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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Articles: Wendy Perron on Acrobatics in Competitions

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While I do want us to continue the discussion, I do want us to be careful in describing social media photos of minors on the YAGP page. We have to remember that the issue here is not the dancer themselves but what is rewarded in competition at times. And YAGP dancers are minors so not open for discussion as an individual here.


Without those references to particular dance photos on their Facebook page, the discussion is a good one. Minor=someone's child and could be a member's child. Tread lightly. :whistling:

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I find the contemporary category very difficult to judge and very subjective.


I am asking this based on total ignorance as my DD has never done a contemporary piece. How is the piece judged? How can you judge technique when many of the pieces are done in parallel or kicks are done inverted? I always see so many pieces that I like in this category but they are all so different. How does one pick a "winning piece"?

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Diamond Fairy

We sat through many contemporary solos, pre-competitive through seniors, during the Atlanta YAGP regional. The soloists (from one studio in particular) at first seemed impressive. They had unique (for lack of a better term) costumes, did tilts, penches on releve, contortionist poses, etc. After watching a few of these solos, the choreography was all the same. After so many of the same styled costumes, music, and choreography, it was refreshing when a soloist performed something different.


At this particular Atlanta regional, because of weather conditions (snow), master classes were cancelled and YAGP offered an invitation to attend a meeting with the panel of judges. Parents, teachers and dancers could ask questions. The discussion of choreography was immediately asked and there was an extensive discussion. The judges said they were not impressed with solos that included acrobatics or contortionist moves. What they looked for was flow in the movement and artistry. They also mentioned that this category is very broad and they purposefully do not put restrictions on the choreography because choreographers have very different styles and ideas for contemporary/open solos. With that said, many of the soloists from the studio mentioned above finished in the top 12. Like the choreography or not, they were rewarded.

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Although some parts of a contemporary piece may be done in parallel other parts are not and usually certain elements of training and technique are evident in the piece. For example, if you want to get maximum height on an extension you need to be turned out. We have found with DD that she has to be really clear with her feet. Parallel must clearly be parallel and turned out must clearly be turned out. Grounded means the the feet are not shuffling around but the dancer is firmly into the floor and balanced. Turns must be aligned and either clearly parallel or turned out. Feet must be clearly pointed or clearly flexed. So, it's about clarity and precision, just as in classical ballet but the dancer and choreographer have more control over that. If something looks out of place or unclear (was that supposed to be a flexed foot or is the dancer just half pointing? Was that slightly angled foot supposed to be turned our or in parallel?).


I think that there is more demand to bring artistry and to have really good music. Also, the choreography must be innovative. I was watching some of the ADC/IBC contemporary yesterday and I saw one person dance and then a second person come on and do a dance by the same choreographer and the pieces looked very, very similar. It detracted.


I also think that one thing that really helps a dancer, especially one that is looking to get a company contract, is the ability to show versatility. You are more marketable when you can look convincing in a classical piece and convincing in a contemporary piece (as opposed to kind of tentatively and frailly moving through a contemporary choreography with which you have obvious discomfort.)


Also, I think that good contemporary pieces show a dancer's musicality. Can the dancer hear the music and connect the movement at just the right time. The foot that goes from flexed to pointed with that last note. The arabesque that is held through that upbeat and then released just in time.

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It's not just your daughter learningdance. Turned out is turned out and parallel is parallel. You must know what both are in order to dance technically correct in either position. This is why there is the old dance adage in Modern and Classical jazz dance that you "must learn to turn out before you can turn in". It really is more than a placement of your feet. Otherwise, the dancer is just going on the foot placement and not the leg/hip placement which the foot is an extension of. Grounded is not really a foot position but rather where the emphasis of the movement itself it. You can perform a pirouette that is lifted and cloud like and one can perform a pirouette that is grounded. You can do one that starts lifted and ends grounded. That is where Contemporary Ballet has taken from Modern technique. The difference in a proper plie (or other movement) in both is still lifted and pulled up. But in Contemporary and Modern the movement is more "into the ground" than "into the sky". One can be in plie or parallel 1st and still not be grounded.


Judging contemporary in my humble armchair position is about as subjective as you can get in judging. Why? There is no contemporary syllabus. Because there is not, then while ballet technique is important that can sometimes be overshadowed by performance. This is why you sometimes see in the YAGP (and other youth competition) rankings dancers from Competition Jazz schools scoring high in Contemporary but then faltering in the Classical division. If there was a contemporary syllabus then so many things would be more clear. I saw videos of one regional winner in Contemporary and was impressed, then the Classical variation happened and the placement and technique was lacking. The fouettes and turns in 2nd were rewarded in one division and then docked in the other rightfully so.


Artistry is also subjective to us. Many times, I see us mentioning Artistry on the boards when we really are talking about musicality and vice versa. While the two work together, when you come down to judging they are two very different things. And quite different in Contemporary versus Classical. A question comes to mind in the way we're discussing it. So a dancer performs to spoken word or no music or the sounds of waves or the sounds of breathing. By the definitions given, that arabesque example you gave wouldn't fit. But it is still possible for the dancer to be both musical and artistic without music. (Yes, my modern study and training is coming out in this discussion) So if musicality is on the judging sheet, how is it then judged when there is no upbeat to hold through. See what I mean about the total subjective of not only the judging but the defining nature of artistry and musicality.


Without a true Contemporary syllabus, YAGP (or other competitions) will have to include in their rules the things they want to see similar to certain styles of ballroom dance only allowing lifts below the shoulders. Even in competition jazz dance, those limits are included in the rules for each category. It really isn't rocket science to determine what is acceptable and what is not. People will comply to what they know. But if it's not dictated then a free for all it is.

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Absolutely! They make the world go round.


Not sure where the difference in opinion is though. I was speaking from the perspective of the history and pedagogy learned in Modern dance and following it's training and trajectory into what is now Contemporary ballet and Contemporary Dance as it relates to YAGP and the question at hand. :flowers:


Bottom line, until YAGP figures out what how to give their judges a "charge" and then determines what constitutes an acceptable Contemporary entry we will continue to see everything from a to z on the stage and in the winners circle.

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Momof3, your post suddenly made me think of something I have not thought about at all for many years: Skate Canada has a test stream for "interpretive" programs. Skaters are required to pick -- and provide to the test judges -- a specific theme that they work to convey in their skating.

The evaluation criteria (near the bottom of this page: https://info.skatecanada.ca/hc/en-ca/articles/203197180-Interpretive-Skating-Test-Standards-Manual) seem like they could be modified and applied to dance fairly easily...
1. Edge and Turn Quality
2. Speed, Flow and Power
3. Creative Movement with Sureness
4. Carriage and Line
1. Interpretation of Music
2. Communication of Theme
3. Use of Whole Body
4. Use of Levels and Space
5. Originality/Creativity
6. Interaction (Couples only)

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Oh gav, thanks for that. I see what you are saying from that site and I also see how they streamline the competitors to the highest level. I also like the list of qualifiers to get to Point A. Contemporary is a wide open field. Open much more to an individuals subjective nature than the Classical division even though judging in and of itself is subjective. The more a competition does to determine what it wants to see and finds acceptable. The more the envelope can be pushed in terms of the training towards that goal.

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I see two different issues with this discussion of acro. The first, what some would call "contortion," is going to be blurred in my mind as there are some incredibly flexible dancers who are just able to do some things a bit more extreme than others. I'm thinking cambre backs, 180 extensions, etc. The second, I think is a bit more definable. Most, of not all, of those gymnastics tricks have names, and it would be easy for YAGP - or any other competition - to exclude them in contemporary dance via a list. "Points will be deducted for the following ... cartwheels, Arabians, walkovers, tilts, handsprings, flips aerials, chin stands, etc., etc., etc." Maybe we can also include "the reach" and "running in place" with those banned moves?

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I'd add "clutching dress and climbing it up legs with distressed anguished facials". :devil:

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The distressed faces kill me along with the mature themes for young girls.

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Wounded warrior hat on... Our dd was one of those "bendy" ones. Every time she went through a growth spurt, some part of that bendy body suffered. I actually discovered BTFD when I google searched "achilles tendonitis and ballet," and a discussion about that subject was on this board. Our daughter had grown 3 inches in 2 months and ended up in 2 boots with bilateral achilles tendonitis. A few years later, she ended up with a stress fracture of her L5 vertebra-all related to a growth spurt and exaggerated and repetitive "cambre back" in her contemporary choreography for YAGP. After the YAGP, she spent time in a Boston Brace (that she named Bruce)which limited movement from the back until the fracture healed. Looking back, that injury was preventable. We knew she was growing and we should have insisted the removal of those repetitive, exaggerated movements in her piece. There is way too much emphasis by some programs to do those exaggerated movements with far too much repetition; her school was one of them. They wouldn't have received our request to take out those parts of the choreography well, but we had already reached a "parting of the minds" when it came to our daughter.


I do wish that YAGP would build something into their rules that showed respect for the fact that the students are still growing children.


So, with my rose colored glasses on: I would suggest:

1. No pointe for per-competitive dancers

2. Weighting points in contemporary especially to reward musicality and artistry

3. Deducting points for the 3rd exaggerated pose. I think one or two poses with legs wrapped around an ear is certainly enough to demonstrate that a dancer is flexible- or one or two of the cambre back jumping poses when the foot hits the back of the head things.


But that would require giving judges guidelines and they don't do that. I understand how difficult it is to define contemporary ballet and why no guidelines are given but maybe guidelines that are designed to protect young students from injury could happen. Flexibility is good but only when accompanied by strength and most of the kids do not have the strength needed to do those exaggerated poses in a repetitive manner, without risking injury.


And I agree, enough of the anguished faces and more artistry, please!

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1. No pointe for per-competitive dancers

I actually heard an irate mother at our regional going on and on and on about how her child should have placed higher because she danced en pointe and most of the other pre-competitive dancers didn't, including some who placed in the top 12.

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Yes, I don't understand why some people think pointe is necessary for a contemporary piece. It can be wonderful with the right piece and the right choreography, but to just do it on the assumption it's necessary .... blah. I'd rather watch a well-done contemporary solo in flats or bare feet.

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