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"

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bronze Smooth Syllabus Is Insane

Ok, so I haven't seriously danced smooth competitively in about a year and a half. I jumped from maybe starting Silver to Novice/Prechamp due to landing an incredibly awesome partner (yay being tall). When it came time for routines, we actually made up the majority of our choreography ourselves, then had our coaches tweak/rearrange the routines to make them a little more continuous. A lot of what we used was actually syllabus, just with more "interesting" frames and styling. I was chatting with a few open-smooth friends of mine the other evening, and I realized that almost nobody else in the room knew more than half the smooth syllabus.

Most people, I've come to realize, basically learn the international syllabus, then maybe any combination of the following: Underarm Turn, Explosions, Butterflies, Fan, MAYBE some Shadow. But there is so much more! And beyond all this cool stuff, there are plethora of steps in BRONZE whose International equivalents are considered Gold steps. So let's take a look at some

BAD@$$ BRONZE AMERICAN SMOOTH STEPS

I have cited a few of the rules in case you were freaking out about adjudication.

Disclaimer: Yeah, not everyone places these steps in their syllabus, and there are a bunch of syllabi floating around. To the best of my knowledge, the majority of these steps still fall within the syllabus restrictions. Many competitions and syllabi - including the official NDCA syllabus[1] - will not use a comprehensive list of approved steps, but instead use a list of "restrictions", ie, "No Fallaways", "No lines except Corte", etc...

The Moves

Tango - Rock and Corte

Here's a very gentle video of the figure:




But you can style the heck out of this figure. It's basically a "Quick-Quick" Contra Check (provided it's not too "liney"[2]), followed by a Back Corte. 

Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot - Promenade Pivot


That's right, a pivot. In Bronze. In 3 dances. And don't let the video title fool you - it's Bronze according to the syllabus.



Granted, it's only one (no continuous pivots[3]), but it beats closing, rock turning, then opening back up to promenade in my opinion.

Waltz - Promenade Hesitations

You may not think these are very interesting, but #1, it's basically a Challenge Line, so you can make it cool, and #2, it's something other than Chasse from PP.


Tango - Twist Turn

Sure, it's also Bronze in International Tango as well, but this is still a pretty cool step. Must more interesting than Closed Promenade Turning Left, if you ask me. It also gives the follow a much easier signal to change her head from Promenade to Closed.



And if you're nervous about the other steps thusfar, this one is actually in the NDCA syllabus by name[4].

Viennese Waltz - Fleckerls

Yup. You heard me. Fleckerls. As in, the last syllabus figure in the last standard dance (V Waltz)? Yeah, that's a Bronze step in American. Granted, you can't chain the Reverse and Natural together using a Contra Check (although V-Waltz is the only dance where Picture Lines are not explicitly restricted, it is implied by Picture Line being permitted in Silver[5]) - instead, you would use a Whisk/Fifth Position Break. But still. Fleckerls.


BONUS: In syllabus, you're allowed to have the lady curtsy once before starting[6].

Don't forget Silver

And although this post is about Bronze Steps, let's not forget that there is more to Silver than just adding shadow position. There are a host of line figures, the change of place, Cobra Fans, Continuous Pivots, and more!

Conclusion

So just remember, if you're trying to get to Open and fast as possible just so you can do some lunges, a bit of separate work, and maybe an few aerial rondes, make sure you stop and smell the syllabi along the way.

Appendix

NDCA Rules:

1. Restriction 2
2. American Tango - Bronze, Restriction 5
3. American Waltz - Bronze, Restriction 5
4. American Tango - Bronze, Figure 13
5. American Viennese Waltz - Silver, Restriction 2
6. American Viennese Waltz - Bronze, Restriction 10

UPDATE:
Here's a great resource that includes many steps that fall into the restrictions, but are not explicitly named in the syllabus:
http://www.wright-house.com/dance/ndca-american-smooth-syllabus-ballroom-dance.html

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How to Talk to your Follow

Similar goals and talent are all well and good in a dance partnership, but communication is key. Remember this chart as you mentally prepare yourself to minimize interpersonal stress for a productive practice.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Misc Funnies

Occasionally, I'll post something on facebook, but forget to post it on my blog. Here are some of my miscellaneous ballroom funnies that may not have made it in here yet.

Enjoy!

Friend sent me the original. I thought it was missing a stage..

Pretty sure this is what judges do once they're watching the same couples for the 4th or 5th round

Anna Mikhed shares her opinion of her split with Victor Fung, then retires shortly thereafter

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dear Collegiate Club Organizer

Dear Collegiate Club-or-Team Organizer/Captain/President:

Your job is not to produce great dancers.

Your goal is not to have the best dance club/team in the country.

You are not running a dance academy.

These people are not here because their parents paid a large sum of money with the intent of one day producing the best-of-the-best.

Most of these people are well-educated adults that know how to seek additional information. They do not need the hand-holding or direction that youth dancers are coddled with.

For that matter, they don't need an ambitious curriculum forced down their throat. Many of them are seeking release from being told what to do, and are instead asking what to do.

Your job is this:
To create an environment where people can fall in love with Ballroom Dancing, and give them the resources to explore that love to their hearts' content.
You'll have higher retention, happier dancers, and believe it or not, more skilled dancers that decide to take their dance education into their own hands in order to excel. Focus on recruiting and giving people direction to getting more information. Allow and encourage people to get as good as they'd like at the pace they'd like. It's a club, not a certification program. You'll get people with many different goals:

  • You wanna be the best? Join the group that meets twice a week, here are the available practice spaces, and here is the list of coaches in the area, especially the ones that work with the team.
  • You wanna improve rapidly? Let's hook you up with a team mentor, and here are a few well-respected amateurs in the area that said they'd help out.
  • You wanna just have fun and come to the parties? We have a general lesson once per week and a social every Sunday, and a couple of team parties every semester.

All of these people are important to the organization and to the ballroom community. Don't tell anyone what sort of person they need to be to enjoy the sport. Just give them the tools and opportunity to excel, then get out of the way, and above all, make everyone feel welcome to the ballroom family.

You might accidentally enjoy the community yourself :)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Art of Following

This should be a quick rant.

FOLLOWING is an ART, NOT some INHERENT TALENT.

FOLLOWING takes practice.
FOLLOWING takes instruction.
FOLLOWING takes real skill. Real intention. Real work.

There are 2 things I keep seeing that bug me enough to prompt this post.

1. "I Can Follow"

I'm at a social. 
"Would you like to dance?" she says.
"Do you dance waltz?" I say.
"I can follow," she says.
No.
No, no, no.

[First of all, if you don't know the dance, why did you ask me in the first place?]

"Do you dance waltz?" is not my way of asking, "Are you cool if I drag you in a circle for 3 minutes?" It's my way of asking if you've spent any time on the matter.

It's like I'm about to hand you a guitar around a campfire. If you even know 4 chords, you can still play quite a bit of decent music. Or you can play Tango en Ski on a steel string. But if you've literally never picked one up, even if you rock at piano, you're probably just going to hurt my ears. The point is, I can enjoy a whole waltz of just natural and reverse turns. But I'd like my partner to know the basic footwork and frame. Otherwise I'm in for a night of shoulder pain.

IF YOU are the follow that says, "I can follow," without any prior training, please take note

By saying, "I can follow" when regarding a style in which you have no training or experience, you insult literally half of the population of that dance community that spends their resources (time, energy, money) on learning how to follow.
Next time, just say, "Oh, not really." That gives me the opportunity to say, "Ok, can I come find you for the next Swing?" or something.

2. "Let's go from the..."

Alright, time for me to rip into the leads. During my recent partner search, I noticed a recurring phenomenon, which I am certain is not unique to Ballroom/Standard (which is my primary style).

I noticed that quite a few of the ladies I practiced with were leaving their previous partners for being controlling. Overbearing. Nearly even bullying at times. Belittling. Blah, blah, blah, long story short, when dudes got good, they often turned into jerks. And I couldn't figure out why.

Until we started practicing. During these "tryouts", we would both show each other our choreography or make something up so we had something to practice. I noticed a theme - often the ladies tended to not know the names of some of the more difficult steps. Or could not dance them on their own in the order we had already determined. Or be able to pick it up from a specific step once we had danced the routine once or twice.

"Let's take it from the [open level step]."
"From the...where?"

Here I was dancing with partners way out of my league, and they couldn't name steps or start/stop anywhere in a relatively simple choreography. And that's when I realized why leads get this idea that they know everything.

FOLLOWING is HARD. It takes CONCENTRATION. For followers, there's a lot more going on internally and a lot less time for decision making. So, when a follow is having to catch your lead, then respond tenfold with a internal reaction, all while knowing that you could change your mind, something's gotta give. 

So you balance each other out. The follow worries about the stretch and the reaction, while YOU worry about the floorcraft and the routine. And it's our own fault that we need a layer of abstraction called "Names" for these steps. We are responsible for keeping the couple moving, so we need to constantly be flipping through our mental index of figures to make sure we know what steps can come next, how far certain steps take us, etc. On top of that, we need to constantly inform the follow of what's on our mind (which, by the way, is different from making them do something). The follow's responsibility is to make it look good and cover your mistakes and do everything possible to not disturb you and your balance.

They don't have to care about what step comes next, because chances are you're just going to change it on them anyway. Their job is to be ready for when you make that change and make it look like you both knew it was coming. So they have one heck of a tough job, and just because you know the choreography better, don't think you can do their job better than they can. Respect the work they've put into making you look good. Odds are, half the time you feel like hot stuff it's because a follow is doing their job well.

Epilogue:

Following is an art. Lead-and-Follow is not a Master-Servant relationship. When two people are on vacation, it doesn't mean the person driving the car is "vacationing better". And following takes practice. There's no award for the partner that can hold onto their partner the tightest. Some people put a lot of work into making themselves a "ghost in a skirt" so they don't get drug around.

Follows - what's your take?

Oops. That rant wasn't quick at all.

Footnote on gender: I tried to keep the pronouns androgynous/gender neutral, except when using my own personal stories. In international ballroom, the culture and history is still very gender-oriented, which doesn't seem to be changing any time soon. The technique books even use gender-specific language. Instead, there are now separate events for same-sex couples. I know this isn't the case in many dance cultures, so I tried to de-genderify the post.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Where's my Confidence?

TL:DR; highlighted portions = tips.

So, I'm not the most confident person in the world.

Just kidding, here's a photo of me breathing fire:
No, really that's me. Check it out.

So, restart, rephrase - I, like everyone else, have a comfort zone. One which I strive to expand by venturing out of. While I don't encourage everyone to lose a few eyebrows in the way I did, I do encourage my friends to do things that may make them a little socially uncomfortable.

Now, there are different kinds of socially uncomfortable. There's the, "Hmm, that girl is really cute, but I don't know how to approach her" uncomfortable and then there's the "I wish this creep would stop hitting on me" uncomfortable (and ironically, the latter situation would probably occur a lot less if more decent guys would get over the former and introduce themselves). Today, I'm mostly going to be talking about the former - the social anxiety that "maybe I don't belong here?"

What's this got to do with dancing? Well, many guys that start ballroom dancing as a means of getting out of their comfort zone (those that were drug to their first lesson by their significant other notwithstanding). It's a great place to meet people and it's a skill you'll have your whole life. And while plenty of people meet someone special in the course of their dancing, I hear a certain phrase uttered very often regarding the "benefits of ballroom":

 "Builds confidence."

And sure, why not? Learning something new is tough, and the accomplishment is enough to make anyone feel good. Show off a little at weddings. Have some newcomers ask you for help. Hit on that cute Silver dancer at the social. Post some fancy facebook photos to awe your lab partners.

Maybe, for some people, ballroom has no negative psychological side-effects whatsoever. Well, I may be an exception to this, because quite frankly, ballroom makes me second-guess myself all the time now.

I suppose this is a good time to mention that these are just some "side-effects" I've experienced lately. I've been competing seriously for about 2 years now, and was dancing a bit more casually for a few years prior to that. And lately, I've noticed some things creeping into my psyche that weren't much around before.


What do I do at ballroom social dances?

This one gets me all the time. The last social dance studio I "belonged" didn't double as a "competitive" studio, but luckily the owner was really cool. He liked the idea of competitive dancers around, so he gave us a pretty sweet deal on practice space (occasionally, we'd teach a social dance class in return). But I had trouble sticking around for the socials. Not because I felt that I was "too good", but because I had a hard time dialing-down the technique. I wasn't having fun sometimes. Ok, a lot of times. And I get really uncomfortable at these events.

That's an important distinction, mind you - the "I'm too good for these people" versus "Man, I wish I could go full-speed". I don't mind dancing with newcomers - I have a lot of fun dancing with someone just starting their ballroom journey, particularly when they're excited and in a good mood. But I've put a lot of time into my dancing, and sometimes, I like to cut it loose. It's hard to go from "Fallaway reverse slip-pivot, Overspin, Tumble-turn, Throwaway" to nothing but box steps off-time for 3 hours straight.

As my dear friend Kevin, who is a top-notch, studio-quality drummer, put it - "You know, I like playing the drums. But if I were stuck in a band with nothing but fourth graders who are just picking up their instruments, I might have a hard time keeping sane." Don't take away that I would call newcomers or strictly-social dancers "fourth graders" - take away that when I sit behind the drums, I still like a challenge now and then. And possibly my favorite beats are a little too complex for this band.
Perhaps not the worst fate


What do I do at social dances of other styles?

I like to swing dance. I like to salsa dance. I like to blues dance. And on rare occasions, often involving hard liquor, I like to break/club/whatever happens dance at a nightclub.

But man, does it terrify me.

Yep. Even as a prominent member of the world's largest swing dance group for years, I still get pretty self-conscious while there. Oh, not when I'm in a pocket of high schoolers that can't stay on-time and there's a camera nearby. It's when I get close to the people that can actually lindy.

Never mind placing at a bunch of local salsa events judged by amateurs that fall for stupid dips and poor technique in the name of flare. I saw the coaches watching and shaking their heads.

Sure, the cute new girl at blues is blushing when she sees I'm looking at her while dancing. But it's the other cute girl that also happens to do this 3 nights a week who I'm worried about.

Ironically, the opposite of the previous fear is no better. I have tasted "glory". Having been "the best" at a few events, knowing what it's like to "really understand" something. It's hard to go back. And more importantly, you know that with every step at a salsa event, you do nothing more than prove your ignorance. Every time I put Latin styling in my Lindy, I know I'm disrespecting the culture of the group that has welcomed me into their social. I actually used to have a lot more fun and confidence at these things before I became intrinsically familiar with a single style, but those days are gone now that I know how deep any one rabbit hole can go. And it's nerve-racking to know that you don't know what you don't know.

In my defense, some people make this one worse. Nothing pisses me off more than this one - 
"Do you swing dance a lot?"
"No, I normally ballroom dance."
"Yeah, I could tell."
SOCIAL DANCERS: Unless the next phrase you utter is:
 - "You have great posture"
 - "Your leads are so clear"
 - "Your timing is spot-on", 
then PISS OFF, ELITIST SNOB. The dude/lady just admitted that they were out of their comfort zone - don't frickin' alienate them. That's rude.

(Ballroom dancers, if you recognize someone has ballet training, you can go with:
  • You turn so smoothly
  • You spot so well
  • You have great posture,
but not "I can tell") 


What do I do at weddings?

Wedding receptions have lately been a source of stress for me. There are 2 names on the invitation, and if neither of them are mine, it ain't my day. That being said, I do know how to dance. And I'm stuck in a room with a dance floor and 2-4 hours of music and a lot of pretty girls. Guess what's gonna happen?

This one kills me. I REALLY want to lay low at these things, but I also want to have fun. I happen to have a rather "silly" set of dance moves when I'm having fun. But then, the criticism comes out. This one shows up at social dances too, but you more likely find it at these not-just-a-dance gatherings. The truly devious self-esteem killer that hurts the most when I'm just being me.

"Show-off."

First and foremost, Thumper said it best:
...so SHUT IT DRUNK COUSIN OF THE BRIDE WHO IS IGNORING HIS GIRLFRIEND (too specific?).

Secondly, you're wrong. I like dancing to my fullest potential. It's fun. The more difficult moves are more fun to pull off. And I'm not trying to show off. I'm just dancing, and it so happens that you are impressed and intimidated.

Finally, what if I am? So what? I spend thousands of dollars a year and countless hours and copious amounts of energy to achieve the ability to SHOW OFF. If you could dunk a basketball from the free-throw line, and we were hanging out one day by a court, you'd PROBABLY WANT TO SHOW THAT YOU CAN. And I, for one, would clap.

For the record - what I do at weddings: Try to dance off to the side, stick to moves that aren't terribly flashy, minimize styling (No "pro-grade" New Yorks!), avoid progressive (travelling) dances, and smile/say thank you when people comment. But at open-bar weddings, the story might be SLIGHTLY different.


Am I even getting anywhere?

Sounds kinda nihilistic, especially after going from Bronze to Champ Semifinalist in 2 years. But when I won Novice, I lost in Prechamp. And when I made Champ finals, I knew there were people missing. And even when I see the score sheet that says "Top 12" for USA Dance nationals, I know there are another 12 couples not on that list because they were too busy competing internationally to be bothered with US Nationals.
Wise Words
I hardly ever think, "Dang, I'm so good" (I find I tend to get a big slice of humble pie shortly after that thought). Instead, I think, "how much better can I get by [x]?" Not to say I'm not proud to show off my videos to family and coworkers. But yeah, I am humbled anytime I see my coach or walk into Manhattan Ballroom, because IT'S BEEN DONE. Can it be extraordinary if there's a room full of people who can do it better? I tell myself, "yeah, it's still impressive, right?" - but that doesn't mean I'm impressed. And I'm not sure that's a bad mentality - it certainly keeps me driven - but I do know that it's NOT confidence.


So what?

Where does this leave me? Well, nowhere in particular. I could try to "win" by becoming the best at all things. I could give up and go home. Or I could still go out salsa dancing, ask a girl that's way better to dance with me, and enjoy myself after realizing that it wasn't so hard. I've dug so much out of certain veins of my comfort zone that it became constricted in others. So, I'll continue becoming better at something I love, and understand that wherever there are people, I'll have to still take risks in order to enjoy myself.

Is this being a bit too candid? Possibly. But hey, that's just another step out of my comfort zone.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ballroom Propaganda

Hey :) just some minimalist stuff I put together while waiting to go to a social tonight.

All meant in good fun, of course.

Thinkin' I might do a smooth one too.


Monday, June 17, 2013

10 Graphs about Ballroom Lifestyle

So, I do a lot of Data Visualization at work. And I do a lot of ballroom dancing when I'm not at work. Actually, I dance at work too, but typically when I'm on a conference call and am not required to sit still.

Anyway, here are a few graphs that popped into my head about the Dancer Lifestyle. Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Stigma of the Collegiate Dancer

WARNING: There may be a little bit of ranting going on

"Dude, what's up with these marks?"

To all of my friends who started ballroom dancing competitively in college (or immediately thereafter), we've all felt that anger. The frustration that a couple of judges marked us first, but one mark was so low that it cost us a place. That the judges in one level put us above a certain couple, but the judges for another level decided differently.

Believe me, I've been there. In my last competition, 3 judges had us taking first. However, despite 3 first-place marks in the Tango, we took 5th in the dance, and fifth overall.

I was frustrated for a week or two, but I got over it. And this blog post is dedicated to the realization that made me shrug it off.

The majority of the other competitors in the competition were collegiate-dancers-gone-amateur. By "collegiate," I mean they started their ballroom journeys sometime after the age of 18 (I'm sure "collegiate" is a bit of a misnomer, but deal with it). I realize we all share a trait that I call "The Stigma of the Collegiate Dancer."

One couple that out-placed us had better connection than myself and my partner, but we clearly had them on stride and topline. Another couple had great stretch in their lines and complex choreography, but at the expense of clean footwork and musicality.

So, what happens? Apparently, we had three "stride-and-topline" judges, and the rest were not. Or our clean topline was not as clean as the stretchiness of the other couple's stretch. At first, my reaction was to feel victimized by the draw, but now that I look back on it, I say, 

"Yup."

Let's play "Spot the Broken Line"
The stigma is this - you do some things great, and others, not so much. And that sticks out like a sore thumb. You probably got where you are due to a couple of great tricks, but now you're running up against competitors with equal-yet-different tricks. And yeah, your marks are now subject to the luck of the draw. Whose trick do the judges like?

So why do I say this is the collegiate dancer? Simply, because I don't feel this happens much in the youth crowd. At least not to the glaring extent of collegiate dancers. And why is that? Because, if at any point in time in the 10 years of your youth dancing, your coach looks at you and thinks, "nice stride and topline, but not stretchy enough," guess what you spend the next few months practicing? Having a longer journey from scratch with hands held along the way, you are less likely to develop prominently impressive characteristics or distractingly offensive habits.

Take myself and my personal favorite dancer, Mirko Gozzoli, for example. You put him and me on the same dance floor, there's no "Oh, look at his topline", "Oh, his stretch is a little better", "Nice musicality" - you see a holistically better performance from the former WDC world champion (currently top of WDSF), with no concessions to myself (save that my name is easier to pronounce). While perhaps not on the same order of magnitude, I feel this is what happens when judges see two youth couples. They've been coached away from bad habits and developed the good habits at a fairly distributed rate. One will likely paint an overall better picture, subject to very few matters of "taste".

So, how to defeat the symptoms of being a collegiate dancer? Not that I'm an authoritative source, but if you saw me dancing Bronze versus Champ, you'd see a number of habits that have disappeared. Though there are many forms this can take, I'm pretty sure it comes down to this: Get more information, then act on it. This of course applies to any skill. In our world, this takes the form of lessons and practice. I personally like taking regular private lessons from multiple coaches (I have one that's big on clean footwork and timing, and another that's keen on connection and internal adjustments), but some prefer a single coach. Others will take lessons few and far between from judges that see them dance regularly.

Whatever approach, you need to make sure you understand that there is always something you can do better. In order to progress in your skill (and by extension, your marks), you need to not blame the judges or other couples and instead invest the time, energy, and other resources ($) to improve yourself.

I hear tell that there comes a point where politics play a big - if not the biggest - factor in one's placement. Oh that I were only skilled enough to worry that others' reputations were dependent upon my results. But until I am SO good in my basics that I need worry about judges' preferences, I have little to complain about other than the lack of time I can invest in getting better. And even that's just a lame excuse. If it's worth complaining about, then it's worth prioritizing.

Ultimately, it comes down to this:

At any given moment, you are exactly as good as you are. If you don't like your results, then get better.


Am I way off in my understanding of the youth dancer experience, either from the dancer or judge opinion? Can anybody shed some light either way? I'd love to hear from you. Comments or CloudCray@gmail.com

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ballroom and Disney

  Yeah, we all grew up with Disney. So, if you're looking for an a few fan-serves at your next social (or perhaps a theme for a party), here you go - a list of ballroom songs by Disney!

 Feel free to comment with any additional suggestions

Monsters, Inc - Theme Song - Quickstep
Little Mermaid - Under the Sea - Mambo/Salsa
Little Mermaid - Kiss the Girl - Am Rumba
Emperor's New Groove - Run Llama Run - Quickstep
Aladdin - Arabian Nights - Tango
Aladdin - Come to the Supermarket (Stage Show) - Quickstep
Aladdin - Friend Like Me - Quickstep/Samba
Aladdin - Prince Ali - Quickstep/Samba
Aladdin - Whole New World - Rumba
Aladdin - One Jump - Quickstep
Mulan - I'll Make a Man Out of You - Paso Doble
Toy Story - You've Got a Friend in Me - Foxtrot
Toy Story 3 - You've Got a Friend in Me - Paso Doble
Oliver and Company - Why Should I Worry - Jive
Mickey Mouse Club - Theme Song - Tango
Sleeping Beauty - Once Upon a Dream - V Waltz
Lion King - Just Can't Wait to be King - Quickstep/Samba
Lion King - Hakuna Matata - Quickstep
Lion King - Can You Feel The Love Tonight - Rumba
Tarzan - Strangers Like Me - Rumba
Tarzan - You'll Be In My Hear - Rumba
Tarzan - Trashin the Camp - East Coast Swing
101 Dalmatians - Cruella DeVille - Foxtrot
Mary Poppins - Chim Chimney - V Waltz
Duck Tales - Theme - Jive
Tail Spin - Theme - Samba
Beauty and the Beast - Gaston - V Waltz
Beauty and the Beast - Belle - Tango
Snow White - Someday My Prince Will Come - V Waltz
Snow White - Silly Song - Polka
Hercules - Zero to Hero - Jive
Hercules - I Won't Say I'm in Love - Chacha/West Coast
Lady and the Tramp - He's a Tramp - Foxtrot
Lady and the Tramp - Bella Notte - V Waltz
Jungle Book - I Wanna Be Like You - Quickstep
Jungle Book - Bare Necessities - Quickstep
Pinocchio - Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee - Polka
Parent Trap - Let's Get Together - East Coast Swing
Aristocats - Everybody Wants to be a Cat - Foxtrot/(Quickstep)
Aristocats - Thomas O'Malley - Foxtrot
Finding Nemo - Theme - Waltz
Cinderella - So This is Love - Waltz

USER SUGGESTED:
Hunchback of Notre Dame - God Save the Outcasts - Waltz
Mulan - True to Your Heart (Credits) - ChaCha
Disneyland? - The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room - Mambo/Salsa
Tangled - When Will My Life Begin - West Coast Swing/ChaCha
Princess and the Frog - Dig a Little Deeper - Quickstep
Princess and the Frog - Almost There - East Coast Swing
Ratatouille - Le Festin - V Waltz

Oh, and the award for Most Dance-able movie goes to:
Nightmare Before Christmas
 - Jack's Obsession (Something's Up With Jack) - V Waltz
 - Oogie Boogie's Song - Foxtrot
 - What's This - Tango
 - Kindap the Sandy Claws - Tango
 - This Is Halloween - Samba
 - Jack and Sally's Song - Bolero

ALSO, TECHNICALLY, since Star Wars is now owned by Disney:
The Cantina Song - Quickstep
Imperial March - Tango
Duel of the Fates - Paso Doble
Main Theme - Tango

EDIT: See the related Judging Dance in Disney Films post!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dance Legends, Night 1

  First and foremost, be jealous. I got front-row tickets to the best ballroom show in America - Dance Legends 2013. I ALSO received an invitation to the VIP after-party, which involved rubbing shoulders with the organizers and performers over a well-prepared cocktail. I imagine many of the pros would've rather headed home for a bit of rest - either in recovery or preparation - but the majority of these Legends proved that they were champions off the floor as well by rallying and meeting with other less-qualified dance-world citizens (like myself).



If you don't know what Dance Legends is, either you're not a regular in the ballroom community, or you've somehow managed to dance under a rock the last two years. Dance Legends is an assembly of the best-of-the-best ballrooms dancers this world has to offer - past and present. Last night, attendees enjoyed watching routines from 5 legendary couples, boasting:
- Current Latin World Champions Riccardo and Yulia
- Current Standard World Champions Arunas and Katusha
- 11 Time Undefeated US Amateur Latin Champions Eugene and Maria, who came out of retirement
- Former Latin World Champions and Current Finalists Michael and Joanna
- Current World Standard Finalists Victor and Anastasia
And that's just last night. Attendees also enjoyed performances from the current youth Salsa World Chamions, the top ProAm smooth couple, and a local group of swing dancers.

If you didn't get a chance to meet the performers, there was still plenty of opportunity to bump into a dancesport celebrity. Big names like Anna Mikhed, Ieva Pauksena, and Mayo Alanen dressed to the nines and enjoyed the show from the stands. And if you've competed anyewhere in the US, you'd be sure to recognize a few of the faces that travelled from all over to see the best take to the floor.

I found it interesting to see the different approaches the performers took to their choreography. Arunas and Katusha used nearly competition-esque routines with a few dramatic pauses and lifts (with the exception of the Quickstep, which involved shadow-position scattered chasses), while Victor and Anastasia put together 5 all-new routines just for this show. In my opinion, their tango was the peak of the standard performances.

Latin, by, nature, tends to be a bit more showcase-oriented (you remove some magic from standard when floorcraft isn't an issue). Riccardo and Yulia danced very sharp as always, showing off a wonderful costume choice in the samba with a tear-away train skirt. Michael and Joanna brought a bit more of an interpretive twist to their Paso Doble, dropping the music for a few figures, where they provided the beat with a long, complex series of Flamenco Taps and Appels. Eugene and Maria danced very familiar routines, which was in very good taste, as they were coming out of retirement for the show, ending their performance with their famous chacha to "Mercy". Of all the performers, Eugene struck me as the most engaging, likely due to the large number of his students who turned up to cheer for their coach.

Of all the things I saw last night, possibly my favorite sight was the reaction of the other professionals who were NOT performing. Watching Mirko and Edita or Anna Mikhed during any standard showcase proved that they were hard to impress, but they hung on the edge of their seats during the Latin. There were times when a few of the pros would all "ooo" at once, and I had no idea what I had just missed, and likewise, times that I was awestruck, and they yawned. Apparently I've got a few years to go before I have an eye for "what's good."

Today, at Manhattan Ballroom in NYC, the whole place is abuzz with lessons. But unlike many Saturdays, a few of the country's best current dancers are taking lessons rather than giving them. Dance Legends attracts quite the crowd, including some of the most respectable judges of the more prestigious competitions. I just got to see Arunas stand and watch an instructor show him "how it's done." It's both comforting and intimidating to know that the work never stops.

I can't wait for the show tonight. I've never had the pleasure of seeing Mirko and Edita live, and was disappointed when I learned they had cancelled prior to last year's show due to splitting their partnership. I imagine they'll dance twice as hard to make up for it! With another 6 professional couples (and a group performance by some of the best standard amateurs), tonight promises to be an experience to remember.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Syllabus Moves by Silliness of Name in Ascending Order

Sometimes, a figure is named for a simple play-by-play of footwork and timing. Other times, it can be a bit more...creative. Here we have a few notable examples of the normally nuanced, but occasionally silly, nomenclature of ballroom figures.

Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot

Tango
This figure rotates in the Reverse direction, and after a step into Fallaway position, the woman performs a Slip, and the couple Pivots. Unimaginative enough.

Three Step

Foxtrot
Also doesn't leave much to the imagination.

Kick Ball Change

Jive
"How do I count that one again?" and "What is the footwork?" summed up in the name.

Chasse from PP

Waltz
pffft "PP" haha I'm in seventh grade. Anyway, a Chasse, performed starting in Promenade Position.

Promenade and Couter Promenade Runs

Samba
Go jogging. Then practice these. Now tell me if they feel similar AT ALL. Still though, descriptive enough.

Reverse Wave

Foxtrot
This sounds more like an attack out of a Pokémon game.
Quagsire is trying to learn HEEL TURN! But, (like most Bronze Dancers), Quagsire can only learn 4 moves!

Sixteen

Paso Doble
Not to be confused with "The eight" or "the four". Or the waltz variant, "the three".

Hover Feather

Foxtrot
Legend of Zelda, anyone? "You have obtained the Hover Feather! Equip it to float above..." [WOW, I gotta stop playing video games so much...] {Yes, I'm aware it's the Roc's Feather in the game that allows you to "float". Get over it.}
What I feel like after a good private lesson

Botafogo

Samba
Oooo, some culture. Imagine dancing on a hot beach in Brazil, where the sand is cooler about an inch under the surface. You'd dig your feet into the sand on every step, or else end up with your "boots on fire" (botas de fogo).

Natural Zig Zag from PP

Foxtrot
Someone's kid named this one, I'm sure.

Sur Place

Paso Doble
"In Place" - most dances, this is what you're supposed to do when you mess up. In Paso, we do it on purpose. And we even give it a name. Mostly, this one just upsets me because although yes, Paso was created in France (sur place is French), but they were trying to make it like Spanish bullfighting. WELL THAT'S HARD TO DO BECAUSE MOST MATADORS DON'T WALK IN PLACE, IN FRENCH.
(that means "Run for your life.")
An open figure, known as the "Courez pour sauver votre vie"

Wing

Waltz
This figure is more like a cape to me. A Batman cape. Which I guess is supposed to look like wings. Nevermind, I just want to be Batman.

New York

Rumba
I have been to New York several times now, and no two people have addressed me by rapidly turning away from one another while holding hands (save for studio and competition time).

V6

Quickstep
It's like The Sixteen, but has letters. Also, an engine block.
Still expends less energy than I do while quickstepping

Mini Five Step

Tango
1. You only take 4 steps. Apparently, in Tango, lowering a foot counts as an additional step? 
2. "Mini"? Really? We can't just give it its own name?

Cucarachas

Rumba


What romantic dance would be complete without stomping out some cockroaches?
The most romantic of insects

Catapult

Jive
As if Jive wasn't already wild enough, let's let the girl know that we are INTENTIONALLY going to fling her about, possibly launching her several hundred yards via simple machines.

Fishtail

Quickstep
Did someone who love cars have a lot of influence in naming the quickstep figures? V6? Fishtail? What next, "The BrakeLight?"

Hockey Stick

Cha Cha 
Oh look, the Canadians had a say in something. "This move curves a little. What else curves a little?"
Canadian Romance at its finest

Rumba Cross

Quickstep
There's a heel lead. What Rumba is this?!

Turkish Towel

Cha Cha 
Remember that scene from Disney? "Ain't never had a friend like me"? All I can think of.
Genie demonstrates some proper latin motion

The Miami Special

Jive
Not sure if this is something you would order at a burger joint, or on a pay-per-view channel.

Tipsy

Quickstep
Seems appropriate that this figure has a lot of sway...

The Mooch

Jive
No, really, in ballroom? We named something that? Completely serious?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Hard Truths about Ballroom Competition

A while back, I attend a workshop by a world-renowned instructor who wished to let us competitors in on a few secrets - the things judges don't say, the things your instructors may not want you to believe, or the things that you may believe are true, but are not. Since then, I have turned a discerning ear to instructors, distinguishing the difference between opinions on style and taste versus advice on overall presentation. The message can be a bit disheartening, but a lot of it is quite intuitive.

The bottom line is, there's more to a visual art/sport than just technique, and it's important to take care of the aesthetics. Here are a few tips that I've picked up, whether through subtle suggestion, or by being drug up to the front of a workshop as an example of "what not to do".

1. Dress appropriately - Ladies, what you're wearing DOES matter. And I know that sucks. But shiny dresses in open will get you more direct visual real estate in a 90-second round. A "heavy" dress in standard sways more and demonstrates your movement, and it's easier to focus on your Latin motion when we're not worrying that you're about to pop out of your neckline. Guys, dance pants will ALWAYS look better than business slacks. Tight sleeves make better lines than fluffy. Don't wanna buy a ballroom shirt or suit yet? Go get a 1MX from Express and spend an extra $10 to get your vest fitted. Oh, and at least sharpie out that Under-Armour logo until you actually buy a real shirt. Dressing like a serious dancer may not make you a serious dancer, but dressing like a slob certainly won't help convince anyone.

2. It's a visual sport - Guys - name one of the top 6 leads in any style with facial hair?
 "Bryan Watson! Soul patch!"
You are not Bryan Watson. Get rid of it. Also, a haircut would be nice.
Ladies - dancing standard? And you think your hair looks cool when it's down? Well, Edita's hair looks awesome when it's down, but she still puts it up for comps.

3. Get in the way - Judges don't really get to see each other all that often. And they have inside jokes that only a select few would understand. So they want to stand together. And no, they don't want to walk around all day to find your number. Check this out:

90 seconds / 12 couples = 7.5 seconds/couple

...which, in Rumba, is not enough time for a back check, fan, and alemana. And that's assuming a normal distribution and that they're paying attention all 90 seconds. They're all packed on to one side of the room? Get on that side. Until the final, cut the other long wall short. Pick a spot where they can all see you and OWN IT. Seriously, be a little rude if you need to. A rude couple that can be seen will probably get marked more often than a nice couple that can't.

4. Smile - This is not about warm fuzzies. Judging SUCKS (or so I would imagine). It's gotta be like watching a kids' soccer game for these guys, except half of them don't even have a kid on the field. So you gotta at least let them know that someone's enjoying it. Syllabus dancers, particularly across multiple styles, you think they haven't picked a couple of favorites by hour 1 of 10? A smile can often get you an extra mark from a judge who needs another couple to call back.

5. You are not great - Until someone else writes a Wikipedia article about you or you get asked to showcase in another country, guess what? These judges aren't going to be "blown away" by you - so don't act like you will. Walk onto the floor humbly [arms down!] and don't take too long on your bows. Behave when you walk on and when you walk off. It's a sport with a culture and a pecking order - know your place.

6. They're playing music for a reason - The most professional step, if danced off-time, is a VERY BAD "holding still". If you don't intend to follow the music, you may as well take up gymnastics or martial arts. Watching someone dance off-time is like nails on a chalkboard for a seasoned dancer.

7. Knowing the move isn't the point - The reason there are more advanced steps as you get better is NOT so you can demonstrate, "Lookit! I did it without falling over!" The point is that more difficult steps allow you to demonstrate more technique in a shorter period of time, as well as a few advanced elements of technique. And oh, believe me, the judges know EXACTLY how well you know each step. Doing 5 things wrong to do 1 thing "cooler" won't help your marks. Stick to what you know well. That's not to say don't take risks, but try not to step too far out of your comfort zone [no pun intended]. Judges want to mark you - don't do something visually offensive that gives them a reason not to.
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