Which syllabus or organization does this website promote in the videos/lessons? For instance, the Smooth syllabus seems like a hybrid, and one I'm not familiar with and want to make sure I'm learning the correct stuff.
Where the American style is concerned, we prefer not to follow at all. BallroomDancers is an industry leader, and we firmly believe that our syllabus sets the standard.
The BallroomDancers.com syllabus was created in the mid-1990's, predating DVIDA, as well as the latest revisions of the USISTD, Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire. Believe it or not, the website was born out of the syllabus, not the other way around. So it shouldn't be surprising that we promote our own syllabus, since our syllabus is the very reason the website exists today.
When we first constructed our syllabus back in the 1990's, the options for independent studios and students were meager: Murrays and Astaire were proprietary (and flawed at any rate), and the ISTD and NDCA syllabi were appalling. The industry needed a strong, component-based syllabus that would make sense structurally and pedagogically; Not just another list of steps. We took it upon ourselves to build such a syllabus, and BallroomDancers.com is the result.
Since that time, DVIDA was born. In addition, nearly all of the American style syllabi were updated, including the chain schools and USISTD. But although they have all improved a great deal, they still fall far short of the standard we set, and so we continue to stand firm in our belief that our syllabus is way ahead of the pack.
The weaknesses you will find in each of the other schools is primarily (1) the construction and presentation of each of the individual figures, and (2) the choices of figures and the order in which they are presented.
As for the construction, patterns in the first half of bronze are generally consistent across all syllabi, but most are presented as combinations, complete with intros and exits, and a specific number of repeats (e.g. a Cha Cha Crossover Break must start with 1/2 a basic, must always consist of exactly 3 Crossovers, and finish with a Crossover Turn). This is unnecessarily restrictive, and forces the student into a routine, rather than teaching them how to build their own dance from smaller pieces. We prefer a component-based presentation, where a crossover is simply a crossover, and you are given several options for intros, exits, precedes, follows, and number of repetitions. Combinations can be a good learning tool, but should be left to the discretion of the teacher, not imposed by a syllabus.
As you move up the levels into full bronze and silver, you start to get the sense that these syllabi were written not by an organization, but by a single person who is throwing their favorite bits of choreography at you. They rarely make sense pedagogically, and components tend to get strung together haphazardly into silly run-on sentences. If a chain school teacher shows you his "Hover Corte", you'll get far more than just the 3-step component. You'll be dazzled with an 8-bar combination including, yes, the Hover Corte, but also a roll out to side-by-side, a roll back into shadow, and perhaps an underarm turn or two. Wonderful choreography, yes, but not appropriate as a syllabus figure.
Our goal with the BallroomDancers.com syllabus is to build skills from the ground up so that you can make these combinations up yourself. We break things up into their raw components and develop them one level at a time. If you want to work your way up to multiple syncopated pivots, you learn a basic Spin or single pivot in the first half of bronze, then add a degree of difficulty in full bronze with two pivots and transitions in and out of promenade. By silver, you're taking more consecutive pivots, syncopating them in gold, and adding shapes and more difficult transitions beyond that. Everything is layered and strategically placed in a way that makes sense, and no pattern is included unless it has a specific purpose.
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A tremendous amount of research has gone into this syllabus over the past 18 years. We've attended innumerable competitions, social dances and other types of events taking scrupulous notes on what not only the best dancers are doing, but what the general public enjoys. We have consulted leading professionals in the industry, both social and competitive, and continue to do so to this day. We've combined this information with sound pedagogic principles to bridge the gap, one step at a time, from the student's first box step through the most complex professional competitive routine. You will start to see this unfold as we add the gold level to our website next year, and the picture should be complete when gold star is finished.
So back to your original question: Will you be learning the "correct stuff"? The answer, of course, is Yes. When you study any other syllabus, be it one of the chains, ISTD, DVIDA or otherwise, you will come away with enough understanding of the material to dance that one syllabus. To transition to another would be an undertaking, and to dance with someone trained in another would be limiting. The BallroomDancers.com syllabus will give you the basic tools to understand the construction of literally any other American style syllabus. Once you have the tools, you will understand how to quickly and easily put them together in whatever combinations your particular school or teacher prefers.
Regards, Jonathan Atkinson www.ballroomdancers.com