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!

Wedding Dance

Hello! As you probably guessed, today I’m going to discuss the first dance of the couple at their wedding. This is one of those things on that long check list you have of things to do, pick the flower, buy the dress, organizing venue, schedule lessons for dance. Wait? LessonS? Meaning multiple? What? I can’t just pick up a routine in one lesson? I need more?

Ok maybe this in an exaggeration of your reaction. But yes you do need more than one lesson to get even the simplest routine down. So if you plan to more than just swaying on that dance floo r(which is totally cool too 😀 ) than here are some suggestions to make that dreaded part of the wedding something to look forward to.

1) Give yourself at least 2 months! Please don’t call up a studio or your dancer friends 2 weeks before you wedding asking them to come up for a full fledge, dance with the stars like routine in that amount of time. It takes a while to develop up the muscle memory for a routine of any caliber. With that amount of time, the studio or your very nice dancer friends can only come up with the most simplest routine that can be repeated over and over until the song you picked is over. The more time you give yourself, the more comfortable you will feel when the time comes to dance, and you can have more complex routine if that’s what you really want.

2) Have an idea of what you want to do! Now you don’t have to know what specific dance in mind, or even a specific song. Those things help tremendously to get started right in a routine, but they are not necessary. What you need is an idea of what genera of music you want to use, or if you want to do a dance within a specific style, like maybe a foxtrot or waltz. This will trim down the options for you and your teacher to pick from and will make the selection process easier. Instead of having a “I don’t know what I want” attitude, bring something to the table. This is your dance after all. You instructor can only do so much for you. It literally can be anything. Your instructor will be able adapt to most any song/genre you can bring to the table.

3) Take more than one lesson! You may be able to sit down with your instructor to come up with the routine in one lessons, but it may take a few more to fully understand all the moves and how they connect together. It also gives you guidence on how to fix the more difficult parts of your routine. Your teacher is there to help you learn it, and is more than willing to help you through it all.

4) Practice, practice, practice! No one wants to be that awkward dancing couple on the floor than forgets their routine half way through the song. Just like public speaking, you get more comfortable with the moves the more you practice them. There are many ways to practice your routine. One way is to physically go to the studio, plug in some head phones, and dance it through all the way. Another is to just listen to the music and just feel it (which shouldn’t be a burden because it should be something you like!). Lastly, you can just run the steps through in your head, and visualize the routine, if you can’t make it to the studio. These are all different ways that you can “practice” your dance. Anything that makes you more familiar with it will help!

5) MOST IMPORTANTLY HAVE FUN! I can’t stress this enough. This you and your significant other’s day. It’s all about you, and it should be fun. No one will care if you didn’t do a perfect natural turn or lock step. People will most likely remember if you look confident and happy or if you looked stiff and nervous the entire time. I know which one I would like to be remembered by. 🙂

I hope these tips help!

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.

Second Best Advice I Can Give

Now my first bit of advice mostly applied to newbies; however, this bit of advice applies to all dancers as we all tend to forget this. It goes a little something like this. “If you don’t have it now, you won’t get it by comp time this weekend.” Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever stop practicing new figures, techniques, and frames. But you just need to refocus your priorities. When a competition is right around the conorn, there is no way you are gong to master that new double reverse spin turn that you learned last week in time for it to be competition ready. For those of you who might not be aware, it takes at least six (6!) months to develope muscle memory. This is why cramming before a ballroom comepition will not work! Instead it will almost always will hinder your proformance, rather than inhance it.

What you should focus on primarily during competition week is your current routines. Practice them over and over and over. To music, without music. In competition order. In solo rounds, in multi rounds. With other people on the floor, without people on the floor. Just keep doing your routines. This will get you ready for that quickly approaching competition weekend. This will help for a number of reasons. 1) you will be ready to dance your routine and given music. There will be no surprises. 2) You will get used to surprises that  might happen at a comp, as in they have to switch events around for schedule reason. 3) You get used to the how many times your should routine will loop during those 90seconds of music (though things like floor craft issues my pop up). 4) You can practice your floorcraft, so you become more comfortable when sticky situations arise (cuz they will). 5) Endurance. The more you dance and the more dances you will be able to do in a row during practice, will better prepare you for doing multiple rounds form, hopefully, mulitple call backs.

In short do rounds, ALL THE ROUNDS! And save the thechinque until after the competition. Also make sure you get videos of your dancing at the comepetion as your coach may see something that you should start working on to make your dancing better for the next comp.

That is all I have for now. Good Luck to all of those competiting this weekend, especially those at DCDI. I, sadly, will not be dancing. I will be there chearing on my team mates (and my newbies!) and any other dancers I enjoy watching. Feel free to stop by and say hi! I will be the nervous person giving a speach Saturday Night during the night show… Please feel free to comment below for anymore advice you have for dancers of all levels!

As for a my art, my next few posts will be all about my different classes and what I have been up to. I need to photograph/scan some of my work in so that I can upload it to wordpress to share.

The Best Advice I Can Give

Hello all, I know I didn’t post on Thursday, bad me, but I didn’t come up with inspiration until today. This goes out to all the newbies that will compete their very first competition really soon, or those who have competed already once but still feel incredibly nervouse. As for you advanced dancers, stick around. This post will help give you a bit of persepective, I hope.

The best advice I can give for those newbies struggling to feel prepared for their competition is that Rome was not built in a day. Now before you start shouting at me about that being a cliche, just stop and think about it. It is completely true. The Roman Empire lasted for 16 centuries! Now we all know how long and how much the Emperors struggled to expand their empire from the small city states that now are called Italy, all the way out to the Anglo-Saxon Britain and the Bysantine West. It took all those centuries to become a great, unforgettable Empire. It took a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears (mainly from the conqured tribes I’m sure) to make the Roman Empire strong and powerful.

Now you may be asking me, ok so what does Nero have to do with Samba? Well, that becoming an amazing dancer takes more than one day, or three months in the case of many of you. Not to say you haven’t come far in the past three months, because you have. You have learned 6 routines, in the case of the newbies I’ve thaught, to compete in two styles. You can get around the floor and turn corners in standard, and you can do many turning figures to allow your number been seen by as many judges as possible. Be proud of what you have accomplished; yet, remember that you still have an amazing, and yes long, journey a head of you.

Unlike the Roman empire, it will not take centuries for you to become beautiful amazing dancers you see on youtube videos. Or I hope not, or else we all have a very serious problem. Instead it could take a few years before your mind and body can learn and apply all the techinque and figures to make you an amazing, high level amatuer, give or take a few years. Do not be scared or sad though. As long as you have the drive, and you invest time, and yes money, into your dancing you will get there. You will be able to achieve most, if not all of your dancing goals. And enjoy the ride, I know I have.

Newbies, if you are really terrified about looking like the worst person on that floor, look at newbie rounds from years past at competitions. Advance dancers, if you belong to a team, please pull up some videos from your past and share them with your newbies. Yes I’m looking at you. Stop cringing at me. I know the feeling. Just close your eyes and share, and run away from the computer for a few days. It sucks, and that’s ok. But honestly, this will give the newcomers a bit more confidence to know the older, veteran dancers sucked too. It is an eyeopener for them to see that they can become just like you one day, and that it’s not all about talent or sheer luck.

I recently did this, along with a bunch of other people on my team. And to be honest, I throuoghly enjoyed the experience. Not so much of looking at my old stuff, because seriously cringe!!! But because I got to see videos from way before my time, with some of my coaches in the newbie rounds. Most of these people I have only seen as prechamp or champ dancers. It gave me persepective to know that, yeah I could be them one day too, and I’m not too far off from acheiving my goals.

It has taken me three years to get where I am today in my dancing. I would not have traded the experiences I have gained from working towards my dance goals for somehow instantly being amazing. All the faults and missteps along the way have truly made me the dancer I am today, and without those experiences I believe I would be a worse dancer than I am right now. So hang in their kidos. Your journey has just started, and I promise you will get to that night show one of these days.

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!

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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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. 

Image

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