No Regrets, Just One Shot At Glory

Now let’s talk about something completely different than what I have been going on about lately…

This past weekend I went out to a festival that was being put on to celebrate West Coast Swing in my area. As you probably already know, secretly I love West Coast Swing and wish that I knew a lot more of it, but in reality I spend most of my time studying other forms of dance for some reason. Still, having a night wandering around this hotel where the festival was being held was a lot of fun for me, and I would definitely go and do it again.

I was asked by my friends if I wanted to go because on Saturday night they were holding a ‘Ballroom Night’ at the festival. One of the many big rooms that the festival organizers were renting out for their event was set aside that night for ballroom dancing. The previous night they had done the same thing for Club Latin dance styles. I’m wondering if they did it as a way to bring in other dancers who may not do West Coast Swing to their event, in hopes of introducing them to West Coast Swing. Or maybe as a way to introduce all the people who only do West Coast Swing (I’ve met some) to other forms of dancing. Maybe a little of column A and a little of column B? Who knows?

We started out the night in the hall set aside for the ballroom party with a group class (given by a mother-daughter combo of instructors, which I thought was cool) on the basics of West Coast Swing. The fact that they were offering this class in that room is what led to my idea that the organizers were trying to bring in dancers who prefer other styles and show them West Coast Swing. The figures that they had us look at were pretty basic, but we had a fair number of people in the class who had never done any West Coast Swing before, and also a couple of people who had never done ANY dancing before. The instructors were really good about breaking things down so that, by the end, everyone could get through all of the material.

That was in stark contrast to the next lesson of the evening, which was a Rumba lesson given by a guy who owns a popular ballroom dance studio in the southern part of the Dance Kingdom. This guy… I have to say that I really don’t like the way that he teaches. He never really explained how to do the figures that he was trying to have everyone do. I knew what he was getting at, because he would say the name of the figure and I’ve done enough Rumba that I already knew the figures, but once he said the name of the figure, half the time he would just demonstrate it once, maybe twice if people were lucky, and then have everyone get together and try things out while walking around the room to help people.

I think the reason that he teaches this way is that all the people I know who say that they really like his studio and his way of teaching already know how to dance really well. If those are the people that he deals with and he doesn’t worry about teaching newcomers anymore, then I could see his teaching style changing over time to accommodate that. That’s good for people who have an idea on what they’re doing, because it saves them time during their lesson or class from having to break things down, but it’s bad when you have a number of people who don’t have that kind of background, because they get left out of the fun.

There was also a good ten-minute period during the lesson where someone must have crossed the wires for the audio system somewhere, and we started to hear the announcer from the event going on in another room coming over the speakers in the room we were in. The instructor was wearing a headset which would let him speak over the speakers sometimes, but whenever the announcer started to talk it would cut the instructor’s headset off and take over. I thought it was hilarious, especially when the announcer would tell everyone to “make some noise!” and then some people in our room would half-heartedly cheer because they didn’t know what else to do. But it definitely didn’t help the people who were trying to figure out what the heck the instructor was teaching with the problems they were having.

Needless to say, most of those newcomers ended up dropping out of the lesson before it was over. This guy has a core group of people in the ballroom community in the area that really like his way of doing things, and those people all stuck with the lesson until the end. I tried to help some of the people that dropped out, waving any of them sitting in the seats near me over so that I could walk through it with them.

But there were so many that had taken seats in other parts of the room, and the instructor constantly forgot to have people change partners. Even when he did remember to tell people to switch partners, there was no organized system in place to do so, so all the ladies just ran to whomever was closest, and half the time the extra ladies who didn’t have a partner before switching ended up not having a partner again after the chaos was over. I tried my best to work with as many ladies as I could, even asking the partners I had to swap with someone else who was sitting out when she got the hang of her part even though no one else was switching, but I only managed to do so much before the class was over. Sad face.

That kind of frustrated me, but it led to an interesting encounter. After the class was over, I found Sparkledancer talking with a pair of girls off on one side of the dance floor who had given up before the class was over. When I went over to say hi to Sparkledancer, I got to talking with all three of them about dancing for a while. One of the girls told me she was “reaching the age where she needed to try a new hobby” (whatever that means) which is why she had come out to try dancing for the first time that night, and brought her friend along with her for support.

The idea for ballroom dancing was actually put in her head by a guy she had met in a professional capacity not that long ago, who had been telling her all about how much he loved to go out ballroom dancing before he got injured and had to stop. When she mentioned that the guy told her about going to the Electric Dance Hall, I asked the guy’s name because I figured I might have met him before. That guy ended up being Apollo!

Small world, huh? It’s good to hear that he is still talking about ballroom dancing with others even though he can’t do it himself until his back heals. Next time I see him, I’m going to have to bring him a cookie.

One of the coolest things I spent time watching that night though was part of the Jack and Jill competitions that the West Coast Swing event was holding. This ended up being the event that the announcer we had heard during the Rumba lesson was talking about, and it was going on in the main ballroom of the hotel so you couldn’t miss it. After the dance party in the ballroom room that I was in started and I went through a few dances, I just had to duck out and see what was going on in the other room. After all, the mysterious voice from the speakers had told me to get excited, and I’m not the type to let a mysterious voice down!

I think that Jack and Jill competitions look like fun, and the concept also sounds like a lot of fun. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a Jack and Jill event being offered for ballroom dancing anywhere I’ve been to dance though. I’m sure they exist out there somewhere, but not near me. Why is that? I hear about Jack and Jill events all the time in the context of swing dancing, like the one at this West Coast Swing festival. Do swing dancers just prefer Jack and Jill competitions, while ballroom people avoid them?

Maybe those of us in the ballroom community should step up and offer more Jack and Jill events of our own. And not just because I want to try being in one… OK, maybe just so that I can try being in one. But Jack and Jill should work great for ballroom dances, don’t you think? After all, the dances are supposed to be Lead and Follow, right? We could use it as a way to test how well we could Lead and/or Follow!

Or maybe I should just try to up my game in West Coast Swing and enter into their Jack and Jill events. I have time right now, right? Well… maybe. I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to other things that are not dance related. Like writing a lot (none of that is even vaguely dance related, so you won’t see it here), and hanging out with my cat a lot, and going through a lot of things at work because there’s a lot for me to do at work. But maybe I can shuffle things around and focus on becoming a West Coast Swing master for a while for the sole purpose of entering a Jack and Jill competition. I bet I could do well enough to get an honorable mention or something. 🙂

This coming weekend I am planning on heading out to a party on Friday night. It is a holiday party, as you might expect based on the date and all the hearts that you see hung everywhere. Rumor has it that there might be a big turnout at this party, so I could get to meet a lot of new people, plus see a lot of other people I don’t see much lately. That should be fun.

On top of that, I have to meet up with a couple of the other people helping to organize this competition in March that I’ve been volunteering to help with. This won’t be a meeting of all the people involved – just a couple of us talked about getting together to iron out the details on all the little things that need to be done which no one has talked about yet. Things like who is going to volunteer to go out and pick out snacks/mints for all the competitors and judges, or whether or not it is a good idea to bring a printer to the event to print off any documents needed rather than trying to print out enough beforehand (I think it is a great idea, but really don’t want to end up lugging my printer around), and the like.

How many of these tasks am I going to end up getting assigned to do if I make the mistake of bringing them up? We’ll have to find out this weekend!

Why Do We Accept Things The Way They Are?

So… I recently saw a post someone else wrote that talked about why people should go into competing in the ballroom world if the game is rigged. As I read through it, part of me thought that things that I said over the last two weeks might have had something to do with influencing the post. But then I got to the suggested solution of dancing for yourself during a competition, because something something even if the game is rigged behind the scenes they can’t take that away from you, inspirational point, motivational words, and so on… and all I could think at that point was: why?

Why is it that we are putting up with this in the first place?

Let’s all be honest here – if you’ve spent any time in the competitive ballroom world, you know there are problems. The way that competitions are judged is a major one lots of people complain about. What is it that judges are looking for that makes one dancer better than another? You can list off all the points that your instructor tells you that you need to practice (posture, footwork, timing, alignment, etc.), but how do you know that the way you are doing those things is better or worse than the other competitors on the floor? There’s no real concrete system in place that can be referenced so that you know what the scores you get mean.

Because the way that competitions are scored or ranked is… well, pretty arbitrary, there’s are a lot of issues with it. You can dismiss it for whatever reasons you want and try and tell yourself that it’s always been this way so we should just learn to accept it, but I have to ask again: why? Why do we have to accept something that is fundamentally flawed and not ask that it be changed?

I’m going to break character and actually use some formal names here for a minute, so forgive me. We already know that there is a problem with the way that ballroom competitions are judged based on what USA Dance has been doing to try and make ballroom dancing an Olympic event. For those that haven’t been keeping up, one of the major points that keeps being thrown back at USA Dance is that they can’t consider ballroom dancing as an event in the Olympics until they can implement a more objective and consistent judging experience. WDSF have been testing out a system that would begin to solve this problem, but from what I have heard the system has been given mixed reviews.

But that problem that the IOC brought up about judging goes hand in hand with the problems that dancers bring up when they talk about the issues in judging ballroom competitions – specifically, how bias and name recognition can influence the results of a competition. We all know that dance politics exist. There is a game of influence being played behind the scenes that involves a lot of money changing hands to give you name recognition. Whether you want to admit that it’s happening or not, I’m sure we’ve all heard about it, so it has to be happening on some level if people keep bringing it up.

I’ve certainly heard accounts of it, and possibly even experienced it myself (though I can’t prove it): At a competition I was at I was sitting near a group of competitors who were talking about how the night before the most well-known couple in an age group had scratched from a round because of an injury, and somehow still ended up getting marked as first place by more than one judge even though they weren’t even on the floor. That’s name recognition right there.

As for me, in one competition I was marked in first place in all dances of an event by a judge I took a coaching lesson with the month prior, even though the other couple that ended up winning the whole event normally dances other competitions in events four proficiency levels higher than me and wins. In my mind the only way that someone could have marked a couple who is clearly more advanced than me as dancing worse than I did, even though all other judges marked them first, is because of bias brought on by the judge remembering who I was because I had worked with them recently. There’s really no other way it makes sense.

People have argued that the way things are judged right now is important because ballroom dancing is not just a sport, it’s also an art, so it’s hard to figure out a way to quantify it objectively. I hear this argument from lots of people, both professionals trying to explain placements to their students and other competitors. And I totally get where that argument comes from. People don’t interpret artistic expression the same way, so it’s hard to set objective rules around scoring for art. But if we all know that these problems exist, and that dance politics do detract from the enjoyment of dancing and competing, why should we be content to leave things like this?

Not all who dance are wealthy. We can’t all play the games behind the scenes to make our names known among the judges. Then there are people (like me) who are lucky enough to make enough money that they are able to dip their toes into the dance politics game, but really don’t like doing it. I would prefer that people remember who I am for other reasons, rather than because I paid them money to take coaching lessons with them. You know, like how hilarious I am! I mean, at least I believe that I am hilarious…

Having gone to a fair number of competitions in my life, I know that the vast majority of the people who attend these events fall under the umbrella of either not being able to afford to play the dance politics game, or completely uninterested in it in the first place. So why is it that we as the majority don’t get together and make our voices known, to ask that things change, and ask that the organizers work on finding a way to remove the bias that money brings into these events?

Think that the scoring in ballroom competitions can’t be more objective since dancing is an art form? Well, why don’t we find a way to compromise and make part of the score based on elements that can be objectively measured and part of the score based on artistry! I would love to be able to tell people that I managed to be technically perfect but artistically terrible during a competition – that sounds like a result that would be right up my particular idiom! Also, think about how much it could benefit you during your lessons if you could take your expanded scoresheet back to your teacher and say “Hey, I did really well in posture in all my rounds at this event, but got low marks for using my standing leg. Can we figure out what I’m doing wrong?” I don’t think that this is an impossible thing to ask, and I also think that there are enough people out there that would like to see these changes that, if we made our voices heard, the people in the upper echelons of the ballroom dancing world would have to listen!

Confession time: I usually downplay how well I do at competitions when I write about them here. I’ll say things like “I did pretty OK’ a lot of the time, when the reality is that I have won most of the competitions I’ve been to since I started taking competitions seriously. I have tons of first place ribbons, medals and trophies sitting around my house because I’ve done really well as a competitor. That should tell you that the way the current system works is actually working for me. But you know what? I STILL THINK IT SHOULD BE CHANGED! I don’t care that I know how the game works, and that my coach helps me to play the game somewhat so that I benefit from more than just dancing well. I firmly believe we could find a better way if we all worked together.

Think about it like figure skating – there were problems with the way figure skating events were judged, and they managed to work out a different way to judge their international competitions to correct those problems. While it hasn’t been perfect, they are having the conversations and continue to work on making the system better. There are a lot of similarities between the worlds of ballroom dancing and figure skating (OK, I know it’s more like ice dancing, which is a separate sport, but bear with me). Don’t you think that we could use that as an example to show that change is possible?

Getting the major dance bodies to work together to discuss this would be the first major hurdle that we would need to get over though. While USA Dance and WDSF have become fairly friendly with each other, there is some real animosity between USA Dance and NDCA. Then there are the major franchise players like Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire that prefer to live in their own little worlds. And those are just the bodies in this country that would need to set aside their differences to start discussions. It would take some work, I know, but the potential benefits of creating a politics-free system that is fair to everyone would be enormous for all competitors!

But that won’t happen unless we, as the majority of people who want to compete in this sport, stand up and tell the people in power that we want to see change. We can start by actually acknowledging that there is a problem, and rather than finding ways to work within the system to make ourselves happy, we can begin to have conversations about ways to change the system to make it better. Many of you have been in this world competing for a long time, and I’m sure you have great ideas about what could be done to make things better. So why not bring them up? In the wide world of the Internet, we could easily create a place where we could have a public discourse about what we would like to see change, and how we might go about changing it. If enough of us get together and start doing that, the leaders of all of the dance organizations would have to acknowledge us at some point.

We can’t just wait around for a person who is charismatic enough to reach out to the leaders in all these organizations and convince them to come to the table and start discussions on how to change the world of competitive ballroom dancing. It is us. We would need to work together and start the change ourselves.

Sure, we’re not all going to agree on everything right away, but if we don’t even start talking about it seriously, then we are resigning ourselves to living with the system as it is now forever. Sure, going out and dancing in a competition for fun, or dancing as a way to measure your own progress year after year is OK as a temporary band-aid, but it isn’t going to heal the wound underneath. There are underlying problems that need to be fixed, and I truly believe that we could find a way to fix things if we acknowledge the problems and actually start talking about them seriously.

So what do you want to do?

 

(Note: sorry that there are no pictures this week. I got on a roll with this, and couldn’t think of anything to add graphically that would mean something for this discussion. I’ll go back to my normal format next week)

Flimsy As It Is, It’s Business Like

I want to follow-up to what I wrote last week for a moment… a couple of days ago a competition that I went to last year (which is coming up again in a couple of months) released their tentative schedule for this year’s event. My competitive partner Sparkledancer got an email from the organizers of that event announcing the release, so out of curiosity she went and looked at it. Shortly afterward, she sent me a bunch of notes about it and how stupidly she thought it was set up. Of course, now I had to go look at it myself, and I totally agree with her. Looking at the way they have the events arranged really made me think of all the shady conversations I listened to while discussing how to arrange the schedule for the competition I am helping out with.

It’s like… no one cared about how difficult they were making the competition for dancers who were thinking about attending. Just listen to what I would be up against if I wanted to go to that event this year: I dance one style (International Standard) in one proficiency level (Silver), but I’m allowed to be in two age groups. That gives me a chance to dance a few more heats if I want to put my name in for both age ranges, which usually I would consider to be a good thing. The problem is, for one age group I would be dancing all my rounds during the day on Friday, but then for the second age group I would be dancing all the rounds during the day on Sunday.

Nuts.

To.

That.

Even if Sparkledancer wasn’t injured and I was actively competing, I would probably try to get out of going to this competition. If my coach told me I had to go, I would seriously look at only going to do one age group. Staying for three days and two nights, with one day in the middle where I have nothing to do is not appealing to me in the slightest just to dance four different dance styles twice each. If each dance is limited to 90 seconds, that’s three days and two nights of being there to be on the floor for ONLY 12 MINUTES! Who is it that thought this was a good idea?

But it wasn’t just the two age groups that I qualify for that were split up like this. For all of the adult age groups, they are ALL divided in this way. There are no two consecutive age groups on the same day, it’s always one on Friday, and then the next age group up on Sunday! For all proficiency levels too, so it doesn’t matter if you are dancing Bronze or if you’ve made it all the way to the highest echelons as a competitor – if you want to compete in more than one age group so that you get a chance to dance multiple times, you have to be there on both Friday and Sunday. Why in the world would they structure things like this?

Oh. Right. Like I said last week, if you want to guarantee that your competitors will occupy a certain number of hotel rooms during the run of the competition, you shuffle the events around like this in order to force people to hang around. I know firsthand that competition organizers do consider that very fact when they plan out their schedule. Shadowy figures making shadowy deals in the shadows. Dark, mysterious stuff!

Ugh… I think I’m going to only be able to see competition schedules in this light from now on, whether I am looking to compete or just looking to volunteer at the competition. It’s going to make me sad when I see proof that so many competitions are scheduled in this bizarre manner in order to force competitors to hang around longer. The more I see it, I think the more sad I am going to get about it. Insert crying emoji here.

Anyway, let’s stop talking about this before I get too depressed, and let’s move on to different subjects.

This past weekend I did manage to get out of the house and attend a party that was going on at the Electric Dance Hall. I got there early enough to be a part of the lesson that Lord Junior was teaching before the party, and was surprised to find that I only knew a handful of people that were in the room. There were so many new faces that I had never met before! As I rotated through partners during the lesson, a lot of the ladies told me that this was also their first time ever being at this studio, or being in any studio. I am terrible with names, so if I ever see any of these people again, I probably won’t be able to introduce them to anyone else (it’s a weakness of mine). I’m usually pretty good about remembering faces though, so I can at least wave at people I’ve seen before.

Lord Junior had chosen to teach some Jitterbug that night before the party. He told everyone there that when he started learning to dance a million years prior, it was the first dance style that he was shown, so if he could become a dance instructor using Jitterbug as a launching point most everyone else should be able to pick up the style at some level as well. Lord Junior is only a few years older than me, so if he learned that style a million years ago, that probably means that I am getting old…

The figures we looked at weren’t anything groundbreaking for me, but since there were so many people in class who had never danced before we spent a lot of time going through everything to make sure everyone felt mostly comfortable with the steps. The few figures we looked at besides the basic were the Follower’s Outside and Inside Turns and the Waist Roll. All the pieces that we did were some combination of those figures, like how to go from an Outside Turn to an Inside Turn, or from a Waist Roll to an Inside Turn, etc. etc..

I don’t know if it was luck or what, but during the class Lord Junior had all the Leads line up across the middle of the floor and then had the Followers rotate through the line, and I got to be the very last Lead in the line before the person would have to run all the way back to the other end of the room to start going through the line again. Because several of the new people figured out that I kind of knew what I was doing, I was asked quite a bit to help them figure out what they were supposed to be doing. Sometimes this involved walking through the figures slowly with them rather than following along with what the rest of the class was doing.

The rest of the time, most of what I did was to keep a slightly firmer grip on my partners to try and rein them in a little. I’m sure you’ve danced with new dancers recently – they tend to be super excited, and end up using huge over-exaggerated movements for every step. While they could get by when the music we were practicing with was slow, I knew it was going to make things hard for them when the tempo picked up, so I tried to help them pull back a little and keep things cool.

One of the things that Lord Junior told the class that I wished he would have stressed more was that you could dance Jitterbug to Quickstep music, but you needed to stick to the middle of the room when you did that so that the Quickstep dancers could get around you easily. A Quickstep song was played early on in the evening during the party, and as I was walking out to the floor to dance I saw that several of the new couples were starting to do the Jitterbug right in the middle of the line of dance! Apologizing to my partner, I ran over to each of the couples and told them that it wasn’t going to be safe where they were, and directed them to go dance under the big chandelier that hangs in the middle of the Electric Dance Hall where everyone could get around them.

Once I had finally corralled all the wayward couples in the middle of the room, several of them were looking around anxiously as the Quickstep people danced around them. It appeared that they weren’t very sure of what they were doing while they were out there in the middle. So I picked up the partner I had abandoned at the start of the dance and told her we were going to go out there and dance Jitterbug with them, to try and nudge them in the right direction. And it worked! Once there was someone else in the middle dancing, those new couples seemed to feel at ease enough to begin dancing as well. Hooray!

Granted, that whole exercise took around 45 seconds to carry out, so the song was already almost half over by then. Even so, I consider it a win.

Sparkledancer was having much better luck with engaging the newcomers than I was though. I mostly stepped in to make sure that the new dancers stayed safe, but Sparkledancer took it upon herself to ‘adopt’ several new couples that were on one side of the room and help make sure that they could be out on the floor having fun rather than sitting out and just watching while waiting for a Swing song to come on where they could use the steps they learned in the class. For instance, she would pull the ladies out to the floor during the line dances they played that night and went over the steps with them so they could participate.

During slow songs she showed these couples how to get through the basic steps of the Rumba or the Bachata. When I was nearby, I got roped into helping out for that as well. I make a good dance dummy, so the guys were able to watch my feet while I danced their part, allowing the women to focus on watching Sparkledancer’s feet as she danced theirs.

It was quite the entertaining evening, and hopefully a lot of these new faces end up being regulars at the studio and in the dance community. The more the merrier, right?

One last note, but it’s kind of sad, at least for me: Lord Junior sent out a mass message on Monday night to those of us who usually come to his Wednesday night Standard Technique class letting us know that he was going to be cancelling class for the next couple of months. I was at Latin Technique class already when I got his message, so I got to hear him explain what was going on in person.

He has been getting a lot of new students lately, and has been running out of time slots that fit into these people’s schedules to take lessons. This is good for him, since that’s potentially more students he could end up training to be competitors who might be interested in coming to his technique-focused classes in the future… but he needs to find time slots to work with now to support that effort. Since a lot of people who had been coming to Standard Technique have been out a lot lately due to injuries – like Veep, and Sparkledancer, and Apollo – the class has been pretty small the last few months.

Theoretically this will only be for a couple of months. By then, the hope is that everyone will be all healed up and we can all get back to class like normal… or at least they might be patched together well enough to attend every other class or something. Also, maybe there will be more people who have never attended before asking about coming to the class as well. Until that time though, I now have my Wednesday night’s free again.

I liked Standard Technique class a lot. It was probably my favorite class I went to every week. I hope that it will be back soon. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it will be!

We’re Wicked By The Book And Class Is Back In Session

Let me tell you – volunteering at a much higher level for a competition lets you hear about a lot of stuff that you’d probably not want to know if given the choice. There are aspects of running a competition that, while I understand them from a business perspective because the ideas come straight out of the business course textbooks I used to have back in college, as a dancer who would be looking to sign up at an event like this they make me feel… slimy. There’s just something that feels wrong about doing things in certain ways.

Let’s talk about the example that’s been the bane of my free time this past week: I have been part of a lot of meetings, emails, text messages and long phone conversations trying to figure out the schedule for the competition I was talked into helping out with. I’ve gleaned a couple of facts from all of this talk, and they don’t make me feel good. These may seem obvious to other people reading them, and I guess deep down I knew these things to be true as well, but saying them out loud makes it sound really bad.

The shadowy figures that plan competitions… and me!

So I’m going to write them out here instead…

  1. Competition organizers really focus on catering to the competitors who dance at the highest levels when they consider how the competition is organized, or what kinds of perks to add to the event. Even though the number of competitors who dance at this level is tiny in every competition I’ve been to compared to the number of competitors who dance in all the levels below, listening to the competition organizers talk about the event makes it sound like that larger group is really irrelevant compared to those competitors at the top of the proficiency scales.
  2. While the competition is set up to cater to those competitors at the highest levels, large parts of it also seem specifically designed to try and extract as much money from these same competitors as possible.

Case and point – this competition is scheduled to cover three days. Two days are used for the actual dancing, and the third is set aside for post-competition activities. When talking over the schedule, there were really no comments about how to set up the events for all the syllabus heats and anything else below those top proficiency levels. Those all ended up being grouped together by style and set down during the morning/afternoon sessions on the first two days (Smooth and Rhythm one day, Standard and Latin the other). That discussion took all of two minutes to finalize.

The rest of the time was spent deciding where to put all the rounds for the top proficiency levels. This competition was given the rights to host high-level events from a couple of different four-letter dance organizations (you can probably know all the acronyms, just pick a couple from that list and you’ll probably be correct) in a bunch of different age groups. So much time spent worrying about and figuring out how to arrange just a handful of events!

I remember the very first conference call I had to sit in on about scheduling these – the very first note that someone threw out was that we needed to put the events from these different dance organizations that are for the same age groups into different evening sessions. The reason given was that if they were arranged that way, the competitors for those age groups who wanted to sign up for those different events would have to stick around at the competition for more than one night. Yeah, that was actually the primary reason thrown out for everyone to consider!

On top of that, if they stuck around for multiple nights to compete in different events for their age group, the thought was that they would be more likely to stick around for the third day of the competition to participate in the post-competition activities. If you haven’t guessed by now, “post-competition activities” is code for scheduling and attending private lessons with the various judges whom they are bringing in for the competition. The more people whom stick around and sign up for lessons with the judges, the more worthwhile it is for the judges to want to come and judge for this competition this year and in future years.

Why is it that the talk is all about how to get the highest proficiency level competitors to stick around an extra day to hopefully sign up for private lessons, but no thought is given to how to get the lower proficiency level competitors to do the same thing? Well, the idea is that in all likelihood these competitors didn’t get to the highest proficiency levels without taking a lot of extra outside coaching, and also playing the dance politics game that I’ve talked about before. If the competitors have done it before, they are the most likely group to do it again. Sticking around for one more day to meet up with the judges doesn’t seem quite so bad if you have to book at least one night in the hotel just to dance in all the events you want already, right?

Of course, the option to sign up for coaching from the judges is open to all the competitors who dance in heats below the highest proficiency levels, and the advertising for the competition that goes out to them gives them the information needed to sign up if they so desire, but no one expects a dancer who is still working through syllabus-level heats to look for coaching from some big-name judge on the international circuit.

On top of that, all of these highest proficiency level events are only held in the evening sessions. No one said this specifically, but it’s something I’ve thought about in the past – unless you live somewhere in the country where the airlines offer a super late flight so that you can leave once you are done dancing, you are almost guaranteed to have to stay overnight on any night where you compete in an evening session. Have you ever thought about that before? If the evening session starts at 7:00PM, and finishes up at 9:00PM, then there are awards… even if you can leave right away while still wearing your competition outfit and the airport is right next door to the venue you really can’t make a flight any earlier than 10:30PM or 11:00PM. Assuming a flight that late even exists.

Ugh… thinking about the schedule in this perspective just makes me feel… gross. Do you feel it too?

Like I said, I can understand needing to do this sort of thing from a business perspective. If you host a competition at a hotel ballroom, or even if you don’t host it there but you make arrangements with the hotels near the ballroom where the competition is held to offer discount rates to your competitors, you need to have a certain number of people staying in those hotel rooms to fulfill your end of the contract with the hotel. They usually don’t just offer you a discount coupon code without expecting to make some money off of your event. Arranging the schedule of events to require competitors to stay at least one night helps you meet that quota so that everyone can benefit from the deal. It’s a sound business plan that works toward the overall good of your customer base.

But as a dancer who has gone to competitions over the years, I prefer to have all of my events on the same day. That’s my personal preference for one thing – I’m in good enough physical shape that dancing a bunch of rounds on the same day doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to me, plus it also makes arranging my travel easier. I have to take off less time from work if I only have to worry about being there for one day, or if I have the options to get flights at convenient times I don’t have to worry about getting a hotel room at all necessarily. Who doesn’t like saving money?

Granted, someone else did bring up a different reason on a later conference call for arranging the events on different nights. They said that for those competitors dancing in those top-level four- or five-dance events, doing multiple rounds of that in one night can be exhausting. Especially for competitors in the oldest age groups. Splitting the events up to different nights gives the competitor a chance to rest in between and perform at their peak in all the events, rather than just at the first one.

Now this reason makes more sense. Why wasn’t that the first reason given when we started talking about how to arrange the schedule? That would have made the whole conversation feel less icky. But instead, the whole idea is clouded by the fact that I can’t get past the primary reason given to split the events being that they want to try and force the competitors to stick around for more days. When that’s the first thing you hear, that clouds over the valid point given later that actually sounds beneficial to the competitors.

So… now you have an idea of what I’ve been wrestling with over the last week. It just makes me wonder… if I ever manage to become proficient enough to dance at these highest levels as a competitor, am I going to be able to look at going to competitions in the same way, knowing that these sorts of discussions are being had by the organizers behind the scenes? It would make me feel like all I am to the organizers is a blank check that they are hoping to write a big number on that they are able to cash and portion out to the people that join them on their competition train. I don’t want to feel like that.

Also, seeing how much I am struggling with feeling good about working on the competition at this level, is this why it’s really hard to get other dancers to volunteer to help out with competitions? Even trying to get people to volunteer for just the day (or days) of the actual competition is difficult, let alone having them volunteer for more administrative help like I was convinced to do. Does peeking behind the curtain and seeing how the mechanisms of dance competitions work make it seem like less fun, so no one wants to do that? Do my struggles that I talk about make any of you want to rush out and volunteer to help out with a competition in your area? I’m guessing not.

Boy… I sound like a real positive voice tonight, don’t I? After reading through this to edit things, I can really see how much this has been bringing me down. I’m going to go back through it once again and try to cut out a bunch of of the negativity, but I don’t think I can get rid of all of it and still get the point across that I wanted to talk about. Hopefully the final product doesn’t sound quite so bleak when I finally end up posting!