Some of you have expressed surprise that I am involved in something as seemingly superficial and conformist as competitive ballroom dancing. One may further ask, where did the competition part of ballroom come from in the first place? I don't know the real answer, but I have been speculating on just what purpose ballroom competitions serve, other than providing an opportunity to don sweat- and rhinestone-encrusted costumes, dye one's hair blonde, red, or black, cement said hair to one's head, cement fake nails to one's fingers, and gob on garish (at least up close) amounts of bronzer, makeup, and glitter in order to catch the attentions of a few judges, for those who like that sort of thing (and actually, there are quite a lot of them out there). :~)
Ballroom competitions are the "ideal" prom night (assuming that anything about prom can possibly be construed as ideal). Girls are encouraged to get as gussied up as humanly possible, boys are all in genuine traditional tail suits, and everyone can dance like they're an extra in a Fred and Ginger movie (a far cry from the stiff side-to-side sway of high school dances). Perhaps competitions forever try to relive those old-time movies, in their own gaudy way.
What originally drew me to ballroom (actually, to swing first, my senior year of high school) was the feeling I got when I danced with an experienced leader. It's quite ... euphoric and powerful to sweep across the floor, very different from the choreographed and/or self-conscious kinds of dancing I had done before. Furthermore, in ballroom, or at least in social ballroom, one can be, and in fact is expected to be, social - a pleasant change from the room of backbiting teenage girls in leotards that characterized many of my previous dance classes. (Unfortunately, competitive ballroom is a step in the wrong direction, but I'm not as affected by it as I was as a teen.)
I still enjoy that powerful sweeping feeling, but more recently, what keeps me doing ballroom is the opportunity to perform (whether it's for judges or an audience). This is where competitions serve some function to the greater dance community: they provide a way for talented dancers to distinguish themselves locally, nationally, and internationally, and they provide a way for studios and ballroom clubs to evaluate potential teachers and performers. Granted, competitive ballroom dancing has taken on a life of its own, but it does serve this purpose and perhaps this is where it began. I enjoy performing, so one reason I compete is to have opportunities to perform, including on the competition floor itself.