Sunday, August 26, 2012

SouthernStar Mid Summer Classic XVIII: From a Judge's Perspective

International Standard Competition
On July 28, enthusiastic competitors and spectators poured into the Rhapsody Ballroom in Tampa, FL for the exciting, 18th annual Midsummer Classic, All Amateur DanceSport Championship Competition, held by the SouthernStar Chapter of USA Dance, Inc. 

Couples for this event hailed from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and of course Florida! It was wonderful to see so many talented and promising young dancers, as well as those who are young at heart. The distinguished judging panel, chaired by Peter Waterson, included Esther Don, Timothy Mason, Sid Pocius, and yours truly. David Don was the expert and efficient scrutineer.

Mike and Peg Johnston provided the excellent music that set everyone’s toes tapping – even the judges and audience! Master of Ceremonies Richard Collett paced the competition flow with his witty repartee that gave the dancers a chance to catch their breath and everyone a chance to laugh! (OK, I admit he’s my husband, but even I thought he was in rare form.)  In keeping with the SouthernStar tradition of team spirit and hospitality, the cast and crew of willing volunteers outdid themselves in keeping the event running smoothly and making everyone feel at home.

It was a great blessing and honor to judge these proficient and entertaining dancers at this competition with such a long history of excellence. Thanks to SouthernStar Chapter for inviting me to participate and for putting on such a top-notch event.

Basic is Better

When standing on the judges’ side of the clipboard, many thoughts come to mind from this perspective that may differ considerably from my viewpoint when competing. We all love to dance interesting choreography, because it keeps us and our audience engaged. Stylistically unusual elements may lend themselves to expressive variations based on the music, our own feelings, our connection to our partner, and even our interaction with spectators, judges, or with other couples on the floor.

For a show, intricate choreography may be an advantage, but when competing, it often detracts. In a 90-second heat of 10 couples, each judge has an average of 9 seconds to observe each couple, or less if traffic jams cause dancers to collide or congregate in congested areas. In that 9 seconds or less, judges look for the basic action characteristic of each dance, musicality and expression unique to each dance rhythm, elegant posture, and connection to the partner.

So, if you spend that 9 seconds on some ultra-sophisticated sequence of dips, crawls, tricks and syncopations that could suit a rumba or a tango equally well, the judge may be left wondering how well you understand and have mastered the required technique and timing. Worse yet, if you do make it to the final, the judges may cringe each time you do your pet move because they’ve already learned your choreography!

Well-executed basics done with musicality, proper footwork and leg action, correct timing, calm yet fluid topline, and sensitivity to the partner win out every time over flashy yet sloppy tricks. Competitors would do well to heed the advice given before auditions on So You Think You Can Dance: no booty shaking and no self-love!

Get Moving!

Back to that all-important 9-second rule: get moving! If you’re not moving, we can’t mark you, no matter how great you may look. So once you’ve caught the beat of the played song, move out with confidence! Especially on the smooth dances, don’t get lost in an introduction with lots of bows or spot dancing – get going down the long wall as soon as you can so we can see how well you move.  This is especially true for shorter dancers who may otherwise be overlooked in a large heat.

Once you get moving, keep moving! Planned choreography is generally an advantage for competitions, but having the flexibility to change the plan is a big plus, if you get in a tight space or if six couples are headed for your favorite corner. One year at Blackpool, Richard and I watched a quickstep in awe as a couple came crashing down on top contenders Lucca and Lorraine Baricci in an oversway, causing Lorraine to lose her balance. Without missing a beat, Lucca went down with her, guiding her into a new and inventive sequence of points, flicks and jumps on the way up!

Mastering this type of flexibility takes years of practice, but dancing on crowded floors at parties and practices, and learning to lead and follow in different settings, such as at weddings or club dancing, helps considerably.

Timing is Everything

Opinions may vary on the relative importance of timing, but it’s not unheard of for judges to mark a couple last if they’re off time, or even to give them second place if they are uncontested! So make sure this doesn’t happen to you! If you have trouble hearing the beat of unfamiliar songs, dance at more parties and practice sessions where new music is played. Or invest in the latest CDs so that you’re more likely to have practiced to what you’ll dance to at the competition.

Mambo is notorious for dancers getting off time by dancing “1,2,3” instead of “2,3,4.” As competitors for one of the later mambo heats entered the floor, a fellow judge leaned over to me and whispered: “He who gets on time first, wins!” Actually, the start of most of the mambo heats wasn’t too bad, but it takes consistent focus for the gentleman to dance on the “2,3,4” every measure, rather than drifting into “1,2,3” as the song plays on.

Cha-cha is another potential timing trap as some beginning dancers dance “1,2, cha-cha-cha” instead of on the correct beats “2,3, 4-and-1.” In this competition, several promising dancers with good posture and footwork lost points and placement because of getting ahead of the beat in waltz and foxtrot. Calming the nerves, focusing on the music, and proper attention to rise and fall should help prevent this in the future.

Competition Highlights

--The overall quality of the International Standard Challenges was very high. Niklas and Yvonne Manz, from Brooklyn, NY, were a treat to watch, not only because of their fluidity, musicality and connection, but also because of their masterful floorcraft that always kept them elegantly poised and out of congested spots.

--What a pleasure to see so many promising young couples! Erik Durneika and Michaela Polmann from St. Petersburg, FL, placed 3rd in the International Standard Challenges, proving that clean technique, elegant topline, and quality of movement trump showy or intricate choreography. In the American style, Sebastian Quinones-Vendrell and Natalia Sanabria, from Orlando, FL, showed a musicality and emotional maturity far beyond their years.

--The competition hosted a delightful mix of seasoned and newcomer competitors. It was nice to see Darry Martin and Sarah Coates back on the floor, and the ongoing faithful participation of Carl and Leila Blevins, Carlie and Jan Coats, and others. Newcomers Jin Won Yum and Tracey Zirfas and Philip and Kathy Guest had a wonderful first outing!

--Sorely missed were Jerry and Nikki Dvorak, Mike and Peg Johnston, and Mike and Beth Nolan. But the two Mikes and their wives kept us entertained by social dancing during breaks, and Jerry did a smashing Paso Doble floor sweep!

Thanks again to SouthernStar for organizing and hosting such a first-class competition and for inviting me to participate. Congratulations, best wishes, happy dancing and God bless to all the competitors.

The author judging. Photo Credits SouthernStar Chapter USA Dance, Inc.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Benefits of Ballroom Dancing

 Benefits of Ballroom Dancing

Ballroom dancing is not only great exercise and a wonderful creative and emotional outlet, but it may also improve self-confidence, social skills, cognitive abilities, and zest for living!

Thanks to Ashley Reams for the great article in Temple Terrace Patch about how Rhapsody Ballroom helps beginner ballroom dancers, and thanks to Rhapsody teacher Hector Quiles for his great coaching and encouragement of new dancers!

Photo: Professional Dance Instructor Hector Quiles dances with student Holly Jackson at Rhapsody Ballroom.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Alan Tuggey: A Dancer and a Gentleman

SouthernStar amateur dancers with coach Alan Tuggey, Atlanta Open 1994

                           Alan Tuggey: A Dancer and a Gentleman

We are saddened by the loss of Alan Tuggey, but blessed to have known him as a dear friend, a truly gentle man, and a devoted dance coach. When Richard and I first met Alan in 1990, he immediately came to our rescue. We were practicing and he was teaching a group class at the USF Dance Department, and when we stupidly locked ourselves out of the studio where we were rehearsing, he took the time to help us get back in using his key.

We were so taken with his kindly demeanor, courteous attitude, and charming British manners – not to mention his expertise in International Standard – that we asked him to coach us. He became not only our coach, but a close friend who encouraged us and gave us moral support. He prepared us for our first International Standard competition at Ohio Star Ball, which was quite a challenge because his studio had a small floor, making the floor at Ohio seem like a football field by comparison!

When we were asked to be the only amateur couple performing with the U.S. Professional American Style Tour and Team Match in Russia in 1992, Alan rose to the occasion to help us improve our theatrical dance to “Rhapsody in Blue.” What he lacked in specific adagio training he made up for in knowledge of dance fundamentals and in overall enthusiasm.

One day we were trying to do an overhead bird, and Alan advised me to run at Richard with great speed to gain momentum. In the heat of the moment, I unfortunately forgot that all lifts must go up, translating horizontal momentum into vertical thrust, and I plowed into Richard and Alan (who was standing behind him to spot) with all the power and grace of a football tackle, knocking both men to the ground!  Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we all shared a good laugh over that mishap for many weeks to come!

Despite the many long hours Alan spent coaching us the last 2 weeks before we left for Russia, he refused to accept payment for those hours, saying with a gracious smile that he was doing his part to improve international relations!

On the day that we closed on the purchase of the building at 12101 N. 56th Street in Temple Terrace, FL, that would become Rhapsody Ballroom, Alan agreed to teach us there even though the long, tedious process of renovations had not yet begun. So Richard tore out a 6-foot square of worn-out carpet, and Alan coached us on Latin Rumba on the bare cement, much to the detriment of everyone’s shoes and feet! And we all worked up a sweat since the air conditioning wasn’t working and it was a hot summer day in Florida!

Once the Rhapsody Ballroom was up and running, it seemed to attract many dedicated and enthusiastic amateur competitors, due in large part to Alan’s coaching and encouragement of dancers at all levels. He would often travel at his own expense to competitions that his students had entered so that he could cheer us on and give us a blow-by-blow description of our strengths and weaknesses in the heat of battle.

Although he taught less in later years due to failing health, he staunchly supported amateur competitions, not only with his attendance, but by donating scholarship money and by judging and scrutineering in the days when all the tabulation was done by hand. I used to feel so sorry for Alan stuck at the scrutineer’s table all day, poring over the judges’ sheets without even being able to look up at the dancing he loved so much!

Alan was a true gentleman, friend, and encourager who always had a kind word and often a helpful bit of advice for amateur dancers, whether or not they were his students. He touched the lives of many dancers who are better for having known him, and he will be sorely missed. 

Photo, left to right: Mike Johnston, Peg Johnston, Greg Burns, Sarah Coates, Alan Tuggey, Laurie Collett, Richard Collett