Topical Series: Deciding Whether To Do A Dance Camp

Me and Ron Montez

Me and Ron Montez

Although I’ve only attended one dance camp thus far in my ballroom “career,” I discovered some useful information that might help someone who is interested in a dance camp to decide whether or not to do it.  Choosing to do a dance camp, like participating in a competition, requires planning, money, time off work, maybe even a babysitter, and perhaps travel.  It’s a significant committment so it is a significant decision to make.  Here are my thoughts on some things to consider when deciding if a dance camp a good choice for you.

Overall I thought it was a good value.  Of course every dance camp is going to be different, but using my experience as an example, the deluxe package cost $475.  This included all the classes offered, a welcome dinner and dance mixer, and a gourmet dinner with a champagne toast and party on New Year’s Eve.  Considering private lessons cost around $75-$130 each, and I got 17 group classes led by professional dancers and adjudicators, plus two lectures, I consider this a damn good deal.  I did a lot of dancing, was able to video the choreography presented, ask questions, and even eat a bit, and all for a small fraction of what a competition usually costs.  Even if you add in the hotel (which I only opted to stay at on New Year’s Eve, I commuted the other days), gas costs, and food, it still works out well.

One major advantage of attending a dance camp, especially for competitive dancers, is face time with judges.  Not only do you get to be seen so your face is familiar, but you can also ask direct questions and have actual interactions with people who may judge you at future competitions.  You can also pick their brains for what they look for in competitive dancers.  They tend to naturally share their preferences in dancing while teaching which can also give you insight on dance styling and choreographic choices. This is not as significant a factor for those who do not compete.

One possible disadvantage of a dance camp is that they may be fluid, meaning that the schedule advertised when you sign up for the camp may not be exactly what is delivered.  For instance, when I looked at the website for this dance camp, Decho Kraev and Bree Watson were listed as teaching many of the classes.  Since they are the current American Rhythm champions, I’m sure many people were looking forward to getting to learn from this particular couple.  When I arrived at the camp and got my package, the class schedule listed different instructors.  I, personally, didn’t really mind so very much.  I got to learn from Linda Dean and Radomir Pashev, and I really enjoyed their classes and felt I got great value from what they shared.  But I could see how someone could be upset by this, especially if part of why he or she chose to attend was to learn from a particular professional, judge, or couple.

There was also one other change, which I was very happy about, and it wasn’t even listed on the schedule.  When it came time for the Night Club Two Step (not a dance I’m interested in) Rado decided to do Samba instead.  Anyways, for type A individuals this could be crazy-making, but for me, I was glad about it.

Another benefit of attending a dance camp is that the instructors are also available for private lessons.  I didn’t take advantage of this during my stint, but opportunities to learn from the experts, or have them create some choreography for you, or to work on a particular troublesome step don’t happen all the time, especially if you have an independent instructor and no home studio where coaches may visit regularly.  In any case, attending a dance camp is one great way to make contact with paragons of the ballroom dance world.

As is usually the case in ballroom dancing, there were double the amount of women than men at the camp.  Only a few of the females chose to learn the leader choreography.  This meant that for much of the time in class many female students were without a partner and the men were always dancing as a duo.  And, to make matters worse, there was little to no formal rotation set up, made doubly confusing when some of the couples danced exclusively with one another, not rotating at all.  Personally, I sometimes prefer to dance by myself so I can discover my own balance and so I know that I understand what I am doing.  I didn’t mind the times when I was partner-less.  However, by the end of the camp I was exhausted by actually dancing with partners.  Half of them were uninterested in dancing with me (or seemed that way), one felt the need to correct me and was a total joy-suck.  I don’t even care how good or unskilled a dancer is, but I do mind very much when they have a bad attitude.  I was exhausted by having to interact with some of these fellow students, and just like in social dancing situations, it is a crap shoot as to who will be available to dance with.  In fact, one of my friends was also troubled by the interactions she had with some of the males and opted to not partner at all by the end of the camp because the experience was so uncomfortable, and in her case, she felt flat-out disrespected.

The majority of dancers at the camp were social dancers.  Only a very few of us were competitive students.  Obviously we had different goals and intentions with our dancing.  It would have been more valuable for me from my perspective to have more of an opportunity to dance with other competitive students.  I did get to dance with a few darling men with happy, fun personalities, and one who was excellent in all aspects, but of course I couldn’t always dance with them even though I might have wanted to.  This might be more likely at a dance camp that occurs before or after a competition so I might have to check one of those dance camps out.  But anyways, I think I might have enjoyed the camp more and maybe even gotten more value out of it if I had a friend or amateur partner to do it with.  It’s not really something you’d do with your pro partner and I found the partnering situation to be less than stellar.

Because there was such a mix in the level of expertise, skill level, and intention of the dancing, the teachers had to address broad topics and gear their classes toward general information. They did offer two tracks of classes: Beginner/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced. Basically this equated to one class for baby beginners and one class for everyone else. It was up to each individual to place themselves in an appropriate level, and upon registration the lady did say that a person could switch classes within the first ten minutes if it was either too easy or too difficult.

I kind of think the intermediate business is just there to make us feel better! I’m not sure what the distinction between intermediate and beginner or intermediate and advanced is, exactly. I wonder if any dance camps require a person to “test into” a level…like in dance classes in college you can’t just sign up for advanced ballet. You must audition and an assessment of your skill level is made to determine if it is an appropriate placement, or prerequisite classes must first be completed successfully to gain entry into higher level classes. Probably impractical to do at a dance camp, but it’s a thought. And I wonder what a truly advanced class would look like – probably like Inna’s class…but I think a class like that, especially for social dancers, could be pretty shocking/intimidating if a person walked into it expecting a group class like is usually presented…not as strenuous, and filled with lots of interesting steps but less of the basics. Camp organizers have to aim to please their attendees so knowing who is attending, their level, and if they are social or competitive could help in the design of classes and tracks/levels. Like I would have loved if there were beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (or bronze, silver, gold) in both social and competitive categories, but that would sure take a lot of staff and resources, unless the camp was specifically geared toward one type of student.

In any case, at this dance camp, during most classes a series of steps were taught and the students learned a little choreography.  I am more interested in the technique behind the steps than the steps themselves so I wanted more of that type of information – how to correctly execute the steps rather than the steps themselves.  I can always learn more steps so adding more to my repertoire was fine and good but not all that exciting to me because the chances of me actually using these little choreographies in the future are slim to none.  If I was a social dancer only, or danced socially more often, or had an amateur partner, it might have created more value for me.

One disadvantage of this camp was that because it was held in a hotel, the floors were jointed and there were no mirrors. I missed having a mirror to compare my lines to those of the professional demonstrating the steps. But having it at a different venue like a dance studio might not have been as convenient and certainly would not have had all the amenities present. I wish that mirrors could have been brought in just like the floor is.

One of the best parts of the dance camp was simply spending time with my ballroom friends and making new ones.  I had some awesome and deep conversations and laughed a ton.  I’d recommend having a partner in crime to go with if possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the dance camp and feel like I did learn a lot.  Just putting myself out there and participating was a big win.  And because I showed up cool things happened – I got to dance a swing step “down and dirty” with Radomir, I got to do a mambo deal with Ron and a group of people as he spontaneously got out on the dance floor on New Year’s Eve and began calling out moves, I got to win a merengue mixer contest, I got to laugh a ton, learn a ton, watch a professional show, and toast the new year.  Well, anyways, I hope this gave you some insight into what you might want to think about when considering a dance camp.  If you have any other burning questions, please do ask and I will do my best to answer.

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Stuff I Learned At Ron Montez Dance Camp

Now, it really isn’t possible to share everything I learned at dance camp.  Partly because a dance camp is experiential in nature, just like a competition, there is a lot of learning that happens by actually being present and having the experiences – a person can’t really learn how to dance (or ride a bike or paint in watercolor) by only reading about it.

I did, however, discover some nuggets that I thought were pretty interesting.  So this post is a conglomeration of information miscellany that doesn’t warrant separate posts.  Hopefully you will discover something new that adds value to your dancing.

That being said, I would share that doing this dance camp was a good choice overall.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing one to give it a shot.  I feel that the more a person can expose themselves to dancing, different perspectives about the dancing, and different dance instructors, the better.  A dance camp is one way to experience a variety of input from a variety of dance professionals in a short amount of time.

Now perhaps you already know some of these ballroom details.  And it’s also possible that I’d already heard these things in the past.  But there is so much to learn in ballroom, I generally can’t absorb all that is presented to me.  I have to hear things multiple times, and sometimes even hear the concepts described in a different way from a different instructor to develop a new awareness and understanding.  So for what it’s worth, here goes!

1)  In ballroom your knees always work together.  By “ballroom” I mean the Smooth or Standard dances and by “work together” I mean that both knees are bent or straight at the same time.  Conversely, in the Latin and Rhythm dances knees will often be performing opposite actions, one being bent and one being straight.

2) A Fall-away is the opposite of a Promenade.  Who knew?

3) Strictly speaking, in Rhythm Cha Cha there are no locks, only backward and forward chasses with the feet passing one another.

4)  There are 3 types of backward breaks in Bolero (video of Linda Dean demonstrating the 3 types below)

5)  Arm movement should come from the center of the chest, the sternum.

6)  There is no need for releve’ in the Bolero basic (this surprised me!) and in fact some judges prefer it be absent

7)  Always, always, always start a Bolero on a slow

8)  You can do Rumba timing in Bolero if it is on purpose and only lasts for two bars of music

9)  Everything in ballroom is a freakin’ optical illusion!  Don’t take big steps but do create big movement

10) Keep your nose over your toes!

11) Partners don’t actually connect via the back and hand in the ballroom frame, rather they connect upward through the arms

12)  The Samba is the “Brazilian Waltz” because just like a Waltz, every 2nd step is on the ball of the foot

13)  There is a difference between American Samba and International Samba!  It has to do with the timing.  In American Samba it is counted 1 & 2, or half beat, half beat, whole beat – the timing is pretty even.  In International Samba the counts are broken into fourths – the movement is less evenly spaced with 1/4th a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 1/4th a beat, whole beat, counted 1 ah 2, 3 ah 4.  International Samba appears to move more quickly and then slowly as movement is drawn out longer, then the next move is made quicker to make up the difference and to stay on the beat.

14) In swing you are supposed to emphasize the even counts

15) The “and” or “ah” count in Samba represents the time to do the Samba bounce action

16) Sharp leg extensions that occur when a dancer is at the lowest point of their movement (think foot flat on the floor, knee bent) is a Kick.  A Flick, on the other hand, is performed when a dancer is at their highest point of action (think on tippy toes with legs straight).  (Kind of like the difference between stalagmites and stalagtites!)

And there you have it.  Random but informative (hopefully)

Down And Dirty!

Okay folks, I’m tired and there is so much to say about the last two days of Dance Camp and the New Year.  I promise another, more detailed post will be forthcoming with multiple pictures, dance tips, and maybe even some video.

But there is one experience I am burning to share!  It was just too cool and makes me giggle so here goes….

First off, here is a photo of me an my new instructor:

rado

JUST KIDDING! 

Do you honestly think I’d EVER want to dance with anyone other than Ivan.  Exactly.   You are right.  Not gonna happen in this lifetime. 

But over the last weekend, Radomir was one of the excellent instructors at the dance camp and I honestly really enjoyed his sessions.  He is a technically excellent dancer, extremely disciplined and pristine in his movement, but he is also a pretty darn good teacher and communicator.  He brought a gentle warmth and humor to his classes while at the same time explaining the mechanics of steps.  In any case, he’s kind of a big deal and as an instructor and professional competitor, I, being a student, of course look up to him. 

Well, in the East Coast Swing class he taught, he introduced this one twisting move.  Imagine doing the actual “Twist” like from the song of the same name by the Beatles.  The extreme twisting action of the upper half of the body and the lower half.

In any case, after he had showed us this move in a series of steps of choreography, he stopped the class and told us he wanted it not to be so prissy, but rather “down and really dirty.” I think he expounded upon this even more but I couldn’t hear what he said because we were all laughing with embarrassment so heartily. Once he realized how he had come across, he started laughing too, but still the intention behind the move was there. He did want us to get low and feel the sultry, earthy quality inherent in the movement.

Now here is where it get’s really interesting. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Let’s show them how it’s done!”

OMG! LOL!

So he invited me to demonstrate to the class how to do this twist action “Down and Dirty” but first he explained the incorrect way of doing it…He began to panomime the same actions in a very repressed, shall I say “English-stiff-upper-lip” fashion and invited me to play along. I did and we performed the step stiffly and unemotively. He likened it to one of those middle-class gentry English dances done in the countryside at the turn of the century. We raised our hands and circled one another as if we were doing a courtship dance in the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”

But then we went for it! We twisted and we got low and we shook our katukus’ (katukasi???) Well, we shook our behinds like no kidding and it was awesome and he even gave me a high five when we finished.

You know, I think for me this was the best moment in the camp. It was just so cool to get to go to “the head of the class” with a professional like Rado and totally rock it. I danced with him a few other times for brief moments in other classes and always screwed up at least a little bit. But still, this kind of made up for it. It may sound silly, for me it meant that I had the ability to excute this move, so much so, that even being the biggest girl in the class, I was the one to demonstrate it to others.  I felt acknowledged and I also got to share my enjoyment of doing that particular move.

In any case, that’s my short story! I want to say Happy New Year and that I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring.  I’m grateful to still be dancing and blogging. I wish you all the very best during our next orbit around the sun and I just wanted to share this little tidbit even if I don’t have the energy and patience just now to fill you in on all the other cool things that happened at Dance camp over the last two days.

Cheers!

Love, Stef

Inspiring Ellen

Howdy ya’ll!  It’s me again in italics.  Why? I have another amazing guest blog post! 

This time it is Ellen from If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit, who borrowed my dress,  as she writes about her latest competition.  Ellen does the International Ballroom style of dancing.  It was so fun to watch her videos of this style which I’ve personally put on the back-burner for the moment.  When done well, however, it is gorgeous, and Ellen does a great job here as you will see. 

Ellen is inspiring to me.  You’ll understand why once you read her post.  She’s overcome a lot to get where she is in her dancing.  Honestly, I question if I would have the stick-to-it-iveness that Ellen displays.  Truly, it blows my mind.  She sets a fantastic example for all dancers of perserverence, beauty, and determination.

So, Ellen is another amazing gift brought to me by starting this blog.  We have kindled a nice little long-distance friendship all because of our love of dancing!  I hope you’ll enjoy her post!

The first thing I want to do is thank Stef for being :

·         an inspiration by being willing to sharing her struggles and triumphs

·         open to friendship and communication

·         generous beyond belief in allowing me to wear her beautiful dress and share my story in a guest post

I found Stefanie’s blog by accident because of a post she did about shoes…I couldn’t pass it by.  As soon as I realized she was a ballroom dancer, I went through and read every post  and I was hooked! It was strange because a part of me felt like I was reading about a version of myself in an alternate universe.

You see, although I am older than Stef, (I’m 50) I am a writer and a pharmacist as Stef is, and have many of the same life and health issues; asthma and weight struggles to name a few.  It was like looking into an odd mirror.  So I started following and commenting on the blog, and Stef and I started emailing; I became blessed with a kind, generous and supportive friend. Stef was even willing to let me wear her amazing ballroom dress to my competition – so I promised to write this post to share a bit about my dance background for perspective, my recent competition and the blessing of wearing Stefanie’s dress to compete.

I  love ballroom dancing. When asked about it, my response is usually “I’ve never worked so hard at something in my life to be mediocre – and not by choice!  I feel like I could study and dance for 25 years and still be in first grade.”

Then again – first grade was when I first started and stopped dancing.  At 6 years old, my mom signed me up for ballet at the community center’s after school program.  I was sooooo excited–I wanted to be a ballerina!  Unfortunately for me, after the first dance class, the teacher talked to my mom when she came to pick me up and told her that I didn’t belong in the class and she should sign me up for something that required less physical coordination – and mom did!  I was devastated! I spent my afternoons learning to crochet with a great big hook instead of learning how to dance.  Kind of a silly story – but admittedly – it had an impact on me that shows up even today.

At 43 years old, I  decided to take ballroom dancing, signed up for lessons at the local Fred Astaire and quickly became obsessed, taking 2 privates and 1 group a week.   But at the same time, a lot of my old demons came up.  I wasn’t very coordinated and not very good.  I am a very auditory person – I learn and remember things by hearing them – but dance is a very tactile sport – you learn by feeling and doing.  When a step was taught, changed or corrected and I was asked “can you feel the difference” I couldn’t.  I mean, I get the huge differences, (especially when it’s wrong – like being way off-balance) but not the subtleties of frame  or being over my foot or not.

Another issue that had a big impact on my dancing and my confidence was that I’d had a bad accident years earlier in January of 1989.  I went out one morning to run with my puppy 2 doors from my house and were crossing a small side street when a 1 ½  ton masonry truck took a right turn on red without stopping.  It drove into me hitting me on my right side. I was thrown 6 feet, landed on my head (contracoup brain injury – which means my brain bounced back and forth in my skull), my right arm and leg had muscles cut through to the bone (what they call a sausage cut  – all internal injury but no external cut) my right kidney was bruised and torn, etc.  I spent 4 months learning to walk and talk again, I was out of work for 9 months and I had seizures that required me to give up my driver’s license for a year.

To look at me today you can’t tell about the accident, except for the extra weight I carry from the medicinal studies I did on the healing properties of M&Ms at the time! J Any remaining speech issue I cover with pauses or by rambling long enough to find the right words so people don’t notice much.

But my back and neck are both in constant pain and have muscle spasms to this day as well as range of motion issues. This means I cannot whip my head around to spot.  Rhythm and Latin are very difficult for me with all the spins and turns.  Even American Smooth presented challenges; every time I did an underarm turn and came out of frame, I’d lose my balance because I could not spot, and then I’d lose my confidence and it was a downward spiral.

I practiced, took lessons, had coaching, you name it.  I went to competitions religiously and placed last in every heat more times than I can count.  Once I even placed 2nd in Rumba and Cha Cha proficiencies (87 and 84 respectively); it’s pretty depressing to place 2nd against yourself!   Between the head games from first grade and my physical issues, I felt defeated, but I stuck with it.

And then something wonderful happened…I started to learn International Standard about 2 years into dancing.  OMG – I didn’t have to let go of anyone!  I could stay in frame all the time!  No spins and no spotting!! Well, there is Viennese, but I am in frame and can hold onto someone!  YAHOOOO!  My world of dance changed!

I still learn more slowly than many people because of how I learn, and my head snaps in tango aren’t as sharp as other people’s because of my neck, etc. but I found my niche and my comfort level and confidence as well as my ability has improved!  For the last 5 years I’ve done International Standard exclusively in my lessons and my competitions.  My stamina has never been great though – I have asthma and at 210lbs I get winded easily, especially with Viennese and Quickstep.

Like everyone, I have my good days and bad days in dance.  There are days when I get it and days when I feel like I never will.  Sometimes it’s frustrating to see the newbies in the studio, many of whom dance better after 1 year, than I do after 7 years!  But I remind myself that I cannot compare myself to anyone else – only to where I was yesterday, or the day/week/month/year before that.  And when I am clear headed, I know I have improved.

So now you know a lot about me and how I got to know Stef. When I told her I had a competition coming up March 1, and that since I am having foot surgery just days after my showcase in June later this year, I don’t know when I’ll be competing again, she was generous enough to let me wear her incredible dress, custom made by Julia Gorchakova.

At competition I danced 20 heats and a 5-dance championship – the first time I did a Silver level championship.  When I saw my heat sheet a couple of days before, I realized I was starting with 10 heats in row, 1 off, then 2 more and so on.  Basically I had all 20 heats and the championship in an hour and 20 minutes!  While it may not seem like a lot to some-I was nervous about my ability to even make it through the heats, let alone how I danced!  I sent Stef an email asking for advice and she sent me words of wisdom and an inspirational link http://youtu.be/-vB59PkB0eQ that made the difference.

Wearing such an amazing dress made a huge difference in how I felt and how I danced. I received more compliments on Stefanie’s dress than on any dress I’ve ever worn in 7 years of competing! Even one of the judges told me how nice I looked when he saw me in the hall!  Everyone loved the way it showed on the floor and the way it moved.

So how did I do? My placements were good – not the best I’ve ever done but very good, and I am ok with that.  I not only survived the 10 dances in a row, I did them decently.  More importantly I feel like overall, I danced the best I’ve ever danced at a competition.  I was consistent (a couple of blips but nothing major) and relaxed – which is huge for me; I tend to let nerves take over on the floor. Despite the fact that people always give me grief that I don’t smile when I dance ( I really am smiling on the inside) I was having a great time and I’m really proud and pleased with how I danced.  I danced my best in this moment – and that is the most I could have asked for.

My goals in dance are first and foremost to do this for the joy and fun in it – when I get to the point of tears or stress I have to remind myself why I am dancing.  Second I want to learn and grow and become the best that I can be in this moment.  Today’s best may not be tomorrow’s, but I want to allow myself to appreciate where I am today, and what I have accomplished in this moment before I move to the next thing/moment.  And I want to dance to enhance my health-my heart, my limbs, my mind, my weight, etc.

So all in all – I accomplished my goals at competition with the support of a wonderful friend and beautiful dress.  Thank you Stef!

Thank you Ellen!  I hope the foot surgery goes well and you have a very speedy recovery! I hope to hear that you are dancing once again very soon.  Thanks for being my friend.