Ballroom in a Few Gifs #8

When a rando dancer you’ve never met sends you a friend request on Facebook

 

Where everyone puts their stuff at a competition

 

Seeing all the hot ballroom dancers

 

Floorcraft during novice standard and smooth

 

Standing spins in smooth Viennese waltz

 

Getting rushed back onto the on-deck area immediately after dancing

 

Dancing 10+ open choreography rounds in one day of competition

 

When the obvious winners congratulate you on making the final

 

Attempting to do a body roll

 

Watching videos of myself dancing

Ballroom in a Few Gifs #7

Seeing a whole floor of dancers breaking on 1 in mambo

 

Seeing 85% of the people in a rhythm event doing straight-up Latin technique

 

My arm styling

 

When someone wears an awful costume

 

When everyone tells you they can’t wait to see your new routines

 

Making that final when you thought you had no chance

 

Trying to shake hands with a judge while they are handing you your ribbon

The Power of Mindset

Success is all about your mindset.  The struggle is just in your head.  Mindset matters.   These are all variants on a cliché we’ve heard plenty of times, probably a lot in sports especially.  But this is one of those cases in which the cliché reflects the truth, at least when it comes to one particular distinction between two types of mindsets: fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets.  This distinction was found by Carol Dweck and her colleagues, and dozens and dozens of correlational studies and experiments have found evidence that mindset matters.

Dweck’s book. Haven’t read it personally, but I’ve heard it’s good.

Basically, a fixed mindset is the idea that each person has a fixed trait that determines their ability.  This most often applies to intelligence, but it can be about any skill – so this is the idea that we each have innate talents that determine how good we are at a given activity.  Most people think of IQ this way, as something we are born with that cannot be changed, no matter how hard we try.  On the flip side, growth mindsets are the idea that we can improve our abilities over time with practice, dedication, and hard work, and that we are not limited by innate talents but instead can nurture them over time.   Going with our IQ example, this would be the idea that we can change someone’s IQ with things like education, nutrition, or other environmental factors.

Interestingly, fixed mindsets are tied to performance goals, in other words, trying to demonstrate your ability either to yourself or others, while growth mindsets focus more on improvement and learning, honing that ability over time.  Growth mindsets tend to be better for people both in the short and long term, particularly when they are not very skilled at something to begin with.  Why?  Because if you have a fixed mindset and fail, you are more likely to give up because you think, “I’ll never be better at this.”  On the other hand, if you have a growth mindset and fail, you are more likely to think about how you can improve and do better next time.  Fixed mindsets for people who initially succeed are nice and all (probably ego-boosting, in fact), but the key difference lies in when people fail, which they inevitably will at some point.

People tend to lean towards having a more fixed or growth mindset as a default, at least when  it comes to specific domains such as intelligence or sports performance or just about anything.  However, research has also shown that mindsets can be manipulated – if we learn about benefits of growth versus fixed mindsets, then people can shift their perspectives and benefit from the good things that come with growth mindsets.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I think it’s inherently really interesting and challenges a lot of people’s naïve theories on how people work, but it’s also super relevant to ballroom dancing.  Some people have the idea that they’ll wander in to a class, take a lesson or two, and immediately be able to dance, but us ballroom dancers know it’s not remotely that easy.  I would say it takes a year of regular instruction for most people to feel really comfortable with a full repertoire of ballroom styles, and of course many, many more to master them.

For some people, particularly those with a lot of previous dancers (you know who you are, having danced ballet/jazz/tap/etc. basically since being able to walk), ballroom comes very naturally and without much effort or struggle.  Sure, you have to correct a few habits, but learning steps is extremely easy.  For others, ballroom is fun but much more of a challenge!  The pesky alignment thing in standard, learning the difference between all the subtypes of styles, simply remembering what foot goes where.  Feeling like a total clod and thinking that it’s near impossible.  I was there, back in the day.  I had no idea what was happening half of the time, but it was still fun and after a while of mucking around, I realized I would have to put effort, money, and a lot of practice time into learning these skills.  Having a growth mindset is really much more conducive to learning and improving, compared to a fixed mindset.  Yes, _______ is hard, but once you get it, it’s all that much more rewarding.   I do have one caveat – I do think most of us have some innate ability to learn particular skills.  There’s no denying that some people are more “natural” at things than others.   In dance, some people are more flexible or have a more ideal body shape for a particular style or learn steps faster than others do.  However, each of us can make the most of what we have, and sometimes being not so natural at something can produce passion and drive to improve that many of the “naturals” lack.

Anecdotally, one of my friends was better at standard than Latin when he started, placing quite well at competitions in standard.  But he decided, I want to be a Latin dancer.  That’s what he really enjoyed and aspired to be, so he worked hard at it over time, practiced a lot, and got to be a pretty good Latin dancer.   If he had had more of a fixed mindset, thinking he couldn’t get much better at Latin, he might have just stuck to standard or maybe even given up dancing at all.

Every time we advertise the club in effort to recruit new members, I inevitably encounter the same sorts of reasons to not join.  “I have two left feet,” “I don’t know how to dance,” “I could never dance like that,” and so on.  Very fixed mindset, wouldn’t you say?  Hey, that’s where I and 95% of the people in the club started!  People have this idea that ballroom dancing’s some magical power that we just have, but we all start as beginners.  For those who have been dancing some time and can’t imagine ever reaching some level, be patient with yourself.  People tell me, “I could never be as good as you!”  Not true.  A few years ago, I never would’ve imagined myself competing at pre-champ or champ levels, but here I am (at least, in some styles).  It took quite a few years, but it happened.  So, if you ever feel like “ugh, I could never do that,” check yourself and remember that with enough hard work and dedication, you totally could.  Just keep chugging along.

America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 3 Review

The grand finale!  You can see it here.  So this is the ultimate showdown between the representatives from all four styles.  I still don’t get how this is judged (Compare each to the best in the world?  Look at entertainment value? Toss a few coins?), but we’ll go with it.  They will start with a short program, which is supposed to be a more traditional piece that features a typical dance and steps from their respective category, and then a long program that can be more freeform in style.  I don’t think they actually stuck with these guidelines very much, as the long programs seemed to be more thematically traditional.

We start with the Perzhus performing a pretty smooth waltz to a popular song that I hear in competition all the time, “Song for Viola,” which had a sad/ethereal vibe.  It was very pretty but a little sleepy.  Next were Emmanuel and Liana representing rhythm, dancing a fun mambo.   Girl rocks the feathers in a way that most people can’t.  In person, it took three attempts for this performance to work out, due to various technical issues.  Great performance, though I did notice that parts of this routine were exactly the same as from their competition mambo.

Brief break with a super cute mother and son couple dancing a cha-cha.  This kid was ridiculously good, with a lot of star power.

Artem and Inna, the standard couple, gave a kind of bizarre quickstep performance.  They had Inna with lots of extra bust and butt padding, playing a Chiquita banana lady sort of character.  They incorporated some samba steps into their quickstep, to go along with the tropical theme.  I was not crazy about the costuming choice – kind of unnecessary.

Roman and Anna finished up the set of short program routines with an okay cha cha.  Roman entered the floor prancing around in a boa, which I don’t think men should do in general, while Anna rocked a pinstripe jumpsuit overall thing.  Overall, with the short program, I think the American style dancers did the best, which was reflected in their placements:  Emmanuel in Liana in first, Peter and Alexandra in second, Roman and Anna in third, and Artem and Inna in fourth.

Carlos and Dora’s Exorcist piece

We then move on to some theatre arts, woot!  Theatre arts at Ohio Star Ball is great to watch.  It’s definitely acrobatic and lots of stuff that make you go, “what just happened” and “how the hell did they just do that?!” and you don’t often see it in general.  Never at the collegiate level, that’s for sure.  This was actually a competition, but ABC didn’t mention that aspect.  The first performance from Carlos and DOra was an awesome Exorcist-themed dance, which was definitely out there.  I loved it!  Very well performed, creepy, and had good tricks and dancing incorporated into it.  Usually theatre arts stuff just comes in two varieties: romantic flowy themes and intense warrior/tribal pieces, so this was very refreshing.  Justin and Kimalee went next – they’re here every single year and always have a good performance.  They did a romantic piece to Sam Smith that was lovely, with awesome lifts, great transitions, and nicely portrayed emotions.    Third was Shane and Shannon Jensen, a rhythm couple who had some ridiculous transitions.  I think they ultimately won.

Now, the long program!  The Perzhus opened with a fantastic smooth tango, one of my favorites.  It had a flirty, passionate, classic, yet soft feel to it that really worked.  They also had really great musicality.  As a standard dancer, I also really appreciated the inclusion of substantial closed-hold choreography.  The costuming was also fantastic, a nice balance of classic/simple and adorned.  Definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

Emmanuel and Liana went next with a bolero that was very pretty.  I wasn’t sure how to feel about her outfit, which resembled an old curtain/doily.  Artem and Inna followed with a gorgeous foxtrot to Amelie music, which was so much better than their first piece.  Super smooth, ethereal, and technically sound.  Inna is super elegant.  Roman and Anna closed with a pretty traditional paso doble that was great, but lost a bit of steam at the end.

In the end, Emmanuel and Liana took the overall win by placing 2nd in the long program to Roman and Anna’s 1st.  The Perzhus somehow got fourth for their tango, which I thought was b.s.  It was nice for rhythm to have its moment, though.  In the past, I think International style was heavily favored in this all-star competition, so it’s great to see American style becoming more popular and appreciated.

Looking back, some of my favorite performances were:  Max and Michelle’s VW to Sam Smith’s “Not in That Way.”  It might not have been the best dance, but the song and simple feel were lovely, as were the emotional but not overwrought performance.   Artem and Inna’s foxtrot in this episode, as well as the Perzhus’ tango and the Exorcist cabaret/theatre arts (does anyone know the actual difference between the two categories?).  I also really liked the Perzhus’ mambo from episode 1.

Overall, ABC did a nice job of showcasing showcases, not so much of showing typical competitive ballroom.  However, given a general audience, watching showdances is probably more popular and understandable.  I appreciated having two knowledgeable commentators, but wished they could have provided more useful information about how judges might distinguish among the different couples and how things are scored.  From the competitors, I would’ve liked to have seen more creative pieces, but most of them were very nice, generally.  For the whole show, I’d give it a B/B+.

Here are my reviews of Episode 1 & Episode 2

USA Dance Nationals 2015

So, here’s a quick update on USA Dance Nationals, which took place in Baltimore at the end of March.  (There’s another NDCA Nationals that occurred in Utah a few weeks earlier – I haven’t been to that but it looks awesome.)  We danced novice and pre-champ standard and pre-champ/champ smooth.  Similarly to MAC, we had one event on Saturday and the other three on Sunday. Yikes…fortunately, they were spread out between 8 am and around 8 pm, thereby reducing the chance of dance-exhaustion, which is never fun.  However, dancing pre-champ standard at 8 in the morning was also not fun…part of the reason to move up to open is so that you don’t have to dance first event of the day!

Our results were pretty good and unsurprising – made the semis of novice standard out of a quarter, didn’t get a callback for pre-champ standard (which also started at a quarter), got 4th (!) in pre-champ smooth, and didn’t get into the final for champ smooth (which started at a semi).  It was similar to MAC, which I feel is very comparable in terms of the level of competition.  We got one place better than last year in pre-champ smooth, so we met our goal of performing the same or better, placement-wise.  But, more importantly, our dancing felt better than ever, which is always an “I’m the king of the world!!!” sort of feeling.

From workingatanonprofit.tumblr.com

I had worked on my shaped turns being more upward (be a shark chasing its fin rather than a dog chasing its tail! Weird but effective advice) and fully extending my arms.  I have a long-ingrained fear of hyperextending them, but Alexandra Perzhu and Izabella Jundzill, two top professional smooth dancers, have the same deal with their freakishly long arms, so I just went for it. What was also really nice was cheering on and hanging out with various dance friends from all over.  The open smooth crowd is fairly small, so many of us have gotten to know each other over the years.  I was pleased to see a large group of competitors in novice and prechamp smooth – these fields have grown a lot and have become really competitive!

I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by Next Level Dancing and got to use a fantastic Dore blue peacock smooth dress, which got tons of compliments.  Loved it! Even though it was sized a bit off – a little small in the bust (hello, side-boob) and a touch too long.  Whatever, it was awesome and I was very sad I had to give it back.

Also, this happened and makes me so happy (photographer credit to Brandon): 

Also this of most of the pre-champ smooth finalists (not sure who took the picture):

I volunteered most of Friday at registration and had to deal with a ton of people failing to bring proper residency documentation (which, FYI, entailed photo ID + either a passport or birth certificate.  Or green card/visa, etc.).  Oh my goodness.  Despite this information being on the website, probably a third to half of the competitors forgot it or said they didn’t know they had to bring it in the first place.  Part of it was miscommunication from last year, but a lot was just competitor ignorance (“But I didn’t know! We’ve never had to do this before!”).  Well, do your research, read all of the rules and regulations, and you save all of us some time and energy.  Nationals is not just any competition, because a lucky few get to represent the US at world championships.  People were obviously upset, particularly with the fear that they wouldn’t be able to compete, but the organizers found some workarounds.  One competitor was so dedicated/intense that she asked a friend to break into her house to photograph her paperwork!  Other fun volunteer activities involved dealing with (mostly eastern European) families.  Some were extremely on top of things, being very familiar with competition procedures, while others just could not get their act (nor their children) together.  Some plusses of volunteering: seeing some elite competitors in normal-person mode (“oh, you’re him/her?! huh.”), meeting people, hanging out.

Spectating was awesome as usual.  I have a new favorite ten-dancer Junior II couple, and we saw lots of really excellent young dancers.  My favorites from the MAC, Earle and Charlotte, won adult champ standard. This is why (watch for the awesome body roll!):

I caught the end of the adult Latin final, which was also great.  It’s fun to predict who the finalists will be and also to try to figure out the ultimate placings.  I can’t get it 100% right, but I think I can usually figure out the first, middle, and bottom third of the finalists, usually.

Some complaints: Friday night ended early, around 9 or 10 pm, while Saturday started at 8 am and ended at about 1:45 am.  Yup.  Ridiculous.  Someone didn’t calculate the heat list correctly and/or they didn’t speed up the evening session enough.  I know you want to give the champ couples their due recognition and whatnot, but everyone wants to get back to bed at a reasonable time!  Other than that, it was a very nice event and I look forward to attending again next year, as it is supposedly in Baltimore indefinitely (a somewhat controversial topic for a different blog post, perhaps).

You Know You’re a Collegiate Ballroom Dancer When…

You think $100 is a whole lot to pay for shoes.  Ha, just wait until you see prices for legit costumes.

There’s always some sort of partnering or dating or partnering AND dating drama going on.

From RealityTVGifs

From ReactionGifs

You have no idea who your partner will be for the next competition, which may or may not be next week.

From Tumblr…somewhere.

Girls are always on the prowl for a skilled male partner.

You’re cool with sleeping on a dorm room floor for the night.

From Tumblr somewhere.  Sorry, no animated gif here.

You are borrowing a skirt from a teammate but have no idea to whom it actually belongs.

You want to get a drink post competition but have to consider whether any of the people you are with are underage.

From Tumblr user a-crosstown

You have lots of friends from colleges all over the place.  Who all seem to know each other somehow.

From giphy. I couldn’t find a fitting gif, so there you go.

You have some pretty intense ballroom crushes.  EIther opposite- or same-sex, doesn’t matter.

From someone’s blogspot.

You go from raggedy sweats as a uniform to glammed out competition mode with a flip of a switch.

Not sure where it’s from, but Disney originally, obvi.

You’re willing to drive 10+ hours to a competition but never to fly.

From Giphy

You scrounge money for occasional private lessons a couple times a semester.

From YummyPets.com

You regularly go to sleep at 3 am and wake up at 5 am to get ready for a competition.

From SurvivingCollege.com

You bring homework to a competition but inevitably don’t even touch it.

From reactiongifs

You are not quite sure how old anyone is….they could range from 17 to over 35.

You wear a costume that belongs to either the team or a team member and it has been used by at least five people in the past couple of years.

From Tumblr somewhere

You want to just leave already, be it from campus or the competition or team dinner, but it takes the team almost-literally years to go anywhere.

From Tumblr somewhere.

You just love everyone, because the collegiate ballroom dance community is a fantastic one! Much Ballroom Love!

From Tumblr somewhere.