From Sasha Pust: Off Balance?!

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By Sasha Pust

For some time now, a strange phenomenon is happening in our danceworld. It seems as if dancers are somehow loosing their compass, their anchor, and are slowly drifting away from the values and qualities that are being cherished the most, by top teachers and judges.

The danceworld community has become global, with the number of dancers that’s increasing, and maybe this phenomenon was bound to happen, was written in the DNA.

With all the new people joining this community, we actually get more enriched with new ideas, new points of view, but as always, there is a danger of chaos and in the end not all ideas and points of view will stand the test of time.

It is therefore extremely important to analyze well this situation and somehow find  the right solution.

As with everything we do in life, a good balance is essential.

Balance when we walk, even balance when we cook – If we put just the right amount of ingredients in the dish, mix this with good timing, a lot of love and positive energy, we might come up with a delicious meal that everyone will love and want more.

Even the Wine Tasters are always looking for the perfect balance in wine:

The Eyes (clarity, intensity, color), The Nose (intensity, characteristic aroma), The mouth (sugar, acidity, tannins, body, taste and aftertaste). None of the characteristics should stick out – everything has to be in harmony.

Finding the right balance in performance of the dancers is just as important.

Our dance world is very visual, artistic and entertaining, and when couples come on the dance floor they present the whole package – the image, the artistry,  the character and level of dancing. This is actually quite a complex package to judge and I believe it’s here, that the whole root of the problem is hidden.

As a beginner, I was drawn to the couples that had very attractive images, routines full of gimmicks, and athletic elements and I always wondered how come those couples actually did not win as a rule. Instead, I would see champion couples whose dancing had character, was seamless, fluid and effortless – readable and almost “simple”. Since I was quite curious to know why my “favorite” couples didn’t win, I asked some really good judges about it, and got the answer – the judges did not favor cheap tricks and gimmicks performed out of character of the dance, they were looking for true quality, authentic character, good technique, effortless performance. This was a big revelation for me, surprisingly liberating and at the same time extremely demanding. It gave me hope that true quality CAN be achieved through a lot of “Deliberate Practice” ( ), not by some God-given talents and looks. It gave me focus, a strong guideline and a clear picture towards which I worked and centered my thoughts. The better my understanding of technique and dancing became, the more I got to appreciate and recognize true quality.

Later on, when I began to study design, and work with couples on their presentation and image, the knowledge that I got through my study, understanding of theory, design, art and intuition, became even deeper.

In the process of my work I just connected the dots between the two fields, and came to realize how complex the presentation, that the couples give on the floor, really is.

A good, well balanced presentation of the couple should consist of

The Dance Part:

Clean, readable performance, high quality of technique, good partnering, musicality, specific character of each dance….

And the Visual Part:

The Image, with which the couple presents itself on the floor.

Since my profession is a designer, I will speak a bit more about this part.

A Good Design, even in the field of Industrial Design, is very tightly connected to the function of the object and is never too obvious (doesn’t stand out). This is the phenomenon that creates the magical flow. It is actually quite simple (but complex) – BALANCE is word. Steve Jobs was constantly obsessing about the design of Apple products – he wanted the designs to REFLECT the function of his products – extremely high tech, very complex, but at the same time intuitive and easy to use. What came out, were minimalistic looking, Zen like objects, with integrated complex function.

In short – Great Design integrated with Great Function – great Balance, great Art. Same thing happens in the dance-world.

Good Design has to support the dancers all the way – put the spotlight on the quality stuff they have in their dancing, and at the same time hide some parts that are not so good. It should be a bit of a Trompe L’oeil – an illusion that leaves an impression of a perfect performance in the eye of a spectator.

But the question is to what degree?

To create a well balanced image on the floor, one really has to look deep into the dance routine and couple’s understanding of the dance. Different levels of dancing require different approaches and images. Balance is very dynamic, never static. With this in mind, all of the body characteristics have to be taken into consideration as well. It is not a very good idea to simply copy the images from fashion magazines, popular movies, or copy other couples.

We also have to recognize the difference between a “costume” and a “dress”.

A “costume” is usually used on stage and helps performers to “step” into the role they have to portray. It gives them a psychological background, an atmosphere, even a “portal” to enter the world – the atmosphere of a theater piece.

A “dress” on the other hand, has a role to support the personality and physique of a wearer. Has to create synergy and magic, the right balance between the quality of the dancing and the image.

A good dress is in fact like a good Industrial Design – tightly connected to the function, but not too obvious….

I am well aware that Ballroom dancing is a very glamourous “discipline”, but glamor is actually incorporated in dancing itself, so there will always be glamourous and extravagant dresses on the floor – the function and the image are tightly connected… But nevertheless, the only thing that really has to stand out, is the quality of dancing. All the rest of the “stuff” is in a supportive role, no matter how glamourous.

So, yes, a good design should support and enhance the quality of the dancing, should support and enhance the character of the couple, but should never be on the floor to overpower and masquerade the poor quality of the dancer.

In other words: A dancer has to wear the dress, not, a dress has to wear a dancer.

Lately, we see more and more dancers in a supportive role, and images (costumes) in a leading role and this could be quite misleading at times for the judges.

The balance is somehow gone and the compass lost.

These situations were already happening in the past, but somehow, the judges were keeping things in cheque – were the last frontier against these exaggerated forms. Now even this last frontier is being compromised.

The only solution out of this disoriented phase in the danceworld, is lifelong learning and education.

Because it is becoming more and more complex, with new ideas and points of view coming in, it has become  necessary to learn things that are stretching beyond dancing itself. This way we will be able to embrace some really good new ideas, and at the same time keep the flavor and character of Ballroom dancing. It’s all about BALANCE. And of course, in order to make the first step, one has to get out of balance….

Sasha Pust

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