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

Gender Roles and Ballroom Dance

One central part of traditional ballroom dancing is that of gender roles.  A couple consists of a male leader and a female follower.  For some organizations, this is an actual written rule; the rest of the time it is implied.  Dance teachers tend to refer to each person as the gentleman and the lady, or the man and the woman.

One view of ballroom: The man is strong and powerful.  He decides what steps the couple will take at what time, dictating direction and timing.  The woman responds to the man and does whatever he leads, and her job is to be beautiful and expressive.  Some people really appreciate this very traditional (others would consider it antiquated) aspect of ballroom – each gender has a particular role and they complement each other, and if everyone does what they’re supposed to do, then it works out beautifully.  Men are men and women are women.  Men act gentlemanly with chivalry towards graceful ladies, who follow what they are asked (told?) to do.

As an aside, gender is something we all learn at a very young age, and something that is instilled as part of our identity even before we are born – our parents refer to us by gendered pronouns and dress us in traditionally female (pink) or male (blue) colors, before babies even begin to act differently.  Girls are described as pretty and boys are described as strong and handsome.  Behaving in a sex-consistent way is reinforced, while behaving in a sex-inconsistent way might be punished.  Boys are supposed to play with trucks, not dolls, and so on.  Girls are supposed to be ladylike and nurturing, while boys are supposed to be rambunctious and tough.

However, the state of gender is not so black and white.  (Fortunately, in the past few years, we have seen more and more gender nonconforming individuals who may identify with the gender that is opposite of their sex or neither gender.) I’ll switch to my preferred terms here, leader and follower, which are inherently less gendered.  The leader does control direction and timing, but whatever the leader decides to lead is more of a suggestion than a command.  The follower needs to always be sensitive to these suggestions, taking a hint and turning it into a full expression of the figure, but does not always “have” to do what the leader intended.  The follower interprets whatever she or he believes the leader to have suggested, and if it happens to be different from the original intention, the leader needs to just go with it and adjust accordingly.  This relationship is an ongoing conversation that requires both parties to be sensitive to each other, it’s not a relationship between dictator and passive servant.  Usually, the leader provides the power for a movement, but many figures require the follower to take over and provide power as well.

Both roles also look out for each other – primarily, leaders do the steering and try to prevent the couple from hitting others, but followers also need to help out when the leader is going backward and cannot see where he or she is going.  Couples should develop a subtle signal for this situation, but also a quick verbal “Watch out behind you!” also works in a jiffy.

More recently, some standard couples, particular in the WDSF divisions, have changed up styling, such that leads create more dramatic shapes rather than staying relatively straight up and down.  This trend also blurs the line between gender roles of the woman being the “pretty picture” and the man providing the frame for her and showing her off.  (Personally, I like some shaping from both parties, but not so much shaping from leaders that it’s distracting.  But it comes down to a matter of personal taste)

In the past few years, with more marriage equality and openmindedness about gender roles overall, there have been more and more opportunities for same-sex ballroom dancing.  (Technically, sex refers to biology while gender refers to social identity, but we’ll just go with that conventional terminology.) USA Dance officially announced that they would offer same-sex events, to be run separately from the typical ones.  In the U.S., there have been such events as the Gay Games, the Boston Open Dancesport event, and the Glitz and Glitter Ball.

Same-sex partnerships really offer interesting interpretations of each person’s role, and people can approach them in dramatically different ways.  One person might fulfill a traditional masculine leader role while the other is a traditional feminine follower.  They could switch off leads.  Styling choices might be consistent with their conventional role or their actual gender.  There is actually a lot of debate about whether same-sex couples should compete against different-gender couples, because of certain perceived advantages that they might have in terms of athleticism, power, speed, or gracefulness.

Another variant of playing around with gender roles is reverse role dancing, with the female leading the male.  There are fewer avenues for this arrangement, at least competitively, but it’s a literal flip of the gender roles in traditional ballroom.  Naturally, you’ll have to deal with some height situations not being ideal, but it’s definitely a fun and educational way to get an idea of what challenges your partner has to deal with.

Ballroom in a Few Gifs #6 – First Comp of the Season Edition

Purdue is in three weeks! Woot!  For all those prepping for their first big competitions this fall:
Trying to meet all the newbies before the competition

via MTV

Learning difficult new steps and panicking about making them work in competition

via giphy

The two stages of realizing how soon the first competition is

via The Odyssey Online

via The Odyssey Online

The prospect of doing rounds

via tumblr

Not being done with routines two weeks before the comp

via jamspreader.com

Trying to find a partner at the last minute

via The Odyssey Online

Trying to remember how to do ballroom makeup

via shaggytexas.com

Cram practicing. All. The. Time.

via The Odyssey Online

Deciding to go shopping for new ballroom stuff

via The Odyssey Online

via giphy

Social Exchange Theory and Partnerships

In today’s post, I’d like to talk about dance partnerships through the lens of social exchange theory.  Social exchange theory (Homans, 1958) and related concepts such as investment theory (Rusbult & Buunk, 1993) were developed to explain social relationships in general, in a sort of relationship-math way.  They can help us answer certain questions: What elements make relationships more satisfying?  Why do people stay in bad relationships?  What predicts how long relationships last?  When do people ditch their relationship partners to go look for other ones?  It’s probably easiest to understand this approach when you apply it to romantic relationships, but I’d say finding a solid dance partnership can be even harder to find than someone to date!  And this theory is just as applicable to dance relationships.

In any case, here’s how it all works.  First equation:  satisfaction = benefits – costs.  Pretty simple.  Level of satisfaction is benefits minus costs – if there are more benefits than costs, then you are more satisfied.  Too many costs and not enough benefits means less satisfaction or even dissatisfaction.  Examples of benefits from a dance partner: he’s very talented, she is a hard worker, they have a good match in ability, they enjoy doing 10-dance together.  Costs: he is always late, they both have to travel over an hour to practice together, she has a limited budget so that he can’t take as many lessons as he’d like to,  she also wants to dance smooth but he doesn’t.  In short, the more good things about the relationship, the happier you are with it.  A lot of benefits can cancel out some negative aspects, but obviously the more benefits and the fewer costs, the happier the relationship partners are, overall.

Here’s a caveat though – some people expect more out of a relationship than others.  Two people might be equally satisfied overall, but one person might stay in that situation and another might not.  This is because of individuals’ different comparison levels (Thibault & Kelly, 1959).  What are your standards?  Do you expect to be really happy or just fine with your partnership situation?  Do you expect a really good partnership or a perfect one?

Another important aspect that you have to consider is perceived alternatives.  Are there lots of other potential partners out there or are the pickings really scarce?  The more possibilities out there, the less commitment you have towards your current partner because you have more opportunities to “play the field” and find someone better.   This idea might explain why there is often so much partner switching in a large college ballroom team.  Whereas on a small team or in a small studio, there’s not many options, so people are more likely to stick with their current partners.  This aspect also explains why people might stay in crappy, toxic partnerships that make them unhappy – they don’t really see any good alternatives out there, and this partnership is the best they can get.  Specific to ballroom, often men have more possible partners than women do, so they can afford to be more selective and choosy.

So, let’s take our satisfaction from earlier – satisfaction will then interact with comparison level and alternatives to factor into commitment level.   Higher satisfaction, lower comparison level, and few alternatives?  Super high commitment.  Low satisfaction, high comparison level, and lots of alternatives?  Small chance of that partnership lasting…good luck!

One more important thing to consider is investments into the partnership.  If you’ve been in the partnership for a long time, have spent a lot of money for coaching/routines/costumes, have moved a far distance for a serious partnership, and so on, then it’s a lot harder to end the relationship, even if you’re not super happy in it.  It’s similar to the idea of sunk costs – it’s hard to walk away from something into which you’ve put a lot of time, money, and energy.  If it’s a newer relationship and you haven’t put much into it, it’s much easier to dissolve it and part ways.

The ultimate overall formulas:

Benefits – costs – comparison level = satisfaction level.

Satisfaction level – alternatives + investments = commitment level.

In the end, these theories are more descriptive than anything when it comes to relationships.  If you’re in a dance partnership that is not going so great, maybe it’s time to reconsider all these aspects and if you need to reshuffle your relationship math a bit and seriously think about whether it’s worth the trouble.  If you’re really happy in your partnership, then great!  Don’t overthink it! 🙂

Ballroom in a Few Gifs #4

Sorry for the lack of updates recently!  I know everyone enjoys these, so…have at it.  We’ll open with a Stefon theme.  If you don’t know who I’m talking about, go watch some of the SNL skits on Youtube.  Now.

Every single time “A Thousand Years” comes on for a Viennese waltz

via giphy

Spotting someone I know in the audience while I’m dancing

via giphy

Noticing a brand new person in silver class

via giphy

Getting to see my professional dance idols in person

via tumblr

When a veteran dancer has no idea how to register for a competition

via Buzzfeed

After popping on some fake talons for a competition

via Popsugar

When someone just blatantly dances right into us

via Buzzfeed

Every competition, ever.

via tumblr

Je’Dor on Sale at Danceshopper

10% off Je’Dor, an Australian brand, this weekend at DanceShopper!  Here are my picks.

Latin Over Dance Shirt, $88 (This is why they tell you to tan.)

Long Sleeve Latin Dance Top, $61.  A nice basic, casual henley look, either for practice or competition.

Basic Ballroom Pants with Satin Stripe, $81.  From what little I know of men’s dance pants, these are a pretty good price.  They also have Latin pants and both styles without stripes if that is your preference.

Long Split Argentine Latin Skirt, $89. Sexy!

Bell Fringe Latin Dance Skirt, $116, for all the fringe lovers.  Comes in purple, too!

Slash Top, $71.  I like the lace version better.

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.

America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 2 Review

Episode 2 of America’s Ballroom Challenge: International Style!  I was surprised to find out that Mary was an Austrian (random) standard champion.  I pictured her as a rhythm dancer or something, but it turns out she did a bit of everything.  They played the everyone-on-the-floor-at-the-same-time mini-round of waltz, which was kinda cool.  In person, it’s pretty chaotic, but visually very cool, with 30-40+ couples on the floor simultaneously.  First were the “group rounds” of foxtrot and quickstep.  At least these were in order this time, as opposed to last week’s smooth dances.  Loved the bit of mini-formation team feather, reverse turn, three step sequence.  I timed it and they only showed about 50 seconds of each dance, which was really not enough to make anything of them.  Boo.  Would another 40 seconds really hurt?  Next was quickstep.

Showdances next.  Standard showdances can be kinda boring at times, so I was intrigued to see what these couples came up with.  These were more varied in dance style/theme than the smooth dances, so that was at least somewhat refreshing.  My favorite thematically was probably Andrey and Anna’s Marilyn Monroe piece, but the hair and costuming were a bit distracting, with her wig flopping around a lot.  A lot of hairspray would’ve helped with that.  Also slightly cringed when Anna overshot the lift and almost fell behind Andrey.  I’m pretty sure they’re one of the most attractive couples on the floor, especially when he doesn’t wear a shirt (from past years).  But I digress.  Oscar and Lenka had an awkward boy-themed foxtrot, with juvenile outfits, that I just didn’t get.  The cowboy-themed quickstep from Canadian couple Anton and Anna was cute.  Artem and Inna, the frontrunners, did a lovely emotionally expressive and technically sound foxtrot to My Heart Will Go On.  I giggled when he kissed her ear at the end (they’re married).  Loved her eye makeup.  Girl rocks the flowy dresses.  Denis and Lesya’s lyrical foxtrot was nice, but not very memorable.  Loved her green dress and loose hair.  Interestingly, she’s Max Sinitsa’s niece and used to dance with him.  The hosts might have mentioned that briefly at some point.  A quick search on Dancesport Info showed that Igor and Ekaterina had danced together way longer than the five and a half years reported by Mary.  They danced together, broke up, and then re-partnered and went pro together.  Their French-themed quickstep was solid but not super interesting.  In general, I found that the women were more expressive than the men, which is especially the case in standard, I think.  You tend to find a lot of tall stoic standard men.

Denis & Lesya

Anton & Anna

Ultimately, in the show dance, Denis and Lesya placed first, Andrey and Anna second, and Anton and Anna third, which surprised me.  Artem and Inna were in fourth, but will represent the standard style anyway, since they were first for the five other dances, I believe.

Brief featurette with the DJ Brent Mills, which was nice, I guess.  On to Latin!  They were gracious enough to show us one entire round of jive.  I wasn’t really familiar with any of these people except for Roman and Anna.  Was hoping that Riccardo and Yulia would show up this year, but no dice, alas.  I liked the plain leopard dress.  It’s nice when people go unconventionally simple and unadorned.  On the other hand, one male dancer decided to wear glittery pants.  No.

Showdances!  Lots of rumbas, of course.   Lots of rumbas in silky shirt-type outfits.  Kamil and Anna’s was nice, but I was confused by her wet-looking shirtdress.  Maybe it was on purpose, based on the storm noises in the music?  Or she was just really sweaty?  Also, they continued the Barbra Streisand theme from last week.  We had definitely heard this exact song, “Don’t Go Away”, during smooth for Mazen and Izabella’s showdance.  On another note, Kamil’s facial hair is an example of a goatee that really works for ballroom, at least in Latin/rhythm.  Roman and Anna did another version of angsty silky-shirt rumba.  A little too much running around for my taste, but they had a really cute moment together at the end.  Also, she is so freaking tan!  She made him look super pale in comparison, even though he’s not particularly white.  Dmitry and Olena did a jive to “Happy” with awkward NYC-themed outfits that I didn’t get.  For once, the hosts had some critique to offer about their side-by-side choreo and costuming.  Evgeny and Maria did a very traditional but good paso…at least it was to a song other than Spanish Gypsy Dance.  Vitaliy and Eugenia’s cha cha, with her in a catsuit, finished off the set.  Pretty fun, and the catsuit worked for the Michael Jackson theme.  The all-black look unfortunately led them to blend into the background a bit, though.  The slower music choice also made them look a bit sluggish at times.

Roman & super-tan Anna

I didn’t have any particular favorite out of the Latin showdances.  Top three showdance placements (at least, based on the lineups):  Roman and Anna, Andrey and Yulia, Kamil and Anna.  Which were, coincidentally (not really), the exact same rankings for the group dances. Side note, all 6 ladies’ names ended in “a”, and three of the men’s names ended in “I” or “y”.  Eastern Europeans!

Overall, solid.  Nothing especially stood out to me, but it was all great dancing and solid performances.  Definitely the best ballroom dancing you’ll see on TV.  In past years, I think people have been more creative in their choices, but it’s not something to expect on a regular basis.

To come soon: a review of Episode 3, the grand finale!  I still don’t understand how they can judge and compare dancers in completely different styles, but we’ll keep chugging along.

Click here for my review of Episode 1, which featured American style pros.

Ballroom Bargains – May 2015 Edition

I just missed the pre-Mother’s Day sale at Danceshopper, but they might have another special (10% off or thereabouts) around Memorial Day.

They have a LOT of Dance America items on sale, and I’ve put together a list of outfits you can mix-and-match.  Particularly if you like red.  So much red.  (They are non-returnable, so make sure you really want them!)

Another color is jade.  These items are all in size small:

Some of the items listed above are available in royal (blue), but there were fewer.  I’ve starred those for your convenience.

Two more items in royal:

A few items in oxblood:

Other Apparel Brands

Victoria Blitz Ballroom Dance Dress – Lacy Top, black x-large, $263

Santoria Paradeisos Ballroom Dance Dress, variety of sizes/colors, $209

RS Atelier Carlotta Kimono Ballroom Dress (doesn’t look anything like a kimono to me), small black, $213

Gio Mio Magnella Geometric Pattern Latin Dress in medium black/white.  Definitely a unique design! $175

Espen Edelweiss Off-Shoulder Ruche Dance Top in small or medium, $119-$135

Capezio Cap-Sleeve Rhinestoned Leotard, $38

Capezio Ruffle Tank Top, $27

Metallic Halter Dress, $29

Shoes

Freed of London Sylvia Latin Shoes in a few sizes, $77-101

Supadance 1531 smooth shoes (better for wider feet), in a couple of sizes, $105

General Sales:

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).