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Seniors: An Uneven Playing Field

by Steven & Triena Ong

GROWTH OF DANCESPORT IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
We have been keen Senior ballroom dancing competitors since we decided to take up dancesport seriously in 1990. Our experience includes competitions in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia in both Latin and Modern -- in other words, we have firsthand experience of how different countries organize competitions and how dancesport has grown in Asia in recent years. However, we see a potential problem looming with regard to the Senior category, and this threatens to dampen the enthusiasm and continued participation of Seniors.

INCREASE IN NUMBER OF SENIORS
Over the last few years we have noticed that the number of Senior Competitors has increased tremendously, especially locally in Malaysia and Singapore. During 1997/98, some local competitions have seen more than 30 couples in the Senior Modern category alone. This number far exceeds the number of entrants in any other category from Basic, Novice, Pre-Amateur, Amateur and Professional.

It is very encouraging to see more & more Seniors taking part in competitions. We are glad that the competition is becoming more challenging. We definitely welcome this.

WHO IS SENIOR?
Local competitions usually stipulate the age of 40 (sometimes 45) years for the male partner in Senior events -- but his female partner can be of any age. The majority of Senior entrants in Malaysia and Singapore are in their fifties. Most of them started dancing late in life and have never competed as Amateurs.

WHAT DANCES DO MODERN SENIORS DO?
Local Senior Modern competitions require only two dances: Waltz and Tango.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
1. Amateurs as Seniors:

Some new entrants to the Senior Modern category are actually Amateurs who also still compete in the Amateur category. Results of the last few competitions have shown that several couples have done this double entry regularly -- taking top positions as finalists in both the Senior and the Amateur Modern categories. The problem is that the older Seniors have no chance to get in the finals when competing with younger couples who are also Amateur finalists.

2. One Event for Seniors, Several Events for Amateurs:
An added problem is that there is generally only one event for Seniors, but 2 or 3 events for Amateurs (eg. Open, Closed, and Southeast Asia/Asia). This lopsided spread means that the Seniors are subjected to several rounds of Quarter Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals, in the one Senior event in which to strive for a place in the final line-up of 6 placings out of 30 couples. But in the Amateur categories, there are fewer competitors (sometimes only 4 or 5 couples) and they often go straight into the finals, because there are not enough competitors.

If there are three Amateur events (Closed, Open, and Southeast Asia, etc), these Amateurs are assured of one (or more) of the 18 final placings available (6 finalists for each event). On the other hand, in the Senior category in cases where there have regularly been more 20 or 30 couples, after several rounds of heats the Seniors are knocked out at the finals where youth, stamina, and superior skills of the Amateurs dancing as Seniors win the day. It is not an even playing field. As a consequence, the odds are stacked against the Seniors and many give up.

3. Seniors as Amateurs:
One Amateur reminded us that Seniors were at liberty to take part in the Amateur category, too. But they forget that as Seniors (and in many case 10 to 15 years older), we do not have the stamina or physical skills to do all five Amateur Modern dances as well as the younger Amateurs. That is why Seniors are only required to do two dances.

Don't get us wrong -- we have no objection if Amateurs participate in the Senior Category if their ages fall within the Senior age limit. This is also a great challenge for the older Seniors to improve in order to try to reach the standard of the younger fellow competitors. But to be fair to the rest of the Senior couples, this group of Seniors dancers should not participate in the Amateur category in the same competition if they want to dance against the Seniors. If they decide to dance in the Amateur category, then they should not participate in the Seniors category at the same competition.

In one case in Australia, our Singapore contingent was informed that in Australian competitions, couples cannot dance in the grade lower than their present grading. This is a fairer system. The Senior category is generally considered a grade lower than Amateurs. Australia also has a fair system of grading to ensure standards and to encourage competitors to move up.

IMPROVING STANDARDS AND REGULATIONS
Dancesport in Southeast Asia has great potential. But it needs greater participation and the support of more competitors. We need to groom a critical mass of dedicated dancers. This will not happen if standards are mixed and there are no regulations. Instead, disillusioned competitors will drop out.

We propose that there should be a fairer system of ensuring that competitors enter categories appropriate to their age and skills. In particular, we propose that the largest category of dancers, i.e. Seniors be sub-divided into two age groups, viz. (a) 40 to 55 years, and (b) 55 years and older. Further we propose that competitors may not enter both the Amateur and the Senior categories in the same competition.

This article was published on Wednesday 30 September, 1998.
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