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

Shopping for Your First Competition

For your handy-dandy convenience, I’ve done some research on the Internet in search of some affordable essential ballroom dance competition items for a first-time competitor.

Below is a list of some of my finds that total of under $250 for your first competition!  I suppose it might sound like a lot for a typical college student or first-time dancer in general, but once you have all of this stuff, you’re pretty set for the next few comps until you want to upgrade items or get a second pair of ballroom shoes.  It also assumes that you don’t have some essential things most people already have, such as makeup, a short party dress (for women, obviously), and a white shirt, black dress pants, and black socks (for men).  Click here for more information on ballroom attire, here for more information on makeup, or here for more information on shoes.

Women:

Grand Total: Approximately $232 – $280

A couple tips – colorwise, I’d suggest avoiding black and red for Latin outfits, since those are super common on the floor.  Go for neutral (shades of brown, gold, gray, or black) but dramatic eyeshadow if you’re not practiced in applying it, paired with a bright lip color like a dark pink or red.

Men:

Grand Total: Approximately $228 – $247

Experienced dancers, if you have any links to awesome online finds, please comment and share!

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

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?

Body Modification

Hadn’t really thought to write a post on the topic of body modifications in ballroom until I recently got the upper part of my left ear cartilage (more specifically, the helix) pierced with a ring.  (P.S. If you’re thinking of piercing anything, go to a reputable shop and get pierced under sterile conditions with a needle, NOT with a piercing gun at Claire’s and the like!) This is not extreme body modification by any means, since nowadays many women (and some men) are piercing parts of their ears other than their ear lobes, but it made me a little more conscious of such things.  So, I’ll be talking about tattoos and more unusual piercings and how they fit in (or don’t) with the ballroom culture.  First of all, ballroom is a very aesthetically-focused sport/endeavor, in which even having the wrong hair, makeup, or clothing can lead to disapproval.  Thus it makes sense that there are some strong opinions and norms regarding body modification as well.

Let’s start with standard/smooth.  Very classic, elegant, proper sorts of dances, since they have a more old school and traditional influence.  I think competitors in these dances in particular are less likely to have visible tattoos and unconventional piercings.  Perhaps in part because of personality (people who like the traditional dances more might also be more traditional themselves), but more often because it is generally frowned upon by judges and even other members of the ballroom community.  It’s hard to really say for men, since they are covered up from neck to wrist to feet, but you never see visible neck/hand tattoos on gentlemen doing these dances.  Who knows what they’re sporting underneath their tailsuits/smooth suits, though? (Ow ow!) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male standard or smooth dancer with ear jewelry, either.  Of course, that may mean that they wear such subtle jewelry that it’s hardly noticeable.  Women, on the other hand, often wear dresses that reveal at least some part of their body – hands, arms, back, chest, legs for smooth dresses with high slits.  Torso if they’re wearing a two-piece dress in smooth.  Rarely do you see competitive dancers with visible tattoos in these revealed areas, right?  Those who do have visible tattoos are often advised to cover them up with makeup.  In fact, on a rather informal poll on Dance Forums, an overwhelming 81.7% of forum members who answered said that piercings and tattoos should not be seen on the competition floor.  Some thought they were trashy, which is very counter to the desired image in ballroom.  Many people mentioned that even if they don’t think of tattoos and such as a bad thing, they can be distracting, and make the audience pay more attention to that rather than someone’s dancing.  Others were concerned that judges might mark them worse for having such body modifications.

For Latin/rhythm, I think tattoos and piercings are a little more acceptable, but still uncommon, even when they might be revealed with skimpier shirts and dresses.  I know that Slavik Kryklyvyy has a visible chest tattoo that shows with low-cut Latin shirts, but it’s hard to think of many examples of professional dancers who have really noticeable tattoos.  Victor da Silva has a pretty large back tattoo, but does theatre arts/exhibition stuff, so a tattoo kind of fits with that I’m-so-manly-let-me-throw-a-woman-around-with-my-pinky vibe.  Multiple piercings and belly button rings are also not surprising to see on female Latin/rhythm dancers, I think.  Still, large visible tattoos on women aren’t really commonplace.  I’ve seen a couple of tattoos on collegiate competitors, and they can be distracting if they are larger/more noticeable.  I can also think of an example from Dancing with the Stars, in which makeup artists blinged up Melissa Rycroft’s lower back tattoo to match her costume and to make it a little more ballroom-appropriate.  But you never see full sleeve tattoos and the like.

I’ve entertained the idea of a tattoo casually, but have kept in mind this limitation.  I have to think, “Where could I even have one that wouldn’t show with ballroom dresses?”  It’s interesting that tattoos and piercings have become more accepted in mainstream culture, but the ballroom culture lags behind.  Then again, the ballroom culture does tend to trend older and more traditional, so maybe this isn’t a surprise at all.  Men are leaders and women are followers, and there is the traditional etiquette aspect of the whole endeavor, so perhaps old-fashioned notions of what is acceptable on bodies also tracks these ideals.

I haven’t seen any relatively more unusual or extreme body modifications at ballroom events in recent memory, such as ear stretching (or gauging), sleeve tattoos (though of course those can be covered up by long sleeves), scarification, or many prominent facial piercings.  Again, this could be due to the people ballroom attracts (probably not the most fringe-y, alternative types) or because they hesitate to do such things in fear that it will impact their dancing results in a negative way.  One of my coaches has a labret piercing (meaning, right below the center of her lower lip), which is a bit more unusual, but it’s very subtle and tasteful.

Naturally, this is all subjective and dependent on the perceiver (as we often talk about in social psychology).  Some coaches and judges might frown upon piercings and tattoos while others have no problem with it.  Until the overall culture changes, however, it seems prudent to take these norms into consideration when thinking about body modifications.  Do you value fitting in with ballroom culture more, or care more about self-expression using jewelry and adornment on your body?  Ultimately it’s a personal decision.