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.


Inspired by you said...

I used to be a ballroom instructor goodness 8 years ago. The moment I left the studio I have not danced since. I found you through Cedar Hill Ranch link party. I am still in treatment for breast cancer and have been thinking about just taking a lesson to just lift my spirits and to have something for me again. This has got to be the big guy upstairs way of telling me to do it. Glad I saw your link to give me the push to find a little joy.

a joyful noise said...

The basics smoothly done seems to outshine the intricate trickie steps. I am happy that you were invited to judge this event and for sharing your story at Tell Me a True Story.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks for your visit & comment, Inspired by You! There are no coincidences with God -- He may well be encouraging you to dance again! Praying for your health,

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, A Joyful Noise, for your comment and for hosting Tell Me A True Story!
Love in Him,

Lucy said...

I just love to watch the dancers and wish I had it in me to get out there and give it a try but there is such joy in watching it too :)

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks so much, Lucy, for your visit and comment! Try it -- you'll like it!
God bless,

Heidi said...

I love to watch ballroom dancing and would love to someday convince my husband to take a lesson or two with me! I would be happy to get one or two basics even half as beautifully as I have seen many dancers do themselves! Thank you for sharing with all of us over at NOBH!

Jessica said...

Thanks for linking up!

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Heidi, for your comment! I hope you and your husband get to experience ballroom dancing very soon!
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Jessica, for your comment & for hosting the linkup.
Happy Labor Day!

Unknown said...

I would just love to see one of these competitions! Thanks for linking up!

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Mary Beth! There are so many competitions now around the country that you should be able to see one in your area very soon!
Thanks & God bless,

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