Ballroom Dance > Expectations for syllabus and open dancers

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by cantskiforlife, Sep 20, 2008.

  1. What knowledge and skills do you expect a bronze, silver, gold, or open dancers to possess?

    There have been many arguments about the difference between amateur, pro-am, and collegiate competitors and it would be nice to sum it up here.

    I don't believe there should be a difference in expectations. I believe Bronze=Bronze, Silver=Silver, Gold=Gold, and Open=Open. I do not see the purpose to having an amateur bronze, a collegiate bronze, and a pro-am bronze.

    So what knowledge (from technique to steps) do you expect a student to know at the
    1) bronze level
    2) silver level
    3) gold level
    4) open level

    I would love to have pro's comment on what they believe the industry's expectaitons are/ ought to be.
  2. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    There is really nothing inherint in the levels themselves, only in comparison to the other people. (Perhaps it's better calling them beginner, intermediate, and advanced as the MIT comp does)

    I expect people to move on when they've had their fun in a level, and let others coming up have an opportunity there. The proficiency points systems are an attempt to mandate that - at times too lax and at times heavy handed an insensitive, but an attempt at least.

    There's little fundamentally unapproachable in most open material; and conversely there is little in bronze that anyone with less than a decade of effectively professional experience is actually going to get right.

    As they say intermediates want to do advanced material, and advanced dancers spend most of their energy on the most basic fundamentals... but they aren't competing bronze when they do so.

    I don't think basic material is really understood or appreciated until several years of doing more advanced things badly, which pretty much precludes anyone with ambition from dancing well in bronze, because by the time they are good at that they will really not fit there. And that's not unique to the collegiate scene in any way - when you look beyond the impressive overall performance in the other divisions, you'll find that many basic techniques such as footwork are lagging substantially behind the dancer's more obvious strengths.
  3. syncopationator

    syncopationator Active Member

    I disagree here. One should stay at a level until they excell at that level. I'd hate to have some point system tell me I can't dance at that level anymore. Once I've excelled at that level, say if I win some major comps at a certain level, then I will start competing at the next level.

    Open material is just steps and figures that are not in the syllabus. Anyone can do it, but unless you excell in the fundamentals, you can't make it look good.

    When I started dancing I thought the syllabus stuff was boring and all I wanted to do was dance open material. I'm glad I had good teachers that knocked some sense into me because I trully feel that my dancing would not be as good as it is today if I had not focused on the basics for so long.

    Last amateur comp I went to I saw many couples doing gold or novice open events that looked like they wouldn't even make it through a round in bronze. It was quite entertaining and comical to watch this. I'm sure this would have been me if I had not listened to my teachers.

    And this is why when most collegiate dancers go compete outside of the college comps they are completely overmatched. if only they had focused more time and energy in bronze and silver...
  4. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member



    Where are these non-collegiate amateur syllabus events in which the collegiate dancers are overmatched?

    They just don't exist - because the amateur syllabus community is 90% the same community as the college comp syllabus community.

    A collegiate dancer will usually place more poorly in an amateur event of the same level, but they are still loosing to other members of the college comp community, just those who would be dancing the next level up at a college comp. If you look at the results of large amateur comps like NE regionals or nationals, right up through prechamp the finals are chock full of those who came from the collegiate comp circuit.

    It's only when you get to champ and add in those who came up through the youth track that those from the collegiate background get overmatched. But it's not because of differing amounts of time in syllabus, it's because the kids have been training and competing in for their own champ events for several years already, under the guidance of teachers who have experience sending people to the top of them and concentrate on what does matter to winning, instead of what should matter to winning, and are able and willing to put in the time to accomplish what those teachers can do with them.
  5. DL

    DL Well-Known Member

    What's the right perspective for syllabus questions, anyway?

    I'm not as far along in dancing as CantSki, but here are my $0.02.

    It seems as though the distinction between before- or after-syllabus is an interesting one. I've met several pros who tend to drop folks into those categories, but none who really seem intent on the nitty-gritty differences between one syllabus level and another, in terms of, "ranking," dancers.

    I think the reason is that, "completing," syllabus (whatever that means) in some sense signifies readiness to start learning dancing.

    So, I view syllabus as a learning tool. Why are the steps divided into the levels they are? What is there to learn at each stage? There's that tipple chasse in bronze QS. It's perhaps the first figure that demands a left shape. The turning lock to the right in gold W demands the same, but also demands more technique.

    Of course one is never, "done," working on shape. But those two data points show that this topic exists, the reasons for its importance, and how improvement in that area will help one's dancing.

    Likewise, in most cases, there's an interesting divider between bronze and silver, that passing feet is not allowed in bronze. Learning footwork, foot closure, posture, balance, rise, fall, sway, swing, lead/follow, etc., are all still possible in bronze (or indeed, newcomer). Again, there's a progression that shows what good fundamentals will yield down the road. And, bronze presents those fundamentals in a form more accessible to beginners -- particularly leaders, in terms of floorcraft.

    So if syllabus is a learning tool, it's also a teaching tool, and it's also a way to make fundamentals accessible to beginners. What's the purpose of syllabus-level competition? It seems that for many it's a mechanism for motivation and goal-setting. Is there a better way to structure the competitions than alignment with syllabus levels? There seems to be a lot of debate over the meaning of syllabus competition levels on DF from time to time but:

    1. probably, it just doesn't seem important to folks who left it behind decades ago; and
    2. probably, folks recognize the faults in the current system but find it hard to propose a better one (and probably smart people put in lots of thought avoiding worse solutions to give us what we have now).
    A good teacher who spoke candidly to me, once told me that people often ask her how long it takes to become, "a good dancer" -- whatever that means -- and that's it's often tough to give people a straight answer. She figured 10 years or so. I will guess that most folks who put in that kind of time probably, "graduate," from syllabus with a few years to spare. Of course that's not to say that they've mastered syllabus or stop working on it!

    Lots of people (even me) want to look at syllabus as a measurement of achievement and proficiency, even when the delta between gold dancers and folks in bronze may only be a couple of years or so, with part time instruction and training.

    After 4 years of a bachelor's degree and one for a master's, formally training for a technical profession, I thought of myself as a good software engineer when I arrived at my first job. Experienced folks humored me then just as I now humor the interns and fresh grads I encounter today. That was formal training for my professional career, not a hobby.

    Umm, what *exactly* was the question again?
  6. BasicsFirst

    BasicsFirst New Member

    I'll apologize in advance for skipping over the essays that precede this, but here are my thought(s).

    It varies by region, or perhaps even by studio. To make my point here's my story. Years ago we went and competed in a very distant region (not anymore due to the enormous increase in the cost of airfares). While there, my "very" general perception was that THEY taught their dancers posture, before they taught them even how to move... Such that, "their" Bronze level (Standard) dancers (at least the finalists) were executing nice tops and frames that for most part that I don't see in my neck of the woods until Gold.

    Good for them! Right then and there I thought, I wish they did that here.
  7. Laura

    Laura New Member

    I'll buy that :) I've been at it for a bit over 10 years now and I finally feel reasonable skilled, competent, and confident.
  8. White Chacha

    White Chacha Active Member

    My coach says it takes 10 years to make a leader. So there's a consensus developing.
    I'm not there yet.
  9. etp777

    etp777 Active Member

    Heh, does that mean I don't have to take the lblame for bad leads for another 8 years? :)
  10. Laura

    Laura New Member

    Obviously there are exceptions: for instance, kids. They way they learn, by imitating and just doing stuff, moves them along more quickly. And of course there are talented and dedicated adult individuals out there who move along much faster. I'm just talking about average cases here.
  11. DL

    DL Well-Known Member


    I have danced with ladies from different places who are clearly learning certain things in certain orders, and it's intriguing to see the differences.

    One of my teachers has pointed out that he always teachers beginners to move big, first. He specifically mentioned that many (most?) teachers tend to teach polish in top lines first, but he goes the other way because he sees that as a final step. When newcomers polish their dancing with little movement, everything breaks again and needs to be fixed when they start moving bigger. He prefers to get people moving, then put the polish on top of the big movement.

    I don't know enough to assert as much myself, and I might not have remembered his description precisely. I imagine that different teachers have different (and valid!) reasons for taking different approaches. But, the message I took home was that, after syllabus, one probably expects all of the elements to be there at least in a basic sense.

    It seems to me that a lot of fundamentals don't depend directly on each other, and conceivably could be taught in parallel, if anybody could absorb it all at the same time without being overwhelmed.

    In my very limited exposure to syllabus competitions, I've seen some people trained to move bigger but with sloppier top lines, and other people who barely move but seem very clean, however little they travel. In syllabus, we're all missing some pretty basic things by somebody's measure, I expect.

    Perhaps one can say, for example, that overall a couple (never mind an individual) at a competition is a bit more than a third of the way along and therefore ought to be dancing silver. How clearly can one make those distinctions? I think many pros shrug and do their best, but also conclude, "It's all just syllabus anyway."

    Like CantSkiForLife said at the beginning of the thread, I'm also now quite curious to hear from pros on the subject.


    I saw a couple of little kids perform a latin routine at an event tonight. I recognized some syllabus figures, some of which still seem challenging to me. I work mostly on standard, but still... I'm learning the same things as 8-year-olds, anyway. I'd better find a way to keep a healthy perspective about that!
  12. syncopationator

    syncopationator Active Member

    we're talking about non-syllabus, correct?
  13. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Using the standing foot more usually solves both problems. And this might be a good example of what often goes wrong with syllabus participation - after a few years, it can tend to turn into seeming tradeoffs of this vs. that, when both sides are really quite tangential to the real difference between syllabus dancers and those winning in the next divisions.

    The previous comment about software engineering may be applicable too - there's the academic approach, and then there's what dominates the real work world. It's kind of too bad that there's no academic pursuit-of-perfection type of outlet in dancing that would deserve a degree of respected from the "industry" side, but that there does seem to be a real parallel in the way that academic preparation can only take you so far in preparation for open competition - then you have to encounter the real world challenges and grow to meet them.
  14. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    No, not really.

    Anyway, in champ just about everybody looses to the former youth competitors. The few who have gained traction against them seem to be those who spent only a year or two competing in adult syllabus... probably because by leaving that behind, they faced up to the reality of the task sooner.

    There's just something very backwater-ish about adult syllabus gold, even in comparison to the collegiate version, that is fairly career-killing if taken in dosage larger than the occasional add-on to the collegiate version. It's going to sound silly, but if it were danced in costume in the evening session and generally hung with the trappings of the real deal, it might be a lot more useful as a fundamentals finishing school.

    So that's my off-the-cuff recommendation: replace adult gold with master of syllabus, open to all, costumed, in the evening.
  15. DL

    DL Well-Known Member

    I'm not suggesting that there are trade-offs. I'm just saying that newcomers can't learn everything at once, and different things are taught in different orders for different reasons by different teachers. Getting good nagging about proper walking technique and use of the standing foot won't always imply equal focus on keeping those shoulders down, under-turning the top, keeping the head in the right position, connecting head movement to shape changes, leading with a flexible right elbow, etc. Teaching all of that seems like an embarrassingly parallel problem, but surely any newcomer would be overwhelmed by the amount of information that could be taught for a, "simple," prep step + natural turn in lesson 1.

    IMO the, "rift," between the academic and business worlds in software is more in people's heads than a legitimate divergence of realities. Bridging the gap is the often the Right Thing, but it requires work. Many old-timers think the work is wasted because they can blather about ivory-tower academics not knowing anything useful (wrong), and many grads off the turnip truck think the work is wasted because they have ideals combined with total ignorance of business realities (also wrong).

    My point really was that, at the beginning of my career, my actual state was, "ready to start learning about software."

    I was tempted to make a martial arts analogy and note a few discussions I've been involved in over the question, "what does a black belt really mean?" I think it often actually means, "ready to start learning <your martial art>."

    <tongue in cheek, mostly>
    As for challenges one, "must," grow to meet -- <shrug> I'll probably never quit wearing glasses, anyway. Maybe it's too bad I'm not going bald instead of dealing with bad eyesight. Oh well, at least new young things at socials are starting to show interest in dancing with me socially, and there's another use for syllabus techniques and practical measure of my progress learning them; maybe one will turn out to be a future DW one of these days...
    </tongue in cheek, mostly>
  16. reb

    reb Active Member

    From OP:

    From Sync, replying to Chris's comment about proficiency points:

    So this is one example of the differences between Pro/Am and Amateur.

    Pro/Am is as sync describes it - no pushing out of the nest.

    Amateur - collect enough proficiency points and you are moved up - sometimes the only way to delay the inevitable rise to Champ is to space out how many big comps you compete in . . . .
  17. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    One thing that I would like to see is a foot closure at the end of a half Natural Turn in Waltz. So many times you see even some professionals passing their feet.

    Accumulating points is the only objective way to determine whether or not you are excelling at that level...
  18. Bailamosdance

    Bailamosdance Well-Known Member

    Excelling - no. Winning, perhaps - if you are going against the better dancers.
  19. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Actually that's only realistically true about the collegiate system. In adult amateur, there just aren't enough comps with syllabus fields large enough to grant points for placing out to have been a serious concern under the old system, and I don't think there hasn't been enough experience with the new for anyone to have placed out of anything yet (except I guess at nationals).

    Placing out of a level in collegiate competition does not necessarily mean that you are ready to handle the next theoretical level of dancing, what it basically means is that you should stop dancing against that group of people and start dancing against the next more experienced group.

    After I wrote last night I was thinking more about why there's such a problem with adult gold, and finally remembered what the issue is: syllabus is fine as long as you are eligible for collegiate gold - there are big competitions to attend and progress to be made. But once a couple has placed out of collegiate gold, they really should move into open, and not concentrate on hanging around trying to place out of adult gold. The reason for that is that there are only 2-3 comps per year with adult gold fields that give any degree of real intensity of being a competitor to the experience. If you are only really sweating it out in multiple rounds against a tough field like that 2-3 times a year, and everything else you enter is basically costumed practice, your momentum is dead.

    Those with a can-do attitude move along, those with a can't do attitude stay behind - and end up showing that attitude in their dancing.
  20. Does this make sense though? Why should someone have to skip competitions to delay this rise? Why should someone be forced to compete at a level they are not competent in. For instance,

    The major difference I see between pro-am, amateur, and collegiate competition is that collegiate dancers have a 1 year bronze time limit. As a result, you see hundreds of bronze dancers being forced into silver before they are ready. Many of them have to learn entirely new routines and focus on new technique while they are still unclear as to what they were trying to accomplish in bronze. The result is sloppy silver dancing and frustrated students who either quit immediately or allow their frustration to slowly whittle away at their passion for dance. Those that make it through to gold end up having little competition. Some stop competing completely, others stick it out but feel they are not improving since they are still lacking fundamental skills, and others decide to attempt pre-champ with embarrassing results. The end result, is that all levels are saturated with dancers whose technique is not on par with the level they dance.

    With amateurs, you choose when to move up to the next level, or do so based on points. The result tends to be a smaller and more qualified group at each level. (Disregard smooth and rhythm for this comparison as there are almost too few competitors to call it a competitive field).

    In Pro-am, the instructor places you according to your ability (in most cases). As a result, there is much stronger competition at the lower levels.

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