Transferable Skills in Dance

It’s almost time for another series of a well-known dance competition on the BBC, and as the celebrities have now been announced there will undoubtedly be the usual cries of, “It’s not fair – they’ve had dance training!” and, “It doesn’t matter – they’re trained in ballet / street / whatever and this is ballroom.”
So which camp is right? Is previous dance training an advantage or not? In my opinion the answer to the first question is, ” both,” and to the second, it’s a resounding, “Yes … And no!”
If we take the definition of dance as “movement to music” then anybody who has some dance experience will have an advantage. For starters, they are used to timing their movements to music, meaning they are less likely to go off time then somebody who has never danced before. It’s usually the chefs and newsreaders who get pulled up on their timing. Beginner dancers also tend to be a bit “steppy” speech – ie they take one step for each beat of the music – which can make their dancing look unfinished or jerky. Those who already have dance experience, regardless of the genre, understand that the music needs to be filled, and that movements need to flow seamlessly from one to the next.
In this respect, people who have had any sort of dance training have an advantage over a true non-dancer.
It’s also true though that different dance genres have different styles, so some people who have lots of dance experience may have to unlearn years of a particular technique. I remember watching a documentary about Deborah Bull of The Royal Ballet try her hand at different dance styles, and after years of having to keep her hips rigid for ballet, she really struggled to get them to move more freely for some of the other dance styles. For someone who has trained to a really high level in ballet, a dance like samba would almost certainly be a challenge.
So back to the burning question… Is previous dance experience in a different genre an advantage or not? I think a lot depends on the individual, and on the level of dance they have achieved. However if pushed I would come down on the side of any sort of dance training being an advantage.