Competing in Canada

A competition report from Canda
by Carl Olson

When we asked EADA if there would be any objection to entering two competitions in Canada, they asked if I would do an article telling you about our experiences, and it was an experience.

My mother-in-law wanted to visit my sister-in-law in Vancouver, so we travelled with her.  We had danced in Canada 10 years ago and enjoyed it, so began checking websites and asking Canadian and American dancers for details of comps we could do whilst out there; we considered Seattle, but it wasn’t practical.  We settled on Vancouver Island, an hour and a half’s ferry trip from Vancouver city, and one in Nigara Falls.

If you do wish to compete abroad, make sure you check with EADA, some comps overseas are not IDSF sanctioned and competing in them could affect your status and even lead to disciplinary action.  For us, because of work and the need to fit in with family and friends, advanced planning was essential.  The comps we had in mind had been on a list from the Canadian Amateur DanceSport Association, though we still checked with EADA.  Most North American competitions are scheduled a year or more in advance, however, the ones we wanted had no confirmed dates in the CADA list; the websites were not up-dated until surprisingly close to the events, even though by then we had been in touch with organisers who assured us of dates, but which events were being run was another matter – they will run them if there’s interest: in Victoria there was no o/45’s when we first applied, a couple of weeks later there was and our names were down for it.

Nearly all comp business is done on-line in North America, even so, we found getting answers could be slow.  When it came to registering for Victoria, we found the website wouldn’t let us in.  The Canadians, rather embarrassed, said they used an American website for registration, it would only accept entries from North American email addresses – they didn’t  expect to have entries from outside!  They didn’t know how to get around this, but a Canadian friend submitted our registration.  With the Niagara comp, we were able to down-load an entry form, but that had to be printed off and post it.  Similarly, all entries to comps are in advance.  Because of the distances involved, Canadians and Americans plan their comps far in advance: when we danced in Canada previously, we met a Quebecoise couple that had driven for a week to get to there.  Many have to fly to the venue, therefore some comps are run over a weekend and will include meals, hotel packages, etc.  Both events we entered included evening meals as an option; when we danced in the US a few years ago, the meal was a sit down affair with silver-service, lots of speeches and presentations to helpers; the Canadian comps both offered buffets; the one we did 10 years ago had a wine and cheese reception the evening before.

The Victoria comp was on the outskirts of the city in a very large, modern leisure centre; it was run by an amateur club, had numerous helpers, but there was an air of confusion, whoever we asked either didn’t know or were not sure – though that was soon after the doors opened.  We had been told that this was a fairly small comp, though it didn’t feel like it.  They used a basket ball court, the floor was an adequate size, though a bit too slippery; they had also a gym for practice.  Once it got going, the organisation was generally good, or at least seemed so, helpers nearly all kept in touch via radio, all dancers were made to feel very welcome and the atmosphere was good.

The programme covered the whole day, we were not scheduled to dance until the evening; the morning and afternoon sessions consisted mainly of children’s and lower grade adult events, entries seemed adequate though modest; there was opportunity for practice throughout the day; music was good and easy to dance to; events were carefully timed and ran mainly as planned, though they often doubled up events when entries were poor; there were seven judges from the US or Canada, though none of the names were familiar, except Barbara Childs.  We remembered her from the comp 10 years before!  She is from the UK, but has lived in Canada for many years.

Changing facilities were what we would expect in the UK, though it was very warm: surprisingly there was no air conditioning and it was far too hot, even with fire doors open, the air was exceptionally dry and hot, it made dancing, for us anyway, uncomfortable.  Before the adult events a Latin dem was given by Andre & Natalie Paramonov, that went down a bomb with the audience.  In fact just about everything went down a bomb with the audience, they cheered, whooped, called numbers and names all day long and loudly.  One lady whooped very loudly through every dance, I couldn’t understand how she kept her voice – she came over to us and began chatting away as if we were old friends.

Given this was supposed to be a ‘small comp’, everything about it felt ‘big’ – the decoration, attractive and elaborate programme, numbers of helpers, the dem, etc.  We were something of a novelty – foreign dancers, there were not even Americans competing.  After we had done some practice, people came up and said how much they liked watching us, how good we were, etc.  I don’t mention this because I’m big headed, but the Canadians think nothing of approaching you and chatting, saying what they think; they will come up and thank you for coming to Canada, for entering their comp, tell you what they like about your dancing.  We were approached all day by people that wanted us to know they liked our dancing.  It was touching and unexpected to the point of being even embarrassing.

Despite the impressive organisation, it did seem to creak in a few places.  North American comps use ‘deck captains’ that make sure you are ready to dance, lined up in numeric order and don’t wonder off; in this comp there were three; they used hand-held computers with the running order and also kept in touch by radio, in fact several officials used radios throughout the comp.  Each captain contradicted the last and one ran around looking increasingly desperate.  The mike on stage broke down frequently; the music deck played up a bit; all adult couples were assembled to march on, but were kept waiting a long time in a very hot corridor, several dancers wondered off, one helper started handing out cups of water because we were becoming dehydrated.  When we marched on, no one seemed to know where we were supposed to go until a helper rushed on and stopped the lead couple; the MC announced that there would be photographs taken, but there wasn’t a photographer, so someone ran off to get him; next we were told the national anthem would be sung, but no one had told the two singers and they had to be found – their mikes didn’t work.

We were lined up for our first event, a Senior championship.  They combined it with a pre champ event for which there was only one couple; we found they doubled up events extensively or just ‘scratched’ them with little or no notice.  We noticed the captain put a couple in front of us that looked to be about 25 years old, we tried to tactfully explain that this was a senior event, they knew, they assured us they were both over 35 – yeah, right!  And we’re juniors.

The heat was really hard to deal with, not helped by there being no breaks between the five dances, as one finished, couples had to prepare for the next.

The O/45 (5 dance) event was about an hour later, but only three couples, we felt it went well, but again the heat and no breaks made it hard work. If the crowd get behind you in Canada, it’s deafening!

Presentations are done in reverse order, but only from 3rd to 1st, fourth and lower are simply announced and don’t get prizes.  Couples are presented with Olympic style medals; the winners of the championships were given trophies that were easily over three feet tall and much the same wide.

The Latin events were very poorly contested, most were doubled or even trebled up, the whole programme was completed in about 20 minutes.

A week later, we were in Niagara Falls ready for the next comp.  This one was run by a professional; the venue was a social club with a good size floor, though it was very sticky.  We went early on yet another very hot day; again, the hall was not air conditioned and it was far too hot, but this time, there were no open fire doors!  As with Victoria, there was an extensive programme of events and they had been running for some hours when we got there, however, we found it confusing to the point of making no sense.  The events included a medallist comp, pro/am events, mainstream, Junior, Juvenile, adult, American Smooth, Argentine Tango, etc.  Events were doubled and tripled up as a matter of routine; following the programme and just what it was we were watching was very hard, plus the classification system, titles of events, etc., were unfamiliar and confusing.

We had expected a lot of American couples as the US was literally just a few minutes down the road, but none competed and we were the only foreign couple.  The audience seemed mainly to consist of competitors and there was very little support for dancers, numbers were virtually never called and other support for was almost nil; there was far less atmosphere, it was almost like a dance factory production line.

There were 10 Judges, all comparatively local, one from New York.  One, Denis Murphy, was originally from Liverpool, but has lived in Canada most of his career.  On the mike was Alan Armsby, very audibly a Brit; we didn’t envy him, he was on his feet for hours and had to make sense of a bewildering range of events.   Couples didn’t turn up when called despite the deck captain; some turned up late and wanted events re-run as they had been put on ahead of the scheduled time, some couples seemed to dance almost constantly and in different grades and classes of event, with different partners non-stop, it was very confusing  – there were examples of quadrupling up events during the comp too.

There was no planned practice time and the only chance we got was when the afternoon session ended and they cleared the floor, however, whilst they put music on, the room was cleared after about 15 minutes.

The standard of organisation was far more slick than Victoria, though they began running ahead of schedule because of all the doubling and trebling up; judges were in panels and had to be told which couples were competing on the floor and which were not dancing against any others, this was made more complicated when couples left the floor because they couldn’t do a particular dance.

There were several cabarets from the organiser’s dance school Junior disco teams, which the audience were very impressed by.  The standard of dancing by couples was hugely varied and, like Victoria, Amateur grade couples were generally very good.  What was apparent though was the judges liked to see flashy and energetic steps far more than graceful and elegant.

We were surprised to find we were up against just one couple, Canadians, in an O/45’s event; there was no Senior Championship in the ‘International’ Modern and no Senior events at all in ‘International’ Latin.  The other couple didn’t turn up until just before we danced, yet we had seen them wondering about the hall earlier in the day.  It was again a five dance and again, no breaks between dances, just the five straight through.

The Latin and Modern events were mixed throughout the day, but timed to allow couples to change and re-change as necessary.  Changing facilities were not that good – for men, a very full cloak room with numerous hangers scattered about, and for ladies, half a function room with a screen up to divide it from the dining area – as we eat we could see the female dancers feet and heads.

The presentations were bewildering: all couples for a whole section of events, but later just for one event at a time, were called to the floor; there were rarely more than three couples in any event but all finalists got medals; results were in reverse order, but rattled through, it seemed more like a cross between a scrum and a supermarket queue – dancers hurried back and forward to get medals, there was no presentation line for most events.  When it came to our presentation, just we two couples were called out, we came second, but it was announced we had won two dances.  Ah well, there y’go.  However, two of the judges, including Denis Murphy, were presenting the prizes; in front of the Canadians both judges told us we should have won!  There was no way the winners could not have heard this, but this didn’t seem to bother them.  After the presentation ceremony, the same two judges made a point of speaking to us again; they said they hadn’t been on a panel when we danced and that if they had they would have marked us to win, this time it was in front of other judges, helpers and competitors - very nice of them, but bit of a surprise.

Would we dance in Canada again?  Yes.  Did we enjoy it?  On the whole yes.  Would we recommend dancing there?  Yes, the experience of competing abroad is very valuable and makes you realise how lucky we are (honestly we are) in the UK for competitions and ease of getting to them.  What would we do differently next time?  Try and find somewhere to get practice in the days before the comp and eat less doughnuts!