Absolutely, YES! If I was forced to describe American Style dancing in one word, I would have to say: Addictive! Yes, I know that competitive dancing in general is addictive, but American Style is unique in its own addictive way.
As most of you may know, American Style divides into Rhythm & Smooth:
- American Rhythm has an earthy and sensual feel, yet with a strong touch of passion and intensity to it. Back in the day, it was danced mainly in the latin clubs to the authentic tunes of Latin-American rhythms (which, of course involved a lot of drums), and eventually made it’s way into the competitive world. Known for it’s “Soft Knee” technique, it differs from International Latin. More to add, history mentions that International Latin was reinvented based on American Rhythm.
- American Smooth can be described as the dream for any dancer. With the elements of Standard, Latin, Ballet and Contemporary, it brings freedom of movement and expression, while still having technical clarity. A key feature of Smooth is the opportunity to alter positions from closed, open, side-by-side, shadow, etc. while maintaining continuity of movement.
When danced well, and true to the style, both Rhythm and Smooth are mesmerizing to watch! The main challenge with American Style, is that many dancers and spectators think they understand it, but really, they don’t.
Standard with a few open positions is not the same as Smooth, and slowing down your Jive and calling it Swing will not be Rhythm.
The American Style Congress can be easily considered as one of the best places to get a clear understanding of the style. The congress is presented by Sam Sodano and Edward Simon. The mission is to continue to develop and define the techniques and artistry of American Style and create awareness of it’s uniqueness and specificity. After attending the 5th annual event held in New York, as part of the Sunday agenda for the New York Dance Festival, we believe it offers 2 other strong benefits.
Clarity of the style in General and technical approach of past and current champions of both American Smooth & Rhythm
This year’s Congress had 10 sessions. Each with a very clear and distinct message.
- Bob Powers & Julia Gorchakova, former Rhythm champions, showed how 3 different types of dance energy – laid back, in the movement and anxious – can have remarkably different effects with the same choreography. They also discussed and showed how form, lines, rhythm and power, can emotionality build on each other to develop a dance. The key learning factor was a deeper understanding of the role of energy, and how it affects the emotion and even structure of the dance.
- Peter & Alexandra Perzu, American Smooth and current 9-Dance Champions, spoke about specific technique of American Smooth and the levels of each dance. High and light for foxtrot, medium and vertical for tango, low and heavy to enable great stretch and emotion in slow waltz. The key learning factor were the dimensions of movement that bring Smooth to life. They helped the attendees understand the importance of volume, swing & sway, flow and direction in American Ballroom.
- Nazar Norov & Irina Kudryashova, runners-up in Pro American Rhythm, in their lecture touched the value of storytelling in a rhythm dance. They also demonstrated the very specific “rotary and soft” technique of Rhythm in contrast to the linear Latin. The most fascinating, in my opinion, was the trick with the plastic cups and water, showing the stability in Rhythm technique . Nazar and Irina demonstrated how a Jive routine could be taken and easily get converted into Swing as long as one had a strong understanding of what Swing really is.
- Valentina Kostenko, former Smooth champion, gave a few details, in her opinion, that matter in competitive American Style dancing. She described several examples of how choreography can, at times, make it difficult for judges to mark you well. She also spoke of movement, emphasis, dimensional shape, and the relationship of partners to each other on the floor, as well as transitions, which are critical to a judge’s eye. The key learning point was to ensure that the freedom of American Smooth is not abused.
- Charlie & Jeannie Penatello, former Rhythm champions, used wonderful humor to highlight partnership pitfalls and success factors. These included the need to balance each other’s strengths and manage disagreement, so you are not spending all your dance time fighting. They covered everything from the selection of a partner and respect in small actions, to the investments that each partner needs to make in themselves and the partnership. The key learning factor was – if the partnership is rocky, it will drain the energy that should have been invested in your success as a dance couple.
- Steve Dougherty & Eulia Baranovsky, former Smooth Champions, brilliantly showed how to determine one’s own unique personal role in a partnership and in the style. They clearly demonstrated the risk of copying something that is not yours without thought to adapting it to your couple. The summary of their lecture was – you can never please everyone! Each person has to make a conscious decision on what will or will not work for them, and the person they will be on the dance floor with.
- Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine & Liana Churilova, current Rhythm champions, went very deep into the timing issues. They showed, that very subtle differences in the partner’s assumptions of timing can create problem for the couple. The quote of the lecture – Everything has it’s own time! The timing, as Emmanuel & Liana explained, is often a hidden source on disharmony. So, next time at a practice, check the count that you and your partner have in your heads when that subtle disharmony shows on the floor.
- Mazen Hamza & Izabella Jundzill described the 3 critical relationships in dance. The dancer’s relationship to him or herself, to the partner and the music, and how each relationship needs to work in harmony with the other. The key learnings here are that no dancer has strength if any of the relationships is out of sync. And also, the better you are with yourself, the better you can be for you partner.
- Bill Sparks‘ theme of his lecture was the technique called “Hip Lift”, and stepping onto a bent knee that is unique to American Rhythm. He used Jonathan Green & Rachel Neilson as a demonstrating couple. The biggest point Bill wanted to get across, was how American Style Rhythm differs from International Style Latin. He also emphasized the importance of clarity and crispness in all movement. The key learning factor here was, the unique movement in Rhythm needs to be well understood and shown with conviction, to be well danced in American Style.
- Jonathan Roberts spoke about discovering oneself in dance. He used Erin Marie and Michael Choi, a relatively new partnership, for the demonstration of how you can build up your style, by choosing one body part at the time. And to make things more interesting, he used the crowd to help him chose character and style of movement for each body part. The key learning here was how each component of dance movement can help you, and how critical the exploration of movement is to understanding and showing your style.
These are just a few points and a few impressions of each session. Each presenter provided great details and demonstrations of some of the things that made each of them unique. There were many more points, and many additional key learnings – far too many to mention here. Without any question, however, all of those who attended the Congress left with a deeper appreciation of American Style. For those who missed this fabulous event, but still would like to experience and get the full information that we mentioned above, the videos of past American Style Congresses are available HERE.
The next American Style Congress in 2015 will be at the Twin Cities Open July 11-12, 2015 with Congress on the 13th. More information could be found HERE.
This was the first time we attended The American Style Congress and will definitely not be my last. Whether you currently dance American Style or not, this kind of information should not be missed by any developing Ballroom Dancer!
Authors: Miss P [www.CelebrateDanceSport.com] | Egor Shalvarov
Exclusively for Dance Comp Review