The Audience Decides

The Audience Decides

In the past few years we have explored the competition experience.  It is my belief that dance competitions such as this one provide a variety of experiences, all basically good and different depending upon the perspective from which you look at it.
From the point of view of Judges, it is often more about losing than winning.  It is certainly easier for Judges to pick losers than winners.  After all:
1.    Each Judge has their unique idea of what is right or wrong.
2.    Each Judge has an opinion of what is sacrilege or sacrosanct or important in each dance.
3.    Each Judge can more readily pick out what they are annoyed by.
4.    There are normally more losers than winners.
In addition the choices Judges have are not so definable or direct.  After all there is no:
1.    Basket to fit your partner in or goal to score.
2.    Tape to cross.
3.    Specific distance to traverse.
Some mistakes are too easy to ignore:
1.    Talking as you enter the Floor – Whether you want it to or not and whether the judge wants to or not; the fact is that as an appearance sport everything the judge sees from the moment they turn the page is fair and relevant.
2.    Adjusting your clothes as you walk on – Finish dressing before they call your number.  Some exceptions include zipping your fly and other emergency repairs that may otherwise draw attention to something other than dancing.
3.    Too long an entrance – The judge tries to see everybody for equal time and has 90 seconds divided by the number of couples – distractions.  If you entrance lacks the character, expression and feel of the dance it will not help your placement.
4.    Getting too close to the judge – If you have a great line and are 6 inches away from a judge he can’t see you unless he has very wide peripheral vision, which most don’t.
5.    Talking while dancing – It doesn’t matter if the judge can hear you or not.  Moving your mouth to talk never looks like a smile.
6.    Pointing – While dramatic, most judges will turn to look at what you are pointing at and mark them and not you.
7.    Shaking your head – While this may work to show disapproval to your children, it won’t sway a judge that it was somebody else’s fault.
8.    Starting over – Especially on individual routines.  If we can, on an individual routine, we want to judge what you do, not what you mess up and then see the same thing over and over again.  That 10 seconds once might be forgotten, the second time won’t erase the first.
9.    Too much exaggeration – Looking too high at the ceiling, too many arms, too much stuff loses character.  True that you must fill a large room, and be bigger than life, but this is not a football stadium.  Get real.
10. Full pockets – Leave your wallet in the room, take your pen out of your pocket.  Leave the cell phone off your belt.
11. Wear clothes that don’t fit – Tight is not necessarily good.  Long pants should be long enough to cover the back of the shoe.  Pockets should lay flat and not bulge out.
Now these are some of the common mistakes that are often seen that have nothing to do with the steps, level, character, or style of the dance.  Yet all too often they have an effect on what judges think, see and ultimately decide.
A student or a competitor will naturally change their approach to learning once they have decided to compete.  Especially once you have selected a particular event to compete in.  Foe example the way you take in instruction changes, the intensity with which you stretch yourself increases and also the way you practice will forever improve.  All because you took the simple step of saying, ”Yes I will step into the ring.”
It does not really matter what your ultimate goal in dancing is more artistic expression, social benefits derived from good dancing, having more fun in life, exercise and balance, or trouncing and dancing right over friends.  Competing will get you there faster and with better results than any other way.  Problems can come up when what you feel is important doesn’t match what the judges feel is important.
Judges are by definition subjective.  Any possible use of objective standards would have resulted in the Judge being replaced by a timer, photo finish or replay whenever possible.  Then the Judge would be replaced by a referee to guide the game rather than decide the game.
Children’s games were, for centuries, designed to help them develop the skills to become a productive adult.  Forexample:
Tag helped to learn the skills of stealth to wait for prey
Races developed stamina and strength to hunt.
Wrestling developed upper body and arm strength.
Ball games developed team work and division of labor.
Board games of old were obvious stories of life like Monopoly
Lincoln Logs, baby’s toys helped to develop dexterity, hand-eye coordination, visual recognition and memory.
Today’s kids, with Xbox and computer games, may well be developing the hand eye coordination that advanced machinery requires.  Many feel the lack of interaction with real people may be developing new skills before society has lost the need for the old ones such as  team work with a defined end, or following orders, or needed communication skills or even setting goals and accomplishing them.
And, while the politically correct may tell you that sharing is better than keeping, and working together should be warm and fuzzy, the real world is still competing for the cheapest cars, best health care, top athletes, most stuff, most power, etc.  And as long as competition exists the games our children should be learning should be the ones that develop the skills to succeed in the real world.
Few sports offer the variety of skills developed and improved through dancing.  Just some of the skill s developed are:
1.    Lateral movement
2.    Acceleration
3.    Speed
4.    Poise
5.    Balance
6.    Timing
7.    Compromise
8.    Leadership
9.    Style
10. Strength
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.  From an audience’s point of view watching a competition combines the two of the most often debated and enjoyed aspects of dance. Art and Sport!
Art defined in
The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
Art as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary:
The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.
Sport defined in
An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.
Sport as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary:
An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.
First of all it may not be important to any one individual watching a dance event as to whether it is judged as an art form or sport competition, because you as a spectator will undoubtedly have your own reasons to view or judge the participants.  In some respects, and in fact most your reasons are probably just as valid as the Judges.  If you want to watch a competition and see who uses their hands and arms most gracefully, most would say that you are looking at an artistic part of the dance.  If you watch a competition and look to see who has traveled the most and traversed the floor most often than most would say that you are engaged in watching the sport of dance.  This is not to say that athletes can’t do beautiful things nor that artists don’t require physical strength or stamina.  In fact I don’t believe it is the skills that define an art or sport, but rather the intent or path taken.
Some art seems to be obvious:  Painting is an art? – Yes
How about sculpture? – Yes, but don’t you have to be physically strong to handle the tools, and material needed to pursue the art?  How does that differ from needing strength and dexterity to drive a race car?  And yes, many consider NASCAR racing a sport, after all polo is considered one and this just uses more horsepower.
Look at this interpretation:  Given the task of interpreting specific music, relating a specific drama, image or choreography or even words will by most people be considered Art.
The competition if there is one will be by people who will decide who has:
1.    Most accurately portrayed the image that was to represented,
2.    Best interpreted the music into movement,
3.    Stayed true to the choreographers intent or vision
4.    Inspired the most emotion or feeling while watching and/or hearing it
5.    Given the piece new meaning or inspiration.
Very often when you talk to older dancers, they will tell you how competitions used to be done and those people most often look at dancing as an art.  There was a time when each routine was individually choreographed to music of the teacher’s choice.  The teacher and / or choreographer would take that particular music and the medium to be used, the student at whatever level and skill they had at the time, and create their story, interpretation and routine.  Judges would then look at each one, one at a time and select which piece of artwork they liked best.
Not unlike other art forms, the judges would compare techniques.  At an art museum you would hear of brush strokes, use of light, balance, color, and images within images and more.  It is not necessarily about accuracy, but emotion.
1854 was the year Adolphe Diseri developed the first portrait studios in Paris.  1874 was the first exhibition of Impressionist Art by the Anonymous Society of Painters which included among its members, Monet, Degas, and Manet.  Is it coincidence that impressionistic painting became fashionable at the same time that photography had improved to the point where it could better portray a person, place or thing?  Technology supplanted art, but more than that it was the audience that made the change necessary.  If the audience, customer, or patron would have ignored portrait photography, which by today’s standards was certainly primitive and void of color and much clarity, then who knows how much longer artists could have continued to make a living painting mothers, and wives smiling demurely and leaving the world wondering what they were smiling about.  In fact some did, but not those that were leading the technological revolution of art of using new materials, new paints and new techniques.  Not only did photography offer a clear image of the particular moment or person, it could depict much more quickly the surroundings, scenery, and other factors that made this image part of a person’s life rather than legacy for the future.  In fact, it my belief that the acceptance of this technology necessitated the evolution of art, and the same is true with dance.
Sports on the other hand involve the competition more directly.  What I mean by that is that a sport has certain rules, guidelines and fields of play that must be used.  BUT, The overriding principle is winning.  Sport that is done without the concept of winning is called exercise, training or maybe practice.  Sports can be artistic, but that does not make them art.  In fact most people who like sports can find something in the sport that is inherently beautiful to them.  So it goes back to objective and the means to accomplish it.  Competitive dancers are given only the basic rules, the beat, the rhythm, or maybe the fundamentals of the dance, and then must find the best way to win.
Will they use or choreograph certain steps over others to create the speed, movement or distance they feel is needed to impress the judges?  How does that differ from a team choosing one play over another?  Will they add lines, spins or arms to razzle-dazzle the judges and get the audience on their side?  How does that differ from the flea flicker in football?  Will they cut off a corner to get back in front of a judge sooner and show off their best stuff?  How does that differ from the athlete who uses the angle to make the touchdown or board to make the shot?

Even the costumes work as team costumes do to get the audience on your side.  Choreographers, and coaches function the same as defensive and offensive coaches do or as managers guiding you to use your best plays, best moves and strengthen your weaknesses to be able to perform at your best level.  And all in order to win.

Let us go back to being the audience, and certainly the popularity of today’s TV shows, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing With the Stars attest to the power of the audience.  Is an audience looking at these dancers as an sport or an art, or mere entertainment?  My guess is as an art, since it is the individual interpretation that is being looked at, and not the whole group dancing to the same music on the same field at the same time.  The fact that the TV audience are also judges doesn’t change any of that.  Dancesport events will only succeed when the competitors are treated as athletes and given uniforms, numbers and images that will remain with them throughout the year as with regular athletes.

I wrote years ago about America’s love of stars, and therefore Dancing with The Stars is not a surprise.  After all it even worked for Arthur Murray back in the 50’s.  To elevate Dancers to superstar athletes requires our changing the way we present the athletes to allow the audience and fans to recognize them easily as such.  As long as Dancing continues to highlight the Judges over the athletes the sport will be relegated to those of us who have learned by other means the beauty and fascination of Dancesport.

Michael Reichenbach


Dance Week

December 8, 2006

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