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?