Welcome To The Ballroom Episode 6: Progress, Partners, and Pinball

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And our previous episode is here.

Collisions happen, but as Sengoku says in this episode – apologize, and DON’T STOP DANCING.

Episode six of Welcome To The Ballroom brings us Tatara and Mako’s practice in earnest. They’ve officially announced themselves as partners—and so have Gaju and Shizuku. Well, Gaju goes a step forward and optimistically outlines his new dance life with Shizuku from their next official competition up until their future marriage.

This week’s episode is largely dedicated to plot advancement. However, there are some more explanations of some facets of dancing, and it does also introduce Quickstep to the audience. It’s a flashy, quick dance, full of flair; in a fun visual metaphor, Quickstep is compared to a rollercoaster at an amusement park.

While Gaju shows his prowess with Standard, we see that Tatara has his own talents too, when he learns the Quickstep routine so fast it even shocks Mako. There are a lot of cute scenes between the two of them, both cheering each other up and cheering each other on; building self-confidence and expressing your belief in your partner seem to be key parts of how this arc is going to play out. While it seems to be a recurring joke to compare dance partners to spouses, a dance partnership is an important, lasting one that should be built on mutual respect and emotional support.

Sometimes the dance floor can feel like this, we know.

While Tatara works up the courage to challenge Gaju to an unofficial competition that’s coming up, most of the cast admits that Gaju is still far beyond Tatara’s skill level. A large portion of this is due to the sheer amount of experience. Thanks to a flashback, we learn that Gaju has at least six years of dance experience, while Tatara has been running on just a few months, and a single heat on the competition floor.

This comes back to bite him in the butt when he realizes he does not know how to navigate a crowded dance floor. First, he bumps into Gaju and Shizuku, and when Sengoku sends them to a dance hall to practice moving with other couples on the floor, he calls the result “pinball”. Sengoku explains how the line of dance works – the counter-clockwise movement of dancers around the dance floor. This keeps everyone generally moving in the same direction, if not the same pace, and is a basic piece of dance knowledge.

But even this is something Tatara had been unaware of. He has a lot to learn before he can catch up to his newfound rival and help Mako shine on the dance floor.

Welcome To The Ballroom Episode 5: Good Leading Is Now A Superpower

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Shizuku, alone.
It’s important to consider how your partner is feeling.

And our previous episode is here.

We’re back with Welcome To The Ballroom, and we’re kicking off a new arc within the show to match. At the end of episode 4, a newcomer literally ran into Tatara in her haste to warn Shizuku. In this episode, we find out what she actually meant.

With Kiyoharu injured and not dancing, this leaves Shizuku without a practice partner. Enter the Akagi siblings: Gaku, the elder brother, and Mako, the little sister. Gaku declares that with Kiyoharu “dead”, he will become Shizuku’s new partner, leaving his sister/professional partner behind. (Hint: this is not a very nice thing to do to your partner. Do not do it!)

This is why you dance with multiple partners.
Don’t copy this hold. This is why you dance with multiple partners.

Tatara is encouraged to dance with Mako while Shizuku and Gaku practice. Tatara doesn’t have much experience dancing with anyone, but especially people who aren’t Shizuku—and it immediately shows. It’s vital for any good leader to dance with a lot of followers (and vice versa), exactly so they can get used to dancing in general, rather than dancing only with a specific kind of dancer. Mako is the more skilled and more experienced dancer between them, but she is the follower, and appears shy, no less.

After Shizuku declares that she is upset with both Kiyoharu and Sengoku, for not trusting her enough to withdraw from the competition when Kiyoharu had been injured, she accepts Gaku as her competitive partner. There is nothing wrong with changing professional partners, of course, but Sengoku likens dancing couples to married couples—it is not a commitment to take lightly.

The focus remains on Mako, however, who has been left behind by her dance partner. Sengoku suggests that she and Tatara dance together for the time being. She gladly accepts, but first Tatara must prove that he can become the leader she needs.

When choosing a new competitive partner, the beautiful sunset backdrop is optional.
When choosing a new competitive partner, the beautiful sunset backdrop is optional.

Leading and following require a fair amount of trust, not just skill or talent. You should be able to dance with anyone who can dance, but to dance competitively requires a certain kind of syncing. (Tatara compares this to being psychic, which would certainly help things. But we’ve found it’s not necessary to be psychic to be a good leader.)

It is, however, important for dancers to be able to read their partners. Tatara and Mako learn to dance with each other when Sengoku challenges him to lead her on a preset path. Tatara reads where Mako wants to go, what steps she’ll take, what directions she wants to head in—and he leads her there.

With vows of determination and a new goal in mind—to build each other up, help each other improve, and find value in each other as partners—Tatara and Mako officially become dance partners.

Continue with the next episode here!

Welcome To The Ballroom Episode 4: A Dancer’s Passion

Kiyoharu and Shizuku on the comp floor.
Kiyoharu and Shizuku on the comp floor.

New to our review series? Start here!

And our previous episode is here.

Episode four of Welcome To The Ballroom brings the passion. It does this, of course, with the first Tango we see in the series. (What else would suffice?)

The competition continues, and Kiyoharu confronts Tatara about dancing with Shizuku in his place. Initially unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, this lights a fire within Kiyoharu, and despite his injuries, he takes the floor once more for their Tango heat.

The series then takes an interesting stance on what makes a good dance. Kiyoharu has always been portrayed as skilled and hard-working, but this is the first time we see passion from him. Everyone immediately notices. Sengoku and Tatara notice, Shizuku is floored, and the audience watches with wide eyes and open mouths. True, raw dedication to dance exposes equally true, raw emotions—and we see Kiyoharu and Shizuku receive a standing ovation in the semi-finals for it.

The animation reflects Kiyoharu’s new perspective several times, with some interesting visual metaphors. But it brings to mind something your teacher will likely tell you to strive for time and time again: he has presence on the dance floor.

Of course, this is a competition, and since they bent the rules to get Tatara onto the floor in the last episode, this comes back to bite them in the butt. With a six-month suspension, Kiyoharu is forced to take time to recuperate, and Shizuku is left without a partner (and the complicated feelings that come with all that happened).

Their movements are so sharp they fling sweat everywhere. Dance goals!
Their movements are so sharp they fling sweat everywhere. Dance goals!

Dancing while injured is nothing to take lightly, even for a competition. Sengoku is mad that Kiyoharu kept his injury to himself, and in fact tried to get him disqualified by throwing Tatara into the Waltz in his place. (This is why communication with your dance instructors, partners, and fellow students is vital! Entertaining to watch, but let’s be real, actual drama is nothing anyone wants.) Dance can help with some kinds of injuries and body issues, helping strengthen muscle, increase mobility, and even sharpen the mind, but this is something that should be talked over with a doctor (and your instructor), not sneakily hidden while hoping it goes away.

With Kiyoharu temporarily out of the picture, on crutches, suspension, and the wrong train, he tells Tatara to “take care of Shizuku” for him.

Our confused protagonist doesn’t exactly understand, at least not until we get a glimpse of future characters—one of whom swaggers into the studio and demands that Shizuku become his new professional partner.

Continue with the next episode here!

Welcome To The Ballroom Episode 3: From the Studio to the Competition Floor!

Tatara dancing the Waltz with Shizuku.
Tatara dancing the Waltz with Shizuku.

New to our review series? Start here!

And our previous episode is here.

With episode 3 of Welcome To The Ballroom, we have some time passing, and with that comes some clear dancing progress, too. Tatara’s teachers declare that his Waltz is “perfect”, and there is much rejoicing—and also many, many comparisons of his dancing to various animals. (The newborn fawn was a good one; it can definitely feel like you’re wobbling around on fawn legs after a long day of dancing!)

Of course, while Tatara is happy with his new Waltzing prowess, after heading to the next competition to watch Kiyohara and Shizuku perform, he has a startling realization: he wants to learn more dances. He isn’t content with where he is—he is driven forward by a thirst for knowledge and progress.

(Please take a moment to imagine your dance instructor’s unbridled glee at the very thought.)

This competition introduces us to some Latin dancing proper, with all of the sexiness and sensual hip movements that entails. Tatara can’t help but feel out the rhythm as he watches; he taps his foot through the entire competition. He doesn’t yet understand how to move to this newfound beat, but he knows he wants to.

Shizuku and Kiyoharu dancing and sweating (a lot).
Even dripping with sweat, they’re beautiful.

In addition to seeing the spicier side of ballroom dance, we also see the sweatier side. This has been a recurring theme already—from Tatara sweating so much through his all-nighter that Sengoku slips on the floor, or Kiyoharu splattering the door when he tossed his head—but it’s great to see that the series will not shy away from the hard work and exertion involved in dancing. Even if it isn’t always pretty. (Though, of course, the anime happens to make it rather sparkly.) By the time anyone is done with a rigorous dance session, they’re dripping sweat and gulping down air. It’s great to see that kind of accuracy portrayed here.

But as with all competitions, with Latin also comes Standard.

And, due to rivalries, injuries, and a terrible accident (or was it…?), Shizuku is left waiting by herself.

With Kiyoharu missing and the Waltz heat coming up, Sengoku pushes their team into a drastic decision: Tatara is going to go out onto the floor and dance with Shizuku.

Tatara stepping onto the floor for the first time.
Tatara stepping onto the floor for the first time.

So Tatara, in full competition wear for the first time in his life, is thrown out onto the dance floor with a partner he hasn’t danced with. And he does what anyone in that situation would do: he freezes.

Dancing in that kind of situation for the first time can be understandably nerve-wracking. It’s a big step to take, and he hadn’t had any real prep, emotionally or physically. But even with Sengoku and the other teachers silently cheering on the sidelines, even with Shizuku whispering encouragement (and her own panic), Tatara ultimately has to rely on himself to get moving.

This means he relies on muscle memory. This is vital to learning how to dance, and it’s wonderful to see it pointed out like this. Tatara may still be panicking, but he can move, and he can still lead Shizuku. He still gets to dance on the competition floor with her.

Of course, a good series is nothing without drama and emotional investment, so the episode ends with a cliffhanger: Kiyoharu, returned after his accident on the stairs, angrily confronts Tatara over him stealing Shizuku.

Continue with the next episode here!

Welcome To The Ballroom Episode 2: Dancer See, Dancer Do!

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Latin dip with a leg thrown over the leader's.
Latin competitors showing off some flashy moves.

With the second episode of Welcome to the Ballroom, we meet more characters, learn about different styles of teaching and learning, and get to see our first competition. It’s a lot to take in, but it does a wonderful job of highlighting not only the thrill of ballroom dancing, but also the hard work that it demands.

Hard work seems like it’s going to be a big feature of this series. (As well it should be, considering its subject matter!) After spending the first episode practicing the Waltz box until his feet were blistered, this episode finds Tatara with new teachers, new inspiration, and new moves—or so he hopes.

What continues to drive Tatara forward is his hope of becoming a competitive dancer. Sengoku invites him to a competition, to see Shizuku and Kiyoharu in action. Shizuku is a classmate of Tatara’s, but Kiyoharu is a new face—and an intimidating one. (Sengoku points out that he could be a potential future rival, but of course also points out that Tatara has a long way to catch up with him, but that only excites him further about dancing.)

Tatara slips while trying out some fancy footwork.
This is why it’s important to have properly hemmed pants.

Tatara continues to grow his dance wardrobe—this time with a pair of pants that he is incredibly excited and grateful to receive. He has borrowed dance shoes, and while these pants come used (an old pair of Kiyoharu’s that he outgrew), Tatara is happy that he’s finally feeling a little more properly outfitted for his dance journey. …After hemming the pants.

We’ve talked about the importance of team teaching before, and while we’re very happy to see differences in teaching styles, this episode uses them as a narrative hurdle to overcome. Tatara can’t seem to pick anything new up, no matter how much hard work or desire there is. That can be incredibly frustrating, whether as a beginner student like him or even a professional. “It’s amazing how everyone can think about so much while dancing,” he says, sheepishly, trying to explain why he isn’t grasping the lesson at hand.

Tatara sheepishly comparing himself to Kiyoharu's skill level.
Tatara sheepishly comparing himself to Kiyoharu’s skill level.

And so we learn that there are differences in learning styles, too. You hear things like “oh, I’m a visual learner!”, but here we see it in action: Tatara, who can’t keep his eyes off of Shizuku and Kiyoharu, is definitely a visual learner. He ultimately learns by copying Kiyoharu, and that works better than any approach the other teachers took. It’s vital for any student, no matter their experience level, to figure out a learning style that works for them.

The episode closes on Tatara’s realization that, again, dancing is hard work. After he and Shizuku stop by Kiyoharu’s place, Tatara catches Kiyoharu practicing by himself. Despite Kiyoharu’s aloof demeanor, he is fully dedicated to dancing. He may seem like a genius who hardly has to try, but that’s not true; no one is good at dancing without trying, and Tatara gains a new respect both for his future rival, and competitive dancing.

Continue with the next episode here!

Welcome To The Ballroom Episode 1: He Spent HOW LONG Doing the Waltz Box?

Cover of volume 1 of the manga.
Cover of volume 1 of the manga.

For anyone who watches anime, you’ve probably already heard of Ballroom e Youkoso (Welcome to the Ballroom) getting an anime adaptation. That’s a fairly niche audience, however, even counting those who grew up in the Pokemon heyday of the 90s.

And what is “anime”, for those outside that niche audience? Anime is Japanese animated shows or movies. Movies such as Akira or My Neighbor Totoro are anime, as are television shows like Sailor Moon, Gundam, or yes, even Pokemon. Anime isn’t a genre, but a medium, so it means many different kinds of stories can be told—including Welcome to the Ballroom, which we’ll be covering.

So what, exactly, is this blog post about in layman’s terms?

There is going to be an anime series about ballroom dancing airing this summer. In this series of blog posts, we’ll be running reviews of it, covering everything from storyline, characters, and, of course, exactly how accurate a Japanese cartoon can be about ballroom dancing.

 

The first episode opens with a boy named Fujita Tatara who seems set to drift aimlessly through life. He doesn’t think much of himself, he has no plans for his future, and he gets bullied—until a mysterious, confident man on a motorcycle chases off his bullies. And, in true anime narrative fashion, he literally drags our young hero straight into the plot.

In this case, that means a ballroom dance studio. (For a free first class, no less!)

The series appears to be setting up a storyline of growth and self-realization. Already in episode one, we can see how excited Tatara is about this new world he has found himself in, and how eager he is to not only improve himself and his self-confidence, but to delve into the world of competitive ballroom dancing.

Sengoku dipping Tamaki as a demonstration.
Sengoku dipping Tamaki as a demonstration.

The mentor character (confident motorcycle man, of course; Sengoku Kaname) is specifically mentioned to be a Latin and Ten Dance champion. We get to see the glitz and glamor of a competition and see professionals in motion. (There was a fantastic line from Sengoku about the main character not understanding how much work it takes to be good at dancing, too.)

But there are also the little nuances, too, that ring true for ballroom dancing. The hard work involved, the confidence that dancing can bring, and of course, little gags such as losing track of time practicing, the bid for attention on a dance floor, a follower having to prop up a tired leader, and yes, even how boring it can feel to practice the box over and over and over again. (But Tatara gets good at them for all that practice, keep in mind. And he isn’t the one to complain, for how excited he is to get to learn at all.)

The dance moves in the show are, so far, quite accurate. They break down a few of the movements—such as likening the swing of someone’s hips to the swing of a pendulum—and they treat ballroom dancing as something both fun and as a commitment to bettering one’s self.

It’s a first episode to set up a future arc, but it’s a solid step, and we’re very interested in seeing what’s to come.

Continue with the next episode here!