Talk about the theme and importance of ballroom dancing in "Master Harold ... and the Boys" by Athol Fugard.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The importance of ballroom dancing emerges as a critical metaphor in Fugard's drama.  Hally questions what happens in ballroom competition when contestants bump into one another.  Upon receiving the question, Sam speaks to the metaphor's importance:

Those are big collisions, Hally. They make for a lot of bruises. People get hurt in all that bumping, and we're sick and tired of it now. It's been going on for too long. Are we never going to get it right? ... Learn to dance life like champions instead of always being just a bunch of beginners at it?

Ballroom dancing is something that requires practice.  Sam suggests that "a world without collisions" is an ideal condition towards which one must actively strive.  It is in this regard that ballroom dancing establishes itself in quite an important manner.

Fugard uses ballroom dancing as a way to navigate the bruising conditions of intolerance.  Hally displays this towards Sam and Willie.  Willie displays this when he beats his wife when she does not do a good job in dancing.  In order to be "champions" in the world of ballroom dancing, Willie suggests that individuals must actively work towards it.  In a larger sense, this means that individuals must strive to go beyond temporal differences and discrimination that exists between human beings.  For example, when Hally spits the racism and discrimination of his father at Sam and Willie, it is representative of how he reverts to being "a beginner."  In order to "dance life like champions," individuals must possess the will to change, the will to be more than they are.  It is in this desire to create what can be from the ashes of what is that the metaphor of ballroom dancing takes on importance in the drama.  It provides a prism through which reality can be viewed and understood, challenging both the characters and the audience to be more and conceive of more than what present-day reality offers.