Social dance with Darren & Lilia

Darren & Lilia - Jive - 1Last night I saw Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova demonstrate at a social dance. As well as both having won series of Strictly Come Dancing, they’re currently British Latin Dance Champions and are pretty much the best of the best in UK terms. I’ve decided I don’t like them much: they’re both too attractive, pleasant (my dance teachers know them and say they’re lovely) and good at what they do. It’s just not fair 🙂

Despite arriving early the tables around the dancefloor were all taken, so we took seats upstairs. At first this was disappointing, but it turned out to be a great position.

There was an hour and a half of social dancing before the demonstration. Lynsey and I went downstairs for the jive, and in the middle of the routine I felt my foot collide with someone’s calf and slide down to slam into their toe. The lady limped off the floor and was in some pain for five minutes, but was very gracious when I apologised – these things just happen sometimes, neither of us had actually make a mistake. I still felt terrible about it, though – I’ve never hurt anybody that much before! After that I tried a waltz, foxtrot and cha-cha, all of which were mini adventures due to the sheer number of people on the floor.

The demonstration started, and most people headed downstairs. Our vantage point above the dancefloor, however, provided a superb view and was excellent for taking photographs without background distractions. Darren and Lilia danced all five Latin dances – the samba, cha-cha, rumba, paso doble and jive – and were unsurprisingly excellent throughout. Lilia changed between each dance, during which time Darren took the microphone and kept everybody entertained. They’re married, and he spent plenty of time winding her up – she got her own back by taking the microphone and telling stories of people recognising her but not him.

I took a whole bunch of pictures, and was very happy with some of the results:

Darren & Lilia - Jive - 4 Darren & Lilia - Cha-Cha - 12Darren & Lilia - Rumba - 4

Darren & Lilia - Cha-Cha - 10Darren & Lilia - Samba - 5

(shame about that left hand, mind). This is definitely my favourite shot:

Darren & Lilia - Paso Doble - 2

How on Earth does she do that?

My autofocus struggled slightly, so in some of the pictures I’m hoping the pose makes up for the technical quality. I wish this had been sharp, for example:

Darren & Lilia - Rumba - 3

Afterwards they spent a long time signing autographs and posing for pictures, so Lynsey took the opportunity – unfortunately I’d forgotten to change back to my wide-angle beforehand, so couldn’t fit Lilia in. At one point afterwards they both looked up and directly at me; it was rather surreal to have the full attention of two people I’d only ever seen on television – I had to quickly think of something to say!

There was another hour or so of blessedly injury-free dances before it finished. I definitely need to work on my floorcraft as I found navigating the busy floor very difficult, and crashed into people on a number of occasions. All good fun, though. Apparently they hold such dances every few months, although not always with such famous couples demonstrating.

There were a couple of technical points I wanted to mention about the photography:

I’ve had limited success with dance photography. Demonstration dances are particularly tricky in that the surrounding audience rarely allow for good composition unless you lie on the floor and shoot upwards, which you can’t really get away with unless you’re the official photographer. You need a fast shutter speed (unless you want to be really clever) so, given the low light levels, zooming in on the dancers is difficult without expensive lenses. It’s also generally so dark that a flash is necessary, which washes everything out – I should really invest in a decent external flash with diffuser etc..

Last night I took along my little 50mm lens, which has no zoom but can open up to f1.8, so it’s great for low-light situations. The room was reasonably bright, and the light floor helped, so it actually hovered at around f2. I’d forgotten quite how little depth-of-field you get at that low an f-number, mind.

I love my EOS 300D, but the situation pushed it to its limits. It has a multiple-image mode in which I can hold down the shutter and it’ll keep taking shots, but the buffer can only store four at a time, and twice I was unable to take any more while it transferred to the memory card, which was very frustrating. Newer cameras have much larger buffers. Also, the autofocus wasn’t great. I’m fuzzy on how much is down to the lens and how much is the camera – presumably the camera analyses the image, decides on focus points and orders the lens to physically move, right? – but it just wasn’t fast enough to cope with the dancing. Sometimes it got the floor, which isn’t entirely unreasonable, but sometimes it didn’t manage much at all (I didn’t upload those). It’s still by far the best camera I’ve ever used, though, and I certainly can’t afford to upgrade to the better autofocus systems of the professional models. I’ll just have to practice more 🙂