We drove up Friday night. Let me state right now: all the stories you've heard about driving in New York are absolutely true! I've driven in big cities before. Philadelphia, of course. Minneapolis. Boston. Chicago. Chicago's a bitch of a city to drive through, both on the main roads and downtown. Chicago ain't got shit on New York. The other drivers weren't as bad as I thought they'd be, but the pedestrians are... fearless. Fortunately we only had to go a couple blocks from the Lincoln tunnel to reach our hotel. When we got there, however, and realized we'd have to circle around (hotel was on the wrong side of the street, no way to do a u-turn or a left turn)... well, I'll let a phone call Ruth took speak for us.
Ruth: We're one block away so we'll be there in-
Me: Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.
The hotel itself was very nice. I hope to have some pictures soon (if you're friends with Monika check her shots on Facebook). We had a view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and Madison Square Garden. The beds were a bit small (I was glad I brought a sleeping bag; there wasn't room for David and I to share our bed unless we wanted to spoon) but otherwise the place was wonderful. If you need a place to stay in downtown Manhattan, and can get a good rate, I HIGHLY recommend The New Yorker Hotel. We went out to a nearby Irish bar for drinks and dinner for those who hadn't eaten yet, then back to the hotel at about Midnight to sleep before our early start the next day.
We woke up early on Saturday. The girls were up at 5:30 to start hair and make-up. David and I slept in - him in the bed, me on the floor - until 6:30. It didn't take me long to shower, gel and pomade my hair, and get suited up for standard. I also grabbed a muffin and tea from the kiosk downstairs, which were good but pricey; $6 but it's hotel service in New York so it wasn't unexpected. We reached the ballroom about 15 minutes before events started. Ruth and I got in a warm-up dance each in waltz and quickstep, the latter of which revealed extreme traffic problems for us and resulted in a hasty backup plan to deal with avoiding potential collisions. Fortunately this plan was never needed.
Standard went well enough. I thought we bought it on the first round, but we did well enough to get called back for quarter-finals. Monika and David got called back as well. I thought the quarters went much better for us but we got booted anyway, while Monika and David continued to the semi-finals where they were dropped. We'd later see most of the dancers who made finals dancing in silver. Apparently my friend John wasn't kidding about a lot of people dancing down a level at MAC.
I changed for Latin and Ruth and I did a little warm-up then we all went out to lunch. We ate at a nice cafeteria across the street that had surprisingly good food at reasonable prices. Even with a bottled smoothie (mango tango flavor!) my meal still came to eight bucks and change. I went back to the ballroom to watch the upper syllabus standard dancers while Ruth went back to the hotel to take a nap. She reappeared later and we did another warm up before hitting the floor for Latin. David and Monika joined us to cheer on Ruth and me since they were only competing standard this weekend. Unfortunately we were eliminated in the first round; I wasn't surprised as my international Latin sucks, but Ruth insists I was better than many of the dancers who made it through. S'arrives.
Although that was our last official event for the day, I stayed behind to try and convince some of the UPenn dancers to try the team match with me. It took a lot but eventually we got a team together. The team match was very rushed, condensed into a single round instead of the expected two. Dances were randomly drawn from the 19 competitive dances, though no specification of Latin or American was made (i.e. if waltz was drawn one could do smooth or standard) along with variations such as "reverse role (follower leads)," "reverse line of dance," "too fast," etc. The dances ended up being waltz with changing emotions called out by the emcee ("Happy! Now depressed! Bored! Confused!"), same-sex swing, three-person foxtrot, and an all-team relay race of samba, Viennese waltz, paso doble, and quickstep. Ruth did the same-sex swing which she actually did quite well, and I did the three-person foxtrot with her and her swing partner, which we absolutely bombed. In the relay, we took the Viennese portion and had to dance a bit of paso; while we made up a lot of time that the team lost on samba with our Viennese we still finished next to last, and the team came in last place over all. S'arrives, it was fun.
After the day's events we went back to the hotel to change. Ruth wanted to go check out Mario Batali's restaurant, while Monika, David, and I had gotten tickets to watch the open dancers compete that evening. The three of us had a quick dinner at another pub, then went back and watched the novice, pre-champ, and champ dancers. The adult events were standard and rhythm, though we skipped out on rhythm as it was late and we were tired. We also saw youth pre-champ and champ Latin. That was... disturbing.
Normally I love watching kids compete. It's inspiring and they're usually fantastic. These kids made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I've never seen children so sexualized, both in their costumes and in their dance routines. While Latin dances can be sexy that does not mean their sexual. Cha cha is supposed to be about flirtation, not copping a feel. Rumba is about romance, not dry-humping someone's leg. Worst of all, however, was the children's faces. During the first three or dances (cha cha, rumba, samba, and in champ paso doble) only one girl smiled. During the final dance of jive, a dance about having fun, only three smiled (which tells me that two were only smiling because their coach told them to). The rest just looked grim and determined. They looked dead inside.
These children have enormous amounts of pressure put on them by their families. Most are from the eastern European immigrant communities and their families immigrated from the former Soviet Union. They take lessons from the best former Soviet coaches. During the Soviet Union ballroom dance was a state-sponsored activity and when the country collapsed many of those coaches immigrated to the US. These coaches often can only teach within that community because many don't speak English or do so poorly, and so they offer high discounts to those children. Their families spend all of what little money they have building their children up as dance champions, pinning their financial hopes on the children becoming champions themselves and then becoming $150/hr coaches. The children do little besides dance, have no social life, and many don't even go to school as the parents consider homeschooling a better way to fit in with practice and lesson schedules. Granted, I depict a worst case scenario and many of these children lead healthy lives and love dancing, but those weren't the children I saw on Saturday.
I didn't like it.
I am happy to say that the one girl who smiled, who was also dressed in the most conservative of all the dresses there (such as they were) won her event. So there's that at least.
After that we went back to the hotel. I took a quick shower to wash out my hair product and went to bed.
Sunday, Ruth and I woke up at 6:15 and 6:30 respectively. Again, I showered and did my hair, got on my Latin outfit (it doubles for both Latin and rhythm), grabbed a muffin and tea, and then we hit the ballroom to warm up. Warm up went okay if not great, though going over a recent change we made in our rhythm routine went well. It was hard practicing smooth in my Latin shoes but we managed. Still, we took warm up rather lightly as Ruth's ankle had been hurting her.
Unfortunately, we got shut out in rhythm in the first round. I was disappointed; I'd thought we did extremely well, but apparently not. I am curious to see the judges' marks when they're released. Regardless, I put it out of my mind and went to change for smooth. Despite a few collisions - there was some seriously bad floorcraft going on, of which I'm guilty too, we managed a callback to the semi-finals. I thought we did much better our second time around but didn't get a callback to the finals (though we still did better than anyone else on the UPenn team!). More disturbing, however, we had to speak to the invigilator, an official who ensures that dancers comply with rules such as syllabus restrictions to make sure they're not dancing advanced steps in basic categories.
According to the invigilator one of our figures, parallel right turns (a slow underarm turn where the follower turns to open hammerlock position then back) was illegal in bronze because she passed behind the leader's back. This isn't true but we had no time to argue, nor did I have the inclination to do so. I will need to ask Ken Richards, who is also vice president and head of dancesport for USA Dance, next time I see him. I think the invigilator was misreading the step and that it is fully legit, but I do want to check. Regardless, I had to adapt on the fly as we were told this literally as we were walking onto the floor for semi-finals, but I managed to cope. Thank God for partners who can actually follow! Unfortunately, as I said before, it still wasn't enough to get us in the finals.
After being eliminated we changed, went out for a quick brunch - eggs Benedict. Yum! - then drove home. I realized I left my iPod in the hotel and left a message with their lost and found when I got home. It took about an hour and a half to drop everyone off, and so I got home around 4:00.
All told, it was a fun comp, if exhausting. I'm reasonably happy with my results, though I'm hardly content and think we deserved better, especially in rhythm. Moreover, I'm very happy with how much Ruth and I have improved in the past few months since DCDI. Above all, I'm excited for my next two comps, Mid-Atlantic, which I'll be doing with Terri Ann, and Rutgers, which I'll be doing with Ruth. Was the weekend what I'd hoped it would be? No. Did I have fun? Hell yes! Did it inspire me for the next one? Oh my, yes!