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!

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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!

Dance Legends 2013

This is the second year that Dance Legends in New York City has happened, and I got to attend! For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it’s basically a big dance show/concert featuring current and former national and world champions in ballroom.  So, you’re seeing the top of the top do show dances for you!  It was held Friday and Saturday night, with different couples performing each night, and even a couple of guest performances from amateur and pro-am couples.

(All pics are from Stephen Marino)

Arunas & Katusha’s…waltz?

Dasha

Riccardo & Yulia’s Samba. Awesome dress!

Some of my favorite dances/highlights/thoughts:

Louis Van Amstel & Julie Fryer’s final rumba. They were partners for a long time (and amateur world champions) and have both retired for a while, and came back to do this one last set of performances.  Before they danced, Louis took the microphone and spoke, thanking her very emotionally and tearfully for being the best partner he’s had.  The dance was not 100% perfect, but this just kind of revealed how emotionally meaningful and charged it was to them.

Stefano Di Filippo & Dasha Chesnokova’s rumba and jive. They did a gorgeous rumba to Sara Bareille’s “Gravity,” which is a song I loooove, so that already stacked the deck.  Beautiful fuchsia dress for that dance.  Their jive to “Americano,” featuring American-flag-themed costuming, was just really fun and playful.  I hadn’t ever really noticed Stefano before, and I really like him!   Really fast and precise, and just a lot of fun. Their styles seem to fit well together.

All the tangos, haha. I think tango is a fantastic show dance, since it’s dramatic and allows you do add some Argentine-style flare, making it a bit more interesting than other standard show dances.  Mirko & Edita had a charged, tempestuous version in which she slaps his face (not saying domestic abuse is entertaining or anything, but it reflects the drama, I suppose).  Arunas and Katusha’s had a lot of drama and intensity as well, and their tango was more interesting and showy than their other well-danced but more generic performances.  Victor and Anastasia, who I think were my overall standard favorites, chose a super fast classical piece that showed off their precise footwork and fantastic connection and synchrony.  They almost always pick really great, often unconventional music.

JT Thomas & Tomas Mielnicki’s Viennese waltz to Christina Aguilera’s “You Lost Me” was a different, more emotional, and sad take on the dance.  The song is great and this dance was new to me, since they did a couple older well-known pieces for their other two dances (the “Me and My Shadow” foxtrot seen here and the “Ramalama” tango here). Loved them.  They still got it, even after retiring for a few years.

Joanna Leunis’s spinning, in any and all the dances she did.  That woman is an amazing spinner.  She takes off like a small, very precise rocket, and can just stop her momentum on a dime.  It’s incredible.

Riccardo & Yulia’s everything.  But I think especially their paso.  Also her dramatic samba dress train seen above, haha.  All of their dancing just oozes with intention and meaning behind each and every precise movement.  They’re athletic for sure, but dancers first.  (I think that’s why I like them better than Michael & Joanna).

Eugene and Maria proved that classic showdances are classic for a reason.  They know what works for them and have honed these pieces to perfection, and the crowd loves the familiarity of their “Time After Time” rumba (this dance is about 10 years old! Oh hey, cameo by Arunas & Edita in the beginning…) and the “Mercy” cha cha.  I looove the opening section of lightning-fast side-by-side footwork.  They obviously have a great partnership and are another retired couple who are still awesome.  [Side note, I did some youtube research and I think their showdances are their competition routines from at least as far back as 2008…a little lame, but they make the routines fit the music and have enough fun showy touches, so it all works somehow. ]

I don’t love rhythm personally (sorry to rhythm fans out there!), but Felipe & Carolina did a great job with it.  All their dances seemed well thought-out and very showdance-y.

Other random thoughts:

As usual, pros look really different in person.  I spotted Mirko and Edita on Friday, when they were just spectating, and Mirko had his hair loose and his face was scruffy, so it took a second to recognize him.  Pros also always look shorter in person, up close and personal…I knew this before about Yulia, since she looks really tall but is actually tiny, like 5’2 or so.  But super muscular. Wouldn’t want to mess with her 😉 Also, Arunas and Katusha aren’t as tall as I imagined, either! He’s probably around 6’1 or 6’2, and not a giant, and she’s maybe a bit taller than me, 5’6 or 5’7.  Other top amateur dancers that I recognized in the audience likewise looked different in normal-person mode, as opposed to ballroom-person mode, with less fake tanner, less makeup, less hair product, and non-spangly attire.  One of the guest performances was by New York Dance Force, a group of top amateur NYC-based couples who did a pretty awesome and dramatic standard formation routine, choreographed by Danny Quilliam and Ieva Pauksena.  It’s so great to see really good dancers do a group routine together, and an interesting showy standard one at that.  One of the pro-am couples featured a lady student who I think was in her 60s(?), but did not look even close to it.  One of the great things about dancing ballroom is that you can continue it at basically any age.  Lots of the top people are well into their 30s and maybe early 40s, and they’re still beating out much younger competitors.

All in all, a fantastic experience! The whole show went smoothly and the MC Gary McDonald (another retired champion) was great.  He even paid a visit to the cheap seats in the balcony, where we were.  I’d go again in a heartbeat.  Well, and invest the time it took to get there, which involved driving 3 hours to Pittsburgh and spending another 8 on the Megabus…it was worth it.

Side note, Brandon (the BF) and I went to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, which was very cool.  And I’m about 90% sure we spotted Olivia Wilde there among the vast crowds. So many celebrities in one weekend!