At their last meeting, the NDCA passed a controversial rule stating that the first 4 bars of Closed Bronze and Closed Silver American Smooth must be danced in closed position with an additional 8 bars of closed position to be danced within the first minute. While this decision was passed, it has not yet been implemented. Thankfully, the NDCA has been very forthcoming about this seismic rule change and will be voting on it again at their upcoming July meeting. Since this is a topic I am especially passionate about, I wanted to offer some final thoughts.
It is my understanding that the logic behind requiring these 12 bars of closed position work is to better define the differences between the Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels (creating a structured progression towards Open), cultivate a more level playing field, and to make it easier for judges and invigilators.
While I agree that we need better defined levels for the American Smooth style, we cannot achieve this without a comprehensive syllabus. Such a syllabus is a massive undertaking due to the nature of American Smooth and the almost infinite number of holds and transitions a dancer can make. But, until we have one, I believe we can regulate the levels with clearer restrictions on the various figures we're allowed to dance. Forcing everyone to start in closed position doesn't really solve the problem and inhibits the organic evolution of the American Smooth style.
You may find yourself asking, "What's the harm?" Closed position work is a fundamental skill, why not ensure American Smooth dancers learn it by forcing them to compete in it for at least 12 bars? It is here that I'd like to clarify the fundamental difference between International Standard and American Smooth, because there are several crossover elements which can cause confusion. While both styles have similar closed position work, characterizations, weight transfers, technique, leg/foot actions, partnering skills, and silhouettes, each style has a unique goal and intention that defines it.
In International Standard, you are striving for an ideal as you use closed position to dance in perfect unison. Your goal is to perform multiple dynamic movements and characterizations while remaining in closed position and connected at the hip or rib cage. It is nothing short of majestic to watch the professionals who have mastered this art as they fly across the floor in symbiotic harmony.
In American Smooth you are striving for a different goal. The beauty lies in transitioning in-and-out of closed position as well as several other holds. These transitions allow for more expressiveness, which is the heart and soul of American Smooth. When you watch a professional American Smooth dancer, you are marveling at how they flow seamlessly through a variety of positions.
To use an analogy, imagine a paint palette of primary colors where red is closed hold, yellow is an alternate hold, and blue is dancing individually. The beauty of American Smooth is not just seeing what you can paint in red but watching the magic of what an artist can create when they are able to mix and blend those colors. That process of mixing and blending is what is characteristic of the American Smooth style and what enables us to create a such beautiful and moving pieces of art.
Our students signed up to learn this art and in order to build a well-rounded American Smooth dancer these skills need to be developed from the first day of their training.
These same students have already invested heavily in their current competitive routines: financially, with their time and effort, as well as emotionally. Forcing them to change is not only discouraging and disheartening to them but bad business for all of us. Also, implementing such frequent and sweeping changes on our Pro-Am community is damaging to our ballroom repetition as a whole.
No other ballroom style requires everyone to begin in exactly the same way and it feels unfair to impart that kind of a stylistic restriction on the American Smooth style just as it is exploding in popularity.
I am relieved to know that the NDCA is listening and will be having another vote on this important decision. I appreciate that they have complicated and difficult job and I am grateful that they will be evaluating these additional implications.
Whether you agree, or disagree, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. I have also put a poll on my Facebook wall to help the NDCA gauge everyone's feelings on the topic.
I'm optimistic that we can preserve the heart and soul of the American Smooth style, ensure the happiness and health of our Pro-Am community, and prove that our ballroom dancing industry is listening and receptive to its constituents.