“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” Albert Einstein
In these times, when everyone seems to be “standing on their toes” trying to keep their balance, creative people and artists are needed even more than ever. The way things are developing, we will have to lean heavily on our creative and artistic qualities to guide us through and deal with the situations we are already facing and are yet to face in future.
Creatives and artists have always been a beacon in every society. Often times ridiculed, ignored, and misunderstood, they nevertheless persevere, because in their core they believe in what they are doing and because they simply have to do It. More times than not they fail, but when they succeed, the results are usually truly exceptional. What is more, they are not afraid to fail, because this is their way to (sometimes painfully) reach the desired result. They possess a child-like attitude towards learning, stubbornly rejecting concepts that schools imposed on them (punishing the “wrong” answers and rewarding the memorisation of “correct” established answers – instead of rewarding curiosity and creative search for answers). Approaching projects through different points of view and free creativity leads to deeper understanding and knowledge. Or as Stephen McCraine – writer and illustrator – says:“The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.”
WHAT IS ART? When do we recognize something as ART? In our world, with the media and social networks all around us, the word ART is slightly misinterpreted and misused. We all know this, but still, the question remains – WHAT IS ART, really? The word ART, as a translation from Latin, in the beginning meant purely the Skill, the Craft of being able to produce or perform a “piece”. Later on, the meaning of the word ART changed into the ability to EXPRESS oneself through SKILL and CREATIVITY. Today, with all the new and provocative art forms, it seems the MEANING OF ART has changed again, or at least “upgraded”. People are asking again: WHAT IS ART in our times?
Well, try to think of the artists that we all know: Claude Monet, the founder of Impressionism, Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso – the cofounder of Cubism, Salvador Dali – the Surrealist. All of them, in their time, were quite a SHOCK to the audience. People would call them names and make fun of them. For them, they were not Artists. At least not when their work came out… What about Ballet Russes, when they came to Paris for the first time in 1909, directed by the great Sergei Diaghilev? It was quite a SHOCK for the audience seeing them for the first time. Now, fast forward to almost present times and try to think of Robert Mapplethorpe (famous photographer of the 80’s), Marina Abramović (controversial performance artist), or Marcel Duchamp (conceptional artist) who exhibited a urinal as a piece of art. When these artists exhibited, the public was SHOCKED again, to say the least! In case of Robert Mapplethorpe, the exhibition in Cincinnati was forcefully closed and the director of Museum prosecuted.
What can we possibly gather out of this? SHOCK is the keyword, right?
In these extreme cases, for some people, maybe it was a shock, but let’s generalise a little bit more – shock came as a result after what people saw, heard, or otherwise experienced at an event. The sensation of only being shocked is not what art is about. It is all about the REACTION – how do we react when we are exposed to a work of art. Not all art is necessarily shocking. But all true art should provoke a REACTION. People are very different in their acceptance of new ideas, creations, performances. Some accept new very eagerly and with appreciation, some react to it with strong hostility. And there are all the nuances in between.
The important thing is REACTION. A real physiological and psychological reaction to a work of the artist.
We can feel joy, amusement, we can be left speechless, breathless, we can feel rage and anger… Artist’s work is a creative REFLECTION and INTERPRETATION of real life. And life can be beautiful, tempestuous, difficult, disturbing… Sometimes viewers pretend bad, negative and disturbing things don’t happen and when they see those interpretations, they can react with hostility. Then sometimes, this same work provokes an inner catharsis, acceptance, maybe even cynical amusement, or just pure awe. It all depends on the inner state of a viewer.
TIME is usually the best judge wether a certain work remains, or becomes Art. If after a period of time it still:
Leaves us in Awe
Makes us forget about everything around us
Makes it impossible to be forgotten
Is still authentic and original
Than I guess, this must be Art!
In short, TRUE ART NEVER LEAVES US UNTOUCHED, UNMOVED.
How do the artists provoke these reactions to surface from deep inside of us? They dig very deep inside themselves, sometimes through very painful processes, and bring up some very unexpected and provocative “stuff” – stuff that never leaves us indifferent, because it resonates and creates reactions inside of us.
This in itself is already a very hard and exhausting process, now add the “old fashioned” work of giving physical form and aesthetic life to the idea. Of course, for artists and creative people, work is never a routine, because with every new “piece” they produce, they discover some new idea, new approach, new way. This is how they grow and expand.
Different artists work in different media and they use different tools and techniques to express themselves. Some of them even invent their own techniques to achieve the desired result. As Painters would use colours, canvas and brushes, writers – words, Chefs – pots, pans and raw food ingredients, Fashion Designers – fabrics, Dancers would use their bodies as tools to express their creativity. But the tool Number One for all of us creatives is our brain. We have to constantly stimulate it and keep it in excellent shape either by meditation, research, trial and error, physical activity, good rest, high quality nutrition and company of people who support our creative growth.
Almost every work professionals do on a high level – scientists, designers, engineers, teachers, hairstylists, _________…. (fill in the blanks) can be perceived as a work of art, as long as a sense of aesthetics, top level knowledge and technique is upgraded with inspired and open mind, willingness to learn from trial and error, introspection, creativity, and above all passionate love for what we do. All these elements make everything we create look effortless and therefore for an average eye, not really hard work. It is not so! As Top Dancers and Prima Ballerinas look effortless and weightless on stage, so too appear the works of other artists. Art is a mere illusion of effortlessness. Created through years and years of harsh discipline, developing and mastering techniques, enriching creative vocabularies and constantly walking on edge, taking one risk after another.
Therefore Art is Work and so much More!
(All the photos in this blog were done by me and are therefore my property)
For people who are interested, here are the links to some very good videos documentaries and sites:
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Maya Angelou
This blog really took the longest for me to write, because I am talking about intangible things and everything I am writing is coming from many years of experience creating for dancers, who want to be unique and show their authentic personality and style on the floor. Now, I am putting myself into the shoes of somebody who really wants to know the process of how to become inspired and where to look for inspiration…
Designers and dancers in particular, who have the desire to stand out from the crowds, be original, authentic and become trend setters, are always on a mission to find Inspiration. How to get the idea, become inspired and create a truly unique image that works and above all, is not a copy of somebody else’s idea?
This last blog in the series of “Rethinking, Restarting and Resetting…” represents a synthesis of previous blogs with the Inspiration Value added. If we only connect the dots from my previous blogs, we already have a starting point to depart from:
Being aware of what good design really is.
Knowing your body and body proportions.
Being aware and sensitive enough to design a dress that does not overpower, that brings you and your dancing into the spotlight.
Choosing the right colour and colour combination, giving impact and character to your design.
This starting point gives us only the skeletal idea of a design – now we need to put on some inspired, original ideas that represent the flesh, skin and blood of a design. Inspiration breaths life into our design and makes it fly its own authentic way.
From what I can say through experience I gathered during all the years of work, it really sort of happens as a physical reaction you feel in your body – reaction to something you have seen, heard, even smelled or tasted – something “speaks” to you. All you need to do, is walk around with your senses open and be ready to absorb. However, the funniest thing is, this process usually happens subconsciously, in a state of “no mind”. You cannot force inspiration to come to you by overthinking and/or over analyzing, you can only be alert and when it comes, catch this fleeting moment, record it, put it on paper either by describing it, or even better, making a quick sketch – croquis.
What you can do, to help the Muse come to you, is to surround yourself with experiences that will trigger the inspiration.
Especially in these times (of pandemic), you can, without having too much bad conscience of missing out practice, go and experience things. They don’t need to cost more additional money. Open your mind and really READ, LISTEN to music, enjoy going outside and OBSERVE people, animals, clouds, stars, architecture, go to museums and exhibitions, watch good movies, enjoy TASTE-ing and preparing good food. But all the while, let things inspire you, speak to you, move you in one way or another. It is the reaction in your body that triggers the inspiration. So have all your senses ready and open. Try to absorb without filters and preferences, because they only narrow your experience.
This is the first step of your CREATIVE PROCESS – first you ABSORB. Than the inspiration that is planted in the back of your brain becomes louder, gains momentum and doesn’t let go. This is the time when you start PROCESSing. How you do it, is entirely up to you. Each and everyone of us have our own unique “filters and processors”, we experience things differently. And finally, out comes an IDEA that is translated and interpreted in our own unique creative way. However, this IDEA is only a germ. We need to develop and combine it with the knowledge that we already have. At the same time, be really aware of the times we are living in, because good design never happens in a vacuum. It is always a reflection, or interpretation of the reality that surrounds us.
Reading this, it feels like a hard work, and it is, because original ideas are rare and they don’t happen by a push of a button. Also, not all ideas are worth following through. Some of them are not strong enough, not special enough, not really us. Some of them are simply unrealistic, but wait, maybe they are worth giving a second thought, tweak them a little bit…. And sometimes, just like that, some of them are spot on – perfect idea, at the perfect time and place. When this happens, put it on paper and develop it, using all the tools and knowledge you have. Create something innovative and courageous, something that will work and have impact.
And since I have mentioned that we are not living in a vacuum, we do get influenced by ideas of other people and this is perfectly ok – it is called the spirit of time, or just plain fashion. The question is, where is the line that separates “original” from a copy? In all other fields, there are more or less strict rules that say when something is plagiarism, especially in music and literature (it’s a type of cheating that involves the use of another person’s ideas,words, design, art, music, etc., as one’s own in whole or in part without acknowledging the author or obtaining his or her permission).
In Fashion, especially in Dance Fashion, this plagiarism is somehow tolerated, because fashion expires so very quickly and because of the way the “industry” is organised, but people do remember when somebody has produced, or is wearing a copy and it can be pretty embarassing. It is completely understandable that dancers, especially younger ones, have their role models and they try to learn from them by copying their technique and style, but I do not recommend copying a dress – ever. Why?
Because a person who does this is not built in the same way as a role model (even though they may think they look similar)
Is not on the same level and therefore doesn’t move in the same way as a role model
Is letting everybody know that she/he is a follower.
Wearing a copy is perhaps a “quick fix”, but if you want to reach high, this is not a road to follow. If you really like a certain dress, study it and try to understand the idea and reason behind the design. Take this concept, if you really feel you have to, use it as an inspiration and translate it, adapt it to your own inner creativity and standards. Develop your own version of this concept – this is how FASHION is done (creative versions of some main “theme”).
In literature, writers are using times and times again, themes from old, successful authors. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette motive, was used very successfully in a West Side Story musical and nobody ever said it is a copy – authors only said they were influenced by this famous motive of two lovers. It was used as INSPIRATION to create a completely authentic contemporary musical, happening in another time and place, under different circumstances, using different kind of people – authors “adapted and translated” the motive. This is how inspirations, we get from our role models, authors and designers we admire, are used.
However, if you really want to be original, stand out and even become a role model, you need to look for your inspiration outside the small circle of Danceworld. Be brave. Search wider, search deeper and higher. The process is always the same: let the Muse whisper to you, process the idea, translate and adapt it into usable, effective design and incorporate your knowledge from previous blogs. Create dynamic well – balanced authentic design.
And just a thought at the end of this blog: This is definitely a very trying time. Let us all use it as a kind of sabbatical – a time of leave, when we make it our goal and purpose to study and learn new things, deepen and widen the knowledge we already have. This way we’ll be able to exit the other side of the tunnel prepared and hit the ground running, better than before.
For hot summer days, here is a theme that will invigorate and inspire just enough to boost you up for a new season. A very visual one.In my last blog I made a promise, I would talk about character – how to create a unique, powerful image, that makes an impact and remains in our memory. And most importantly, helps you with your success on the dance-floor.
Creating good, original design that works is only one side of the story. The other side is the dancer and her/his character which should be reflected in the image on the floor. If I make similar analogy as in my last blog – a dish with memorable character is always created from top quality basic ingredients, with added little secret ingredients that bring character to the dish – every Chef has his/her own secret recipes. Usually, such secret ingredients would be spices and herbs – they add aromas and enhance taste. Most surprising combinations of aromas create truly memorable dishes and elevate our moods. Sometimes, they create Symphonies, sometimes tasty Salsas…
Our senses in the dance realm are mostly restricted to what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears and feel through our bodies and our touch. Sadly, we cannot use all the complexity of the senses that are involved when we are tasting food, but nevertheless, our eyes are powerfully compensating for the absence of taste and smell.
The closest analogy to aromas in our visual dance world are COLOURS – they are pure energy. Same as aromas, they affect our moods, feelings and psychology – and above all, they define the character of design. They bring a boost of energy to the dancer and if used effectively and imaginatively, they create magic on the floor. There are plenty of “systems” and theories, that are trying to determine which are the perfect colours for a person. However, through all the years designing for dancers and watching them perform, I have realised that in dancing, all these theories are somehow incomplete – they are only “scratching the surface”, not really reaching deep enough to bring the character out.
Whenever you are thinking of your next great image and trying to pick the right colour, that will reflect your energy and character on the floor, you should consider at least three aspects (plus one):
Your own body colours
Your built and bone structure
The stage/level you are currently at in your dancing (what are you working on…)
Plus the Venue itself (colours and lighting in the ballroom).
The person who can give you the most honest answer, which is the best colour for you, is your own reflection in the mirror. Take a good look in the mirror at all your body colours and shades: Does your skin have pink tones, or more ivory? Does it have olive undertones? Even though dancers are using strong self tanning products, the original skin colour is still coming through. (olive tones of the skin combined with a self tanning product tend to go towards green…) I advise you take a piece of paper and write all your colours down: hair colour, skin colour – undertones, level of contrast between your skin and hair, write down even the colours in your irises. Irises are especially rich source, where you will find “your colours” – although they are small and not really visible from a distance – you will discover surprising colours there and they are unmistakably, all your perfect colours. Some people have little golden specs in their otherwise blue/green/grey irises, some people have the contour of their irises in contrasting colour ( sometimes brown irises are contoured with dark blue)…
Next step would be to make a test in-front of a mirror and put pieces of material in different colours close to your face, if possible, wrap them around your body. Make a selection of “good” colours, write them down and you will arrive to perhaps top four, five choices. If you are attentive enough you will immediately feel and see something happening. INTERACTION between colours of material and your body creates a sort of alchemy. The right colour enhances your skin and eyes – and your own body colours cause the colour of material become more harmonious, beautiful and alive. But there’s much more – it’s not only your body colours that “respond” to a certain colour of material – it is also your bone structure, the way you are built and also the level/stage of your dancing. This may be a bit hard to “swallow”, but at different stages of your dancing, different colours work for you. Maybe last year, yellow was perfect for you, this year a different colour will work magic (although both colours are your “good colours”). It is because colours are energy. Your temperament and level of dancing reflect in your state of mind and this energy interacts with colour(s). All this sounds like a far fetched magic, but it is actually happening, and if you are sensitive and attentive enough, you will notice it as well.
After we have established which colours are good for us – each and everyone has more than two or three really “good” colours working for us – we need to learn how to play with them, how to combine them and which CONTRAST is just right for us.
Combination of IDENTICAL colours means that you are using same Colour (Hue), but in different Values – tones or shades. Yellow that gradates into lighter shades creates an air of lightness. Lifts the spirits up. Basic Cobalt Blue, that gradually goes into darker shades creates an air of mystery and heaviness. Calms down the heartbeat. Edges are not sharply pronounced – frames kind of blend into one another. Orange colour mixed with shades of grey, creates natural, earthy feel. (These are only three examples of colours).
When we play with SIMILAR colours, the effects create very pleasant experience for the eyes. These colours are close together on the colour wheel. They can be either pure, lighter, darker, or mixed with grey – they create HARMONY. There is not a lot of contrast there and they are safe to use. It all depends on how they work with your own body colours, contrasts and bone structure. In their pure version, they can be extremely powerful. If used in lightened versions, the experience is light, feminine and sophisticated. If used in darkened versions, they become rich, opulent and mature.
For bolder individuals, who want and can wear more CONTRASTING colours, that stand almost opposite on the colour wheel, I would definitely encourage them to do so, but in the ratio that works for them. Balance is the keyword with all colours and we can go overboard extremely quickly. Nevertheless, contrasting colours work well for persons with strong contrasts in their own body colours (eyebrows/hair – skin tone contrast), persons who have stronger bone structure, and temperament that matches the powerful game of contrasting colours.
Sometimes it’s great to observe how nature creates wildest combinations and how they always work.
After taking all these aspects into consideration, when we are choosing our perfect colour combination, we have to think of the last one, that is usually out of our control, but sometimes, we CAN use it to our advantage – Colours and lighting of the venue.
Lots of times we don’t know how the venue will look like, but sometimes, for very big, important competitions we do know, and we have to be clever when we choose the colour(s) that will enhance our performance.
In darker spaces, lighter, vivid colours work well. In lighter spaces, you need to create a contrast, so darker tones will work. If the space has good lighting, use something shiny with any of the colours that work for you. If the background colours are warmer, use a cooler colour to create contrast – and vice versa. If the space is big, bigger details and slightly stronger contrasts will create a better impact.
By now, we all have in our minds The Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. This big space is a beautiful time capsule and has beige/golden background colours, with top quality lighting. All colours come alive there and everything is more glamorous. All colours work really well, but there are some colours that really stand out:
WHITE – standing out against tanned bodies of the ladies. When the lighting is excellent, (as in the Empress Ballroom) this is your winning colour. To create a successful impact, you need to be at a certain level of dancing, because it calls for confidence. It is also a very Latin – Cubans also use it in their religious rituals and Cuban women really wear it with pride, beauty and confidence. All wavelengths of light are reflected from white surfaces and when they sum up and fall on our retina, they create an image of White in our brain.
BLACK – sexy, elegant and chic, accenting contours and shapes of the body. Used either by itself, with a lot of shine, or in combination with other colours, it creates a very strong impact. It can sometimes be dangerous, because it literally sucks the energy and light. All wavelengths of light are absorbed by black – this is why we experience it as black. If you don’t feel confident, powerful enough, and sometimes, if you are thin and small boned, it can “eat you up”. But there is one property of black that’s really exciting and powerful – all colours become much more vibrant and saturated when they are combined with black.
RED/PINK – passionate and temperamental, RED is also considered a colour of success. A very popular colour on the floor. Because it is so often used, it would be wise to think twice and perhaps choose another good colour that works for you. Unless, of course, you pair this gorgeous colour with really authentic, imaginative design and create your “Version in Red”. PINK – Fuchsia, or Electric Pink versions can sometimes replace Red, especially if Pink creates a better interaction with your “body colours” and Red is not your good colour.
EMERALD/GREEN – happy, vibrant, invigorating. It really comes alive under the Empress Ballroom lights. Usually not a very popular colour with ladies in general, but I actually don’t see reason why, because it creates a beautiful contrast with the colour of the skin – you just need to pick the right tone, or shade. It is a very extravagant, special colour.
COBALT – cool, mysterious and sophisticated, extremely saturated colour. It works beautifully against Beige/Golden background in the Empress Ballroom. Usually all skin types can wear Blue. There is a slight danger here – because it is so oversaturated, the contours and shapes somehow become blurry. So, if you want to use this effect to your advantage, go for it.
In some cases YELLOW is also very effective in Empress Ballroom. Regardless of the background, the excellent lighting brings it up, it becomes attractive, full of energy, shiny, expanding, reaching out, and quick. So if you are looking to add some extra velocity to your cleverly designed dress, this is the colour to use, provided it is “your good colour”, otherwise better not go there.
These are some very, very general guidelines, that will help bring your awareness of colour to a higher level. There is so much more about colours, their interaction, and tricks they play with our eyes and brains… Since colours are just different wavelengths of photons (light) falling on our retina, the experience of colours actually happens in our brain. They speak to our state of mind, our moods, our energy levels. Because our human, sensory wiring is built in the same way, these experiences happen collectively. So, what works for you, the rest of the people will see and feel as well.
Knowing how to successfully use Colours in Design is the same as using Spice in Cuisine. You need to use basic knowledge how colours interact with one another, and combine it with a lot creativity, intuition and imagination. Balance is the keyword.
Title of this blog may sound a bit out of place, but it is exactly what it sounds like – establishing just the right synergy, or balance between dancer and a design. All with a purpose of creating an enjoyable experience for the eyes of spectators, adjudicators, and above all, the dancers. Enabling them to feel inspired, and confident to dance to their maximum.
Like pairing food and wine, same goes with pairing dancer with the design/dress – we achieve the same goal – a spectacular experience for the senses and as a result, our moods and feelings are lifted to a higher level. We enjoy the moment, are inspired, entertained and sometimes even remain breathless… All these reactions are spontaneous and involuntary – they just happen as a physiological response to what we see (or taste) – we only need to learn how to “listen” to them.
Have you ever eaten a great dish in a restaurant, where a sommelier paired it with exactly the right wine, that elevated the dish to an even higher level? As a result, that particular wine also tasted much better because of the food prepared by the chef.
Let’s say that we are having a wonderful desert – sweet, with great strong aroma and long lasting aftertaste. To balance this, we need to pair it with sweet, full-bodied, aromatic wine, with longer lasting aftertaste and right temperature. If we chose a lighter wine – even though sweet – with not enough body and aftertaste, the experience would be bland and disappointing. Even more – the wine would taste like water or maybe sweet lemonade.
On the other hand, if we have a delicate vegetarian antipasto, with wonderfully subtle aroma, we are definitely not going for sweet full-bodied wine, no matter how much we might like it, because we will “kill the dish”. To balance the antipasto, we are choosing a light bodied, fresh, crisp, properly cooled dry white wine, instead.
Same goes for pairing dancer and a dress. If a dancer is technically fairly good, with strong “spicy” character and high level of narrative/drama in her/his dancing, she/he would be wise to choose an original articulate design with higher level of character and narrative (drama) to create balance and harmony of the Image. (Image being a combined experience of dancer and a dress/design).
Of course, not all dancers have strong tendency to create a lot of drama on the floor. Quite a lot of them want to present their good technique, combined with their own character and personalized interpretation.
Let’s imagine we have exactly this kind of a lady in front of us, with very good technique, small frame, good movement. To balance her image we would dress her in a high level original and articulate design, with lasting memory persistence, not a lot of drama, but with strong character…
Of course, descriptions like these can be confusing, because the immagination gets lost in too many words. The best way to go, is to see things graphically – we can see the bigger picture more quickly and clearly.
VISUAL – Getting the big picture
The catch phrase from previous blog was “KNOW THYSELF” and this is a “Silver Thread” running through this and all the future blogs.
Second catch phrase, that you must have noticed by now is BALANCE.
Finding characteristics of our own body and movement, we will be able to choose the right dress that will help lift dancing to a higher, more inspired level.
For sure you have seen and appreciated many times on the dancefloor, images that really work – the pairing of a dancer with the dress is just perfect – A Match Made in Heaven. Than sometimes things are off, the image doesn’t work, dancer and the dress are in discord. Sometimes it is very obvious why, but a lot of the times you cannot figure out what is the reason.
That is why I have created some visual diagrams that will help us detect and become more aware of the effects that are happening when we are pairing dancer with the dress.
Influenced and inspired by diagrams that Italian sommeliers are using for pairing food and wine, I was thinking about adapting and bringing this concept into the danceworld for quite some time. With the epidemics going wild around the world, I have finally found time to bring this on paper.
(For now, all the diagrams I have created in this blog, are done by hand, because it helps with my thinking process. I come from a generation where they made us do all the sketches and technical drawings by hand and I still like to do it this way.)
The idea of the diagram is, that 5 typical properties of a dancer and her/his movement are superimposed by 5 typical properties that the dress has.
The Dancer being marked in Black and the Dress being marked in Red.
The dancer – dress properties are alternating and they oppose each other through the diagram to get immediate, clear picture of balance or discord.
The way they are built:
Center of gravity from High into low
Frame from light into heavy
The way they move:
change of velocity from fast to slow
from smooth into staccato (sharp)
The character they have (spiciness/temperament/”colour”)
The narrative they create with interpretation of their choreography (from more intense to less)
Technical articulation and ability they have
The way it is cut and detailed:
creating illusion of lower into higher waistline (opposite of the dancer’s proportions)
creating heavier or lighter effect, using smaller or bigger details
The way it moves:
velocity of material in movement from slow into fast (opposite of the movement of the body)
flow of material from smooth into sharp (staccato)
The character it has (spice/temperament – character – mostly expressed with colour and colour combinations)
The story it tells (strong or less strong narrative/drama. Some of the dresses almost become “theater costumes”)
How original, clear, articulate design with lasting Memory Persistence (MP) it has.
1st is a picture of a Top Dancer, wearing a dress that creates a well balanced effect and harmonious image. There are some accents on the part of a character of the dress, but it is nothing that a dancer cannot handle with her performance and technique. All the rest of the characteristics are in good balance on opposite sides. This image will definitely stay in our memory, because of memory persistence of good design and (almost) perfect harmony between the elements.
(I chose not to add any dance photos to these diagrams, because I would like you to recall from your own memory, the images you have, of the dancers looking like the diagrams are suggesting.)
2nd picture shows the Top Dancer, who wants to put emphasis on her personality and quality of dancing as opposed to the dress. The dress is still top design, but it’s elements are ‘tuned down’ – especially the aspects of narrative and character and even movement of the material. Which means that the dancer wants to put accent on her own quality of dancing, character and narrative. If the design of the dress is clever and authentic, it will help to create an even stronger impact .
3rd diagram shows an average dancer wearing two options. One, a well balanced, slightly “ambitious” dress, that a dancer would definitely be able to “grow into” with her dancing and ability to “live up” to the character and the narrative of the dress (Red version). The second one (lines in green), is overpowering for this dancer. With big differences between values of narrative and character of the dress and the ones of her dancing, there is a strong chance, she might not be able to “grow into” the dress. And, from what it looks like, the cut also makes her look too heavy (center of gravity to low for her built).
This third case happens so often on the floor – dancers (and teachers), in their ambition of achieving good results, choose to wear dresses that are overpowering for their level of dancing. This creates an interesting phenomenon – a “simultaneous contrast” – where the effects start pushing each other away, creating a kind of “war” between the dancer and a dress. Sometimes this results in almost grotesque images. It makes it difficult for judges to see through and evaluate good dancing, and hard for spectators to appreciate the performance.
4th diagram shows an above average dancer in a Show Performance. It is very evident that the dress is taking over, especially in a character domain, where the dancer’s own character remains neutral. Narratives on both sides have equal values, there is a big accent on the flow and movement of the material, proportions are well balanced. This is a good situation for playing a role, performing in a show, but not so very desirable for the competitive floor.
Hopefully you have become aware a bit, how to see and recognize a good, well balanced image on the floor. A Match Made in Heaven does not always have to be a top design with strong narrative and character per se – it is enough to have well matched, well balanced elements between dancer and a dress (on any level of dancing). We can definitely play around and be ambitious, but not in an exaggerated way.
If we are able to create this synergy, the dancer and a dress become a much higher value than the sum of each separate parts.
Until the next time, when we will talk a bit about character of the dress and what it is, stay active, happy, healthy and safe.
As promised in the first blog, I will guide you through ideas and concepts that are building blocks of good design, that will inspire and lift you to another level of your awareness, presentation and performance. (All the way through the text, there are links and hyperlinks in red – they will contribute a lot to a bigger picture.)
Already the Ancient Greeks knew This is one of The Secrets of Success. They even went as far as to engrave the maxim on the portico of the Apollo’s temple in Delphi: “Know Thyself”.
In our world, being honest and authentic sometimes seems quite hard to achieve, because of the pressures, illusions, or images that we carry inside our heads, trying to figure out what Latin dancing and Latin image really is about. But trust me, nothing says more authentic, than a true, honest manifestation of your own self on the floor. As Edith Piaf said: “ Use your faults, use your defects; then you’re going to be a star.”
How do we do that? I believe knowing ourselves is one of the most difficult things to achieve in life, because it calls for honesty, a critical/analytical eye and above all, courage to accept ourselves for what we are and how we look like. For our practical purpose of creating an authentic image on the floor, we are not going to go very, very deep, but nevertheless, we are going to bring higher awareness to our body type, character and style of dancing. All this will give us a wider perspective when we develop our new authentic image on the floor. Since dancing is a physical art – we use our bodies as tools of our expressions – we need to know how we are built. What is our temperament? Does all this affect our movement, our image?
I will go rather quickly through the classification, but I do hope you will get inspired enough to make your own little research into this very interesting field. There are three typical body types walking and dancing around this world: Ectomorph – the lean long limbs, not a lot of muscle mass, Endomorph – muscular, chubby built, with shorter limbs, and Mesomorph – athletic built, somewhat between Ectomorph and Endomorph. http://www.leytedance.com/dancers-different-body-types/ Of course, there are combinations between these three body types – nobody is really a 100% of just one.
Many years ago, while driving to Blackpool Dance Festival, I came upon a great book of Ayurveda in sports, that confirmed what I was observing all the time, but wasn’t really sure I was on the right path. It has an even better classification of the three Doshas – types – which describe physical, physiological and psychological profile:
VATA (Wind energy) – as body type, closest to Ectomorph type – lively, communicative, creative, quick to remember and quick to forget
PITTA (Fire) – closest to Mesomorph type – competitive, emotional, with a lot of willpower, sharp and agile mind.
KAPHA (Water) – closest to Endomorph type – peaceful, calm, with good stamina, slow to remember, but the memory acquired this way, stays forever.
Each of us is a different combination of these three Doshas. And in order to be healthy, happy and successful, they need to be kept in BALANCE by having the state of mind, activity, food, and environment, that is just right for them. Here is link to the The Book that inspired me –with a test inside: Body, Mind and Sport by John Douillard All these types and combinations between the basic types are nothing more than descriptions of very diverse, interesting people. We all move in a different way, because the way we are built, the temperament we have and the way we think.
Good design is created by having all these characteristics of body types in mind. In Latin-American and Ballroom dancing, one of the primary things to determine, is where each dancer’s center of gravity lies – remember, different types are differently built – it determines the way they move. It is physics. Some dancers, for example Ectomorph type – Vata type – who have long, lean limbs and narrow hips, have their true center of gravity relatively high. They need to work in their own special way to bring their centre of gravity lower. A good design will help them achieve this even quicker and give them a look and feel of a “heavier”, lower center of gravity. It is all about achieving a good BALANCE.
On the other hand, a dancer with lower centre of gravity, shorter legs and longer torso (maybe Endomorph, – Kapha type), needs to work in a different way to create the illusion of longer lines and higher centre of gravity. Of course, a well designed dress, creating the right balance for this type will help achieve this. The Mesomorph, or Pitta types have all kinds of possible combinations – athletic built with longer legs, shorter legs, just right proportions… And often, not well defined WAISTLINE.
And this is where I want to bring the attention to. Where is our NATURAL waistline?
If we want to get our priorities in order, this would be the first question we need to ask when we think about a good authentic, personalised design. Our natural waistline is also a point where we start talking about Aesthetic “laws”, that are embedded in our subconscious mind. Surely, you must have all heard about the GOLDEN RATIO – a concept that determines what we perceive as Ideal of Beauty. It is a special number – ratio – that is present in all parts of our body. Ideally, the number is (around) 1.618. To have a little fun, lets calculate our (Golden) Body Ratio:
Leg length : (Total Body Height – Leg Length) Leg length is measured from waistline to the floor.
Example Leg length 106cm : (Body height 167 cm – Leg length 106 cm) = 1.73 Which means that the centre of gravity is slightly high.
Each of us have our own Body Ratios, that fall closer, or further apart from the Golden Ratio.
GOOD DESIGN has always been a delightful answer to all these deviations. FASHION has been cleverly shifting waistline throughout the history, putting focus of attention to different parts of the body:
In Greek and Roman times, with fabrics being asymmetrically draped over a basic linear tunic, waistline was not really an issue, only the natural shape of the body was coming out. Focus was on shoulders, neck, arms, face, hairstyle.
With the use of Corsets, the waistline became very well defined and fell into it’s right place, with big focus on ladies’ bosom and hips – hour-glass silhouette.
Then the waistline started to move upwards in Napoleonic times, and The Empire style reached the line just under the breasts. This created a look of longer legs and a lighter center of gravity. Everything looked suddenly lighter and younger, also because of the hairstyles that followed suite and changed into a lovely short fringed style that framed the face.
Again, the waistline travelled, this time low, much lower than natural waistline in the Roaring 20’s. The look was linear, flat chested, almost shapeless. This helped balance out the lower waistline. With one new focus – legs! Again, hairstyles changed into a short cut bob style and a Modern Woman was born.
Coming into post war modern era, The 50’s were all about natural tiny waistline, with tiny rounded shoulders and pointed breasts, showing legs just under the knees.
The 80’s were all about waist again, but this time, with big accent on wide shoulders and showing off the legs – with centre of gravity higher than in the 50’s.
Present time fashion generally had/has a lower waistline, although we actually see all possible positions of waistline, which bring into focus different parts of the body. Markets have globalised and fashion brands offer different styles for all kinds of different types. Knowing our body is the key to dress for success.
(If you checked the hyperlinks just a little bit, you could see how very radically images have changed because of the shifting waistline. All the rest of the details and different cuts are secondary and somehow fall into place.)
In dance, we have all the freedom to play with these different proportions. There is no fashion dictate, like in everyday fashion – we can create our own, authentic style. This is at the same time very liberating and very scary. Primarily, we need to be well aware of the proportions and characteristics our bodies have, and by the way, none of this is either “good” or ‘bad”. If we are clever, we can use them to our advantage:
Where is the waistline? How long are the legs? Remember our Golden Ratio?
How long is the torso relative to the body?
Ideally, the head is 1/8 of the total body height and the middle section is where the crotch is.
How long are the arms (are the lines naturally longer or shorter?)
And of course, there are secondary characteristics that follow as a consequence:
How does anatomy and proportions affect the movement?
What can we do to enhance the movement with design?
When we decide to take this “High Road”, we have to be prepared to learn lessons and face the consequences – some painful (critiques because of all the searching and mistakes), But if we remain on track, we are rewarded, because of the impact, originality and style that will work for us. It takes time and real courage to do this. For all of you out there who are trying to find your own personal authentic style, this is how trends are created. It is exciting and insightful journey that starts first by knowing your own body.
Until the next time, make your own little research. Try to find out what type are you, where is your centre of gravity, how does it affect your movement, where is your waistline, your “Golden Ratio”. We will build on this and find out even more “rules” and concepts that will create Good Design for you.
A new blog with perfect timing to “clean the house” and reset our concepts in Dance-sport aesthetics
Corona virus has struck everybody all over the world and left us unprepared, speechless and in shock.
Many plans and projects just stopped abruptly in their tracks. So many people left disoriented and afraid, not sure what the future will bring.
Our danceworld, being part of this world, is no different – Not being able to work, practice, perform and improve is interfering with the very core of what we are…
But before going down the path of doom and gloom, we all know that dancers are a very resilient community, quite used of going through rough patches and coming out triumphantly.
It all depends on our reactions to the situations we find ourselves in.
Bad times do happen and when we choose to use them for an introspection, reflection and learning lessons, we will definitely come out as better versions of ourselves – winners.
In every crisis, there is always opportunity for new growth, creating changes and getting rid of ballast that was making no sense and pulling us down.
Pandemic pushed us out of our comfort zones, that most of the times were not even very comfortable, they just felt that way, because of the repetitive routines, where nobody needs to think too much.
Thinking is quite exhausting and takes a lot of creative energy, but now, we are forced to do it, reset our minds and search for better ideas and solutions.
That’s why, in this blog, I am going to dare you to start imagining new solutions, learning old and eternal “rules/physics” of design and use them creatively.
Most of us know it’s time to get rid of overloaded, oversaturated designs that were occupying competition floors in the last years.
Too expensive, too complicated, too exaggerated, bizarre, screaming into the faces of adjudicators and spectators, desperately calling for attention, and trying to intimidate fellow competitors.
Situation is actually very Darwinian and reminds me slightly of the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth.
It took a radical, global, natural event, that changed the conditions so profoundly, that those big out-proportioned, bizarrely designed creatures could no longer survive in a new environment.
They were replaced by mammals – eventually US, and we are The creative creatures, capable of adapting and constructing reality around us.
This is one of those rare Carpe Diem moments where we can seize the offered opportunity, get rid of the things and concepts that are no longer working and start discovering concepts of good design. They are timeless and we are going to need them.
This first blog is going to be about Good Design in general– what are the eternal concepts and guidelines.
In the following blogs I am going to take you by the hand and guide you through these concepts, discovering very useful and hidden rules that will bring more awareness and understanding what really works and what is just plain clutter.
A really good Fashion Design always brings a person into the spotlight, works and plays with body and skin types, proportions, character and charisma.
In the danceworld, it adds a crucial element – dynamic component – type and character of movement.
On the competitive floor, it is always a dancer and his or her dancing that needs to be presented in a best possible way.
Guiding attention TO the good aspects and taking attention FROM the not yet well articulated parts of the dancing.
It is a technique, that designers call Good Design, and illusionist call a “Sleigh Of Hand”. An exciting, interesting and constant work in progress, it takes a bit of work and knowledge to discover its rules.
However, this must not be confused with some of the current trends that are bizarrely camouflaging and desperately trying to hide – even a little bit of good dancing that might be coming out.
To make a comparison, these trends DO NOT bring out the good dancing, they only pile layers and layers of exaggerated elements in order to hide either (supposedly unfortunate) body features, or lack of dance expertise.
How do we recognize this? When we no longer see a dancer and a dance, when we mostly see a dress/image moving around the floor, interfering with our efforts to see the dancing, this is a moment when we know.
Good design is:
– Understandable and readable
A human eye is designed to see a big picture, be able to recognize it and make sense of it.
Which means – the eye is guided/travels from the whole image first and than to the details. If image makes sense, the spectator can immediately understand and “read” the concept of the presentation. Forms, cuts, colour combinations, details need to be “clean” and articulate, not messy.
This is done by knowing the body and skin type, proportions, character, style of dancing, and using the right cut, material and colour.
-Innovative and artistic
Design needs to follow and adapt to the dancer’s character and style of dancing, search new and different ways and techniques to bring out the best features of the body and dance.
This aspect is one of the most exciting, daring and experimental. It is the best opportunity, when failing, to learn precious lessons.
It can only be done when a dancer and a designer reach a point of synergy and trust, where ideas start to flow freely, are exchanged, without being forced.
This state does not happen very often, but when it does, magic is created and trends are born.
Throughout the human history, our eyes/brains have evolved in certain ways – we perceive certain combinations and ratios as harmonious, certain shapes as beautiful, certain proportions as pleasing and natural.
Evolution has installed certain programs in all our senses, that help us perceive and evaluate the world around us.
Because we are intelligent, creative beings, it is impossible for us not to take advantage of these “programs” and use them to produce all kinds of design and arts.
Knowing these “programs” and how they work is what Aesthetics is all about.
First we have to know what the rules are, only then we can use them creatively and with success.
As Dalai Lama says: “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
– Honest and authentic
The design needs to work with the character of the dance and dancer and search for even deeper personal characteristics.
The source of inspiration comes from within, by quiet introspection and observation. How often do we actually stop, go quiet and reflect? Meditation works.
Being ourselves also helps. It is easier said than done though, because so many people are telling us what to do.
But part of being true to ourselves also means that we make our own decisions and take responsibility for them. It is a longer process and comes with wonderful growth and lessons learnt.
“By being natural and sincere, one often can create revolutions without having sought them.” ― Christian Dior
The design should not “scream” into adjudicator’s, or spectator’s face and it should not appear as though you see only a dress on the floor instead of a dancer)
Good design always stays in our memory long after the event is over – sometimes even for years.
Just try to remember some wonderful images from previous years, that really ‘worked” on the floor and also stayed in our collective memories. Do they have the elements of good design I have written here?
– Consistent in every detail
Good design is also execution – how well is it done? A dancer must forget about the dress he or she is wearing.
In best case, the way the dress is made, it supports and inspires the dancers to dance the best of their abilities, sometimes even better. It enhances the self esteem and this means a lot to the dancer performing. Form should follow the function, not the other way around.
– As little design as possible
Sometimes, with really top dancers it would almost appear as though design gets out of the way.
In these rare cases, design would feel almost inevitable, almost like: “It had to be this way, why would it be any other way.” (words borrowed from Jonathan Ive – head designer for Apple products).
When these rare, beautiful moments happen, they bring even more value to the couple, their dance and the design.
And we need to recognize those moments, cherish and appreciate them when they happen.
These are first general guidelines on our journey of discovering good design.
I didn’t mention personal tastes anywhere, because they are extremely subjective.
Even the Romans have said: “De gustibus non disputandum est”. Meaning that everyone’s personal preferences are merely subjective opinions and we shouldn’t take them as right or wrong – but merely as what they are – subjective opinions.
However, the more we understand, the more we are aware. The more our eyes and minds are open to new experiences and views, the more we become knowledgeable and willing to learn and expand. We even develop greater sensitivity and widen our tastes. People who study design all their lives, lift themselves above subjective opinions and know how to dive into this world, because they have the tools, knowledge and creativity to work with.
Purpose of this blog is to bring more awareness and understanding to dancers, teachers and judges.
It will hopefully help bring better design on the dance floor, it will help adjudicators to better evaluate and see through the “situations” on the floor and last but not least, it will help teachers giving wise advise to their couples.
Till the next blog, stay active, happy and healthy.
Blackpool Dance Festival is a unique meeting point of couples, teachers and designers from all over the world. For a whole week – now with Pro-Am competitions even longer – people meet, socialize, discuss dancing and trends, reminisce aboutpast competitions, make plans for the future, but above all – dance.
The competition in the Empress Ballroom takes place on so many levels – it is much more complexthanwhat we actually see on the floor.
Couples competing have so many people standing behind them, supporting them with their knowledge and expertise: teachers, coaches, psychologists, stylists, hairdressers – some of them have physiotherapists, nutritionists and perhaps some other specialists.
The dance world is becoming an “industry”, where more and more specialized people take care of a certain segment of dancers’ needs, all aimed to produce a better quality of dancing, better image and better result.
People designing and producing dresses are in a special category, because their hard work is always hidden from the eyes of spectators, even couples. People are usually unaware ofhow much thinking, time and work goes into a good design.
This report is all about good successful, authentic design, why does it work and how to recognize it.
In Latin, the dresses are becoming more and more complex, stylish and individual. Every year we can see some interesting, brave and original ideas coming out. Sadly, they are mostly overlooked, because they are such a rare phenomenon, although they work. However, in general,there is no prevailing trend going on and the theme of this year would be: “Whatever works, wear it.”
So,what really works?
A good test to find that out would be a mirror:
If ladies stand in frontof a mirror in their full Latin attire and still see themselves coming through, that isa good choice of a dress.
An even better choice would be: if a lady looks atherself in the mirror and sees an enhanced version of herself. A really good dress brings all the best features into the spotlight.
It doesn’t have to be an extravagant, or complicated design – it just needs to be a clever design – good enough to support and enhance the lady and her dancing.
But if a lady stands in frontof a mirror and she disappears, with only a dress coming through, this is not a good choice– spectators and judges will see only theoutfiton the floor, while the ladyplays the role of dress hanger or model.
This last example represents quite a “trap” for the couples.
Flamboyant and extreme cuts, exaggerated volumes, colours and choice of materials call for immediate attention, “screaming” in the faces of spectators and judges.
Some couples love to choose them, because they represent a quick fix, an instant gratification, a fast-track ticket to the next round, maybe even to the final round…
And since this is the British Open, it is very tough to get to the next round.
A little trick that would help, if the couples could doa little mind experiment – putting themselves into the shoes of at least one of the top judges standing by the dance floor in the Empress Ballroom – judging, observing:
“So many couples on the floor, who do I mark into the next round? So little time… Hmmm, I marked the ones that are sure to get into the next round, now I am moving to the ones that are a bit questionable – OK – I see a couple in the corner, hard to miss, the colourful lady, with all those feathers – cannot really see the lines of her body, skirt looks like it slows her down, don’t really see the rhythm in her body, feet fairly good, the boy is good, though… Let’s check the couple near them – nice, clear lines, good poise, feet, a bit restricted movement, but good for their level, good partnering, boy quite good – all in all, a readable situation, nice, effective image. I will mark the latter…” And so, the elimination goes on…
In Ballroom, the situation is much clearer, also because of the nature of Ballroom dances – everything is about technique, hold, character of movement, flow. There is no extra narrative incorporated in the choreographies, no drama, only pure movement and partnering.
This is why we very rarely see a “faux pas” with ballroom dresses (although, they do happen from time to time). Styles in Ballroom don’t change so dramatically and when they do, it is mostly because somenew materials have beenintroduced. Their properties dictate the cuts and movement of the dresses.
This year, as every year, we saw some really wonderful, inspiring creations on the floor, with some of the trends going away from the skirts with metres and metres of crinoline – softer hemlines, that create softer, more flowing movement. In general, we saw fewerheavy floats on the hands of the ladies and sometimes fewer voluminous, more dynamic skirts…
In the end, the general idea that comes to mind would be:
The dresses need to be designed cleverly and beautifully enough, but not more than necessary. There is a fine line between an optimal design, which incorporates the character of the lady, level of dancing and her physique, and an exaggerated, over–saturated design, where a lady loses herself.
A good dress puts you in the spotlight in the right way, where judges and spectators can see an improved, more beautiful version of yourself and your dancing.
An over–saturated, over–designed dress puts you in the spotlight in the wrong way…
And to finish, a quote from Albert Einstein:
“Any intelligent person can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move into opposite direction…”