What I like to see, and hate to see, on the competition dance floor.
Reprinted with permission from David Hamilton
What I like to see, and hate to see, on the competition dance floor.
Walking on the Floor:
The first thing I look for is whether a couple is really prepared: you can tell the mind set they are in when they walk out on the floor by their presentation, their grooming, their costuming, their attitude, and the looks on their faces. When a professional couple takes to the floor, I like to see that they have done everything they possibly could to prepare themselves up to that point in time.
When I walked out onto the floor as a competitor, I wanted to perform, wanted to present myself in an extremely professional manner, with a champion-like attitude, no matter whether I thought I would win or not. Because that was my mind set when I was competing, I look for that mind set in today's professionals.
How prepared does a couple need to be before they go out and do that first competition? I think it depends upon the experience of the couple. A lot of newer dance professionals might have two to four years of experience of dancing before they go out on the floor and compete, to me, that's enough experience and they would not require as much time to be ready. I would say that for a new partnership (2-3 months) and/or an inexperienced couple, they should wait and get themselves to a point where they can compete and show themselves without being - I know this sounds bad - offensive.
I see a lot of the couples who, when they walk out on the floor, have a defiant attitude about who they are, where they think they should finish, and how we should look upon them - and it is actually a deterrent to me. It is an arrogant attitude, and although there are a lot of people in our business who are inherently arrogant, I can tell those who are trying to fake arrogance and it looks quite ridiculous.
Once a couple does get out there, they need to plan their schedule of events appropriately. They don't necessarily need to go to all of the really big competitions: they should do smaller events where they can go out and do a round or two, get some recognition from the judges and some experience. Going to one of the really big events too soon - I'm not going to say it's a waste of time, but it can be a little discouraging.
I think that, especially in today's level of competitive dancing, the choreography itself is very busy - you look at the Rhythm and Latin and see syncopation after syncopation, spin after spin. Everyone in the Latin and Rhythm has studied very diligently to show as much rhythmical interpretation of the music in their body as possible, so when the costuming is over-designed - with too many things flying off the arms and the sleeves, too much skirt - it just becomes a distraction and stops the judges from appreciating the use of the body in the dancing. The same is true in the American Smooth.
I have a problem if your hair is falling out because you have not used a professional hairdresser or you are not experienced enough to do it properly yourself. That's just a no-brainer isn't it? Ladies should get their hair up, and get it to stay up. I have a problem with the hair being down, especially in the ballroom when you want to show the length of line in your body. When the girl's dresses are halter style or choker style dresses, and they wear their hair down, that's a distraction to me. It's not allowing the line of the girl's upper body, or her shoulder line and neck line, to look clean.
Couples dancing together is one of the things I look for, especially in the Latin, Rhythm, and Smooth, because those styles do so much open work and get so much space between the partners. Are they really able to maintain the partnership? Is there really an action and reaction occurring when they are far apart? It's one of the things that I focus on in my teaching: that common center of space between the two partners, no matter how far apart they are physically. You, and your energies, should always be concentrated through that center point. When I see that center point being lost between the couple, then I feel a loss of the partnership that defies
the concept of two people dancing together, the concept central to our art form. If I see two people dancing side-by-side and the man is looking one way, the lady another, focusing on something outside the partnership, for me there is a loss of intent.
I don't like to see inexperienced couples trying to handle choreography that is meant for a master dancer, and I think a lot of that is the fault of the coach. The couple may have the potential to do the material with a higher degree of difficulty, but, as coaches, we have to set up the building blocks for these people first. I see couples trying to execute complex choreography that they are not equipped or trained enough for, and it looks offensive to me. As a judge, you get a bad taste in your mouth about the couple, and it's going to be a long road for them to overcome a judge's initial impression. Couples need to have choreography that is appropriate for their level of expertise, just like we do in Pro-Am. The purpose is not to withhold or cheat the professionals out of anything, it's to better develop them.
If I were to prioritize where the couple should be focusing, I would say that they should first focus on each other, then be very focused on the music, and be very focused on the fact that, though it is a competition, you have to give a performance and dance to your partner. I think that was one of Olga and my strengths: we shared the same passion for dancing together, for the feeling of moving to music together, and I think that came across. When you get out on the competition floor and get focused on winning, it's more of a distraction
to the more important things: to present yourself well, to show the true form of the art/sport of dancing – those things come first.
Going out on the floor you know there are certain couples that you are close to in the rankings, and you are trying to prevail, if they won the last competition. You think "I'm going to try to beat them this time," and you can allow those thoughts to come into your mind, because winning is one of the reasons you go out there. But putting too much emphasis on winning is a distraction from one of the other essential parts of competing. I think focusing on your partner, the music, and your performance will get you a better result in the end, and it allows you to walk off the competition floor feeling good about what you've just done.
David is a native Nashvillian who has been teaching for 26 years. He lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, where he trained. He is a three-time, undefeated American Ballroom Champion and a three-time World finalist.
Certified in all levels of dance, David is a member of the National Dance Council of America and the World Dance Council and is a national and world-class adjudicator for dancesport competitions. His dancing has taken him all over the world, including Japan, Germany, behind the walls of the Kremlin, and in front of presidents.
About the Author:Reprinted with permission from David Hamilton
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