By Benoit Papineau
As it happens to all teachers and coaches, sometimes I am asked to help a couple achieve what another teacher or coach had asked of them.
If the couple is a competitive couple, I am often asked to explain how to create more volume, and I always end-up with the same feelings and questions: Why would volume be so important? How can I help and satisfy this couple?
I am forced to realize that the ballroom world seems to have taken a turn toward the science of physics, since we can hear the word “gravity” come out of every mouth and now, “volume”; the combination of the three spatial dimensions: height, width and depth.
Unfortunately for everyone I am forced to confront, Physics happens to always have been of my primary interest (40 year study) and I have learned and experienced that under stable thermal conditions, if no substance is added or removed, volume can not be changed, The shape of an object can be changed, but not its volume. It is a fact. By submerging a partnership in a swimming pool, the level of the water will rise, of course. Under the water, the partners can try as many positions as they would like and their volume will not change as the level of the water will remain the same, regardless of their efforts to stretch it out. It is impossible to increase volume if substance is not added.
My conviction becomes then confronted with the couple’s conviction that I must be the odd one, since everyone else appears to believe possible to increase volume, while it is not.
In a competitive world, everyone is after the same thing: to be recognized as being the best. But of course, can only be recognized whom has been seen in the first place. In a logical order, recognition can only follow cognition, as the prefix “re” just means: repetition. To make a visual example, we can only recognize an object if we had acquired visual knowledge of that object in the past.
There we are! Volume is only believed to be a means of visibility that could be the first step toward recognition. But it no longer seems to appear to couples’ consciousness that maybe they were visible and seen but that what they had to offer may not have been satisfactory enough for the judges to call them back into the next round.
Couples are made to believe that they don’t have enough volume, when what they are really lacking is visual appeal, visual interest; visual attractiveness.
The ballroom world is a little society, which is a fraction of a greater human society and it is possible to understand how it has been influenced in its ways of communication and some of its loss of realism. Political correctness, human rights and people’s equality have often taken the place of the truth. To protect everyone’s feelings and their equal right to be respected, we now tell them: “you don’t have enough volume,” instead of: “you don’t look good enough.” We tell them: “you are not competitive enough,” instead of the truth, which is: “you are not good enough to win.” Really, those are all only synonyms, except that some are so hidden behind political correctness that couples can no longer get the real message that could really help them improve.
I was fortunate to live most of my competitive career before that politically correct era. The best lessons I ever had from Anthony (Hurley) were when he would imitate my dancing. It was so funny, that I was too busy laughing to find the time to feel offended. I would have been offended if I thought that he was not really trying to teach me. Those impersonations fed my realism and I had no problems understanding why Mickeal and Vicky, Steven and Lindsay, Hans and Anne and everyone else were ahead of me in the standings. I was just happy to be there; feeling lucky to be somewhat recognized, after seeing those probably embellished but quite accurate imitations of me (thank’s Anthony).
Anthony never told me anything about volume or about competitiveness. It was not necessary since his message was clear and my partner Johanne and I had no problem taking the truth like a man.
Nowadays, in this new era where everyone’s respectability is protected, it seems that every couple is left believing itself to be as good the champion, except for the fact of not being visible enough; therefore not recognized. How insane?!!!
Volume should be left alone as it can not be changed anyway. But the present insists on it to the point where couples are obsessed by it, while many coaches feed their obsession. Doesn’t anyone remember champions of smaller physical statures; therefore, smaller volumes? Does anyone remember Richard Gleave, Mickeal Stylianos, Anthony Hurley, Sammy Stopford, Massimo or William Pino….? As unfair as the dancing world may appear to every competitor that has not yet won, all volumes can be equally recognized but it is at the condition that the volume would be filled with some content. Volume is only a container that could remain empty if no one took care of filling it up, or a container filled with the wrong substance, leaving it unappealing.
Increasing volume is impossible and I would like to attract your attention toward Donnie’s repeated statement “if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail,” and ask a question: What are the chances of succeeding at attempting the impossible? Attempting to increase in volume is therefore preparing failure itself, but why insist?
When one can read between the lines and remember that everyone is after recognition, a lot can be read about “volume.” Let’s assume that I am coaching students and that I ask them the impossible. For example: “you will never win if you don’t grow a third arm.” Of course the students will probably fail but because they didn’t do what I told them they should, they will be held responsible for their in-success; NOT ME!!!…
If a student is told: “you don’t have enough volume,” his success at attempting the impossible becomes his sole responsibility. But if he is told: “your form is too inadequate to be appealing,” it becomes the teacher’s responsibility to teach him how and put his own credibility on the line.
If a student is told: “you are not competitive enough,” his success at attempting the incomprehensible again becomes his sole responsibility. But if he is told; “you are not good enough to win,” it again becomes the teacher’s responsibility to discover some teaching skills that could make a loss turn into a win.
The question then becomes; who or what is the fashionable topic of volume really trying to serve? It is obviously not serving dance itself as there are more and more big empty volumes following the line of dance that should now be called; the line of displacing large volumes, since there often is no dance to be seen.
It is obviously not serving the interest of students that are asked to fail by attempting the impossible.
And it is not serving the integrity of our profession. A good teacher is measured by the accuracy of his vocabulary. Shouldn’t we be teaching form, while leaving the unchangeable alone?
Students should learn instead of being asked the impossible.
Teachers should teach instead of protecting their reputations and incomes.
Dancing should dance instead of leaving us cold.
When content is greater then volume, content overflows and becomes an expression.
When volume is greater than content, there is nothing to see.