Ron Montez and Dan Radler

The Coast-to-Coast Meeting of the Champion Minds:
Ron Montez and Dan Radler

By Kim Knode

Just So Stories author and Nobel Laureate in Literature Rudyard Kipling says,  “East is East, West is West and never the twain shall meet.”  However, when it comes to the how-tos of garnering championship titles in DanceSport, two top American champion dancers and adjudicators agree.

Here are some insights from interviews at the residence of seven-time U.S. Latin champion, Ron Montez in San Diego and exchanges via e-mail and telephone with Dan Radler out of his Watertown, Massachusetts studio. (Radler is a former Ten-Dance champion and representative of the U.S.A. at the World Championships.)  Next time you gasp at the breathtaking performances of the dancers or the unbelievable results of a competition, you might keep in mind the tenured professionals’ tips.

Montez, a seven-time U.S. Latin Champion (1979-1985) and host of  (possibly the longest series on television), PBS Championship Ballroom Dancing, says that when evaluating competitors as a judge, “You do a certain amount of scanning and specific looking as necessary.  But you end up with a very quick opinion – based on your experiences and expectations.”

Radler explains that, “At least six couples are being judged simultaneously. So the criteria that a judge might choose to consider are actually too numerous to examine individually in the brief time allotted.  The experienced judge, having seen and studied dancing at all levels, can quickly assess the performance of the couples.”

I ask Montez about the in-your-face performers who wiggle and gesticulate in front of judges.  Karla Montez, who teaches along with her husband on the Anyone Can Dance instructional videos, starts laughing. “It’s obnoxious!” she says.

I nod my head in vigorous agreement as Montez declares, “Oh, I don’t think of it that way.  I just see it as part of their performance.  I think of myself as invisible.  I know they are not doing it totally for my benefit. There are a bunch of other judges around the floor.”

Karla replies, “I think they are doing it for the judge’s benefit.” She waves her arms about and says, “Look at me! Here I am!”

Karla and I giggle as Montez seriously states, “But if you are a judge and a couple is directly in front of you, rarely do you evaluate them.  I won’t evaluate a couple if they are too close to me. I need to get a good perspective.  I might be evaluating a couple whose backs are turned to me across the floor.” The former champion pauses and grins, “Couples have no idea when they are being looked at.”

To improve the chances of high marks, when the adjudicator is glancing at a pair of dancers, Radler reminds his protégées that, “Persistent practice of postural principles promises perfection.” The New Englander reiterates (what my statuesque aunt always told me as an adolescent): “Good posture makes you look elegant and exude confidence.”

Montez agrees with Radler and says that “crooked bodies” definitely get low marks on his score sheet.  Conversely, points pile up quickly for “a couple who is technically good and has good footwork, balance and all the technical aspects.”

Radler concurs, “foot and leg action is important.”

I ask for examples.  The Ten-Dance champion answers without hesitation. “The stroking of the feet across the floor in foxtrot to achieve smoothness and softness…In tango – the deliberate lifting and placing of the feet  to achieve a staccato action.”

Radler adds that another crucial aspect “In smooth dancing is the stretch of the woman’s body upwards and outwards and leftwards into the man’s right arm to achieve balance and connection with his frame as well as to project outwards to the audience.”

Montez also maintains that, “The man’s role is to frame and to circle and to present his partner. For that reason, I dislike men’s see-through shirts intensely.” He continues, “Those sheer shirts where they show their nipples. I think it’s disgusting. It’s like look at me!”

His wife (and mother of three Montez children) makes the point, “It takes away from the masculinity that we need to keep for other viewers looking at this sport.”

I ask Montez about ladies’ costuming. “Nowadays, the Latin dancers may wear a mini skirt or they may wear some other kind of string thing. I like to see some type of skirt because it adds to the movement as the lady spins and whips around.”

Karla adds, “When Latin (competitions) started, women wore skirts so when she turned the skirt would continue.  Now it’s not the skirt that continues so there is no beauty.”

Montez maintains it is old-fashioned common sense when it comes to costumes. “If a girl is wearing a low back (outfit) but she doesn’t have an attractive back, it’s not a wise decision to wear that dress.”

“Costuming, the flow of choreography as well as intangibles as how a couple ‘look’ together and whether they ‘fit’ emotionally all have an affect on the judge’s perception and markings,” states Radler.  (Of course, crucial elements like timing and rhythm adherence are always figured in. As Radler says, “The music is boss.”)

Subtle and not-so-subtle signals sent from the dance floor are important.  “I don’t like purely physical dancing where they are out there trying to – I don’t know – kill each other!” says Montez. “Overly physically demonstrating one’s craft to the judges is not necessary.” He smiles and says, “You shouldn’t be tired after watching them. The appearance – should be one of ease.”

Radler likes to see “Power and energy.” With enthusiasm he states, “Energy is exciting to watch! I’ve noticed that, in a jive, it always seems to be the most energetic couple that wins this dance.” However, he does warn DanceSport competitors that, “the energy must be controlled, not wild.”

The Massachusetts coach continues, “It goes hand in hand with presentation.  Does the couple sell their dancing to the audience?  Are they exuding their joy of dancing and confidence in their performance?”

Montez also prefers, “couples who – along with technical mastery – have a good rapport . And who genuinely seem to be enjoying dancing with one another.” The seven-time champion contemplates for a second and continues. “It’s a very delicate balance. Some are too much into one another – like a social dance.  And some are too into performing and doing a ham dance!”

The champion declares that at the top of his list are, “performers who are able to convey their love of dancing.” And why not? From East to West, whether we are sitting on the sidelines or quickstepping our hearts out on the dance floor, love is the reason why we participate in DanceSport.

Kim Knode’s interview articles focusing on artists, celebrities and dance champions have been published in various print and on-line publications.

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