Field Notes: Ballroom Dancing in Hawaii
Each month Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: ballroom dancing at the Palladium.
The Palladium is open every day of the year, except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
Photos: David Croxford
WHAT IT IS
The Palladium is the top venue for ballroom dancing in Hawaii and a meeting place for nine local ballroom dance clubs. The clubs use it for competitions, exhibitions, lessons and workshops, as well as weekday recreational dancing and weekend balls. Located on the second level of the Ala Wai Golf Course Clubhouse, the Palladium features an 11,000-square-foot eucalyptus-wood dance floor. The floor is said to be perfect for dancers to glide without slipping as they waltz, tango or cha-cha through the enormous dance hall.
The Palladium can comfortably hold about 500 dancers at once, without too many collisions or smashed toes. Mondays through Thursdays, from noon to 3 p.m., a few hundred ballroom dancers routinely show up to practice their moves during a time block set aside for recreational ballroom dancing. Senior citizens predominate. “I dance every day for two hours,” says one of the regulars. “Then I go home and take a nap.”
White ties, tails and full-length gowns, a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, are donned for exhibitions and certain formal events. Otherwise, dress is fairly casual. But proper shoes are a must. Many dancers wear shoes with thin suede soles that slide effortlessly on the eucalyptus floor. Shoes with cleats, taps, spiked heels or black rubber soles that might scuff the floor are prohibited.
Some men bring fresh shirts to change into partway through the dance. These men may refer to a long, enjoyable, sweat-filled night at the Palladium as “a three-shirt evening.” Women simply pat themselves dry with towels, rather than change clothes.
SHARING IS HARD
Officially, the Palladium is known as the Ala Wai Golf Course Multi-Purpose Recreation Facility. It’s administered by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which does not limit its use solely to ballroom dancing. This, as the ballroom dancers like to point out, flies in the face of the bronze plaque at the main entrance, which recognizes the founding of the Palladium in 1990 by ballroom dancers.
What’s most irksome to the ballroom dancers, however, aren’t the line dancers, swing dancers, Scottish folk dancers or other dancers who have staked claims to the space. It’s the non-dance groups competing for the Palladium’s coveted time slots.
In 2002, as some ballroom dancers still recall, the Cat Fanciers’ Association held a cat show at the Palladium; lingering dander aggravated the dancers’ allergies and left the eucalyptus floor dangerously slippery.
More recently, a bridge club seeking time at the Palladium has caused some consternation. As one dancer puts it, “I don’t know why a bridge club needs a dance floor.”
On a typical Friday or Saturday night, 400 or so ballroom dancers turn out. Highly trained professional and internationally ranked competitive dancers mix with enthusiastic amateurs of varying skill levels. Most dancers have regular dance partners, but many come solo. Women without partners tend to outnumber men in the same boat by at least 4-to-1. Single women sometimes hire expert male dancers to serve as escorts for the evening. Rates start around $300.