Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

Where was part one, you may ask?  Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.

I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so.  And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.

I’ll use Alaina’s same format.  She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition.  If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart.  I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples.  Other than that, things are really different.  And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with.  There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.

Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time

Alaina got this right.  The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time.  It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious.  If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that.  Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim.  It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point.  This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles.  But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed.  On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.


American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz


Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep

Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive

As you can see, some of the dances are the same.  This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in.  In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm.  In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor.  On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).

In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”

Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur.  On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions.  In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros.  This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up.  Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!

Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to.  On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to.  But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played.  DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons.  Those dances test the skill set of leading and following.  I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine.  They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing to get them through.  However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine.  They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular.  The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this.  I’ve only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video, and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times without missing a single step.)  Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well, lead-follow plays a much bigger role.

Amendment:  Please do see the comments section of this post!  Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers.  I am incorrect, it seems!  Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers!  Who knew?  See Ellen’s explanation!  The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true) so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine.  And yes, I admit when I am wrong! LOL!  Love it!  Thank you for interacting, Ellen!  I appreciate you so very much.

Point 3: Scoring and points

Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions.  Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards.  The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat.  That’s it.  You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds if you compete again next year for placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy.  Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit).  But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.

Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced.  There can be multiple preliminary rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals.  During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated.  In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of.  The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition.  Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros.  I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal.  All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.

Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.  Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated.  This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple that placed 3rd.  In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st.  The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern.  Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges were generally on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples.  Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely.  A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge.  Truly, for this reason, I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete.  It can be a brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.

Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them.  If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on.  For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation.  In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.

Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.

Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats

Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats.  Single dances are just what they sound like.  You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo.  You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category.  In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.  These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels.  For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition.  In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you.  This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.

Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do.  The pros don’t dance a single dance.  They dance all the dances in their category.  Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us.  First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros.  Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros.  Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration.  So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic.  This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row: Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category.  No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens!  However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)

Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age.  They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.

Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed.  Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus.  For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus.  Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus.  There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds.  They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.

When pros compete, they are competing as an open.  Anyone can enter.  Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open scholarship rounds are generally still divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.

Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition.  Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out.  The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable.  And it’s so inspiring and incredible.  Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.”  There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition.  All are wonderful, and special, and important.  But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in.  Yeah, I’m crazy.  I know.  Lol.

If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please comment!  I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences.  Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to build community.  Please join in the fun!

Dance Lessons by Heather Wilson

Heather Wilson, an independent make-up artist with a blog at won my “Gift of Dance” Contest.  Here’s what she had to say about her experience using a gift certificate for 5 free dance classes:

My husband and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary. From the day we got engaged, we have said that some day we wanted to take dance lessons. We have always been kind of shy on the dance floor, definitely not the first ones to jump up and get out on the dance floor. In fact, we were often the ones making  excuses and sitting waiting for a slow song to come on so we could do the “8th Grade Shuffle”! (You know the moves… the girls arms around his neck, his hands on her back, and you rock to the right… rock to the left…. slowly rotate in a circle!) If a “real” song came on- we would make up any excuse to go back to our seats, or work our way deep in to the crowd so we wouldn’t be seen!  OK, so we admittedly had some insecurity issues around dancing!! In fact, we were pretty sure that this is what we looked like this when we were dancing! 

Before Dance Lessons

It was just after our anniversary that I saw a contest on Stefanies Facebook page that had only hours left to enter!  Thanks to Stephanie Lein, who has been doing ballroom dance for a few years, and enjoyed it so much that she wanted to share the opportunity, she awarded us a gift certificate to answer our long time dream! Stefanie’s love for dancing was evident when we met… and got me so excited about the classes! She was generous in giving us a coupon for 5 free lessons- and now we actually feel like we have a few dance moves! We called up the local Arthur Murray Dance Studio at Scottsdale Airport and we got set up to meet with Reece. Instantly we knew she was the teacher meant for us!  She was fun, energetic, and made us laugh! Even after the first class we felt a bit more confidence! 

It took us a bit longer than the two weeks to do the 5 free classes, due to me hurting my ankle. Thanks to the patience of Reece, we got right back in to it when I was feeling better, and were learning all kinds of new moves!!  She taught us a couple basic moves of the Salsa, the Cha Cha, the Hustle (not the one with the Left foot in… and the left foot out!! ) the Waltz, the Rumba and the Tango.  To be honest, we were still getting confused on which one was which…. but we definitely had more self control, and some fancy dance moves that we did not have before!! In fact, I am much better with “following” and not leading, and John feels more comfortable “leading” now. We even threw in a spin or two! We felt a little more like this After a couple of classes ! (and of course we wore our body suits!) We are by far not ready to do Dancing with the Stars, but if we get invited to a wedding, we will definitely be out on the dance floor showing off a few moves! We cannot wait to go back in the fall and continue the classes so that we can start showing off our dance moves! 


Hello dearies.

Life has been busy, busy, busy.  But I didn’t want to go one more day without at least writing something but honestly, a good part of me wishes I were in bed right now!  I know, I know….I’ve been a bad little blogger again. I hope you’ll understand….

My employment situation has been tenuous for a while.  This last week I got a temp job and today I just got another offer for another contract job, but this one is for more pay and guaranteed for a minimum of 6 months.  I’m to start Monday.  So this week, I’ve been adjusting to getting back to full 40 hour weeks (had been working 18 hours), a new temporary job, negotiating the job starting Monday, 45 minute commutes each way, car repairs, and more.  Oh yeah…we are moving in June so we have been trying to pack, sort, and otherwise eliminate things we don’t want to move.  SO, a fair bit of life changing stuff.  It’s a lot to juggle.

In good news, I did have one lesson with Ivan yesterday, I will have one with him tomorrow, and I did the group lesson with Inna.  Also, I was able to negotiate the dates off to be able to attend the Desert Classic DanceSport competition, though I’m not sure if I will be able to get of more dates for any other competitions.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to maybe switch shifts with other pharmacists so I can do some local competitions at least, now that I will have some significant increases in cashflow coming my way.

But whatever.  For the moment, also in good news, my instructor is incredibly understanding and helpful.  When he learned where I’d be commuting to for the new gig, he called up the owner of a studio on that side of town (the Phoenix metropolitan area is very spread-out and it can take like an hour to get from one side of town to the other) and asked if we could practice there.  We could!  So this week I got to see yet another beautiful studio in the Phoenix area and hallelujah for that because where we normally practice would make it very difficult to get to work on time without meeting at 5:30 in the morning, which I would never do.  (Hell, I’m so tired, I don’t care that that was a run-on sentence.)

Oh, and triple-y good in good news, I am thrilled to announce that the dance package my husband won golfing went to a lovely lady named Heather and her husband!  They will be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary with $350 in dance lessons from the Scottsdale Arthur Murray!  I am so excited for them.  She agreed to share her experience with me to put on the blog, so it will be fun to see what happens.

Okay, so a post recapping the dance shows as well as a continuation of the topical series will be forthcoming, though probably not until Saturday.  But for now, let me recap my dance experience for the first half of this week.  Oh wait, tomorrow is Friday…let me rephrase that…I’ll be recapping my dance experience for all of this week except for tomorrow. *cringe*

I opted out of dancing Monday because I didn’t know how long the drive to the new job would take in the morning and I have my traditional DWTS-watching with mom-in-law in the evening, so my first lesson of the week was the group ass-kicker with Inna.  She didn’t hold back one bit this week. However, I had convinced my friend Colette to come so I had to show up! And, I’m glad she came. That was nice and she did great.  At one point I seriously about died and thought my liver was failing, I had such sharp side cramps.  We did Samba, Cha Cha, Rumba, and even Jive.  I just wanted to cry.  Once again, I thought, “Self.  This would be so much easier if you were lighter.  Even just 10 pounds would make a difference.”  It won’t be the last time….

I was in such dire straits that even Inna asked me how I was doing at the end of class.  “I’ll live,” was all I could say.

Anyways, I did survive, but barely.   But one final note before I depart from the Imperial Ballroom world, I want to wish good luck to my classmates who will be competing this week and also next week at Emerald Ball.  I know they will kick butt!

So the next morning, my body was still not recovered but I hadn’t danced with Ivan since last week so we met at 7:45am before work at the studio across town.  It was pretty cool to dance in a new place and I liked the floor as it is not as slippery as the one at the church.  We had the place to ourselves and Ivan cranked up the music.

We ran into a few snags, however.

The first one was that I managed to forget my shoes.  I tried dancing barefoot but that hurt.  We found a solution and I borrowed some shoes for the lesson.

Next, I shocked Ivan.  I mean physically shocked, like with static electricity.  And it kept happening, over and over.  Ever single time we got into frame he was like, “Ow!”  And then we laughed.  I tried discharging it but it didn’t work.  It was so funny.  I’ve never experienced that many consecutive shocks in my life.  I told Ivan that the solution was to quit leaving me, to stay in frame the whole time.  It just wasn’t practical.  I think he was about to cry after the 50th time it happened!  One of them must have really hurt because he howled loudly like a wolf baying at the moon.

Somehow we survived and his heart maintained it’s normal sinus rhythm.  But then another funny thing happened.  As we were beginning a Foxtrot, the singer in the song said my name.  Well, what he actually said was, something, something, dah, dah, dah….”blues for Stephanie.”  Ivan about peed his pants.

“What?!  Who calling you?”

“Nobody, Ivan.  It’s the guy in the song.”

“Oh my God!  He saying your name.”

He ran urgently toward the music tower and replayed the song.

“Oh, wow! It say your name.  It a sign.  It the spirits.  I think someone here grabbing the microphone and calling you.”

He was really shocked by the coincidence.  He showed me all the songs he could have chosen, which were a lot, so it was kinda weird he picked the one that said my name.  I’ll just take it as a sign that the dancing gods knew I was there and were encouraging me to keep up the good work. 🙂

On the lesson we did the usual run-through of Smooth dances then Latin and American Rhythm.  My body was just so tired and hurting from the night before I really felt like I was dragging.  One high note was on the Viennese Waltz I improved.  We did it once and I just really felt like Ivan was pushing me around the floor.  I know that there are places where I’m supposed to be active (going forward) and passive (going backward) and always I feel like there is resistance in some places and we fight each other, even though I am cognizant of what I’m “supposed” to be doing – it doesn’t always translate into the body.  In any case, I made a huge effort to really drive forward while stepping forward and Ivan definitely noticed the difference.  He said, “I like this Viennese Waltz.  This the best you’ve done.”  So that was good.

Also, Ivan daydreamed about the moment when we’ll be able to do lifts.  I love that he keeps that vision in his head of what’s possible when it seems like such an impossibility from my perspective.  I’ve been dismally inconsistent about my health and weight loss, especially with all the job-related stress lately. I know that if I were truly committed it wouldn’t be an excuse, and it isn’t, ultimately.  On the upside, I am doing much better since Tuesday having cooked tons of healthy food I can take with me on the job rather than eating out, and also having my ass handed to me in Inna’s class once again reaffirmed why I want, nay, need to do this thing.  Plus, I still have some time before the Desert Classic.  I can still take a chunk out of the journey and be closer to my ideal than I am today if I stick to it from here on out.  I mean, I did go hiking with my husband on Sunday and I did do a floor-barre ballet class with Toni, which are extra and above the usual, and I have been dancing and eating better the past few days.  I even started taking my vitamins again.  For the moment, I am back on track.

Now I just have to keep focused until July…

Okay.  I think my brain is failing me now.  Although aburpt, I must to bed.  Yes, I mean that.  I must to bed.  I’m feeling very Jane Austen at the moment.

TTFN, Stef

The Gift Of Dance

It’s nice when the Universe sends you little signs that you are on the right path.

My husband is an avid golfer and often participates in tournaments, for charity and such, that involve prizes.  Well, on Friday he played in one such event and won…guess what….wait for it…..Dance Lessons!

Clearly, they were not meant for him!  He’s been there, done that, and it’s just not his passion.  So he smilingly, happily passed them along to me.

I had to giggle.  Seems like the Universe wants me to dance.

But, wait, I already have an instructor!  I already have my dancing home.

What should I do with this amazing gift of dance?

The answer seems obvious.

Share it!

I’m passing this gift along because it is my wish that someone experience the passion, love, beauty, thrill, and confidence that can come with dancing ballroom.

This package is yours.  All you have to do is claim it.

Valued at $350, the package entitles the bearer to 5 Introductory Dance Sessions at the Arthur Murray Studio in Scottsdale on Redfield Road.


What’s the catch?  Here’s all I ask:

1)  You want the certificates because you really want to try dancing.  I want to give them to someone who will actually use them!  They expire in August, so there’s a little bit of time to get all the lessons in.  You must be new to ballroom dance.

2) If you haven’t already, “Like” the Dancing With Stefanie Facebook page here.

3) Agree to write a guest blog post (including pictures or video or both) for about your experience.

That’s it!

Please send to me at a written note, a video, or any other means of communication that suits you explaining why you want to dance ballroom by Sunday, April 22, 2012 11:59pm MST.

I will read, watch, or listen to all the entries and declare the winner based on the most compelling story by Monday, April 23rd, 2012 11:59pm or sooner.  If I can’t decide, I may share your entry with my blog readers and they can share their opinion.

If you are the only person to take me up on the offer and actually submit something, you’ll win automatically.  Life is about urgency, people!  Take some action toward what you want.  I’m giving away $350 here and it’s yours for the taking!  Opportunities like this don’t come by every day.

So ask yourself, if not now, then when?  If you’ve ever even wanted to dance just a little bit (or know someone else who does) and live in the Phoenix area (or even if you don’t and would like to come and visit and take the classes, that’s cool too!) I encourage you to give it a try or, at a minimum, pass this opportunity along to someone who could benefit from it.

Dancing has absolutely been life-changing for me and I’d love pass the gift along.

Cheers!  Stef