Interview with Katarzyna Kozak!

Introducing Kasia!

The Latin champion has been lighting up the dance world with her spitfire personality and incredible skills since she was young as 18. Now she aspires to improve and contribute to the dance community, teaching classes and workshops. She also created the Attitude Belt to help aspiring dancers with posture issues.

The Interview.

What do you look for when judging a Pro/Am competition?

I’m looking for precision of steps and ease of  movement.

What interests me is the well roundedness of the performance. I like to see clean and clear execution of the steps as well as smooth, pleasant energy of the delivery. I like to see strength and enthusiasm in the dance. As much as we all like to put a lot of artistry and our own interpretation into our dancing,  what I always recommend to my clients is to stick to readable, elegant movements. If the artistry takes away from the strength and stability  it’s not worth it. First a Pro Am dancer  needs to look independent and fully in control and than we can expand into more fun, entertaining things. 

What does partnership mean to you?

Partnership to me means we are in it together.

It means we have well chosen goals and a common path to accomplish those goals.

We are supporting each other every step along the way and we are each other’s biggest fans. We both take the responsibility of making sure we are moving toward our goals. When one person is not feeling up to par the other person takes over and tries to help. It’s a team – in our case a small one, just 2 people,but a powerful one.  A team should always encourage and support each other.

What was your biggest challenge when you first started dancing?

 My biggest challenge in the USA was that I did not speak English. Often times I could not understand what I needed to do or I could not express what I wanted to do and what I wanted my partner to do.

Even teaching was very difficult – I will always tell my students do what I do not necessarily what I am telling you.

What considerations goes into turning pro?

The biggest thing for me is evaluating if  you truly want to be a dancer – or do you just want to dance a little bit as a hobby.

Are you willing to work hard and make sacrifices to get what you wish for. What I mean by that is being a dancer means dancing is your life. It is want you breath, what you eat, who you become.  I tell my friends I wear my dance glasses all the time – I look at the world through those glasses. There is nothing else I would rather do than dance.  If you are ready to commit to that – then I believe you will be a great professional.  You will be a great competitor as well as great teacher. Your love for dance will help you to be committed not only to your own improvement as a dancer but also to the improvement of your students.

It’s amazing how when you want something very much and are willing to do whatever it takes, things usually align themselves in such a way that even the impossible becomes possible.

The right people will show up in your life and they will guide you to where you need to go.

How did you come up with the Attitude Belt?

One of the most important things to us as a dancers is our posture -but what exactly does it means to have a good posture?  

Good posture meant correct alignment of the bones. When the bones are correctly aligned there is efficiency and ease to our movement. I compare it to driving a very well aligned car – it is smooth, easy and fun.  It is the same with our bodies. When our bones are where they supposed to be in relationship to each other, our movement is smooth but powerful at the same time, it’s strong and elegant and therefore its very pleasant and enjoyable to look at it.

My attitude belt helps us with the correct alignment of the pelvis and the spine . This contributes to  beautiful posture and helps with the ease of the movement as well as great presentation and performance.

It is a very simple, easy to use practice tool that gives you constant feedback on your alignment even when you are busy working on something else.

You are a Latin Champion. Why did you choose to focus on this specific style?

I come from Poland  where I started to dance. International style was the only style available. We never knew that American style even existed.

I fell in love with Latin dancing back home in my  native country and so when I come to USA I just continued my Latin journey – and I loved it every part of it.

Your favorite dance performance?

My favorite performance was at the Blackpool competition with Donald Johnson when we won our British Latin Rising Star Champion title. That was definitely a night I will remember forever.

It was special from the very beginning. I remember that year we worked so hard not only on our dancing but also on our mental strength. We were ready, we were strong, well rehearsed, confident,and  excited – it was just the right mix of everything all together. I was so happy and excited to share with the audience my skills and my love for dance. I was not scared at all – I was nervous of course but in a positive uplifting way – there was no fear  – just pure joy. And the fun part of it was I knew good things would happen that night. I had no doubt in my heart. 

That night was a fantastic, one of a kind experience. As a dancer we all are working toward that – to be able to be free and competitive at the same time. To enjoy our own skill and to be impressive to others. It is truly unforgettable.  You literally feel like walking on clouds.

Who/what inspired you to start dancing?

I started to dance when I was in grammar school in Poland. I was always a very active, wanting to move child. I saw an advertisement for Ballroom dancing and thought that could be fun.  I asked my parents to take me to a class – they gladly said yes. So after  church on Sunday they would drop me of for an hour to dance and that was it. My competitive side kicked in and I was hooked for good.

What would you like to tell dance students that you wish you knew when you started dancing?

I would like them to remember that the judges are not against them but rooting for them.

We are always looking to find good things not your mistakes. Do not be scared of us but share with us your skill and your love for dance. Unfortunately our job is to place all the dancers in the order we think it fits but that does not mean we do not like what you do.

 

Dance With A Goal In Mind!

“Thinking – the talking of the soul with itself.” – Plato

Training Your Mind To Dance With A Goal!

You work toward training your body to be toned, strong, and graceful. You practice choreography until you can do it backwards and with your eyes closed. You train your body every day to  level up in the Dancesport world. But what about your brain?

You can train your brain just like any muscle in your body. If you’re dedicating your entire life  to dancesport, it should always be working toward a specific goal. It can be something simple, like mastering a specific move or a choreography. It can also be something huge – win Blackpool Dance Festival 2019. Become the next US Championships.

No matter what your goal is, here’s a list of how to train your brain to reach your goals:

  1. Write down your overall goal. Look at it every day. Write specific, concrete steps. Write down your goal so you have one focus for everything you do.
  2. Set yourself a date to complete your goal. This helps avoid procrastination or distraction. If you find something worthwhile to add into your list of to-do’s that extends the goal date, then great! Just stick to your plan as it evolves.
  3. Set higher long-term expectations, and lower short-term expectations. Break up with the idea that you’ll turn into your idol tomorrow. A high expectation with a long term goal is, “I’ll be the next US Champion!” A low expectation with a short term, reasonable goal would be something like “I’m going to perfect this technique.”
  4. Work on something toward your goal EVERY SINGLE DAY. Small changes in your life grow into larger accomplishments, working similarly to a staircase. Each step up is stacked on the step before it, but you can’t get till the top until you’ve taken every step.

 

 

 

Social Media in the Dancesport World

What are the advantages of Social Media as a professional dancer?

Social media is kind of like a user-generated newspaper or news channel on television. You create, edit, and publish your own content.

We live in a world flooded by self expression through social media. It’s one of the best times in history to be in a creative industry! We have the power to reach the entire world at your fingertips. To those who didn’t grow up using social media, it can feel invasive and intimidating. However, it you look at it with a different perspective, it’s easy to see how you can use it to your advantage.

At the same time, ANYONE has that publishing power.

It can be increasingly frustrating to feel like you are competing against influencers and celebrities with millions of likes and followers. For example, Supermodel and celebrity Kendall Jenner released a commercial for Vogue dressed vaguely like a ballet dancer (See it here). She moves around but when she tries to pose as a dancer her technique is nonexistent. She received backlash from trained dancers all over the globe for capitalizing on an art form without any formal education. Jenner took away that opportunity from a trained dancer to make money with her skill set, making more money than most dancers will make in their lifetime because she is a celebrity.

Facing this kind of publicity where you’re not even represented correctly can be so discouraging.

So why should you keep up your social media presence? Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. It’s a public resume and portfolio. Social media gives you a blank slate to paint your public image and reputation to the rest of the world. Establish your reputation to the rest of the world while getting to select and edit your own content.
  2. The fastest way to grow an audience is to engage, and social media lets you do that with literally the entire world. You can create a community that admires you online and establish a relationship with them, which is a very fast way to create business.
  3. EVERYONE’S doing it. Usually this phrase is a deterrent. However, nowadays social media accounts are part of your reputation in the industry and typically where other professionals are looking. Make yourself as accessible as possible and keep up with the trends!
  4. By being successful, you pave the way for others. We don’t need more celebrities representing us. We need US representing us. We know our stuff, we’re good at what we do, and we deserve to make money doing what we do. To get us the recognition and work we deserve, we have to put ourselves out there, and social media is by far the easiest way to do it!

Use social media to your advantage! Be smart about branding yourself, make a reputation for yourself before others can, and pave your way to success.

 

 

 

Dress for Success – An Interview with Donna Hamza

Let’s say you go to the doctor. Your doctor walks in with a ratty t-shirt, shorts, and flipflops.

Are you going to trust his opinion? Probably not. How you present yourself is important. In a way, the ballroom gown or suit is almost like a work uniform – designed to send a clear message of your skills and who you are. Donna Hamza explains why her dancers presenting themselves with confidence is the most important part of her work (her dresses are fabulously beautiful as well as you can see here,) in this interview.

This is why the most important part of your gown is presenting yourself well. To dress for success means to show your passion, magnifying the best parts of you. As a performer, there is nothing more important.

Appearance is about impression, not beauty.

This might sound strange coming from the ballroom community. You’ll always see dancers in sparkly dresses, heavy makeup, and spectacularly styled hair. These things are expected, particularly for a professional star.

Like any other community closely involved with the beauty industry, it is competitive about appearances, to say the least. It can be easy to be swallowed up in the midst of perfect bodies, tans, slicked back hair and dresses that fit a princess. However, try not to not lose yourself in the endless spiral that is “self improvement”.  The gowns should be primarily a form a self expression, rather than a way to compare yourself to others depending on how much skin you’re showing, or how tight your dress is.

Donna Hamza shows us that charisma and personality has no weight, no height, no skin color.

Wearing ballroom couture, as Donna Hamza states, should suit you. She even goes as far to replace her handmade dresses if she feels it does not suit the dancer because it is that important to represent the person wearing the dress. We all love to play dress up and enjoy the glamour of the ballroom (and who wouldn’t?!) but you are your own best asset as a performer.

 

Check out Dance Teacher’s Academy for more great interviews: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5aPyxJTNF7ySw6EmpRak-g/videos

Check out Donna Hamza’s online boutique here: http://donnainc.net/

When To Say Enough Is Enough – An Interview with Maria Hansen

The only thing standing between you and winning is yourself.

Many of us can relate to Maria’s experience as a new dancer. When you are a new dancer, you are completely open to learning and often see the teachers or dance partners around you as superior in every way. You want to learn everything correctly from the very beginning. You take everything to heart. If you are not careful, however, you may be manipulated by a short tempered, demanding, and degrading dance partner. It can be especially confusing if they are not always so unpredictable. You will feel like you are starting to get the hang of it until they snap at you again. This adds to your self doubt in which you listen even harder the next time.

Passion is always authentic.

Humility and open mindedness is certainly important in a new student, but tolerating disrespect is not. A person’s skill level and experience should never be an indication of the respect and patience that person deserves. Decide that being berated is beneath you. You deserve patience, to be able to make mistakes freely, and praise. With an encouraging partner, you are more likely to enjoy dancing, and in turn pursue it passionately! Passion is always authentic and can’t be forced or faked.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Then, with this newfound determination and passion, you can focus on the important part of competing: improvement.  Of course, winning always feels good. It makes others envious and validates the long hours you invested into something tangible that others can see and respect. However, you can only win by persistently and ruthlessly improving. The only thing standing between you and winning is yourself. It’s your need to improve, to know and stand up for yourself, and the need to work well with your partner. Not one other person on the dance floor can take that away or give that to you.

Once you build up a sense of confidence from improving yourself and knowing yourself well, you will know when to accept a harsh critique… and when not to!

How To Tell The Difference – Social Latin Dancing

If you are new to the dance world, it can be difficult to tell dances in the same genre apart. Here’s a quick guide to few in the ever-popular social Latin dance category!

MERENGUE

Firstly, we’ll start with the simple and casual Merengue dance. Originally a Dominican dance (and the official dance of their country), Merengue is an easy dance to introduce a new student to Latin Dancing. It follows a very steady  1-2-1-2 beat with a simple hip motion that can be built upon later for other types of dance in the future. It’s a very social and lighthearted dancing, not nearly as passionate and intimate as most Latin dances.

CHA CHA

Cha Cha, or “cha-cha-cha!”  is one of the more popular social Latin dances. Made popular in the 1950’s when Americans often visited Cuba. It’s often used danced to with Latin Pop and Latin Rock with moves that are sharp and attention-grabbing. It’s rhythm is easy to master, of course. One, two, cha-cha-cha! But the technique is a bit harder to master. Basic Cha Cha steps consist of a rockstep and chasse. That rockstep and, of course, flourishes and hip movement, this playful dance one of the most loved Latin dances today!

 

SALSA

Originating from groovy and stylish 1970’s New York, Salsa dancing is a combination of dance styles. It’s based in techniques found in Cha Cha and Mambo with an influence of Swing dancing. The music it’s danced to has influence from African drums. The steps are usually two quick steps and one slow, and more advanced social salsa dancers will add flourishes and turns to add to their performance.

 

SAMBA

Samba originated in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century. It is danced in 4/4 or 2/4 time and can be danced alone or with a partner.  This dance is very popular among Latin dances and is characterized by being danced to Samba music and the slight dropping movement that come with a small dropping action in basic steps.

BACHATA

Bachata is another social Latin dance originating from the Dominican Republic, named after Bachata guitar music. It’s a dance that is very close to the body and involves lots of hip swaying and turning. Typically the dance is done holding both hands but it tends to become more intimate, much like the tango.

 

Keep studying different types of Latin Dance and you will be able to recognize them with no problem. Never limit yourself to just the more popular ones! It’s wonderful and fun to know so many kinds of Latin dance and will earn respect among your peers.

 

Work Worth Doing

“Far and way the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

One of our favorite things about this interview is the emphasis that Forrest Vance has on positivity. Positivity allows you to view yourself with potential. It’s a form of visualization. You see yourself having a chance at success.

Of course, positive thinking does not come easily to most people. For most, it’s the opposite of their instinct. It is so easy, particularly as a new dancer, to become overwhelmed and want to quit. So how does one change a mindset from a negative to a positive way of thinking?

There’s never one answer that works for everyone, of course. One thing that successful people have in common is to work with pleasure toward their goals. Realize that what you want to do is worthwhile, important, and fun, and that it will continue even if you do not continue with it. Furthermore, by studying it, you become even more worthwhile, important, and fun (well, more so than you already are!).

This is not meant to discourage. In fact, it should urge you to chase after what you want before it slips from your fingers! There is so much to learn, so many techniques, so many people who love dancing just as much as you do. What good does it do anyone to stop before you even begin?

Do you allow dancing to encourage or discourage you? Do you feel like you’re getting a chance to be part of something you love, getting a chance to be good at something fulfilling?