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2 months ago Mastery

Sports nutrition: How to get the energy for performance

Whether you are a dancer, gymnast, or runner, sports nutrition plays a very important role in optimizing the beneficial effects of your physical activity. You can enjoy different advantages like better performance, injury prevention, and quick recovery if you make the right decisions with your hydration and nutrition.

To support your health and goals there are different types of sports nutrition to include in your diet. As a dancer you have to assure that you consume a healthy and balanced mix of foods that will keep your strong during training and capable of giving the best performance.

What are the three main sources of energy?

Today we are going to explore some of the important elements of the dancers’ diet that provide fuel for performance. Support your training sessions with the following three energy nutrients:

Carbohydrates

The first and most important nutrient that dancers should include in their daily nutrition plan is carbohydrates. Some dancers may consider carbs dangerous because they can increase their weight, making them think that they will not be capable of maintaining their figure. That is not quite true. While some excessive carbs do get stored as fat, they are a crucial source of energy for your body and irreplaceable in the post-exercise recovery process. Your body stores most carbs you eat in the form of glycogen, along with quite a lot of water – almost three grams of water for each gram of glycogen. So if you notice an increase in your weight after eating carbs, it is mostly not due to the fat, but rather to the water.

One thing to pay attention to when eating carbs is the GI (Glycemic Index) which stands for the amount of increase in the blood glucose levels after eating certain foods. It’s a good idea to avoid foods with a very high GI (such as sugar, white bread) as they contribute to the risk of diabetes and obesity. Your go-to food should be rich in carbs and low in GI, such as whole-grain breads, fruit, many grains (especially barley, oats, quinoa), and – surprisingly enough – pasta.

Fats

Good fats are essential for a healthy body. Some vitamins (such as A, D, E) need to first dissolve in fat in order for the body to be able to absorb them. Fats are also a great source of energy for performance – it is recommended that up to one-third of our calories come from fats. Aim primarily for healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, or salmon.

In addition, dietitians advise to limit the saturated fats found in animal products and some vegetable oils (coconut and palm) to under 10% of your total calories.

But most important, do watch out for the artificial trans fats that are nowadays used widely in fried and baked products, sweets and snacks. In the ingredients lists the trans fats often hide behind the words “(partially) hydrogenated oil” – if you see this phrase, it’s a good idea to steer clear of the product.

Proteins

One of the most important nutrients that should be included in the dancer’s diet is proteins. Make sure to consume a healthy amount of proteins in the form of eggs, milk and cheese, fish, meat, and pulses (beans, peas, lentils). There are no side effects of proteins and your body needs them to repair the muscles after exercise, making you stronger and safer from injuries during the performance.

Where is energy stored?

Your body has several ways to store energy: As sugar in the blood immediately after eating, as glycogen in muscles and liver, as protein in muscles, and as fat.

As your muscles and liver can only store a certain amount of glycogen (100 grams in liver and 500 grams in the muscles for an average person), all carbs that are consumed beyond this amount are stored in the adipose (fat) tissues of the body.

How does the body use nutrition to produce energy?

A common question that most of the dancers and athletes ask is how the body derives its energy from foods we ingest daily.

Carbs, fats, and proteins have energy trapped within the bonds between the atoms that they consist of. This energy is released when the foods are broken down into their basic components. Some of the energy is conserved and used to make a high-energy molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), while the rest of the energy is lost as heat. ATP, considered to be the energy currency of life, is the body’s direct source of energy that keeps everything going. When you want to use your muscles to move and perform, your body cells break down the ATP molecules to release energy.

sports nutrition: energy sources for dancers

As the very first source, your body uses the sugar in your blood – which is a bit like starting your car in a low gear: It gives immediate access to energy, but is very inefficient (a lot of it is lost as heat). Once that is used, you’ll be using a mixture of glycogen from your muscles and liver, along with fats and sometimes even proteins of your muscles. In general, the higher the intensity of the exercise, the more energy will come from glycogen compared to fat. Always keep in mind that fat requires longer time and lots of oxygen to be converted to energy. It means, if you deplete your glycogen resources and continue to exercise at a high rate without refuelling, your body will start breaking down your muscles to generate energy.

Sources:

  • Bean, A. (2017). The complete guide to sports nutrition. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Van Loon, L. J., Greenhaff, P. L., Constantin-Teodosiu, D., Saris, W. H., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2001). The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. The Journal of physiology, 536(Pt 1), 295.

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3 months ago Love of dance

Pantsula dance

A dance is more than just movement to music. It is a wordless way to release our emotions, show cultural origins and belongings, express feelings of sadness or joy. That becomes extremely evident when one looks at a fairly unknown dance Pantsula.

Pantsula is a ghetto rough dance that emerged in South Africa in the 1950s-1960s as a response of frustrated civilians to the forced removals implemented by the apartheid government shortly after its ascent to power. At first it was mainly performed by older men who were gambling in the streets of Johannesburg townships while playing music and dancing. Later they formed into groups and engaged in informal competitions. Over the course of the years, Pantsula dance spread through the country. By the 1980s, Pantsula was all over the dusty streets of South Africa, practiced by people of all ages, and was no longer limited to men. It became a resisting form of art during the black movement struggle, a demonstration of unhappiness towards the Afrikaans government, a word of awareness about social issues, such as lack of education.

Philosophy

Pantsula stands for a freedom of expression that unlocks the inner anger and inner joy, an art of demonstrating that fear can be turned into joy as long as you believe in better.

pantsula danceBlack South Africans grew up in poor areas where they danced through the pain of being oppressed. And so Pantsula emerged to help them get through their day-to-day struggle. The dance moves combine a demonstration of physical pain, black consciousness and the power of unity. It is very synchronized and united, with high jumps and sharp quick movements – which is how you had to be in order to survive the apartheid era’s police brutality. The dance shows how the people in black movement had to stand together in fighting the government, and be fast in jumping away from the gunshots.

 

Technique

Pantsula is a syncopated, quick-stepping form of dance with loose feet and arms. It has elements of South African cultural ceremonial dances and of modern-day hip-hop, and can be performed by a group of dancers or solo. One needs to countless hours to perfect the coordination of strong legs and body with soft feet and easy look. Expert dancers have an unmistakably powerful and stylized expression. The arms are quite loose, while the feet are extremely fast, performing shuffling and jumping movements as groups of dancers move in and out of geometric shapes.

There are three distinct styles of Pantsula: a very popular Kwasa Kwasa Style, Slow Poison, and Umxentso, which means stamping your feet constantly and creating sound effects in a syncopated pattern.



Music

Originally, Pantsula was danced to drum music, accompanied by noise made by the street gamblers who whistled and shouted as they were winning and losing. This combination of drums, whistles and shouts with time formed a music genre called Kwaito. Today it is a popular style that mixes all eleven official South African languages and is frequently heard at parties, in houses and in the cars.

Interestingly, the Vuvuzela sound also comes from the Pantsula culture of whistling.

Pantsula today

After the end of apartheid, Pantsula gained popularity also in the non-black communities of South Africa and begun to take on a new meaning as a dance form for all. It became very famous in the 1990s and mid-2000s, when, after watching American music TV, people started adding hip-hop movements to Pantsula. Popular dance groups emerged, such as Trompies, who combined Pantsula dance with old school Kwaito and 1980s disco.

beyonce knowles pantsula danceBeyoncé Knowles is still a big fan of Pantsula; she had countless lessons and got Pantsula dancers to partake in some of her music videos.

South African kids of today still dance on the streets, but it is no longer Pantsula. It developed into other dance styles, such as Gwara Gwara or Mnike. The modern way of dancing continues to make more use of legs than upper body, but it is more relaxed and easy-going. The urban street dance culture reflects the improved life conditions.

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Talk to yourself, it helps!

Athletes and coaches often believe that self-talk can improve performance, confidence and motivation. Here we take a look at how it works and what is the evidence for the power of self-talk.

What is self-talk?

Traditionally, there has been emphasis on positive and negative self-talk. More recently researchers also talk about instructional and motivational self-talk.

Positive vs. negative self-talk

self-talk improves sport performancePositive self-talk has been proven to help your performance. At the same time, surprisingly, while many think that negative self-talk causes detrimental performance effects, scientific research has found no confirmation for this belief. It seems that negative self-talk does not make your performance worse.

A possible explanation for this finding is that some athletes may interpret their negative self-talk as motivating (for example, following a silly mistake, athletes may give themselves a “talking to”).

Some scientists have even highlighted the importance of an optimal balance of positive and negative thoughts for well-being. So don’t be afraid to go harsh on yourself sometimes – as long as it doesn’t demotivate you and is balanced with sufficient positive self-talk.

Motivational vs instructional self-talk

self-talk improves sport performance

A common belief is that the effects of instructional or motivational self-talk on performance depend on the type of task:

  • Instructional self-talk, which focuses on technical, tactical, and kinesthetic aspects of movements, should be most effective for precision tasks.
  • In contrast, motivational self-talk should work better for the condition-related tasks characterized by strength and endurance, as it is used to increase effort, enhance self-confidence, and create positive moods.

In reality, most research studies conducted to date show that both types of self-talk are equally effective for both precision and condition-related tasks. This means that you are free to decide what to tell yourself. Self-talk, be it “Lift that leg higher” or “Come on, let’s do it”, it will surely help.



 

How does it work?

Self-talk improves motor skills via four possible mechanisms: cognition, motivation, behavior, and affection.

Cognition

Cognitive mechanisms include information processing, concentration, and attention. Athletes use self-talk for a variety of attention-based outcomes, for example, to concentrate, shift attentional focus and decrease interfering thoughts.

Motivation

Motivation refers to self-efficacy, persistence, and long-term goal commitment. While it is not yet fully clear whether self-talk has any effect on self-efficacy, the use of self-talk has been associated with persistence and better performance on a challenging task.

Although self-talk is often promoted as a means of enhancing confidence (which in turn can boost motivation), research findings to date are inconsistent: motivational and instructional self-talk appears to enhance confidence, whereas positive self-talk does not.

Behavior

Researchers have identified improvements in both subjectively and objectively assessed technique resulting from self-talk. Furthermore, during early phases of skill learning, novices sometimes “talk” themselves through movements. During later stages of learning, the performance becomes more automatic and self-talk may be less necessary. As such, novice athletes may benefit more frequently from the use of self-talk as compared with their skilled counterparts.

Affect

Many studies offer support that positive and motivational self-talk can reduce anxiety in a sporting context, even though this mainly applies to cognitive, but not somatic anxiety.

To sum up:

  • The use of positive, instructional, and motivational self-talk improves athletic performance. At the same time, contrary to the popular opitnion, currently available data suggest that negative self-talk may not have a detrimental effect on motor skill performance.
  • The strongest influence of the self-talk us upon concentration and attention, anxiety, and technical execution of the movement skills.

Full text: Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 33(5), 666-687.



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3 months ago Mastery

Grand Rond de Jambe en l’Air: Getting it right

Training for ballet dancers is both systematic and rigorous. Grand rond de jambe en l’air, a circling of the gesture leg from front to back (or vice versa), is an integral component of classical ballet. This movement is introduced at the barre, but is revisited many times during the center work portion of the class. Successful grand rond de jambe en l’air requires stability, flexibility, consistency in leg height and maintenance of a vertical torso.

Sports scientists from the Texas Woman’s University and University of Wyoming used 3D motion capture technology to understand the biomechanics behind this challenging move. This is what they discovered when comparing the movement of expert and novice ballet dancers.

1. Hip-hip

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'Air

Skilled dancers have greater movement of the pelvis in response to the movement of the leg. While exaggerated movement or obvious lifting of the pelvis is not desired, allowing the pelvis to tilt helps the dancer achieve the desired range of motion without increased muscular effort.

The Balanchine technique of ballet emphasises that a more open pelvis facilitates maximum range of movement of the leg, and that the clarity of the leg position is more important than keeping the hip perfectly placed. Anatomically there is a limited range of pure leg movement at the hip, therefore the onset and the complicity of the pelvic movement seems to be a key element in the skill and elegance of grand rond de jambe en l’air.

 

2. Pelvis strategy

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'Air

Skilled dancers use certain movement strategies to achieve perfection of the ronde de jambe en l’air. For example, when transitioning the gesture leg from dévant to á la seconde, they rotate their pelvis to the right and tilt it anteriorly and to the left. Moreover, they don’t not just stronger, but also earlier than novice dancers. This allows them to carry the leg from one position to the next without any major additional effort.

In addition, the skilled dancers delay the internal rotation of the thigh in the á la seconde position using a large pelvic motion. Finally, they separate the movement of the pelvis from the movement of the upper body in order to maintain the verticality of the trunk.



 

3. A word of caution

Beginner dancers should use the pelvic movement with a great deal of caution. First, a change in the pelvis orientation changes the mass distribution of the body around the hip joint of the standing leg, which makes it harder to control balance and increases the burden on the standing leg. In addition, range or ease of pelvic motion for the novice dancers may be limited by their flexibility, muscle extensibility, and level of motor control.

3. It’s not about muscle strength

The technique used by the skilled dancers does not particularly require more muscular effort. Therefore, hip muscular strength, especially the gesture leg, is not a limiting factor for a novice dancer.

4. Standing leg

Grand Rond de Jambe en l'AirDuring the execution of the grand rond de jambe en l’air, more burdens are placed on the standing leg, especially its hip abductors. These muscles serve to orient the pelvis over the standing leg and to facilitate the balancing movement of the pelvis in relation to the gesture leg. This is turn allows to limit excess or undesired movement of the pelvis.

It is thus very important to include emphasis on the standing leg in teaching grand rond de jambe en l’air – and in fact other movements requiring full range of motion at the hip.



To sum up, the clues to getting the perfect rond de jambe en l’air are:

  • Allow for greater pelvis motion throughout the entire movement phase while maintaining the trunk orientation (pelvis strategy).
  • Work out the optimal timing of the pelvic tilt that allows for more effortless carrying of the gesture leg.
  • Focus on both gesture and standing legs: While their actions are different, their contribution to the desired movement is the summation of their individual roles. Achieving an aesthetic ideal in dance requires synthesis of the whole body.

Full texts:
Kwon, Y. H., Wilson, M., & Ryu, J. H. (2007). Analysis of the hip joint moments in grand rond de jambe en l’air. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 11(3), 93-99.
Wilson, M., Lim, B. O., & Kwon, Y. H. (2004).
A Three-Dimensional Kinematic Analysis of Grand Rond de Jambe en l’air Skilled Versus Novice Ballet Dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 8(4), 108-115.



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3 months ago Mastery

Mathematics of dancing: Creating a perfect choreography

Mathematics and dance are deeply intertwined. Mathematical concepts can be used to understand dance at a more profound level and to create better choreographies, and at the same time dance analogies can make math lessons more vivid and accessible for the students.

Geometry – with its shapes, patterns, angles and symmetry – is perhaps the most apparent field of mathematics present in dance. Looking at a solo dancer frozen in one position, we can see the lines of the body, their angles and directions in relation to each other and to the room. In a moving group of dancers, we notice the lines and shapes created by the ensemble, their change with the music, and the patterns of beats that cause those changes.

mathematics and dance Look at this dancer in a grand plié in the second position on relevé, hands straight above the head. Her legs and the floor form a rectangle, meaning that the thighs are parallel to the floor and the shins are perpendicular to the floor. Thus, the angle at the knees is ninety degrees.

Her arms form a V-shape, so that an imaginary line connecting her palms forms a triangle. The dancer’s body is symmetrical around her spine.

Looking at her from above, the dancer’s body should follow as straight of a line as possible (that of course depends on how well the dancer can turn out her hips).

mathematics and dance Now, consider a dancer coming out of an attitude. Her spine is perpendicular to the ground. The extension of the front leg forms the axis with respect to which the back leg and the upper body mirror each other. As a consequence, the line passing through the front leg bisects the angle formed by the back thigh and the spine.
mathematics and dance In addition, the line tangent to the curve of the upper body at the hips dissects the angle formed by the dancer’s thighs.

Finally, the arms form an ellipse with the dancer’s head being the lower focus.



In couple dances, apart from individual lines of each dancer, we also have shapes and patterns caused by the interaction of two bodies.

mathematics and dance In this tango pose the man’s and the woman’s bodies are in similar arrangements; in fact, one could construct the woman’s pose from the man’s using three simple actions: reflection, rotation and rescaling.

The rescaling causes the woman’s pose to become shorter and wider – her back leg reaches farther than the man’s back leg. She is exaggerating the movement to get lower, into the position of surrender typical for argentine tango.



Pieces involving more than one dancer often use the idea of translation. Translation of a pose is when several or all dancers of an ensemble perform the same movement at the same time. The geometry of translation, i.e. the location of each dancer, is independent of the pose and only subject to choreographer’s wish.

mathematics and dance The dancers form two parallel lines; the simplicity of the formation’s geometry emphasizes the beauty of proper ballet technique. However, depending on the feel of the piece, the choreographer might choose to place his dancers in a pyramid or a differently organized formation. Since dancers are three-dimensional creatures, their movements and poses exhibit different geometrical relations depending on the angle at which we are observing the piece.



In addition, with groups, sometimes the formation has to be taken apart in order to see the geometric relationships – a challenging but very interesting task.

mathematics and dance Two dancers on the outside are in the same translated pose; their bodies define a splitting line for the remaining two ladies. Those fill in the vertical levels while bringing the ensemble together through the shapes their bodies create. The dancer in the front has the same leg arrangement as the outside ladies; she is exaggerating the knee bend to get into her position. The dancer in the back is opposing the other’s downward action. The dancers’ positions form a zig-zag line on the dance floor.

Dance is always dynamic, and the changes in formations and shapes are the icing on the cake of dance geometry. The choreographers – often intuitively, sometimes knowingly – use the rules of mathematics to create pieces that look light and fluid. One of ways to ensure that is to consider all dancers together and look at the path travelled by the center of attention mass (CAM) of the ensemble. To calculate the CAM, instead of recording the body masses of the dancers, we would assign the weights based on the type of movement performed and how likely the moves are to attract the audience’s attention. For example, dancers that are off-stage would have zero weight, and a dancer leaping across the stage would carry more weight than a dancer frozen in a pose somewhere on the side. Or, depending on the atmosphere of the dance, a dancer crouching down and being still could have more weight than dancers moving around him. Thus, the weight of each dancer would vary throughout the piece, and so would the position of the CAM.

Geometry in dance is unavoidable. The moment a dancer enters the floor, his or her body and moves create shapes and patterns that simply wait to be noticed by the audience. Mathematics provides a helping hand in making these shapes perfectly aligned and therefore most pleasing to the eye.

Full text: Wasilewska, K. (2012). Mathematics in the world of dance. Proceedings of Bridges 2012: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture, 453-456.



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Do you perform better when you’re in good mood?

There is a strong intuitive association between mood states and sport performance. But what does science say? Peter Terry and Andrew Lane from the UK’s Brunel University have spent several years investigating the mood-performance relationships. In a comprehensive review article, they highlight the three most common research questions:

  1. Are mood responses different between athletes and non-athletes?
  2. Can mood responses differentiate athletes of varying levels of achievement (expert versus novice)?
  3. Can mood responses differentiate performance outcome among athletes of similar ability?

First, a few general remarks:

Profile of Mood States: TestMain test used to measure the mood is Profile of Mood States, or POMS. You can give the test a try yourself here.

The influence of mood upon performance may differ depending on the duration of sport, as well as on how success is defined. The duration of dancing events varies depending on the dance style and number of rounds in a competition. Generally, the longer the duration of sport, the less accurate the pre-competition mood can predict performance, because the mood will have more time to fluctuate. The definition of success can be based either on objective criteria (e.g. win/loss, selection/non selection into the team), or self-referenced criteria (e.g. achievement of personal goals, percentage of personal best). Self-referenced success is a more sensitive measure of the quality of performance and may also better reflect the impact of pre-competition mood.

1. Are mood responses different between athletes and non-athletes?

In respect of the first question, research has demonstrated quite clearly: When compared to general population, the mood profiles of athletes – especially at the elite level – are typically characterized by above average Vigor scores and below average scores for Tension, Depression, Anger, Fatigue, and Confusion. Such pattern of mood responses is called an iceberg profile and is possibly a sign of positive mental health.



2. Can mood responses differentiate athletes of varying levels of achievement (expert versus novice)?

Here, reliable conclusions have been far more elusive, with majority of studies suggesting that it is unreasonable to expect mood to predict athletic achievement of experts vs. novices. Thus, we can rest assured that mood responses do not reliably differentiate between athletes at different levels.

3. Can mood responses differentiate performance outcome among athletes of similar ability?

The suggestion that POMS scores are predictive of performance among athletes of homogeneous ability is perhaps the most intuitively reliable association, yet a definitive answer to this research question has also proved elusive. Some studies and reviews suggest that the link is very weak and the mood accounts for less than 1% of the variance in performance. However, when taking into consderation the influencing factors (duration of sport, the type of skills involved, definition of performance), pre-performance mood responses do have utility in the prediction of performance outcome, especially when the duration is short, performance is judged using self-referenced criteria, and when the sports involve more open skills rather than closed skills. Overall, although POMS has been shown to have utility in predicting performance of athletes of similar ability, the overall effect is moderate at best.

When investigating the indivudual elements of the POMS test, the athletes’ scores in Vigor, Confusion, and Depression have the highest correlation with their later performance. The negative effects upon performance of Tension and Anger are quite small. The reason is that tension and anger are influenced by depression: They will debilitate performance for an athlete in a depressed mood, but have no influence on a happy athlete.



To sum up:

  1. Are mood responses different between athletes and non-athletes?
    YES! Athletes have an iceberg profile (high Vigor and low Tension, Depression, Anger, Fatigue, and Confusion).
  1. Can mood responses differentiate athletes of varying levels of achievement (expert versus novice)?
    A definite no.
  1. Can mood responses differentiate performance outcome among athletes of similar ability?
    Sometimes. The link between mood and performance is stonger when sports are of short duration, and success is defined using self-referenced criteria.

Don’t forget to see how you score on the POMS test

Full text publications:
Beedie, C. J., Terry, P. C., & Lane, A. M. (2000). The Profile of Mood States and athletic performance: Two meta-analyses. Journal of applied sport psychology, 12(1), 49-68.
Grove, J.R., & Prapavessis, H. (1992). Preliminary evidence for the reliability and validity of an abbreviated Profile of Mood States. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 23, 93-109.



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4 months ago Mastery

Want to be a top ballroom dancer? Be prepared to travel

As ballroom dancers move up the competitive ranks, travel becomes not only the norm but an elemental necessity – whether it is for competition, coaching, taking lessons, performing, or judging. Top couples move not only on the ballroom floor but also around the world – and the more elite is the dancer’s status, the more travel becomes part of his or her status and identity.

Where do we go?

Large annual events such as dance camps and major competitions are surely important destinations. They serve as hubs bringing together top-skilled dancers and teachers, provide an opportunity to take lessons or get inspired by the crème de la crème and evaluate one’s level.

Mind you, there is no such thing as the competition location, because competitions occur at different locations as part of an ongoing, annual cycle. A similar pattern repeats itself as competitors travel to work with different coaches, at competitions, studios, or dance camps, and as coaches are brought in to coach at different locations.

Putting these pieces together, we start to see the dynamics by which ballroom community members live their lives and how fundamentally travel shapes them. We can begin to understand how and why such circulation itself can be said to serve as a “destination” within dancesport, since being in circulation emerges as a goal – a cornerstone of membership, competence, and identity.

Why do we do it?

Access to top quality coaching

Ballroom dancers start their careers locally, but as they climb up the competitive ranks, they eventually outgrow the training available to them nearby, regionally, or, for the best of the best, nationally, so they start to travel in order to receive better coaching. At lower levels, this usually involves travel to various “dance camps,” but as competitors continue to succeed, increasingly they bring in more advanced coaches or travel for regular coaching sessions.



Being up to date

The goings on of the competition circuit set the parameters and the direction in which norms are evolving for the larger world of ballroom practices. Participants take careful note of which competitors were there and how they placed in the competition. They ask whether there were any new partnerships. Which judges were there? Who was the DJ? Who was the photographer? Were there any particularly noteworthy new dresses and new trends? Was there a special performance and, if so, by which couples? Where was the event held, how was the accommodation, food, access to the local attractions?

All these items are part of the knowledge and activities that constitute the competition circuit. They are elements that can be confusing to the newcomer but become comfortingly familiar to the regular participant. Yet, as people come and go, as partnerships start and end, as champions arise and retire or get dethroned, the configurations shift. One needs to be there to stay “in the know”. Yet more than just familiarity with current goings-on is at stake.

Being seen

Just as the dancing and costumes of ballroom dance competitors are designed to help them be seen on the competition floor, their wide-ranging travel raises their visibility and status as competitors and performers. This dynamic continues later in their careers as former competitors travel as coaches and judges. While little monetary reward comes from winning competitions, the most successful competitors are offered opportunities to perform and coach. Similarly, there is very little money to be earned by judging, but being a frequent judge, especially at the prestigious events, generates more demand for one’s services as a coach.

Being an expert is acting like one. In the case of competitive ballroom dancing, acting like an expert is certainly about how one dances but also about one’s participation in the ballroom community’s annual circuit. Active top competitors and coaches cannot leave the circuit without losing their status. For example, regardless of dancing ability, it is impossible to be credited as a ‘national level competitor’ (let alone finalist or champion) without actually competing at the national championships. This same dynamic is at play locally for newer competitors and geographically more broadly for top dancers.

Certainly, competitors of past years may be recalled with reverence and greeted with fond reminiscences and nostalgia, but their position as active participants in the ballroom world quickly shrinks when they are no longer seen regularly.

Belonging

Whereas the casual participant is unlikely to invest the considerable time and money that go into developing competitive dancing, serious participants book multiple lessons per week – and even per day, with lessons typically priced from $50 to over $200. Perfecting a single step at the highest levels in the world can, quite literally, amount to $10,000 a step!

And precisely because other participants know the costs of participation, those who participate powerfully demonstrate their commitment to belonging. And the belonging, in turn, serves as a declaration of identity— who else would go to the trouble and expenses, after all?

Dancesport community is quite elitist. Travel is fundamental as a signal of one’s belonging within the competitive ballroom world. It provides the context in which ballroom identities are formed, and the arena in which the members mark their belonging by being seen.



What does it take?

First, it’s the cost and effort: the ballroom training, teaching, partnering, and competition opportunities regularly clash with the national residency restrictions, standards of living, and visa eligibilities.

Furthermore, serious dancesport competitors, judges, and vendors often spend more time on the road than at home each year. This has consequences for one’s family and non-dance friends, as holidays, birthdays, and various anniversaries are regularly missed. This creates a gradual disconnection, so that while dancers may enjoy coming home to their residences after a competition, they eventually start to feel out of touch and isolated if they stay there too long.

In fact, home residence stops being “home”. Instead, home comes to be found in a routine set of practices, a repetition of habitual interactions, in styles of dress and address, in memories and stories in one’s head. Home can be defined as place where one best knows oneself. And so, for more serious participants, the competitive ballroom circuit itself, with its familiar persons, practices and activities, becomes home.

 

Life stories

The globe trotter Maurizio Vescovo

ballroom dancers travel worldwide

Italian-born and- trained Maurizio Vescovo partnered with Hungarian-born-and-trained Melinda Torokgyorgy. They lived in Italy, represented Hungary, and regularly trained in England for ten years. After winning the Amateur World Championship and competing together as professionals for another year, they dissolved their partnership. Maurizio went on to partner with Lithuanian Andra Vaidilaite and dance for Canada, while his former partner Melinda chose to partner with Andrej Skufca and dance for Slovenia.

Looking more closely at the image of Maurizio and Andra, we see not only the partnership between an Italian and a Lithuanian dancer, dancing for Canada, seen on the picture competing in the US, but also the international judges standing behind them, including:

  • Michael Wentink: former World and Blackpool Professional Latin finalist, originally from South Africa. He competed as a professional for South Africa, US, and Japan (seen on the photo at the far right).
  • Donnie Burns, MBE: former World and Blackpool Professional Latin Champion, from Scotland, president of the World Dance Council (WDC) (second from right).
  • Rufus Dustin: former Professional US Champion in American style, International Latin, and Theatrical Arts, and World Exhibition Champion (third from right).
  • Maxim Kozhevnikov: former World and Blackpool Professional Latin finalist, World Latin American Showdance Champion, and US Professional Latin Champion, originally from Russia (seen at far left).

 

Who the hell is Jim Gray?
ballroom dancers travel worldwide

Jim Gray and Sunnie Page lived in Oregon when they won the national Novice Standard title in 2001. With no significant dancesport population in the state at the time, it is understandable why a somewhat shocked and obviously disappointed fellow competitor was later overheard in the men’s changing room saying, “Who the hell is Jim Gray?” What this person failed to realize was that Jim and Sunnie traveled to New York on a monthly basis, staying for up to a week at a time, to receive coaching from then U.S. National Standard Champions and World Standard Finalists Jonathan Wilkins and Katusha Demidova. They also took lessons from the visiting coaches Jonathan and Katusha brought from England. In the years that followed, Jim and Sunnie went on to compete in Blackpool, England, the most prestigious ballroom competition in the world, and they used these trips as opportunities to seek out and obtain further coaching from many of the best in the world.

 

Source: Marion, J. S. (2012). Circulation as Destination: Considerations from the Translocal Culture of Competitive Ballroom Dance. Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement, 17(2).



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5 months ago Love of dance

Why do you dance? Take a test

Dancing is a popular form of physical exercise. Studies have shown that it can decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve psychological wellbeing. A team of psychology researchers has recently published a test that can help identify the reasons why people attend dance classes. They found eight main motivational factors for dancing:

  • Mood enhancement: Dancing as the mood improving and energising activity.
  • Self-confidence: Feeling of sexiness and improved self-esteem.
  • Trance: experiences of trance, ecstasy, floating, and dancing as a way to reach altered state of mind.
  • Intimacy: Attractiveness of outfits, searching for relationships and sexual partners, and physical closeness to another person.
  • Socialising: Being in good company and being with like-minded people.
  • Mastery: Improvement of coordination, and body movements, as well as increasing control of one’s own body.
  • Fitness: Dancing in order to keep fit and healthy.
  • Escapism: Avoidance of emptiness, bad mood, and everyday problems.

You can take the test here. Do you agree with your results? Let us know in the comments below.

Most of these motives can also be applied to other sport acitivites – with the exception of intimacy. It appears that the physical closeness of dance partners is a strong determinant of dance motivation compared to other forms of exercise.




When the researchers ran the test on several hundred dancers, they discovered that the Mood Enhancement was by far the strongest motivational factor for both men and women, although exact motives differed according to gender.

Dancing is a recreational activity which is often pursued to improve one’s mood and has a powerful stress-reducing capability. Programs that have the aim of increasing participation in dancing should therefore focus on the mood-enhancing and self-confidence improving nature of dancing.

The intensity of dancing, i.e. number of lessons per week, was predicted by three factors: Intimacy, Socialising, and Mastery. The opportunity for social and physical contact appears to be just as important as improving one’s skills when it comes to the frequency of dancing.

 

See for yourself: Take the test to find out what motivates you to dance.

 

Full text publication: Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PloS one, 10(3), e0122866.



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5 months ago Love of dance

Why do you dance?

Dancing is a popular form of physical exercise. Studies have shown that it can decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve psychological wellbeing.

There are quite a few reasons why people choose to dance. Some reasons are listed here. Why do you dance?

The length of the blue bar in your results shows how much you are motivated by each of the eight factors.

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5 months ago Love of dance

You think you’re addicted to dance? You might be right

Dancing is healthy and highly beneficial for most of us. Yet, as any other rewarding activity, too much dancing can have negative effects on the dancer’s life – and it’s not just foot blisters. Similar to exercise dependence, dance addiction can be described as a craving that results in uncontrollable excessive dancing.

Several research studies suggest that psychopathology – in other words, mental health issues – may be present in dance addiction. The distorted body image and a never-ending quest for a thinner waistline are pretty obvious. In addition, dancers often continue to dance despite discomfort, “because of the embedded subculture in dance that embraces injury, pain, and tolerance.” A team of researchers from Hungary and the UK tested 447 ballroom and salsa dancers to see whether excessive dancing is associated with damage to the mental health. The dancers took several tests, the main one being the Dance Addiction Inventory test (see below how you score). Plus, the researchers assessed dancers’ motivation and mental health, including symptoms of an eating disorder.



You think you’re addicted to dance? You might be right

Five classes of dancers based on addiction levels

The results revealed five classes of dancers: Classes 1, 2 and 3 encompassed low to moderate risk dancers. About one-quarter of the study participants reported high values on seven criteria of addiction but no conflict with the social environment (Class 4). Finally, 11% of dancers belonged to the most problematic Class 5, scoring high on all addiction symptoms. Members of this last group also had eating disorders twice as often as of any other group. It is hard to say what’s the cause and what’s the effect: Whether the purpose of excessive dancing is weight-control, or the motivation to perform leads to disturbances in eating patterns. We are sure future research will find it out.

Escapism as a motivational factor was an especially strong indicator of dance addiction. Escapism in this context means dancing in order to avoid feeling empty or to deal with everyday problems. The authors deduce that to some, dance addiction may be a maladaptive mechanism of coping with life issues. Luckily, the number of such people is low.

Mind you, the authors warn against over-pathologising the behavior. Most of us will relate to frequently feeling an urge to dance, or being moody if we have to skip a class. It does not necessarily make us junkies; often it just means we love what we do.

Full publication: Maraz, A., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). An empirical investigation of dance addiction. PloS one, 10(5), e0125988

See for yourself: Scoring high on all criteria might be a reason for concern

Criteria Rate on a scale 1 to 5, where 1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree
Salience Dance is the most important thing in my life
Conflict with social environment Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of dancing I do
Mood enhancement I use dancing as a way of changing my mood
Tolerance Over time I have increased the amount of dancing I do in a day
Withdrawal symptoms If I have to miss a dance session I feel moody and irritable
Relapse If I cut down the amount of dancing I do, and then start again, I always end up exercising as often as I did before
Craving I feel a constant urge to dance

 



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