Saturday, May 26, 2007

Check Out This Dress!

This American tango routine is the fourth dance demonstration my partner and I have done. We did this back in February this year. Thanks to her for getting me into this, for all this dancing we've been doing, for the longest running partnership I've had with any person for any reason. And thanks to the cameraman for taping a rehearsal and traveling with us that cold night to make this video. Your smooth operation brings tremendous improvements to our performance!

As always, we felt really good after we did it, but watching the video revealed lots of things to improve. Then compressed video, the great equalizer, skips enough frames to conceal some of these blemishes, and makes everything look more snappy overall! Watch it here, or on YouTube where it's a little smoother. (And I have to say, if you watch it on YouTube, then check out some of the wonderful tango videos that appear in the "Related Videos" list just to its right. Lots of really awesome performances there.)

We've been learning the Dance Vision (DVIDA) American Silver syllabus for a few years now, and many of the moves in this routine come from that. But while our past mambo and cha-cha routines consisted mostly of syllabus moves with slight variation, we really tried to really cater this routine to the music whole-hog.

And this time, the music has many varied moods. You've heard of Cell Block Tango? Well this is the cell phone tango. I don't know why we chose "La Cumparasita" by Rodriguez, but I do remember the day my partner brought in a CD with 6 different versions of this song by various orchestras for us to choose from. Once we picked that, we had to make up the routine. My partner can make something up in an instant -- you could put on any song, any style, she would not have to have heard it before, and she could dance something to it that looks like a planned routine. So she improvised a lot, and where we could we brought in a portion of a syllabus move. There was also a move she had seen on a TV dancing shows that she wanted to use, and for the softer middle section we wanted to bring in some Argentine tango which I had had a tiny bit of instruction in, and have since taken up again. (This Argentine part could use a lot of improvement, and I'd like to revisit it in the future.)

For my part in it, I kept saying things like, "This is cool, but we gotta do something that reflects that little run in the music there." Or, "We gotta do pivots here, so that means we have to take out 4 measures of something earlier." One day she just told me to go home, work on it, and have it straightened out when we met again. I made an Excel spreadsheet with each column being a beat, eight beats to a measure, one measure per row. In most of the boxes, I wrote a description of what we were doing at that moment. I played the music over and over, moved my measures around, worked it out so it all fit.

We had the routine ready to demonstrate in January, but I got work that day and could not do it. So it was put off to February, and in the extra month, we added more stuff. Then one day we had someone videotape it, and it looked like crap. We had made up this bitch of a routine, and we could hardly do it. That was seriously one of the most depressing things that has happened to me in, say, the past half year. (Which I guess means things were going okay, overall, since this hardly qualifies as real hardship.) At that point we had just two more weeks before the February demonstration. And we never really know how much we'll be able to practice in a given week, because so much of my work comes up at the last minute. But we got it together, had it taped again the next week, and it looked much better.

Right now, there are no more routines on the horizon. We really have to get this syllabus done, get tested, get it out of the way so we can start learning some new stuff.


Stew said...

So tell me more about the Dance Vision (DVIDA) American Silver syllabus. Are you getting tested on your performances?

BTW, I have another friend who dances tango, I believe. Since I don't have any idea if she's ok with her name being online and all that, I'll just give her initials and say she's local. LM--tall with long dark hair. Know her?

(Oh, and again? Super impressive performance)

Elrond Hubbard said...

Hi Stew, thanks for the comp and the comment.

The DVIDA syllabus is not something I really recommend looking into, because so many of its moves are not lead/followable. This means that, if the follower does not already know the move, then she has a hard time following the lead for it, even if she and the leader are both good in their roles. Ideally, the moves at this intermediate "silver" level would be kind of hard, yes, but doable when the leader and follower are pretty good, even if the follower does not know them.

There are other syllabi. I don't know if they are more lead/followable. If you care, you could look into, for instance, the syllabus from the United States Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, but that's going a bit far, don't you think?

But nobody goes into ballroom dance asking what syllabus is being used. They just start out, see if they like it, and once they get a basic footing, decide if they want to focus on American (more open, flashy) or International (mostly traditional ballroom positions) style, and find a teacher they like if they don't have that already.

Jenny said...

Ok, so it's kind of like a set of already choreographed dances that one can work through, kind of like a self-study primer?

Elrond Hubbard said...

Well, since you apparently really want to know more about a ballroom dance syllabus, here we go.

The DVIDA American Silver syllabus is two thick spiral bound notebooks. Each costs maybe $50.00. One is for "smooth" dances: foxtrot, waltz, Viennese waltz, tango, bolero. The other is for "rhythm" dances: mambo, cha-cha, rumba, swing, west coast swing, samba. I think I left out something. Most smooth dances have 15 moves to learn per dance. Most rhythm dances have 10 moves to learn per dance. Each move is 1 to 4 measures long, and has maybe 3 to 12 or more steps (spread out over those measures).

In smooth, each step has several elements: timing, rise and fall, direction of movement, direction facing, and footwork (like toe-heel, heel-toe, toe only). These elements are listed in columns. For each step, you can read across the columns and see what all the elements of that step are.

In rhythm, each step has slightly different elements: just timing and amount of turn, 'cause footwork is always the same, and there's no direction of movement 'cause you don't move around, you just stay in one place in the room.

Reading the syllabus is a nightmare. It is some awful tech writing, if you catch my meaning. To make things easier, for an additional ridiculous cost, you can get the videotapes in which cheesy world-renowned instructors wearing visible body mics try to demonstrate the moves. This is also pretty hard to follow.

If you are a woman and you want to become certified to teach at this level, you have to learn all the men's and women's elements for every step in every move in every dance. If you are a man and you want this certification, you only have to learn this stuff for the man. So yes, it is sexist.

Leah pretty much knows all the parts for the man and woman. We are working to really solidify the knowledge, pretty much know all the elements by heart. And as long as we're doing it for her, I'm going to get certified as well. I will know a lot of the women's parts, but maybe not every element exactly. We do switch roles and do each other's parts. I am a lousy follower, but I'm getting a little better.

Why do I do all this in the first place? Well, it's a lot of free training. And I did not know how much I was taking on when I started. I think we're both ready to get this behind us.

But you know, we have not even started on Bolero yet. And that's a hot dance, with the rise and fall from foxtrot as well as the hip movement from a Latin dance. Rowrrr!

Oh, so, well, once you learn a dance move, you can use it when you go to a social dance. If it is a well designed move, in my opinion, it is a move that can be followed by a good follower even if she does not know it. Too many of the moves are not so well designed.

You can also put that move in choreography. For this, it does not have to be lead/followable, 'cause in choreography, like this tango routine you just watched, both partners know exactly what's happening next. Though it looks best if the man is pretty much leading everything.

lintqueen said...

This is a great description, and you've managed to capture something I've tried to explain (without success) before: that some moves are really only "doable" if both partners know what's coming...that there's no really good, unconfusing lead.

BTW, this cracked me up: "...cheesy world-renowned instructors wearing visible body mics..."

Bet you could tell me what mic set-up any show is using!