Monday, February 15, 2010

Philippine Star Ball - by David Easa

Dancer's Log Day #3: Feb 13, 2010:
By:David Easa
Wow, the Philippine Star Ball……..the elegant ballroom – covered with heavens of delicate glass chandeliers, in the splendid hotel…the Makati Shangri-la Hotel Manila…..the professional and overpowering sound system….the AV support…double screened monsters to insure everyone has a ring side view from every corner of anywhere, with additional monitors located outside just in case you were in the vendor area or ballroom entrance. 

Starting with Standard novice, I was shocked by the level of dance…..albeit the system in the Philippines allows for amateur couples to be composed of a real amateur dancing with what is referred to a DI…dance instructor….these are a breed of young men (and young women) with dance skills that populate the local night clubs and dance with patrons for a price…with varying skills from basic to advanced.  In the situation at the Star Ball, an amateur couple usually consists of the amateur - an older woman dancing with a much younger DI which obviously works to the disadvantage of any male who chooses to dance with a female DI, explaining the lack of this rare combination.  Somehow this situation is allowed to exist; other than the fairness question at the Star Ball, it has tremendous value within the context of Manila culture and night life.  Indeed, you don’t need to always bring a partner to go out dancing, nor do you need to sit on display for others to judge or ignore.  The DI system allows mostly but not exclusively women to dance in night clubs with a reasonably attentive dancer without all of the drama that comes when attending night clubs in other cities of the world.   Parenthetically, I just wish they dressed a little nicer, since they do get paid well for the “work” they are doing.

From novice, the level of dance increased in the pre-champ division.  Virtually everyone was dressed with million dollar elegant dresses except for the men - who wore the full nine yards…tails, the patent leather shoes, and the other accoutrements to show off their very fit and slim frames…since they were mostly DI’s.  Needless to say, the women looked elegant and ageless and some were so beautiful it was hard to concentrate on their dancing.  And the combined cost of their ballroom gowns would be staggering to compute; perhaps enough to put a significant dent on reducing the US deficit!

Now settling down after an hour of awe, it’s clear that a lot of what I have witnessed so far is beauty and elegance and posing… posing….posing.   Smiling, straining, gnawing, contorting, dreaming…..never seen anything like this.   But when you look closely, the quality of dance was really less than meets the eye, the infusion of expressions command ones attention and really disguises and dilutes the quality of the dance.  In fact, some dances were better than others…I found the waltz, and tango pretty good, the foxtrot was choppy with too much rise and fall, and quickstep uneven and spotty. 

I have a little time in between heats and finals, etc to reflect a little.  This being an international event, there is only Latin and Standard….NO Smooth or Rhythm….since these are American concoctions….  But in addition to Latin and Standard, amazingly there is hip-hop…..can’t wait for that competition to unfold.  This entire event lasts only one day, limiting the division of heats to an all age group competition that is mostly open…mixed with some syllabus specific heats.   This lack of age divisions, and not separating the field into bronze, silver and gold reduces the enthusiasm and the willingness of those attending the competition to brave the field……OK, Paul Laderta, we are all rooting for you.  The truth it is not so much winning or losing but looking like you will not stand out as some awkward dance want-to-be living in a delusional affected make believe world.   

Now the seniors division…..humm, I thought I was a senior…these seniors look no older than my son…Yanna, thank God you did not encourage me to enter….thank you, thank you…..

Now the, what fun…in a formation of a dozen young men…..all these teens dancing up a storm…running, spinning, cartwheels, synchronized and fluid jumping with joy, defying gravity, almost too good to be real, like an animated You tube piece. Next one….….ga ga…ya ya ya….(sounds like my newest granddaughter) gosh this song really sucks, but anyway, this next formation is with young girls, not as good as the last one but gives me time to reflect on this mixing of modern dance with traditional ballroom…very interesting…here comes the next group.  A prepubescent display of testosterone….a lot of facial stuff….almost scary until someone jumps from nowhere 10 feet over the rest of the group…very different, oh here comes the spinning on your head part and then more jumping over the mountain…..this one gave me thrills and also a bad headache…

Back to ballroom!  Part 2 – Latin!  Yes, Latin.   I can already tell with the beginning novice dances how much better in quality the Latin dances will be.   Indeed, this is very high quality dancing so far.  Latin hips, flexibility, musicality, balance, timing and drama all well suited to Filipino dancers.  Costumes are just as beautiful, while I don’t think the ladies get their moneys worth for the amount of material, which really does no disservice to the appreciation of the dance especially from my eyes. 

Next, a bunch of kids as young as 5 although it’s hard to guess their age.  And of course, with maximum flexibility, no mental imprint of fear, and raw talent, some of the baby dancers were amazing!  And what a wonderful spectacle to watch.  Just think if every child in the world became interested in dance at that age….there would millions more good dancers as adults, fewer fat kids, less heart disease, more dance clubs, fewer wars and more happy and healthy people.

Back to the DI’s and novice adult women….varying in age and in quality but overall an amazing display of flexibility and agility for some of the older women.  One thing though, it’s a tough transition from all of the staccato and punctuated movements in Latin dance to display fluidity during the rest of the dance…I think its obvious which couples just seemed to be constantly jerking around contorting their mouths and torsos from those who used these movements to accent their dance, rather than overwhelm it.   This is a pet peeve I have with international Latin.

Next a group of teenage dancers….really really good…so hard to understand how the judges can systematically determine who is better than whom…..this is indeed a challenging task.

The day moved on to more advanced and more experienced dancers.  We’re about to start the only pro-am event of the day, which will feature Paul Laderta and Yanna Samkova of Divino Ritmo from our Honolulu visiting group.   Also looking forward to the evening event which will include all of the amateur champions and professional Latin and Standard dancers competing, some invited world champions, a sumptuous dinner the formal and nicely decorated ballroom with men mostly in tuxedos or other formal wear…and evening gowns for the women.  

So many beautiful couples on the dance floor, the quality of dancing continuing to move to the next level, one cannot help but be mesmerized during this later part of the competition.  Your eyes become transfixed on one couple as they pass by and then the next and the next.  I’m impossible to get any more than a glimpse of all that is going on; as it is, any attempt results in ocular exhaustion.  The other amazing thing is that while you are trying to navigate the dance floor with your eyes, the dancers appear oblivious of other couples on the dance floor dancing dangerously close…….within centimeters of each other without concern or without flinching.   This focus on ones dance is something that to this day makes me shutter with awe…..its almost never that they collide…somehow they magically adjust themselves and you can’t tell any deviation from the programmed choreography.  

Well, Paul and Yanna held there own during the pro-am competition which included cha cha cha, samba, pasodoble, rumba, and jive in a field that was difficult to tell which of the partners was the pro and which one was the am….no age distinction and everybody dancing at a high level.  Considering all of the above, Paul did very well and danced confidently.  Indeed, his performance seemed flawless, and Yanna danced beautifully and supportively; they looked as if they belonged on the dance floor with the rest of the competitors.  It is always a good experience to dance in any competition; this event could not help but make Paul an even better dancer while infusing him with a jolt of confidence.  Congratulations Paul.

I’ll just say a few more words about the evening’s event.  I’m a little worn after 16 hours of attending the Star Ball to impart any further wisdom….my day started at 9AM and ended at 1AM the next morning.   An international event it was with judges from all over the globe, this international flavor was a dominant theme that was repeated.   As if to mimic the Olympics, a parade of banners with all of the countries represented was part of the opening ceremony and every judge and competitor was always introduced with their name and country of origin.   A little funny, it didn’t seem to matter what country most of these dancers were linked to….so many of the names sounded Russian to me!  

In the evening, the professional dancers and amateur champions were splendid, representing so many countries all coming to compete speaking the universal language of dance.  I have not witnessed such a level of dancing in my life, perfect performances gave the appearance of ease…the large fluid steps and balance of the standard dancers looked almost too flawless to be real.   And the level of the Latin dancing was just as incredible…..moves almost too fast for the eye to appreciate….double and triple spins, lifts, dips, flowing movement from the dance floor to standing to being hoisted to some art form creation, all of the amazing leg, hip, chest and upper body movements in rapid fire sequence so elegantly displayed with one dance after another, it became tragically mundane to witness.  But indeed, it was a spectacle; one that I would encourage others to enjoy in the years to come.  Whether the Philippine Star Ball, or some other international event, you won’t have a complete dance life until you attend an international dance competition…they are all over the place, and spreading out of the reach of the Brits to places in Italy and Russia…worth some attention and research.   You won’t be sorry.

The End of Day#3.

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