Whatever you think of her (and I’m frankly not sure at this point) Hiyama Chinatsu has undeniably altered the tenor of Ballroom e Youkoso instantly and decisively. The landscape of this series has changed substantially since she arrived – it feels like very much a different story both in terms of plot and tone. She seems pretty schizo, to be honest – I’m not ready to burden her with the overused tsundere label yet (and there hasn’t been much “dere” yet anyway) but she certainly has poor Tatara confused as hell.
I guess when you stop and think about it, finding a partner is pretty much everything in competitive dance. You’re literally out of luck without one, and it’s only Hyodo’s injury that’s allowed Tatara to borrow a couple of partners and get his feet wet in competition. For an older dude like Jinbo not having a partner must be particularly dire; I don’t think he’s especially serious about competing at a high level, but losing out on Karen-san was quite a blow. Maybe attaching the term “Omiai” to meeting potential dance partners is a bit dramatic, but finding the right match seems almost as difficult.
Speaking of difficult, that certainly applies to Chinatsu. She’s got Tatara’s head on a swivel with her whipsaw mood swings when it comes to dance – and him. It seems obvious there’s a story here, and that she has a rather complicated personal history with dance. As to her appearance at the competition last week, it seems that she’s a groupie all right – of Chizuru, not Sengoku. It’s the chance to meet her hero that leads her to follow Tatara to the studio, where the crew mistakes her for his girlfriend (or at least perspective partner). She’s really only there to get an autograph (and a hug) from Chizuru, but the latter manages to steamroll the girl onto the dance floor for a brief Omiai with Tatara-kun.
It’s here where things get especially interesting, for we finally see Ballroom e Youkoso take a semi-deep dive into the subject of what it means to lead and follow in ballroom dance. Exactly why Chinatsu agreed to practice with Tatara (who’s desperate to find a partner so he can level up to Grand Prix status and compete with Shizuku and Hyodo, who’s returned to competition) isn’t clear, but agree she does – and it’s clear pretty quickly that she’s a far more experienced dancer than he. Tatara’s attempts to lead are disastrous, and things quickly degrade to disastrous chaos on the dance floor.
I don’t know anything about how the process of learning ballroom dance in real life works, but I would imagine a proper teacher would give novice boys experience at following, and girls at leading – surely an understanding of the other would be vital to succeed at the one. That has nothing to do with Sengoku of course, and Tatara has obviously never followed before – and it’s quite the shock when he discovers how difficult it is. Chinatsu-san certainly has experience at leading, and it’s an eye-opener for Tatara to feel what it’s like to be properly guided around the floor. His uncanny ability to learn on the fly allows him to follow even when Chi-chan executes steps he’s never learned, but it quickly becomes clear to him that he hasn’t really been properly leading at all.
Pairs dancing is, by definition itself, a two-person sport. And Welcome to the Ballroom has focused on the role of the lead almost to the exclusion of the role of the follow, so this is a welcome turn of events. The riddle of Chinatsu is still very much unsolved – why she soured on dancing enough to quit and even deny her association with it, why she’s so experienced as a lead. But it’s clear she’s destined to be Tatara’s partner, on the dance floor at least, at least for the next while. Whatever he learns from her by following her lead, he’ll eventually have to put in play in his role as a leader if he’s ever to seriously compete in the sport (and this won’t be much of a story if he doesn’t).