Being a Student at Competitions is a learning experience

Being a Student at Competitions is a learning experience

Now it is time to discuss the dance student, being a student, and how to prepare to be a student.  I should add that since I started as a student of dance in both Germany and in the States, I consider myself eminently qualified to speak on the subject.  For those of you now snickering and trying to remember if the Minuet was still in popular then, the answer is “NO”, but sometimes it seems like it. In general, we accept that most people want to be good at sports they admire.  The fact that in so many sports and activities they aren’t is more a testament to advertisers’ ever-increasing promise to get everything in life easily and without pain, than it is to the difficulty of accomplishing a desired goal.

Dancing, more than some sports, suffers from the image that this stuff is natural, and need not be taught.  In fact, the mere fact that someone would learn to do this is proof that a person shouldn’t try.  Further more, most people envision the true dancer as someone who effortlessly glides across the floor picking up partners along the way, with a dip and a sway and then romances the night away.  Whereas many guys are now hearing this and saying’ “Yeah, what Happened?” the truth is that there continues to be a difference in perception between “dance” as a pick-up girls activity, “dance” as an art form, such as Ballet, Modern, or Folk, “dance” as a ceremonial event such as for wedding dances and such that you are supposed to do only once or at best on rare occasions, and now dance as a sport.  In fact “dance” as a social activity remains, by far, the most popular type of dance either done, or taught.  Just as with golf, or other sports knowing the right way is worth the effort.  Most, if not all, competitive dancers started as social dancers and then they get involved and take the next step.

Just as for the occasional golfer or other athlete, dancers who know some skills practiced by the pros enjoy their sport more at whatever level they play.  This comes about for two reasons.  One, proper skills enable us to perform better and more easily.  Two, for the same reasons we enjoy the sport, we enjoy watching and then seeing, and possibly doing elements that others only dream about.  Golfers think of the birdies, eagles etc. that so often are highlighted on television.  Bowlers look to that three hundred points game, or how close to the perfect 900 points series they can get.  The reality is golfers get better by going to a practice range not playing the game, and bowlers become good practicing spares, and not just playing the game.  Work is always involved in becoming better.

Getting past the awkward stage is the critical juncture for most adults.  Can I become good enough before my neighbors and relatives find out?  Once I can dazzle them on the floor, I’ll have no problem.  How many have seen “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and company?  Do you think Richard Gere’s movie daughter would have been so supportive if she had seen him after his first few classes?  Remember the Fonz?  Always look good, and always be cool.  I am not going to spend money to look bad.  If the slightest hint of looking bad develops, let it be known that you didn’t want to do it anyway.  After all, we all have relatives, who will remind us of all the bad and stupid things we have done in our entire life, and they will do it free.  The wife or significant other means well.  She is so happy that he finally consented to try this out, she immediately tells everybody she knows.  It is kind of like knowing the secret, and not being able to share.  It goes against the grain.  Kind of like scratching the chalkboard, isn’t it?

Another thing ladies, don’t tell a guy about how well the teacher leads, or how wonderful he looks, or how admired he is.  Unless and until he do what I do for a living as well as I do, then, he is supposed to be better at this dancing around stuff.  This is not important stuff in the overall scheme of things, you know.  In fact, for many ladies, having an activity they can share together, do together, and where the lady feels like a lady riding in an open carriage resplendent and admired by all ranks right up there with important stuff.  If you insist on comparing him to the professional teacher, you might as well take up silence, and loneliness as hobbies, because most guys will not hang around any longer than they have to if they feel inferior to another.

Men start to like dancing when it starts to feel like driving.  Going around the curves, fitting in the tight spots, changing gears, quick stops and starts are manly things.  Back seat driving, complaining the car is too small or clunky, telling him the car smells like it did when he still smoked will not get you an afternoon ride in the park.  Yet ladies do that, and more, when they finally get their husband or significant other to a studio.  My suggestion is to let the man learn his skills and the lady learn hers.  They are not the same.  Many ladies are quick to point out, that if they have a strong leader, they can do all the stuff.  That really means if the man is big enough to pick you up and carry you around, you are willing to go.  That does not make it fun.  Also, don’t help the teacher by pointing out that he is stepping on your foot, is off time, or holds you wrong.  The teacher already knows that.  If you are comfortable with the teacher, stay out of the way, and be impressed with what your mate does.  If you are not comfortable with your teacher, get another.

In the beginning, the man has more to accomplish and learn in order to be able to do anything.  Later the onuses are on the lady to look good, and move easily, and these too are skills that need to be developed.  Then the man feels like he is driving a sport’s car, and not a sedan, and he will want to do it more often.  Who knows what that will lead to?   Competitions!!

Dance, and dancesport competitions continue to grow in popularity.  Rarely if at all will you have to wait longer than a few months to be able to locate a sanctioned event within driving distance.  There you can participate in or watch a truly high caliber amateur, pro-am or professional contest, most often with a good show, in pleasant surroundings, and often with lectures, general dancing, and affordable hotel costs.  Affordable and discount air-fares expand the possibilities available to include large parts of the continent to enjoy desirable vacation destinations where hobby and relaxation, or sport and discovery can be combined.  Those, including most of you that have participated in a competition can attest that the only thing more fun than watching a good dancesport competition is being part of one.  It is true in Dancesport, and probably in many other sports as well.  Dancesport competitions of all styles:  professional, pro-am, and amateur, offer different but equal rewards that are all too often forgotten in the rush to be like the pros.

All agree that youth baseball and other amateur sports are not the major leagues.  Yet, we constantly hear of parents driving their kids hard to become stars.  Probably so the parents will have a better retirement plan.  Arguing and/or fighting with coaches, umpires, and neighbors making derogatory remarks about other kids seem to becoming the norm rather than the exception.  We look at these people and say, “They have forgotten the purpose.”  For them, developing teamwork, sportsmanship, physical skills and dexterity are not as important as stardom, prestige, and applause.  If you look at sports of previous times and so-called “more primitive cultures,” you find that most games and sports children played developed the skills they needed as adults to survive.  Today’s message, all too often is, stardom, prestige, and money are all that is important to today’s athletes and to many of their parents.

Lest I digress too much, let us go back to dancesport.  Any study of dance competitions of old would offer a different form of winning.  The goal was often to be the last one standing, not the best one performing.  Even today, professional competitions include dances such as Jive, and Quickstep as the final dances to see whom if anyone has anything left at the end.  So maybe we still want to see strengths and not just pizzazz.  Though that may be the goal of the competition organizer, it needn’t be the goal of the competitor.  After all, today’s successes in life depend upon developing skills other than just strength and endurance.  These skills may have been imperative in ancient times, but are secondary in today’s society.

Few sports offer the variety of skills developed and improved through dancing.  They include lateral movement, acceleration, speed, poise, balance, timing, compromise, leadership, style, and yes even strength, just to name a few.  These skills develop not through a concentrated effort to improve each, but because of the unique nature of dance, developed from various cultures and societies, blending skills in an amazing way.  Dancesport therefore develops different skills and strengths in a natural and relaxed manner.  Having said that, one could assume that merely dancing would be sufficient to develop those same skills, but that would not be true.  There is something unique about the competitive spirit and how it enhances and focuses training and development.

Once a person has made the commitment to compete with a deadline to perform, the entire experience of learning, and practice changes.  I should say there is a difference between commitment and decision.  Each and every time you get on the floor from that point forward, your experiences are different.  At a club or party, you see how close you can come to extending yourself and stay in bounds.  You learn that time is of the essence, and practice becomes (if planned) more productive, whether that practice is on your own, in a class, or with an instructor.

Teamwork is the achievement of a group of individuals learning that with compromise, and doing different things, we can accomplish more, sooner, and easier.  In dancing some parts are obvious.  The picture is supposed to be the girl’s.  She gets the spangles, beads, and the man gets tails (something to hang on to?).  Steps are designed to show off the best parts no matter how good the man thinks he looks.  Men learn that floor craft takes on a whole new meaning when other people are out to get you, and we love it.  There is certain exhilaration in cutting off the competition, and zooming around the floor.  It is just like driving in the mountains with the top down versus the crowded freeway in the sedan, and you don’t have to travel any farther than your studio to get that feeling.

The competitive experience is not just about winning.  It is about pushing yourself to achieve more.  This achievement is not measured in how many 1st’s, 2nd’s 3rd’s, or “Glad you came Awards” you receive.  It is about how many of the other skills you have improved that will lead to happier, more productive, and yes, for some, even better results in the future.  Those results can include your dancing or competitive experience, but most likely will also include social confidence, business acumen, personal relationships, and so much more.  After all, if all your sport or hobby does is improve your sport or hobby, you haven’t gained much when and if it is all over.  Make sure you understand, going up and picking up that 1st Place is certainly a bonus we all enjoy, and strive for.  Without that we wouldn’t try as hard or accomplish as much.  That is what makes the competitive experience so valuable in achieving goals.

Anyone who considers dancing a sport or hobby should definitely consider competing at least occasionally if not regularly.  Decide ahead of time, what skills you want or need to improve and develop, and then look at the event as a training exercise with a date of reckoning and an event to celebrate.  Then look at what was accomplished, and what needs to be worked on next.  The only time the result should be paramount is when you are going for the National Championships in your division.  Until then it is all about learning, and how much fun you can have along the way.  So keep learning, keep practicing, and you too can be a winner in the greatest sport, LIFE!!

Michael S. Reichenbach


Dance Week

December 10, 2004

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