Monday, May 5, 2014

20 Years of WDC Professional Standard History

Data taken from DanceSportInfo.net

Feel free to [politely] email me corrections in case I missed anything. There's a lot of data to go through, so hopefully it's understandable.

Click chart for full-size image!

StandardFinalists
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I stand in an old opera hall in one of the finest hotels in New York City, tossing an empty Dixie cup into a plastic garbage bin. I adjust the cuffs on my tailsuit. You'd think after dropping $2,000 on just a coat and pants, I'd spend the money for a decent alteration. Oh well. My patent leather shoes are too tight, my stained bow tie is too small - just more things to take care of when I get back to Boston.

Still catching my air, I breathe deeply against the fitted stretch cloth that now clings soaked to my skin. I am greeted by the familiar scent of hairspray, sweat, and fake tanner. It's a comforting odor, - the way I imagine a swimmer feels when greeted by hints of chlorine upon entering a gym. But I'm not here to swim – in place of a pool lies a hardwood floor, with laps being run by pairs of men and women of all ages. Not racing against the clock, but keeping in time with the speakers blasting Waltz and Jive. These halls once echoed with the sounds of Symphony Orchestras and the most pristine of vocalists; now, the acoustics are wasted on low-quality mp3s, spat from awkwardly placed monitors which make no effort to match the oak interior. The theatre seats, which once faced the stage, have long since been removed. Bleachers have been set up to border the ballroom floor, giving spectators the chance to interrupt the soft rendition of "Moon River" with a loud cheer or whistle.

I wander closer to the center of the room, politely dodging a barrage of dancers clad in rhinestones, feathers, and sequins. I recognize most of the competitors, though a few are hard to distinguish under thick layers of makeup and powder. A few of the young ladies sport a new dress or hairstyle, and occasionally the difference is so drastic I am forced to rely on her leader to remind me of her name. Partners can usually be spotted together off the floor as well. I've lost sight of mine - she's probably off socializing; after all, it's not often we get to see our New York friends. No matter, we have some time to kill. We won't be dancing again for another half-hour at least. That is, if we've made the next round.

The Senior standard event comes to a close as the Quickstep music fades. Twelve pairs of fifty-somethings step apart from one another, dripping wet from an exhausting ten minutes of dancing. While athletes in most sports settle for spandex t-shirts and shorts, these dapper participants take bows in the most eloquent of jerseys - gowns with hundreds of sparkling Swarovski crystals and neatly tailored tails, finishing the effect with the most gracious of smiles. Were it not for the heaving chests and the numbered squares of paper on each man's back, you may well think these ladies and gentlemen were here for an opera after all .

While the spectators clap, a dozen elegant figures standing just past the edge of the floor glance down to their palms. The judges submit their finals marks through their PDAs, effortlessly maintaining a cold and calculating appearance. Though not dressed to compete, each one is dressed to impress - or perhaps intimidate - as they stand for hours on end, deciding who will dance again and who will be the latest addition to the crowd. From the stage comes the announcement that the judges will be changing panels.

The EmCee urges the spectators to applaud the new panel as they take position to judge the Youth Latin semifinals. Scantily-clad fourteen year old girls are escorted onto the floor on the velvety sleeves of their partners, their faces locked into a focused countenance. I can't help but smirk at the thought that these girls' parents pay to have them learn how to grind their fake-tanned bodies against these stoic teenage boys, many of whom have likely never shaved a day in their lives. Despite my amusement, I often wish I had been one of those boys, learning to control my body and to project a maturity and confidence beyond my years. Oh well.

A subtle flicker of light calls my attention up from the floor to above the stage. Resting in front of Royal Blue curtains, bordered on one side by an ornately carved banister and the other by the opera stage fly space, there hangs a square white canvas, completely devoid of extravagance. An unseen projector casts an unfeeling white glow upon its surface, broken only by the black, monospace, sans-serif font. Without so much as a logo to embellish the display, this screen serves as the executioner to the stone-faced judges' marks. Some competitions post results on paper, but the projector is more efficient. The screen has just been updated to show the current event and competing couples. The two lines at the top read simply, "Youth Latin Champ Semi-Final," followed by 12 three-digit numbers. Below, the next five or six events wait their turn to take the top of the screen. The Adult Rhythm couples are listed for the next event, and for the Senior Smooth after that. Queued below, event names remain thin, single lines of text, waiting for the results from previous heats to announce which couples would advance to the next round.

A second flicker, and my heart leaps - the Adult Champ Standard marks are in for the semi-final. Twelve numbers appear below the title, dropping another event off the bottom of the screen. My eyes slide left and right before settling on the gap in between the 4- and 6-hundreds. Where's 539?...Damn. I glance again, hoping that by some miracle I'm forgetting how numbers are typically sorted. Or that this was one of those rare mistakes where a couple is added to the end of the list. 364 made it? And we didn't? Damn. No, good for them. They've worked hard - I've seen them in the studio working...damn, I'll have to see them in the studio this weekend - no, that's not a bad thing. I should stay and cheer for them. Would that come off as insincere? Perhaps. 622 made it as well? What competition were these judges watching? We destroyed them last time! They must have improved. Well, so have we. That round felt so great...what happened? 539 really isn't there?

I clench my teeth and heave a long sigh. I must maintain my composure. Playing the sore loser is never an option...622, seriously?...I'd better find my partner and get to the dressing room before anybody asks me if we made it. I've got to get out of this suit and into some jeans...it'll save me and anyone curious enough to ask the embarrassment. Not to mention getting this ridiculous shade of makeup off my face.

I turn toward the changing room, but halt before I've started moving. My partner steps to my side, smiling softly. She hasn't seen the marks yet. They've only been up for about 5 seconds after all. As I force a smirk to my face, her smile fades to concern. "Did we make it?" she asks.

"No," I reply. That was blunt. Too blunt. Come on, don't be an ass. "I'm gonna get changed."

"Oh, ok." She puts visible effort into forming a smile, then carefully observes my face. This is the first time we've been surprised by a poor result, and I know she's waiting for my reaction. Chin up, boy - she danced beautifully, and you know it. This is the only person as disappointed as you at the result. Don't throw a tantrum now.

"You danced beautifully tonight." Much better. "I’ll be in the changing room.”

"Thanks, you too," she says with the same defeated grin . "Come find me when you're done?"

"Yeah," I mumble, advancing for a tentative hug.

I lope back to the dressing rooms with my gaze to the floor. I start to undress along the way - sliding off the bowtie, removing the collar studs and strip of plastic wrapping my neck, plucking out a few cuff-links and matching shirt studs. A few buttons later, and I have my jacket in hand. I hope the dressing room is empty. Unlikely, but it would be a small mercy to avoid small talk with the rest of those cut in the heat.

My plea is granted as I take possession of the empty dressing room. An ancient mirror, outlined with bastard yellow bulbs occupies a full wall of the glorified closet. Two portable clothing racks strain under the weight of no less than forty hangers apiece, at least half of which bear a set of satin-striped slacks and a sweat-soaked shirt. Gym bags and overnight rollers litter the floor, along with a few stray dry-cleaning bags that haven't made their way to the trash yet. The calming silence is mine alone, at least until I'm back in my jeans, tailsuit tucked neatly into my garment bag. I duck into the restroom to scrub a few layers of powder and makeup from my face - however, the hair will stay locked into a rigid combover for the rest of the night. Not a problem - I'm less likely to get stares from curious onlookers with a clean face if a group goes out to the bars afterwards.

Emerging from the restroom, I see the other quarterfinalists have returned to shed their competitive skins as well. Stay chipper, old boy. You're the funny one. Say something clever. Be cheerful, but try not to be annoying. Never let 'em see you sweat.

After a few jokes and painfully listening to everyone's evening plans, I insist I need to meet up with my partner and make my way back to the ballroom. I avoid eye contact with the passersby for the most part, but keep my gaze and countenance neutral. As I almost reach the door to the ballroom, I pass by a judge from my heat. He normally marks me well enough... what changed today? I catch him glance at my outfit, and for one brief moment, I swear I can see a hint of surprise in his eyes. I smile wryly, albeit with a distinct flavor of defeat, and continue down the corridor to the entrance.

I scan the crowd and pick out my partner - she's already changed. Funny how the ladies can spend hours on hair and makeup, but just slip in and out of these elaborate gowns so quickly. I suppose I'm just so used to all the buttons, suspenders, and other obstacles that come with wearing tails. She's engaged in conversation with a friend of hers from the area. Rather than intrude, I prop myself against the bleachers. I set my eyes on the floor, but I'm certainly not watching anything at the moment. My mind still dwells on the results. Had we just not danced as well as it felt? Had we been off-time? Was it the simplicity of our choreography?

"I'm gonna torture you tomorrow."

The playful Latvian voice is accompanied by two hands on my shoulders. I turn to see one of my coaches giving me a knowing grin . She has judged this event in the past and many more competitions of a far higher caliber, but I am lucky enough to book private lessons with her whenever I'm in town. I hadn't realized she would be watching the whole event, but I'm suddenly all the more glad that I have a lesson scheduled with her tomorrow. She raises her eyebrows and continues her way around the room without another word.

Torture? It sounds productive if nothing else. My partner's conversation is dying down. I should head over and make plans for the rest of the night. She and I will want to sit together to watch the semi final. Better go and cheer for our friends, even if we're still licking our wounds. I must make a point to congratulate them once my head cools down a bit.

I realize I'm standing next to my overnight bag, which I've left in the ballroom the entire day beneath my Kashmir winter coat. I open the brown leather bag and fish through slacks and patent leather shoes until I come across a plastic grocery bag and extract a package of berry fruit snacks. I dump its contents into one hand and toss the wrapper to join my last Dixie cup in the trash bin . A twenty-something-year-old woman's voice fills the ballroom as a Viennese Waltz strikes up, signaling the end of the Senior Smooth dances. The adult standard semi-finals will commence soon. I find myself recognizing more of the faces joining us in the stands – I should inquire about everyone’s plans for tonight.

I could kill for a bourbon right about now.


The Title's Reference

This post takes a deviation from my typically lighthearted tone. Instead, here is a short story about disappointment in the ballroom world - a world full of glaring contradictions that manifest at the intersection of art and athletics.

In any competition, there will be moments of disappointment. It can be a tough hurdle to surpass; after so much time, money, and energy has been devoted to a skill, it can be difficult not to build up expectations of performance. No matter how much better we competitors feel about our dancing, we still seek some manner of acknowledgement in our competitive results. Occasionally, we don't achieve these results, and this is what leads to disappointment.

In this post, I attempt to capture this feeling of disappointment. I wrote this shortly after I had danced a round and not received the results I had hoped. I felt disappointment, and had a "what am I doing here?" moment, and candid as it may be, I wanted to share that moment with you.

When it comes to good fortune in finding partners, there are none so lucky as I. Having danced with some of the most talented, beautiful, and patient partners that any competitor could hope to have, I had an unorthodox streak of success, rising from Bronze to Champ in under 2 years. But I knew that one day, the instant gratification would cease to be - one day, the measurement of "success" would need to change. I wouldn't be able to rely on a few decent techniques, a few mildly advanced figures, and a smile to get by. Gone would be the days where a single private lesson and a few hours of practice would put me a round or two ahead of the bulk of Bronze dancers - soon, I knew I would have to spend months of lessons and practice with my aim being no more than to take a few marks from the next couple ahead. 

And I knew that there would come a time where there would not be much room for surprises of the welcome sort. There would be more room for "failure", or at the very least, disappointment. Someone would see the holes in my technique. Rather than taking note of the things I was doing well, judges would start to see how great I wasn't.



I have flown too close to the sun. Not all that glitters is gold. The Emperor has no clothes.

Note: I picked the numbers off the top of my head. If they actually match up to competitors, this is completely coincidental.

Special thanks to Rebecca Johnson for her edits.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The State of Amateur Ballroom in America

Well, the United States of America, but that doesn't sound as catchy.

After hours and hours of web scraping, normalizing, and analyzing the 2 larges dancesport mark websites in America, I have compiled a list of fun facts about Ballroom Dancing in the US that you don't normally see from registration sheets alone. I hope you enjoy!

And seriously, this took a TON of work. PLEASE share this blog post if you found anything informative or fascinating :) thank you!


and no, you can't have access to the data


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

#JustStandardThings

Your Contra Check lands right on the climax of the Tango

Having a Natural Turn immediately after the crescendo of the Waltz

A judge sees you check and change directions beautifully to avoid another couple, but really it was in your choreography

When the Waltz has a super long intro with no beat, so you guess and go for it, then find out once the percussion starts that you were right

Your Pepper Pots and Scatters line up perfectly with the percussion/dominant instrument

Partner says they want to try a slight adjustment in the frame, then everything just FITS

Getting through the whole Viennese Waltz without a sore shoulder

Some couple cuts off your exit, so you're forced to make your line EXTRA ELEGANT

There are three couples in front as you switch to promenade, and you've got a running-from-promenade figure, and there's JUST ENOUGH SPACE to make your floorcraft look BOSS

Getting through your whole routine in the Semi without any unplanned stops or changes

The other couple's feather crashes just a moment before yours

You took 4th or 5th, but some judge marked you first in Waltz

Exiting the Fleckerl together at the same time

Being in the middle of a reverse-turning figure as the music fades

Getting one wide open long wall at your favorite part of your routine

That floor is just the right mix of sticky, slippery, and springy

Travelling coach frames up with you, asks you to make an adjustment, then exclaims, "Yes! Good!"

Nobody in the way for your Reverse Wave

That more-complicated, cooler-looking figure is somehow easier and fits better than that one part of the routine that you hate

Somebody got that perfect picture of you in split-weight position

The progressive link felt TIGHT and STILL

Working on Travelling today, and the studio's almost empty

Seeing a pro smooth dancer take closed frame and going "psh"

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