I left the studio the other day during rush hour and was delighted (yet not surprised) to witness some everyday acts of courtesy: drivers letting other drivers go first when they needed to merge, waves of thank-you, and a refreshing lack of horn honking (especially as compared to other cities).
Call it Midwestern hospitality or “Kansas City nice,” but we’ve cultivated a real culture of politeness, humility and friendliness here. Many of us were raised to value respect and modesty, and we show it through an aversion to confrontation and plenty of self-deprecation. I love hearing people from other geographic areas remark, “Everyone is so nice here!” And I love that what little traffic I hit on my drive home is relatively stress – and conflict-free.
But there’s maybe a downside to this mentality. As dancers, we’re often too humble to consider that our skill level could ever reach that of dancers from the coasts. And the value we put on modesty keeps us from celebrating one of our own who excels and then celebrates that success.
Middle of the country, not the pack
In an interview with KCUR 89.3, Kansas City native Rashaan Gilmore shared some of the key characteristics of the “Kansas City nice” culture:
- Polite friendliness
- An aversion to confrontation
- A tendency toward understatement
- A disinclination to make a fuss or stand out
- Emotional restraint
- Envying people behind their backs
- Resistance to change
- Passive aggressiveness
The station also talked to a sociologist who highlighted some of the specifics of how this mindset manifests itself:
“KC etiquette favors being in the middle of the pack. Being first to do something new is risky, from a politeness standpoint … Being nice is part of our self-concept. It’s something we aspire to, as a community.”
But when you combine that middle-of-the-pack mentality with a little splash of envy, you end up feeling resentful of others, without the self-confidence to become better yourself. Soon after I began dancing ballroom, I decided I needed to leave the Midwest to ever have a chance at a successful career. But I made it back here in the hopes of developing future generations of dancers to be better than those of us in the past. We have to combat this pervasive attitude of disgruntlement about those who succeed. “You think too highly of yourself,” I hear people say. And all I want to say back is, “No, you think too little of yourself.”
After all, regardless of where you live, our bodies and minds are all capable of the same skills. Gone are the days of lugging heavy video cameras on our shoulders to capture choreography and counts. Technology has leveled the playing field in many ways, including the dancing world.
The balance and the dance
Dancers face self-doubt around every corner, regardless of what city you call home. And the very competitive nature of many types of dance can only make the issue worse. Dr. Brian Goonan explains this phenomenon in Pointe magazine:
“Early in their careers, dancers don’t have a fully developed sense of self yet. They form their view of themselves based on the perception and feedback of others. And they can end up taking in a lot of negativity.”
But developing a healthy dose of self-confidence can have tremendous benefits to your dance development. The trick is to combine that self-confidence with some of the best traits from the list above—those quintessential Midwestern qualities we all hold so dear. Achieving that balance is, well, sort of a dance, but attaining it allows you to stay true to who you are without holding yourself back at the same time.
And there’s no reason to hold yourself back! No reason to hold others back either. After all, as we propel Midwestern dancers into the spotlight, we pave an easier path to greater success for the rest of us.
It’s like the old adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Because, after all, even in the Heartland with no ocean in sight, we all could use a little boost.
As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. While she has a bit of a lead foot, like a true Midwesterner she always lets another waiting driver go in front of her. Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page