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A National Dancing Championship Story - Road to Gain Back in Form (by Philip Lee '64)

Relishing the Australian title win
Ten months ago after we won the Masters 2 Open Ballroom Standard title our first thought was to reward ourselves for the daily training that we went through in 2012 with a long holiday. Much to the displeasure of our coaches we planned a four-week European holiday in April and May, spending three weeks in Hong Kong to visit my mother so altogether 7 weeks away from dancing.
Realising that we have to defend our hard-won Australian title we promised our coaches to train even harder to consolidate the changes made in the routines of the 5 dances in December and January. In February when the competition re-commenced we felt that we were not familiar with our new dance routines enough to confront our opposition. The month of March came and gone so we decided to hold back any competitions until we return from our holiday.

The holidays
The 7-week away from dancing had taken a heavy toll. After the Mediterranean cruise, we spent three days non-stop walking in Barcelona and then more walking in a two-week land tour in Spain and Portugal. Believe me, the cobble-stone walkways even punished my knees and ankles so much that I was also limping in Granada and Seville. Consequently Magdalen's knees were so strained that her left knee was unable to bend. After our return to Sydney, she sought expert specialist advice and while waiting for treatment, we resumed our dance training intermittently mostly with me dancing with our teacher and Magdalen watching on the sideline. With the National Capital Dancesport Championship approaching it was becoming obvious that Magdalen could not cope with the amount of training necessary to defend the Masters 2 Open New Vogue title which we won last June. So by mid-June we decided to withdraw from the Championship. In the meantime, Magdalen received a HA injection to her knee which finally stopped the inflammation.

To compete or not to compete
While all the necessary medical procedures were taking place in the second half of June and early July Magdalen had not been dancing. The psychological pressure from competitive dancing was too much for her. She thought of quitting competitive dancing altogether and knowing that I wanted to continue to compete she actually thought of getting another dancer to practise with me while she was resting from her injuries. However, it was only a passing thought because I knew that Magdalen would not be happy if I dance with another woman.
With Magdalen recovering from her treatment and only just got back into training, there was no way that we could dance well enough to defend our Ballroom Standard title at the Southern Cross Championship in July either so we continued our procrastination and withdrew from that Championship as well. By August we had to seriously decide whether to continue competing or retire from competitions altogether. August is a busy month in our dance calendar. There were three important competitions: the Tasmanian Open, the NSW Open and the WDL Lunar Park Championship in Sydney. Before our departure for our holidays we had bought plane tickets to travel to Launceston to compete in the Tasmanian Open, so although we didn't think we were ready to compete in that event. we thought we might as well start our competition circuit rolling knowing very well that it wouldn't be plain sailing.

The Tasmanian Open Dancesport Championship
In the Tasmanian Open, we made a tactical error of dancing in our age group
which is Masters 3 as well as a level above which is Masters 2 whereas our opposition danced in their age group in Masters 2 and a level up in Masters 1. So even though we won in our age group (Masters 3) in both styles, it had the opposite effect on the adjudicator's perception on our performance in Masters 2, reinforcing the idea that we were old and not competitive enough to be placed in top spots in Masters 2. I said that it was a tactical error because we could have danced Masters 2 and 1 and still gained a place in the final of Masters 1 based on the turn-up of Masters 1 competitors in that competition. This was exactly what happened for our opposition who also competed in Masters 1. The contrast was stark and we didn't compare favourably even before we danced the Finals of Masters 2. In the end we lost to 3 competitors whom we beat consistently in both styles last year, coming 3rd Place in Open Ballroom Standard and 4th Place in Open New Vogue in Masters 2.
Could it be the fact that our opposition had improved in the last 8 months? Could it be our 7-week absence from training plus the injuries that Magdalen sustained during the long holiday? Our coaches thought so and it was clear that long holidays did not agree with dance training especially when it came to defending a national title.
 

The New South Wales Open Dancesport Championship
We regained our confidence in the New South Wales Dancesport Championship
by winning both  styles in Masters 2 Open Ballroom Standard and New Vogue. However, not many inter-state couples took part in the Championship and the same couples who beat us in the Tasmanian Open was not competing in this Championship even though there were 2 top couples vying for the titles.

The WDL Lunar Park Dancesport Championship
The WDL Lunar Park Championship followed through the following week. It was
a litmus test for us when the full force of our opposition turned up and on this occasion we suffered another significant setback. While we came 3rd in both Open New Vogue and the 8-Dance in Masters 2, we were humiliated by the judging panel who marked us 5th place in Open Ballroom Standard. They must have seen what they didn't like about our dancing and punished us more severely than we deserved so as to serve a warning that they would not tolerate mistakes made by a former Australian champion.

The ADS Premiere Dancesport Championship
Having learnt a bitter lesson at Lunar Park we got back into our Ballroom
Standard training. Two weeks later we traveled down to Melbourne to compete in the ADS Premiere Championship. Last year we won the Masters 2 Open New Vogue title in this prestigious Championship and a successful defense of this title would help to salvage our recent drop in placing in this style. As it turned out we were successful in this endeavour although we were  mindful of the fact that the current top 2 couples were not competing in this competition.
What was regrettable was the fact that we inadvertently missed out Round 1 of the Ballroom Standard which disqualified us from competing in further rounds of the event. To put you into prospective, we did gather around the marshaling area for the event but wandered away only about 10 metres practising when the event was called. We did not hear the marshal call because of the loud music of the competition but none of the 17 couples competing for the event notified the marshal of our absence even though we had spoken to at least half of them before the event was called. It was clear that none of the 17 couples wanted us in the competition and was glad that we were not there in the lineup. One of them could have walked over and told us or ask the marshal to muster us over for the event. That didn't happen. Was that a case of bad sportsmanship? A lesson to be learnt here: in life, everyone fends for himself and no one will look after you if you don't look after yourself. 

The South Pacific Dancesport Championship
The South Pacific Championship is a prestigious event on the Dancesport calendar and attracts international competitors. In the past we have competitors from all over Australia and New Zealand, China, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. On this occasion we have a New Zealand couple in the Masters 2 lineup. It is an opportunity for us to showcase our dancing before a national adjudicating panel.
On the day of the competition, I was a bit worried of my strength and stamina because of my 'flu. We arrived early morning to try out the floor and danced our first round just past 10:30 am. A brief look at the youthful Masters 2 lineup was telling: only one top couple is missing and at 65 and 69 Magdalen and I are the oldest couple on the floor by at least 10-15 years. Being the National Champion of the Australian Championship last year, we were seeded #1 in the competition and the couple to beat and there were no shortage of challengers. As the rounds dragged on, my cough was giving me problems but somehow my adrenalin had got on top of the weakness of my body. After the Semi-final rounds of both styles I was left gasping for breath after 5 dances of 1.20 minutes each style without a break. I went back to my seat and rested for a couple of hours.  When the Finals were danced it was passed 8:30 pm. With my adrenalin pumping I gathered the rest of my energies together and gave the Finals my best shot, surprising myself that I could still dance with power and enthusiasm.
Considering the youthful opposition challenging for the title and the physical condition I was in,  we did reasonably well coming 3rd place for both Open New Vogue and Open Ballroom Standard. The results in Ballroom Standard were very close: we won the Waltz and the Quickstep but came 3rd in the Foxtrot, 4th in the Tango and the Viennese Waltz. Had we gained one place higher in the other three dances, we would have won the Championship. In fact, this was how Magdalen and I felt when we finished the Ballroom Standard Final but it was not to be. We danced well and people including judges who were not judging the event commented afterwards that our dancing had improved significantly since they saw us danced previously which was a great encouragement.

Postscript
Our results of coming 3rd place in the South Pacific National Championship had meant that we have to accept  the reality that it is fruitless to try to beat youth as I'm approaching 69 on my next birthday next week. As younger competitors are entering Masters 1 when they turned 35, they push the older Masters 1 couples who turn 50 into Masters 2. So if we choose to dance Master 2 we will be competing against couples in their early 50s. Last year was a classic case when a Masters 1 couple who had been competing only 3 weeks before the end-of-the-year championship snatching 1st place from us in Masters 2 Open New Vogue.
We won Master 2 Open Ballroom Standard in the Australian Championship title last year but this was a once-in-a lifetime feat which we know will not be repeated this year. In fact in view of the line-up of good competitors at the age of 50 or 53 who is now competing in Masters 2 we have to train doubly hard to keep our place in the final 6 at the end of the year in December.
Our next national championship will be at the East Coast Classic on November 9. Our wins in both styles in Masters 2 Open Ballroom Standard and New Vogue in last weekend's local competition were encouraging. We will see how we fare in the face of stronger opposition in a fortnight's time.

----- By Philip Lee (64)

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