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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Wolfgram

A Guide to Effective Video Review - How to Dampen Your Pain and Increase Your Productivity

Ah, video review. Every dancer’s favorite post-competition treat. Enjoying that wonderful feeling of reality crushing the optimistic memories we held dear a few moments ago. Great fun.

It’s easy to get trapped and focus on every flaw in our technique and every stupid face we make towards the camera. You’re not alone. Let me reassure you, at some point, every competitive dancer has sat down, watched their performance with horrified, near bloodshot eyes, cringed horribly and ruminated on their newfound plans to quit DanceSport forever and go do West Coast Swing or Salsa instead.

But let me tell you, video review does not have to be the self-loathing cringefest many dancers have made it a habit of celebrating. In fact, it can prove to be one of the most valuable nuggets of growth on your ballroom dance journey!

The key is to approach video review tactfully and systematically. If you take anything from this article, it’s that for a review of your competition dancing to be successful, you need to have a process. A set of guidelines to keep you off the path of mindless consumption and away from feelings of shame or regret.

What I’ve articulated below is my process. You certainly don’t need to follow it exactly, but I encourage you to try it and adapt it to fit your goals, style, time constraints, and so on. If you want a productive video review, you need a routine that works for you. I myself have found definite progress in the following four steps:

1) Prepare: Know What You’re Looking For

Before you watch your videos at all, perhaps even before you compete in the first place, write down three things that you’ve been working on these past few weeks and hope to see in your dancing.

These can be as broad as “stay grounded” or as specific as “control your rise and fall in your spin turns.” Whatever has been a source of your attention and a focal point for your recent improvement, document it for use during your later video review.

Bear in mind, we haven’t even peeked at the videos yet. Before you can, evaluate the dances in your memory. Did it feel good on the floor, or was it not your best performance? Do you expect to see those three items, and to what extent?

Recalling the dance in this way serves a number of purposes. It teaches you how to evaluate your technique more acutely based on feeling, since you’re about to cross check it with the evidence. It also improves your learning, recreating and reinforcing the good things you did and discouraging the bad mentally before you even touch your notes.

2) Your First View: Relax!

Let yourself feel whatever emotions come over you on your first viewing; this is the time for you to experience the video rather than analyze it. We’ll do that in a few minutes.

So sit back in some marvelous combination of pride and disgust as you absorb the dance you just put on the floor. Don’t analyze it, don’t look for anything specific, just take it in and laugh a little. You did a cool thing, and even though it’s not perfect, when is it ever going to be?

3) Your Second View: Cut Away, and Find Your Three

That cathartic emotional connection you just built during your first view? Cut it. Sever that clean off. You felt it, acknowledged it, and it’s out of your system. It’s time to get critical.

Establishing emotional distance between you and your dancing is often difficult but wholly necessary for a productive video review to not chip away at your self-esteem. Imagine you’re not watching yourself or your partner, just the dancing. For all you care, those people performing on your video could be total strangers. You’re only here to judge the athletic feats they’re putting on the floor.

Now go back to step one: what three things did you write down? This second viewing should be focused on finding, encouraging, and criticizing the performance in these areas.

When you’re observing the dance with these things in mind, be thorough and detailed. Let’s say one of your three was to stay in the floor: whether or not you’re grounded is not a box to leave a checkmark in, it’s a gradient point of evaluation that can be observed throughout the entire dance. Were you 30% grounded or 80%? At what points in the dance did you look less grounded, and why?

It goes without saying that whatever observations you make here should be written down. If you’re like most people, they’re going to leave your memory forever in 20 minutes if you don’t.

4) Your Third, Fourth, Fifth, and so on: Segment and Get Picky

We took view number one to respond emotionally to the dance. In number two, we broke away and judged the predetermined items we’ve been practicing. For as many views as you like after this, we’re going to dial in on some specific segment or trait and watch for every success or failure of it in the round.

An analogy back to my martial arts days: when you were being scored on your technique in competition, there would be three judges. One overall judge in the center, but the judges to their left and right would watch only the competitor’s hands or feet, respectively. Your composite score was the average of all three.

Be one of the side judges, and pick something detailed for you to obsess about on this viewing. These segments can be whatever you want, but I like to start broad and grow more narrow with each view.

Let’s take an example. Some time ago, I reviewed my Smooth Waltz and had the following progression, with each of these embodying one view each:

1 - Connection to the floor

2 - Overall Standard technique

3 - Posture and use of headline

4 - Rise and fall

5 - Placement of my heel

6 - Use of my hip flexors

7 - Overall Smooth technique

8 - Filling Kinesphere

9 - Source of energy for arm stylings

In this case, I dove into the weeds on nine different segments, plus my initial two viewings made for eleven different approaches to watching the same Waltz. The result? 30 minutes well spent and a few pages of strengths, weaknesses, and things to focus on in my coming practices.

Now, this method is not for everyone and it may not be for you. It can feel dry, repetitive, and occasionally taxing to approach your dancing with such an objective eye. It’s worked wonders for me and means I never have a practice where I don’t know what I should be working on, but to each their own.

But whether or not you use my method doesn’t matter much. Once again, the most important takeaway is that you have some kind of plan or system to make your observations and take good notes. The only bad video review is one where you sit back and consume it rather than genuinely study the performance.

Just remember, everyone thinks they look like an idiot on camera.

(Published in Sheer Dance magazine May 2020)

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