It is late in the evening at the spacious International Centre Goa. A bunch of men, women and children eagerly make their way into a dance hall. With their flouncy skirts, shiny shoes, lacy shirts and glittering sequins they sway and sashay to the music, their waltzes and tangos turning the night into magic.
It is an exhilarating display, but these aren’t your average ballroom dancers.
During the day, it would be hard to pick them out of a crowd—doctors, bankers, government officials and schoolchildren. At night though, each is hard at work honing their skills with their partners, readying for the fierce contests ahead of them—and not a single one aims for anything less than a gold.
The likes of Ivanna Gomes, Muskan Prabhugaokar, Anna Kaarina and Lloyd Sousa are among Goa’s finest performers of dancesport, the modern-day form of competitive ballroom dancing.
The proponents of the sport follow a syllabus and stay updated with the latest international trends; more than that, they say they are living for the day when they can swing into the world’s greatest sporting event—the Olympics.
For Goa’s dancers, however, the competitions at the national level are no less important. Herculean efforts go into getting the perfect look, syncing with partners and choreographing a dance that can wow the judges.
“We have to face it that ballroom dancing is hard,” says Martin D’Costa, vice-president of the Goa Dancesport Association. “We want people to dance the right way, so we make them go to competitions so at least they dance to prepare.”
While most Goans are well-versed with the traditional ballroom dances—foxtrot, waltz, Viennese waltz and tango—and indeed no Goan celebration is complete without one, dancesport demands that certain standards must be followed to a tee.
Dancesport performers strive to master the small details—the technicality, the precision, the timing—and constantly try to take their dance one level higher.
“For us, rehearsal is about intricate dancing,” says Lloyd Sousa, a doctor. “For example, in a cha-cha, at the time of landing, the foot has to be placed laterally, whereas in a waltz, landing is on the heel. And likewise, the left turn can be quite different from the right turn.”
Anna Kaarina and her partner Nelson Menezes and Lloyd Sousa and his partner and wife Nadia Sousa, also a doctor, both couples new to formal coaching, have won national-level prizes.
Anna, in her 40s, working in the travel industry, and Nelson, 31, a government official with election duty, got silver in jive and bronze in cha-cha in the senior category of the India Open Latin and Ballroom Dancesport Championship in Mumbai last year.
Lloyd, 41, and Nadia, 35, got the gold in cha-cha in the senior category at the National Dancesport Championship at Raipur last year. At the India Open championship, they won bronzes in both cha-cha and waltz. In 2015, they got a gold in cha-cha in the senior category at the Maharashtra Open championship.
“The next level will be to participate in three or four dance categories,” says Lloyd. “Like a heptathlon or a pentathlon in sport.” And why not participate in the Blackpool, an eight-day dance festival that is the equivalent of the Olympics for dancesport, he says.
So what keeps Goa’s dancers from making a mark internationally?
Goa is rapidly developing, with steel-and-glass buildings springing up next to traditional cottages. Ballroom dance, however, has paid a price for it. Most of the large spaces that the dancers used to rely on are now commercialized.
So where do the competitive dancers go when they need to burn the midnight oil before a competition?
Last year, Anna and her partner Nelson used a housing colony’s gym, and Lloyd Sousa and his partner and wife Nadia Sousa, also a doctor, had to take special permission from a church in Calangute to dance in their hall.
Anna and Nelson danced late in the evening after work, while Lloyd and Nadia practised early in the morning before their clinic opened.
But the truth is, despite a rich Portuguese heritage (having been a colony from 1510 to 1961), Goans are not dancing the ballroom dances as much as they once did.
“People are not dancing as much as they probably used to,” says Anna, who is also the first cousin of the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
The limited appeal of ballroom dancing also has to do with popular music of the day—EDM (electronic dance music, for those not in the know), hip-hop and club music.
But the biggest hurdle to greater adoption, as far as competitive dancing goes, is funds—there is no money in prizes in India and no big role model to follow. “India still does not have a Sachin Tendulkar of ballroom dancing,” says Martin.
Companies see ballroom dancing as entertainment and not a sport, so sponsors are few and far between. International exposure, much like in any other sport, would mean dealing with failure in the initial years before Goans can hold their own on the world stage.
It is as if this sport is at the slow-slow-quick-quick stage—the preliminary steps for the foxtrot, used to learn and gather momentum.
Even classics change
Just like the languages evolve and new words come into use, while old ones alter their meanings, so do the classical dances. Goa’s dancers keep a sharp eye on new developments.
Ballroom dances have become fast-paced and showy, the music has faster beats to please the young and the impatient and costumes are bolder and more striking.
Now, dancers flex their knees more, to spring with greater force into the next move, and the gap between the partners has shrunk—all to enable faster movements. Costumes show more skin—and why not? More skin equals more speed.
“We keep looking at the younger generation of dancers,” says Flossy D’Costa, Martin D’Costa’s wife and dancing partner, a branch manager at HDFC Bank. “That’s a pointer to where it is going.”
Flossy and Martin, both three-time national dancesport champions, have spent many a euro at workshops overseas, all to bring the knowledge back to the dancers in their Dance Illusions academy, where they teach Latin and ballroom dancing.
Many workshops are also held in Goa by experts these days. At a recent workshop by German dancer Kay Schneutzer, he taught a new way to open the tango—a warm embrace by the partners. Girls giggled and squealed, but it did indeed look like a very nice way to start the very sensual dance.
Towards the future
Children doing the ballroom dance may be a rare sight, but Flossy and Martin’s academy has opened its doors to them lately.
Fourteen-year-old Cinida Dias takes style books to her mother and points out her favourite dance costume. Her mother then gets a tailor to stitch it for her.
Cinida is tall, has a dancer’s poise and exudes confidence—quite unlike the other teenagers. Her mother proudly shows pictures of her holding over a dozen medals and posing in her pretty, backless cha-cha costume.
The colourful fringes on her dress swish right and left with the twists and turns of the fast-paced Cuban dance and puts a blur of colour around her slender form.
Cinida started learning dance when she was nine, and last year she made her big breakthrough at national competitions with her partner Deodatta Gajbhiye. They won gold for both jive and cha-cha and silver for samba at the India International Tranzport Contesa; gold in salsa and jive, silver in cha-cha and a bronze in bachata at the India Open Latin and Ballroom DanceSport Championship.
And prior to that, at the National Dancesport Championship in Raipur, they won gold in cha-cha, jive and samba. Cinida has found her career early—she wants to major in dance and become an instructor. “First I will help Goa and then the other states of India,” she says.
There is more good news for dancesport lovers.
Both non-Goans and immigrants from other states are increasingly taking to ballroom dancing, and this keeps the dance economy going.
The Goa Dancesport Association is also working hard to reach out to youngsters, with its teams often performing at villages on weekends to showcase their art and generate interest.
Recently, one of the teams was part of a flash mob that performed the West Coast Swing in several countries simultaneously. The West Coast Swing isn’t a ballroom dance, it’s true, but it is easy and catchy and could pull youngsters into joining classes, where the ballroom dances could impress upon them too.
Along with the dancing skills, they will need to learn how to juggle between their day jobs and the Cinderella-like night life. Undoubtedly, though, that they would pull it off in the easy and friendly manner of the typical Goan, and ballroom dancing will go on.
Ruchira Singh is a freelance journalist based in Goa.
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