The most dangerous dance in the World! Believe me or not – it is Rock’n’Roll!

Matthias Ritters

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I tell you: Elvis could not dance Rock’n’Roll today! You don’t believe me? Just take a look:

Women flying three metres above the ground and are dashing back to it– very often headfirst! Everyone stop breathing; time moves on in slow motion. Only at the very last moment dance partner catches their women and throwing them directly back into the air again. Welcome to the acrobatic world of Rock’n’Roll.

Rock'n'Roll World Competition / Credit: WRRC
Rock’n’Roll World Competition / Credit: WRRC

On the World Dance Sport Games the Rock’n’Roll dancers show how powerfully intense this sport really is. The sovereign dance poses and the freaky outfits in combination with spectacular acrobatics are the basics to deliver an awesome show dance. In most acrobatics, the man throws the woman into the air and there she executes somersaults of each kind. At the same time the man concentrates on each movement of his partner and is waiting to catch her with his arms, his back or even with his legs.

Next to a lot of practise, is trust most important for this high-performance sport: “It is a thrill, but I am not really afraid when I am in the air because I know that my partner below is covering me,” said Carolin Steinberger, German champion 2013 in the second class of Rock’n’Roll.

“You need a lot of practise and control before you are able to do these acrobatics without any safety system. And even if I would do something wrong, my partner can still catch me out.” She and her partner, Tobias Planer, train five days a week. For them it is the greatest leisure activity in their life.

German Championship 2013 / Credit: Carolin Steinberger
German Championship 2013 / Credit: Carolin Steinberger

Due to its sporty characteristic, Rock’n’Roll is mainly offered in clubs. The workouts include muscle building, technical exercises, fitness training and choreography. Trainer Sebastian Rott was in 2014 among the best ten Rock’n’Roll dancers of the highest levels in Germany. Next to his own private training, he helps ten dance couples improving their dancing skills in Dortmund : “A normal dance class starts regularly with a warm-up. That means running, stretching and strengthening exercises for the abdomen and back. Then we start with choreography and basic step workout and finally we are heading to learn new individual sub-elements.”

To keep up with competitors on tournaments, Rott recommends a training of at least three or, even better, four times a week. “For this sport it is not just important to have a good fitness and condition. You also need strength, technique and the comprehension of choreographies.”

Trainings are usually done in the evening, so everyone can train after his or her work, school, or study. All groups of all ages are welcome. Rott’s training units take two hours, but he also offers workshops for around six hours almost every weekend.

Because the dancers spend so much time together, they build up a really close relationship, which is understandable. This sport consists of more than just dancing and acrobatics; it is also about friendship. Even during tournaments, the competitors are working and helping each other, instead of trying to just beat each other as best as they can.

King of Rock'n'Roll / Credit: Hispania
King of Rock’n’Roll / Credit: Hispania

Most people have a false image in their heads about modern Rock’n’Roll dance: “Hmm…Rock’n’Roll dancing means to me: Back to the Fifties. Something like the Musical Grease and the people are dancing on music by Elvis Presley,” are thoughts of Annika Templin, who studies in Dublin. Mohamed Nader has a different idea about this special dance: “Rock’n’Roll dancing include a lot of head banging, right? And the dance doesn’t involve a lot of movements.” Also another citizen had just the idea in mind of the old Rock’n’Roll dance: “I think of a very energized dance, with acrobatics like in Grease. It is an active, couple dance in style of the Fifties.”

Dancing in 1943 / Credit: Esther Bubley
Dancing in 1943 / Credit: Esther Bubley

Rock’n’Roll is a show dance, characterized by the jumped basic step and acrobatic figures. However, today is the sport not to compare with Rock’n’Roll dance 50 years ago, just the basics are still to be seen. In the 70’s, Germany invented the more athletic, competitive form: Acrobatic Rock’n’Roll. The enlarged but partly dangerous acrobatics were inspired by the Lindy Hop, a swing dance of the 30’s.

Instead of wearing jeans and petticoats, appropriate attire is required and also the music changed into more modern rock and pop music with speeds of 192-208 beats per minute. And this means for the dancers a lot of sweat: They have to bounce or kick on every of these beats.

As a result of the more spectacular and more dangerous acrobatics, the injury risks increased as well. “The risk of injury is always there, as well as in any other sport. It is important to practise a lot. I, for myself, have already had two worse accidents. I’ve broken my ankle once,” says Cathrin Schelchshorn, former deputy head of department of the Rock’n’Roll Club TSV Forstenried in Munich. “But for sure on all tournaments is an ambulance team on site, for the case something should happen.”

France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland organized the first modern Rock’n’Roll dance competitions in Europe in 1974. Ten years later the World Rock’n’Roll Confederation (WRRC) came into being and the sport has grown enormously since then. Nowadays, more than 32 nations belong to this organisation. The WRRC approves the winning bid and provides the judges, invigilators and electronic marking systems.

World Rock'n'Roll Confederation / Credit: WRRC
World Rock’n’Roll Confederation / Credit: WRRC

In 2008 a group of enthusiastic Rock’n’Roll dancers formed the British Rock’n’Roll Dance Sport Federation (BRRF), an umbrella organisation for the sport in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, they have the safety restriction “free handed (i.e. with no hands) rotating gymnastic movements are not permitted at any time” and therefore most of the aerials that are permitted in International competition would be disallowed.

In the Republic of Ireland, the sport is nearly unknown. There are just a few clubs that invite to Rock’n’Roll nights, but these are more similar to the old fashion Rock’n’Roll dance than to the modernized acrobatic Rock’n’Roll. This unknowingness and the circumstance that most people have a false image of this sport in mind are reasons for the WRRC, BRRF and other Rock’n’Roll organisations to make wide promotions as best as they can.

Rock’n’Roll dancing means sensational acrobatics, incredible speeds and rock music beats. To get an idea, you can just check out www.rockztube.com – a video portal about the sport. It is a sport where sparks are flying, and also women.

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Matthias Ritters

  • BRRF doesn’t have any such limitations as mentioned in the article.