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re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by twnkltoz
7/11/2003  4:05:00 PM
Typical...a few bad apples mean that all American teachers are the same, right?

I've been dancing for eight years, both international and smooth. I teach bronze level smooth and rhythm. My smooth coaches teach the same technique for smooth as they do for standard...sway, swing (yes, even metronomic), and all. And no, we don't teach swing and sway from the very beginning at our studio. We want our beginning students to relax and enjoy themselves, something they can do with a minimum of technique (ie, lead and follow, correct positioning and footwork), so they don't become discouraged. We want them to actually learn how to social dance, if that's what they came for, which doesn't have to include all-out competitive styling. I watch people dance on Saturday night...they're not great, and they know it, but they're having a good time. So, is it necessary to insult them? As our dancers progress, we introduce various pieces of technique. Dancers who want to compete obviously take private lessons and learn more technique much more quickly.

And MSC, anyone who tells you to go from a true toe to a heel is flat out wrong. That is incorrect in anyone's syllabus. As for "popping" through the ankles, I've never heard of that either.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
7/11/2003  9:03:00 PM
These sound like the rants of someone whose exposure to American style is limited to certain chain schools with sub-par training. Those of us in the upper ranks of the American Smooth know that as of about the last 5 years or so, you can't get very far in the professional competition scene without a comprehesive understanding of Standard technique.

That is not to say that Standard technique is the end-all criteria for judging American style. If it were, there would be no reason for having an American style separate from Int'l style. Dancing should be judged on all of its aspects, and since American Smooth incorporates a good deal of open work, including many Latin techniques such as weight connection, inner body action, synchronization in side-by-side position, etc, these criteria should be taken into consideration when comparing couples.

What this means is that, while you may only be able to get so far without proper Standard technique, you may nonetheless sometimes see one couple place below another, even though the lower-placing couple actually has slightly better ballroom technique. But this should only happen when the higher-placing couple has other strengths which outweigh the difference in their ballroom technique.

This fact is often overlooked by many Standard-only judges and competitors, whose only frame of reference is ballroom technique. And this is where I think they fail as judges. They don't know (or more often, simply don't care) what they're looking at until the couple takes closed position hold, and use that as the sole consideration of placement. In my book, we call that a "cop-out". And I hope such judges aren't allowed to judge Latin.

Still, there is in the chain school scene a certain disregard for competitive technique. But this is less an "American Style" thing than it is a social-vs-competitive dancing thing. Chain schools focus on social dancing, as they should, and the technique and ideals for good social dancing are different than they are for competitive dancing. You can call it a shortcoming, but they're the ones laughing all the way to the bank. There's a lot of money to be made in social dancing, and that fact has not escaped the attention of Mr. Murray and Mr. Astaire.

Is this "ruining" American style? Actually, if it weren't for the chain schools, American style probably wouldn't exist as it does today. American style was born of social dancing. The competitive side of American style has the English style to thank for its technical influence, and as time goes on it will only get better. But I should hope that it will never become just another form of Int'l Standard. Thanks to the Americans, including all of those chain schools, we now have a beautiful style which is both unique and technically challenging.

In other words, Americans aren't ruining smooth. They're inventing it.

Regards,
Jonathan
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by Independent Thinker
7/11/2003  9:47:00 PM
Jonathan,

Thanks for your comments. Part of the reason I chose your forum is that you have come across in the past as being someone who generally promotes the use of standard technique for the standard-like actions in smooth.

Certainly, there are many aspects to smooth that have nothing in common with standard - and those are the specific areas in which we try to seek out help from people who are specifically smooth coaches.

The problem I am finding though is the emergence of an indigenous 'smooth technique' of motion that is not based in standard traditions at all, but rather seems to come from a trivial extension of the very vertical social bronze taught in chain studios. Some of these people say that this is uniquely smooth technique (implying they would dance standard differently), wheras others actually claim that this is the proper way to do standard as well.

Obviously, the top smooth dancers do not suffer from this - and today some are probably approaching technical parity with our top indigenous standard dancers. But the problem is that they are being widely misquoted by numerous second-tier teachers and competitors, who reinterpret their ideas through the lens of the bronze studio traditions they do understand, rather than the foreign standard traditions they never really figured out.

Certainly smooth as synthesis of different dance techniques is an American invention. But smooth as an excuse to replace proven basic principals like standard technique just so that we can be uniquely American is precisely the mistake we cannot afford to make.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
7/12/2003  12:44:00 AM
My experiences have not led me to encounter nearly the opposition you have. With all but one exception, I've never met anyone who disagrees with the concept that Smooth and Standard technique are nearly identical in all respects (exceptions noted below). I do recall one rather lengthy debate on rec.arts.dance with someone who insisted that American Waltz should be absent of sway, without the full swinging actions. But as I said, this was just one exception in my many years of teaching.

Any other time I've encountered someone with a misconception regarding smooth technique, it seems to me that it stems from a lack of understanding rather than a firm belief in an opposing idea, and they'll usually accept when I correct or inform them. Of course, most of my recent experiences which are currently springing to mind are related to an A.M. staff which I am currently training, and this particular group of kids is very respectful and eager to learn. So it's certainly possible that my experiences, especially of late, are not a good representation of the chain school community as a whole.

On the topic of technique which is exclusively American style in nature, one very notable example comes to mind. I've come to call it "inverted sway", although others may have another name for it. It applies to many 3-step turning figures, such as Open Side Lock, but also to "Flip-Flops" and similar figures which swicth back and forth between open PP and open CPP.

Normally when dancing a Twinkle, for example, I would sway left from 2-3 as man. But if I were to release the LH-RH connection and open the "V" to a wider angle (as in a Flip-Flop), I would be more likely to take just the opposite sway -- to the right. I would then switch to left sway for steps 5-6, as I flip-flop to CPP.

This type of sway would be terrible if you keep a traditional closed position hold, but the open promenade position affords you the space you need to sway right and still maintain a positive direction as you step into PP.

I could probably think up more examples, but the main point is that if there are techniques which are uniquely American, it's not necessarily because they were invented by Americans, or because they were patented by Fred Astaire, but because the open positions of American style allow for a greater variety of techniques.

So there are indeed times when the open position creates a difference in the technique. But these are generally the exception, not the rule, and it usually applies to very specific movements or figures, not the mechanics of the basic building blocks such as a walking step, or of common figures such as the basic closed position turns, Twinkles, pivots, etc.

Anyone who would argue that Smooth technique is different than Standard had better have a sound, mechanical reason for it based on the difference in positioning. "Because Arthur Murray said so" is not going to hold water here, or in any competition for that matter (unless, I suppose, you have a judging panel which is predominantly A.M.).

If you do happen across anybody who would argue some technical difference, send 'em here. I'd love to pick their brain.

Regards,
Jonathan
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by Independent Thinker
7/12/2003  5:13:00 AM
Jonathan raises an interesting point about a special smooth action that may not appear in standard:


Normally when dancing a Twinkle, for example, I would sway left from 2-3 as man. But if I were to release the LH-RH connection and open the "V" to a wider angle (as in a Flip-Flop), I would be more likely to take just the opposite sway -- to the right. I would then switch to left sway for steps 5-6, as I flip-flop to CPP.

This type of sway would be terrible if you keep a traditional closed position hold, but the open promenade position affords you the space you need to sway right and still maintain a positive direction as you step into PP.


I think I generally agree with you about the execution of this action, however I feel that it is fairly consistent with the underlying rules that govern standard technique. Two specific comments:

1) I'm moving in opposition to my parnter on these (typically crossing eachother's paths) and that is going to change the relationship between the direction in which I'm leading her and the direction in which I'm taking my own body - even if we aren't touching or even both on the floor when I try it.

2) I think of these figures as somewhere between a feather with waltz rise and a closed telemark (and their mirror images). Both of those are outside partner figures, and because of that there is going to be some change in the sway that feels right to me. In standard, the ISTD gives a R sway for the feather, and though the book claims it should be straight I would guess I'm presently using a bit of R sway when I step outside partner in the closed hover telemark too.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by Independent Thinker
7/12/2003  5:17:00 AM
Oops, here I go again... Obviously the hover telemark is not an outside partner figure, but it sets up for one - and I'm already thinking about that.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by CampionDancesportKC
7/19/2003  9:51:00 PM
Dear Indy-

Of course American social schools are butchering smooth and smooth technique. A glance at the history of the American franchise dance schools will tell you that they have not historically been very concerned with turning out well educated dancers. The very reason the American styles were originally created was to enable American franchise schools to commercialize dancing here in the US for an adult social market.

When I began dancing many years ago I was trained at two major franchise schools...their technique and training programs were abysmal. However, their sales training was first class, and we typically devoted about twice as much time to sales training as to dance training. C'est la vie. After several years I was lucky enough to find qualified instructors who opened my eyes to many elements of dance I had NEVER EVEN HEARD OF in my original training.

The United States seems to be in a painful transition right now...trying to make the jump from the passe commercialized "American" styles taught by entrenched franchises, to International style dancing and the "new" American Smooth which proceeds quite naturally from an understanding of Int. Standard (Modern if you prefer).

The transition unfortunately leaves a large number of traditionally trained instructors wanting to butcher smmoth and arguing heatedly against it's natural relation to Standard. It is understandably a difficult change to make for those who have made a living teaching the old smooth for 20 years or more. They are not only concerned about changing their own dancing but are uncertain if the new techniques will sell well to social students. Have you noticed that Standard in the US is typically considered a style for "serious" or "dedicated" dancers only? It is often dismissed as too challenging for social students.

Besides, in many areas of the US it is still impossible (I'm not kidding) to find a reputable instructor of Standard and Latin! Even teachers and studios who want to change and grow in their dancing may not be able to do so.

Not to fear Indy, some chain schools can be relied upon to butcher not only Smooth but also Rhythm and Latin. Yet Latin competition has been steadily improving in the US of late. The US Junior Dancesport competitors are dragging us out of the dark ages Slowly but surely the US will have to _sway_ into compliance with the rest of the world, if we ever hope to create competent dancers.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by OldHag
7/20/2003  8:18:00 AM
Are Americans ruining smooth?

This question is wrongheaded. Smooth is an american style of dance. It is not Standard. The two styles do not serve the same purpose. Standard is by and large a competitive activity and, in Europe, for example, is taken up at a young age when a person is willing or forced to spend long hours learning and physically mastering to one degree or another the basic priciples of movement (that of the body weight/mass, in particular). Smooth was originally conceived of as an artifice to get americans dancing who generally take up the activity in adulthood and are not going to be willing to start at square one learning basic principles of quality movement, etc. That is still the case. What then happens, however, is that at the competitive level in the u.s., and i'll confine my remarks to the professional ranks, there is a pretense of infusing Smooth with Standard. I say this is a pretense because at this moment in time very few american Smooth competitors possess the sort of physical skills associated with quality Standard dancing, because they too began ballroom dancing as young adults. There's a lot of mostly ill-informed yakking about technical details (footwork, swing/sway, etc.) memorized from "The Ballroom Technique" and/or imperfectly recalled through the haze of mostly scatter-shot coachings with, at best, qualified European/Asian Standard professionals and, at worst, americans who, with a handful of exceptions, masquerade as Standard coaches, but no deeper understanding of WHY these details are prescribed and certainly no physical ability to put them into practice.

And this conversation about franchises vs independent is also based in misconception. Franchises have started almost every american professional born in the united states. What you are confusing is quality competitive instructors/coaches (also few and far between) and franchise instructors. Apples and oranges. I have worked all over this country as an instructor. I have been in franchises and independents. My experience has been that bad instruction is everywhere (independent and franchise). What most people miss is that the best instructors are independent because franchises are not built by paying their instructors a decent wage. So economics drive the top level of competitive instructors to be independent. But that doesn't mean all independent instructors are better than their franchise counterparts. In fact, quality instructors -especially those willing AND ABLE to train beginning dancers- are a very rare commodity, and americans readily conflate a competitor's competitive success with his/her ability to teach dancing; they're not mutally exclusive, but by no stretch of the imagination does one necessarily imply the other. It's known as star-f**king. And, finally, american dancers, especially the competitive ones, usually get what they deserve in coaching and training, because what they invariably want are bandaids to cover up some shortcoming in their dancing, not a look at the kind of unglamorous, serious work on fundamentals it's going to take to put some quality in their movement. Ask any European coach who comes over to this country and doesn't know where to begin and so provides the bandaids because it's the path of least resistance.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by MSC
7/20/2003  12:10:00 PM
And, finally, american dancers, especially the competitive ones, usually get what they deserve in coaching and training, because what they invariably want are bandaids to cover up some shortcoming in their dancing, not a look at the kind of unglamorous, serious work on fundamentals it's going to take to put some quality in their movement. Ask any European coach who comes over to this country and doesn't know where to begin and so provides the bandaids because it's the path of least resistance.


I guess this sort of sums up my feelings towards smooth. It appears the emphasis is on variety of movement, expressiveness, etc., but not on quality of movement, or heck even being on time in some dances, particularly VW. Of course, there are similar problems in the other styles, but it seems exacerbated in smooth.
re: Are Americans Ruining Smooth?
Posted by ninedancer
7/20/2003  1:42:00 PM
Originally posted by MSC:
It appears the emphasis is on variety of movement, expressiveness, etc., but not on quality of movement, or heck even being on time in some dances, particularly VW.


You must be referring to individual dancers you've noticed dancing off time, not instructors teaching the moves wrong on purpose, right? Timing is one of the elements for which a competitor is judged on - an important one at that.

Deejays are supposed to play American Style Viennese Waltz a few beats slower than International Style to accommodate for the open and fuller movements of the Smooth figures and choreography. I can speak from personal experience, that some/many of the songs I've danced to in competition are played at full INTERNATIONAL speed, which is very hard to dance advance Smooth choreography to. I try to compensate by keeping my steps and shapes smaller, as to not sacrifice the timing, but Smooth dancers should not be finding themselves in this predicament as often as we do. I know for a fact that an International Style dancer would be struggling to dance Samba at the [faster] American Style speed.

So, keep in mind that you may have noticed some timing issues with American Style Viennese Waltz, but this probably has more to do with the level of dancing you're watching and/or the occasional inappropriate music choice of a ballroom Deejay.

No DanceSport style incorporates poor timing in its syllabus or discipline, so I think some of the broad [negative] statements here have been based on either not having enough exposure to high-quality American Style coaching or not getting to see enough championship-level exhibitions of American Style.

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