Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Anticipation of the Fall 2011 Semester

Classes are in full swing at NYU. I'm in my final semester of course work (tears), so I only have two classes this semester and my thesis to write next semester and I graduate in May. What's a boy to do with all that extra time?

Yeah, I guess you figured out the answer to that one.

Last year, when I got really serious about this whole dancing thing, I started to notice that my schedule (and my life) started to revolve around competition weekends. Splitting myself amongst four and sometimes five partners amongst four styles at varying levels made me a master at time management. Add in the full-time internship I had at the end of last year, and the flow of my day turned into wake up, eat, work, dance, go to class, sleep, lather, rinse, repeat. Brutal. My poor homework didn't get done to satisfaction for nearly two months.

Thankfully, this semester, I can devote the appropriate amount of time to my practicing AND my homework, and preparing for competitions will be great. I'm competing in all four styles again (with perhaps a few surprises!), and I couldn't be more excited. Also, I now have structure to my semester again with the comps to look forward to! NYU is sponsoring four, and I might make a trip up to spectate or TBA at another one or two. Here's the list thus far:

1. Princeton. The second competition I danced with NYU at and the first that Claire and I competed at. We ended up getting second in Bronze Rhythm Cha, Rumba, and Mambo and first in Swing (our first time out!), so I guess you could say that that's also when we figured out that there may be something to our partnership. Fond memories. I'm so excited to compete there again, especially since some of my friends from the Holy Cross team, where I started dancing, will be competing too! See you guys on the floor! :D

2. UConn. This was SUPPOSED to be an NYU-sponsored one, but due to a snafu on my part where I didn't realize that there would be no mode of public transportation back to the city after the competition, we changed it to Yale (see next). So, I'm coming along with a few members of our team to spectate and cheer them on. I'd possibly TBA, but I think I'll enjoy sitting in the bleachers for once and enjoy just cheering on my friends from NYU and HC for once, without worrying about competing myself.

3. Yale. The second competition I ever competed at waaaaaay back when in 2009 (get it? It's funny because it was only two years ago...), and my first ribbon ever (6th in Newcomer Swing)! I'm unspeakably excited for this one. Great venue, great team, great size -- what more could you ask for?

4. DCDI. I sat this one out last year for reasons I can't remember (homework? family stuff? who knows?), but I do remember sitting at my computer watching the Livestream and kicking myself for not going as I saw my friends having such a great time. Going this year is also super special because my first ballroom partner, Jen, who now studies at CU, is coming to spectate! I can't wait to show her what I've learned since we graduated HC.

5. Columbia. The big one. Possibly the last comp Claire and I compete at before she goes abroad in the spring. Plus, the comp where I placed in only a single event out of the 8 or so that I danced (and didn't even make it out of the first round for a few of them). This is the one where I'm going to gauge how I've done over the past year -- hopefully I'll do better at Columbia this time around!

So excited for the fall. Who will I be seeing out at these competitions? :D


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It Takes a Village to Raise a Dancer

On to the next topic!

Private lessons. After IDB, I realized that while group classes are all good and well, you really need private lessons and some one-on-one time with someone truly knowledgeable to improve your dancing. I was lucky enough to take virtually every Smooth class that Eulia Baranovsky taught during the week in Rockville, so I asked for her card after the last class I took with her and asked her for a few lessons once we returned to New York City.

Here's the thing. I am a hardcore Rhythm/Latin dancer. The way my hips move, the way the rhythm courses through my body, the kind of partnering work you need -- that's all me. My lessons with Eulia made me truly appreciative of how much harder (in my quite subjective, respectful opinion) the Smooth/Standard side of things is, especially Smooth. The biggest problem I encounter in my dancing is my balance, or lack thereof. It's difficult enough to balance yourself in relation to the kinds of partnering connections in Rhythm and Latin, but it gets taken to an entire new plateau with Smooth and Standard and the different positions and holds and rise and fall and parallel foot positions and driving off the standing leg and stacking your spine and -- argh.

The bottom line is that while I will continue with Smooth and Standard and work as hard as I can on them, I know now for certain where my strengths lie. I hope to become better at Smooth and Standard, but it will require a mountain of work that I truly have to commit myself to.

Which is a problem, considering how in LOVE I am with Rhythm and Latin, and I devote a significant amount of my limited time to them primarily. I suppose we'll just have to see how this competition season goes!

Sidenote: My poor bank account. Private lessons, while very necessary, are also very expensive.
Sidenote corollary: Will dance for food. Then will sell food for more dance lessons.

Group classes. So, what is a poor, starving, ballroom-obsessed grad student to do when his funds for private lessons runs out? Why, purchase an unlimited group class card at a well-respected studio, of course! I had heard my friends sing the praises of Stepping Out Studios, so I decided to bite the bullet and get an unlimited card.

At first, I was very ambitious - between my Sunday marathon of class at Dancesport and the classes I signed up for (all Latin and Standard with one Smooth class), every week of the August cycle, I was going to be dancing 21 hours a week. Needless to say, although I pat myself on the back for being an ambitious little toaster, I couldn't keep it up, so now I'm down to a much more manageable 14 hours (after dropping virtually all of my Smooth and Standard classes).

Have the classes been worth it? Absolutely. I'm getting exactly what I want out of each of my classes (a plethora of new moves with explanations of the technique behind them), the other students (for the most part) are quite pleasant and fun to dance with, the teachers are very knowledgeable and personable. All in all, I definitely made the right choice (even if my bank account would beg to differ).

You can work on your own all you want, and indeed you should. You need to work on your own sense of balance, your understanding of technique, your personal style and flare, and so on. But ultimately, you're not dancing alone out there -- you have partners, and if you're part of a team, you're also learning alongside other folks who are trying their best, just like you. It does indeed take a village to raise a dancer. Where would any of us be without friends to practice with, teammates to learn from and cheer us on, teachers to communicate what they know to us to the best of their abilities, and partners to share a special dance or two with on the floor?

Once the season starts up, it's back to the NYU team full time. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I've been working on my own personal dancing all summer to make myself a better leader for my followers and hopefully a role model for new members of the team. I just hope it's all paying off. The proof will be in the pudding -- let's see how the team lessons and competitions go!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Clothes Make The Man (And Woman)

Seldom do people discern
Eloquence under a threadbare cloak.


My poor, neglected blog. I had such grand designs for you. I was going to post every day, about everything from the really quite disappointing representation of ballroom on the SYTYCD8 P.I. (Post-Iveta) era, to my personal progress on the road to Gold. We were going to frolic and laugh and gambol and maybe dance a Cha Cha or two together. I am so sorry for neglecting you the way I have. But goshdarnit if blogging doesn't require a lot of time and attention.

I promise I will be much more on top of it in the future, especially now that I actually have dance-related things to post about. You will never again be alone ... hopefully.

Anyway, updates! For the sake of brevity and for the sake of the audience of this blog that I keep trying vainly to convince myself that I have, I'll spread these out in a few posts over the coming days. :D

First off...

Costume. Obviously, the most important update of all. I have a new Latin/Rhythm costume that I'm extremely excited to use in the coming collegiate competition season. (Hooray for alliteration!) I have this gorgeous black sequined shirt with a v cut down the front and great Latin pants from VE Dance that I got at IDB (which I will post about in the near future). I'm going to pull it all together with a white belt and custom-made wingtip style Latin shoes from Supadance that will hopefully arrive in time for the first competition of the fall (the Neil Clover Ballroom Challenge at Princeton, October 8th).

I've also been talking to a few friends who are in the middle of getting new costumes, and one in particular presented me with a few options to choose from for her. Knowing her, looking at the options, and trying to figure out which one would suit her best really helped me to solidify my own philosophy when it comes to costumes. Essentially, what it boils down to is whether or not your look is you. Does the costume play to your strengths? Does it highlight what needs to be highlighted? Is it something that you not only are comfortable wearing but also love wearing? How does it make you feel?

To use an example, I loved my old L/R costume. I had the first pair of Latin pants I ever bought (tailored to the right length -- make sure your pants cover your Latin heel, gentlemen), a black collared shirt with the first few buttons undone, an unbuttoned black vest, and a tie, a teal bowtie (untied, to create a messy yet controlled look) for Rhythm to match my partner. Anyone's guess what style and color my tie for Latin would be, since I'm generally a body for hire without a regular partner in that style. Also, the look is extremely versatile: button up the shirt, tie up the tie, button up the vest, and change the shoes, and you have a Standard/Smooth look too.

Sidenote: I love bowties. Bowties are cool.

It was undeniably me. I'm a down and dirty dancer on the floor. What I lack in technique, I make up for in body rhythm and my general party, have-a-good-time, entertain-the-living-daylights-out-of-the-audience-and-judges demeanor on the dance floor, as my Rhythm partner, Claire, can attest. The undone buttons of my shirt made me look relaxed. The vest and the bowtie draped perfectly and swished around with me during spins and crossover breaks, highlighting those actions really well. That costume was Daniel the dancer.

There were two problems, though. First, the collar of the shirt obscured a bit of my neck, which made me look as though my shoulders were hunched, even though they clearly weren't. That split second impression, though, could be enough to cause a judge's eye to pass you over for a call back or a higher ranking. Second, the length of the vest covered up my hips, which obscured my hip action, of which I kind of have a lot. So that was no good.

The cut of my new shirt gives a solid line from my belly button up through to my head, giving me the elongated look I need. Also, the shirt is rather revealing, so I'll kind of have to stand up straight and keep those shoulders down if I don't want to look like a walrus on the floor. The belt hopefully will draw attention to my hip action, now that my hips will be unobscured. The shoes will hopefully be unique and quirky enough to draw attention to my feet, which, God-willing, will be doing what they're supposed to be doing when a judge happens to look. And, in the midst of all of that, I'm not sacrificing anything that underscores what a down and dirty, relaxed, fun-loving dancer I am - I'll just be doing it a bit more class and hopefully some Latin flavor.

When you look at a competition and see the parade of costumes on the floor, what stands out? In a good way or in a bad way? What is your ideal costume?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Song of the Day!: Samba - Need 2 B Loved - Debi Nova

Rockin' three-quarter, quarter, one beat; party feeling; beautiful singer - what more could you want in a samba? :)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Random Ballroom Musings: Salsa on 1 vs. Salsa on 2? And Mambo?

I have always been confused by the distinction. Here is my list of questions. SOMEBODY HELP PLEASE AHHH.

1. The 1 vs. 2 means when you're supposed to break forward, correct? 1 = salsa, 2 = mambo?
2. If that's the case, though, don't on 1 and on 2 look completely different in terms of footwork?
3. Which one should I take classes in if I want to apply the moves across to my mambo routines in Rhythm?
4. Which one is "Los Angeles style" and which one is "New York style"?
5. What does that even mean?
6. Why is life so complicated?

Every site I look at online seems to contradict another in terms of the answers to these questions. Here's a video from Howcast that purports to describe the difference. Is this accurate?

The reason why I'm asking is because I'm interested in a Zozi deal that my friend Eugene posted - $40 for three months of classes (RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME), but I want to be sure I'll be taking the right style before I commit to it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dance Media: GO IVETA! #SYTYCD8

FINALLY! Not since Ashleigh and Ryan DiLello in season 6 have we had a legitimate ballroom contender amongst the finalists of So You Think You Can Dance. And not just any ballroom contender - Iveta. Freaking. Lukosiute. World Ten-Dance Champion. Mary Murphy really drove the point home, listing every single dance in those ten dances, and Nigel backed up her point, and rightfully so. It's one thing to have a strong ballroom dancer - it's another entirely to have the best of the best representing ballroom on that stage.

See Iveta's performance with Pasha Kovalev of season 3 here:

Why would a world champion, as Nigel put it, humble herself to join this sort of mainstream reality competition? On the one hand, it's very ostensibly a personal thing - she's been turned down twice before, and now that she's 30, it was her last chance to make it. And make it she did. On the other hand, we need a ballroom dancer of her caliber to represent against the heavily favored contemporary and hip hop dancers. And represent she will.

My early favorites are Iveta (can you tell?), Melanie, Jess (as mentioned in a previous post), and Nick, of whom we saw pretty much nothing during Vegas week, but that Christopher Scott tap routine between him and Jess was AWESOME. See that here:

Who are your favorites? Who do you hope gets paired up?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Random Ballroom Musings: Gold Rhythm?

For the Rutgers Dancesport Competition this past semester, my partner and I worked on the cha cha, rumba, swing, and mambo routines that we had used and built upon for MAC, NYU, MIT, and Harvard, but we'd always been missing a bolero routine. So, with the help of one of our coach's newcomer lessons, we started building our bolero repertoire and essentially did what we do for swing and mambo (lead and following, but having a bunch of codified figures to help make it not as much of a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing).

We spent hours working on those moves with the advice of friends ringing in our ear: "Silver is practically Open. Gold IS Open. And Open is Open, but everyone acknowledges that it is." We thought that that (plus, we found out afterward, a nifty provision of the NDCA Gold Syllabus that said that if a move can be led and followed, it's permissible) was our safety card for the Syllabus Bolero event, so we began the routine in shadow and included a cool picture line.

See the round here:

The chair of judges (another of our coaches) called us up after the event and informed us that she had to disqualify us because of the picture line. Both of us were disappointed, though I was happy that we at least got out there, had fun, and entertained an audience, which is really what it's all about anyway. Still, disqualification is no fun. And it's an experience I wouldn't like to repeat again.

So, as Claire and I prepare to compete in both Silver and Gold rhythm this fall, how would you guys recommend we prepare routines, especially in Gold? What kind of moves are permissible and what are not? Any videos you'd recommend or places to go for help with crafting routines, besides a lesson with our coaches?

- Daniel

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dance Media: SYTYCD8 Utah & NYC Auditions!

Summertime is here. That means three things: flip flops, sunshine, and my being glued to the TV every week for SYTYCD. This season brings back the Top 20 and, from the looks of it, hopefully some much-needed ballroom into the family! Tonight's episode highlighted the auditions in Utah (audition site for Chelsie Hightower of SYTYCD4 and DWTS fame, and Ashleigh & Ryan DiLello), but the producers decided to save the ballroom fun for New York City.

I was honestly a bit ambivalent about Kristen Dobson, the Latin dancer with the yellow fringey dress, and beyond some technical quibbles, I couldn't put my finger on it, until Mary pointed it out - that overhead leg extension that was plopped right in the middle of the cha cha and followed promptly by a well-placed "Why would you do that?" from Nigel. Yes, it's an impressive move, but definitely more appropriate for rumba, instead of the cheeky, flirty, fast-paced cha cha. Still, a solid showing of ballroom talent, and the return of S6's Green Mile cut Iveta. Here's to hoping ballroom is well-represented in Season 8! I mean, really, Nigel. A single salsa girl amongst the Top 11 of S7 doesn't count, especially when you have EIGHT contemporary/ballet dancers.

See Kristen's video here!

Now that I got the ballroom out of the way, a special shout out to my fellow Jersey boy and thespian, Jess LeProtto. Favorite audition of the NIGHT for me, no matter how hard the judges came down on him. Classy music, astounding technique, knows how to work an audience. Broadway represent! So glad he made it through to Vegas. Hope he makes it all the way to the Top 20! See the video here.

Who were your favorites? What did you think of the ridiculous time-wasting Ringo Starr bit? Do you think our NYC dancers made us proud?

Personal Progress: The Quest for Gold!

So, during the summer lull between competition seasons, I'm planning on taking a bunch of lessons and dancing regularly with the goal of becoming Silver-proficient and Gold-competent in Rhythm and Latin. I had a Latin practice session yesterday with my friend Laura, where I learned the following:

Things that are going well:
1. My checks in rumba and cha cha are looking much better than they have in the past.
2. I'm becoming much more aware of where my free arms are instead of having them flop around like wet noodles. Still a work in progress, but at least I'm aware now.
3. My basic samba actions are looking pretty darn good for Silver.

Things that need work:
1. My core. Natural samba rolls were so unstable because I didn't have the core strength to keep it up.
2. Spotting and spinning. Even forward walks turning make me a little unstable. But I guess balance comes with continual practice.
3. Staying turned out. Dear frog exercise, you are certain to become one of my best friends.

Once I'm done with my internship in a few weeks, I plan on going all out, not only in terms of classes and practice, but in conditioning my body properly. Ballroom puts the "sport" in Dancesport. (Okay, that was lame.) So, it'll be back to the gym, like I did last summer, to work on my core strength (and, yknow, get rid of the belly), and I also want to try some other activities, like yoga and swimming. Any recommendations on gyms and yoga studios in the city to try out?

- Daniel

Monday, May 30, 2011

Welcome to the blog!

Hi, everybody! Welcome to the blog! It's going to be a fun ride. Still setting things up, so in the meantime, head to my YouTube channel to scope out some awesome ballroom videos that I've favorited and some videos from this year's Rutgers Dancesport Competition. More to come!