Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Post Dance Competition Reflections

It's been about a week and a half since my first dance competition at Indy Dance Explosion.  I have had time to recover, reflect, and ponder over my mistakes and successes at my first major dance event.

Initial takeaways from the event were overwhelmingly positive.  No, it was not as scary as I thought it was going to be.  Even though I forgot my Night Club routine during warm-ups and sped through it during the comp to the point where Brian had to tell me to "Slow down!" through clenched teeth, I did not forget it.  And miraculously, I did not forget any of my other routines either.  Could I have done the Waltz a little better and made my Two Step tighter? Sure.  But overall, I had no major glitches.

I had fun getting dressed up and putting on makeup (besides eyeliner) for the first time in 8 years. Yes, 8 years.  And that in itself was a good experience because it gave me confidence and reminded me what fun it was to dress up a bit.

Even though there is MUCH room for me to improve in all the dances I took away a few Golds for several of my dances which Brian tells me is good.  I also got a bunch of great technique tips from Brian that I can work on at my own leisure.  I love those solo turn drills and footwork techniques that I can do by myself.  That way I can dance on my own for an hour every day and really prepare for my dance lessons.  Luckily I have recently found a secret, mirror-lined room at my gym where I can practice!

So my overall feelings and reflections are positive.  I think the only hard part of attending a dance event is watching everyone else perform-not just in the compeitions but also socially.  Some of the dancers have been dancing for so long and they make it look incredibly easy.  But I always force myself not to get discouraged because you can't compare your dance career to someone else's beginning, middle, or end.  My main goal right now is to look more "natural" which just means more time drilling the basic footwork so I can force my body into the muscle memory it needs to MAKE it look natural.  And apart from that I don't take it to seriously.  Dance is my hobby, not my job and I want to keep it that way!

Getting into position for the Waltz routine.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Key Dance Pointers (Week of Competition)

It’s the week of competition and I’m more excited than nervous.  Well I was not nervous until I realized I was only doing a heal lead about 35% of the time in Waltz and Brian told me “they take off a lot of points for that!” “But don’t worry”, he assured me.  How can I not worry when left with parting words such as that!!! However,  I feel much better after we talked through each of the dances and the one takeaway I can focus on when performing each.  And here they are- for each dance these are my main weakness and the things I will be focusing on come Saturday when I am competing.

 1)   Waltz- Heal Lead! Gosh darn it! (and good posture)     
 2)  Night Club-Keep arms strong and open while making good arm lines.  (and good posture)
       3)  Cha Cha-  Keep steps compact and tight with feet turned out instead of straight (and good posture)
 4)  Two Step- Remember to open up each side when turning to gain momentum while pivoting (and good posture)
 5)  West Coast Swing- Keep right wrist straight, not bent while dancing (and good posture)

Yes, posture is king in all the dances so that will be my main focus.  The other items I mentioned are also pivotal to me looking my best.  I will report back next week when the competition is over to post my reflections.  Until then, I am super excited to dance all weekend!

Ready for competition!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Don't Think - Just Dance! (One Week From Competition)

How does one feel one week out from a dance competition? Overwhelmed, nervous, excited, apprehensive, stressed, elated- yes perhaps all of these things.  I'll tell you how it feels.  It feels like someone asked you what you did last weekend and while you are telling them about how you had two drinks with your friend you are already halfway through your Waltz routine.

Why does it feel like that?  Because that is totally what Brian did to me during my last lesson.  No warm up, no pre-dancing. Just a hey how are you and by the way we are waltzing right now.  And I got through it!!! I think that is what the week before competition feels like.  It feels like you can go out and perform any of your routines at a drop of a hat without someone cheer leading you or giving you any notice or warning.  And that feels good!

Of course there are still things I am working on- like perpetually bending my knees in Waltz and Night Club so that I can stay low to the ground, or focusing on my Two Step form so that I can turn faster.  Or even keeping my fingers stretched and pointed out so that the dance energy flows and I have good arm lines.

But really this week is about feeling comfortable with all my routines which I do! I am more terrified that I am going to injure myself this week as I am extremely prone to injury and I already injured my knee running two days ago.  So I think I may just wrap myself in bubble wrap and stay in my dance happy world and not think about the fact that it is ONE WEEK TIL COMPETITION!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Form and Feeling - Two Weeks from Competition

What is a dancer's mindset two weeks from competition? I can't speak for everyone but for me it has come down to two things - form and feeling.  When I started learning each routine respectively for Night Club, Waltz, Cha Cha, West Coast, and Two Step the I was really focused on just memorizing routines.  Of course, remembering footwork is key to getting through any routine! But now, that I know the footwork for my routines I can really focus on the form and feeling for each dance.

How do you explain form and feeling? It's really different for each dance.  Of course connection with your partner is key to any dance and I have addressed that in previous posts, but each dance feels different.  In Two Step the connection feels tight and strong and the dance basically feels good if all turns are executed quickly and cleanly.  West Coast feels more like an elastic band. As you dance you stretch in and away from your partner while completing the footwork and keeping time to the music.  Waltz feels like an intimate partnership.  In Waltz you have to stay low to the floor and your lower body has to meet your partners with each step.  As a result you are really dancing in tandem with your partner.  Waltz is also so focused on beauty and elegance so if you are not stretched up and away from your partner, while keeping your body low to the ground, the dance does not look elegant.  Night Club feels like an easy Waltz.  You have to stay low to the ground and connected but the steps are more basic.  Each person just needs to focus on keeping the steps long and elegant and the form wide and open.  And Cha Cha? It feels quick, tight, compact and fast.  If you can keep time to the music, focus on arm lines, and not do weird things with your hands then you pretty much look awesome.  

I try to stay away from "hamster hands", which is basically when you stand with your arms up and your wrists dangling limply.  I am so prone to hamster hands that I usually place a free hand on my body so that I do not look awkward.  So form and feeling- it's really important.  Two weeks out from competition I can say I that I am just starting to feel the dance instead of just going through the motions.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pulling it All Together - 3 Weeks from Competition

I'm in the last few weeks of preparation for my first dance competition and I can finally feel the pieces falling into place.  Backing up just a bit- when I first decided to compete in July I did not even know 3 out of the 5 dance styles I would be performing.  So I had to learn the dance and the routine at the same time.  This was fairly daunting for me and luckily my instructor, Brian, talked me into following through!

The first few weeks were spent getting comfortable with Cha Cha and Night Club.  The last few weeks have been spent primarily on Waltz which hands down is the hardest dance I have learned to date.  For Waltz to look truly beautiful it must be danced with a rise and fall that coincides with very specific footwork.  My instructor, Brian, really helped me to understand this crescendo feeling by likening the Waltz to the movement of a pendulum.  The first step originates from a position where the body is low to the dance floor.  You must reach heel to toe, and then rise up to the second step, where the pressure is just on the toe, and then finish again low to the floor with a toe-heel foot movement.  These steps create the sweeping beauty that most of us know as the Waltz.  I finally started to at least get these concepts in my last lesson which was very exciting!!!

Me with my awesome instructor.
Time was also spent tweaking my West Coast Swing, Cha Cha, and Night Club.  In West Coast Swing, Night Club, Cha Cha I am still just working on keeping enough tension in my dance connection and improving my arm lines.  In Two-Step I am continuing to refine my turning skills specifically ensuring that I keep my arm in at a 90 degree angle so my turns are tight and clean.  

The best part of the lesson this week was that I finally felt like my dance routines were coming together.  What seemed like a mess of jumbled, dance moves to me a few weeks ago is actually cleaning up quite nicely.  I have 3 lessons left to continue to refine my dance technique (not that I am counting or anything).  My goal is to perform at my best on competition day and beat at least one person!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

5 Tips to Improve Your Dancing

I am a month out from my first dance completion in July and as I progress through these last few week of preparation I’m getting a little reflective.  I now know all five of the routines I will be dancing next month.  However, I don’t feel comfortable performing all of them and here is where practice and repetition takes place.  I’m the type of person who always wants to know what kind of drills and practices I can complete solo so that I can improve quickly.  So here are a few tips I learned from my instructor, Brian, that I would like to share.

1)      Posture is important- maybe the most important (and easiest) thing you can work on.  Whether you are in a ballroom pose for Waltz or dancing a West Coast Swing, posture matters.  Standing up tall and leaning slightly back into the lead’s connection will just make you look like a better dancer even if your footwork stays the same!

2)      Allow your arms and legs to stretch out.  Beautiful leg and arm lines (just like posture) can make you seem like a better dancer.  When you hold a beautiful pose for even few seconds people forget that you may have just screwed up your footwork for a Nightclub turn.  Dancing does not always feel natural so you may have to stretch your legs and arms in an unusual manner but it is worth it for those photo ops.

3)      Don’t look at the floor! Seems obvious, yeah, but we all do it all the time.  Even people just walking around tend to look down more often then up.  Looking down makes you, the dancer, look awkward and unsettled.  Don’t do it!

4)      Lean into all connections.  There is no dance where it is not important to lean back into the lead’s connection.  Strong connections make you and your partner look more connected but it also just translates into better dancing since you are working with, instead of against, the lead.

5)      Project confidence and smile! As a serious person I know how hard this can be.  In fact, I will probably be projecting a false sense of confidence and happiness during all my routines.  But remember, your pictures will look better if you smile! (And people will probably think you know how to dance too.)

I plan to incorporate these five tips into my own dancing.  They are all little things but getting better at anything means progressing one tiny step at a time.  So this is a good place to start!