20. A Time to Recap

Though the dancer’s official calendar offers an increasing number of competition choices every year, the middle of the summer (that is now for those who live in the Northern hemisphere) seems an ideal time to take stock of strengths and weaknesses as dancers, training methods and one’s visioh of what makes a champion. Bear in mind that two people’s individuality has to be blended into a partnership whole and that this partnership persona must make full use of all physical and temperamental assets and conceal the effects of physical defects (if any).

Partnerships should ask themselves probing questions such as “What sort of personalities are we?” and the corollary enquiry “What kind of style and movements suit us best?”. If a certain trendy movement or variation is popular but your partnership persona feels uncomfortable with it, would you, in spite of feeling unsure about it and having given it a good trial, still include it in your repertoire? You really do need to think very seriously about this last question!
In the series of ‘The Making Of A Champion’ I have suggested certain elements and exercises which lead to a more polished performance. This seems a good time to recap. I will start with the most neglected dance in terms of the allottment of practice time and study by nearly all dancers.

VIENNESE WALTZ: (Dance News, Issue 1499):
Speaking of the general standard of dancing in cham¬pionships: Natural Turns might get 7 out of 10, Reverse Turns 5 out of 10, and Fleckerls 3 out of 10. Always focus, as a first priority, remedial action on the weakest link in the chain (of your choreography). In this instance, the Fleckerls. Nor is it an option to leave the Fleckerls out of your performance when the championship is one of the major amateur or professional world- class events. “If there is no Fleckerl there is no Viennese Waltz”. I consider the Fleckerls, Travelling Turns and Change Steps to be compulsory figures in such events as championships. The Contra Check is optional, however! Although an attractive figure which may be used, it is not really a genuine member of the family of figures which spread across the world from Vienna.

FLOORCRAFT: (Dance News, Issue 1500):
Floorcraft is a very controversial issue and has received much coverage in national newspapers, on radio and television. Experienced First Aiders who regularly attend competitions tell me that bad floorcraft is the principal cause of injuries in dancing. When rehearsing among other dancers, you should make the development of your skills in collision-avoidance one of your targets, while continuing to dance rhythmically and remaining in normal Hold. This will entail a degree of extemporisation by the man, which must be followed, without missing a beat or a step, by the lady. You are unlikely to be able to expemporise successfully during a competition unless you have trained your reactions in practice until they have become instinctive. Never cross the centre of the floor, backtrack into a corner or plan a direction of movement which will cause a judge to have to move. If you appear to inconvenience the judge deliberately, you are more likely to a get a marking result diametrically opposed to the one you want, rather than one favourable to your continued progress through the rounds!!

The method of teaching by giving a couple a whole routine has its advantages but one big disadvantage is that the finer points of each constituent part – be it pivot, slip pivot, toe pivot, chasse, syncopated chasses,
lock, syncopated locks, spins of both standing and travelling variety, heel turn, pull step, impetus turn, corte, etcetera – are, usually, not given the in- depth study which is so essential to the optimum development of the embryonic champion. Frequently, the ‘quick fix’ of the routined choreography results in a reasonably good ‘top show’ by the dancers but a lack of understanding of the fund¬amental principles of each type of figure. Learn as much as you can of the mechanics of each element of dance structure.

BODY CONTACT: (Dance News, Issue 1503):
I recommend a re-reading of this issue. An exercise that I have found of areat value in training competitors is that of requiring a couple to place a sheet of paper between their bodies and to hold it there purely by body contact while dancing in groups. A more demanding verson of this exercise, which requires highly skilled couple-synchronisation and precisely controlled ‘togetherness’ , is to require them to maintain the piece of paper in position between their bodies while dancing a basic Slow Foxtrot with both partner’s hands clasped behind their backs. This requires superb balance and timing! But after all, one should ask for nothing less from a champion!!

EDUCATED FEET: (Dance News, Issue 1504):
Feet can look extremely clumsy while still complying technically with the heel-toe requirements of Footwork. Superb artistry of footwork is one of the more difficult of the many disciplines which, combined, make the framework for The Making Of A Champion. (A whole book could be written about Footwork alone.) I am not talking about mistakes like going onto a heel (Man) on the fourth step of a Progressive Chasse or Lock Step, a fault which deserves to be classified as a criminal offence when committed by an ‘advanced’ dancer. This is an error which ought not to be committed by the most incompetent of competitors in a Novice event!

I will identify just two of the requirements which I regard as obligatory to gaining respect as a fundamentally sound dancer:

1. Both feet should point in a direction parallel to each other on all but a small number of the total steps in the Modern Ballroom dances. The exceptions; i.e. the steps where the feet are placed at an angle to each other should be identified for you by your teacher/coach.
2. In passing, the insides of the feet should brush. (Unless you are bow-legged, that means that the insides of the legs should also brush.)

To amplify the point, the feet should pass so close as to physically make a brushing contact. Patent leather shoes, when they stroke past each other, tend to stick. I therefore recommend the application of a very thin film of vaseline to the insides of the shoes each time you compete.

THE FOUR FLOWS: (Dance News, Issues 1507-8-9-10-12):
These Dance News articles give a succinct description of the four distinct types of movement – locomotion, alternating (or repeating, as in Viennese Waltz) shoulder leads, rise & fall, balancing from-the-ankles sway – which, when blended together by the expert dance couple, give a spine-tingling beauty to Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. This takes a great deal of experience and acquired skill. Leave one or more out of the mixture and the dances lose much of their richness; become infinitely poorer.

There is a lot more to the pursuit of excellence in championship dancing but the foregoing constitute my short¬list of recommended priorities for your attention during a lull in your competition pro¬gramme.