14. Hilton’s Championship Approach Lecture

Marcus and Karen Hilton’s lecture at the 1997 World Congress “The Championship Approach” was a masterly PR exercise. There was an all-too- short classic Slow Foxtrot of great beauty with which Marcus and Karen started as they were introduced. It started with a long exhibition-type introduction, through which I impatiently waited – but it was well worth the waiting. This demonstration- cum-lecture also gives the viewer delightful glimpses of their Waltz and they closed their lecture spot with a full length Quickstep routine, choreo¬graphed to all the accents and shadings of the music. As a must-have this video (produced by Dereck Brown of Peterborough – see Page 13 for advert) should be on your priority list.

Marcus’ lecture, in the grandeur of the Blackpool Empress Ballroom, is scattered with references to how brilliantly they would be dancing In the Friday’s British Professional Ballroom Championship; that they will fill this enormous ballroom with their presence; that they will be bouncing off the walls (not literally, I hope!)
But while this might sound a touch egotistic to the more timid, I do not disparage this kind of thinking. Indeed, I applaud it! To be a champion, as I have repeatedly stated in my Dance News series, ‘The Making Of A Champion1 you need to have total confidence in your ability. There can be no room in your mind for doubt, that great inhibitor of talent, that insidious underminer of belief. You are the best! Believe it!!
Marcus & Karen have this belief in unshakeable form. It is ingrained into every fibre of their being. That belief added to the quality and content of their dancing is what makes them champions. Of course, it helps to have been unbeaten for so many years of winning but long before they rose to the top I had picked them as champions of the future. I just knew they were championship material.

During the lecture, Marcus repeatedly paid compliments to Karen, on her beauty, on her dancing. Again, this js important as a morale booster, particularly just before an important world-class championship. This is the time to be especially attentive and considerate to your partner.

Quality of performance is something that one has grown to expect from Marcus and Karen. I compliment them on their quality of togetherness; on the excellent ultra-slim partnership line they now create, on never allowing the trace of a gap between their bodies.

Marcus does the talking. He talks about roundness in dealing with turning movements, not dancing at your partner (as in the flawed theory of ‘forward, forward’ on the first two steps of a turn). I am in full agreement with their use of bodyturn being initiated from the start of the first step of any turning figure.
Karen looks fabulous – and expensive – in a beautifully cut, long white dress, which is fugure hugging to the thighs. She fits into Marcus’ body as though a part of it, never moving away for even a fraction of a second, even during the intricacies of the fast-changing movements of their Quickstep showdance.

Marcus and Karen bring an extra dimension to the word Technique which, Marcus says, is very, very important; “Without technique there is no dance”. He also adds that his priority is to entertain; that he aims to have maximum audience-appeal in his presentation of the dances. I can live with that. In fact, it was a major part of my philosophy as a competitor. Marcus and Karen demonstrate a very attractive Waltz group. It features the Double Reverse Spin, which he analyses. He points out how his foot positionings allow Karen to produce a quality heel turn. (When you get the video, study this bit and the following demonstrations of the group closely. Karen’s heel turns are classic models of beauty and exactitude! Flawless!) The following toe spin by Marcus is absolute perfection. His two feet form one unit, heels elevated by exactly the same amount, toes lined up with micrometer precision, clean line from heel to toe. To many dancers this is just a relatively unimportant part of their choreography. To a perfectionist every detail is all-important.

When I said that Marcus and Karen brought an extra dimension to Technique, what I really meant is that the way they dance adds the word ‘Artistic’. Technique, as performed by a perfectionist couple, becomes Artistic Technique. It Is not simply a matter of placing heels and toes in accordance with the written Technique. (Competitors who cannot do that properly – a basic requirement – should be dropped in the first round). It is about using your feet, legs and trunk correctly and to the maximum of your artistic ability.

Watch Marcus & Karen in this video again and again in their demonstrations. You will probably focus first on their flair and charisma as dancers, next on body lines and shapes, next on quality of movement. After this take in the detail. It is in the fine detail that you get the best clues as to why a world champion couple are champions. Look at the footwork, which is impeccable. Marcus’ toe spins leave nothing to be desired. Study their beautiful foot closes (e.g. in a Natural Turn after a big swing of Waltz action). Look at the clarity of the sway lines, the smoothness of rise & fall, the flowing turn of shoulders.
This IS the epitome of Artistic technique.

There was a period, about 18 months ago, when I thought that chink in their armour, a slight lowering of their high standards, a penchant for backtracking, a glimpse of daylight between them. But not now. They are, if this is possible, better than ever.
I wonder if someone will ever attempt a ‘Lecture without words’?
The Chairman’s introductory announcement simply stating what the lecture is about (and the Notes explaining the detail). The couple presenting their work only pictorially; dancing again and again, with perfect artistic technique, the ideas they are offering, with or without music but without commentary. An interesting thought.

Top dancers like the Hiltons realise that they are role models for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dancers in dance schools, clubs and training centres. They have a responsibility to both teachers – the people who started them on their career – and pupils.

source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1517
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series