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04 September 2010

Democracy is up to you

Say what you will about the politics of DanceSport, one of the things we've enjoyed throughout the decades has been the democratic nature of the association that governs amateur dancing. It's not perfect, of course. What is? But the spirit of allowing the members to set their own rules and govern themselves has been remarkable.

So I was dismayed to see one of the rule changes being proposed by DanceSport BC for consideration at the AGM taking place tomorrow afternoon. It is my hope that DSBC members will act responsibly and wisely to put a stop to what would be one of the greatest disasters I've ever seen in any board legislation.

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25 July 2010

Evan Lysacek’s view of why dancing is popular

Evan Lysacek
Olympic gold medal skater Evan Lysacek, who is currently ranked in first place by the International Skating Union, recently reflected on his experiences as a Dancing With the Stars contestant. He finished second this past season, teamed up with professional partner Anna Trebunskaya. During an interview, he was asked for his take on why the world is so enamored with dance shows these days. He responded that it's about feeling good in tough times.

"For the past several years, the economy in America and the whole world has been bad," he said. "There is a lot of negativity going on with wars abroad, people losing their jobs, their homes and so much of the news and TV shows are about negative things like murder, or crime, and so few things that are entertaining are positive. Dance is so incredibly positive, everyone can do it and it's a great escape."

He claimed that even though he doesn't consider himself especially good at dancing, he thinks that the dance shows give people a reason to smile and get their moves on. He also praised the athleticism of the sport, saying that there is no question about the professional competitive dancers being real athletes, as accomplished as skaters.

Evan is currently touring with other Dancing With the Stars contestants as part of the "Ballroom With a Twist" show choreographed by Emmy-nominated professional Louis van Amstel.

26 March 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

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The case of two young Canadian DanceSport athletes grows ever more interesting the more I learn about it. The young couple is being denied the right to dance the upcoming Canadian national championship, a decision which the parents are fighting, but it seems that the governing body responsible for this decision has some explaining to do to assure the dance community that everything is on the up-and-up, as they say. I'm beginning to feel like Alice in Wonderland, that it is "curiouser and curiouser." Here's the latest:

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24 March 2010

Taking your VO2 to the max

In the athletic world, you constantly hear a term known as VO2max. But DanceSport athletes rarely talk about this, and many don't even know what it means. Let me enlighten you.

Simply put, VO2max refers to your body's ability to consume oxygen. It's a measurement of the Maximum (max) Velocity (V) at which your body can take in Oxygen (O2) during strenuous exercise. For the average non-athlete between 30 to 79 years old, VO2 max ranges from 28 to 48 ml/min/kg for men and 20 to 38 ml/min/kg for women. The range relates to age and fitness level. As you get older, the numbers drop. Full-out dancing at the championship level can require up to 25 ml/min/kg of oxygen. For an unfit male with a VO2 max of 28, this can represent 95% of maximum capacity! See more detailed info here.

Elite athletes are fanatical about measuring and optimizing VO2max, because they know that it's a key part of competitive excellence. If you still have room to breathe harder and take in more oxygen, while your opponents are maxed out and hyperventilating, you'll win the race. Cycling legend Lance Armstrong famously slept in an oxygen deprivation tent to prepare his lungs for the reduced oxygen levels of the high alps, so that he would be more prepared for the Tour de France than his opponents.

DanceSport is a rigorous, high-energy activity. Over several rounds of five dances each, athletes need all the oxygen they can take in. Those with better VO2max capability will still look and feel fresh at the end of their rounds, as opposed to those who are dying from the exertion.

As Canadian DanceSport competitors prepare to compete in the Canadian Closed Championships in the higher altitude of Calgary, Alberta, they should think about how to increase VO2max. Technically, there is an 8-11% decrease in VO2 max per 1000m in elevation change above 1600m. Although Calgary sits at just 1000 meters altitude, athletes still feel the impact of the higher elevation. The decrease might be just 5%, but if your VO2max drops from, say, 40 to 35%, you'll be going from 60% of your capacity to 70% of capacity, and that could leave you exhausted and out of breath, making the next round that much harder to complete with any measure of quality.

As we begin to move into the spring season, think about activities you can do to increase your VO2max. These can include cycling, running, trail running and the Grouse Grind.


09 March 2010

When rules violate the rules

For years now, DanceSport competitors have debated whether or not the IDSF and its member associations should be allowed to decide where athletes can dance. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the IDSF and its assigns has every right, as a private organization, to set whatever rules it feels are necessary. Indeed, rules are vital to maintain order and give meaning to such things as championship titles. After all, what competitor would be happy to earn the title of "national champion" if there were a dozen people with the same title to their names at the same time?

In Canada, the IDSF member association representing amateur DanceSport is the Canadian Amateur DanceSport Association, or CADA. It's a well managed association. Like the IDSF, it uses rules to ensure order within the sport. I used to sit on the CADA board, so I know firsthand that there are many issues which come up, and the board uses those rules to guide their decisions. While the rules need to be clear, they must fall within the greater, overriding laws of the nation.

There are at least two CADA rules which, in their current form, do not appear to meet the Charter of Rights test.

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01 March 2010

More inspiration from Slovenia

Petra Majdic
Petra Majdic
Over the years, I've been inspired by a number of DanceSport athletes hailing from Slovenia. Nestled against the Alps and bordered by Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria, this tiny country has a population of only 2 million people. Yet Slovenia has produced more than its share of astounding dancers.

Andrej Skufca and Ekaterina Venturini. Matej Krajcer and Iwona Gersak. Jurij Batagelj and Jagoda Strukelj. Misa Cigoy. And what Vancouver-area dancer isn't a fan of Miha Vodicar and Nadiya Bychkova?

During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver last week, the entire world was inspired by another Slovenian athlete. Her heroic story gives some insight to the grit and determination of that country's amazing people.

Petra Majdic is a cross-country skier. During a warm-up, her skis caught a patch of ice. She fell three meters (about 10 feet) into a gully. It was a hard fall that broke both her ski poles and a ski, and she found herself in great pain. She took painkillers, but was determined to keep racing, getting through the opening round, quarter-finals and semis. Her pain was so great that her coach told her to stop, but she wouldn't listen. She was thinking of all the people who worked to get her to the Olympics and refused to let them down.

What she didn't know at the time was that she had four broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Now, I used to do some cross-country skiing and I know how incredibly athletic it is. Think of a marathon run where you must use your arms to help push yourself along. The hard striding and poling puts greater cardiovascular demands on cross-country skiers than almost any other athlete. And the need to push with the ski poles creates constant pressure on the ribs.

I can't even imagine how Majdic’s lungs were able to function through her agony during a race. But race she did! In the final stretch, she summoned up inner reserves to put on a burst of speed in an attempt to win, managing a bronze-medal finish. It was the first Olympic cross-country ski medal ever for Slovenia.

Majdic showed up at the medals award ceremony in a wheelchair before being taken to hospital in Vancouver. She said on Saturday that she can still hear her broken ribs clicking when she breathes. The Vancouver Olympic Committee recognized her actions as a true symbol of the spirit of the games by making her a co-recipient of the Terry Fox Award, along with Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette.

"Today, this is not a bronze," Majdic said. "This is like a gold medal, with little diamonds in it."

Slovenia, here's to you. May your country continue to produce inspirational athletes of that caliber.

18 February 2010

Drink your way to the podium

Again and again I see DanceSport athletes, in long, high-energy competitor practice sessions, come and go with merely a few sips of water the entire time. Sports nutritionists tell us that hydration is a key part of athletic performance. Aside from daily intake of liquids needed to support normal everyday activity, it has been estimated that athletes lose between 300 and 2,400 milliliters (1.5 to 10 cups) of fluids (depending on intensity level) during every hour of physical exertion. This is mainly in the form of sweat, but also includes fluids lost through breathing. Every pound of weight lost during a training session is equivalent to 20 cups of liquid.

Kelly Anne Erdman, M.S., R.D., and 1992 Canadian Cycling Olympian (now a nutritionist in Calgary), recommends that athletes consume 10-15 milliliters of fluid for every kilo of your bodyweight for every hour of activity. As well, she says it's important to listen to your body for signs of dehydration that will limit your performance.

Water is the ideal beverage for short training sessions, or even during competition where your exertion takes place only for 10 minutes at a time. But for long training sessions lasting 90 minutes or more, it's not enough to drink water. One of the most important aspects of liquid intake is replacing sodium lost through sweat. Salt contains sodium, so people often mistake sodium for salt, but they are not the same thing. There is no sodium in plain water, but you can use energy drinks formulated especially for athletes to replace sodium and electrolytes lost through training. Plain water will actually reduce your body's drive to drink more beverages which are vital to your workout! Beverages like Gatorade contain sodium and minerals like potassium to replace electrolytes.

Sodium helps draw water across the lining of your intestines and into your blood stream, providing essential hydration as you exert yourself in sports activities. If your blood sodium levels are low, your fluid absorption rates will decrease, prolonging the effects of dehydration and making it harder for your body to rehydrate. In other words, even if you drink plenty of water, plain water will not replace your sodium levels and you'll find it harder to stay hydrated. Athlete blood tests are used in some sports to determine sodium levels before, during and after intense exercise.

Different athletes have different rates of sweat loss. Some sweat a great deal during a practice, while others don't. More importantly, different people have different levels of "saltiness" to their sweat, reflecting sodium loss. The more you sweat, and especially if your perspiration is salty, the more important it is to replace your sodium levels during and after a practice session. Because it's impractical for endurance athletes (for example, a marathon runner or cyclist pushing their body for hours at a time) to drink enough fluids to replace energy lost in lengthy workouts, they will often ingest salty foods before a race, or take sodium tablets, to supplement the sodium loss that will take place during the event. They will also make sure they take in salty foods at the end of the race to further replace sodium lost.

DanceSport athletes usually don't need to worry about sodium loss too much, but in long training environments or competition situations where you need to perform multiple rounds over several hours, you will need to consider your sodium levels.

08 February 2010

Eat your way to the podium

Many dancers competing at the championship level, not to mention those who are still working their way there, really have no idea how important nutrition is to their success as an athlete. This article will help to shed light on some of the issues.

As body fat levels decline, a greater percentage of the body "mass" or weight is made up of muscle. This generally increases metabolism, or the body's efficiency at converting food to energy. The formula gets complicated as you get older because of other issues, but muscle always increases BMR (Base Metabolic Rate). Athletes, therefore, need additional calories from all sources.

But there's a common misunderstanding that because athletes burn so many calories, they can eat anything they like. This simply isn't true. In fact, the more highly tuned you are as an athlete, the more sensitive your body becomes to the things that don't help your performance. Foods that impede the efficiency of the body's muscle burning "engine" become a burden. Now, the impact of fried chicken (yes, Peter this means you) or too much chocolate (my weakness) have greater negative effects. Once in a while, this won't hurt. A few consecutive days of eating the wrong things will leave you sluggish and lacking energy, with slower recovery after a hard practice session.

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01 February 2010

The athlete factor

BC DanceSport professionals Joel & Clara Marasigan recently interviewed Simone Segatori & Annette Sudol, who are currently ranked 4th in the world in IDSF Standard. The interview shed some light on the differences between European and Canadian attitudes on practice and preparation in DanceSport. Read the whole thing (both parts). It's an eye-opening look at the criteria of top champions.

We've known for some time that Europeans train with a greater intensity than do most North American DanceSport competitors, particularly when compared to those on the west coast. This is something discussed often when dancers get together. But it's doubtful that many competitors understand just how significant the difference is. Simone described in the interview that their training involves complex athletic testing that we in Canada normally associate only with the most elite athletes. "They do some tests, take some blood, measure the amount of oxygen we are using… They are checking everything," he said. Annette explained further that "We want to be ahead of other competitors, to have done everything for our dancing… everything from the dress to physical conditioning." And you might be surprised that they pay for this themselves!

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28 January 2010

The impact of the audience

I recall, as a stage actor in my younger days, observing how the audience could have a big influence on the effectiveness of a play. When you had a responsive audience, especially for comedies, everyone in the troupe would be infused with extra energy and confidence. It would bring out the best in each person on stage, leading to a more vibrant performance. This, in turn, led to a better experience for the audience as the effect would come full circle.

This past weekend we enjoyed the SnowBall Classic DanceSport competition in Vancouver, Canada. As in previous years, the audience was amazing. Repeatedly, competitors would comment on how supportive the audience was. One visiting professional (not an adjudicator at the event), mentioned how she was surprised by the way the audience didn't favor only local couples or people they knew, but supported those whom they felt were the best on the floor, even if competing against favorites. This is unheard of in most parts of the world!

Others remarked how they noticed that many audience members didn't seem to know anything about ballroom dancing, commenting on dancers they liked based on qualities like costume, or smile, or other things, and loudly supporting them on those issues. Since it is very rare for audiences at dance competitions to be non-dancers, this stood out as being remarkable.

All of this makes for a vibrant audience, and it helps set SnowBall apart from other competitions. There's nothing like having a healthy roar from the crowd when dancing all out. It gives competitors more energy and makes them feel as if they are part of something special. Our Vancouver audience has a reputation for doing this exceptionally well. Even Dance Beat World magazine commented on the amazing impact of the SnowBall audience!

Three years ago, I was talking to an amateur competitor from Germany competing in SnowBall for his first time. He was so enthusiastic about being here, his energy was infectious! When I asked him about it, he said it had been a dream of his for years to dance at SnowBall Classic. I asked him why and he responded that SnowBall has a reputation throughout Europe as being one of the world's great competitions, driven in large part by the quality of the audience.

I have heard from international competitors that in most parts of the world, audiences are surprisingly quiet. In England they clap politely. In Germany and Russia, they might be vocal, but only for those couples from their "club," never showing support for those who might prove competition for their favorites. There is a kind of partisan nature in most DanceSport audiences, sometimes to the extent that the audience will even try to feed negative energy to couples they don't support. This doesn't happen in Vancouver.

In 2008, another German athlete commented in the hallway between rounds that she could not believe the audience support for someone from outside the country, especially as a competitive couple the audience had never seen before. Well, this couple danced head and shoulders above the other Senior 1 Standard competitors. The audience loved them, enthusiastically shouting out their number through all their events. They won the event, and during an after-competition dinner they told us how the effect of the audience support was a great encouragement during the competition and made their time in Vancouver extra special. The effect was so powerful, they came back the following year, this time bringing some dance friends along as well.

During the 2003 SnowBall Classic, which was televised, Franco Formica mentioned in an interview that the audience support was incredible, creating extra energy and giving SnowBall a special feeling.

An exit survey in 2005 gave some insight to this unique quality of the SnowBall Classic. It turns out that most of the audience who come to SnowBall don't even dance. They see the event as an exciting, glamorous night on the town. They can dress up like they would for the VSO, but instead of quietly sitting and watching a performance, they can be part of an energetic, noisy, enthusiastic audience, as they watch a highly athletic competition between international champions at the highest level of the sport. It doesn't get any better than this!

The SnowBall committee, working under the authority of DanceSport BC, has worked hard over some two decades to build this very special, world-renowned audience. For the past few years, the event has either sold out completely or come very close, another amazing achievement and a testament to the ground work that was done over the years. This audience is so passionate about being part of SnowBall that they make a point of returning year after year!

I'm not sure exactly what elements of SnowBall marketing led to this aspect of the audience design, but this audience truly is the envy of the DanceSport world. It's even more amazing when you consider that the committee is made up entirely of volunteers who have dedicated themselves to putting on a great competition. Maybe that alone is the magic behind the Vancouver audience. In any case, congratulations to everyone who has, over the years, helped shape it.