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The World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) is committed to developing all DanceSport disciplines to their fullest potential. In recent years we have seen the likes of Standard, Latin, Rock’n'Roll and Breaking increasingly capture the hearts and imaginations of dance fans across the globe. The question now is, could there be room for one more to follow in their footsteps?
With the most-watched video in WDSF history already to its credit, Formation stands intriguingly poised to do just that, or so says Horst Beer, who has been at the heart of the discipline almost as soon as he started dancing in the early 1970s. The German has been a dancer, a coach and now an adjudicator, so he understands fully how much potential Formation holds.
“For people not involved with dancing, Formation is maybe more interesting,” Beer says of the discipline that came into existence over 100 years ago when couples got together to dance their routines in teams. Today it is a spectacular and fast-growing DanceSport that features eight couples that move around the dance floor in unison, delighting crowds with their technique and passion.
“You have the music, you have eight couples and [for someone who] may not know the sport, or what is right or wrong, they can see the lines, they can see there is good presentation and a good balance between the music and the theme of the formation, and what they do on the floor.
“Sometimes Formation dancing is even more interesting for the normal audience, so I hope the WDSF will always support it. I think it is a big chance to make dancing even more popular.”
The discipline began in the late 19th century when teams of four couples began to popularise the sport with their synchronism and geometric patterns, all set to live music.
It quickly won approval with DanceSport fans and quickly spread across Europe, with venues in France and Germany becoming hotbeds of the sport.
Formation took a new direction as the Roaring Twenties began to hit top speed, and it helped shaped the discipline throughout the 20th century.
“A new dance direction was formed by the German Reinhold Sommer, having prepared a tango-quadrille performance in 1922 based on a combination of dance styles and techniques, with the participation of several sports couples,” explains Dzmitry Bialiauski, a Belarusian coach, instructor and adjudicator.
“In 1932, Reinhold Sommer, with his colleague Fritz Conradi, created a new dance using slow-fox vocabulary and around the same time, Carl Ernst Riebeling made himself felt, having developed the direction of Formation, using his experience in the field of stage dance and ballet.”
By the late 1930s Formation had gathered popularity in Germany and it grew through demonstrations and concerts.
The sport had also taken root in England after Olive Ripman introduced her four-couple dance team at a show in London in 1932.
“The performance of the Olive Ripman team was presented as ‘dancing in the pattern’ or ‘shadow dancing,’ which emphasized the main task of the dancers - to perform the dance synchronously, accurately repeating the movements of other couples,” according to dancer, trainer and adjudicator Piet Rullens of the Netherlands.
“By the second half of the 1930s, Formation tournaments began to be organized in England, and from 1937, competitions among Formation teams were included in the Blackpool Dance Festival programme, which until 1973 was considered the unofficial Formation World Championship.”
In the aftermath of World War II, Germany again took the lead in the discipline’s development, and in 1962 the country hosted the inaugural international Formation tournament. Two years later the first German National Formation Championship took place.
Soon after the European Championships began and while they were initially a tussle between German and English teams, since the 1970s Germany has enjoyed hegemony for most of the following years.
The organisation of a first World Championship in 1973 was a huge step for the sport, as was the choice of venue – New York – chosen to help spread its popularity beyond the European heartlands.
As the sport progressed, other nations rose to challenge the traditional powers, and Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Moldova, Lithuania, and the Netherlands have developed strong traditions in Formation.
In Asia, Mongolia has traditionally been the leading nation, although China finished fifth at the 2018 World Championship in Shenzhen to show their growing prowess.
Russia are the current powerhouse. Their teams won the Standard Formation World Championship in 2017, 2018 and 2019, while their Latin Formation teams won gold and bronze in 2017, and silver and bronze in 2018 and 2019.
Germany remain competitive and won Latin Formation World Championship gold in 2018 and 2019, something that Beer knows all about having helped Germany win gold on home turf in Munich in 1977.
“The great thing is you are in a team,” Beer says. “You can be disappointed, you can be happy, you can be a winner, but you are always in a group with friends.
“When we were individual world champions, going home after the championships it was just us, but in a team you have maybe 20 of you and it is such a great feeling.
“It is something that is completely different to dancing as a couple. I won awards with my wife (Andrea Lankenau) as a couple, but those awards we won as a team were very special.”
2020 World Championships
Beer is looking forward to attending the 2020 World Championship, which, pandemic willing, is set to take place in Braunschweig in central Germany on 5 December.
While the team element of Formation means adjudicators require an even more keen eye than normal, the basics of DanceSport remain.
“You see eight couples coming onto the floor and the first thing I do is understand how good the dancers are individually. If they look unnatural in their movements that is terrible for me,” Beer said.
“I want well-educated dancers. Every woman and every man needs to have a good understanding of how to use the body and how to create a posture.
“Dancing is about emotion, about personality. We always learned technique can help you and support you on the floor, but you should never just perform technique on the floor.”