When to Move On?

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When to Move On?

Post  stixman on Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:12 pm

I wanted to offer the thought of when you know it is time to move on to the next level...

My partner in dance/life and I have been competing regularly over the past two year in each of the four styles and we fluctuate in our relative success (from finishing 1st at a National competition to not making call backs at smaller competitions).

The thing that I find that frustrates me the most is when I (and others) should know when it is time to move on. There is a balance between wanting to be competitive, but not getting your butt kicked every time you step on the floor. While some competitions allow you the option to dance multiple levels, others do not and that makes choosing a competitive level a little bit difficult.

So basically, when do you know that it is time for you to move up to the next level, assuming you can only dance that one level?

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  mpr9b on Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:46 pm

That's a very difficult question, and I think the answer differs based upon the personality of the dancer/couple. I think there are a few questions you have to ask.

Why do you dance?
Do you dance for fun, to win, for others, for yourself, for your partner. Everyone dances for something, or to something. This can often answer the level question for you.

What is your end goal of dancing, as in how far do you want to take that particular style, assuming you were able to take it all the way to the top?
Depending on your end goal, you have to look realistically at a rate of progress. Spending 4 years in bronze might be ill advised if you wish to become a world semi-finalist. Whereas spending a length of time in a lower level can be very good, allowing you to solidify basic actions without the presence of complicated steps, some of the more advanced actions aren't even there, so you're missing out on part of the whole picture.

How long have you been in the current level, and do you consider yourself to have a large attention span?
For me, my attention span is a big factor in why I advance in standard and latin. In Latin we moved from Newcomer to Bronze because we was no longer eligible for Newcomer. We didn't do well for the first few Bronze comps. We never actually did well in Bronze Latin, but moved onto Silver because I was bored of the context in which I was required to dance. I plan to be in Silver/Gold for a long time, until I feel like I'm ready to move on. For Standard I have moved on when I considered myself ready to move on. By ready I do not mean winning competitions (though we did do quite well in our past few competitions), but rather when I felt that we, as dancers, were mature enough to begin approaching the new material whilst also accepting that we still had much to learn about the Silver and Bronze levels.

How quickly do you learn new, difficult choreography?
If you learn choreography quickly, then it can be beneficial to stay in lower levels and work in easier contexts. So many dancers move on when they are bored of a level, or win a level, and forget to realize that there is a huge wealth of knowledge added in each level. There are a multitude of actions that are now available when you advance a level. One may be an amazing dancer in Bronze, move on to Silver, and end up doing very well. Does this mean they should move on to Gold? Probably not. There are many concepts that are new to Silver that are more essential to Gold. You can get very far with a great basic, but in each level, the term "basic" grows.

There are many other questions you may ask, but these are the ones that I personally evaluate.

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  stevepny on Mon Aug 16, 2010 6:53 am

Those are all good points. But I think most people's views of competition are far too myopic. Your main focus should be improving your own dancing. The levels are divided somewhat arbitrarily by figures, but in reality the figures are irrelevant to the competition. Bryan and Carmen could dance a rumba basic for 2 minutes and demolish anyone. Thus about 90% of the time your focus should be on improving your technique. Competitions are a good opportunity to practice dancing in competitions. That's all. You're usually not competing against the world champions, so it doesn't really mean anything if you win.

On to some practical advice:
(1) Unless you are getting 1st place in every comp, there should be no pressure to move up. There is still a challenge at the level you are currently dancing. Focus on improving the QUALITY of your dancing, not adding more figures.
(2) All of syllabus is 'the basics'. Take your time learning the basics and advance from level to level as you progress. But you will not perfect these figures while you are in any level. They will become an invaluable tool for investigating and drilling new concepts as you become a more experienced dancer. Most world champions start their foxtrot routines with bronze choreography.
(3) Get to open as soon as possible. That's when you can actually start dancing for real. In syllabus, most judges just want people to stand up straight and stay on time.
(4) If you're a casual dancer then just dance in whatever level you feel comfortable. In this case the point is to have a good time, and that should mean just dancing as much as possible. So dance as many levels, styles, etc. as you enjoy.

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  mpr9b on Mon Aug 16, 2010 11:56 am

I love the point about the Quality of dance. It is so true; just because you are dancing at a certain level does not mean you are dancing only at that level. Your gold routines should incorporate figures that are not gold (and you'd often be hardpressed to not have that the case). Similarly your open routines should incorporate the syllabus 'basics'

And on your point (3), I just think it's important to distinguish what makes an open dancer. An open dancer is not one who dances things that are not in syllabus, but rather one who dances the figures in syllabus, as well as possibly other figures, with great accuracy and musicality etc. So while it can be good to get to open ASAP in order to compete against truly competitive dancers, it can be important to view open just as another syllabus. I wouldn't teach a brand new dancer the fallaway reverse & slip pivot into an oversway. Similarly, a new open dancer shouldn't immediately attempt intense open choreography.

Which brings me back to your first point (or rather the first one I addressed). It is all about the 'basics', where 'basic' is an relative word. As a primarily syllabus dancer I have a hard time agreeing with the statement "All of syllabus is the basics", because for me that is not true. Whereas they are fundamental to dance (for everyone), they are not basic to dance, at least not to me yet. But regardless of that opinion, there are definitely a select few figures that are basically required in each dance, at virtually all levels.
When's the last time you've seen a professional dance without using:
Reverse Turn
Reverse Wave (normally Continuous wave)
Progressive Link
At least 1-5 of the Natural Spin (pivot) turn [in waltz]

To me these are all figures that I look for in the dances, figures I enjoy the most, and figures I especially love watching the growth of in dancers, from beginner to professional. Any additions to this list?

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  stevepny on Mon Aug 16, 2010 6:50 pm

Since most top level dancers have been dancing their whole lives, I prefer to look at things from the perspective of someone who has been dancing a long time. It is expected that you should spend years learning the basics of a dance before truly becoming a dancer. Most ballet dancers spend at least a decade training exercises and movements before performing in an actual ballet. I believe it is better to think about your dancing in the long term.

It is easy in the current system to focus on the short time scales, "When do I go from bronze to silver?" or "when do I go open?" I asked these questions myself when I was at that stage. When you get to open, it's like graduating college... there's no pre-written plan for you anymore - you have to make your own choices. It is good if you start doing that earlier rather than later. Most people that go into open try to learn lots of new figures, following the syllabus model. But knowing more figures doesn't make you a better dancer. Assume you've learned 100 new figures after syllabus. Then what? Eventually you have to go back and start developing your quality of movement. That's what the top pros do. So why not focus on that from the beginning?

The collection of syllabus figures are "the basics" in the sense that they form a common set of movements in which everyone around the world is familiar. They have been learned and developed by hundreds of brilliant dancers. And, primarily in standard, they contain nearly every basic combination of movements that you can perform with a partner - which are essentially variations of move forward, move back, turn left, turn right, all in closed position with some introduction of promenade and fallaway positions.

In terms of the figures you started naming, I do think it is valuable while in syllabus to focus on figures that are still used by open amateur and professional dancers. I started making a list but it was getting really long, so I'll just say at least half of all syllabus figures are common and useful in standard. This is less true in latin, I believe, but much top latin choreography is in some way a variation on syllabus patterns.

Also, regarding getting to open as soon as possible, I should point out that much open choreography is actually easier than syllabus. The reason why I think it is important for dancers to establish their basics and then go open is that they are no longer restricted by arbitrary rules that are not in the spirit of dance. For example - what figures can be done in what specific order, with what specific timing. It is very difficult to design syllabus choreography that fits musical phrasing, especially in tango. There are not many choices of movement from different alignments - for example name all of the choices in waltz from PP moving DC, or all of the choices moving with RF forward DC in bronze foxtrot. Not many. Overall I would say dancing well in syllabus is much more difficult than in open. And in latin it's even tougher because the syllabus is just outdated.

So yes, learn the syllabus as best you can. Learn the details. Learn the technique book. Understand the benefits and limitations of the book. But eventually you have to break free from all of that and just dance. That requires building a strong basis of experience. There is no "book" for open (well technically there is one available now, but it's not definitive), so you have to learn concepts that lead to good dancing, not just follow a prescription of sparse technical advice.

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  stixman on Tue Aug 17, 2010 4:25 am

Also, regarding getting to open as soon as possible, I should point out that much open choreography is actually easier than syllabus.

Interesting. It is amazing to me how some coaches just want you to do well at competitions and make Open seem like the "big, bad" level that you aren't ready for. However, hearing this come from an open dancer begins to make me think of the motives behind teachers and their perspective of their students, but I assume that could be for another thread altogether.

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  dwalk on Tue Aug 17, 2010 5:42 am

I'll see if I can make this as simple as possible. You should probably move up when you're making finals or close at EVERY competition in a certain level regardless of size. Otherwise, you just can't trust the results on any one given day or at one given competition. Of course there are exceptions such as if you are dancing in an incredibly large field in which even if you're good, the judges may or may not see you, but if you are truly ready to move up, this usually does not happen.

As for other topics, first, turns out all judges want to see in open as well is people stand up straight and stay on time, as the likelihood of seeing this gets less and less as they see couples moving into a whole new set of figures that they've never done before and are more often than not, not ready to do. Continue learning syllabus figures independent of what level you are currently competing as your technique has very little to do with what figures you know. It will improve some, but by in large, technique improves by working on technique. Of course, If you are dancing gold however, you don't want to go too far without having a decent fallaway reverse or something seen quite often such as that. No matter when you learn your syllabus figures, they will improve as your technique improves. So don't feel bad about knowing a couple of gold figures even if you are a developing silver dancer, just as long as you already have a good base of silver figures. They will all improve as your technique improves.

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Re: When to Move On?

Post  mpr9b on Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:23 am

dwalk wrote:You should probably move up when you're making finals or close at EVERY competition in a certain level regardless of size. Otherwise, you just can't trust the results on any one given day or at one given competition. Of course there are exceptions such as if you are dancing in an incredibly large field in which even if you're good, the judges may or may not see you, but if you are truly ready to move up, this usually does not happen.

I think this hits it right on the button. I personally don't think we, as dancers, should need the justification of judges and rankings to move between the levels. Shouldn't we develop a maturity in our dance that enables us to look at it honestly and assess our situation. Won't we (and our coaches) know who we are as dancers better than a judge who might see us for three minutes? Also, isn't the interpretation of where the "levels" are a completely non-standard thing? You aren't being judged with respect to other 'silver dancers around the world'. You are simply being judged with respect to the other dancers in your level at that competition. A lot of "good" competitions are those that are larger, because the chances of bringing in higher quality* dancers at any given level is greater. Other "small" competitions are, well, small, and tend to include a lot of "dancing up". So I think, rather than waiting for some external justification on how to guide my dancing career, I would much rather formulate, to the best of my ability, some form of opinion as to what I consider a gold level dancer, a pre-champ level dancer. Most people do this (especially in earlier stages of dance) watching people on the practice floor. It can be informative to know just who is dancing in what. There is no letter G or PC branding any dancer, so we try and guess what they're doing. This is based on our expectations of what each level actually is, which I consider the strongest of guides to this question.

higher quality*- The notion of higher quality dancers is interesting, especially in syllabus. There is always this drive to dance up to the next level, to continue making progress, because most people don't realize that there is progress that can be made at each level. Being a bronze dancer for a year doesn't mean you don't improve for a year, it just means you don't stamp yourself with a new label. But because people tend to be a little trigger-happy on the upgrade, the quality of dance at the individual levels decreases (from what one might ask, I really don't know). Imagine a competition where every dancer, upon arrival, was surprised and told that they had to dance their level AND the one below it. Most would not want to do this. Most want to dance up rather than down. But isn't dancing next to the next category (which is most approachable to you) on the same floor an invaluable experience?

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