certainly, competitors of years past may be recalled with reverence and even greeted with fond reminiscences and nostalgia, but their position as active participants in the ballroom world quickly shrinks when they are no longer active and not seen regularly. While the old adage 'out of sight, out of mind' may not be accurate for all, it does apply to many. More pointedly, however, 'out of circulation' does mean out of consideration for full membership—whether as competitor, coach, judge, or anything else.

     Without denying earlier forms of human circulation, we can acknowledge that current communication and transportation technologies have changed the nature and understanding of human 'mobility.' Whether asserting the need to conceptualize cultures "in terms of travel" (Clifford 1992: 101), recognizing the importance of "cultural flows in space" (Hannerz 1993: 68) or "the increasing nomadism of modern thought" (Chambers 1994: 18), or foregrounding global interconnectedness (Marcus 1995), modern mobility demands that we reconfigure our approaches to understanding movement and place. For example, it is not only that many communities studied by anthropologists are now multisited (for example, Marcus 1986, 1995; Gupta and Ferguson 1997) but that such translocal communities are often "connected with one another in such ways that the relationships between them are as important . . . as the relationships within them" (Hannerz 2003: 207). In his discussion of Aguilillan migration, for instance, Rouse observes that "it is the circuit as a whole rather than any one locale that constitutes the principle setting in relation to which Aguilillans orchestrate their lives" (1991: 14).5 As demonstrated in the materials presented above, the same can be said of those participating in the competitive ballroom circuit: even when training, practicing, or coaching takes place in a given location, such activity is engaged in only in relation to the competitive circuit of persons, places, and practices.

     As I have suggested elsewhere (Marion 2006: 7), understanding translocal activity-based communities is of particular importance in the context of globalization, especially "as geographic borders less clearly demarcate and define the exigencies of daily life" and "as they testify to the experiences of identity in [post-]modernity, where the primacy of geographic locality recedes in the face of ever expanding physical and conceptual mobility" (Marion 2006: 7). Nigel Rapport and Andrew Dawson sketch a similar picture when they note that "for a world of travelers, of labour migrants, exiles and commuters, home comes to be found in a routine set of practices, a repetition of habitual interactions, in styles of dress and address, in memories and myths, in stories carried around in one's head" (1998a: 7, citing Berger 1984). More than conceptual abstractions, such ideas are paramount to understanding how circulation contextualizes and constructs identity.

     As Rapport and Dawson also suggest, 'home' is best understood as "'where one best knows oneself'—where 'best' means 'most,' even if not always 'happiest'" (1998a: 9) and refers "to that environment (cognitive, affective, physical, somatic, etc.) in which one best knows oneself, where one's self-identity is best grounded" (1998b: 21). In exactly this way, the fluctuating and overlapping constellations of persons, practices, and activities that constitute the competitive ballroom circuit come to count as 'home' for the more serious participants. In exactly this way, the same dancers may enjoy 'coming home' to their residences after a competition yet soon start to feel out of touch and isolated if they remain 'at home' too long.

     So, we might ask, how is it that the circuit itself becomes 'home' for participants in the ballroom circuit? In the first instance, the goings on of the competition circuit set the parameters and the direction in which norms are evolving for the larger world of ballroom practices. Participants take careful note of which competitors were there and how they placed in the competition. They ask whether there were any new partnerships. Which judges were there, marking the event? Which vendors were there? Who was the MC? Who was the DJ? Who was the photographer? Were there any particularly noteworthy new costumes or any new trends in costuming? Was there a special performance and, if so, by which couple(s)? Where was the event held, and how were the accommodations, the food, and access to any local attractions? All these items (and many more) are part of the knowledge and activities that constitute the competition circuit. They are elements that can be confusing to the newcomer but become comfortingly familiar to the regular participant. Yet, as people come and go, as partnerships start and end, as champions arise and retire (or get dethroned), and as costuming trends evolve, the particular configuration shifts. As such, one needs to be 'there,' both to stay 'in the know' and to be considered a current participant. Yet more than just familiarity with current goings-on is at stake.

Being Seen and Belonging

In such an appearance-based community, 'being seen' matters. Participation signals belonging. Expanding on William Irons's concept of the "costly signaling theory of ritual" (2001), Richard Sosis contends that "only committed members will be willing to dress and behave in ways that differ from the rest of society" (2004: 169). This dynamic of ritual activity plays out in competitive ballroom in myriad ways, but nowhere more so than in the costs entailed—in time, effort, and finances. Whereas the casual participant is unlikely to invest the considerable time and money that go into developing competitive dancing, serious participants book multiple lessons per week (and even per day), with lessons typically running from $50 to over $200 per forty-five-minute lesson. Perfecting a single step at the highest levels in the world can, quite literally, amount to $10,000 a step! Costuming represents another such "costly signal," with ballroom shoes typically running over $100 per pair, and costumes regularly costing $3,000 or more. And precisely because other participants know the costs of participation, those who participate powerfully demonstrate their commitment to belonging.

     However, all the lessons, practices, and costumes do not matter unless they are seen. Traveling the competition circuit, thus, serves as a vehicle to display one's costly 'signals of belonging.' In turn, the ongoing travel itself emerges as a potent, costly signal in its own right (see Figure 21). Such costly circulation serves as a declaration of identity—who else would go to the trouble and expenses, after all? Circulation is thus the sociocultural context within which ballroom identities are formed and the arena in which one marks one's belonging by being seen. In this way, circulation becomes its own destination, with participants continually in transit, while also continually transitioning toward what comes next in terms of marking, displaying, and asserting membership.

Figure 20
Figure 21. Living in circulation—Taken from Iveta Lukosiute's Facebook profile, this image shows the less glamorous side of always being on the go when professional value is inextricable from circulation.

     As I have sought to emphasize, it is at the individual level that ballroom lives are experienced, albeit in circulation with others, and Iveta Lukosiute has provided a powerful example of a practitioner whose work requires her to be constantly on the go and for whom professional value is inextricable from such circulation (as seen in Figures 16–21). Social movement as well as the bodily movement of ballroom occurs on the competitive floor, in preparatory practice, in providing and receiving lessons, in developing costuming, in shifting partnership pairings, in evolving technique, and through participating in the circuit of elite practitioners who constitute the growing edge of the world of competitive ballroom.

Broader Implications

This article has focused on how ballroom competitors are embedded in translocal networks of practice and how such involvements modulate dancers' personal and professional statuses and identities. More specifically, I have looked at the connections between travel and prestige in the international dancesport community, unpacking how greater circulation translates into greater connections and success and, indeed, how circulation serves as a prerequisite for belonging. As noted in the introduction to this issue (Marion and Wilcox), having, leaving, seeking, and making homes can mean very different things to those whose lives are lived in circulation. In this vein, the example provided by ballroom dancers reveals that, rather than simply thinking of artistic itinerants as being without homes, more attention should be directed to examining and understanding how such performers are 'at home' (at least partially) in circulation. Likewise, careful attention needs to be paid to the significance of translocal travel and participation, including the interesting consequences such movements have for performers' lives. Especially in the face of globalization, such issues are of ever-greater importance as broader ranges of people participate in elements of such lifestyles—whether entertainers, business people, politicians, or military personnel, just to name a few.


1 I here use Howard Becker's (1984, 2001) concept of "art worlds" to encompass all the participants, personnel, and paraphernalia involved in competitive ballroom dancing.

2 This is not to suggest that 'tools of the trade' are not also common to psychotherapy, law, or the dance but, rather, that the therapist, lawyer, and dancer can each practice their craft in the absence of physical tools in a manner that the sculptor, painter, or construction worker cannot.

3 Obviously, a potter or an auto mechanic can make arrangements to acquire or use another potter's or mechanic's facilities, materials, and supplies, and this would hold true for almost any object-based craft and occupation. The point being made here, however, is that, insofar as one is limited to what one can carry, then certain tasks, especially those that are service-versus-goods oriented, allow for a far greater amount and range of personal—and hence professional—mobility.

4 See Baumen (1996) for a related and interesting discussion and distinction between pilgrims and tourists. Also see Wulff (2007: 528–29) for an interesting discussion of Irish travel advertisements and "transnationally mobile individuals," with reference to Bauman's recognition of the important distinctions between those who choose to travel and those who are forced to do so.

5 Building on Auge's (1995) idea of non-places, Rapport and Dawson make a similar point, noting that, "in terms of individual awareness . . . movement has become fundamental to modern identity, and an experience of non-place (beyond 'territory' and 'society') an essential component of everyday existence" (1998a: 6).

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Becker, Howard
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Berger, John
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Carr, E. S.
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Chambers, Iain
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