From Syllabus to Open-Lite

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a personal essay. It’s not a question of inspiration. I simply haven’t had the time to compose anything blog-worthy. Here’s why.

On November 28, 2016, The Dancing Doc and I officially announced our decision to stop dancing pro-am in order to focus exclusively on our amateur partnership. [Related post: The Story of the Dancing Housewife and the Dancing Doc]  2017 ended up being  a good year for us. Our biggest news: we jumped from Syllabus to Open.

In order to create a level playing field, USA Dance, Inc. categorizes amateurs by dance style, age and skill level. Think of it as comparing apples to apples. Events are contested in four major dance styles (smooth, rhythm, Latin and standard), with age classifications ranging from the very young to the young at heart and everyone in between, and six skill levels or proficiencies (bronze, silver, gold, novice, pre-championship and championship) in two main divisions, Syllabus and Open.

Syllabus level competitors must adhere to lists of fixed figures or syllabi specific to each dance (that’s 19 total across the four styles) and are restricted to mostly closed choreography. Syllabus proficiencies increase consecutively in difficulty from bronze to silver to gold. Official invigilators scrutinize Syllabus couples closely to ensure they are 1) executing only choreography allowed by the proficiency level in which they are dancing and 2) are not violating any of the supplemntal USA Dance Approved Figures, Elements & Restrictions (“The Rules”).

Except for lifts being prohibited, there are no restrictions in the Open division. The three Open proficiencies, also increasing consecutively in difficulty, are novice, pre-championship and championship.

Proficiencies are assigned based on the number of proficiency points competitors accrue in prior seasons (topic for another blog). The process is essentially in place to prevent sandbagging, however, couples are always free to compete higher than their proficiency points mandate. For various reasons many elect to do just that. In fact, The Dancing Doc’s and my rapid progress from bronze to gold had far less to do with actual skill than it did with our desire to dance the full range of American smooth and rhythm dances (also a topic for another blog). Likewise, our performance this past year did not require a move, but we elected to bump ourselves up the ladder anyway. Don’t misunderstand me. We’re not cocky, although one might argue writing and publishing this blog post with the idea that anyone might actually be interested in reading it suggests otherwise. Still you won’t find us strutting around like we’re all that (at least not outside the confines of our walk-in closet) and we have a fairly realistic perception of our shortcomings. We’re the first to admit we don’t belong in Open just yet so you may be wondering what predicated the jump?

By February of 2017 our post-heat summoning to the invigilator’s table had grown in frequency to the point of being criminal. You name a rule and we broke it. In fact, we got slapped with so many warnings for one particular type of infraction at the Manhattan Amateur Classic, I’m pretty sure it was renamed The Dancing Housewife Rule. Or The Dancing Doc Rule. The thing is, I am not a rule breaker. Never have been. Call me a goody-two-shoes (you wouldn’t be the first), but I enjoy following rules. It’s who I am plus, having been warned ad infinitum, the Doc and I were forced to confront the likelihood of our placements dropping or even being disqualified as penalties for future infractions. I may be a goody-two-shoes, but I’m a competitive goody-two-shoes. In desperation and with Nationals looming in the not-so-distant-future, we enlisted the help of a local USA Dance invigilator.

Mister-I-for-Invigilator assessed our choreography to identify areas of non-compliance with The Rules. There were a few easy fixes, like removing what could be (mis)construed as introductions from our Viennese Waltz and Bolero, along with eliminating picture lines, excessive turning and prohibited styling embellishments, but our biggest problem was the amount of open choreography we were executing.

Partners may not completely separate. Open Work is limited to single or double hand holds,

Shadow Positions, and may not last for more than eight (8) consecutive measures before regaining normal hold for a minimum of two consecutive bars. Open work may not comprise more than 25% of any routine.

*USA Dance Academy 2016 – Syllabus Guidebook


We never completely separated, but unbeknownst to us, the Dancing Doc and I were executing connections which constituted open combinations in flagrant excess of the allowable eight-measures-at-a-pop criterion and rarely, if at all, punctuated them with two measures in closed frame. Our liberal interpretation of open versus closed choreography is probably rooted in our early careers as pro-am competitors in NDCA-sanctioned events which allows shadow as well as single and double hand holds with no measure restriction in closed syllabus events. Still, the violations were persistent and since Ignorantia juris non excusat, we decided (on the advice of Mister-I-for-Invigilator) to wave the white flag and move to Open. It was simply the path of least resistance. Or so we thought.

In June we began competing novice and pre-championship with what the Doc called Open-lite routines in a field of very strong opponents. We took our lumps, but by some miracle managed to qualify for 2018 Nationals. Since there’s no point to competing if you’re not going to be competitive, we’ve spent the last few months upping our choreography and hammering away at technique. I wouldn’t classify our routines as full open yet, but we’re getting there. It takes time. To be exact, it takes grinding… about two hours a day, five or six days a week and on the seventh day The Dancing Housewife rests (or collapses in exhaustion while watching ballroom dance videos on YouTube with The Dancing Doc to glean helpful hints).

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a personal essay. It’s not a question of inspiration. I simply haven’t had the time to compose anything blog-worthy. Now you know why.


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3 thoughts on “From Syllabus to Open-Lite

  1. Love this! and so great to hear from you again! I wish you luck in your endevours!

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