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


Trying to find a partner at the last minute

via The Odyssey Online

Trying to remember how to do ballroom makeup


Cram practicing. All. The. Time.

via The Odyssey Online

Deciding to go shopping for new ballroom stuff

via The Odyssey Online

via giphy

Ballroom in a Few Gifs #5 – Back to School Edition

Welcome back to school, all those who are still getting their formal education on!

Reuniting with all your dance friends whom you haven’t seen all summer

via giphy

When you and your partner realize you are in no shape to run rounds

via giphy

Newbies watching veterans dance

via tumblr

The brand-newbies just learned a cha cha basic!  

via giphy

Realizing that some of the freshmen were born in 1997

(new life goal: be out of grad school before the new freshmen were born in the 2000s)

via giphy

When your biggest rival just got way better this summer while you lazed around

via tumblr

How some home-made ballroom gowns look

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What to expect at syllabus levels at collegiate competitions now that USA Dance costume rules have been relaxed

via tumblr


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

Ballroom in a Few Gifs #2

How I feel while wearing a really feathery old-school ballroom dress

via PopSugar

A week before trying to fit into that sexy-cutout number

via PopSugar

Trying to review a figure with a newbie

Cheering on friends who are better than you at a particular style

When my partner wants to eff around with our choreography again, adding something he saw on YouTube.

Moving up a level

Learning a new technical concept from my coach

When *those* people win yet again

Being a grad student on a collegiate team

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 😀
  • 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?

Horrible Things That Have Happened to Me on the Dance Floor…

…yet did not cause the end of the world…

1) Have fallen on my butt, completely sprawled on the ground (I believe about three times). Often with a shoe popped off.  There is video evidence, but I won’t help you find it 😉

2) Had my skirt slowly roll down so much that I had to yank it up not-so-subtly in order to not moon the poor audience members

3) Arrived to the ballroom (after sprinting from the parking garage) literally about a minute before I was supposed to be on the floor (comp was running earlier than the previous day), changed while running to line up, and danced! (And made a callback, miraculously!)

4) Had my necklace snap off and get loose in the middle of dancing smooth, so I (more dramatically than I intended) tossed it off to a corner (as not to step on it or have anyone else step on it)

5) Completely blanked out on the routine – both in competition and in showcase (this has probably happened at least a dozen times)

6) Gotten hit directly in the head by a smooth-style explosion arm (from a rather tall lead) and got the wind knocked out of me for a second or two

7) Knocked heads with someone while in frame

8) Danced off of the floor, possibly close to hitting a judge?

9) Danced completely and utterly off time, making faces at my partner because we disagreed about the beat/phrase

10) Made an utterly-clueless facial expression because I’m bad at hiding that

11) During a solo-couple on-stage performance, did a  deep lunge but wobbled around off-balance like an idiot for what felt like a solid 10 seconds. Awk.

And now, for things I’ve witnessed from other dancers:

1) Buttons popping open on a borrowed Latin shirt. Round after round… (you know who you are if you’re reading this, and it’s all good…)

2) Hooking the bottom of a skirt with a heel and actually completely mooning one side of the audience

3) Collisions galore

4) Various body parts popping out that should not be doing so…

5) Awful tanning disasters (think…green.)

6) Hair flying loose from fancy standard hairstyles

Take-home point: **** happens, you deal with it, and move on! 😀

Ballroom “Types”

These might be stereotypes or archetypes, I’m not sure, but I feel like almost all ballroom dancers fall into one or more of these.  Of course these are just for fun!

Casual dancer: Shows up to group lessons and socials, might do a competition or two, but never falls into the obsession phase of dancing.

Creeper: That creepy lead/follow at socials who is overly aggressive and usually not particularly good. Sometimes grabs you for a dance without asking.  Does inappropriate moves on the dance floor, whether it’s things that are not supposed to be done socially (lifts, drops) or those that are closer in body contact/space than you would like. Does not have a good sense of reading social cues. Bonus points: excessive sweat/BO.

Ballet-all-my-life dancer: Is new to ballroom, having danced ballet (or jazz/lyrical, etc.) her whole life.  (Almost invariably female.) Picks up choreography lightning fast and has great posture and beautiful pointed feet, but has a difficult time breaking old ballet habits.  Those being, toe leads, turned out feet, different turning technique, ramrod-straight posture with little hip action.

Swing/salsa dancer: Good lead but often does not have fantastic technique, often sort of slouchy, relaxed posture.  Might still be great fun to dance with, busting out new stuff you’ve never seen before!

Superstar: Works hard, gets good fast, is seen practicing at all hours, and is just a generally awesome dancer and performer.  Good at both technique and performance. <- this is who I want to be

Awesome but single: Great dancer who for some reason or another just cannot find a suitable long-term partner.

Slow and steady worker: Someone who may not have a ton of natural talent, but who just works really hard and improves steadily over time.   Often stays out of the spotlight in the beginning, and then surprises you with their skill seemingly out of nowhere.

Standard/smooth dancer only: Awesome at standard/smooth, great frame, but incapable of moving their hips in Latin/rhythm or turn out their feet very much.  Looks kind of stiff and awkward when doing Latin/rhythm.

Latin/rhythm dancer only: Awesome at Latin/rhythm, can move their bodies in sexy ways, but incapable of holding a decent frame.  Cannot do a heel lead to save their life.

International only: “I don’t do American style.” (and vice versa)

Natural dancer: Someone who has never taken formal dance their whole life, but just gets everything really fast and is awesome. Genetic freaks of nature?

Technique robots: People with amazing technique who are totally boring to watch, with not much personality or facial expressions when they dance.

Performers: Might not have the best technique but they are having the time of their life on the floor and are a joy to watch. Genuine smiles abound!

Technique reference book: Know every little detail from technique books, down to the last random acronym.  Knows everything backwards and forwards and sideways, from alignments to footwork to fractions of rotations (unfortunately, is often baffled by the smooth/rhythm syllabi, since there is no single set syllabus for these.)

Youtube addict: Has seen hundreds of ballroom Youtube videos, from World Super Stars to competitions to Blackpool lectures to technique to performances. (I’m obviously not one of these people, *cough cough*)  Can pull up a specific video in a matter of seconds.

Socializer: Hangs out with ballroom dancers as a social outlet.  Might have danced for a bit but doesn’t anymore. Always hears “you should come back!” every time they hang out with said dancers.

Things I Can Do Because of Ballroom

Along with learning how to dance, competitive ballroom dancing gives you lots of other random skills! I can now…

  • Wear heels higher than 2.5 inches
  • Change in about 2 minutes, in public (when necessary)
  • Put full crazy makeup on in under 10 minutes
  • Apply fake eyelashes
  • Grow my nails long
  • Do French manicures on myself (once without the sticky guides!)
  • Glue shoes back together
  • Judge Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance more harshly than the actual judges
  • Put a fake bun in my hair, invisibly
  • Have practically full body contact with strangers
  • Stand up straighter
  • Dance in front of people without feeling nervous
  • Wake up at 4:30 am
  • Go hours without eating and not even realize it (well, sometimes)
  • Stay in perfect strangers’ houses
  • Instantly tell if a particular dance can be done to a song on the radio
  • Pack very quickly
  • Rhinestone things
  • Drive up to 6 hours after a full day dancing with little sleep
  • Travel all over the place
  • Have conversations with people while dancing

Things I’m Good At vs. Things I Want/Need to Improve

This could very well be phrased as things I can do and all the things I wish I could do (or things I can’t do), but I’m trying to frame it positively.  It might be a good exercise for you to do for yourself and/or your partnership. Or just an interesting way to sit down and evaluate yourself and your goals and priorities for dancing. Looking at strengths and weakness, and what weaknesses you want to turn into strengths in the future.

Let’s start with the good.  Some of this has been directly commented on by others, or things I’ve guessed/observed myself.

  1. Spinning
  2. Being powerful in standard
  3. Having decent posture
  4. Being a generally good follow
  5. Helping with floorcraft when my partner is going backwards
  6. Looking elegant (haha, they haven’t seen me in my everyday klutzy mode, but I’ll take it I guess)
  7. Having a flexible back
  8. Recuperating after screwing up in action (aka wiping out then getting back up)
  9. Focusing on the upsides in competition, particularly if the results were not as good as we’d hoped
  10. Hearing the music

Things to Improve:

  1. (Not) straightening my right elbow in frame
  2. Stamina
  3. Feeling more comfortable doing side-by-side stuff (aka, dancing by myself)
  4. Remembering choreography
  5. My Latin, all of it
  6. Hiding my face expression when I/we screw up
  7. Using my ankles more
  8. Making bigger shapes
  9. Bowing not-awkwardly at the end of a dance
  10. Waiting before going

It was much easier to come up with things to improve than things I liked. I could’ve kept going for quite a while on the list of things to improve… I feel like this is typical for any aspiring dancer – focusing on what you can fix/be better at, rather than what you can already do.  Once you have a decent skill set behind you, it’s easy to perform, get in the mood, and kind of hide those insecurities, I think.  Maybe that typical uber-confident “I am sexy/super-classy/awesome” ballroom dancer persona comes out partially for this reason.  Trying to fake it ‘til you make it? Or fake it until your technique catches up?

I find a sort of inner discussion happening every time I watch a video of myself, and it’s easier for me to focus on what mistakes I made rather than acknowledging everything I did well.  Sample thoughts: “Uuuugh what was that?! What am I doing?!” “Huh, that wasn’t so bad,” “Wow, awkward.” “Oh hey, decent picture line!” “Ew, arms…” But we are often our worst critics, right? And occasionally, what felt like a horrible screw-up barely shows up in the video.  Other times, what felt awesome looked….not so awesome.  Alright, I’m starting to get a little off-topic here, but I guess the point I’m trying to make is that improvement is a constant journey.  Sometimes it’s really good to look back and acknowledge what you’ve gotten better at, and at the same time it’s also good to look forward at what you want to achieve.  And really healthy to zoom out and take a good look at both, because if you focus on one, you think you’re great and have little drive to get better, and if you focus on the other, it’s easy to think you’re awful and feel dejected by the whole endeavor. Keeping the balance is probably what’s best in the long run, I’m guessing.

Also, how you frame things matters, to bring in some psychology stuff.  “I’m bad at this” vs. “I want to improve at this” have very different effects on how we approach things, even if objectively it’s the same.  For example, say you are not so great at posture.  Thinking “I have bad posture” vs. “I want to improve my posture” can lead to very different outcomes. The former lends itself to thinking that you’re bad at something and it’ll stay that way, while the latter acknowledges you’re not so great at something but that you can work at it and make it better, and that it’s not something you’re stuck with in the long run.

Overall Things I Want to Be Awesome At:

  1. Portraying the unique character of each dance (especially being sexy/sultry/seductive/some-other-adjective-starting-with-“S”…I just feel awkward doing that at the moment, haha)
  2. Having purpose and intent behind everything I do (telling a story? maybe?)
  3. Being a supportive and responsive partner, in both interpersonal and dance-y senses
  4. Marrying performance and technique (quite elusive, but sometimes it happens!)
  5. Having fun every time!