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!

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.

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!

 

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: