Dance Documentaries

I’ve seen three pretty good dance documentaries recently – two are about ballroom dancers, one was on ballet.  For dancers, you get a glimpse into elite dance life and a fair amount of inspiration from the dance scenes themselves.  For non-dancers, some parts may be more or less compelling, but these films still provide great insight into an unfamiliar, beautiful world of dance, revealing how much hard work gets put into this art form.  Either way, they’re worth a watch!

Dance for Me

This new coming-of-age documentary aired on PBS recently as part of their POV series and is available to stream online here until August 20th, 2014.  (If you are not in the US you can purchase it on iTunes.)  The star is 15-year-old Egor, a Russian teen who has moved to the foreign country of Denmark for a partnership and elite Latin dance training.  His mother is thousands of miles away in China and they rarely get to see each other, but Skype often.  Fourteen-year-old Mie is his partner and new “sister”; Egor now lives with her and her family.  The film follows them through the newish stages of their partnership, practicing, and attending a few big dancesport competitions.  But the focus does really seem to be Egor’s adjustment to a new country with different norms and culture while being away from family.  It’s also a character study into a quiet perfectionist with an intense drive and passion for what he does.  He isn’t comfortable sharing his feelings with others, which contributes to some frustrations.  I’m not sure how interesting this documentary would be for non-dancers, but it was pretty enjoyable to me.

Ballroom Dancer

Also by Danish directors, this documentary focuses on the famous Slavik Kryklyvyy’s attempt at a comeback with partner and girlfriend Anna Melnikova in the professional Latin division.  He’s said by some to be the best male Latin dancer today.  If you have kept up at all with these two, you know how the story ends already (more or less), but the journey is still compelling.  Slavik is an unrelenting perfectionist.  He’s tempestuous and demanding of Anna (an amateur world champion in her own right) in his pursuit of a professional Latin world championship – a title owned by his former amateur partner, Joanna Leunis.  This film is full of interpersonal drama, but is also an intimate portrait of dancers, athletes, and artists in pursuit of being the best.  Sometimes they talk a lot, other times everything is communicated through facial expressions and body language in silence.  The studio rehearsal scene for their “Always On My Mind” rumba showcase is fantastic – moving, raw, intimate.  I think it’s even better than the actual performance.  You can watch the movie here.  It used to be on iTunes but has apparently disappeared.

First Position

And now for something different! Ballet!  First Position follows six young dancers (aged 10-18-ish) on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix, a major international event that leads to apprenticeships, scholarships, and coveted jobs for young ballet dancers.  This is where all the major ballet companies can see them and where talent can be discovered.  We meet dancers from all sorts of backgrounds, but it’s clear that they have several things in common – dedication, passion, hard work, and unrelenting willingness to sacrifice.  Their families must often do the same to support their children.  Joan lives in the US, far away from his family in Colombia.  Aran’s family commutes hours to his studio.  Miko’s family decided to homeschool her so she would have more time from dance.  Michaela was adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, is one of few Black ballet dancers, and has to deal with an injury as the competition looms near.  Each of the featured dancers has truly amazing skills, often surpassing those of the dancers you would typically see on So You Think You Can Dance.  What’s nice is you see that while these dancers are amazing, there are some struggles – occasionally they do mess up, which can be very noticeable in the super-precise, technical dance form of ballet.  Again, common in these three documentaries, is the strive for perfection.  It is also striking how many of these kids know what they want to do for the rest of their lives at such an early age, while many of the rest of us have no clue.  Naturally, you can expect lots of really beautiful dancing in this film! What’s nice is how they show other competitors, dancers, and parents as well, carving out a more complete depiction of this competitive ballet world.

Internal Monologue During Competition

Days before:

Ugh, I have to tan. When do I have time to do that…after practicing, maybe?  Oh, and shave my legs, I guess.  And do my nails.  Why do I do this again? *spray tans self*  Hmm, am I even enough?  Nope, time to spray some more.  Damn it, now I have a huge dark blotch on my arm.  *blots with a tissue*  And now there’s a huge white spot.  Time to spray some more and hope that it all evens out.  I hope no one notices how oddly tan I look tomorrow in the middle of winter… *runs back and forth from bathroom to bedroom, hoping roommate does not pop out while I am mostly nude*

Night before:

Oh right, I guess I should pack.  That’ll be easy, right?  Oh shoot I have laundry to do.  *manages to forget something anyway, despite having been to dozens of competitions before*

Traveling/Arrival:

Woohoo Disney singalong time!  Or passing out time, depending on who else is carpooling.  Practice party time…good lord, it is sweaty in here.  Hmm, those dancers look really good, I wonder if I’ll be competing against them? I hope not.  Lots of cute beginners doing their thing.  Time to run through a few practice rounds and maybe even social dance!

Arrival at hotel, or someone’s apartment or dorm.  No matter what… 3 a.m. rolls around. OMG WHY CAN’T I FALL ASLEEP.   This is a comfy bed yet I am rolling around anyway, even though I have to get up in a few hours.  Why is everyone else asleep but me.  This is the worst.

Morning of:

Freakishly early wakeup time.  Snooze, more sleep time.  Roommates, go back to sleep already.  *struggle to get up in the dark* Wow, I look like a zombie.  Thank god for all the pretty crap I’ll be putting on my face.  Hair first.  *struggle to get a nice ponytail for about 15 minutes while checking the back of my head in a double-mirror setup*  I hate my hair.  This is the worst.  Okay, that’s semi acceptable.  *sprays head with  noxious hairspray cloud*  Time to make it fancy.  *struggles with hairnets and pins and gel, wrestling hair into some sort of ornate sculpture*  Why do I do this instead of a simple bun again?  More hairspray!  Alright, makeup time.  *proceed to put on drag queen level makeup* Fake eyelashes, please cooperate today!  Well, at least I look awake now and ready to go clubbing or something.  At 6 am!  *grabs stuff and waits for everyone else*  Still waiting…some of you are dancing in like 15 minutes and really should have left by now!

At the comp:

Waiting. Waiting. How many freaking rounds of bronze are there?  Waiting.  Waiting.  Munch on breakfast.  Oh, they’re so cute!  Damn, she has better technique than I do.  Newcomer rounds. Huh, I have no idea what they’re doing and I’m pretty sure they don’t either.  Is that kid wearing jeans?  Why.  Oh well, newcomers are adorable anyway.  *cheers on random couples from my team*  Oh crap, we’re dancing soon?!  *runs off to change*  Partner, where are you?  Time to warm up very quickly.  Oh god, I’m going to slip and die on this floor.  Lining up after this event… and of course now my mouth decides to become super parched when there’s no water around.  Oh shoot, have to give my phone to someone who’s competent at recording and knows that you should hold the thing horizontally and use zoom.  Hmm, who haven’t I bothered lately?  *thrusts phone at them* Lining up…oh geez there’s a lot of couples in our event.  What are the chances that they’ll split us up into smaller heats?  Oh, no? I guess we’re all dancing at once. Time to go right now, okay.  Walk briskly and force a smile.  Yay I’m feeling pumped.  Or something.  Wait, you want us to go where now?  Oh, ok.  *music starts*  Alright, I hear the beat…now when are you starting?  Pose pose pose…and…go! Time to look pretty and stuff.  Ugh I always feel awkward during this intro part.  Please let me not fall over.  Whee, looking pretty and stuff.  Oh crap there’s someone in the way and I hope you saw.  Yay for floorcraft!  Now we’re dancing…. *collide* Oops, sorry, random couple.  And I guess we’re doing lead-follow now cause that’s not the routine at all.  Alright.

During jive and quickstep:  Yay, this is fun, right?  30 seconds later… Oh please just make it stop alright.  Why did someone invent this dance?!  This is the worst and I want to die and I never do that conditioning I’m supposed to do.  Look happy look happy ugh!

And now I’m super sweaty and my mouth is all dried out…WHERE IS WATER! Yay it’s over.  Time to catch my breath and wait around impatiently for callbacks.  Hmm, when was the last time I ate today?  Whoops.

Callbacks:  Woohoo we made it! (Alternatively, huh, guess we’re done! Or, oh crap, we have to dance again?!  How is that possible?)

Results:  Lining up, gotta find my team jacket.  Standing with the team…yay clapping for random people I don’t know.  Still clapping.  Time for our event.  Notlastnotlastnotlast.  Woohoo, not last!  (I know, finaling means you’re far from last, in reality.)  Sixth…fifth…still not us…what are we going to get?!  Fourth?  Not bad, yay!  Next event… seventh….sixth….fifth…fourth….third… holy crap!….second….first! No freaking way! Squee! *squish partner and try not to look like an idiot while getting ribbon/whatever from judge*  And… everyone whips out their phones to take pictures.  Selfie time thrown in there as well.  Time to take a team picture.  People keep being missing or not paying attention.  Rando, please be decent at taking pictures.  Obligatory goofy picture!

End of day:

Yes, time to take off some of my makeup, woohoo.  *peels off fake eyelashes*  I’m exhausted and I just want to go hooooome.  Let’s goooo, car!  Why do dance people take forever to go anywhere?  Team dinner, yay!  FOOD.  Better yet, MILKSHAKE.  And of course more dance talk.  This restaurant must hate us because we’re such a big group.  Alright, this was fun and all, but I gotta get home already.  *either drives or passes out promptly*

When to Move Up to the Next Level

So assuming you’ve been dancing competitively for some time, this question may arise: when do you leave your current level and move up to the next one, which presumably is more difficult, with new material and better dancers?  If you don’t compete, I think this still could be relevant for deciding when you should move up and take more difficult classes.

In the end, it’s a personal decision and there’s no real right or wrong answer (unless you have to move up due to a specific competition’s rules.)  That being said, here are my thoughts on when you should move up.

Definitely move up to the next level if you have pointed out of your current one.  If you have pointed out, it’s probably because you have won several (or many!) competitions in a particular level/style and it’s time to just accept your awesomeness and go up already! The YCN point system is rarely used anymore, but it’s easy to figure out.  USA Dance’s system is horridly complicated, but also useful if you frequent that circuit.  Just be prepared to spend some time figuring it all out.  You earn points in both cases for placing well in a competition, and the better you do, the more points you get.  Once over a certain threshold of points, you have “pointed out” and now should be competing in a higher level (newcomer -> bronze, bronze -> silver, silver -> gold, gold -> novice, etc.).  Don’t be that couple that dances down to win.  It’s pretty unsportsmanlike and unfair to others, and keeps you from challenging yourself at the next level.

If you dancing in newcomer, you should follow the rules of a competition – usually after 6 months or 1 year of dancing, you can no longer dance as a newcomer.  Some people stick around in newcomer longer than they’re supposed to, perhaps if they have an actual newcomer partner, but others will notice and judge you for it, particularly if you win a lot.  Related, even if you have been dancing within the specified time and are winning lots of newcomer events, it’s time to move on to bronze.  You’ve earned it!

If you consistently final in your events (even if you don’t always win), this is also time to think about moving up, or at the very least to consider double-registering in your level and the one above, if there’s some goal you just want to achieve before “graduating” from your current one.

If you dance pretty well but are getting bored and unmotivated with your current level.  Learning new material can be really motivating, fun, and encourages you to learn the necessary technique for particular figures.  It might make dancing exciting again, which fuels your drive to practice and improve.  This might be another double-registering situation, particularly if your results have been inconsistent in your current level.

If your (amateur) partner is significantly better/more experienced than you – you should try to meet in between,  but eventually go for his or her current level.  Having only one half of the partnership needing to learn new steps/technique significantly speeds up progress, and you should aim higher rather than lower.

However, I would strongly advise against moving up if you simply feel uncomfortable dancing up to the next level.  Well, if both you and your partner feel uncomfortable.  If one is ready, perhaps you both are, in reality.  If you truly believe you will stick out like a sore thumb because you are so much worse than everyone else, perhaps you should not take that next step yet.  However, this fear that many of us have is usually unfounded.  If it is grounded in reality, however, concentrate on improving your technique and doing the figures you are allowed to do to the best of your abilities so you can do well in your current level and prepare for the next.

The solution is often to double-register in your current level and the one above.  Caveats though – this can be more expensive if you have to pay by event.  It can also be exhausting, if you dance well and attend large competitions, because you are dancing twice as much!  Sometimes you might burn out before the day is over.

To share some personal experience, a previous partner and I were dancing gold standard and doing alright, but had an entire summer to work on things before the competition season started up again.  I wanted to learn open material but was hesitant about jumping in with both feet, but my partner and coach were confident that we should just go for it, especially since we had a lot of time to learn our open routines.  Having two sets of routines for standard was pretty hard to remember, so eventually we dropped gold and just did novice/prechamp, and didn’t do too badly in our first competitions, getting a few unexpected callbacks, which was validating.  Take-home message? Sometimes you just have to go for it!

Good luck dancing, competing, and improving!

Standard Inspiration – 2013 WDSF World Championships

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I’ve gotten lazy with posts, so here is some video inspiration from the amateur world championships. I LOVE Tania Kehlet, she is awesome (blonde in the white dress with black criss-crossing). WDSF-style standard is definitely very into extreme shapes, athleticism, unconventional styling, and pushing the current limits of the dance style.

End-of-the-Year Thoughts

As 2013 comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve done/accomplished this year when it comes to dance and contemplate my goals for 2014. Winter break hasn’t been great for that, since I haven’t practiced for a good three weeks now, but oh well! I did have  a lesson on my own with my old coach from home, which was great.

In 2013, I have:

  • Gotten back into open smooth and standard (novice/pre-champ) with pretty good results
  • Graduated from syllabus smooth/standard (again)
  • Learned 8 new routines
  • Danced with one regular partner and competed with 4+ others TBA
  • Found a new awesome smooth coach, thanks to friends’ recommendations
  • Sold my first ballroom dress :( but got two new ones :D
  • Started my first big dress stoning project
  • Mentored quite a few people in dance, including newbies, who are the most fun (but also sometimes the toughest) to work with
  • Got an iPhone, which means I can now record lots of video

For 2014, I’d like to:

  • Place in the top three in standard
  • Move up to pre-champ/champ in smooth (daunting, but doable, I think)
  • Attend USA Dance Nationals, maybe aim to win Novice Smooth? *fingers crossed*
  • Dance more consistently
  • Survive Viennese and quickstep (also daunting)
  • Work on teaching – I might be co-teaching my team’s beginner classes this semester
  • Compete in Latin more consistently, maybe moving up to learning some open routines eventually, but we’ll see
  • Do another dress stoning project perhaps – totally unnecessary but so fun!
  • Make my own jewelry
  • Run rounds more consistently – they suck but they’re so necessary for improving endurance
  • Have a very productive summer – maybe attend Independence Day Ball?
  • Update this blog more regularly

As you perhaps can tell, I love lists. What are your dance goals for next year, and how do you plan on tackling them?

Dress Stoning Update!

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Dress Stoning Update!

Quick little preview of my semi-completed new smooth dress. I’ve finished stoning all of the flower lace appliques with a mix of heliotrope and volcano Swarovski, and I think it turned out pretty well. Might add some fuchsia stones later to the ruched fabric when I have the time/money. The whole process probably took about 8-10 hours spread out over two weeks, roughly?

Ohio Star Ball and Updates

Sorry I haven’t posted much of anything here…I’m working on a post on ballroom crushes and have some ideas relating teaching a college course to teaching dance.  They’ll be posted eventually when I have time to make them worth reading.

In the meantime…we’re getting ready for Ohio Star Ball! One of the biggest competitions in the country.  Pro-am is going on all week, I think Tuesday-Sunday, and we’ll be dancing in the collegiate section, the National Dancesport Collegiate Championships.  I think there’s over 800 people and it’s over two days, so one of the biggest college comps in the country.  Some novice events are starting at a quarterfinal and everything, which is a bit intimidating, but should be a lot fun. I’m also just about finished with the first phase of stoning my new smooth dress and I think it should look fairly awesome, especially for a first attempt. 20 gross (2880 stones) goes by much faster than you’d think…

On another note, I’m competing in Latin! I haven’t really done it other than with random partners for about a year, and finally, with the help of another ballroom friend, have convinced my main partner to do it again.  Also am dancing gold Latin with another friend whose regular partner can’t make it, so that should be fun, too.

Looking forward to watching the pro events and showdances.  Here’s a taste of a few particularly good ones from past years, back when they aired it on PBS as America’s Ballroom Challenge.