The Reality of Ballroom Dancing

Alright, I’m going to go on a warpath here about reality television, because lets be honest with ourselves: we all like to watch the drama. Rather, I would like to bring up a discussion that came up on a dance forum I love to kill the time with. Someone had started a thread about has reality tv shows like Dancing with the Stars really done anything good for the ballroom community. I think we  all agree it has. However, it does come with its drawbacks.

Now I do not know how many of you reading actually know what a ballroom competition looks like other than how it is portrayed on TV, so I am just going to assume you know little to nothing at all. One of the things us competitive ballroom dancers bemoan is when we get the question, “When will we see you on Dancing with the Stars.” For one thing, most if not all of us are not “stars.” So we are knocked out of that part of the show. For the other, many of us started late in life, either when we were in college or event some in their 50’s. This means that many of us will never become professional dancers, and for most of us that is not our goal anyway. So that knocks out out of the professional end of that show. So the short answer is no! Many of your ballroom dancing friends you will never see on that show.

So now you know you will never see you best friend on at least Dancing with the Stars. But most likely you still think that your friend dances in competitions that are set up very similarly to dancing with the stars. Again this is a no! Like most reality TV, competitive ballroom dancing looks nothing like the tv version. Usually your ballroom friend will be out on the floor, with tons of other couples and anywhere from 7-12 judges trying to recall lots and lots of dancers. Those judges do not have a full 1 minute and 30 seconds to watch your friend on the floor. At most they have about 5 seconds to make their decision and move on to the next couple.

Also they don’t get scored from 1-10. However, if a judge likes them, they get their number marked down on a sheet and if they get enough judges to mark them down they get a recall. Hopefully your friend is good enough to make it too the final. If they do, the judges will mark each couple from first to either sixth or seventh place, depending on how many couples are in the final.

Another huge difference is that they don’t spend one week learning a routine and then go out to perform it. Many couples spend weeks and months working on anywhere between 4-10 different routines depending on which style, or styles, they are dancing. Many couples also use the same routines for a few competitions, or even a years worth of competitions before they switch around their routines.

If you want to see what a typical ballroom competition, I would suggest taking a look at WBroth11’s channel on youtube. He has many ballroom competition videos in varying years and comps.

For now I think I will leave you with that. If you would like to read more about the differences (and some similarities) between competitive ballroom dancing and Dancing with the Stars, please let me know if the comments! Also put any questions in the comments as well. I will answer them the best I can!

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Dance Levels

As I promised in my very first, this is a post about the different levels in ballroom dancing. First there is the distinction from Pro and Amateur. You either compete in an amateur division or in the Professional division. Within the professional division, there are two categories. There is the main Professional category and Rising Star category. Rising star, as I understand it, is basically the stepping stone between amateur and professional. These are couples who have just announced their professional standing but aren’t quite ready to play with the big boys yet.

In the amateur division there are two main categories: Open and Syllabus. The Syllabus category has 4 to 5 levels within it depending on the competition. These levels are Newcomer, Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Each level as a set of moves for each dance which the dancer is allowed to dance; hence the name syllabus. Every time the couples moves through a level, the more dance moves they have available. Yet this comes with a price. In competition, not only are you allowed to execute more difficult moves, but you are expected to have more advanced technique under your belt. You are pushed to be a better dancer. In newcomer, judges are just looking for an upright couple that is on time and smiling. However, judges are looking for big frames, more fluid and large movement or hip action, and the hint of musicality from a couple dancing gold.

After a couple has mastered the syllabus and its techniques, a couple will move up to the Open levels. There are three levels within the Open category; Novice, Pre-championship and Championship. Even though the couple has mastered all the moves and technique in syllabus, there are many more moves and a ton more technique to learn within the Open levels. In novice, couples are just getting their first open routines. These include the “basics” of open, like pivots, step hops, and picture lines. These routines are much longer and much harder than any syllabus routine.

Here are some videos so you can see the difference:

Professional Foxtrot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD-Ph2dv240

Amateur Champion Foxtrot:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODZpprFbrpE

Amateur Gold Foxtrot:

Amateur Newcomer Foxtrot:

Last Week of Class

Sorry for not posting yesterday. I was being bad. But onward with the stuff that happened during my last week of class.

Three weeks have really flown by. I didn’t expect at 5 hour a day, 4 days a week was going to go by so quickly. Monday I packed the second half of my shoe piece mold so that all we had to do Tuesday was crack it open and drill a hole for the metal to get poured into (the sprue), and vents, which push the air out of the mold and let the metal pour all the way. I also came up with an idea for my plasticine, low relief mold.

We also got to see our bronze pieces for the first time. Now remember we were not able to break those open when class ended last week because they were still too hot to touch. Two of my skirts came out amazing. The last one, did not pour all the way, so I ended up melting it back down on Thursday when we did the bronze pour. Our teacher demoed different ways to remove the sprues and vents from our pieces with a hand held hacksaw or a grinder. He also showed us how to polish and chase our pieces so they look completely finished. After I completed packing my molds, and after the demos, I left class a bit early. Now it was for my dad’s birthday so I wasn’t ditching class for some stupid reason.

On Tuesday, we broke open the two halves of my shoe piece mold and took out the shoe.The mold came out great! We added a sprue and two vents using a drill. I then took mold wash, which is a mixture of graphite and denatured alcohol, and covered the shoe imprint with it. The mold wash keeps the sand from sticking to the metal while we pour and also helps the sand stay bound while the metal is setting up. It took two coats of mold wash, and then it was ready for the iron pour on Wednesday. I also packed my plasticine mold with sand and worked on my idea for my scratch mold. I went back and forth between working on packing and working on finishing my metal pieces. It took about 15 minutes to work the small sprue and vents off of one of my skirts and about 30 minutes to saw off the 1 cubic inch sprue off of my aluminum piece.

Wednesday was our field trip of OK Foundry in Richmond, VA. All of us took one mold down to have iron poured into them. The foundry was amazing. It was about 10 degrees hotter in the building then it was outside, and the fumes were awful. However, watching these professionals pour these huge molds for parts for industrial machines next to our tiny little molds was incredible. These guys are in here 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, working through all of the fumes and heat to get there job done. They use an induction furnace at OK Foundry, which is a furnace run by electricity to pour a huge magnet which agitates the molecules in the metal so that they heat up and become a liquid. Instead of a crucible to pour the metal, they use a ladle to pour. This ladle is on a hydraulic crane to lift it. It has different levers that they operator uses to pour the metal slowly into the molds.

One of the best parts of this foundry is that they are very green. They recycle almost everything they use, except for the chemicals they use for one of their mold making processes.  They accept scrap iron from businesses and people to melt down for more pours. They reuse the sand until it gets too fine, and then ship it off to a concrete company where it gets mixed into their concrete. They said don’t even fill up one dumpster each month. It’s truly a sight to behold.

Thursday was our day of class. It was a bittersweet ending. This class is truly the first class that I’ve actually enjoyed at college. Today we poured both aluminum and bronze. And little 5’1 and 100lbs me got to be involved with both pours! During the aluminum pour was on the non-pouring end of the crucible. The crucible sits in a holder with two long handles coming off of it. It is attached to a hydraulic crane that does all the heavy lifting, but it still is a lot of work. On one end of the holder, is a handle that comes out as a “Y,” while the other one just is a straight pole. The end with the “Y” ending is the pouring side, while the other side is the stabilizer. For the aluminum pour, I was the stabilizer, which was amazing. I hope someone got pictures of it happening.  For the bronze pour I was operating the hydraulic system, making the crucible go up and down depending on where the mold was and how tall it was. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.

Next Wednesday was have an open studio day where we are doing clean up and working on finishing our pieces. I will post pictures in next weeks post after the pieces are closer to being complete!

Second Week of Class

Final Foam Designs

Final Foam Designs

Week two is over, and I’m sad that I only have a week left. I really wish this teacher would teach the class during the Fall and Spring semesters, but unfortunately it is someone else…

On Monday, after a few more hours of playing with the foam, I finally got some ideas down for the pieces. We also talked about some piece mold ideas. A piece mold is where to take an object (found or made) and create a mold for it, and the mold ends up being at least two separate pieces. It can be more depending on how complex the pattern is. The mold is made out of the same resin bonded sand that we put our wax patterns in, but we do not put these molds in the oven. That step is only used to melt out the wax. I decided on Monday to use one of my first pairs of dancing shoes for the piece mold. We also took out our wax molds from the oven and prepped them for the pour.

On Tuesday I brought in my shoe to start work on the piece mold. First, I had to fill the shoe with plasticine, which is a type of clay that never dries. After I filled the shoe I put in a crackle pattern in the plasticine. I chose this pattern to mimic the pain that the feet go through during dancing. We dance in these shoes, which have heel heights ranging 2-3 and sometimes even 3 1/2 inches, for at 2 hours a day for a total of 13 hours a week. That’s a lot of dancing for those feet! After packing and creating the design, I had to create a false bottom around the shoe in order to make a two part mold. Because the shoe comes off the table in some areas, we could not just create a resin sand mold without the bottom. To create the false bottom, we use this stuff called petrobond. Petrobond is a type of sand that is mixed with clay. This mixture is sticky and the user is able to work it around the mold so that no resin sand will fall to the table. I spent most to Tuesday with the petrobond–as it is a slow and tedious process.

On Wednesday I was finally able to fill my mold for my piece mold. We mixed up some sand and packed in the first half of the mold. The mold took most of the day to try, so we were unable to do the second half on Wednesday. With the extra sand, since we have to mix sand in batches of 50lbs or 100lbs, I was able to fill a scratch mold. A scratch mold is what it sounds like, a cube-ish box of resin bonded sand that has a concave center where you scratch a design into the sand. The concave center allows you to pour metal without loosing too much metal. I have no idea what I’m going to be doing with the scratch mold yet, but that’s for next week.

Also on Wednesday, I solidified my for my foam piece. I took the advice from my professor, Steve, and worked on creating a more angular core with the swirly pieces. The picture for it will also appear below with the rest. I was also to pack this piece on Wednesday. We are using just regular, angular sand–not resin bonded. The process we are using is called the loose sand-lost foam process. This means we are just using sand packed, and as we pour the foam–the metal will evaporate the foam and the metal will take the place of the foam pattern before the sand collapses.

Thursday, we finally got to pour. This is all that we did today, and ended about hours early. It took about an hour to heat the furnace up high enough to get the aluminum, the first metal we poured, hot enough to melt and pour into the molds. The melting temperature is about 1100 degrees and we poured the metal at about 1500 degrees F! The heat was incredible. We were dressed in leather coats in order to protect clothes incase the worse would happen and fire broke out–luckily that didn’t happen today. As we waited for the aluminum to melt down, we took all the molds that were to be cast in aluminum and placed them by the furnace on the “beach.” The beach is where the furnace is located and is full of sand. The sand protects to concret from spills of molten metal. If the metal were to fall on the concret during the pour, the concret would crack and pop because of the difference in temperature. Once the molds were placed on the beach, and the metal was melted down, we were ready to pour!

It takes five active players to make the operation of pouring the metal work. There is the director, our teacher in this case, that directs the flow of all the workers helping out with the pour. Then there is the door opener, this person opens the top of the furnace so that the crucible, the canister that holds the molten metal, can be lifted out. The door is then closed and the opener leaves the beach. There is the crane operator, who handles the bottons that move the yolk and crucible holders up and down. Then there are two people operating the crucible through the yolk and holders. These two handle the actual pouring of the metal. It truly is like a choreographed dance. I wish I had gotten video of it, but Steve requested we did not.

All the aluminum pieces came out great! None of the molds broke while we poured and everything cooled beautifully. The only thing we have to do now with these pieces is remove the sprues, vents and any other excess metal, and shine up the pieces!

We had some time between pours because the bronze needed to be heated to 1800 degrees to metal, and 2000 to pour. We cleaned up a bit during our down time. Once the bronze was heated up to the right temp, we got back to work on the next pour. We set up all the molds for bronze and were assigned jobs. This time I played an active role. It got to open and close the door as they lifted the molten hot crucible out of the furnace. That was such a rush! The heat was just insane. It didn’t matter that I had all this protective gear (face shield, eye protection, leather coat and apron), the heat was just radiating from the metal and bouncing off the walls. After I was opened the door, I had to clear the area, in case anything happened while they were lifting the crucible out. After the crucible was safely lifted from the furnace, I was instructed to go back in and close the furnace. My face was shielded so I didn’t feel as much of the heat. However, my ear was not covered and it felt the full brunt of the heat coming off of the bronze. And holy moly that was hot. I closed the door and made my way back to the edge of the beach to watch the pour.

All I can say is that if you ever get the chance to go watch a metal casting, DO IT! It is truly something is amazing to watch and be a part of!

Foam Idea

Foam Idea

Foma Idea

Foma Idea

Shoe filled with plasticine

Shoe filled with plasticine

Shoe with pattern

Shoe with pattern

Shoe in petrobond

Shoe in petrobond

Foam/Aluminum piece

Aluminum piece

Pouring

Pouring

Adding Aluminum

Adding Aluminum

Furnace

Furnace

Pouring

Pouring

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