The Past Is Young And The Future Old

It was a quiet week this week for me, with only a little bit of actual dancing… though I was out at a dance studio hanging out for a while, which made my total studio time this week a lot longer than the time I was actually in any of my dance shoes.

Monday night I went out to the Electric Dance Hall. Normally I go out there on Mondays for Latin Technique class, but this Monday was special. It was actually Lord Junior’s birthday! Last week after class had wrapped up, all of us who were there wandered off to one side of the dance floor away from Lord Junior, and there we came up with a plan to meet at the studio this Monday and surprise him. We divided up the tasks, and picked out something to get for him that he would enjoy and would also be comical, and then quietly left the studio so that he wouldn’t think we were all up to something.

It was actually kind of lucky that the female instructor I mentioned had joined us in class last week, because she became an integral part of our plan to make this a surprise for Lord Junior. She had a lesson scheduled already before class would have started this Monday night, so she told us that we could all meet up outside the studio and come in a few minutes after class would have started to truly surprise him. Her job would be to hang out inside the studio after her lesson finished, making sure that he didn’t just up and leave if no one showed up by the time class was supposed to start. It seemed like a brilliant plan!

Except… somehow we all missed passing on our plan to one person. One of the young ladies who has been coming to Latin Technique class regularly, and was actually in class with us last week, somehow got left out of the side conversation at the end of class as we planned our little surprise party. Those of us in on the plan managed to meet up outside on one of the far sides of the studio away from the windows, and as we all came into the building a couple of minutes after class was supposed to start singing ‘Happy Birthday’, there she was standing on the dance floor in her dance shoes, looking just as surprised as Lord Junior was. What a twist!

So we didn’t actually dance during class. Instead, someone had brought a number of adult beverages to share, and someone brought cake, and someone brought chips, and one lady even brought a funny birthday hat for Lord Junior to wear, so we all just hung out and talked and ate. It was fun. I have to say that since most of my friends who live near me are all dancers, I don’t actually hang out with people all that often when dancing isn’t involved anymore. So even though we were all still at a dance studio, it was kind of nice just to be people who were spending time together for a night, instead of being dancers.

The cake was pretty good. 🙂

After about forty-five minutes, Lord Junior decided that the party should walk across the street with him to the nearby bar/restaurant/whatever that place is and they could all continue to drink and also watch whatever Monday night games were on. I ended up leaving at that point. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and yet I still had gone to the gym to do a hard chest and back workout after work, finishing with just enough time to shower and grab a quick bite before heading to the party. So by that point I was just beat. I went home and curled up on the couch where my cat was already asleep and kept her company until I couldn’t stay awake any longer and then went to bed.

That makes me sound so old, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m getting older everyday, right? At what point do I get to start yelling at kids to stay off my lawn, and then telling them that when I was young and had to walk to and from school, it was always uphill no matter which way I was going?

Aside from that event, I did do some actual dancing on Wednesday night when I went to Standard Technique class. And I even learned a new figure… one that wasn’t exactly new in a technical sense for me, but I had never seen the movement used in that manner before and I thought it was pretty fun. It’s one of those movements that I am going to try and file in my back pocket to use later when I get a chance. We’ll see how well I do with that.

We looked at Waltz last night. The little progression of figures Lord Junior put together for us to work on had a few pretty challenging points. One of those points, which really shouldn’t be challenging for me at this point but still takes me a couple of tries to get right whenever I see it, was that it started off with a Double Natural Spin.

If you’ve done Bronze International Waltz (or Quickstep) before, you’ve probably seen a Double Reverse Spin. It’s a common figure that most everyone gets introduced to early on. In fact, it’s usually the first figure a Follower sees where they have to do a Heel Turn, so most Followers probably remember the Double Reverse Spin well because it involved learning that action. A Double Natural Spin is essentially the same figure, just turning the opposite direction, as you probably guessed.

There’s nothing surprising or hard about doing that, it just feels kind of wrong. It’s not a Double Reverse Spin… and yet it is. Like I said, I can get through the Double Natural Spin with no issues, just… not on the first try usually. I have to step through it once or twice to remind my body that we’re going to be doing things a bit backward. Once I get used to that, I’m all good to go.

So our progression started out with us taking a side step onto the left leg and winding up a bit and then going right into that Double Natural Spin, and we came out of that into a basic Half Natural Turn. From there we did a normal Natural Spin Turn and then added on a Left Whisk. The Left Whisk we used like a checking action, making sure we lowered into the legs and put in a lot of twist in the body because we came out of that using what Lord Junior called a ‘Standing Spin’ – which is the movement that I thought was interesting and fun.

Basically the turn is exactly like the name describes. In the Left Whisk I had my right leg crossed behind my left and my body was wound up, and then much like a Twist Turn in Tango I just unwound while standing up in one spot. The ladies had a much more difficult task because they had to move around us as we twisted (much like the aforementioned Twist Turn). By the time we finished, we had gone around almost a full 360° so that we were standing facing the wall again. Something about doing this action in the Waltz was just interesting to me. Like I said, I’m going to try and remember it for general use in the future.

After we got done with the Standing Spin, we rotated the Follower to put them perpendicular to us and then we went into a Same Foot Lunge to our right. This lunge could be held for just two beats to make the figure a full three count, or you could extend it for an extra three if you really wanted to milk the drama out of it. To come out, we brought the Follower back up from the lunge and had them pivot quickly to face us and put us back in normal dance position facing line of dance. After that we went into a simple Open Telemark that we could use to connect on something else afterward.

So that’s all I did. Like I said, a fairly quiet week this past week, with one important point that I am noting here to remember later. Will this next week be full of more dance fun? We’ll have to see. Tune in next Thursday to find out!

Some Dance To Remember, Some Dance To Forget

In a surprising turn of events that I wasn’t really expecting, last Saturday I was out at a competition. I wasn’t actually dancing in this competition, but I was there for a good chunk of the day as a volunteer helping out.

This all started two days prior when I got a text message from my coach Lord Dormamu. He said that he was running a Pro/Am event out at the Endless Dance Hall and they were going to be short staffed, so I should come help. It wasn’t like he was asking for me to be there to help, so much as instructing me to be there. “Voluntold” I believe is the pseudo-word that describes this type of situation.

But I had been thinking about going out to at least watch this event even before I was told to come help out. People that I knew were going to be dancing – Lord Junior in particular had a contingent of people from his studio that were going, so he told a bunch of us after class last Wednesday night that if we weren’t doing anything that Saturday we should all come by and cheer them on. So actually being there that day was already on my list of potential plans.

I got up early enough that day to arrive at the venue before the doors opened for the competitors, but I didn’t actually make it inside that early. As I was pulling into the parking lot, Lord Dormamu was pulling out. I waved at him as I drove by to park my car, but that caused him to back up and stop me so we could talk. He was headed out to pick up some things that someone had forgotten to get for the competition, but since the two places he needed to go were in opposite directions, he asked if I could go get one item while he went to get the other so things would be acquired faster. The items I needed to get weren’t super exciting, just a couple of reams of paper, but the scrutineer was super happy when I finally got inside the building and delivered them to him.

There were only a few other volunteers that had been asked to help that day. The lady who was playing deck captain for the day was one of them – I’ve seen her around a lot at various dance parties and competitions in the area, but for the life of me I couldn’t actually tell you her name. I’m just terrible with names. Sparkledancer was also there sitting at the registration desk getting people signed in and collecting money that hadn’t been paid for entries yet. Lord Dormamu’s personal assistant was also there at the front desk too, but she said that she wanted me to take over for her because the shuttle that was supposed to pick up all the judges from their hotel had booked things on the wrong day, so someone had to run over and get them quickly before the event started.

I wondered why she didn’t just ask me to go get them so that she could stay and run the front desk, but it turns out that I was actually the better person to leave at the studio because once Lord Dormamu got back I got roped into moving around a bunch of heavy stuff. His exact request to me was something along the lines of “We need your guns to carry stuff out of the back room.” So I flexed my muscles and helped bring out extra tables and chairs for all the spectators that unexpectedly showed up, and a podium that someone found in the back to put on stage for the emcee, and the like.

With the number of people who had shown up to watch and all the dancers who had come in by that point and had taken to the floor to warm up, it was just easier for me to carry things around rather than find a cart to move things. They had given me a cart that I could use when I got started, but I found that I could weave between people much easier while carrying items in my arms rather than trying to steer the cart between people.

When I did get a chance to be up at the desk checking people in, for the most part everything went OK. There were a few instructors who hadn’t paid their entry fees yet that I collected money from. Only one of those took a look at the amount I had been given as what he owed and told me that it wasn’t the number that he had been given prior to arriving that day. Not having been given anything more than a total amount, I had to find one of the people in charge to go and pull his itemized list of charges to figure out where the difference was.

The only complaint I would put out was about the fact that no one had brought a dedicated mechanism for the front desk to run credit cards with. That made life difficult for those of us up at the desk running things when any spectators showed up and wanted to pay for their ticket by card. That  required either Sparkledancer or I to track down one of the two main organizers so they could run the card through on their phone. That was a little annoying anytime it happened.

There was only one lady that got super upset that I had to deal with. She showed up near the time when the morning session was almost over and wanted to get a spectator ticket so she could hang around the rest of the day. The ticket prices for spectators were set at a weird amount in my opinion ($25 each). That’s not an amount of cash that a lot of people have on hand, and most ATMs only and out twenties, so personally I think that just setting the ticket price to come watch at $20 makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, we didn’t start off the day with any small bills because none of the organizers had remembered to stop at the bank before the event. We managed to make it through the morning up until that point by having enough people show up with exact change that we had some small bills to work with at any given time, and when we didn’t have correct change we managed to find and force one of the organizers to empty out all the small bills in their wallets for us to use. That had been a pretty good system, but by the time this lady showed up we had just run out and didn’t have enough in small bills left over to break her two twenties, and none of the organizers were anywhere where we could see them.

When she showed up, I had been off in the back on another quest to help move around some heavy things,  so when I returned to the front desk this lady was already standing off to the side with a sour look on her face while Sparkledancer was checking in a competitor who was going to dance in the afternoon session. I asked the lady if she had been helped yet, and rather than just getting a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ I got an earful from her about how terribly unprofessional it was that none of us had any change to break her twenty so she could buy a ticket and get in.

I then made the mistake of telling her that we could run a credit card for her, which would help move things along faster. That got me another earful about how she shouldn’t have to pay some percentage credit card fee just because no one had bothered to get enough change to make it through the day. She had strong opinions about that! After checking my own wallet to verify that I didn’t have enough left over to make change for her myself (I don’t usually carry cash – the percent fee for running my card doesn’t bother me enough to give up the convenience of not having stacks of bills stuffed in my wallet), I told her to give me a few minutes and I would see if I could find someone else who could break a twenty for her.

People who get angry like that over little things just stand out in my memory – and not in a good way. You would think that if she was familiar enough with ballroom dancing to want to come and watch a competition that she would know that Sparkledancer and I were merely volunteers helping out, and yelling at us about how unprofessional things that we had no control over were wasn’t going to help resolve her situation any faster. I did manage to finally catch Lord Dormamu when he had a moment between all the stuff he was doing to run the show to see if he had any change on him, and between the two of us we managed to come up with enough to finally break her twenty, so everything worked out in the end.

Let this be a lesson for all of you who might be reading: to make life easier for everyone involved, please set your ticket prices to an easy amount like $20. Sure, you will have those few weird people who come in that want to pay with a $50, so you will need a few $10s on hand to deal with that, but otherwise keeping the price at a nice even amount like $20 will make everyone’s life so much easier. I promise.

Time for a note about something funny – Monday night at Latin Technique class, Lord Junior had planned on having us warm up by doing some turning Rumba Walks and then possibly moving on to something harder to challenge us. That night we actually had a fair number of people in class with us, with five people who would dance the Follow part and five who would be Lead. The random female instructor who has joined us in class before had decided to hang around for class again that night after her private lesson finished, and she was planning on dancing Lead, which is why I list it that way.

But we ended up spending a lot of time working on just those Rumba walks. They weren’t merely straight walks down the floor, but it wasn’t anything so complicated that you would have thought people would have trouble with it. If you started with taking a step forward on the right leg, you would do a 90° turn to the right and then take a side step with the left leg, then do a 90° turn to the right and step forward again with the right leg, and so on and so forth. If you started by taking a step forward on the left leg it was basically the same process except the first turn would be to the left and the second would be to the right.

You could go all the way down the floor like this for practice if you wanted, but we only did three sets of three steps before turning around and going back toward where we started using the other leg. It sounds like a pretty simple exercise, right? I thought it was. In fact, I had done something similar to this before in Latin Technique class, so I had a pretty good feeling for what I was supposed to be doing. I tried to focus on taking the steps by pushing out of my standing leg without pushing myself so far that I would slide down the floor. Since I have trained to dance International Standard rather than Latin, my default is to travel as much as possible when I move, which doesn’t work so well in Latin.

All of the other people in class had a really hilarious time doing this though. One guy in class spent the first part of the exercise somehow rotating the opposite way than he was supposed to, so he struggled to use the correct leg for taking the next step if he did that. At one point Lord Junior had to stop everyone because he was laughing too hard to keep counting, and he told us that the guy had done a 270° turn in the wrong direction so he could face forward and take the next step with the correct leg rather than do the easier 90° turn we were supposed to do. The guy in class just shrugged and said that at least he managed to use the correct leg for the next step that time.

After the first time down the floor, when we turned around to go back in the opposite direction Lord Junior said that he would count for us and we could do the steps in time. He gave us the first four count so we could get a feel for the tempo, and then we started on the next two since this was International Rumba. As we got through the first set of three steps, I stopped in place to wait for the next two before moving on… but apparently no one else did. Lord Junior had to stop the whole thing and laugh at the class, because every single other person (including the lady in class with us who has been an instructor for many years) didn’t hold. He pointed at me and said that the only person who did the timing right for some reason was me, and I don’t even dance Latin competitively like everyone else in class (except Sparkledancer) did. Lord Junior thought that was super funny.

Finally this week, Standard Technique class. No one could remember what we had worked on over the last couple of weeks at the start of class (and I didn’t want to seem weird by looking up what I had secretly written down on this site), so we opted to go over some Foxtrot even though I think we had done that style recently. It was still fun though, and for the most part, this class was more successful than class on Monday night.

The progression we looked at felt pretty simple to me. We started off with a Feather heading toward diagonal center. Next we did three Curved Three Steps in a row – first one was forward, the second went backward, the third forward again, and the whole thing ended with a Feather Finish. However, the Feather Finish we used here ended with a checking action so that we could start moving backward into a Top Spin (I’m not sure why they call the figure a ‘Top Spin’ since the figure actually has no real spin to it at all). After the Top Spin we finished the whole thing off with a Double Reverse Spin modified for Foxtrot timing, with a Feather Finish at the end to cap everything off.

It’s hard to believe that we’re already a week into November now! Holy moly, that means that the year is winding down! Soon I will have to start thinking about things like holiday parties and possibly getting my ticket to the big Christmas formal dance if I decide I want to go. And then figuring out what to do with all the New Year’s Eve parties to choose from! It’s going to be a busy time of year for dancing. Are you ready?

The Candles Blew And Then Disappeared

If you hadn’t noticed, there was a holiday today! Did you don your favorite costume and have some fun? I did. I thought it would be more fun, since I thought I had an awesome costume and I was all set to hand out lots of candy, but the rain kept things quieter than I was imagining. Ah well, I was still able to amuse myself, and that’s what is really important.

To truly celebrate the holiday, I went out to a Halloween-themed dance party this past weekend, and the party did not disappoint. Oh man, it was so… weird. Weird in a way that I think was really funny, and also a little disturbing. But is that not truly the essence of Halloween? If your Halloween wasn’t funny and a little disturbing, did you actually do anything to celebrate? I would argue that you did not!

Let me set up the scene for you so you can try and picture what went on where I was… Last Saturday night, if you were outside it was dark and cool, and the rain was falling lightly, giving the night an appropriately spooky feeling. The venue where the party took place was the Fellowship Dance Hall – a place I haven’t been to in some time, which isn’t actually a normal dance studio, but rather a multi-purpose gathering place that happened to have wooden floors. On one side of the room there was a stage. The DJ had set up on one corner of the stage to play music, and the rest of the stage was decorated with all sorts of Halloween props, except for a section along the front of the stage where a couple of microphones and a large screen were set up and waiting.

See, this dance party offered something more than just ballroom dancing. This dance party was also going to let people do karaoke – and the other attendees were expected to dance while people were up on stage performing. You can probably see what intrigued me about going to this party in the first place now. When my dance friends asked if I wanted to go along with them, and explained this unique element of the party to me, I just knew I had to be there to witness what a combined ballroom dance/karaoke party looked like.

Oh man, if you weren’t there, you totally missed out.

So let me start off by telling you the awkward way this party started for me… I had what I thought was a ‘cool’ costume. It was something that I thought would fit right in at a masquerade party – the whole ensemble was mostly black with just a few colorful highlights. In a room with people who didn’t know me very well, it would probably be hard to tell who was behind the costume, but in a room full of dancers from the ballroom community where I lived, I figured that most people would be able to tell it was me at a glance. After all, the adornments on my costume didn’t really hide my trademark muscular frame, and I am one of the few males at the party that also didn’t have gray hair, so obviously I was a lot younger. That makes it easy to tell it was me, in my opinion.

Anyway, I got there and met up with my friends, and the first song (a Waltz) comes on, so I ask Sparkledancer to go do it with me. When the song finishes up and Sparkledancer and I head back to stand by the table where we started, this older lady who is a friend of Sparkledancer is following close on her heels to say hello to her. The two of them are talking off to my right, and I was listening to someone else while they did so. I could kind of hear what the two ladies were saying, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

Suddenly the older lady raises her voice a click and asks Sparkledancer to confirm that the person standing there was actually me. This made me change what I was listening to so I could figure out why my name came up. Sparkledancer was laughing and telling the lady that she was correct, it was me. The older lady laughed at that and tells Sparkledancer, in an even louder voice so that there was no way that I couldn’t hear her, that she totally knew it! She saw Sparkledancer and I dancing that Waltz, and she recognized my butt, and that she’s spent a lot of time watching my butt in the past so there was no mistaking my butt for anyone else’s.

My eyes got really wide and I slowly turned my head to look over at the two of them. Sparkledancer was looking at me with this look of shock on her face, while the other lady was just all smiles and was waving at me now that I finally acknowledged the two of them. I waved back and then tried to find something else to look at to avoid getting drawn into their discussion.

I really don’t think she was trying to make a joke to get my attention… I think that she was serious about that comment. That’s… I should probably say flattering, but it was actually a bit disturbing. I mean, I know who this lady is, but I haven’t really spent a ton of time talking to her. Why would she admit to watching me like that? Was she actually doing it as a joke, and rather than being funny it just came across as being totally sincere?

So that’s how the night started off for me.

But the karaoke and dancing combination, that definitely took the cake that evening. It doesn’t sound like it would be all that difficult of a concept to put together. After all, you can certainly dance to music performed by a live band/orchestra with a singer. I’ve done that lots of times, in fact. But the way they combined the two at this particular party, and some of the songs that they allowed, just made me laugh because of how ridiculous things were.

Let’s go through what I think were the three most poignant acts:

  • The most hilarious: this just cracked me up to no end. A group of friends got up to do a song together, and they were soooooooo far off time at the beginning of the song. Normally that isn’t so funny, but can you guess the song that they weren’t able to sing on time with the background music? Rock Around The Clock. Not being able to sing a song that is about time and stay on time with the music was just really, really funny to me.
  • The most cringe-worthy: there was a Tango that was a song from a famous musical you might have heard of (one about an apparition who haunts a performance house for singers) which a man and woman decided to perform in German for some reason. The DJ also decided partway through the song to join in and sing with them. First off, their German was questionable. Having been taught to sing in German in my past, there was a lot about the way they chose to pronounce their words that would have made my vocal coach sad. The part that really made it hard to listen to though was that the three singers each seemed to be trying to outsing the others, and the result made the song sound discordant and dissonant, and (when one of them put the microphone too close to their mouth) even a little painful to the ears.

As for the saddest act, there were actually two songs that, together, just came across as being a sad combination, but to understand why I’ll have to tell you a bit of a story…

There is this older couple, a husband and wife pair, who are avid social dancers. I have seen them going to dance parties together for many years. While they often dance together, the husband was a nice enough guy that he will mix with the crowd to dance with other ladies who don’t have partners during the party… or so I thought.

Someone told me that this older gentleman actually got caught having an affair with another woman in the dance community. Supposedly, and I don’t know if this is entirely true or not, the woman started the affair with the gentleman because she wanted to get preferential treatment from him at social dances. Meaning that when he wasn’t dancing with his wife he would naturally want to dance with her more often because she was putting out for him.

The man got caught because of a mistake that this woman made – on the two year ‘anniversary’ of when they first hooked up, the woman wrote the man a long email detailing all of the dirty things that she wanted to do with him the next time they got together. Since this lady was “friends” with both the man and his wife, somehow she didn’t look closely at the address she was sending this explicit email to, and ended up accidentally sending it to the man’s wife instead… OOPS! Obviously that mistake brought an end to the affair. The wife reconciled with the husband and they are still together.

You would think that getting caught in such a manner would teach him to give up his philandering ways, but apparently not. Some time after the email ended that affair, a different woman from the dance community who was friends with his wife had gone through some sort of surgery that left her unable to do many things around her house while she was recovering. The wife, feeling bad for her friend, would go over to visit and bring her husband along so that he could help take care “manly things” while the two women visited.

This setup was going fine while the wife was there on the visits, but one time the woman needed help with something at her house and the wife wasn’t able to go over there, so she sent her husband over by himself. The woman says that at one point while he was there doing the work, he stopped what he was doing, came up behind her, reached around her and put his hands all over her chest, and said something creepy along the lines of ‘C’mon, you’re not getting any action anywhere else…’

While this other woman did manage to get away from the situation without anything untoward happening, she doesn’t want the wife to find out about what happened. She is worried that if the wife finds out and the husband gets in trouble (again!), that he will no longer ask her to dance during dance parties. When there is already a shortage of men at these parties, she couldn’t bear the idea of losing the opportunity to dance with one of the few that attends, even if the dances she has had with the husband since that encounter have been rather awkward, as you can imagine.

What. A. Jerk.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, both the husband and wife got up on stage a couple of times to do karaoke at this Halloween party. The first time they did a song together, and it was a bouncy East Coast Swing number. But then each of them did a song on their own, and those songs were so… well, knowing the story behind their relationship, there is something sad about what they sang.

The wife got up and sang the Patsy Cline version of Crazy. Yeah, if there is a better song that a wife could sing directly to her cheating husband in front of everyone she knows, I can’t really think of one. Except, while she was singing, the husband wasn’t even paying attention to his wife’s performance. I saw him keeping himself busy out on the dance floor, slow dancing with another woman who was dressed up like a cowgirl. Not slow dancing in a ballroom way using either Rumba or Bolero or the like, but just swaying back and forth in time with the music with this woman in his arms.

What kind of song do you think a man like that would get up and perform? A song to express his sorrow for wronging his spouse? Something that would show that he has true feelings for her despite the ways he has wronged her that she knew about (and those that she didn’t)? Perhaps a love song to try and make her swoon?

Nope. He got up and sang the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.

Such a weird night. Such a strange adventure. Only in the world of ballroom dancing, right?

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you got all the candy that your stomach could handle today. If you want some more, I have a bunch left over that I didn’t hand out to kids who came to my door this evening. I’ll end up throwing it in my freezer, and it will probably take a whole year for me to finish it on my own, so if you want any just let me know!

She Had The Body Of A Venus, Lord Imagine My Surprise

There’s been some discussion among people at various studios I have been at the past couple of weeks related to a couple of big announcements that went out in the past month or so about changes to the world of competitive ballroom in this country. If you are a competitive dancer, you’ve probably either seen or heard about the change. If you’re not, maybe I’ll be the one who informs you about this change, and it probably won’t affect your life in any way other than as a passing topic of conversation about the world of competitive ballroom dancing that you can tell all your dance friends about.

The two big dance clubs that organize competitions across the country both released a similar change in their policies about who can be in their competitions. Up until the release of the change, all competitive couples dancing in events (whether Amateur or Pro/Am) were usually a male dancing the Lead part, and a Female dancing the Follow part. There were some competitions I know of that offered ‘Same Sex’ events where a couple could have a Lead and Follow who were both male or female, but these events were kept separate from the normal events so that those same sex couples wouldn’t be dancing against the traditional couples. As you can imagine, not many people signed up to be in these events.

Now that the change in policy has been released, both of these large organizations in the country are moving to what they call ‘gender neutral’ competitions. All competitive couples who sign up to dance in any event are still required to have one person who dances the Lead and one that dances the Follow, but now they don’t care whether it is a male or female performing either of those roles. And all couples signed up now have to dance against one another – no more segregation of non-traditional gender dancers from the traditionally gendered couples. The only segregation that remain for events are based on age categories and proficiency levels.

If you’ve hung around the world of ballroom dancing for as long as I have, this announcement of change in policy probably just makes you shrug and ask “What took you so long to allow this?” Many dancers have already spent time learning both Lead and Follow for one reason or another, and have learned that it isn’t all that weird to dance with someone of the same gender as you. I myself have been to a bunch of classes over the years where I was shown the Follower’s side of figures, even asked to dance the Follower’s part so I would better understand what my partner is going through when I lead them. I’ve also worked with male instructors for a long time, so if I had issues dancing with another male that would make things awkward for me.

A humorous note about that particular point – a couple weeks ago I was in a discussion about this change with a few people before Standard Technique class started. Lord Junior joined into our conversation and said that he had actually thought that he needed to get in some practice to improve his ability to do the Follow part, and then he laughed and said that if he was going to put in the effort then it would be great if he could also compete as a Follow. I picked up on his joke and told him that I knew a guy who danced Lead that had some free time to practice with him since his normal partner was still recovering from an injury.

He looked at me for a second, and then it dawned on him that I was talking about myself. That made him laugh, and he said that the two of us could do it and then compete together as Amateurs for a while until Sparkledancer was cleared to start serious training again. We would have a very distinct look on the floor, Lord Junior said, because I’m muscular and he’s a few inches taller than me. The judges would definitely take notice of us!

Anyone can dance with anyone!

I thought that was funny.

Anyway… none of the discussions that I have been a part of about this policy change have centered around the equality aspects. In fact, everyone I have heard from or spoken with is glad that everyone is now considered equal on the competition floor. I have heard a couple of cynics state that this change in policy actually occurring because competition organizers have noticed a significant drop in the number of dancers at competitions over the last few years, so those cynics thought that this change was actually a way to try and make more money by opening up the field for more dancers… but we’re not going to get into the realm of the conspiracy here.

No, the biggest issue that seems to come up in the discussions I’ve been around has to do with shoes believe it or not. This item may not have come up anytime you have discussed this recent rule change if you don’t dance International Standard, but since I solely compete in Standard (and hang around with a lot of people who also do Standard instead of American Smooth), I have heard this item come up a few times. The question that arises is: does a male dancing the Follower’s part have an inherent advantage when competing in Standard because Heel Turns are easier when you have wide, flat heels?

Any guy who has danced Standard for any length of time (like me) has had to work on doing Heel Turns, just like any lady who dances Standard does. The first time a male usually sees one is in Pre-Bronze Foxtrot when they do the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish, or else it comes up in Bronze Waltz where they also do the Closed Impetus. I’ve been around a lot of people and watched their Bronze Foxtrot routines, and their routines are usually built the same as mine was – at the end of the first short wall you will do a Three Step into a Natural Turn and then use a Closed Impetus with Feather Finish to change walls. When first starting out dancing Standard Foxtrot, this is a hard figure for a guy to master. Trust me, I had to spend a lot of practice time to make mine look even halfway decent!

But looking at the issue from the outside, it can be said that I have had an advantage here over all the partners I have danced with while I learned how to do that Heel Turn. My shoes are normal build for Standard, which means that I have only a one-inch rise to my heel, and that heel covers the whole back of my foot. Look at a lady’s Standard Shoe – the basic heel they come with, from my understanding, starts at two inches, and obviously is capped with a much smaller surface. Even when a lady puts a heel protector over the end it doesn’t give it a whole lot more surface against the floor.

Because I have so much more surface area to work with on my heel, when I drag my heel toward the other foot as I do a Heel Turn, I don’t have to worry about wobbling and losing my balance. That’s never been a thing I’ve had to practice to make my Closed Impetus look good – usually for me it was issues with the position of my upper body as I turned. I can’t even imagine what it’s like trying to do that same action with only a small point on the floor supporting my weight!

So while costume requirement changes haven’t been finalized for this new gender-neutral competitive world that we now live in and no one can say for certain, I think that we are pretty safe to say that no organization is going to put in their costume requirements that males dancing the Follow part are going to have to invest in shoes with higher heels and small points at the end. I think that males dancing the Follow part in Standard are probably just going to wear normal male Standard shoes like they already would if they were dancing the Lead part. Do you think that this is going to give males dancing the Follow part an advantage over any ladies dancing the Follow part if they have to compete against each other now?

One answer to this concern that an instructor I know mentioned seems to be the answer that we are all thinking will become reality: it isn’t actually something to worry about. Because of the lack of men who compete in ballroom dancing in general, the times that competitors will likely run into a couple where the male is dancing the Follow part are going to be rare. More often you are probably going to see ladies who are dancing the Lead part instead. As a couple of people brought up, this change in rules is most likely going to be widely adopted first by college ballroom teams where there aren’t a lot of men to go around.

With this change in policy, people I know are foreseeing some of the ladies on college teams learning the Lead part so that they can compete with other ladies on the team rather than hoping one of the men on the team will pick them as a partner, or that the competition offers TBA Leads. This means that those ladies won’t be sitting out waiting for a chance to dance anymore, and any dancing is more fun than not dancing, right? In that situation, most likely the lady dancing the Follow part will be wearing normal Standard shoes, so she will have the same small heel to do Heel Turns with as every other lady on the floor, so there’s no need to worry about that partnership having a competitive edge.

As far as hypothetical situations that may come about due to the policy change, this seems to be more likely. There are a lot more ladies in the ballroom dance community around me, whether competitive or social, than there are men, so if any men wanted to jump into the competitive world they would have no trouble finding a lady who already knows the Follow part who would be willing to try dancing with them. Ladies who want to jump into the competitive world who haven’t already found a partner to dance with usually end up having to go the more expensive Pro/Am route until they can snag an Amateur partner somehow. But now, if you learn to dance Lead on a college ballroom team you have a better chance of being able to compete in Amateur after college if you want to continue dancing, rather than having to go the Pro/Am route to get a partner.

What do you think? Do you think this is a long-overdue policy change that doesn’t really change much about your view of the ballroom world? Do men dancing the Follow part have an advantage because we usually have shorter and more solid heels in our shoes? Is this change going to mean we see a number of ladies pick up dancing Lead so that they can be out on the floor more frequently in competitions?

Let’s talk about some actual dancing before I wrap up this week. Yesterday night I was out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class, as usual. This week, since none of us had any strong feelings one way or another on what to do, Lord Junior decided he wanted to work on some American Foxtrot with us, using the side-by-side Grapevine that he does in his competition routines with a couple of his students as the centerpiece of what we would look at that night.

OK, maybe there are some limitations to who I will happily dance with…

Starting in the corner on one side of the long wall, we did a basic Feather into the first half of an Open Reverse Turn, For the second half, the Lead would do a Progressive Chasse while turning the Follower across our body so that they ended up side-by-side with us on our left. Here we did the side-by-side Grapevine action – two sets with different timing. The first one started off slow, and then the second step was syncopated while the last two were even timing. The second one was done with all steps being quick all the way through.

At the end of the second set both partners would do a check with their right foot to stop. The Leads would shift our weight back to our left leg, which would lead the Follow to shift their weight and then pivot to face us. Next the Leads would bring their feet together while turning the Follower across our body again for one-and-a-half turns so that they ended up perpendicular in front of us. This set us up to do a Same Foot Lunge on the right side.

To close the lunge we would shift our weight to the left side and brush the feet together, doing a sort of Twinkle action, then come out stepping back and slightly to the right, brushing our feet together again in an Open Twinkle to come out moving toward diagonal wall in Promenade Position. Heading into the far corner of the long wall we would do a basic International-style Reverse Turn (with Heel Turn) and then another checking action to change walls, coming out in a Basic Weave going down the short wall to finish up for the evening.

My big problem last night was during the first Open Reverse Turn where I was supposed to lead the Follower through a turn. Moving my arms around just feels weird to me, so for the first ten minutes or so I swear I was either moving my arm too early or too late to turn the Follower properly. I think I got the hang of it by the time the class was over, but for whatever reason I just felt awkward leading that turn last night. I have no idea why.

But I wasn’t the only one having issues – near the end, when Lord Junior was going through the part where we attached the Basic Weave to the checking action, he totally blanked on how to do the footwork for the Follower’s part of the figure for a few minutes. He tried doing it a couple of times and it didn’t feel right, so he would stop and go back. After watching him, I offered to lead him through the figure to see if that helped, but he said he needed to be able to figure it out on his own as a point of pride.

He did manage to get the footwork right after the fifth try and we all felt better about that. However, based on that incident, I would say that if we really ever ended up competing together, then we should probably start back at Bronze. Wouldn’t you agree?