The Wild and Colorful World of Ballroom Dancers

The Photo Blog
March 6 2014 11:02 AM

The Wild and Colorful World of Ballroom Dancers

St. Louis Star Ball, yellow dress with floats 2011
Yellow Dress With Floats, St. Louis Star Ball, 2011

Deanna Dikeman

Although photographer Deanna Dikeman always enjoyed photography, it took some time before she was able to call herself a professional. She studied biology in college, went to medical school, quit, got master’s degree in business, and took a corporate job. She then bought a camera. Five years into her job, she took a leave of absence, signed up for a photography class, and decided to stick with it. “It was the first thing I found where I didn’t care what time of day it was,” Dikeman said. “I didn’t care if I missed lunch. It was so fascinating to me, so I thought ‘I have to pay attention to this.’ ”

Dikeman creates photography series for which she feels a connection; they are also often open-ended. Some of those series include “Relative Moments,” which examines her family in Nebraska and Iowa; “Suburbia,” a study of the suburban landscapes of Johnson County, Kan.; and “Wardrobe”, a series that focuses on the clothing found in a charity thrift store in Hudson, N.Y.

One of Dikeman’s passions is dancing. In college she was a disco dancer, and 10 years ago, she discovered ballroom dancing. “I went and watched and said, ‘That is pretty cool. I want to get out and do that,’ ” she said. “I didn’t know the world [of ballroom dancing] was out there; there are so many amazing little worlds once you get into a hobby.”

Left: Wisconsin State Dancesport, couple 243 2012 Right: Wisconsin State Dancesport, red rhythm man 2012
Left: Couple 243, Wisconsin State Dancesport, 2012. Right: Red Rhythm Man, Wisconsin State Dancesport, 2012.

Deanna Dikeman

Wisconsin State Dancesport, Black Jordy Dress 2012
Black Jordy Dress,Wisconsin State Dancesport, 2012

Deanna Dikeman

Heart of America, hands 2011
Hands, Heart of America, 2011

Deanna Dikeman

St. Louis Star Ball, Yellow and Orange Feathers 2012
Yellow and Orange Feathers,St. Louis Star Ball, 2012

Deanna Dikeman

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While photographing the “Wardrobe” series, Dikeman decided she would also like to focus on the ballroom dancing costumes. “Shooting the ballroom dresses on the racks didn’t make sense,” she said. “I liked the skirts when they were billowing and flowing under the stage lighting of the competition floor.”

She began shooting at the handful of ballroom dancing competitions she attended yearly, when she herself wasn’t competing. Although at first she was worried about showing the dancers’ faces and kept her focus on the movement of the costumes, a curator proposed to her the idea of broadening the work and concentrating on the bodies as well. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” she said. “I had put a constraint on the project that didn’t need to be there … so I moved up from the skirt level to the torsos, and then I saw the visual power of the hands touching the bodies, and I got excited about those images.”

Dikeman has since added faces to the project and feels the work has evolved into a complete project, though she said she would like to photograph a same-sex competition. As long as she still feels a passion for dancing, there is always a photograph to be taken.

Heart of America, ballroom couples 2013
Ballroom Couples, Heart of America, 2013

Deanna Dikeman

Nashville Starz, Morten's Eyes 2014
Morten's Eyes,Nashville Starz, 2014

Deanna Dikeman

Heart of America, Pink Ruffles 2013
Pink Ruffles,Heart of America, 2013

Deanna Dikeman

Holiday Dance Classic Yellow Float 2010
Yellow Float,Holiday Dance Classic, 2010

Deanna Dikeman

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.