Report by David Easa
I was not intending to write about this quickie dance competition held in San Jose, California at the Doubletree Hotel……..a water gun spray distance from the airport in the middle of a concrete jungle of nondescript office buildings and busy streets with fast moving cars shooting through intersections at breakneck speeds.
So much was packed into this two-day event that was aggravated by an unexpected but welcomed more than a 50% increase in entries that required me, in both days of the competition, to dance from morning into the night with no time to rest, no time to collect, and no time to release myself from the anxiety of preparation needed before the next act on stage of the competition floor. This was no burden to my dance teacher and pro-am dance partner, Yanna Samkova, but proved a difficult task for this senior citizen want-to-be ballroom dancer. To make matters even more difficult, very little was provided in extras to soften the burden of the weekend competition but in the end, it was an enjoyable and productive time for me, and an experience well worth attending. Of note, the professional show was an amazing display of dance perfection featuring the number 1, 2 and 3 dance couples in the world. Such a exhibition of perfection and fluidity and musicality and elegance was not entirely lost to the exhausted eyes of yours truly, but I admit that my lids were so heavy with fatigue that even the best dancers in the world would have trouble keeping them from collapsing.
What I really want to focus on is the judging. Let me give some background for those lacking knowledge of the process. These competitions fall under the rules and regulations of the National Dance Council of America (NDCA) and is World Dancesport Series approved. Categories not only are divided into age groups but also in categories of the specific dance steps that are chosen. It is not necessarily true but generally speaking, dance skills increase in competitions from bronze to silver to gold. Age categories span at least 10 years……in that regard, I fall into the B2 category which includes the ages from 61-70. In addition, most large competitions judge several categories of dance couples as separate events……male students with female dance instructors, female students with male instructors, and a spattering of amateur couples. This clearly makes sense; otherwise you would be comparing apples to oranges (as said eloquently by Geoffrey Fells). Overall it is harder for a male student leading a female instructor to compete against a male instructor leading a female student; when you do so successfully, you can feel proud!
The city lights competition was small enough that the organizer lumped the male and female students into the same competition heats….this was the first time for me as a competitor that I faced such a high level of competition. This I believe was done to avoid small and uncontested heats typical of a smallish competition, and to consolidate the number of heats and simplify the results and analysis. I had an opportunity for the first time to compete against as many as 7 other couples, many of whom were female students dancing with male instructors. While I had no real expectation about how I would fare other than badly, I was overall happy with my results. But the main point of this conversation is not about me, but rather about some observations that I made, which may enlighten the readers to some level of heightened understanding of the process of ballroom competition judging.
What we do know for a fact is that each of the judges chosen for these events represents a nationally and or internationally recognized and accomplished dancer who has ended their competitive ballroom dancing career and has transitioned into a new world of teaching, coaching, and dance competition judging. There are NO amateur judges; these folks are heavy weights and generally have had decades of professional ballroom dance experience under their belts to call upon. In reviewing the results of my heat scores, I was struck by how much variation exists in scoring by each judge in any single heat – ranging from no variation to significant variation. In more than a few heats, I received a ranking score of 1 or 2 as well as 7 or 8, but in other heats the scores were very close and consistent. This is an intriguing aspect of the competition and one that conjures many potential explanations. Indeed, in a field of 8 or more pro-am couples, judges have to make snap judgments armed with only a few seconds to score any couple before shifting their gaze on the next one. Each judges obviously sees you at a different moment in time and scores you accordingly.
There are many other potential explanations that undoubtedly play a role in judge’s scoring variation, but I fear that I will unwittingly lose your attention if this blog were to deteriorate to a verbose and detailed diatribe. Suffice it to say, as with learning ballroom dance technique, learning about the culture of ballroom competition events is a very interesting pastime, sufficiently complex, and filled with drama of its own. It is an evolving culture, which includes professional dancers from around the globe, politicians and VIP benefactors, and an assortment of sprouting vendors sporting beautiful, but expensive dancewear, and jewelry. And then there are the students, an interesting and diverse group of people spanning the ages from around the country who hop from one competition to the next, motivated by individual goals and aspirations. Indeed, the students spend their time and money in an entirely enjoyable avocation attempting to improve their dance skills, and to bring value and happiness to their present lives…….. Certainly, these competitions will provide more food for thought, more reasons to blog and hopefully a few readers interested in reading my testimonies.