DWTS 15 – The Great Quickstep Debate: Breaking Hold vs. Not Breaking Hold

In his Access Hollywood interview from after Monday night’s show, Mark explained his reasons for “breaking hold” in he in Bristol’s quickstep – and he also insinuated that a few other couples also broke hold in their quicksteps this week, yet didn’t get called out by the judges.  So it got me thinking: did the judges, indeed, turn a blind eye to some couples’ rule-breaking, while calling out others?

First, a little bit of background as to why breaking hold in quickstep is such a big deal.  Earlier this year, I went into detail about it in one of my “Ask Courtney” posts – the basic gist is that quickstep is the only ballroom dance on DWTS that is only danced in the International Standard style, in which you cannot break hold at all, and they’ve carried that rule over to DWTS.  I personally think it’s kind of a dumb rule, considering that DWTS is not a real ballroom competition (and never will be), and considering that you can break hold in the waltz, foxtrot, Viennese waltz, and sometimes tango (the last one is whole different debate).

When we use the term “in hold”, it refers to the standard ballroom position: lady’s left arm bent at the elbow & rested upon the man’s right arm (also bent at the elbow) with her hand approximately on the man’s right bicep; man’s right hand on the lady’s left shoulder blade; lady’s right arm & man’s left arm outstretched & curved slightly with hands clasped. With the rule as it stands on DWTS, the couple can do a little bit of open work at the beginning of the routine, a little bit of open work at the end, and that’s it – for the bulk of the dance, they should be in hold.  However, things can get a little bit…iffy, from time to time, and some of the pros have found creative ways to not stay in hold for the entire routine.  Luckily for us, this week was an interesting smorgesbord of both legal & illegal quickstep tactics – so let’s take a look at some examples.

Example #1: The blatant, completely broken hold

I’ve got to side with the judges on this one – they completely broke hold TWICE after starting the dance in-hold, and only spent about 40 seconds of the dance in-hold…and 33 seconds out of it.  Yes, I actually went to the trouble of counting 8-O I’m leaning towards Mark not really caring whether they got called out or not (I actually found his rant about it to Access Hollywood to be a bit more aloof than I’ve come to expect from Mark when he’s pissed), but for the sake of argument, let’s say Mark actually wanted to make this routine slightly more pleasing to the judges.   A smarter move would have been to take a page out of Val’s book (see below) and just rearrange the order of the routine a bit – move the long line dancing section to the beginning of the routine, then get into hold, do the quickstep part, and end with the beer bottle bit.  In that instance, Len might have just grumbled a bit about “too much messing about at the beginning”, but at least it would have been more of a wishy-washy matter of opinion on the dance, rather than an out-and-out infraction that may have potentially cost them points…and triggered Carrie Ann into hyperb*tch mode. Other examples: Shawn & Mark’s quickstep in season 8, Nicole & Derek’s quickstep in season 10

Example #2: The sneaky 1-hand hold

I kind of hate this category, in which the couples may break one part of their dance hold to do something like an underarm turn, but still keep one hand clasped to each other to give the impression that they haven’t broken hold.  In real-life ballroom, this would be penalized in competition.  However, since DWTS seems to only selectively follow real rules, this seems to be acceptable on the show (watch me say that this week, and then next week someone gets called out for doing it).  I personally don’t see why it’s necessary, considering that quickstep is a a dance that was created to be danced entirely in dance hold, and underarm turns aren’t typical quickstep fare.  Tell that to Louis & Sabrina, who had 2 instances like this in their quickstep. The first turn Sabrina did (:52 mark) was kind of cool, but I felt like the turn Louis did (at the 1:07 mark) just didn’t belong there choreographically, and actually detracted a bit from the dance for me.  Had I been Len, I might have issued a little bit of a warning about it – “You’re toeing the line, missy!” – but I don’t know that I would have deducted any points for it, per se.  Other examples: Helio & Julianne’s quickstep in season 5, Chelsea & Mark’s quickstep in season 12

Example #3: Stalling before getting into dance hold

This is a tactic I often see used by pros whose partners aren’t exactly adept at quickstep – they spend as much time as possible doing other, non-quicksteppy things at the beginning and end of the routine in order to minimize the amount of time they’re actually having to do quickstep.  I think both Kym and Val utilized this strategy this week – but I noticed it moreso with Kelly & Val’s routine.  They spent about the first 23 seconds of their quickstep doing some pretty, swirly stuff that really looked more like American smooth waltz figures to me – something I’m a little surprised that Len didn’t call them out for, since he’s notorious for griping about “too much messin’ about”, but given that their music felt wayyyy too flowy & pretty for a quickstep to me, I think it kind of fit, choreographically.  It also pared down the amount of time Kelly was in dance hold, which was a good thing – she looked pretty shaky to me during the actual quickstep sequence. Going with this strategy is a bit of a “lesser of two evils” scenario: you run the risk of getting griped at by Len for choreographic choices, but you also lower your risk of your partner making a glaring mistake that the judges might actually deduct points for. Other examples: Pam & Damian’s quickstep in season 10, Hope & Maks’ quickstep in season 13

Example #4: Staying in hold the whole time (the way it’s supposed to be done)
I would say this category is the closest you can get to a “real life” quickstep on DWTS – the couple doesn’t do a whole lot of futzing around at the beginning, they get into hold, and they stay in hold the whole time, only breaking to a little bit of open work in the last few seconds.  It’s the least risky in terms of upsetting the judges for more regulatory infractions -the couple is not wasting time “fussin’ about” and is not doing anything that might possibly be considered breaking hold; but it also leaves the couple the most vulnerable to making a mistake, as you’re doing proper quickstep for longer than those employing any of the tactics I mentioned above.  If you go this route – you better be legitimately good at quickstep :-P For that reason, I would say only those couples that are truly skilled tend to go this route – and I found Apolo & Karina’s quickstep to be the perfect example. No gimmicks, no stalling, no extraneous non-quickstep moves – just plain good quickstep.  :-) Other examples: Laila & Maks’ 2nd quickstep in season 4, Jennifer & Derek’s quickstep in season 11

So knowing all of this – do I think Mark had a valid argument when he claimed other couples broke hold but didn’t get called out? Mehhh…not really.  :-P Were there some iffy things going on in some of the routines, that the judges probably should have at least touched upon in their critiques? Sure.  But did anyone else blatantly break hold like Bristol & Mark did…multiple times? No way Jose.  But what do you guys think? Should the rules of quickstep be set in stone…or should there be some room for interpretation?