Custom Navigation

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

American Style vs. International Style: What Are The Differences and Which Is Best For You?

Today’s post is going to be all about American style versus International style. For those of you who are new to ballroom or dance at studios that teach only one style, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about.

Ballroom dancing has two very distinct styles: International and American.  If you live outside of North America you may not be familiar with American style, though it is gaining popularity internationally. International is the standard (no pun intended) throughout the world. If you don't live in the United States, you probably dance International. 

If you’ve just started or are thinking about starting ballroom lessons, you should familiarize yourself with the style differences, so that you can make an educated decision on which style best fits your needs and interests.

The easiest to spot difference between American and International styles are the different genre names. 

American Style
International Style

And the dances themselves:

American Smooth
American Rhythm
International Standard
International Latin
Waltz (Slow Waltz)
Foxtrot (Slow Foxtrot)
East Coast Swing
Viennese Waltz
Cha-Cha-Cha (Cha-Cha)
Viennese Waltz
Paso Doble

Although many of the dances share names between the styles, the rules and figures are often quite different. This is particularly true for Smooth and Standard, where Standard does not allow open figures (you must never break frame) while Smooth does. There are also differences in the music timing between same-name dances between the styles. Check out Smooth Viennese Waltz here compared to Standard Viennese Waltz here

Because Smooth and Standard have such different rules regarding open figures, it is easier to spot the difference when you see them in the wild. Rhythm versus Latin can often be trickier. For example, see Rhythm Cha-Cha 
here versus Latin Cha-Cha-Cha here. Tough to tell, right? Technically, the Rhythm dancers should be dancing on a soft, or bent, knee. In contrast, the Latin dancers dance on a straight leg. However, even this difference between Latin and Rhythm is disappearing as straight legs are slowly becoming the preference in Rhythm also. Here is a more obvious difference between Rhythm and Latin: American Rumba versus International Rumba

When it's time to make your decision about whether you want to focus American or International style, you need to keep a number of things in mind. First, if you are an adult dancing in the United States, you are by and large better off learning American style. It is widely competed here and gaining worldwide popularity at a breakneck pace, but more importantly it is easier to dance socially. However, if you have no desire to dance socially and your goals a purely competitive, International might be a better fit. Keep in mind that opting to learn American does not prevent you from learning International-only dances. You can ask your instructor to teach you these in addition to your core American syllabus. If you're a parent looking to get your child into ballroom, I strongly recommend having them learn International style. Although this is a controversial perspective, having danced both American and International styles, I think International gives you a better base and stronger dance education. It is very easy to transition from International to American, but many people find the reverse much more difficult.

As you're working to figure out the dance education you want for yourself or your child, I hope this post has been helpful! Before you make your decision, I recommend watching videos of both styles to see which suits your preference, needs and goals. Until next time... Happy dancing! 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Finding a Studio and Teacher For Your Child

In my last post I wrote about things you should consider before you commit to becoming a ballroom family. I mentioned that understanding the goals you and your child have for his/her dancing, and your child's commitment to said goals, is one of the most important components of understanding if you want to be a ballroom family, and if so, what type of family you want to be. Without knowing your goals, it can be difficult to select the right studio and instructor for your child. If you are still unsure, I would recommend starting at a competitive studio. The more involved you become, the more likely you and your child are to want to become competitive, so best to start out on the right foot. 

Regardless of the decision you've made, you are probably curious about how to select the best studio/instructor for your child. Keep in mind there is no sure-fire formula for choosing the right studio. In the United States, geographic location might be a determining factor in which studio you select. However, if you've got options, asking yourself these questions can helpful when you're getting started.

Something you will want to keep in mind when selecting an instructor for your child is that the instructor’s personal competition history isn’t super important. While having some credentials is speaks to their knowledge,  how their students have preformed in the past is a better indicator of success. The saying is "he who can do, does; he who cannot, teaches," however it is important to remember that not all those who can do make good teachers. In other words, being a great competitor does not indicate that you are a great instructor. Remember that just because you’ve found a teacher with a great personal competition record doesn’t necessarily mean that/he she can successfully mold his/her students into top competitors.

I want to be clear that I have no problem with pro-am.  Pro-am is a great option for many teens and adults looking to get into DanceSport. However, I do not think pro-am is a good choice for young children. Making sure you child learns the syllabus on his/her own is an important part of becoming a strong competitor, and I know painfully few pro-am amateur dancers who can dance any steps, let alone the entire syllabus, on their own. Plus, the height difference is ridiculous and teaches bad form; particularly for girls dancing smooth/standard. If the studio only wants your child to dance pro-am with an adult, they are probably out to make money, not strong dancers. This doesn’t mean that pro-am studios can’t produce champions – I have seen it done regularly. The secret is not pushing the children to dance pro-am. If your local studio doesn’t have kids classes, but they have strong teachers, try finding an age-appropriate partner for your child. Having a partner for your child makes the private lessons more effective than a pro-am setup, in my opinion. This is usually not true for adults. Until you can find your child a suitable partner, you might want to ask the instructor to work on teaching your child to dance the syllabus alone and learn technique. Each teacher will have his/her own lesson plan; listen to your teacher. However, I recommend against paying for pro-am comps and showcases for under-12s, at least early on, if your goal is to be a competitor. 

Often, studios will become more serious about offering kids’ classes when the studio owner’s own child reaches dancing age. Usually, this is great, because the quality and frequency of classes often increases because the owner is more personally invested. However, do keep your eye out for fairness. While it is extremely rare, I have seen studio owners sabotage other kids when their child dances in the same category. For example, they refuse to help other children with hairstyles and/or dresses and pay less attention to them during classes. This is rare, but you’ll want to be aware that it can happen. Every child dances at a different level and has a different degree of natural talent, so I would not  worry if personalized instruction is not spread equally thought the class. However, if the owner’s child gets all of the attention and you see that other children are left behind, that’s probably not a good sign. Use your best judgment: your child shouldn’t be the class pet, but they also shouldn’t be neglected.

Much like the above suggestion, this recommendation might take you some time to observe after you’ve signed your child up for lessons. Most studios do not allow parents to sit in on lessons (it's often too distracting), however you should be able to see enough of the lessons to see how the instructor treats your kids(s). While you don’t want a bullshitter who only provides positive feedback, you also don’t want an asshole. Teachers should be firm, but kind. Telling your child when he/she is wrong and sometimes scolding them is appropriate and necessary. Name-calling, screaming, and demeaning is not. You child needs thick skin to be great, so don’t freak out if he/she receives negative feedback. However, if the instructor bullies any child in the class, it is time to find a new instructor.

Keep in mind that many European teachers primarily taught children before relocating to the United States, so they know what they’re doing. Aside from making sure children are being treated appropriately, the most important thing is trust your child’s instructor. They know what is best for your child, so always take their advice seriously. Good teachers with proven competitive records usually have your child’s best interest at heart, so trust their advice and direction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Things To Consider Before Signing Your Child Up For Ballroom Dance Lessons

Last week I published a post on costuming rules for children, so while I am on the topic of kids, which is a rarity here on Ballroom Bitch, I want to focus on a few other child-related topics that might be particularly helpful for parents who have no experience in Ballroom and/or Latin dancing.

As children have become more aware of ballroom dancing, thanks largely to television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars, and have begun to express interest in learning to dance themselves, many parents feel lost when it comes to getting their child involved in the DanceSport. For those of you who have children who have expressed an interest in Ballroom and/or Latin dancing (DanceSport), this post will walk you through a few things you need to know before you sign your little would-be dancer up for lessons at your local studio.

Above all, before you get your child excited about the prospect of learning to ballroom dance, you need to seriously consider whether you can afford to be a DanceSport family. Unfortunately, in the United States and increasingly throughout Europe ballroom dance is expensive. For example, where I live in the Mid-Atlantic, ballet classes are an average of $100 per month for 90 minutes of instruction per week, whereas group ballroom classes are $30 per 40-minute session. Keep in mind, these are children’s prices – adult prices are higher. If your child is actually going to learn how to dance, they’ll need at minimum two 40-minute group sessions per week at the beginning. Dance related expenses will only increase the older, more accomplished, and more competitive your child becomes.

As you consider whether your family can afford to be a ballroom family, you also want to consider how seriously involved your child will be and what are your goals for your child. In addition to helping you select the best studio and teacher for your child, understanding your child’s drive and your goals for your child can also help you determine if you can afford ballroom dancing. In my experience, ballroom is somewhat of an all-or-nothing sport, meaning that either you’re just there “to have fun” or you’re really competitive. Here is what you can expect with those extremes:

JUST FOR FUN: Pretty much any reputable studio will work for your child if the only goal is to have fun and build confidence. If you don’t see your child becoming a serious competitor, I recommend looking for a larger studio that, although offers children’s classes, focuses primarily on adults. For example, your local Fred Astaire that offers children’s classes will do just fine. Although there are exceptions, these studios tend to be more focused on building confidence and having fun rather than producing serious competitors. If you don’t see your child as a competitor, you can probably plan your financial investment on the base cost of lessons and perhaps 2-3 small competitions per year.
POTENTIAL COMPETITOR: If you think your child is likely to become involved in the sport long-term, your investment is going to be much higher. I’ll talk about what you should look for in a studio/teacher in an upcoming post, but for now I want to emphasize the investment you need to consider before you promise your kid that she can be the best Katusha Demidova. In addition to the estimated weekly pricing I mentioned (which will probably be more than just two lessons per week), you’ll need to consider that your child will need private lessons as he/she becomes a stronger dancer. These lessons range anywhere $70 to $180 per lesson, depending on your studio and where you live. On top of this your child and his/her partner will need outside coaching as they become more competitive – these sessions can range from $150 to $500 per lesson, depending on the particular coach, where you live, etc. Likewise, you’ll need to calculate in the costs for competitions and costumes. The more advanced your child becomes, the more expensive competitions and costumes will become. Likewise, you'll need to consider the time investment involved in traveling to competitions, coaching sessions, and carting kids to and from the studio on a regular basis. 

Finally, you’ll want to consider whether you have a partner in mind for your child. This is especially important if you have a daughter, because realistically there are many more girls interested in ballroom dancing than boys. If your son wants to dance, you’re golden as far as partners go. However, if you have a daughter you may want to go ahead and evaluate who might be a good partner for her, as it is difficult to advance in ballroom dancing without a partner. She can, of course, participate in both group and private lessons without a partner, but realistically she won’t make competitive progress without a partner. Although the studio may have a partner available, or one may come along after your child has started taking lessons, having someone in mind beforehand is always helpful. You’ll also want to consider whether your child’s partner can afford his/her share of the financial burden and if his/her family will make the time-related sacrifices necessary, and if not, you need to consider whether you’re willing to cover his/her share.

Now that I've likely scared you off, I do want to emphasize that becoming a reasonably good (albeit probably not champion) ballroom dancer is totally financially attainable for most middle-class families. In general, you'll split most of the steepest expenses (private lessons, coachings, comps) with your child's partner.