All the Sparkles

Hello Everyone! Sorry for this post being so late, this past holiday season has been a little crazy.

So the topic of this weeks post has to do with sparkles, more specifically ballroom dance costumes and when they should be allowed and when they shouldn’t. Now before I step into this someone volatile territory, I will say this: it has nothing to do with judges marks or being seen. That has been argued and I have heard judges and professionals give their opinions. I will let them debate that topic, because they only know what goes on in their heads. In the current trend a lot of syllabus dancers (newcomer through gold) in the collegiate community are starting the wear costumes.

However, I believe that costumes should be reserved for those who have made it in to the open levels of dancing. These levels include Novice, Pre-Championship, and Championship (and of course professional). Now I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this be hear me out, and remember this is one lowly dancer’s opinion. The reasons I believe that costumes should be reserved for these levels are that many times syllabus dancers aren’t ready to dance in them, and that it is a right of passage of sorts.

The first reason I will address is that many lower level dancers aren’t necessarily ready to wear these goureous gowns. What I mean when I say this is that the gown in a lot of ways can overshadow the dancer. Syllabus dancers, for many reasons, do not have all the proper technique down. And that’s completely fine. There is nothing wrong with that state of being. In fact it’s a good thing, because that means you are dancing at the correct level. Syllabus dancer’s focus should be on learning and improving their techinque on frame, movement, cleanliness, and musicalilty. However, the dresses you see a lot of open dancers wear require a dancer to have a very good understanding of the tenique behind the style to make the dress function as it should. For one, these dresses tend to be much heavier than their plain, syllabus counter parts. First of all, they are covered in rhinestones. And who would think that those little shinies would be so heavy, but when you have a at least 10 gross (1400 stones), which is a minimum for most dresses, it can add a lot of extra weight. Also, at least in a dress that is built for the International Ballroom style of dance, the skirts tend to be much heavier as they have many layers built into them to give them volume. This extra weight requires a dancer to be able to move more to create the same amount of movement in the costume dress than in the basic dress. More movement comes from understanding what standing leg is and how to apply it and use it to move across the floor. The concept of standing leg is not only very hard for lower level dancers to grasp, but it also takes a long time to reach your standing leg’s full potential. I’m still working on making my stride long and powerful! If you don’t have standing leg down, then the dress will not have that nice swoosh to it has you dance and will look rather limp. 😦

Secondly, (some of) these dresses have things dangling of the arms, whether it be large swatches of cloth, ribbons, or balls of feathers attached to chains or ribbons (yikes!). These things are usually called floats or wings and have many variations and styles. Just like the heavy skirts, floats need lots of movement from the dancer to enhance your dancing. Otherwise, they will just hang limply by your sides. This will enhance the fact that you do not have a lot of movement to begin with and could possibly hurt your scores.

My second reason for not liking syllabus dancers wearing open level costumes is that I believe you have to earn them. They are a right of passage. They say, hey you have worked this hard and achieved so much, go wild! It’s one more thing for a dancer to look forward to and work towards when they are in the lower ranks of syllabus. Sure, awesome open level choreography is incentive too, however in no competition I have been to do they allow anyone dancing in newcomer through gold break syllabus. I feel dresses (and tailsuits for that matter) should be the same way.

Let me know in the comment section below if you agree or disagree with my ideas about costumes and whether they should be allowed in the syllabus levels! I would love to hear your ideas!

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Class Update

Hello all!

So the semester is winding down (only one week to go before finals) and I though I would give you an overall update of what’s been going on.

In painting we have been working on our final two. The first is a 24x36in canvas and it could be whatever we wanted it to be. So I chose dancing (of course). It took me WEEKS to figure out what to paint. I probably went through 10(!) different sketches until finally my professor let me start working with my canvas. Here is the painting so far:

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It’s an abstraction of a develope. It’s a high extended leg position that you develop (here’s your ooo moment) over a certain measure of beats. I still have a lot to work on. During critique the major issue was I need to be more loose and really let my paint brush dance across the canvas… We shall see how that goes.

Our second painting also could be whatever we wanted. In this past week, I’ve been working on a few sketches of it. Here are my two sketches:

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The basic idea is dancers on a dance floor. The size of the canvas will be 36x48inchs! Crazy big but I think it will work well with this idea. The top sketch is the first one I painted. I just wanted to get my basic idea across. I did one other that I am not showing here that does not reach the boards of the paper (like the first one), but where the brushstrokes and colors are more defined, like the bottom one. Now my professor pulled me aside and said he really like the concept but wanted to show me how different the feel would be with clear boarders. The sketch became more than just the paint, and the experience of the paint. The layers of color became more defined and the boarders added more depth to the painting, which I enjoyed. This led me to my third and final sketch (the bottom image). I really do look forward to painting this next week.

In digital media we created a magazine of our artwork. We had to make a front cover, a back cover, and an interior. For the covers we had to use Illustrator.  We had to make the front and the back covers really pop, and show our use of Illustrator. They could not be basic. They also had to be cohesive with each other. For the interior we used InDesign. We came up with our own artist statements and added photographs of our work thus far. I used a lot of my photography, and a few pieces from my casting and painting class. This has been my favorite project thus far. Unfortunately I do not have any picutres of it. We also just completed our animation project, which I disliked even more than our photoshop projects. We are currently working on our websites using Dreamweaver. I’m not in love with this project either, but such is life.

In photography, I have been focusing my efforts on ballroom dancing. I photographed our comepition, DCDI, on a 3200 speed roll. Here are a few pictures from that:

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As you maybe able to tell, this film has a lot more grain to it, which gives it an almost darker quality to the prints. I really like this feel and I think I’m going to use this speed film for all competitions from here on out. It also allows to shoot in lower light situations which is great for competitions.

I have also focused on getting some of the members of my club to let me take pictures of their practice and classes. I am still working on printing those, but I hope to have more completed next week.

That’s all I have for today! Until next time, check out my facebook page and indiegogo campaign to see more of my work and to learn about what I am currently working on!

 

Healthy Mind

When it comes to any type of career or hobby that is subjective, it is very easy to slip into a bad state of mind. Take competitive ballroom as an example. You practice, take lessons, buy the proper attire, do you hair and make up, in order to please a 4-6 judges to make it to the final, if not first place. Almost everything a serious competitive dancer does it to please someone else. I can just hear some of them now saying “No, I only do this for myself, it’s fun!” Say that to me with a straight face a long with the phrase “I really don’t care about my placement.” This this sport, as with many other artistic sports, we are looking for that stamp of approval from an outside source to say that we are doing everything right, or that we are improving. The problem with this sort of attitude it can lead down a terrible path inside the mind that could lead to a breakdown. And no one wants that.

There is a real problem with having your only self-worth coming from an outside source. Maybe you only have this attitude for dancing, but it still isn’t healthy. You need to have confidence in your own dancing first, before anyone else can boost it. Now I’m not saying this because I have it all figured out… Please, I’m a college student whose job is to please people to earn good grades. Even when it comes to dance sometimes I even forget this concept, and rely on judges marks to affirm my dancing self-worth. I’m saying this so that we can work together on keeping our minds and body happy. There are so many factors that go into judging you on the floor. First, judges at most only have about 3 seconds to look at you. 3 seconds. They don’t see all the hard work you put into your dancing. They don’t see all the coaching sessions you’ve done. They didn’t see your amazing practice rounds this past week. They only see those three seconds of dancing, and it better be a good three seconds if you want that callback.

But like I have been saying all throughout this post, getting called-back isn’t the end all and be all of dancing. You have to realize that, no matter the call backs, you have done well. You have improved. It is very unlikely that you haven’t improved. As long as you have taken lessons, private or group, and you have practiced what you have learned in those lessons, you are making progressed. You have improved from day one. Just take a look at your old dance videos. Cringe worthy yes, but they will give you perspective and let you know that you have improved. Also talking to your coach can give you some perspective. They can tell you what you did right, and what you did wrong at the competition. More likely then not, they will say that yes you did this and this wrong and you could have done this better, but these other things you still did really well.

Although we do this crazy competitive sport to win, we also do this because we like it. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be on the floor. Just remember that knowing that you are improving, and that you enjoy dancing is what really matters in this game. It’s not the ribbons, or the satisfaction of someone else putting their stamp of approval on your dancing. Those things are nice. But in the end it’s your how you view your dancing is what really matters. As long as you feel like you are improving and getting somewhere that’s what counts.

Photography: Post Midterm

Alright, lots of printing has happened over the last few weeks. I have a few things to show you. First and for most is the quality of light photo project. This one stumped me, as it was hard for me to come up with different aways to create different lighting schemes. It wasn’t until the last few shots I really felt that I got into my grove, which really made me sad. It wasn’t until I found reflections in puddles after some rain that I found some really cool compositions. Here are the two she wanted me to print.

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We also had a mini class discussion with her about some of us, including me, having a hard time shooting a roll a week. Within the projects we had, many of us had a hard time finding inspiration. She gave us two solutions to this problem. Her first solution was to let us start shooting subject matter that we want for the rest of the semester. For some people that’s portraiture. For other’s it’s completely forgetting about film and working on digital photography. For me, it’s ballroom dance. My rolls for the remainder of the semester will consist of dancers. Whether they be practicing, competing, or getting ready for competing, I will be taking their photos. Finally something I will enjoy. Though I will not be without my challenges. Studios, ballrooms, and the gym we practice in all have a lighting issue. So having a high enough shutter speed to capture good action shots maybe prove to be difficult.

The second solution was to go out during one class and do a mini shooting workshop around campus. Many people were having a hard time finding inspiration in around campus place that we walk around day in and day out. So she took her camera, and took us around to show us what we were missing. She showed us this really cool area where it was a courtyard which would lend itself to fashion photography. We also went to some warehouse type places to show us that even in the most unlikely places we could find interesting things to shoot, or interesting environments to shoot portraits in. Unfortunately, I did not get to take a lot of photos as I was helping out our teacher with her equipment. I think this was a great experience for all of us. It opened our eyes to what makes a good photography, and the process of getting that good photograph. It was much easier to adjust the angles that day as we were using her digital camera, and had instant feedback of what the picture looked like. You aren’t so fortunate in film. You have no clue how that picture is going to come out until you take the time to develop the roll, create a contact sheet, and print the picture.

Lastly, we had our midterm review on Monday. It went less then stellar. We found out as a class, we kinda suck at created good compositions. We also suck at picking out good photos out of our current portfolios. We also learned that we are putting way too much pressure on ourself with this class. She really does not care how we fulfill the project guidelines in terms of content, but as long as we shoot at least one roll of film per week. I am so glad I can finally focus completely on ballroom and dancesport photography. I also spoke with her and she has agreed to teach me how to use my fancy flash, as studios and ballrooms have very bad lighting. Hopefully I can get better, crisper action shots with the flash.

That’s all I have for now for photography. I have 2 rolls which I plan to develop this week, and 3 contact sheets to print. I’ve got a very busy week ahead of me for photography. See you next week!

The Differences of the West Coast Swings

Now I know I have spoken a lot about ballroom and very little about West Coast Swing (WCS), so I will give you a brief run down of what WCS is so you a general idea of what I am talking about. For those of you who don’t know what WCS is, it is a Swing dance, hence the name, that came from Lindy Hop and/or the Jitterbug. East Coast Swing and eventually Jive also were born from these dances, but we won’t go into that dance. WCS, just like all the other swing type dances, has a set of triple steps set in the basic patter. In WCS’s case the pattern goes walk, walk, triple step, triple step (or 1, 2, 3&4, 5&6 for those who are more musically or mathematically inclined). But WCS has something very different from the other partner dances that makes it completely unique, and that is its connection and anchor step. Compared to the Latin dances or the other swing dances, WCS has a very elastic connection. It goes from extension to compression and back again throughout the entire dance. The anchor step is your last triple, or 5&6. This step lets you settle back into the extension of the connection, and allows you to be steady and prepped for what ever is coming next. I will include some links down below so that you can see real WCS in action.

Now, with that being said, there are varying ways that pros go about teaching West Coast, and varying ways that people go about learning West Coast. One way some people learn is by learn a few basic moves, such as pushes, tuck turns, hammer locks, whips, and passes, but mainly learn the technique that goes behind the connection and the anchor step and how you use them to make a flowing dance. Another way people learn how to go about dancing is learn figures, or patterns as we refer to them in the WCS community, and more figures, and very little technique in the beginning. Now there isn’t inheretly wrong with just learning patterns and building up your knowledge base of moves, however WCS is still dancing, it is still an art form, therefore there is still important technique to do said dance properly.

The biggest problem I have, is that, particularly in the Ballroom Dance community, people think they have ballroom technique so they don’t need to bother with learning WCS technique. This makes me want to rip out my hair. Ballroom technique can help you learn the technique for WCS, but it is not the end all and be all of dance technique. The conection is completely different, and there is nothing like the anchor step in ballroom anywhere. It’s kind of like saying, just because you take draw means you can paint. No! Sure drawing helps painting, and sure the ideas of composition change, but dry and wet media react differently with the surface to which you are applying them too. You still need to learn painting techniques if you want to be a good painter.

And there is huge problem with people just wanting to learn patterns and no technique. However, this dance without the proper connection or anchor step is not West Coast Swing. That is what makes this dance different from all the rest. Those two concepts are what disinquishes West Coast from East Coast swing, or from Jive, or from lindy hop.

If you just want to learn this dance for fun, fine! Have fun with it. But don’t come looking to me if you expect me to praise your technique. I have no problems if WCS is just a hobby on the side of ballroom. I know a lot of people do that, but don’t get upset about something we might point out if you ask us for help or arrogant about something you don’t know about.

If you have any comments or questions please leave them in the comment section below!

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i_IzBEunOE <– This is a video of pro Participating in a Strictly Competition. Strictly’s are usually with a set partner, but dancing to an “unknown” song, meaning it is all improve or lead follow. There is no set routine, you just kind of go. In this particular instance, the pros decided to mix it up and dance with people who aren’t their normal partners. My favorite couple was Benji and Tatiana. 🙂 Enjoy!

 

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!

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:

MIT Open

So this past weekend was the MIT Open Ballroom Competition, and my collegiate team made their way up there like they do every year. This year, unfortunately, my partner (and boyfriend, one in the same) and I could not make it due to monetary issues. However, I MIT is still one of my favorite competitions to attend. First of all, it is a collegiate competition  which means lots of cheering, camaraderie, and excitement filling the ballroom, or gym in this case. Secondly, it is the largest collegiate competition on the East Coast, which means that you are pulling some of the best amateur talent from the East Coast throughout the levels to compete against. Thirdly, MIT always have an amazing professional couple come and perform a showcase and give workshops and private lessons throughout the weekend.

I love to dance, and compete. However, being able to sit in bleachers, not too far away from the couple, or even on the ground super close, is just amazing. To be inspired by these dancers to push harder and want more out of your dancing is priceless. This year’s showcase was performed by Pablo Basco and his partner Joanne Clifton, the 2011 World Dance Federation Champions. I will provide a link of their dancing below. 

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Above is an image from the 2011 MIT Dance Performance that I took on my Cannon D-SLR. The couple in the photo is Franco Formica and Oxana Lebedew. They were the 3rd place couple in the world in 2011. Shortly after the MIT Open, Franco and Oxana split ways and are now dancing with their new partners.

It’s not only my dancing these professionals are inspiring in me. They are also inspiring my photography. Every move these dancers make is just exquisite and my fingers just itch to click as many pictures as I can get.  It’s almost like an endless cycle of art. They create beautiful lines and shapes with their body in continuous motion, while I capture each line and shape on my digital card or film. I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to take pictures like this again of a professional couple. 

Videos:

Pablo Basco and Joanne Clifton Foxtrot

Franco Formica and Oxana Lebedew Rumba

What is a “picture line”?

I am Anastasia, a 21 year old female artist and dancer. I am currently enrolled at the University of Maryland studying art, specifically digital media. My hope one day is to be a successful photographer. At the University of Maryland, not only do I study art, but I also have become immersed in the ballroom dance community. It started freshman year when I decided to join a club because I was a commuter and hadn’t had a chance yet to make a lot of friends. I did ballet when I was very little, and I wanted to find my way back to the dancing world. I thought ballroom would be a great outlet to make friends and to dance again. I didn’t realize how much it would take up my life. Now three years, I am president of the ballroom dance team, working with my amazing partner to make our debut in open (I’ll explain more what the different levels mean in a different post).

Now what is a picture line? A picture line is a figure in which the couple stops moving and creates a beautiful line with their bodies. During these short moments, it is a photographers oppertune time to take a picture of the dancers at their best possible moment. The picture at the end of the post demonstrates the many different picture lines, or line figures, performed by Mirko Gozzoli and Alessia Betti, who no longer dance together.

When I’m not doing school work or practicing dance, I take my camera out and take photos. Recently I have been focusing on dancesport photography and concert photography. Now I love all forms, but those two types of photography really are speaking to me right now. I want to use this blog to post my photography and art to share and grow. That’s all that I have for now. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

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