Topical Series #4: Points, Points, and More Points

It all started with this comment from Ellen:

I’ve never understood the whole points thing, scholarships, etc. for open comps.  I don’t do enough open comps for it to matter – but I’d love to understand it.  I’ve tried to look it up and other than the official rules which are like reading a law-book ( in other words make no sense to me!) I can’t find a simple explanation of it all.  If anyone can give a layperson’s explanation it would be cool!

I had to clarify.  What to which “points” was she referring, exactly?

Ellen, what do you mean by “the whole points thing?”  I am under the understanding that in competitions for scholarships you are ranked in the dances in order of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. as compared to the other couples on the floor.  Whoever  gets ranked 1st by the most judges gets 1st place and so on.  There is a rule about when there is a tie that I don’t remember, but I don’t think that happens all that often.  So, I’m just not sure what you mean by “points.”

Maybe you are referring to being top student or top teacher in a competition or a district or in a competition series?  If that is the case, what happens is you get a certain amount of points for each entry you are in (or your instructor dances), and then more points for placing higher.  Like when I got top student in San Diego it was like 8 points (or something, I don’t exactly remember the point value) for 1st place, 6 for 2nd, down through 6th and then 1 point for participating.  You get more points for participating more and for placing higher.  Your instructor gets points for the same things, but obviously if they bring more students and dance more often, they earn more points.

So in that last example if I dance 50 dances but place 1st in all of them and get 3 points for each 1st place, and another lady in my category dances 100 dances but places 3rd and only gets 1 point for each 3rd place, then I’d be ranked higher than she with 150 points and be closer to being “Top Student.”

So anyways, Ellen referred me to the USA Dance website at and a link below the DanceSport Rulebook for “Proficiency Points.”

So I checked it out, not being familiar with proficiency points.  No one had ever mentioned them to me before.

Reading them was like reading the instruction manual for a VCR.  Very technical and not very enjoyable but here’s what I gathered:

Ellen, I’ve looked at the proficiency point guide and I’m intrigued.  Seems to be a complicated system to determine which category you should dance in…what age, what level, as an attempt in making sure people are competing at an appropriate level – not too high or too low.  It says in the guide that USA dance will make a database online of the points so I’m now trying to find that.  I’m curious to see where I might rank.  I’ve always been told that the instructor decides which category you dance at.  It seems like the points might be more important for high level amateur competitors or professional couples.  I’ll ask Ivan about it, but who knows if he knows anything about it.  It does say that you can be disciplined for dancing below your level!  Thanks for asking this question.  I love learning more about my favorite sport!  I’ll keep you updated.

But the story continues.

The topic sparked my interest in a number of facets of ballroom dancing that involve points and I had a big ‘ole conversation with Ivan about it after my lesson today.

Sadly, he didn’t know about proficiency points, but he did comment on another type of points used by ballroom studios which I found intriguing.  Also, I did a little more research and found on some old comments about the proficiency points.  You can see the comments I found here.

First, the database is not current.  I don’t even know if you can find it.  Someone who is on the USA Dance board must have been in the conversation because he or she commented that they needed someone to volunteer to keep up with the points.  I guess you are supposed to keep track of them yourself!  Well, I for one, haven’t been doing that.

Second, the link Ellen sent me on the USA Dance page that directs you to the rules about the Proficiency points is outdated.  I guess there have been changes (that a couple must now only accrue 200 points instead of the 300 mentioned in the pdf file) that aren’t reflected in that edition of the rules.

But the plot thickens.  These mystery proficiency points are only applicable to USA Dance sanctioned events.

USA Dance isn’t the only governing body of ballroom dance.

There are different proficiency points and rules for the National Dance Council of America (NDCA) and the Youth College Network (YCN).

(I think there is another post in the making here about all the “alphabet soup” of dance organizations: NDCA, USA Dance, IDSF, WDSF, YCN etc.)

So there are points you accrue in competition.  But after my conversation with Ivan, I have learned there are also points you can accrue at a studio.  Now, I don’t purport to have expertise in this area because I’ve never danced in a ballroom dance franchise studio.  I’m going on what Ivan told me.  If things are different, feel free to comment below and fill us all in.  At least this is what I gather went on at Ivan’s studio when he was employed by a franchised studio.

Students accrue points and have proficiency tests to determine what level they are at: pre-bronze, bronze, silver, etc.  Then packages are sold around getting to the next level.  Like for every lesson you take or every figure you learn it’s recorded and there are charts of points and where you are.  There are also charts proclaiming which student is which level, so you can compare yourself to other students and follow your and their progress.

To me, this seems a bit weird.  I guess it is great for goal setting and is some form of monitoring progress, but just knowing the steps in the gold syllabus doesn’t necessarily, I think, mean you are a gold level dancer – meaning that you might be dancing a gold step with bronze level technique.

What it does do is give a person a sense of being able to put a feather in their cap.  I’ve had people ask me what level dancer I am, but since I have no points or proficiency tests to go on, I honestly don’t know.  I have no idea what level the steps I know are considered nor my level in terms of technique.

Finally, I also reached out to my friend Ceci and asked her if she knew anything about these mysterious points because she is so well-connected in the ballroom world.  Here’s what she sent me:

NDCA Proficiency Point System From


1. A competitor is eligible to dance in the “Syllabus”, “Novice” and/or “Pre-Championship” proficiency classifications until they accumulate three proficiency points. There is no limit to the number of proficiency points that may be accumulated in the “Open Amateur” level.

2. A competitor receives one point when they either a) place first in their current classification when a semi-final was danced, or b) dance in the final of a higher proficiency event where a semi-final was danced.

3. In the “Syllabus” categories proficiency points should be accumulated independently for each dance.

4. The eligibility to compete in a classification is applied to individual amateur competitors and not the couple as an entity.

5. An amateur couple is only eligible to compete in a classification if both members of the couple are eligible.

6. An amateur competitor’s eligibility is based on his/her accomplishments regardless of the number or length of partnerships they have had.

7. It is the responsibility of all amateur competitors to ensure that they are eligible for the category in which they desire to dance.

8. An amateur competitor may enter at most two consecutive proficiency classifications in any particular style and age group at a particular competition.

9. An amateur competitor’s ineligibility begins at the conclusion of the competition in which his/her third point was acquired. In this case the word “competition” refers to the entire event (generally a “weekend”).

10. An amateur competitor’s proficiency level as a Pro/Am shall not be used in determining his/her amateur proficiency level.

Seems like another VCR manual to me, but at least this one only applies to amateurs.  I still don’t know what this means if I’m dancing Pro/Am since my proficiency in Pro/Am shall not be used in determining my amateur proficiency level….though I don’t dance Am/Am, myself!

Sheesh!  I think it’s an interesting topic, but still kind of a mystery even after all this writing and after all the various research!

So, now the ball is in your court.  Do you know anything about points tracked in ballroom?  What do you think of these point systems?  Does your studio use them?  How? Have you heard of them in the context of NDCA or USA Dance?  Have you kept track of yours?  What do they mean….really?  I’m curious to know.

Signing off,


Topical Series #3: I’m A Free Agent

Ooohhh, I’m a bit nervous writing this post, but I think it is a very important subject that is not often talked about. It kind of relates to my previous post about when learning to dance that you make sure you find an instructor that can teach in a way that you can understand and process. And if it’s not working out, to feel free to move on to a different instructor who can suit your needs. Sometimes that can be a little tricky. One of those situations where it is easier said, than done.

The topic I’m talking about is whether or not as a dance student we are free agents, at liberty to dance with whichever instructor we desire and the sometimes-weird possessiveness that the instructor or studio may exhibit for his/her/its students.

When it all boils down, I personally believe that I am the customer, I am the one paying to learn, and I should be able to go wherever I want to do that.

However, it actually isn’t as black and white as that. It isn’t as easy to navigate as one might think.

Hopefully you can avoid some of the difficulties I’ll mention by doing “dancer-views” before settling on a particular instructor. I plan to write a post later on about how to go about the process of finding and selecting an instructor, so I’ll leave that for another time. However, even if you do your due diligence, it may not always be possible to stay with your current instructor indefinitely. Life happens. I’m with my third instructor, and in both previous cases, there were life events that pushed that change along.

But for now (and for what I hope is a long, long time to come) as you know from the blog, my primary instructor is Ivan, who is an independent dance instructor. He is my #1. Any place I go to take group classes or whatever (unless it is just social dancing or I’m not there enough for it to matter and it’s none of their business) is aware of my instructor. Conversely, Ivan is aware that I take group classes at Inna’s studio, and I often inform him if I go social dancing as well, out of courtesy.

With Ivan, he has made it clear that if I want to dance with other instructors for ballroom, then I need to not dance with him. Coaching would be a different situation, or a lesson with Marietta or Nona as a one time deal for styling or something would be fine too, and he’d know about it.

But if I want to learn something that he doesn’t have expertise in, like West Coast Swing, or Argentine Tango, then I just have to tell him my desire and he’d be cool with that. That is the arrangement we have set up. But the point is, we had a conversation about it. At no point did I go behind his back and do things. I wouldn’t want to risk losing him as an instructor. We have this agreement set up and I respect it.

Somehow, however, I’ve managed to be dancing at like three different places (sometimes more), but this is not, from what I’ve heard, the “norm” when it comes to ballroom dancing. And if you are going to go that road, it is extremely, extremely important to be respectful of the professionals at each location, as well as their students, and the relationships between them. It is extremely, extremely important to be upfront and clear on what relationship you have to each place you dance. Otherwise, things can get very messy, very quickly!

From my past personal experience, and from that of others who have shared with me, some teachers and studios can become almost possessive of their students. I can even understand it, to a point. They want to protect their business and that only makes sense. However, I feel like it comes from a scarcity mindset – the idea that the instructor or studio has to keep the student away from any other dance influences for fear that the new or different dance instructor or class may “steal” the student away is focused on a fear of losing something. From my perspective, it isn’t possible to steal a student. If you are providing the value a student is looking for, they won’t go anywhere, no matter how many “other” group classes they take, or instructors they are exposed to. This would be an abundant mindset.

If a student leaves, that is some feedback for you. Dare to ask the questions about why the person left and work to amend the area of weakness. Sadly, many professionals and studios don’t see it that way. They see it as a cut-throat business and rivalries with bad-blood can exist, especially if a student is particularly bad about “studio-hopping.” (You have to know that some people just cannot be pleased, no matter what!)

But the fact is, some of the studios just don’t offer everything a person might be looking for. Not everyone offers Lindy Hop, or ballet. If I can’t get those at my primary studio, and I want them, I should be at liberty to go elsewhere to find them. My primary studio can always take that as feedback and grow such areas if they so desire. But to prevent me, threaten me, or guilt me into not doing more dancing if I have that desire, I feel is poor behavior. To allow myself to let any threat, or guilt deter me from what I really want is not okay either.

However, there is really something to be said for sticking with one instructor or studio when its good for you, even if it is tough. Sometimes there are issues to work through, even if you adore your instructor. I’ve had a lesson or two with Ivan where we had to get clear on a few things and it wasn’t necessarily comfortable. But I’d choose being uncomfortable and having open, honest communication, than to lose a fab instructor any day of the week. That is just me.

Again, as mentioned in a previous post, there isn’t necessarily one “right” way, the be-all and end-all way of dancing. That means that each instructor you learn from will give you some similar information, and some very different information than others. This can be very confusing and muddle the clarity of your dancing. A person has to be careful of not always thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It might be very green right where you are. Sticking it out with your instructor may be the best choice you ever make. Also, if you do decide to receive instruction from multiple sources, be aware that you may need to filter some of the information and make sure that you apply those things that will best serve you while leaving the rest behind. This will take discernment on your part.

If the time does come when you feel the need to change instructors, I’d encourage you to do it in as clean, clear, and honest manner as possible. Although some people just stop taking lessons, not only can this strain your relationship with the instructor and the studio, but it steals the opportunity for the instructor or studio to respond to your issue, and even if the issue can’t be amended, it robs them of the feedback you could provide so they don’t recreate the same pitfall with another student.

So, to answer the primary question of this post, am I a free agent? Yes…and no. Yes, because I take classes at a variety of places that I feel will enhance and enrich my dancing. But no, because I am very clear that Ivan is my primary ballroom instructor and I’m not going anywhere else for that. I mean, the entire relationship is built on trust. You can’t have trust if you are not engaging in open, honest communication or going behind someone’s back. I guarantee it will show up in your dancing.

What about you? Do you only dance with one instructor at one location? Why? How does that work for you? Or do you dance a lot of places? What positive or negative experiences can you share around that? What advice would you give someone who was considering dancing more than one place or changing instructors? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Connection, Connection, Connection

On my lesson yesterday there was one main theme and that was connection!

I’ve written about this aspect of my dancing/ballroom dancing before but once again we revisited the topic.

I kind of wonder sometimes how Ivan decides what we will work on during lessons.  Since he’s independent and doesn’t follow a particular syllabus, it’s free form.  It’s great in my opinion, though I still have no idea what “level” dancer I am.  I guess we’ll find out when we go do our next comp.  Ivan did tell me that at the next one it would be the last time I dance in bronze.  Who knows, though.  I certainly have no idea which steps are what level….I just know our little routines or possible steps, and every once in a while Ivan throws in another new one.

In any case, unlike at chain studios where you buy packages and are promised to learn say, Bronze I, in a certain amount of lessons, or you buy a package of lessons to learn a showcase number, or whatever, I pay as I go.  If I have extra money one week, I can have an extra lesson.  If things are tight, I can cut back.  It works great for me!

But because of this, there is no particular agenda for the lessons.  When I came in the studio, Ivan was working with another one of his students on a particular step in Cha Cha.  When we started, he wanted to work on that step with me right away.  It was like, he needed to be complete with it or something.  He’s shown me it once before so it was good to refresh my memory, but it still needs a LOT of work.  It’s just a very fast step.

So we worked on that particular step, open hip twist, I think he told me, and then we danced some swing.  I mentioned to him that I’d seen how Marieta did it on Monday’s class and it was different than I was doing it.  She created much more up and down swing in her movement than I’ve ever created.  I was like, “Ivan, tell me what’s right, here.  Let’s go over the basic.  Because if you don’t correct it, I will keep practicing it this way and it’s not right.”  It’s almost like I’m going to have to continue to ask him to push me more, correct me more.  This is not necessary when Intense-diva-Ivan is out to play.  That bitch will just take control and put me in the right position.  But most days it’s puppy-dog-Ivan.  We have lots of fun, and he still makes corrections, but I think maybe there is more he could be telling me but isn’t.  Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings or something.  But I addressed it specifically with him that I want corrections.  Lots of ’em!

Anyways, the lesson then became about connection.  Of the three instructors I’ve had, I think only Ivan really knows what connection feels like.  I almost wonder if it is a little bit of a lost art among most instructors.  But it is one of the defining characteristics of ballroom dancing, in my opinion.  It is the thing that makes it possible for two pieces to move as one.  Without it, you have two people dancing alongside one another doing their own thing.  With it, magic, unity, synergy.

I think the biggest issue I encounter with connection is that I’ll have it, then lose it.  I’ll relax and release the tone in my arms that makes the connection possible.  Break at any joint, my wrist, my elbow, or my shoulder, and the connection fizzles out, even for just one second.  I then overreach to find it again.  I’m so new at it, I don’t always feel when the connection has been severed.  To really be connected is much more than just the physical touching, but includes eye connection, and body connection.

Ivan can and has lead me using just his eyes or his body language but this is much more challenging and I have to be completely focused on him, his energy to make it work.  One lapse in concentration, one errant thought about what I’m supposed to be doing, and poof! It’s gone.

I’m still sussing out exactly how every move is supposed to feel when connected.  I’m noticing that there is a huge difference between how dancing the Cha Cha feels alone in Inna’s class and connected with Ivan on my private lesson in my very own body.  It’s like I have to find the sweet spot between dancing myself and my body (which takes a lot of energy), and being connected to Ivan, but not hanging on him, not making him push me around the floor, and basically “moving my ass.”

Connection, as far as I understand it, isn’t about him moving me.  I’m supposed to move myself but I think I’m late, slow, stuck, a lot of the time so he helps me out.  The thing is, if he always helps me out then I think things are right because we make it to the next step.  If he wasn’t there, however, I’d be sunk.  He did once pull away during a spot turn and I immediately understood what I was doing wrong.  I was leaning in too much, thus off-balance, and creating extra force on Ivan.  So sometimes I try to connect too much!  It seems to oscillate between the extremes of being completely absent, such as when I break at my shoulder, to being too forceful, creating extra work.

Ivan likens it to driving.  When we are connected properly, he’s driving a Ferrari.  He gently invites, asks me to rev my engine, and I move.  When we are not connected properly, he’s driving a truck.  Each gear shift is clunky and slow.

I’ll admit it – sometimes I’m a Ferrari and sometimes I’m a truck, and both can be true in one single dance.

By the end of the lesson Ivan said that I was doing so much better.  That is true, but I also wondered if that was partially because Ivan was so focused on connection.  Sometimes I think he isn’t really being connected to me, either.  I mean, we are all human.  I still look to him as my leader, superior, teacher, and if he isn’t present enough to connect, my connection is probably going to be lacking as well.  But I can be responsible for my own dancing, too.  When something is asked of me, I respond.  I feel differences in Ivan’s lead all the time.  If he is especially excited, he can get forceful (especially in Samba).  We’ve also danced without touching, or even with just a gentle lead.  So part of how I show up as a partner depends on how Ivan shows up in the moment as a partner.

It makes me realize that I can come to class with my own agenda.  If connection is important to me, I can set that context by taking a few breaths and a moment to center before we begin moving.  I can invite Ivan to connect with me from that space, instead of always expecting him to do it all.  I mean, it is supposed to be a 50/50 partnership in an ideal world, right?  That may not be possible just yet at my level of dancing versus his level of dancing, but I still think it is a goal to strive for.

At this point,  I just feel like I am rambling because I’m still trying to figure out what connection means.  There are so many aspects to it – from feeling it physically, to tuning into it if all I get is a body lead with no touching, to how I’m showing up as a partner on one end of the connection.  Just like all the fundamentals (swing, sway, basic steps in every dance, etc), I feel like a person can revisit them over and over and over and discover a new aspect to something he’s been doing for a long time.  There is always a way to go deeper and arrive at the same place but see it with new eyes, knowing it for the first time.

So, what did I learn on my lesson yesterday?  I’m not entirely sure.  Maybe not every lesson has to end it a neat little package of learning.  What I did find is that the process continues.  The adventure goes on and on.

But this I know: connection is a vital part of ballroom dancing and I’m going to work to be great at it!  When it works right, it feels awesome.  I want more of that and I’m thrilled that I get to practice it on each and every lesson.