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.