Star Light, Star Bright: Topical Series – What Is Starlighting?

Ballroom is another world with its own rules and sometimes those rules are not explicitly stated and can cause confusion for people new to the hobby/activity/passion/obsession.

For instance, people newer to ballroom may not have heard of the term “starlighting.”  I guess it is kind of like the moonlighting my dad used to do as a radiologist when I was a kid.  He would work extra hours at hospitals outside of his regular job to earn some extra money when he was a resident.  In the ballroom context, “starlighting” is when a professional dancer accompanies his or her students out to social events, dance camp dinners, or other studio outings.

Hubble Watches Star Clusters on a Collision Course - Flickr - NASA Goddard Photo and Video

By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA (Hubble Watches Star Clusters on a Collision Course) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Students will pay their pro, or chip in as a group to basically “rent” the company of their pro for an evening of dancing. The pro, in turn, will dance with the students who hired him during the course of the event.  Outings may occur with many students at a particular studio and though they appear social, they have a specific start and stop time and pros will vacate the premises immediately after the event has come to an end.  Outings are generally associated with a particular price and may occur at regular intervals at studios.

One of the more confusing things that can happen as a newcomer to ballroom is that pros may not (and generally do not) ask students to dance unless they are their own students or they are friends with the students’ teacher.  There are many reasons for this behavior.  In the case of a “starlighted” event, the reason is obvious – the pro is “on the clock” with the students who have paid him to be there.  (Pros can be female, of course, but the vast majority of competitive students are female, employing a disproportionate number of male professional dancers).

Other reasons why pros may avoid dancing with students include the desire to not appear to be encroaching upon other pro’s students, or wanting to avoid angering their own students by paying attention to anyone else.  Or, perhaps they are just plain tired of dancing and want a little break!

But it creates an interesting dynamic, this “starlighting” thing.  It creates the appearance of intimacy, which may or may not be genuine, and most definitely involves a business transaction.  This can create confusion or even hurt feelings if both parties are not entirely clear about the nature of the relationship and transaction, or if there are unspoken assumptions of what an evening of “starlighting” will purchase.  I think, for instance, payment a “Starlighting” pro compensates the pro for his or her time, energy, and dancing expertise, and it may also increase the amount of attention given to the student for the duration of the engagement. It might even make the student feel “special” for a while.  If the pro views the “Starlighting” as a purely business venture but the student views it as a friendship or relationship things could get tricky.  Open, honest communications about expectations and boundaries are always a good idea!

Not all pros “Starlight” and most of the ones I’ve known to do it are independent instructors.  I don’t know if pros employed the studios are allowed to “Starlight,” and I’ve never personally hired a pro for an event other than as my pro in a competition, but I think it could be a great option for a special occasion if I wanted to be sure I’d dancing all night.

If you’ve had a “Starlighting” experience, I’d be curious to know how it went for you, if you liked it, if it was worth the investment.

And what do you think about the idea of “Starlighting?”  Does it seem like a cool thing to do, or is it a little off-putting?

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