Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zydeco

Zydeco is a heavily syncopated dance originally danced throughout Louisiana but has become popular all over the United States. It is not included in the competitive dance program but can be recognized as a specialty dance. The Zydeco is more often danced in the Zydeco and Cajun clubs, where they hold their own competitions.

The dance is a blend of Creole, French and American traditional.

Zydeco is characterized by a lot of fast stomp'n that must be great for the cardio vascular as, especially in Louisiana, the elderly can out-dance the young ones. For an exhilarating syncopation of social fun find yourself a Zydeco club and dance the night away.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is For Yoga

Many Ballroom dancers practice Yoga poses because it adds flexibility and calms the mind.

Every Ballroom Competition is a stressful day with dancers adrenals bouncing up and down. To be able to find a quiet corner in-between dances, and lose one's self in a peaceful meditation can calm the frantic stage fright and attract the judges eye for a higher score.

Judges score on a whole raft of personal traits beside the quality of the dance. They are good at spotting the nervous, frantic, worried dancers and they tend to score them accordingly. So, the trick is to fool the judges and keep that calm exterior vibrating "winner."

Below, a short vid on yoga

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is For Xavier

Xavier Cugat was a Latin bandleader from Cuba who popularized Latin dance music in the US during the 40's and 50's.

Although he was trained as a classical violinist, Xavier preferred entertaining in the clubs and big hotels. Cugat's records and films made him a household word as Latin music took hold.

He was responsible for calling the Cha Cha....... the Cha Cha Cha, because, he said, the three chas made the sound of the maracas. This title stuck and even in the competition world, you will find either Cha Cha or Cha Cha Cha.
The video below shows you Xaviar's band


Friday, April 26, 2013

W is For Waltz

Waltz is the oldest ballroom dance, dating from the 18th century. When it was first introduced to ballrooms, it was met with outrage because it was the first dance with the man's arm around the lady's waist.

The first waltz was the Viennese Waltz but later slower waltz music was written that called for long gliding steps in place of the constant turning of the Viennese Waltz.

Both the slower version of Waltz and the Viennese are performed in competition today. The slower waltz is the one that is usually taught for social dancing.

Below, is a video of the Waltz in competition.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is For Viennese Watz

Viennese Waltz is a fast-paced competitive ballroom dance with a 3/4 count  as in 1-2-3-1-2-3. As the name implies, the dance originated in Vienna and is traditionaly danced to Strauss music.

It is a series of fast turns as the couples progress down the floor in the line of dance.

The dresses are reminscient of the old European Romantic Era. Spectators enjoy watching the graceful lilt of the fast turns as the coupes find their way around the floor.

Viennese Waltz was never wildly popular with the competitors when I danced. I find that a dance where the dancers step on every beat is boring and just a lot of hard work. Many couples shared my opinion but I can't speak for the dancers of today. Although my partner and I always scored high on the Viennese, my mind would sometimes wander and it was the only dance I couldn't stay focused on.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is For Unit

Anytime you watch a lady and gentleman accepting 1st place in competitive dancing, you know they have learned to dance as a unit. Each one knows the importance of their individual role in the partnership. 

One important part the lady will have learned is that the gentleman always leads. In fact the lady will move a split second after the man, once she feels what the man indicates to her. That split second delay is never noticed but if she were to move exactly with the man, she would be trying to lead.

Trusting the man to lead is the hardest lesson for the female social dancer to learn. Until she learns this, the partnership will always smack of amateur. When the Unit is achieved, watch out world, the couple will be on their way to becoming champions. 

Below is a video of a couple in their practice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is For Tango

There are two types of Tango, the English Tango and Argentine Tango. Although the English Tango is included in the Smooth division of competitive dancing, the Argentine Tango has taken over in popularity. You can find Argentine Tango clubs all over the US and once hooked, couples usually go to the source and soak up the "real deal" in Argentina.

There is a big difference in the dance hold. English Tango maintains the rigid English dance hold but the Argentine is a soft melting together of the couples. Many couples who dance Argentine seem to specialize in just that one dance, in much the same way that West Coast Swing was, years ago. I think I would prefer Argentine Tango but we never had much time to practice as we were always busy with the Ten-dance of the competitive ballroom.

A short video below of the Argentine Tango.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is For Swing

Swing dancing began in the 20's with jazz music. It was at it's height of popularity during the 1930's and 40's.  In International competitive dance, it is called Jive, a faster beat, and in the American Rhythm competition it is slower and called East Coast Swing.

After WWll many of the big ballrooms were torn down and dancing moved into night clubs. Dance floors were smaller and there wasn't room for swing, so West Coast Swing was invented. West Coast is danced on a straight line, called a slot, thereby taking up very little space. West Coast Swing became very popular and there are clubs all over the US where only WCS is danced.

It's a fun social dance that is usually danced to a blues rhythm. For a couple starting out with social dance, I would highly recommend WCS lessons.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Rumba

Many times I'm asked, what is my favorite dance. I'm reluctant to say because I really have a fondness for them all. If someone would chain me up and make me tell, it would have to be the rumba. A slow, sensual, love passion lead by the gentleman, followed by a teasing flirtation of the lady.  Rumba is extremely moving when well danced with it's two long drawn out "slows" a quick and then a lightening-speed turn with a stop and hold the stillness of the next beat until you can't squeeze another second out of it.

Rumba is in both the American and International  Latin division with the American rumba being a little faster. American rhythm being 32 to 36 bars per minute while International is 42 - 44.

Rumba is often thought of as the Grandfather of the Latin Dances and it's strong intensity you will long remember when you watch it performed at a high competition level.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is For Quickstep

Quickstep is a fast version of the Foxtrot,  50-52 bars per minute. You'll find it in the International Standard division but not in the American. It is a fascinating medley of lightening quick steps, syncopation and a few Charleston steps.

The dance is difficult to master because of it's extreme speed and both partners have to be quick and light on their feet. When performed by accomplished dancers, you are watching rhythmic power and coordinated action.

When the dancers stop for their footwork,  it is so fast that the feet appear to be barely touching  the floor.  The upper body posture maintains elegance throughout.

Quickstep music is usually jazz or swing with a brisk tempo. It is truly an amazing dance to watch but hell to perform. I used to come off the floor with sweat dripping all over my beautiful gown.
The video below is an example of a Quickstep performed at a competition.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is For Paso Doble

Paso Doble is a dance derived from theatrical Spanish dance and Flamenco. The high drama dance is included in the Latin division of competitions. This dance is never taught in the social agenda nor would you ever expect to see it danced socially.

The nature of Paso Doble is passionate and arrogant as the dance depicts a Spanish bull fight with the man characterized as the matador and the lady as his cape. The dance is walking with moves that are sharp and quick. The gentleman accentuates one move called the apel that is a strong stamp of the foot, much as a matador strikes the ground in order to capture attention of the bull.

The killing of the bull (the Coup de Grace) by the matador should produce the end of the dance. This may be depicted in a number of dance styles with either the man or the lady assuming the role of the bull.
A video below of the Paso Doble,  showing the drama and power of the dance.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is For Opportunity

I have often heard beginning dancers say that they don't have the opportunity to dance. I will admit that dancers living in a large city may have more ready made opportunities to dance in the form of dance studios. But if you live in a small community, don't despair.  There are also  studios in small towns.

If you are lucky enough to live near a studio, they usually rent dance space for a couple to come in and practice. Smooth dances, as the waltz and foxtrot, require a large studio floor for practice.

In contrast, Latin dancing requires only a small area that can usually be found in the home. I have built many a wood practice floor.  Any lumber store will cut boards to your size and with a bag of screws (or nails) and drill/hammer, you'll have your Latin floor in no time.

Various organizations offer dancing in a comfortable facility. For example, the Elks, Eagles, VFW and YMCA. The dance floors are usually excellent and free dance lessons are often offered before social dancing begins.

As a beginning dancer, the more you practice, the better you will become and once you are hooked, there is no limit to where your dancing will take you. Spread your wings and fly off, my little eaglets. The world awaits good dancers.

Below is a video of dance lesson being taught in a YMCA


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is For Nutrition

Competitive dancers are aware of the importance of nutrition for keeping the body in tip-top shape. Dancers are a hard working group of individuals who strive to keep their bodies at an ideal weight by making healthy food choices. 

Dancers rarely drink alcohol because it throws off timing, unlike social dancers who
sometimes need a shot of courage.

We used to have a saying in the dance world, " Dancers are never sick," meaning, a dancer performs with a temp, the flu, pneumonia,
malaria.......well, you know what I mean and all with a smile. So why go out on the floor, feeling like you'd like to die?  It's better to eat right, take some supplements and stay healthy. It makes dancing soooooo much easier.  

Healthy Choices

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is For Mambo

Mambo dance was developed in Cuba by Perez Prado.  In the 1940's, he brought his music and the Mambo dance to Mexico. The music was widely accepted because it gave a freedom of movement in interrupting the music.  The original Mambo is still taught in dance studios in Cuba and Mexico City.

When the Mambo came to New York, the original dance was rejected by American dance teachers and changed into what is now known as Salsa.  American teachers called the original dance, "extreme" and "undisciplined" and added breaking steps so it could be a saleable commodity for social dancing.  The changes they made can't even be danced to the original Mambo music.

The Cuban Mambo is one of the most beautiful free forms of dance. At social dances, one may enter the dance floor with a partner but the dancing may be evolve into dancing alone or with another partner. The Cuban people naturally put the music inside of them and let it come out in the freedom of movement.
Video below is of 2 little kids dancing the American accepted version of Mambo.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is For Latin

Latin style dance accents the use of the hips. There is a lack of the rise and fall which dominates the smooth dances. 

The Latin dancer structures the figure through the feet, knees and legs and allows the hips to roll, thus producing the rhythmical interpretation of the music.

Smooth dancers follow a "line of dance" (LOD) around the floor but Latin dancers remain in their own small circle.

Playful, sexy and flirtatious, the Latin dances bring an excitement to ballroom competition.  

My partner and I are beginning to dance the Paso Doble. I think this was my last competition, as I was in my 60's. I won the Senior Ladies Division and it was a good time to hang up the dancing shoes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is For Knees

A dancer's knees are the life line to ballroom dance. Flexibility is essential and even the smooth dances call for a softness of the knees to accompany the rise and fall of most figures.

Dancers should always be aware of the kind of floor they dance on. Competitions are  held on a floating wood floor that is comfortable to the dancer's knees.  Dancers avoid practicing on cement, tile or any rigid surface that jars the knees.

Knees can quickly end a dancing career and it's sad when a dancer has to retire the dancing shoes to the garage. Social dancers, too, should be aware of their dancing surface and the knees will take them dancing into old age. 
Below is a video of a Samba . Note the work-out on the knees. Samba is "sooo much fun." One great reason to keep your knees healthy. The vid is long... just take a peek.  (or not)


Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is For Jive

Jive is the peppy standard of International rhythm dance that would be closest  to American Swing. Jive is somewhat faster with 42-44 bars per minute, while East Coast American Swing is 34-36 bars per minute.

Here is the one dance taken from the American style. American servicemen introduced this form of dance to the English during WW2.  The classical English body lines, that are all such a part of International are not necessary in the Jive. In fact, the dance looks wrong if the couple strives for too much styling. 

Jive is the most difficult dance to judge because there are only six fundamental figures and the rest of the dance is quite free. 
 Below is a video showing you Jive during a competition


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is For International

My theme is Ballroom Dance

American Style and International are the two categories of ballroom dance in America. To the rest of the world, ballroom dance IS International. A standard set of figures is recognized around the world. The US followed the set dance patterns with a few changes, thus the American category was created.  The strict standard of ballroom breaks down barriers between countries when they are dancing International.  

In the US, American style dance  is usually taught in most dance schools and almost all of the social dancing is American style.

International ballroom has it's roots in England. Lets say ballroom is to the UK as Flamenco is to Spain and as good leather shoes are to Italy. My partners and I have always danced the strict  technique of International.

A quick way to distinguish International during a competition  is by the mens attire.  The gentlemen wear tails and men dancing American will be wearing a tux.

My Partner and I Beginning to Dance a VienneseWatz

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is For Hold

The most difficult part of dance for the beginner is the hold, meaning the connection between the couple. The hold must be mastered absolutely, before dance training can begin.

If I'm teaching a beginning couple, they make faster progress if the gentleman learns the basic "hold" in a private lesson before the couple begins working together. I can feel when he is relaxing his arms and when that happens, the lady can get stepped on.

The gentleman, as the leader, is responsible for maintaining the correct connection between him and his partner. His leads must be immediately recognized by the lady. If the proper Hold is not held throughout the dance, the couple has no way of maintaining their distance from one another, they step on each other, get discouraged and probably never try dancing again.

Beginners have enough to work on with balance, sway, posture, footwork and timing,  so the hold needs to become the first part of their muscle memory.

The video below will explain the basic hold for American and International  category.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is For Gentleman

This is especially difficult for some women to grasp but the gentleman is definitely the leader in ballroom dance. Even though the lady may be the more experienced dancer, on the ballroom floor she will always dance to the gentleman's level of expertize. 

The gentleman has the greater responsibility of the partnership as he is constantly keeping an eye out to avoid a collision with aggressive dancers. He alone, decides the amalgamation of steps and if any couple zooms into his chosen path, he has to make a snap decision  and choose another set of steps.

Gentlemen are usually dancing facing forward with the line of dance as he keeps an ever watchful eye while performing excellent technique.

One note to the Ladies...... Please, if you want a winning dance partnership, honor the gentleman's lead. We ladies used to jokingly say, we can do it better than the man and in high heels and backwards. But when it comes time for the real competition, ladies have to hand the lead over to their partner.

Below is an "eh-so-so" video of a guy telling other guys why they should learn ballroom dance

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for Foxtrot

F is for Foxtrot Dance.

When I was very young, the name of this dance always made me giggle. I could picture a fox trotting and that is exactly what the dance resembles. Where the actual name, Foxtrot, originated, is unclear. Some say it was named after Mr. Fox, an early proponent of the dance and others claim it's so-named because the long, gliding steps resemble the stalking fox, same as my childhood image. The Foxtrot has been around a long time and continues to monopolize social dance.

Foxtrot is in the smooth division of both International and American. It is similar to the Waltz but danced in a 4/4 rhythm instead of 3/4 time of the Waltz.

Big band music is the key that unlocks the door to the Foxtrot although it was originally danced to ragtime.

If you want to peek at a Foxtrot, below is the dance from a competition.

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is For Exercise

A dancer has to have strength, balance and agility. Some dances call for a burst of power followed by a sudden stop. It is very much like ballet so the best exercise is ballet barre work, adding spins and turns. 

A firm, supple body zooming around the dance floor with control is the one that commands the judges attention.
 A daily exercise program is essential but the serious competitor will give some thought to the type of  exercise for him/her.  When I knew I wanted to compete, I dropped skiing. I asked myself which sport I felt more passionate about and dancing won without a thought. Yes, spills are taken on the dance floor but more serious spills are taken on the mountain. 

Walking is a great exercise and I still try to walk 5 miles each day, with el mucho thanks to my dog. Ha 



Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is For Dancing With The Stars

D is for "Dancing With The Stars"

Dancing with the stars has just begun it's 16th season.  I admit it. I'm hooked!

Most of you are, no doubt, familiar with the show's format; a celebrity is paired with a professional dancer to dance a predetermined dance each week. Points for the couple are acquired by judges points and audience votes. The couple with the lowest combined total points is eliminated each week.
 The 3 judges follow strict ballroom rules but the best celebrity dancer doesn't always win, as the final points boil down to popular audience appeal.

The judges, Carrie Ann Inabal, Ken Goodman and Bruno Toniali have earned their place as a vital part of the show.  I watch the show with pen and paper to judge each dancer and see if I can match the judges.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is For Cha Cha Cha

C is for Cha Cha

Cha Cha Cha is a flamboyant, playful dance that projects a sense of fun.

Cha Cha is an off-shoot of the Mambo.  Cuban in origin, the New Yorkers are said to have developed the dance style by adding a Jive break.  The rhythm count is 4/4 but the 4th beat is split, thus thank you to NY,  we get the 2-3-4 and  one count.

There is a definite difference between American and International Cha Cha Cha.  When dancing American, the dancer steps onto a bent knee while the International dancer lands on a straight leg with the knee almost locked. The straight leg gives a natural hip rotation.

To dance Cha Cha, it is essestial to master Cuban motion for both the gentleman and lady. Small steps with the feet sliding on the floor gives the Cha Cha its distinctive rhythmic flavor.  Cuban motion is an acquired hip rotation that comes with hours of practice.  I also encourage social dancers to learn this motion as the frosting on your Cha Cha cake.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Bolero

A post a day in the A-Z Challenge. My theme is Ballroom Dance.  Today, B is for Bolero.

Steamy and sexy,  the Bolero dance arrived in the US in the 1930's, being danced in it's classical form to the beat of drums. Gradually the dance became accepted into the Latin division  of the American Dance category.

Bolero is a modification of the Flamenco Fandango, with the objectionable parts omitted, leaving only the graceful.

It is a moving experience to watch this dance at competitions with it's deep sensual knee movements as the rise comes from only the body without foot rise.

Bolero foot patterns are similar to American Rumba but the tempo is totally different. 

Here is a short video of a Bolero dance lesson taught by that hunky Tony Dovalani from DWTS

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for American Dance Category

A is for American Dance
I will be posting every day in the A-Z Challenge (except Sunday). My theme is Ballroom Dance. Today is A for American Dance.

At most Ballroom Competitions, you will find two categories of dance, American and International. The 2 categories have similar dances and figuresbut when you watch dancing with a trained eye, the differences are striking. During this month, I will point out what to look for.

There are 2 divisions in both,  smooth and Latin.  American dance in the smooth division, allows more freedom and partners can break away from the standard dance hold. 

In the US most beginning dancers first learn American style because it's easier.  Just about all social dance is American style. 
If you have time and are interested.........
Below is a video of the American Smooth category, showing the open style where partners can leave the traditional dance hold.  Costumes differ as men wear a tux (as opposed to tails) and the ladies gowns show more of the body than in the International category.