Focus on the basics with Ian Gillett: Ian Gillett

Samantha StoutJune 08, 2020Ballroom Chat: Episode #9
Ballroom Chat #9: Ian Gillett
Ian Gillett is a US Pro-Am National Champion in Smooth and Standard, a World Masters Pro-Am Champion in Smooth and Standard, World Pro-Am Champion in Smooth, a Regional Examiner for DVIDA, Former Collegiate Assessment Director for USISTD, and several times over Top Teacher Winner. We talk about his start in the industry, the importance of a good foundation, returning to the basics at every level, and the evolution of Standard and Smooth dance styles.
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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

SAMANTHA: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the ballroom chat podcast and live stream. thank you for joining us this morning on YouTube. if you are tuning in live, welcome so glad to have you. I am your host, Samantha from love live dance, and today I have a several times top teacher award winner, a former collegiate assessment director for USISTD, regional examiner for DVIDA, US national pro am winner for both smooth and standard, a world master champion for Pro-Am smooth and standard, and just an amazing coach.

I have Mr. Ian Gillett.

IAN: Thank you very much. What a lovely, welcome. I hardly recognize myself.

SAMANTHA: so I am so glad to have you this morning. we're going to talk a lot about, the importance of basics and, how to continue your dance training while you're at home, as well as some other technical stuff. but before we jump into it, for those that maybe aren't familiar with you or your background, tell us a little bit about how you got started in the industry.

IAN: Well, this is quite a long time ago. My father, at the time worked for a company that had a national chain of men's wear suits and he was progressing through the company and he was offered a big promotion and the promotion necessitated in being able to drive into the head office, which was based west of London, the place called Ruislip. My parents lived about two, three hours North of the Capitol. So my father accepted the new job. And so we moved as a family and we, well, my parents bought a house in a place called Colnbrook. Now most people will never heard of Colnbrook at all, but if you've ever flown into also announce it is that essentially one of the main runways, very, very easy, very convenient for actually getting in to London for lessons becuase there was a motorway called the M4 which took you right into the West End.

So my parents enrolled me in a primary school, which was about eight minutes walk, the new house and in my class was a girl called Sharon and, Sharon, actually danced. She was a ballroom dancer and her mum friended, my mom and Sharon's mom said, well, why don't you take your Ian for some ballroom dancing lessons. My Sharon, she loves it. So my mom took me for a group class, the children's class on a Saturday afternoon, and I absolutely loved it. And so I went back again and again, and ordered some shoes, black patent little shoes, which I just adored. and from there I started taking private lessons with my first teacher Sue McGuiness. And, I did actually dance with Sharon for about six months. I'm not really sure why the partnership ended. I have a feeling that she moved anyway.

Unbeknownst to me, the dance school that Sharon went to was run by Ken Bateman and Blanche Ingle, and they had a very, very successful school. It was in a place called Slough and they, they worked out of the Slough community center, which was this sprawling place. Huge floor that they use for competitions and other, room, large room that they ran their private lessons and their closed school competitions. Another big space for the children's classes.

So it was, it was a really, really good school. And when I kind of talked to you, if they have the dances that came out of that studio, Richard and Janet Gleave, Alan and Hazel Fletcher, even Jonathan Wilkins, they all came out Kevin and Blanche's school. So it had a very very good reputation. So I was just very, very lucky That, Just happened to find that that place, that studio. So I had a couple of partners from Sharon. I moved on to Tracy and Tracy's parents for sure. Move immigrated to Australia. And then I ended up with a, another group girl called SAMANTHA Tiger, unusual name. and I joined the formation team. The juvenile formation team started competing. and that's when, When I was competing at one point that's when the parents of Carol Dixon, who is my last partner is a chief now approach my parents. and so, you know, would, would I be interested in competing with their daughter? And my parents said yes, and kind of really that kind of catapulted my way up through the juvenile ranks.

what was interesting is that Carol's parents, Tony and Chris were dancers themselves were professional dancers. good, good standard as well. And Tony had recommended, you know That it would be a good idea to really get some top class coaching. And so Tony somehow approached Brenda Winslade. Now, I don't know if you've heard of Brenda, but Peter Eggleton and Brenda Winslade are icons of ballroom dancing and, competed against Bill and Bobbie Irvine in the late sixties, early seventies, the duels between the two couples are still legendary. It's unfortunate now because dancers. Don't really current from where we are at the moment. They don't probably know some of the icons, Peter and Brenda were legendary. And, so Tony approached Brenda, Brenda said, yes, sure. I'll come. and Carol and I, we're the only juvenile couple that Brenda ever, ever taught.

Brenda really just focused on coaching the right top. so, Fortunately for Tony persuaded Brenda to, to take us on the wing. And, so from there we did, we did, you know, extremely, extremely well. So that was my kind of journey into ballroom dancing. Cause it had it not been for my dad's promotion and Sharon being in my class, et cetera.

So it's funny how. You know, life changes, different connections that you can make

SAMANTHA: Well, and often times it's not until many years later that we have the hindsight to say just how many things had to line up in our lives to get to the point that we needed to be at.

IAN: Yup. Absolutely. Of course. I'm very fortunate that I'm on the path and the journey that I am right now.

SAMANTHA: We do have one question from our US audience in the chat. Matthew would like to know, isn't, isn't Slough the setting for the British version of the office. So putting, putting British cities into context a little bit.

IAN: Yeah. I do not know the answer to that. It could well be. I am not familiar with that particular comedy seried. but, Yeah, no, I have no idea whether or not the Slought Community Center it still exists? Cause I haven't haven't visited the area well. So, so well since I was with the school.

SAMANTHA: Well, we'll have to look it up after the fact we'll have to Google it. So, youth, amateur program in the UK, how did we get from dancing as a youth in the juvenile categories, in the UK to now being a recognized top instructor in the US?

IAN: well, my coach, Brenda. Sadly passed away. In November of 1979 and I was about 14 at the time. And I just decided that I was just going to focus on my school work and focus on my O levels. which are examinations that you took when you were 16. And that's what I did. And so I took a break from dancing for about seven years. I still had itchy feet, so to speak during that period, I would still attend competitions and stuff, but I wasn't actively looking for a partner anyway. I decided that I really wanted to return. And so I had a couple of amateur partners and I just decided, because it was difficult cause I'm very tall and slim. I'm getting a part of that was, the right height. And, ability and the rest of it was quite difficult in those days.

I had always wanted to teach, so I made the decision to turn professional. I started studying, and I took my first professional degree with the ISTD in Latin American dancing. And that happens in December of 1989, and then, through the studio that I was affiliated with, I met somebody who suggested that you might want to go to America and put me in touch with somebody else who put me in touch with a couple that ran a studio in Florida in Fort Myers.

I went to the studio for about a week to see whether or not I would like it. The clientele, so to speak, the average age of the students was probably about 75, and it just wasn't, I dunno, apart from this humidity, Which I've never experienced before. I remember getting off the US airways flight at Fort Myers, getting on to the jet bridge and just hit this wall of like humidity. I mean, it was, it was really quite unexpected and,

SAMANTHA: well, and I imagine too, coming from a very like formal structured, a youth oriented program in the UK to suddenly having your first American experience be in Florida of all places, which I love Florida, but it's a little bit of a culture shock. Let's be honest.

IAN: People do love Florida and of course its very popular and so you know say nothing negative, but for me at that time, it was, it was, it was a not something that I could see myself, you know, living there, the humidity did bother me, it doesn't so much now. Yeah. So that unfortunately didn't work out and, I knew somebody in LA, who was looking for an amateur. And so she, well, there was a pro.

She invited me to spend some time with her, which I did just to kind of like seek out the LA scene and kind of just kind of get to know people, et cetera. And, I got to know somebody else who had a lesson with Len vice. And Len was teaching this pro from Northern Virginia. And so basically I obtained the information and contacted this dancer Stacey and I moved to the United States. and, this is in the early nineties and, to, to train and to partner her and that didn't last. And then I just decided to really focus on my own education and building up my, pro-am base. I'm building up my teaching business as well. So that's essentially what I did.

I had a couple of partners after that last partner was Wendy Davis, whos danced with Jonathan Wilkins. And that was about 20 years ago now. And so I retired from pro pro in 2000 and, then really ramped up my pro-am business. So that's kind of where I got to. And then I retired from pro-am. In September of 2018, having won the world championship competing at USDC made finals et cetera. So, and now I'm in Northern California.

SAMANTHA: It all comes full circle,

IAN: Indeed. But I should tell you a little story actually about this. before I moved to America before I even thought of moving to America. One of my coaches. Saw a clairvoyant and she said, Oh, you must see this woman. So made an appointment to go see her. And she said that I would be living in California at some point in the future and also other things that were accurate as well.

SAMANTHA: Interesting. I like it. I like it. Well, and, I imagine too, that having all of those different experiences being in youth, then coming and teaching while also competing as a pro and then building out your Pro-Am base.

I mean, that has to set you up for a great foundation of understanding, in addition to all of your certifications and your formal education with, I STD and with DVIDA to have a really well rounded view, when you step out onto the floor as a judge, to know what you're looking for and to have a better understanding of where each dancer is in their understanding, I imagine.

IAN: And I think really it comes down again to making sure that you have. It's a very, very good foundation of all that. I'm very, very happy to say that I have, I have had an excellent foundation. I had two coaches when primary coaches, when I was a juvenile, one for ballroom, which was Brenda, and one for Latin, which was Robert O'Hara and both were.

The best in the business, in my opinion. and they instilled discipline. They instilled the correct. The correct technique Brenda particularly was big on feet. and you know, if ever I missed a foot closing in Waltz, I would know about it. She would say, you must have neat feet. So, you know, simple things like precision of the feet closing, which we call blocked feet, is one of the inherent characteristics of Waltz. And yet, so many times you see poor foot closures or no foot poachers at all. So simple things like that. You know, just, fundamentally important. so yes you are correct. So I'm very fortunate. I have had a very, very strong background. I've also worked with a number of different coaches over time.

So you kind of get to see their opinion. And I've always been a believer, particularly when it comes to Pro-Am of having a third eye. you know, no matter how good a pro is, you need a coach there because sometimes what you, I feel within closed hold is not always what the judge is seeing. Something can feel terrific internally, but you look at it, you know, being videoed or coach will say, no, this does not look good. So, you know, I greatly value. And having had coaching myself for, well, not only of course when I was a pro pro, but also with my, my students as well.

SAMANTHA: Well, and for, for a little bit of context, for those that are either listening to this later in the podcast or, or live with us in the chat, You have been that third eye for, for myself and for my students recently. Well, it's been a year now. Oh my goodness. but, but having you in the room and getting that extra coaching, not only for my students, but also for me, just personally, trying to continue my education is so helpful for that. The very same reason when we're instructing a student and we're in frame with them.

We're going off of what does it feel like? Right. Does this feel like all of the other experiences that I've had, does this feel different? Can I, is there a hesitation? Is there something out of place, but we can't step back and then also see what it looks like when it's moving, from an outside perspective outside of filming, but we know that film, doesn't tell you the whole story, right?

It's very hard to pick apart video in the same way that you can. Being in the same room. during that coaching experience with you, you had mentioned to me that you were still going out and working with other instructors yourself to, to get your own education, even at your level. So I think that that transitions really well into talking about, no matter if you're a beginner and intermediate and advanced or a very advanced instructor, How, how can we continue to recenter ourselves and put the importance on going back to the basics and focusing on that at whatever level we are?

IAN: Well, yeah, you're right. I'm a firm believer of continuing education, because the dance industry is such that you can never know everything. You know, it, you all missed this continual learning path. Oh, so yes, I still go back to England and I get my coaching because I want to know. Whether I agree or disagree, what the latest teaching techniques are, how I can improve my own coaching, what tidbits of information I can glean, what can I use? What can I translate? What's going to be valuable, for, for me, to teach my own students and to teach other couples and to teach other pros.

So, I'm a huge believer of continuing education, whether it's getting coaching or whether it's continuing or dancing degrees with whichever society that you're with. and certainly the moment I've noticed with the current situation we're in. You know, we're not going to get into today. there has been an uptick in interest, from professionals that are interested in getting theory coaching. That's something that I specialize in, for, you know, either I work with candidates that are training. for either DVIDA or the USISTD. and, so there has definitely been more interest recently with of course a lot of people have more time on their hands, but going back to your part of your question about being caught and some basics, I think most top pros would agree that it's very important to not only practice your competitive routines, but to practice basic material as well.

When I was competing professionally, in the nineties, up to 2000. The USISTD ran three competitions a year, and they always had a professional basics division and most, if not, all of the pros, whether it was standard or latin,would compete, not only in the open, but also in the professional basics and I think that this was very, very valuable and it was very interesting because some of the couples that would do relatively well in the open division would not play so the well in the closed division. And what I mean by basics, it was, it was closed so the best. You could dance bronze silver or gold, but you couldn't dance above gold.

That's what I mean by basics competition. I think there's only one event now that I'm aware of. There may be more and that's Virginia state that also continued that tradition. but I, again, you can all, I mean, you can spend years on a feather step and reverse turn and three steps. You can spend years on the swing of a one to three of a natural turn and so have some basic material that you can practice, I think is, is very, very valuable.

SAMANTHA: Absolutely. Absolutely. And yes, I think you're absolutely right. Going back to heal leads and driving or closing your feet if you're in bronze or you're in gold. if you are doing rhythm or Latin, working on Rumba, walks for hours and hours and hours.

IAN: We're working on your box, step in rhythm and et cetera, et cetera. But yeah, I mean, yeah, you can, you, it's interesting because I find that what are the cute peculiarities between standard and Latin? And we know that they're two different dance thoughts, but one of the key of peculiarities is that I find that a lot of women, a lot of females will work a lot on Rumba walks and it's emphasized a great deal. And yet when it comes to ballroom the equivalent, which would be the backward walking action and the forward walking action is not practiced nearly as much. And I think even kind of like when you are learning the basics, it's very important.

To be able to implement and to execute the correct backward walking and action. And that is where I would say you want to start is start with that. And if you are a student, I would highly encourage you to ask your teacher to drill this into you. And I know when I have a beginning student in either standard or smooth.

I would spend time before learning any pattern just by going through that backward walking action, forward walking action because it it's inherent to every dance in standard.


IAN: And Smooth for that matter.


IAN: So, I think that's a very, very, necessary, drill.

SAMANTHA: Yes. Well, and I think too, just to, just to add to that, most of my students are older. Most of my students are doing this from either hobby perspective or competitive dance is a. Secondary focus. It's not necessarily the primary driver. but what I hear often from leads is, Oh, I don't need to worry about, I don't need to practice my backward step because I'm only ever traveling forward.

If I'm doing standard or smooth, which just factually isn't correct. Right. If you're doing a box step you're in place, you're going forward half the time and backwards, half the time. And on the flip side, I hear from my ladies very often. Oh, I don't need to worry about going forward because I'm always going backwards.

It's like you have to cross train your body so that you can go forward and backwards and left and right in equal measure because we use those four actions and every step that we take in dance, regardless of whether you're the leader of the follow,

IAN: you know, it's true. Followers will move backwards more than what leaders. Well, I mean, that's the nature of the beast this week. So that is, but there are opportunities when as a follower that you will be moving forward and you will have to take. Okay. So, you know, and I see that a lot, you know, I'll give an example, in standards in waltz, for example, natural spin turn four, five, six, reverse turn.

The number of times that a heel lead from the following is not taken on that fourth step of the four, five, six, of the reverse turn. so, yeah, it is important then, then when you get to, for example, International Foxtrot with the reverse wave, follower has to take a number of heel leads in a row. So, I think, it is important to get used to moving backwards and forwards, irrespective of whether you are a leader or a follower.

SAMANTHA: Absolutely. I, I think you, I think that's absolutely correct. especially for follows. I think it's interesting that you pointed out that we do, most women spend hours and hours and hours warming up doing rumba walks, but very infrequently.

Do you see those same female students doing standard lines and doing heel leads going forwards or, or, or, heel releases coming backwards? do you have any tips or tricks for instructors that are trying to instill that mindset in their students? So anything from an instructor standpoint where you can, where you've had success, conveying the importance of that to a student that's maybe hesitant to practice it in the same, in the same manner.

IAN: What I would say is that backward walking action for a follower is quite difficult. Particularly when you're, when you're wearing a competitive shoe, were you wearing a shoe? Were you wearing. You know, two, two and a half or even three inch heels. believe it or not. Brenda, I have pictures where she's wearing these very thin stiletto heels, three inch heels, so it is very, very difficult because your way has to go through that tiny surface area when you're rolling your body weight through the heel, and that's very difficult. so I think it's important. To get students to wear a jazz shoe or something that's very flat that has a very, very low heel, minimal heel, because it is a lot easier.

There's no question about it. and to. So to really also understand the importance of where the center weight or middleweight position or full extent of the stride into the center, where that point is because often when your feet, harnessing for example, Foxtrot, we have to also understand where ultimately we're trying to move the body weight to, and I think sometimes we don't spend long enough on the journey of the weight transference from foot to foot. We are in a bit of a rush to transfer the weight from foot to foot. So it's important to understand that. Point where your weight is centrally divided between the heel of the front foot and the toe of the back, and to get used to that point, because that often is the destination of weight.

The destination of weight is not always to the foot. It depends on what you're doing, obviously. but I think to get that feeling of, of where the weight. Is that precise moment when, when you are at that split weight position is very important and also to be very sensitive, to be physically and mentally aware of, of the fact that, that the heel of the back foot must not low too quickly. That is a big thing. You know, if you look at any of the descriptions of the backward walk, it will say something like the back heel must lower with control and the slow slowly and with control. Because once that heel does lower too quickly, the weight will then move to the foot too fast and then it will pull the person moving forward.

That's very important, and I think also it's good when a follower actually dances the forward walk and the teacher would dance the back walk and the teacher assumes they're a bad student, possibly. And it's the actual, student is the teacher. So there's, you know, there's a role reversal where even if you're in a, kind of a very open hold, if the teacher were to actually transfer weight back too fast to lower the back heel too quickly, how that pulls the weight of the person, how it would pull the students moving forward? So I think role reversal, so is very, very important for that. And I think role reversal is important for everything. In actual fact, when I was, I used to run a number of group group classes a few years ago. And I would actually have role reversal classes.

So all the men had to dance as follower and all the women had to dance, as lead. And it was only, it was just very basic steps. It wasn't anything difficult, but, I find that you really learned so much more about your own role when you're in the opposite role.


IAN: So that's a very good teaching tool because we know when you're dancing as follower, you sometimes don't realize, when, you're heavy or your side's collapsed, or you transfer weight too quickly, or it headweights in the wrong position, or you're not counterbalancing all the rest of it. And I think if, if the teacher were to take hold as follower, where the student is the leader from here and demonstrate what it feels like.

Something does go wrong when you, those fore mentioned elements go wrong. It really makes it a lot clearer. So, so I, I, you know, I, again, I'm a big fan of role reversal. I think it's a very, very good teaching skill to have.

SAMANTHA: I 100% agree. I think swapping lead and follow positions and putting students in an in uncomfortable positions where perhaps they've never experienced it from the follow's perspective, or they've never thought about what the leader needs to do in this situation, is a great instructional tool and a great learning tool. if you are a student that really wants to take your, understanding of the dance to the next level, spend a couple of weeks learning the opposite, the opposite role, and being in that position and getting a better understanding of it. I think the other thing that you, you spoke about, Relating to your spine position and your weight and your foot position and the foot action, goes back to something that I've been working with my students on the last couple of weeks, which is just body awareness.

You know how if, if you start from a stopping standpoint and imagine a marker on the floor, Can you, can you accurately place the marker that is your forward step? Or do you know where you're going to end every single time you do a promenade turning left in tango? Can you accurately guess how close you're going to get to that wall or the chair?

If you're doing a natural turn, because if you can't answer those questions, that means that you need to do that same pattern a million times until you know, or you know exactly where does. Your elbow, extension need to be, if you're holding frame, is it too low? Is it too high? What does that mean? That your shoulder is feeling like having that, that internal awareness and also that spatial awareness is really so crucial when it comes to floor craft and dancing with a partner.

IAN: Yeah. Yeah. There are, there are, you know, in a very kind of rudimentary. Sense. There are three vital elements that you have to be aware of. Oh, one is internal. So a feeling of, you know, I think internal also, We're now starting to get into the sixth sense, which is kinesthetics, and, the Alexander technique, and I'm not going to go into that, but, I think that's a very valuable avenue for teachers to possibly. look at because of the Alexander technique and role dancing there are a lot of similarities, but you know, being aware of, you know, if I close, if I close my eyes and I'd say I take up hold, and if I raise my right arm, which I know is too high.

I move that right arm and the hand near to my body, I know the precisely when my fingers touch my nose. So, and that's what we call the sixth sense, which is kinesthetic. And it's about the relationship of one body part to another. So I know approximately how far away it is to my right side. I know the angle, I know how far my left hand is near to my face. I'll often when we take hold, we take hold and we, we don't really have that awareness. We just start? We take, hold and thats it. And so sometimes when there is a change in the frame for whatever, we're just not aware of it. and so I think kinesthetic sense is, is, is, very, very interesting, so very interesting theory.

Having a lot of self awareness is very important. So you've got to be internally aware. You've got to be externally aware of your partner, but often when we dance, we are sometimes more externally aware than what we are internally because of the touch that we have. So that's the big thing.

The other external is music because at the end of the day, we're trying to actually dance with somebody to music. And often we are not, when it comes down to much high level of musicality and characterization of the dance, we're not listening enough to the melody. It's the melody that really brings out the nuances. It brings out the feelings, et cetera, et cetera. And I think often we're not, we're not listening to, to the music enough. So external music, external partner, internal yourself.

SAMANTHA: Love it love it. we did have a question from a little bit back from the chat, which is if video isn't sufficient, what's the correct approach since in person is so much more difficult now and in some areas of the country still not an option. For me personally, I wouldn't say that that video doesn't work. It's just not going to get you the whole vision. Right. in, in a couple previous episodes, I think it was James his episode. I mentioned that, you know, your value for dollar for instruction goes so much farther in a private instruction than it does in group classes.

Even if you are in person taking those group classes, you aren't going to get the same quality of instruction in a group class environment that you would in way. One-on-one private lesson. the same goes for video versus in-person. You can still learn a whole lot from video instructions. And actually personally, I just, purchased the video instruction from the mastery camps from Slawek and Marzena is a mastery camps online, which obviously normally in Vegas, not an option this year. so I'm looking forward to learning what I can from those instructors. The thing with video, is it just, it doesn't show the full. Breadth of, of the shapes and the experience you lose some quality, you lose some detail.

So it's not to say that video isn't an option. It's a great option right now. It's just, I would not learn. I would not encourage a student to learn solely from video instruction. What's what's your kind of take on that.

IAN: Yeah. I think videos can be a quite. Valuable, but you're right. They, they lose something in translation, so to speak. So I often find that when I look at videos and, supposedly technique, lectures, for example, that, there are, there can be some very interesting and very valuable points made, but. How'd you apply them? What are the rules? You know, what are the exceptions to the rules? so sometimes it can be a little bit vague in terms of the rules that are being taught. so yeah, it's, it's, it's difficult. What I would say is that. With FaceTime and Zoom now being more popular than ever, particularly zoom that if you do have, if you have looked at a lecture or looked at something online, do you then follow that up with your teacher? I know that's not, you know, the ideal thing, the ideal thing is to be there in a studio environment with your actual, with your pro, but at least then, You've gone through the, the lecture with your pro and look at how you can implement it within your own dancing. Look, the, you know, the always there are always exceptions to rules and that's the thing. What did it, what is, what is the exception to the rule that's been taught? So, I think probably that would be the way of, of following up from looking at one of these videos.

SAMANTHA: Yep. Well, and, and I think, I think that's a good point that there's always the exception to the rule and the technique that works for a pro dancer of a certain experience level and a certain height. And just a certain physicality is not going to work on everyone, you know, going, going back to your experience in, in Florida, if you have a retirement community or retirement age individuals. Certainly a lot of the students that I'm currently working with, I'm not going to teach the same rumble walk to you that Yulia dances with Ricardo. It, it biomechanically everyone's bodies and everyone's injuries are different. So yeah, it's a great learning tool.

It's a great opportunity to learn information and then ask follow up questions. When you do have your regular instructor in front of you.

IAN: And I think in many, when it comes to technique in ballroom dancing, it's akin to politics because. There are so many different ways often of dancing a particular figure, and you're absolutely right. It really depends on so many factors That you've already mentioned. It also depends upon the range, the flexibility that an individual has. Balance. Oh, all sorts of things. Height, you mentioned physicality arm length, injury, for example, how strong muscles are to begin with.

So, you can't teach the same techniques. Every single person is just not possible. You have to learn to be adaptive and. You know, I'm working myself on a technique book for standard, and it's on. The the, how, how we approach figures from a competitive point of view, not from the way it was written in 1930, for example. and, and there are many ways to execute the same figure. You know, I'll give an example. The chasse from prominent position, for example, this is now international bronze. If you dance the whisk into progressive chasse from promenade position, there are a minimum of four different ways. The follower can actually break down the turn into dance position if you get just in terms of turn alone.

So yes, some of the figures are sort of some of this, some of the ways I would not teach to beginner. and, and again, you gotta be careful how, how, what you teach because. So certain techniques are just way too difficult for that student to grasp and for them to attain within reasonable period of time.

I think you've got to be very careful and you know, of course myself having taught for so many years, you're constantly introduced to different ways of dancing a particular figure whether or not you agree with it, whether or not you dance it yourself when you competing. But, you know, I'm like a sponge when it comes to which I love to know how a figure can be taught, you know, how'd you teach this. When I go to England for coaching myself, what is the latest way of teaching is because as we know, dancing has evolved a lot. When you look at today's dancing, compared with dancing in say the fifties, And then when you compare it to the 1930s, it's vastly vastly different.

There's one thing though. It's interesting because I was researching the double reverse spin, which is a bronze international waltz figure. And the double reverse spin was. Invented by a guy could Maxwell Stewart. Okay. Maxwell Stewart. Won the first ever world professional ballroom championship, in 1924 and he introduced the double reverse spin at those championships and he danced two double reverse spins there were two in a row, and apparently it caused an absolute sensation when it was introduced.

The crowd went wild. And what's very interesting about, Maxwell Stewart is that if you go onto YouTube, you can see him dancing. And it's quite fascinating because although dancing was in its infancy and the hold, it is much more social as much more uprights, almost let Argentine tango is very more intimate because of course, competitive ballroom dancing was based on social dancing.

There was not a huge amount difference from the two of those days. but the quality of movement, is really quite lovely to see same thing. When you look at Alex Moore. So some old videos of Alex Moore dancing as well. Beautiful, beautiful quality of movement. I think sometimes that's what we lack today. Everybody's so concerned about dancing the latest figure and getting these really unusual shapes and stuff. I think quantitative movement today, I would much rather see a beautiful feather reverse and three step then some exotic configuration of figures that is over choreographed often where the timing is just, you know, so many how many syncopations can you fit in about music?

So to me, I would, I would much prefer to see quality over quantity.

SAMANTHA: So I'm going to use that to transition now to the slightly controversial subject of, smooth versus standard or standard versus smooth. very I from a explaining to students perspective, I often say, you know, there's international standard and there's American smooth, and in both you have waltz, tango Foxtrot, Viennese waltz. We add a Peabody occasionally in American smooth, and we add the Quickstep in international standard international standard. You got to stay in hold and you gotta stay in frame the whole time. American. We can, we can break it up. We can make it jazzy. We can make it feel Broadway. How, Hollywood, From a foundational perspective from a first year of instruction speaking solely from a competitive perspective, because from a social social perspective, we change a whole bunch of rules. We break a lot of rules, but if you were taking a competitive student that came in and said, I, I have a longterm goal of, I want to make championships.

I want to make finals. First year. Do you teach your students anything different between smooth or standard or is it pretty much the same foundations across the board?

IAN: Well, I should have really said at the very beginning of this interview that my opinions that I express are purely my own, so even though I am registered with the NDCA and I am a member of the USISTD and NADTA, and also I am an examiner, as you mentioned with DVIDA, I do not represent any of those organizations. So what I'm about to say is what I purely believe myself. so we know that, two, three years ago that a whole load of rules were applied.

New rules were implemented by the NDCA when it comes to bronze and silver, Pro-Am competitions for smooth. As you know, you have to dance in closed hold for a minimum of four bars of music at the very beginning of each dance. And then you have to have a minimum. I think it's 50%, in closed within the first, within the first minute of music,

SAMANTHA: An additional 12 bars for the first minute.

IAN: Thank you.

SAMANTHA: It's only because I have had that memorized for the last year.

IAN: So, you can argue that when a smooth bronze waltz competition is on the floor, the judges are looking at who has the best closed hold. Not only best closed hold, but best closed movement and all the rest of it. So, is it really a smooth competition or is it standard competition? I know that after those four bars, you can, you know, you can open up and do some things, but I know there was a lot of concern that judges would initially be marking on the closed hold work, like we would in standard, but not on, on the smooth.

So that is a little bit controversial. I think I can understand the importance of making sure that people do have good closed work in smooth. I don't know that you should have to start out with it. I think maybe you, you have to make me dance 12 bars, for example. Throughout the, you know, the minute of the routine, not necessarily start out with it.

I dunno. but I think it's good to emphasize basics. I think it's good to emphasize fundamental actions because smooth does come from closed hold. And I know, I remember when I first came to United States. The very first competition that I attended was in 1989, California Star Ball. And it's the first time I was exposed to American Smooth, and I was there in the evening. I remember because Igor and Irina Suvorov was still amateurs at that time and had just moved to the United States. So this is going back a long time ago. And anyway, so I was watching the, Open smooth and I have to be honest with you. I was not very impressed, at all. and partly that was due to the fact that closed hold was low, was not like it is now. So you see the couples in Smooth now they're closed. Hold is very, very good. And you look at Nick and Viktorija and, you know, they're, the standard portion of smooth is, is quite at a high level, quite lovely to watch, but in those days, you know, the closed hold was not so good. Let's just say that. So I think, I think, closed hold is important. and of course nowadays, you know, we have the rule we'd have to abide by, when it comes to bronze and silver smooth. going back to question. If I had, if I was training someone for a competition in smooth, obviously want to make sure that you adhear to to the rules and regulations, but I'd also keep the routine relatively simple - just have a long and a short side and repeat again. It's better to focus on that than three or four long sides and very long routine. You don't need that.

The judges only will be looking at you for a relatively small period of time assuming there are other competitions on the floor, so they have very little time to assess.

So even if you repeat halfway around the floor, that is fine. Again, I think quality over quantity is very, very important, and when you have maybe like a hand to hand back to back to something in waltz in bronze, again, just keep it very clean. Keep the styling very readable.

You don't have to do anything exotic with the arms at the time being. You could always add that. So I think, you know, it's like building a foundation. You've got to get the foundation right. So just having just a bare skeleton of the routine, where you have all the necessary elements that you're showing to the judges, where you can dance well, where I will always remember this.

So this is going to sound very pessimistic. One of the coaches that I went to when I was, when I was an amateur, it was called Brian Allen. And Brian said to me, the least offensive couple on the floor wins.

SAMANTHA: Kimberly and I were just talking about this last week.

IAN: Really? Yeah. The least offensive couple on the floor wins, because judges are looking at, they're searching for mistakes and that's what we do as a coach. We're looking for errors all the time, so the fewer that you can make, the more likely that you will do well.

So just by having that kind of just simple routine danced very, very well. I think it's much better than trying to have some over choreographed routine with advanced stylings, which are not gonna look too good, and I advise that for all the dances for sure.

SAMANTHA: So, so I wanna, I wanna kind of take that con the concept and just kind of wrap it back around to the beginning. before we end today, which is, I feel like, I know in my own instruction, in my own dancing. And I, and I see it in students all the time.

I feel like instructors talk about it all the time when we're, we're discussing our successes and our frustrations with students, which is in the beginning. When we have a beginner student, that's just walking in off the street. They're excited and they're energetic and they're your sponge. And they just want to take and absorb all of the information possible.

There's not an ego to a beginner student. It's it's okay. If you want me to do 45 minutes of drills, I'll do 45 minutes of drills. If you want me to hold a shoe box on my elbow and just stand in frame, I'll hold a, hold the shoe box on my elbow in frame. And then once we get a little bit of knowledge under our belts, the ego kicks in, I go, okay, well, I'm no longer a beginner student. I don't need to do those drills. I don't need to focus on, on my, you know, my left box turn or my natural turn, or where am I reverse or my feather. I, I don't, I I've done that. I can do that. I I'm not a beginner anymore. And then there's a period of time where we've got that ego and then we all become advanced dancers or instructors or wherever life leads us. And we go, Oh, no, there is so much more that I need to work on back at square one because I'm not closing my feet consistently. My frame isn't locked in the entire minute and a half. So how do you address that middle section?

IAN: Okay. So I'm going to tell you two stories, actually. I'm a little bit like a raconteur sometimes. I remember having a lesson with Brenda Winslade and it was at a studio called Winston's, in Cheam and Peter was teaching at the same time. And he was teaching Richard and Janet Gleave, who were the current world professional standard champions. The entire lesson was primarily spent on Peter improving Janet's heel turn. So I think, you know, there's something to be said about that. I have another story that I'll tell you. And when I was, when I was getting coaching in England with my first pro partner, we took some lessons with, Michael Vicky Barr. And I had lesson with Michael and we were dancing waltz and we danced our waltz routine. And for the entire two lessons, Michael spent the time working on my one, two, three of the natural turn in waltz.

I can say I come away from that thinking I could not dance again. so I understand that it can be frustrating. And I understand that, you know, we have certain expectations and we gain confidence. Sometimes we can be over confident and our ego, unfortunately can get the better of us. but I, I also think it's very important to be humble and to be receptive and to never forget importance of the foundation importance of your basics, the correct way. You know, even if you practice, for example, I don't have a very big space here in my living room. And a lot of people don't want to have the benefit of a ballroom in their house, but just to practice the basics.

Even if you practice a box step, A left box step and right box step, and working on the correct foot work and not only the footwork, the correct articulation. You know, sometimes what I find. Particularly fascinating when I watch Latin American dancing, as well as rhythm as well is too. See how the ladies use their legs and their feet do the feet speak to me. Do they ooze this sensuality, this musicality, this beautiful shaping the ins, the instep the toe. Inside edge of the toe. The beautiful action of, of the leg, the way that weight is transferred, the straightening of the leg, all of that, when it starts at a, the highest, highest level is breathtaking to watch.

The same thing with standard, I love to see really beautiful usage of the feet. And if you look at all the world champions, particularly in standard, The the way that they use the feet, there is such a precision to it. It's really quite lovely, lovely to watch. So never forget that ballroom dancing starts from your feet upwards. Never neglect the way that you use your feet. When you transfer weight, you can always, always work on that.

SAMANTHA: Love it. I love it. Well, thank you so much, Ian.

IAN: thank you so much, for this opportunity, this platform to be on this podcast. I'm normally quite shy, so I don't normally express my opinions very well in the open, but anyway,

SAMANTHA: well, it was such a pleasure to have you on, if you would like to reach out and follow IAN or to contact him, to see about coaching. you can find him at That is onscreen now for those of you that are watching this on YouTube or it'll be in the description box everywhere that this podcast is available, I'm Samantha, you can find me at you can follow this podcast at ballroom chat on both Instagram and Facebook, or you can go to ballroom to find all of the previous podcasts.

Next week we are going to be actually taking a week off from the podcast. It is the first anniversary of my 29th birthday on Monday. So I am taking the day off. but, the week following that, we have Michael Johnson from dance magic and the magic for life podcast coming on to chat about that. So very excited to have him on in two weeks time. If you are watching this on YouTube, please take a second to give the video a thumbs up, say something positive in the comments.

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