The British Open Championships (Part two)
Following on from my blog about the British championships in Blackpool I wrote last month, I’ve got a little bit more I wanted to discuss regarding the results from one of the events.
My focus is on the Amateur Latin American Championships. Amateur competitors are those aged over 16 years old and normally under the age of 35 – although some dancers do continue in this category over that age. Strictly speaking once you reach 35, and you’re still an Amateur (not turned Professional), there’s a whole new age group for you called ‘Senior’. However, it does seem that this age group has somewhat of a stigma attached to it especially in this country and if you happen to be competing with the oldies, it somehow means you’re no good or you’re over the hill. But that debate is for another time perhaps…
So Amateur competitors can have a pretty long career, working their way through the ranks to achieve their dreams of one day being an Open Championship finalist. It doesn’t necessarily take all 19 years to do that, quite the contrary as some couples quickly develop their dancing and hone their skills, with the really talented ones making the leap to the final in less than 10 years. These days the majority of open finals are filled with dancers in their early to mid-twenties, with the odd exception here and there. Today if you make the last 48 round in an Amateur Latin open championship you are deemed an excellent dancer, such is the level across the division. It’s an ever changing landscape too, with couples turning professional, splits and new couples forming which regularly changes the dancers, all be it on a small scale, throughout each of the rounds.
Rarely over the years have couples made dramatic jumps to the final 6. Couples who are normally in the quarter final have to wait their turn so to speak and hope that couples in front will slowly turn professional or split up, giving them a shorter route to the next round. Dancers can of course get better, but this takes time so it’s very unique to see couples go from the last 24 to the final in just a matter of months. This is what happened at the British.
The English number one couple, Petar Daskalov & Zia James, had been in the quarter final round of the previous 6 major championships, being placed 22nd at the last major in January (the UK Open Championships) receiving only 4 marks into the next round out of a possible 52. So, the next major event comes around, the British, and they jump 18 places into the final! To be fair they were as surprised as anyone, being delighted to have made their first semi-final earlier in the evening. The big question then is how did they make that jump of 18 places?
Did lots of couples split or turn professional? No – of the couples that finished in front of Peter & Zia at the UK, only 4 didn’t dance against them at Blackpool. The winners of the UK Open turned professional, one couple split, one couple just didn’t dance and one couple danced in the Youth event rather than the Amateur (and finished 2nd!). So, if you take those 4 out of the equation, it moves them up to 18th.
Have they suddenly got that much better over the past few months? Possibly, but that’s an awful lot of competitors to leap in just the one competition. I actually judged them recently at the Stars of the Future event in Brentwood (another blog post is coming about that event too…) and if I’m honest, their dancing is not my cup of tea and they don’t strike me as ‘finalists’. They did enough to win the competition against the other dancers on the day, however I did drop them into 2nd place in the Rumba to a couple that finished 53rd at Blackpool! In my opinion Latin is much more diverse than Ballroom, which can on occasion split opinion even amongst the best of couples. It’s a bit like Marmite. However there should be certain absolutes that all dancers follow, a rhythmical body expression and clear dance character should be two of them. I struggle to see this when I watch Peter and especially Zia, as all of the dances tend to look too much like Paso Doble.
I would like to point out that this isn’t a personal attack on them as a couple – far from it. It must be an absolutely wonderful feeling to make a British Open Final with all your hard work coming to fruition. No, this isn’t about them. They can’t directly influence their result, only their dancing. It’s the judges that are to blame.
But which ones?
In January, 13 judges adjudicated the UK Open, all of which were ‘Latin American specialists’. These highly trained and experienced former champions only deemed their performance good enough for 22nd place. The British panel of adjudicators is made up of 11 former champions – 5 ‘Latin American specialists’ and 6 ‘Ballroom specialists’. (I put the specialists into brackets as, in the same way that competitive dancing is very subjective and opinions differ, the feelings regarding judges and teachers can be very similar…) This panel decided that they should be ranked significantly higher and recalled them all the way to the final, in which some even marked them as high as 3rd. Now which result is correct – January or June? Whichever way you look at it, if the January result was correct, then surely the June one wasn’t or vice-versa. As I’ve said before, couples just don’t get that much better in such a short period of time. So it begs the question, which panel was right? Could it be that those in January just weren’t looking for Peter & Zia and so missed their obvious qualities? Or perhaps P&Z (sounds really good if you pronounce the ‘Z’ like an American) worked on their ‘advertising & PR’ in the build up to Blackpool so that they weren’t overlooked in June? Or is it simply the January judges prefer Vegemite to the June judges Marmite…?
Of course we’re all entitled to our own opinions – I’m expressing mine here – but surely when it comes to competition there needs to be something that all the dancers can be judge on universally to distinguish the best from the rest. This is a difficult hurdle to overcome, with many factors influencing results none more so than the amount of money competitors spend on lessons (their advertising and PR!). Judges are also teachers/coaches and what better way to get noticed than having a significant amount of lessons with the ‘specialists’ just before a major championship. You might call this a cynical view of it all, but trust me this happens all the time.
I think for the future of our industry serious discussions need to be had to deal with a judging system that is clearly flawed. It’s not an easy one however as our dance performances are subjective and a lot of the time based on opinion and preference – not first past the post. But the biggest problem of all with regards adjudicating?
Well, I’ll just have to leave that for next time… 😉