Lead with Enthusiasm and Joy - Anna Shahbazyan

Ballroom Chat: Episode #32December 02, 2020
Anna Shahbazyan ballroom chat

Anna Shahbazyan discusses how psychology and dance are intertwined and her philosophy for following joy. Anna and Samantha chat about working with children on the Autism spectrum, and why its important to look at every dancer and every partnership as unique. She provides insight into what catches her judges eye for Latin and Smooth dancers, and gives tips on how to navigate emotion in dancesport both on and off the floor.

Anna Shahbazyan is a Professional Smooth and Standard dancer. She was a Blackpool finalist in American Smooth, and a Rising Star vice-champion at Ohio Star Ball. Anna holds a Master's Degree in Psychology and is the owner of AS Dance for Autism. Her work teaching dance to children and teens with special needs earned her the 2016 NDCA Community Service Award. She is also the co-organizer of the City Lights Open in San Jose.

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Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

Our transcripts are automatically generated from our audio podcast with only small modifications for readability. Since the transcripts are automatically generated from our podcast conversation, they will contain errors.

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. thank you once again to the Ballroom Box and The Girl with the Tree Tattoo for their continued support of the podcast.

Today, I'm joined by Anna Shahbazyan. She is a professional, smooth and standard dancer who was a vice champion at Ohio star ball and a finalist at the Blackpool open. She also holds a master's degree in psychology and works with children with autism, through AS Dance for Autism. Her work there actually led her to being a 2016 NDCA community service award recipient.

She's also the co-owner of the City Lights Open in San Jose. I got the chance to sit down and talk with her about the psychology of dance, as well as her calling to work with children with special needs. Please enjoy our conversation with Anna Shahbazyan.

Well, thank you Anna so much for being a guest today.

Anna: Thank you for having me this early morning.

Samantha: So I mentioned in the introduction that you are a former pro rising star, smooth vice, champion, a us open, smooth semi-finalists are rising star international ballroom us finalist. A lot of, lot of wonderful things, accredited to your name. How did your dance journey start?

How did you get into the ballroom world and why specifically smooth and ballroom? What kind of drew you to that end of dance sport?

Anna: I can't say it like, it was most of the answers, but definitely it was not my decision. It was more mother driven. she took my hands, took me to the first dance class, which was not ballroom. I was six years old and, her motivation was my bad posture. genetically inherited my father's. slouchy back. It was like you're six time to fix your back. Dancing is the form. I did that for about a year, the folk dancing, then stopped. Ballroom dancing in Armenia was just starting to pick up. She found a studio.

I started for a couple of months. I was the non-motivated child that was yawning in the back, red cheeks cause I didn't feel like moving, stopped, restarted at 14. And then at 16 years old, I moved to US. So most of my career in ballroom and definitely the professional, happened in the US already. And that again was not a focal point per se. I wasn't dancing because that was my passion. And that's what we do day and night, I was focused at school, but dance was always like a parallel going with my education and the instructors, Ken and Sheila Sloan, the studio where I started, they had a magical touch and a magical way of kind of guiding you to where they thought you should go.

And within about two years of being an amateur in US, she's like, all right, you're a pro. And I'm like, What does that mean? No idea. Just continue dancing with a professional partner. It was first international ballroom. My partner was very tall. He was six, four. I was five, five, so huge high difference. Try to cope with it. Try to work with it. It wasn't the easy one. And then one day Mr. Sloan said, well, why don't you start smooth? And I'm like, what's smooth? You just take the ballroom inside out and you do that. And I'm like, okay, that's a good, simple explanation, I guess, that that's possible to do so. That was my intro for American Smooth.

Started dancing it, did like it enjoyed it very much, but again, most of the focus was on the outer scope of the life, the education career. Dancing goes again, just have between walking along, and then later on with my last partner, when you're consciously already, you know, enjoying the partnership, enjoying the friendship, kind of.

It became transitioned into passion. So that's kind of been the summary of my quick journey into the world of ballroom.

Samantha: Okay.

Anna: Definitely the most successful, the most memorable was doing the American smooth in Blackpool the inaugural year, making that final. Just the fact of being there on during the inaugural year, that was the most major accomplishment I would say.

Samantha: Yeah. So what did that feel like being one of the couples that was invited to kind of break new ground as far as far as Blackpool goes, because for those of us that were watching it, that are smooth dancers, I'm a smooth dancer, that's what I teach most of my students. And for me to like, get the notification that smooth was at Blackpool and the, and so be able to watch that final, it was like, Oh, Oh my gosh, this is, this is historic. This is like the next step for our dance style. So what did it feel like being one of those couples?

Anna: We were not one of those four or five couples that were invited to do the initial cause we were not finalists, but the next year they did the actual inaugural competition there, so that was special. And our journey with my partner was, from the start, it was a limited term partnership. We had decided it's going to be a couple of years. We just do it. We enjoy it as much as we can achieve and just stop dancing together. And then halfway through that partnership, there was the note, Oh, we're going to have an American Smooth in Blackpool.

I still remember I was at Lake Arrowhead sitting outside in the balcony, in the cold cover and a blanket and I get a text message from my partner. Well, what do you think about May and Blackpool? I'm like, well, I know we're supposed to end the partnership kind of earlier, but why don't we do it? So that was something we couldn't miss.

Doesn't matter what the results would have been. Just the pure joy of seeing how the American smooth has evolved and has and how it has attracted the rest of the world. It was just. Unbelievable goosebumps all over. It's like, yes, we've got that.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. so because you were kind of coming at competitive dance sport from a like education and work is my focus, but I enjoy doing this on the side, I'm going to explore it for as much as possible. Now that you're an instructor and that you're teaching more often. How do you approach the fun of ballroom versus the sport aspect of ballroom in your instruction?

Anna: It's a sport, whether it's an art, it's still something focused on. So it isn't just a perception of how each individual use it at, for me, it's more of an art form, but of course the athleticism is a big part of it and enthusiasm and joy for me have always been a key part does not matter if you're striving to be the world champion, you're striving to be good at what you are at work as a supervisor. Or an ABA therapy or a teacher. It does not matter if you're not enjoying what you're doing and that enthusiasm is kind of pulled out of it, stress and over seriousness of the task eventually wears you out. So as a teacher, I always make sure I'm like, remember if you need to enjoy it, you need to love what you're doing. Always go back to the roots and remember why you started dancing. Of course, we'll all have different motivations. Some are internal, some are external, some are doing it for the reward.

Some are getting just the pure joy of the process. Like I never considered myself a good competitor, but I enjoyed the process of the dancing. if the joy is there, it will last longer. Don't take it out. So that's a key component for me. And I think John Wooden, if you're familiar with him, he was a basketball coach for UCLA for years.

And that's the school I attended for my undergrad. I was very honored to meet him on one of the sports psychology lectures. Was very humble, but one of the words he said, and I didn't know him, then I studied him after meeting him in person. Was enthusiasm. He’s like always do it with love and enthusiasm. The results will follow. Don't worry about it.

Samantha: I like that. I like that. so let's talk a little bit about your school and your education and kind of your degree and background. so you got a, you have a master's degree in psychology. What was the undergrad originally in.

Anna: Still psychology

Samantha: Still psychology. So what drew you to following that field? What kind of launched you on that path?

Anna: What launched me in that path? Well, moving from Armenia to US and getting used to the structure here, as it was time to transfer to university, I couldn't find the major. That I was looking for and I always wanted from back home to major in diplomacy, but I guess in California, I don't know the rest of the States, but in LA we did not have schools that specifically had that major.

It was journalism that took you to diplomacy or political science, different other majors, not the narrow scope that I was looking for. I was like, I don't want this. I don't want to do the journalism. well, what else do I like? And I always liked. People watching. I like, I don't know, just observing. I always liked hearing stories since I was a child, while everyone would be playing, I would find the grandma or grandpa grabbed their hand.

I'm like, can you please tell me a story? So I enjoyed the people aspect and the mind how it works. It was like, why don't we try psychology? And at that point I had started teaching ballroom already a little bit. So I thought it might go hand in hand. One way or another, it's still a form of psychology, whether you're picking in the main mind or through the body.

So that's how the decision came by. did enjoy the studies, decided to follow through didn't know exactly which narrow direction of the field of psychologists since it's so broad. and then after my master's, which was actually in forensic psychology, which I was very much enjoying and even debating of. Going to get my law degree so I can focus much more narrowly in that field. A friend of mine just came by and was like, I need help with kids in the field of autism. It was summertime. I was doing my internship at the Burbank courthouse and she's like, please give me a couple of months. I really need workers, you're good with kids.

I'm like, I can work with kids, but I'm not familiar with the population. She's like, don't worry. We'll train you, just give me two months. Did give her two months fell in love with my first official client. Those chunky red cheeks and cute smile. Repetitive like a little parrot that was saying everything I was asking him to say, and that was it.

The journey, another journey that wasn't planned, but it kind of opened a new door and I just was like, let's take it. Let's see where it takes me. And was the field it's therapy and supervision for several years, close to seven or eight. And then felt that it's rigid in essence, because we're stuck at home with a child, with a family.

It doesn't really build much so it's generalized skills. Recite decided to use those skills from the ABA field and apply with dance combined the two together and do it more through dance.

Samantha: Okay. yeah, I'll a lot that I want to kind of get into in a little bit more detail there. so since you brought it up let's talk about, is it AS dance for autism? Is that the official name of the program that you're a part of?

Anna: Correct.

Samantha: so that, Is outside of the school system? With the school system? Is it tied to specific therapists or is it essentially private dance instruction specifically for those with learning disabilities or mental differences?

Anna: AS Dance for Autism is a private instruction, but I have, come into partnership with the, Oh, what is it called? Dancesport education that's based out of, Arizona. It's a nonprofit and they wanted to start an in-school curriculum program for the autism charter schools. So I did help them to start that program and apparently that's going very successfully.

So I'm kind of excited about that. I, I'm not one who can go into schools and get something done. But if there are people who need the help, I'm more than happy to assist them in that. again, everyone has their own approach to it. Everyone has a different beliefs as far as what therapy works, what form of therapy works better. definitely the dance in a more of a less structured format. I feel like it gives the kid more long-term progress versus the short-term in a very isolated, small environment. So, you know, practicing in the studio, over zoom even. I never thought I would ever do any group classes and I'm not talking about privates where you're one-on-one with a child and the family member, whether it's the sibling, the mother, or the father, an actual group class. And I was surprised when the quarantine started, like, I don't know this is going to work. I don't like cameras. I don't think I can project enough because it's a different type of energy output with the, with that community, but it worked even better.

And I started thinking, why was the reason? I thought, well, they're in their comfort zone. They're at home, they feel cozy. It's not a new environment. They're familiar with everything. And most of them are really actually used to the zoom. Most of their classes are on zoom. there are not too many schools. Okay. California's quite good. But most of the population is used to that online interaction versus in person. So I was surprised how well it went. We still periodically do those classes and hopefully we'll just grow and get to more people. We'll see.

Samantha: That's awesome. So what is your, what is kind of your typical intake process when you're meeting with a new client? whether it's parents that want to get their child, into dance, just because they know the therapeutic benefits. do you have a standardized process or is it just like you meet with the person and then decide from there this is what's going to be best for this individual person?

Anna: Initially, initially, I that's what I did. It was word of mouth. A friend of a friend would recommend someone. now I do have a form that I do like the parents to fill up. It just gives me more detail about the child or the teen. It's not just the autism as a global term that we put out there and it's like, every kid has the same. No. A lot of them have other comorbid diagnosis for some it's only the autism, the forms are different. There are other behaviors that kick in.

I do definitely like to know that, because that helps me to individualize the lesson plan much more and versus just put them all on the same scale and say, okay, they're all doing the box step the same way. You're all learning the same way it's not possible. And the privates are good because it can definitely use a individualized process, the understanding, what is, what's a good reward to use for each child or teen? What is a good approach? They seem more tactile. They seem more visual. some of them are. nonverbal, but majority of the teens I have, not the children, but the teens they're on the non-verbal end of the autism spectrum. some of them are, have visual impairments, so there's many limitations and to start understanding it, I need more background. If there is a tension, I need to know his attention because I heard him because they can not speak and express it. Or is it just a. Some kind of a tick or is it he has other issues and in some cases, yes, there is other comorbid diagnosis that is following.

And that's, that's the reason why they react certain way. And the knowledge definitely does help. Group settings is different. I still remember my very first group class. I tried to do. All non-verbal teens. I was five of them and to even get them all started to move together was impossible. I think it probably took me about six or seven months to get this group class structure, you know, where you were like, okay, we're going to do the tango close or the T a N G O across the floor. But. We start as a group, we end as a group. So it was a journey, but you know, those little success points is like, Oh my God, we'll starting to get, Oh my God, we're going around the floor. It's just so rewarding. You know, and getting them, whoever can type to communicate or express whichever way they use to say how much it has helped them. It's priceless. I don't need anything else. As long as they're happy and you can see that practices and the families are happy. They get joy out of it.

Samantha: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. There's, there's a moment, regardless of, of what student, what type of student you're working with, where that light bulb moment goes off and you're like, yes, it was all worth it up until this point.

And I feel like, for at least in my, my own experience. And I'm sure that it's a shared experience with instructors that have been teaching for a while. You do really become invested in the student, it, themselves. It's not necessarily wanting them to learn the box step or wanting them to get the first place at that competition.

You really are emotionally and mentally invested in them as a person and seeing their successes in life. So. From a therapy end of the world, when you're working with a client, is your goal point. We want to learn the bronze syllabus in two years? Or is it we want, you know, this student to feel comfortable, you know, with, with human connection and with actual physical interaction? Or we want them to be more comfortable in a new space. Or maybe if they're non-verbal we'd like to work on getting them verbal. How do you kind of set up how much you're investing in your, in your students?

Anna: It's a big investment emotionally, for sure. To start with a main thing, I would say, make sure you're invested, but you're not so connected where it starts affecting you negatively when you don't see the progress based on our expectations of our hopes, Oh, I wanted to be in a month and you if its not there that you don't give up, cause that can happen. that's just for providers and therapists and teachers. as far as how do I approach it again? Each child is different. Each teen is different. They all have their own processing speeds.

They're all at a different cognitive level of learning. whether it's motor skills, whether it's other type of skills, For some, its just learning the steps. You know, it's not about the technique. Let's give them as much as they can. There are learning disabilities. It's not so much getting them going. They can grasp it, they can grasp it. Okay. He can grow. I have a student who has just a learning disability. He grasped the steps quite fast. But he doesn't sustain them from day to day or week to week. This is like, okay. So within we'd have to work, make sure he can keep them up. He needs to remember the names.

It doesn't matter. He has a learning, his parents said. his mom said, Oh, he has a learning disability. Don't think he's going to remember the steps. I'm like, I don't think so. So the, the names are part of it, you know, and you're verbal enough. So you can remember the names it's repetition and connection associations. Connect the points, the dots gets connected. Eventually he will be able to do it. And within like two or three months, he already remembering the major steps and he gives you, it's like, okay, what is the timing? What is the step? What follows next? It's practice. With other kids is different. You know, I do have, Oh, one of my favorite kids, I met him when he was 16.

He's 19 here he a nonverbal typer. He has written even a poetry book, but he has also dyspraxia with them. It's very hard. And what dyspraxia does it kind of stops his movement. He gets into this OCD phase of where he gets something that he really loves and he enjoys doing or just listening to, and he gets stuck on it. So getting his movement to become continues, that's the thing like the main goal. Yes. He learns the steps. Yes, he has probably a lot of syllabus steps and non, so the steps in his repair to our, of each dance that he has learned, but the main focus for him is get going. Let's start, let's maintain the flow without having hiccups and stopping or getting that OCD, kick in, he remember the same thing, the train or anything it is, and you just decide to elope and go somewhere else. And he, he did, he did a little speech, actually, if we can side track, recently for the disability community for UCLA, and he spoke about his OCD and one of his favorite dances is Rumba. So the night before his speech, he had the OCD about dancing with me, the Rumba. So it's something he'll ask to do.

He likes me, he loves the Rumba, but the joy became a compulsion in a way why he was stuck, he couldn't do it. It was just repeating and running over and over and over and he's and in his speech, he compared it to a terrorist, hijacking his mind. I'm like, Oh my God, I wouldn't even think of it. But it's so vivid.

That picture that he described, I'm like, now I understand how intense it is because we see only on the outside. Okay. He's tense says he doesn't want to move. He's stressed, but how much more it is internally and what he's going through. Only those words could have described that. Just it's still a learning journey.

Yeah. I learned with them. I don't know everything. I definitely don't know. I know nothing. When people ask me to say you pretty much take their hand, sense their hand, you connect, you really build the rapport and you try to work through that journey together, studying each other, observing each other. He learns a lot. He knows a lot about me than I do. He catches nuances about me that I'm not even aware of. so it's, it's a conversation. It's a two people journey and of course the families are involved as well. So those families that do come in and try to learn with the child or the teen, and they try to use those skills outside.

And those are the ones that get the faster progress. Because a lot of times the families, that's what I didn't like about therapy. You would go into the house and you, the parent would be like, Oh, it's my time off. You're going to their own work. Well, the child, I'm going to go have a coffee. I understand it's challenging, it's hard.

They need their own time too. But, the work together does create growth. If we don't, then we're going to go back to ground zero and every week is from zero. So it's almost not a lasting effect and why even waste time on that. So, yeah, there you go.

Samantha: I want to, I want to kind of go back to what you just mentioned about it being a conversation between two people, and you're kind of both reading off of each other.

I feel like that's a universal truth just across the dance sport world. Whether you're working with someone that has a disability or learning difference or mobility difference, or if you're working with a completely able bodied adult, when you get into a partnership or a teaching relationship, you really are just reading off of each other and trying to figure out okay, if I move this way, how are you going to move? Okay. How can I adjust the frame to be more comfortable for my new partner? Because there's a height difference or, or we're at different levels or, you know, what, what, what have you, so from a psychology standpoint, if we could kind of get into a little bit about the interpersonal dynamics.

Anna: Even if I look from the psychology perspective, there's so many perspectives, right? Within that, whole different perspective. yes, we need to individually know what we doing as athletes or artists, whichever form you want to take as dancers in general. and as a partnership, the picture is also different. Everyone has a different idea of what couple, or partnership work should be like. some believe that it's, if I do my thing hundred percent of the time, or a hundred percent of it than the partner will react to it and it would create the magic. Perhaps. A, in my scenario, it does not work. I'm very much an energy person, I do it for the partner and I want to receive from the partners, so I look at it from the cycle point of view. more like a whole versus the parts, doing that jobs to create the whole kind of like Geshtaldt. You know, it's all about the whole and it's the energy within it. It's the full picture up all, all perspectives have their point. I mean, there is a state and time where you go through it. You know, I have to do mine now. I can focus on my partner. The downside a lot of it, a lot of the times in partnerships is too much focus on the partner. Not necessarily, I'm trying to give them the space to grow, but what is their fault? Well, you need to do this and you need to do that.

It shouldn't be that if you are doing your own thing and you're leaving the door open for an expression on the other individuals, and eventually it does evolve, it changes and you can react to it. You can choose to react to it in a different way, versus just going from a negative end. You need to improve.

You need to do this. Of course, we're all technically in different places, mentally we're in different places. It cannot be even, right, so we need to find those differences and balance it out in a form that works for each partnership. You know, some are much calmer, no stress, no fights. They just go through that monotonous journey of just repetition and repetition, repetition.

Eventually they produce the product that they're looking for. Others do need some conflict. Okay. Conflict might get into an explosion and we don't want that, but in some partnerships, conflict is good because we do need conflict to grow. Sometimes, you know, there is no little glitch. All you don't know, am I still on a plateau or are we getting a little improvement because of that little glitch or argument or, disagreeing to agree process, you know, I don't know.

Samantha: Yeah,

Anna: but my personal look, Florence is definitely looking at it as a whole, not as parts, not individual dancers, but as a couple as a whole. And how can we make that?

Samantha: Definitely. Would you apply or do you apply that same philosophy to your pro am dancing as well? because I know there, there are a couple of different approaches that instructors take when dancing with their students. Some it's to showcase the instructor, others are to showcase their students. I try with my dancing to dance at the level that I want my student to dance with. So slightly above where they're at, but not so much so that it becomes about me and my performance because it's not, it's about my student. so do you, do you take that same approach where you're looking at as what is the whole product that we're putting together?

Anna: I kind of like what you said, I'm a lot around the same wavelength and the approach. I don't say I dance their level or close to their level, but the word I like using in the pro-am setting, I don't want to overpower the student. So I still do what I believe I should do professionally because you know, that is a certain level and there are expectations.

They need to make sure I'm providing some of it. But I don't want to overpower in my energy and dance with the students trying to do so, looking at it still as a partnership and as a couple, it does help. It doesn't start from day one. Of course, we develop the skills, we still need the technique and we need those building blocks.

Before we can add that extra layer to it, but for competitions, those that are competing definitely. Yeah. And like, I can do my part. I will not over dance it. You have to carry your own self. So it's still a communication. Of course I will help them. You, you help them. We all have our little Pro-Am tricks, you know, lift the elbow, slight extra pull.

Or whatever is required, but that in itself is the dialogue between the two of us. It's not me controlling it. It's both of us doing our parts as much as we can, based on our ability level. As long as we can put enough effort, then what are the conversation takes us doesn't really matter. It's it was a nice fun talk on the dance floor.

Samantha: Yeah. When you are judging, competitions, what are you looking for? for let's specifically start with pro am and then we'll get to, upper level amateur and upper-level pro, but specifically with the Pro-Am competitors, what are you looking for in a really quality, partnership?

Anna: well, the level definitely does matter. So is it bronze, silver, gold or open up? So at a lower level, I would say, even though the partnership, the musicality, you know, being together is important, it doesn't overpower, the technique, you know, the correct footwork, the form, the visual being on time versus the musicality.

They're slightly different. So at a lower bronze, silver, I think I prioritize those more versus the connection or the partnership ability to respond to the music that's playing versus just purely being on time. at higher levels, all those kick in. So at a higher level, I look at an overall good dancing. And the good dancing has all those components. And each component varies from couple to couple and yeah, you're trying to be unbiased, but of course the personal preference at times, does kick in whether it's about style or other technical approaches, especially for American smooth, you know, it's so beautiful, but at the same time, it offers you so much.

You need to know what you like as well. So does the quality itself does not do the fairness for making a decision. So, yes, it's good quality. Everything's there. What is the decision-making fuck factor? And I know for myself, the communication in the partnership, the connection through the connection is, is, is a big time winner.

If it's present and all the aspects and kind of income comparable with the other couples that always wins for me. Couldn't be a little bit less rehearsed, maybe you might lose, I don't know, not being on phrase at some point, but if there isn't a clear communication with a partner, that's like a deal breaker. Everyone has their own point, of course. But yeah, overall just go dancing like everyone else. Good technique. Good footwork. Good form. Good frame. Everything we'll learn from day one. We step on the dance floor. But

Samantha: as, as a female instructor, in a Pro-Am relationship, when you are starting to coach students at that silver and moving them into gold level, so they're getting into the point where as a judge, you know, you would want to see communication. You want to see a strong lead and follow. You want to see that they are reacting to the music. What are some pitfalls that we can fall into as female instructors when it comes to like back leading and over rehearsed or what are some things that we should really be focusing on in our instruction to empower our leads, to really lead us through the dance.

Anna: I mean, I'm sure everyone has a little, their own approach. I am a believer that we need to be moving. If it's called dancing, we need to be moving besides just breaking into the little techniques. And I think that blocking again of the game, sometimes for pro-am students starts where we drill so much on the technique and they start understanding good, but then they get become afraid of almost taking charge and moving when it's time to dance. And at bronze and silver, it's not as obvious just because that's the main focus, but once you all of a sudden say, okay, now you can go. They're like, what'd you mean? I go, well, it's my heel toe. It's my weight balance transfer. It's all this. But because they have already grown accustomed to that habit of, well, I can't go, it has to be perfect.

That mode of perfectionism it blocks them to actually taking the step and doing something. When we normally do is move. We don't sit, that's not static, you know, it's, it's a movement and they almost forget how that pure natural expression is done when you take them through bronze to go, bronze, silver. And it's like, okay, now you're open to express yourself. What? We're not going to help me anymore. What do I do? That's what kills me the most. What do I do exactly here without my arm?

Samantha: Yes,

Anna: it belongs to you. Like I know I use hands a lot, even, probably now in your zoom talk, you'll be like, stop moving your arms and hands you're moving them too much.

It's a thing with me, my hands stop, my whole body blocks. So I know for myself, hands are a big part in my movement. Understanding the information expressing it. So, you know, your body parts by that by gold and open material, we all, you know, not experts, but we have mastered certain skills and we shouldn't be quite aware as to what our body natural that's, besides the basic skills of moving, getting up and going, standing up straight, we all have preferences.

We all know what our movement, natural movement. Is that a what'd you call it to skeleton wise? You know, what, how do our hips move? How do our feet move? Do I have a little inclination in my foot or raise an outer edge movement. So if you know those details, you're aware of your body, that you don't really need so much guidance as to how to express it. We need the technical tools to do it correctly, but the expression becomes more individual versus copying someone. So I would say that's for me, like, Oh, don't. Don't ask me, you know, can you show me the arms? No, these are the pathways you do what you want to do. You know, it's of course I can show. It's not like I can't, I can ask you what to do, but then that's me.

Samantha: Right.

Anna: That is something I would do. And I'm taking something away from you as a dancer. When, again, we're talking at a higher level.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. You can do the, okay, so this, I would do A, B, C or D depending on what type of music's going on, but I need you to find that for you, how you would react,

Anna: giving the options, giving the tools, but then there is still space for self-expression. It's not blocked to something that's the only right version. There is no only right. There is a different way for every individual. So why not find that instead?

Samantha: when we're talking, moving away from Pro-Am to, open amateur or rising star or open pro. specifically within the smooth category, navigating emotions for performance versus navigating emotions within the partnership. Because I feel like, I mean, there's a lot of blurry lines when it comes to what you're feeling with your partner, what you're supposed to be portraying in the music, how all of that interacts. in your experience, in, in with your philosophy, how, how can we equip ourselves as dancers if we don't want an interpersonal relationship with our partner to separate what we're feeling as performers from kind of the reality of our partnerships situation.

Anna: Well, to start from the beginning, right? What is emotion? It's pretty much just our choice of reacting to something. So the event or the partner or the dance.

That's not really what creates the emotion. It's what, how we choose to react to those given events to the people around us or even to the music. So if I choose not to react to it and I consider it unimportant that it will not affect me, I will not get over emotional. So within the partnership, you kind of take out that personal. If we can take out that, Oh, my partner's personally offending me or it's all about me. He's being negative towards me. So taking that out, it becomes much easier to not cope, but then share the experiences. It just becomes sharing information, not directing the information at a person. Which creates the conflict within the partnership, on the dance floor.

Of course we need to be connected. You know, like I'm a, I'm a music person from the sense I can't do phrasing, kill me. I won't do numbers, my partners have been, always doing the one, two threes and fives, and I'm like, This is that high beat. I feel connected to the music. So there's a conflict right there. It's still phrased, but different type.

You know, I feel it, I don't necessarily count there. The counters, the thinkers it's okay. You can be the way you want it to be. Its just how do we make those two oppositions work together without affecting each other. So we're not making the other person wrong and we're not taking their requests as an offense to us. Trying to soothe the energy. As far as connecting on the dance floor, to the dance, to the music. Again, everyone's different, of course, focusing on the task when you know what you're trying to do, then it doesn't really matter because you're becoming much more in control of the environment. It's no longer the music in charge of you.

It's no longer the audience affecting you. It's just your little bubble where you and your partner are in control as a couple are in control of what's going on. Or someone who was a feeler like me, you know? Yes. I love dancing too good to music, but it's more important for me, the dancing with my partner. So if I'm not feeling connected with a partner, it doesn't matter how well he's dancing or I'm dancing. I'm always dissatisfied with that performance. So I'd rather be having a good connection. Maybe not as out there and present, you know, trying to make sure I'm competing versus just the dancing for myself, but everyone's different, you know, everyone's goal is different.

So we cannot put every single competitor on the same weights. Is that what you guys call it? The, the weighting system. So whatever, whatever the focus is, I guess, whatever, whatever wavelength you function the best at, work through that. So don't focus on the weaknesses. Work through this strength and then try to take the weakness in your hand and kind of one step at a time, try to improve it instead of, okay.

I know this I'm good at it, and I'm bad at all this. Let's try to improve all that. doesn't always work well, cause that's why that enthusiasm and that joy goes out because everything's focused on something that wasn't good and you're trying to improve. You're not feeding yourself with something that satisfies you to start with. It can be the music can be, the partner can be anything. I don't know. Is it helping you or am I driving crazy all ready? She’s like push the button off.

Samantha: No, no. I think you're giving a lot of great advice and a lot of great things to think about and it, and it kind of all goes back to what you said in the very beginning, which is, you know, what.

What is your motivation for doing this and where are you finding joy and kind of focusing on that and letting that be the guiding force for everything else, through it. So, no, I, I think you're giving awesome advice and also,

Anna: I'm definitely believer and, that the skill is okay. You can have the skill, but a lot of times, and I'm sure you have witnessed it too. You'll have great dancers. Coming together to make a partnership and quality wise, it looks great. It's incomparable, but there is a missing link. It's nothing special. You're like, well, that didn't quite blend, you know? And for me, the ability to really bring the best out of each other as a couple, not out of myself, but out of my partner and vice versa, I think that's a better experience in the journey way above the quality way, way above the technique and the form that we're trying to produce. And all of that, of course, with education, with knowledge and with practice enhances the performance in the end. But if it's more about the two people as one dancing to the music, not the parts, and then it makes it much more magical, almost more special.

Samantha: Yeah, definitely. I feel like we're seeing that a lot in American smooth, especially the direction that it's going. It's moving, at least in my opinion, more about two people telling a story on the dance floor together, which I really, really love. This is just my opinion. I see Latin competition currently moving in the exact opposite direction where it's about two people that are really good at dance dancing next to each other.

And I'm missing some of that. Ooziness, I'm missing some of that, like pull, like pull me in as an audience member. So are you seeing the same thing as a judge or do you see it moving kind of in the opposite?

Anna: I mean it's, it's all good. All progress is good. All change is good. And each, each style is going through its own transition. We can say, you know, smooth is in a great place right now. I think that's why we're all enjoying it because of course it's a cycle. Or if you're thinking of like a ladder, right. Go one step up. It's still a plateau. There is a time for that plateau before another growth happens, another transition happens. So I feel like the Latin is a little bit stuck there because of that introduction of the speed, more athleticism that kind of kicked in, it took away something from the art scope of it. The individuality has disappeared a little bit. Everyone's trying to be the fastest or the coolest, or the, I don't know how jumping the highest, which is all good.

We need all that. That's part of the progress, but then eventually it'll come the next layer where, well, they'll find, okay, we've done all this. We need to pamper with the arts scope of it. And then one step at a time. Smooth is definitely at a place where, you see the characters, you see the individuality of the couples, couples are daring to be different.

As the style itself allows us to experiment much more. And the danger is not to go away from the foundation of it because it's still a form of ballroom dancing. There's still technique involved, even though it has so much open door space for you to experiment. We can't take away the fund, foundation. And I felt like the danger with some of the couples who are just jumping into the style because it's so beautiful.

They forget that there is still a beginning, you know, there's still a ballroom form. It can be. Well, whatever style they choose it to be. It can be more on the modern and it can be more jazzy and it can be definitely more classic. It's all yours. Avant garde, abstract, just like paintings. You know, everyone has their own choice, but there's always technique underneath the technical.

This present is the quality understanding is present. Then as far as what style they have chosen to express it as a couple. It doesn't matter anymore. It's still good dancing. It attracts the eye. So then my biases as a judge or as an audience, it goes away. I just like watching the product can be an impressionistic, can be, academic style. It doesn't really matter. It's good dancing.

Samantha: Is there a percentage threshold when you're judging, if you're watching for how much you want to see that foundation? Like if I watch in a whole waltz and you never give me a natural turn in hold, well, it doesn't really matter how expressionistic you are. I'm going to rank you lower. Or is it just individual couple based on what you're feeling and what you're seeing?

Anna: The technique comes through, doesn't matter what material you're doing. So am I, or, and half natural or natural turn in a pro couple. No, of course I'm not looking at it. I don't have the time physically. I don't have the time, it's seconds for me to make the decision, but the quality of the understanding of the form, the understanding of the techniques still comes across.

Even if you're doing a fancy jazz action. How you hold your body, how you use your back, how you use your feet and ankles, you're balanced on the floor, your connection to the partner. Well, the better all that is says, the fundamental aspects must be happening. So my physical looking for, Oh, it's a ballroom. So I need to see the ballroom. Well, no, because I don't have the time. For syllabus level, we have invigilators for that to make sure that everyone's kind of following through the rules. As a judge, I don't have the time. I just want the quality. Of course, if I see a beautiful half natural that might, you know, pumper my heart.

Oh, nice. They're trying to do it, but it's definitely not a decision maker. It's not a breaker point. It's just the choice of what step you decided to do. Same like with tricks. You know, some people are very good at tricks. They're good. They're very limber. I was never the most limber person. I was not flexible. I had to find my ways of how to use my back and hips and my joints. To give that illusion that I'm very flexible. I think it worked well and definitely more expressive in the arms. And so I was like, okay, taking that as a strength, but tricks were never my strength. So I never, ever tried to focus on it. I think in my whole career of smooth, I have done one or two leg lines where I pick my leg up just because you need to do something. but it's worked when I've found a happy balance within all the partnerships. And it's, it's different for everyone. Choose whatever you're choosing to do, choose your style, but don't forget that the basics are still there. They're still essential. And without them, without those foundational blocks, we can build something on top of it that's going to be lasting. You know, if you don't have the feet footwork and not just the pure footwork of heel and toe, but the correct articulation of feet and ankles, which assist us in transferring the weight from foot to foot. Well, you can't tell me then from beginning to the dance, to the end, the form that you were trying to show me is going to be full and authentic and just whatever it is you're trying to portray. That's all.

Samantha: That's all.

Anna: Simple

Samantha: Well, and, and I'm sure that someone who's listening, this is going okay. So we talked about the fact that we don't want to get locked in, in technique, and we want to move through technique, but we also need to have technique and be really confident in our foundation. It's like, Welcome to dance sport. This is,

Anna: I mean, you say that because when I was doing a masters and we had some legal courses and all the like legal courses were taught by a district attorney, and he always like to put out a question for discussion and the classroom was about 15-16 students, but the whole class was divided, but the law end and they encouraged, you know, black and white and.

And the ones like the psychology fields, you know, the theories. And that would be the only one in the middle on like, well, it depends kind of from here and kind of from here. So I guess it's good.

It's food for thought. I don't want to say it's this or that. We all have a point. There's two sides to the coin and not only two sides, there is a whole spectrum. That's why I like the word in the autism spectrum. The whole spectrum. There's so many shades of the same thing with technique is always there. The definition is there. What we do with that definition is what really matters. Apple is an Apple, but how we choose to look at it, you know, whether you like it or not. Some people pick them by colors. Preference kicks in, in essence, Apple is an Apple, it's just a fruit something you eat, but you know, some like it, some don't like it, some prefer colors, some prefer shades.

So that's why it's beautiful. You know, it's not, it's not a computer science where it's on a graph, each dot looks the same and we just try to connect them know the beauty of the art form more. So.

Samantha: Yeah, well, and, and, and to kind of go back to a little bit of like psychology theory, it's a lot about scaffolding and a lot about there, there really isn't in dancesport an end point.

So you have to get to that next level and then figure out, okay, how do I live in this moment for a while? How do I succeed in this moment before moving up and picking at what point you prioritize the sport versus the art, the technique versus the expression. What do I need in this moment to succeed, to find joy, to get to the next step.

Anna: that's where goal setting is good. You know, putting, although I'm not a firm believer, then once you set a goal, that's the only thing you need to do because the pathways can, can change. And the goal itself can change. Re-evaluating the goal once its been set periodically. I feel like it's important because we all, as people change, our approach changes where we are cognitively and physically changes.

So the preference is changed based on that. So having a goal, having little goals towards the big one, but at the same time, still stopping after maybe achieving each small goal and reevaluating, is it still the goal I'm going towards to the target or is it still, it might be the same target, but with a different approach. So not getting stuck on that pathway. Only it can be different, but unless we stop and look back. And then look at the goal and see, plus compared to where we are at the moment, not where we were a month ago, because a month ago was something different. I think that helps with knowing, okay, what is the next thing I need to do? Well, we just set it up and go towards it and then get stuck because we're like a block closed door and we're hitting it. It doesn't open. I think that's where problems start. The goal can be there. It's, it's just something to get us motivated, inspired to move towards. Cause people would, are we're lazy creatures. Right? Just give us a cup of tea and coffee maybe, and sit there. So. We need motivation. So goal is a good motivation to go towards to, but doesn't mean it's the end of the road. You know, the journey, the process is so much more rewarding and satisfying. The goal might be there. You get to the goal, you grab that trophy and what.

You are satisfied for five seconds and that's about it. Maybe in the memories, if you get stuck in the memory lane and you don't want to leave the trophy because you made it, you want it. But in essence, it's the process that you need to enjoy more. That's where you spend the most time, you know, and our time in this life, right? All our time in this world is limited. So why not enjoy the journey and all the good that it gives us through the process of practicing without our partners going to the competitions, whatever it is, making a call back to the next round, or just meeting all the other competitors. Feeding off that positive energy. Okay. Sometimes negative, but that's okay. We can still transform negative into positive. It's all a perspective. And what do we do with the material that we have at hand? Just enjoy that.

Samantha: I like it. I like it. Really quick. Before we wrap up for today, I would be remiss if I did not mention City Lights Open in San Jose, you're a co owner or co-organizer of that event.

give us, give us the 30 second elevator spit, speech. What is city lights open? When is it held? How do we get involved in it?

Anna: That's my baby. What I call it? It's where I have fun. I give a lot of hugs. That's the positive hugs destination for people because we all run comps. So what's different, nothing, just another event, but definitely has a nice, warm energy about it.

It's at the end of the last weekend of January. We're just hoping fingers crossed. We can run it this year. So on the final discussions with the hotel, that's the last weekend of January. It's in downtown San Jose, California Marriott lovely hotel, compact, cozy around nice restaurants under the assumption that we're not in quarantine and it's open. It will still hopefully be lovely, just a nice destination for friends to meet dance on the floor. Share the love for dancing. Enjoy life. That's all.

Samantha: are you, are we, are we hopeful that we can do it in person this year? Is there a backup plan to do it virtual? Where are you?

Anna: Might do certain categories virtually because there was a lot of people they know they will not be coming, but they would like to have at least like feedback format.

So maybe do certain divisions where they can get not necessarily marks from the judges, but like a solo format. They can get feedback. as far as percentage was outset, 70, 30, 70. Percent chance of happening, if nothing changes with the current situation, the elections, and there's so many extra outside, You know, influences, but hopefully we can run it.

It will be of course limited. And the attendance, from the attendance aspect of it, but I'm sure we can make it work. So just trying to finalize certain things before I put it out there, I, I, I don't like putting something out, then canceling. So I rather hold it a bit later and then tell people we're on, you know, you can get, get going and get planning.

But I mean, this whole year has been experience. It's been a transition for everyone, every industry, everything. So not rushing, just kind of going with the flow and hopefully it'll, the turnaround will be faster than we're all anticipating.

Samantha: Awesome. yeah. Speaking of this year, just kind of throwing everything for a loop. You mentioned earlier that you had moved some of your, private lessons and group lessons online, specifically with, AS Dance for Autism, and I'm assuming your regular private lessons as well. have you been able to go out and judge any in-person competitions? Have you done any of the online competitions or have you kind of just avoided all of that this year?

Anna: I wouldn't say I have avoided the online competitions. I did one at the very beginning of the quarantine, but it was just to get the experience and the taste, I guess. It wasn't my cup of tea. And I don't like doing something when I don't really enjoy. So I didn't do anything that followed, in-person not yet. lessons definitely were on. I'm positive even if things go back to the new normal or the norm, whatever the word is or going to be, online will definitely stay as a normal part of our teaching resources or for our teaching resources.

We never looked at it that way. So quarantine was a good thing, had a positive effect too. Now there is another way of learning, not necessarily physically the dancing, but the mindset aspect of the conversations. A lot of the thing that's done behind the physical practice end of the game. I think the zooms online lessons classes have been very useful and it's definitely much more, Financially efficient, you know, it's less expensive.

You just pay for the instructors time versus all those travel expenses, whether it's yours or the instructors. So it's definitely more accessible. The information is now more accessible. Teachers, coaches worldwide are more accessible, so it has a positive side to it as well. It's not all negative. It just, we're hoping the economy will get back more stable, but, overall it's, it's just been a new learning tools, skill experience. Of course not everybody likes it, but if that's the direction the world's going. I think it would be stupid of us not to kind of dig into it and try to at least try to understand why or what can we do with this. And only say no.

Samantha: Definitely

Anna: kind of accustomed to that, our old traditions and fashions and that's wonderful, but I think the new lifestyle also offers something. And we can learn from it.

Samantha: Absolutely. Well, and it creates opportunity for individuals that want to dance, but maybe don't have a dance studio that's within an hour or two hours of them that they can just hop online and take a class. Or, like you mentioned, for those of us that have students that want to get outside coaching. It's expensive to try and fly in a coach just for one student, but if we can pop on a zoom lesson and get, the same 45 minutes. That's an incredible bonus. You miss some of that like physical connection. You can't always see everything in zoom

Anna: components are lacking, but, information wise, the concepts, it doesn't matter which setting they are spoken about. You know, and I always say a lot of the times, a lot of the learning is done not really on the dance floor. It's off the dance floor. The stories, as we were talking about through experiences, through sharing information, through sharing knowledge and all of that's not always practice. Like we always say, you know, nine 90% is in the mind and only 10% for the body. Of course, it's not such a rigid number.

It's probably about 60, 40, 70, 30, but definitely the biggest component on all that improvement at the end of the day is between our two ears. So. Physically we can learn. Body does so much, then body let's go. Now, what do you do with it? It's all totally up to you. Yep. Definitely cool tool. I like it for a person who hates cameras, who hates speaking in like almost microphone camera format.

definitely was a push for me, out of my comfort zone, but it's learning why not learn something new and see what's what you can do with it.

Samantha: Definitely. Definitely love it. Well, thank you so much for being a guest today. Is there anything else that you wanted to talk to our listeners about any tips or tricks? Anything that you wanted to plug.

Anna: I think if it kept plugging and we keep talking, we won't end of the conversation. So next time over coffee in person.

Samantha: Yes. Yes. Definitely looking forward to getting back and seeing people face-to-face and having a cup of coffee. So definitely

Anna: Thank you for having me sweetie.

Samantha: Thank you again to Anna Shahbazyan for being a guest on today's podcast. If you'd like to follow the City Lights Open, or if you want to find out how you can support AS Dance for Autism, you can do so using the links in the description box below.

As always, I'm your host, Samantha with love live dance. You can find the podcast versions of these episodes at ballroomchat.com and you can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. As always, thank you for your support. Stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing.