20 October 2016

The Outback Crown Celebrates 6 Years Of American Style Competition Dancing In Oz

Professionals Sharon and Marko Pekkarinen, organizers of The Outback Crown in Canberra, can hardly believe the success that has come their way since they introduced this American Style Dancing competition to Australia in 2011.  We asked Sharon Pekkarinen to explain the difference between International (standard and latin) and American (smooth and rhythm) style ballroom dancing, and she gave us some fascinating insights, shared with you below:

“The biggest, most obvious difference everyone can see between International and American Style ballroom is when partners release hold in the Smooth Dances – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz. One of the most important similarities to remember though, is that the techniques used in the Standard closed holds are exactly the same in Smooth. The physics of 2 people moving, elevating, lowering and rotating together don’t change and the 2 styles have a huge number of the same figures and elements. The character of each dance is essentially the same, but with the history of music development in the USA and the ability to break hold, the Smooth Dances incorporate more dance genres and dance techniques from styles such as broadway, cabaret, theatre arts and classical ballet which broadens the expression available to portray in each one. The biggest challenges Smooth dancers face is learning how to move differently in these other styles, dancing them on their own, and making ‘Smooth Transitions’ between open holds such as Shadow positions and Apart, and traditional closed holds.
 “The US Rhythm Dances – Rumba, Cha Cha, Bolero, Mambo & East Coast Swing have strong roots in Cuba and have been driven by the evolution of music over the decades. The biggest difference between Rhythm and Latin is in the Cuban/Latin Motion. Rhythm uses a ‘Pressed Walk’ most of the time, stepping on a flexed knee with pressure, and Latin uses a strong walk, where the knee straightens just before the extent of the stride. However, both styles use both methods in some situations. The difference was described to me by dual examiner in International & American Style, Ms Lori Woods-Gay of the USISTD like this, ‘The International Forward Walk is like walking with the wind pushing you from behind, and the American Walk is like walking into the wind.’
“In the ‘Rumba’ Genre, the tempo of the music also separates the styles: fast tempo is American Rumba, medium tempo is International Rumba, slow tempo is American Bolero. Mambo is the precursor to Salsa and Cha Cha. When it comes to Swing and Jive, Jive is approximately 10mpm faster in tempo than Swing. So Swing has a more relaxed, shuffling technique where Jive is driven to be more lively by the music. Swing also becomes more energetic and compact when the tempo is faster too.
“An important thing to remember is that neither style has a lesser technique or ability than the other. I come from the American Style perspective first in my career, International came later, and I am still studying and gaining professional qualifications in both, and have heard many descriptions of how both style dancers ‘see/interpret’ the other style the first time they see it here in Australia. In the USA they have competitions practically every weekend which involve both styles. Judges in the USA do not become adjudicators until they have a professional Licenciate Degree in all 4: Smooth, Standard, Rhythm & Latin as they will be judging all of them. Australia, in comparison, has only a few people who understand both, and it will still take a while for the knowledge and acceptance of both here. But it’s happening and will continue to happen as all of us dancers want to learn and grow and improve ourselves, whether we get better at competing or become a better social dancer. The gap between the styles is not so big, especially when you think about the fact that we are all ‘dancing’ “.

Sharon Pekkarinen is a fellow of the United States Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance (USISTD), and co-owner of Danzon Studio with husband Marko Pekkarinen. Together they organize The Outback Crown in Canberra, the only annual American Style dance competition in Australia.

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