Blackpool 2015 Video Highlights

The Blackpool Dance Festival just finished up in England!  The biggest and most prestigious ballroom dance competition and event in the world.  Each round starts from something like 200 couples.  It would be awesome to attend one day, even if just to spectate.  Some people I know have been able to spectate and/or dance there.  Jealous. Here are some video highlights for your enjoyment!

Slavik and Karina’s Rumba Showcase

Obsessed.  This is one of my favorite rumbas ever and it’s still so, so good, even 10+ years later.  They were the best when they danced together.

Team USA

Note Arunas doing cha cha and being an overall goof.  You never see this side of him! Also, Riccardo and Anastasia dancing standard.

Professional Latin Final Rumba

Michael and Joanna retire after their 8th Blackpool win!  I appreciate them, but am a diehard Yulia and Riccardo fan.  Also, Troels and Ina, WDC amateur Latin champions, went pro and made the finals for a couple of dances.  Should be interesting to see how they do in pro!  That standing spin thing that Maurizio and Andra did was sick.  Also, literally everyone is wearing black or white or a neutral color.

American Smooth Exhibition

For the first time ever, they featured American Smooth at Blackpool!  Historic stuff.  They invited the top pro smooth couples to do a full round exhibition, which was received with a standing ovation.  Maybe dancers will compete smooth at Blackpool one day.  I wonder where rhythm was…

DSI London has graciously posted the first rounds from all the events on YouTube for free!  If you have a lot of time to kill, check ’em out.  There were tons of competitors from China and Japan this year.

Advertisements

America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 1 Review

The highly-anticipated America’s Ballroom Challenge aired on PBS this past Friday!  I lamented my sad TV antennae’s lack of PBS reception, but it turns out that the episode is available streaming online, at least for now!  It’s just under an hour.  This review will contain spoilers about placements, if you care about such things.

I had the fortune of being able to see all of the aired dances live at Ohio Star Ball, back in November.  Hmm, guess I didn’t write up a review of it then…should have, whoops.  Anyway.  The pro competition was all at night, in the Big Ballroom (I can’t remember what it’s actually called…maybe the Regency Ballroom or something similar).  There’s at least 3 different competition ballrooms in the Columbus Convention Center during OSB, with amateur, pro-am, and collegiate events going on.  People dressed up to the nines for the evening competition and we collegiate competitors were fortunately given admission to each of the nights as part of our registration.  If I recall correctly, the first night was rhythm and standard and the second night was smooth and Latin.  Or the other way around.  Doesn’t matter, I suppose.

They started with the normal four-or-five dances, whittling first rounds or quarterfinals down to 6-couple finals.  After the finals, each style’s finalists performed a short show dance.  Since this was at the end of the night and apparently most people didn’t care about them that much, a lot of the audience left, to the producers’ chagrin.  They all but begged us few stragglers to remain until the end to flesh out the audience for TV.  Also, we had to film audience reactions and clapping and such, which sometimes took multiple takes and hurt my palms.  But hey, the more important people with nicer seats left, so we could move up and get closer to the action on the dance floor.

The first ABC episode features American style smooth and rhythm.  They played brief clips of early rounds and for whatever reason aired part of the “group” Viennese Waltz first, then foxtrot.  Okay?  First of all, random order.  Second, I’d rather have shorter rounds of all four dances, if time is so limited.  I’m one of the cell phones in the audience during the VW! Totally cheesy but it looked cool.  Also, they caught a really nice moment of the Perzhus interacting with the audience and each other at the end of foxtrot.  They showed everyone briefly, and commentators Mary Murphy and Tony Meredith didn’t say anything particularly offensive, nor did they contribute a whole lot of insight.  However, having two ballroom experts is much better than having one ballroom person and one rando who doesn’t seem to know anything about anything and offers inane comments (see the last few years of the show…). They did mention that the Perzhus were current champions eventually, but didn’t say if anyone was poised to challenge them or anything like that.  Could have also mentioned how smooth originated from standard but has more freedom.

Mazen & Izabella’s showdance

After the “two” group dances, they showed the six couples’ showdances and made them sound way more important than being simply a fifth dance that would contribute to the overall placement.  Five out of six were beautiful but same-y angsty emotional contemporary-ish sorts of numbers.  Mary and Tony said they were all Viennese waltzes, but some were distinctly not – they were just kind of interpretive lyrical pieces or vaguely-foxtrots (4/4 at least, definitely not danced in 6/8 timing).  I enjoyed them all, but they did kind of mush together by the end of the night.  Nick Cherumukhin and Viktoriya’s piece was a nice surprise – I had never really watched them before.  Max and Michelle’s Viennese Waltz was refreshing with bare feet and pajama-esque costuming, but needed more polish, I think.  I loved her with Mayo Alanen, but this partnership needs more time, probably.  Loved the Tufts’ sassy, sexy foxtrot to “You Can Leave Your Hat On”.  Not what you would expect from dancers who originated from the Mormon-dominated Utah ballroom scene. Hello, suspenders.  Also no mention of how the Tufts do theatre arts as well (which is impressive in and of itself because she is much taller than most tiny theatre arts ladies) and are more seasoned in complicated lifts than the other smooth couples.

Brief break to show Mary Murphy “shopping” at all the OSB vendors.  Mostly it just made me sad that I can’t afford any of those amazing dresses and pieces of jewelry.  Show me more dancing!

Nazar & Irina’s showdance costumes. Yup.

Onto the rhythm section (the beat!).  Great representation here, in terms of the best rhythm dancers coming to compete.  Again, just showing two dances from the “group” section, out of order, with mambo and swing.  Okay.  And not paying much attention to the obvious winners, Emmanuel and Liana, until their showdance that featured a nifty costume transition.  The individual showdances for rhythm were more varied and interesting, even though half were mambos.  The Paramonovs were entertaining as always – I’ve seen them use this song before as a preface to a cha-cha version of the song “Why Don’t You Do Right”.  Of particular note were Nazar and Irina’s ridiculously over-the-top costumes, complete with huge tri-color ruffles and Irina’s tiny Swarovski-stoned bikini bottom…thing.  She was extremely naked, even if her legs/butt were technically covered with nude mesh fabric.  Funny how Mary and Tony didn’t say a word about that.  And that the episode was rated G.  Okay.  The Perzhus did the exact same matching-suited mambo as they did last year, but it was still awesome.  Wish I could pull off a stoned bra and suit combo.

What was very cool was spotting people I know in the audience.  It’s a small (ballroom) world after all…  I even spotted some of my team members for a hot second.  One of the best aspects of this program is that it’s the best TV depiction of ballroom dancing out there – a much more accurate, genuine take on the ballroom world, compared to shows like Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance that pretend you can learn and master, or at least fake, ballroom in a week.  This show seems to better appreciate how technical and complicated the dance form really is.  And nowadays, it can sometimes be hard to find free high-quality video of good pro dancers that uses multiple camera angles and pretty good editing.  If I remember correctly, PBS ballroom shows were probably my first exposure to ballroom dancing as a kid, though I didn’t have any personal interest in it at the time.  Funding has been limited or non-existent for the past few years, so it’s fantastic that they were able to bring it back this year, even if it was just in this limited three 1-hour-long episode format.

In the end, the overall winners are Peter & Alexandra Perzhu and Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine & Liana Churilova, who will go to the “grand finale.”  I still don’t know how this is really determined – how can you compare smooth to standard to Latin to rhythm showdances?

Next week: International style!  Spoiler – think of how much better it would have been if only the world champions and finalists had shown up!  Still some great dancing, though.  Riccardo & Yulia, Arunas & Katusha, and Victor & Anastasia have all shown up at OSB in the past, but have been mysteriously absent for the past of couple years.  I think sometimes they skipped because a bigger world competition was going on, but I don’t know about this time around.  Mysterious.  It’s basically my only chance to see them compete live, so it was too bad that they weren’t there.

Here’s an outsider’s take on the show: What happens in a ballroom can be little shocking.  Uh, okay.  Lovely last paragraph, though.

Post-MAC Update

So it’s been a week, but I haven’t had any time to get my thoughts down on this competition/trip (grad school craziness).  All-in-all, it was amazing!!!  The worst parts were the two 10-ish-hour drives, but with friends, good music, and podcasts, it’s manageable.  Just not something I want to do all the time.  (Of course, I’m traveling to the DC area for the USA Dance Midatlantic NQE in three weekends, but never mind that…).

Anyway.  Staying in the competition hotel was a fantastic idea and now I totally understand why the pro-am folks almost always do that, even if they’re local.  So, so convenient to just run up to your room to change or chill or whatever, rather than find a corner in a crowded ballroom to stash your stuff, have to change in a bathroom stall, etc.  I wish that the MAC was in its traditional venue of Manhattan Center in Midtown, which has a nice regal feel to it, but the hotel was fine (other than the staff seeming to not give a crap about anything, but that’s a separate issue).  Driving there was relatively easy.

On Friday, I had absolutely no events to dance until Masters of Syllabus (MoS) Standard in the late afternoon/evening, and it was great, because I had severe lack of sleep.  So I was just around, cheering people on, and trying to be generally helpful.  We hadn’t practiced syllabus stuff almost at all prior to the comp, so MoS was a lot of lead-follow (which started out a little clunky) and trying to resist doing open moves.  I didn’t feel like wearing one of my costumes, so just stuck with this purple syllabus outfit I have (made by Dance America, love it!) and some bling, which was an approach that one of my friends also took.  I heard from her that someone from the judges’ area or thereabouts approved of our simpler approach, which is nice to know  Mostly, I was just lazy and didn’t feel like dealing with all that volume/floatage.  We got to the final out of a first round and ended up placing 5th, so clearly attire does not matter if it’s classy and your dancing speaks for itself. Woot!  Similarly, the champ Latin winner had an unstoned black dress and just some classy stoned accessories, including this awesome ear cuff thing.  Not that I’m that cool, just drawing a similarity there.  Interestingly, every single champ Latin finalist was wearing black or white.  Mostly black.

MAC Champ Latin Finalists

Saturday was full full full of dancing.  I think I danced at least 50 individual dances in all.  I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was a really “on” day.  Jesse and I made quarters for novice and prechamp standard, and missed the semi for novice by a single mark.  Big improvement over last year’s MAC and woot, qualifying for Nationals.  We also had our best round ever during the prechamp first round, and importantly made it through quickstep without effing it up!  It’s a common issue.  I now know a lot of people in these events, so that was really nice seeing good friends from undergrad and bumping into other ballroom friends (sometimes literally, on the floor).

The BF (who hadn’t danced rhythm in five years) and I finaled in silver rhythm, and it was pretty fun. Then, smooth! Jesse and I finaled in prechamp from a quarter, and then danced champ.  This was our first time really dancing champ smooth (last competition, we were the only couple), so we freaked out when we found out we had made the final from the semi of 12.  I literally screamed a little, and if you know me, I am not a particularly excitable person (except when it comes to cute animals and food).  I was close to dead from exhaustion by that point, and joked to Jesse that we could just stand there in the final and not dance, because we’d get 7th anyway.  But we ended up placing 5th, which was, again, unexpected and fantastic.  Mayo Alanen was generous enough to sponsor scholarships for those two smooth events, so that’s always a nice bonus.  He seems super nice and I’d love to have a lesson with him at some point.  The winners and many finalists (I think) are his students, so I think the money will just go back to him in some form, but it’s nice nonetheless.

Saw some spectacular champ standard dancers, and the whole thing ended with some slightly controversial results.  The winner was a couple with better dramatic, athletic, WDSF-style shaping, but worse floorcraft, while my (and many others’) favorites took second – they were more balanced, I think.  The 2nd place guy looked familiar and his name rang a bell, so I thought he was one half of a youth 10-dance couple I had loved from a few years back. It turns out that he is that other guy’s brother!  Ridiculously talented families, man.

Sunday was a fun day in the city, watching the Broadway musical If/Then starring Idina Menzel from the 9th row (!!!), eating lots of good food (highly recommend Cook Shop and Stanton Social Club), and doing a moderate amount of touristy walking around stuff in the cold rain.  Overall, fantastic weekend, and I was sad to go back to my normal boring life.

I was really happy with our dancing, but being the way I am, am always looking to improve.  A few major things now – shaping/huge steps in standard, extending shapes and polishing transitions during smooth, and some posture stuff.  Looking forward to a couple of lessons this week!

Edited to Add: Also, so many of the Midwestern dancers who traveled to this competition killed it! I identify as more East Coast, but have come to adopt this area of the country.  I think the East Coast has a better reputation for good dancers, but the Midwest people proved to everyone that there’s some fantastic dancing there as well :).  Also! MAC has the best team match.  Where else are you going to see Robotic Hustle and 3-person Argentine Tango?

Dress Stoning Update!

Image

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.

Hurrah!!! And Some Smooth Inspiration

I just turned in the take-home part of my PhD qualifying exams and have thus ended a summer of endless studying and stress. I don’t know how to convey clearly what the process is like to people unfamiliar with grad school, but it involved having to know basically ALL of social psychology (even stuff I hadn’t learned before) and remembering lots of studies and citations, but also thinking about it all on a deeper level.  And then writing 6 essays in 4 hours, and 2 longer ones over the course of a week.  But now that part is done, thank goodness. Huzzah!

Anyway, my partner and I have been working on some new smooth routines recently, which have been really fun and energizing.  In the past I was always sort of afraid of smooth (not that I’m not now) because it’s more independent and expressive than standard, two things that I feel aren’t really in my comfort zone.  Separate me from a partner and I go into “oh no, what is happening now” mode sometimes.  We haven’t done Viennese yet, but I wanted to share this lovely routine by one of my favorite smooth couples, Jonathan Roberts and Valentina, though their partnership was rather short-lived (but very accomplished!)

Bonus video. Watch for the amazing standing spin around 1:20. Sorry for the blurry quality.

Happy back-to-school season for the students (and parents) out there!