To The Window, To The Wall

 When I finished up my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday morning, I felt… surprisingly good about my dancing.

  Things just seemed to start off on the correct foot that day. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall early, as usual, to warm up. Sparkledancer and I decided to spend most of our time that morning warming up with Waltz, even though we both were pretty sure that when Lord Dormamu finished up with his current lesson he was going to come over and have us work on Foxtrot. That was a correct assumption, so we ran through our entire Foxtrot routine for the first time that morning while under the scrutinizing eye of Lord Dormamu. Turns out that he thought our first run of the routine was the best that he’s ever seen us dance a Foxtrot. He even had us run through it again and got Sir Steven to stop teaching the other student he was with for a few minutes to watch us.

  I didn’t think it felt all that different from what we normally do, but Lord Dormamu was so excited! I even got one extremely positive comment that gave me something to look forward to – as I mentioned, when we started working on Foxtrot with Lord Dormamu, he was telling me that when I danced he wanted me to stay extremely low, almost like getting into a Yoga Chair Pose and then trying to dance. A month and a half ago I had compared dancing Foxtrot in that position to doing the prisyadka, and I still find that comparison to be accurate. During our lesson that day, Lord Dormamu was once again telling me that I needed to get down into the lowest squat I could while still being able to move my legs and dance the routine.

  After a couple of times running through the first part of the routine that day with Lord Dormamu pushing on my shoulders to lower me even further toward the floor, he gave me a break for a minute and told me that no matter what anyone else said about how weird it looked to be dancing Foxtrot in this manner, I needed to keep working on this technique for the time being to make my movement in Foxtrot better. He compared the technique to what he had me do with my head back in March, telling me to keep my nose in line with my sternum to ‘reset’ all the bad habits I had of moving my head around while dancing. It took a few weeks, but after he considered me to be reset to a new default, I was then told to start putting my head in the right position.

  Lord Dormamu’s comment that day was that dancing while being so low to the ground in Foxtrot is not the correct way I should dance. He knows this to be true, other judges will know this, so if I hear instructors make comments about me looking weird, they aren’t wrong. He told me that this exercise is like a doctor giving me medication to cure a sickness. Sure there might be a side effect that no one likes (i.e. me being so low to the ground), but once the sickness is cured then I won’t have to be on the medicine any longer and the side effects will go away, meaning that I will get to come up to a more reasonable height while dancing.

  That is definitely something to look forward to for me. Also… since the ‘sickness’ that he’s curing is the movement of my Foxtrot, does that make it… motion sickness?

  Why yes, I totally did just high-five myself for typing that.

  After Lord Dormamu got us through our movement drills (or got tired trying to fight against my strong legs when he was pushing me down), he had us focus on the Three Step for quite a while. He said that although it is one of the first steps in International Foxtrot that anyone learns, and it is only three steps down the line of dance, the Three Step is one of the hardest figures to master. What he asked us to do was to go slow and pause and balance with every step, giving him a chance to adjust our position if needed and really lock in the feeling of each position before moving to the next step.

  This… was harder than I would have thought. I will admit that working on the isometric portion of Yoga is not my favorite thing to do for a lot of positions. I enjoy the flow and the movement, but holding really uncomfortable positions for long periods of time is something I will actively avoid if I can get away with it. Dancing through the Three Step slow like we were was a lot like only doing the isometric portion of a Yoga routine.

  The second step was really what caused us all the problems. Lord Dormamu wanted me to work on sliding my left foot forward as much as possible in the step, so I would end up with both my left and right legs almost completely straight, still low to the ground, and also trying to twist my upper body to create the right-side sway I should have. Then on top of that, he wanted me to hold that position, maintain my balance, and add in Sparkledancer to the mix and allow her to make micro-adjustments to her position to get in her proper place without knocking me over!
  We worked on this for probably twenty minutes. Ten minutes in, Lord Dormamu got a phone call he had to take, so he left us to work on it on our own for a little while. That was probably for the best, since it allowed me to curse about what we were trying to do without him listening. When he got back and continued to watch and comment on what we were doing, he told us that this was something we should set aside time to work on during our practice sessions. He made sure to say that he realized what we were doing was terrible when going so slow (he had to go through this exercise quite a bit himself over the years), but going slowly is really the best way to practice everything.

  Finishing up, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I meet him in the office to sign the paperwork for our lesson and schedule our next session. As we were each going through our calendars to find a time that worked for all three of us, Lord Dormamu called Sir Steven in to the office as well. He took some time to go over with Sir Steven what we had just done, and told him to continue to avoid working on Foxtrot for the time being. That day he specifically wanted Sir Steven to spend time with us focusing on getting Sparkledancer to extend her body even further out away from mine to create as much volume as possible. The slight look of panic on Sparkledancer’s face when she heard that comment was enough to let me know that she was super excited about that.

  As soon as we finished with all the paperwork, Sparkledancer and I were back out on the floor to work with Sir Steven. He decided to have us work with the Waltz while working on Sparkledancer’s position while in frame. I think my Saturday was all about fun times while moving slow…

  One of the notes that I made after the lesson was over was about a story that Sir Steven told me while working on Sparkledancer’s position. Sir Steven said that I really needed to make sure that I kept myself as straight as possible when Sparkledancer is trying to create volume with her frame, and not to try to ‘help out’ by pulling my upper body away from hers. He has seen me doing that before, so he wanted to squelch the behavior before he sees me doing it again unintentionally. This behavior was something that he himself got yelled at for doing in the past, so he knows firsthand that I shouldn’t be doing it.

  The story goes that some undisclosed time ago, Sir Steven was working with the Princess on his own dancing as he was getting ready to do a competition with his professional partner. In the middle of the dance, the Princess stopped him to ask him what he was doing. Not knowing what she was talking about, he just stared at her blankly until she pointed out that he was leaning his upper body away from her during the figure they were dancing. He said that he was just trying to increase their look and volume during the step, and she just stopped him and said “We can’t both be flowers. I’m supposed to be the pretty flower opening up away from you. Are you a pretty flower?”

 From then on, the Princess would make fun of Sir Steven whenever she saw him start to lean his upper body away from his partner. There would be times he and his professional partner would be practicing, and the Princess would be in the studio doing other things and would yell out across the floor “Sir Steven, who’s the pretty flower?” to remind him to keep himself straight. And for the amusement of everyone else, I’m sure. So the warning I was given that afternoon was to keep my own frame strong and straight if I don’t want to be yelled at by the Princess when she’s around.

  One figure that we focused on in particular that afternoon was the Outside Change that is between our Progressive Chasse to Right and Chasse from Promenade Position. I guess that the way we were coming out of the Outside Change into the Chasse from Promenade Position didn’t look quite right to him. He spent some time making sure that Sparkledancer was heading straight down the line of dance for her first two steps instead of curving off to her right as I was stepping to the right to get out of her way. I spent a lot of time just standing in the position I was in at the end of the Progressive Chasse to the Right as Sir Steven went over the step with her.
  Let’s talk about Latin Technique this week instead of Standard Technique, like I did the last week. I’ve gotten particularly verbose lately when writing these posts, so I’ve decided to try my best to keep them as controlled as I can. There are just so many dance-related things that I want to remember!

  Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class as usual. Our favorite fierce Latin cat Tanya Tiger was there that night, having finally finished up her long-running obligation that had kept her away on Monday nights. To celebrate, she got to pick what we worked on that night, and she picked Samba. I personally don’t think that is much of a way to celebrate, but that’s just my personal opinion.

  The big reason that I wasn’t having much fun that night was because of my dance shoes. I have one pair of Latin shoes, and lately I only wear them for this class. I got them quite a while ago from some website that had a pair of really nice Latin shoes on clearance for 25% of normal price. The problem was that the closest size that they had of these clearance shoes was a half-size smaller than what I usually wear for my ballroom shoes. Since the deal was too good to pass up, I ordered them anyway. The left shoe fits just fine, but the right shoe is too tight. I spent the week after they showed up using all sorts of things like sticks and ice and shoe stretchers to stretch out the right shoe just a little so that it fit, but over time it slowly shrinks until one day I put on the right shoe and my big toe hurts. Then I have to stretch the shoe all over again.

  Monday night it was fairly obvious that the shoe had reached the breaking point that my foot could handle, so I need to stretch it out again. I’m kind of sick of doing this just to make the shoe usable, so I’m contemplating breaking down and ordering new Latin shoes. What holds me back is that I really only use the shoes once a week, just for Latin Technique class. They aren’t like my ballroom shoes which get used all of the time, so replacing them when they have issues is a necessity. I think that it’s finally time to bite the bullet and just order a pair in the right size though. Who knows? Maybe if my shoes fit well I will be more inclined to compete in International Latin again someday. Maybe. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that though.

  What we worked on in Samba was a set of figures that Lord Junior is starting to fit into his Samba routine with Tanya Tiger, but he modified it slightly so that we could all dance the progression without partners that night. I think he did that so that Tanya would end up with an exercise that she could use to practice without him that would help her directly with her routine. We started the progression on one end of the long wall, and those of us who really pushed out of our standing legs could get all the way to the other side when we finished so we could just turn around and go back.

  We began with a Three Step Turn to the left, ending in a sort of lunged-forward position on the left leg. From there we did some Cruzados Walks and Locks, with the Lock Steps being syncopated to make them more interesting. After two sets of the syncopated Lock Steps on the right side, we did three Samba Locks on the left side with no pause in between each one, ending once again in a lunged forward position on the left leg. We held that position for two beats of the music to allow the musical phrase to finish before the next steps.

 Here Lord Junior wanted us to do a non-syllabus figure to make things more interesting. He called the step a ‘Merengue Twist’ so that’s what I’m going to go with. It was a lot like doing a Hip Twist in Rumba or Cha-Cha, where you twist your body so that one leg ends up forward in a press line with the back foot turned perpendicularly. Lord Junior initially told us that he wanted everyone to try twisting as much as possible, so that’s what I was doing, but I felt like I was twisting so much that my front foot was crossing too far in front of my back foot, making it hard to do that step a second time. He watched me go through it once, laughed at what he saw, and told me that I was twisting waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. I backed off to where it was more comfortable and then the step was much easier. We finished up the progression after those Merengue Twists by adding few more repeating Samba Locks on the left side.

Waaaaaaaay too far, for sure.

  It’s summer, so it’s time for me to do some out-of-the-ordinary dancing. I plan on making the hour drive out to the High Five Dance Hall to attend one of their parties. I know that doesn’t seem like much of a drive for some people who have to take long trips every time they want to dance, but I have all of these other dance studios within 20-30 minutes of my house, so going to one that is twice as far doesn’t usually seem necessary. Still, I’ve been trying to get out there at least once a year to help support them and see all the dancers in that area.

  I also saw an email go out that some dance hall I have never heard of before in the area is having an Intermediate/Advanced West Coast Swing class that sounds interesting to me. It is tonight, which is why I am posting this earlier than normal so that I don’t have to worry about trying to get home after this class to finish this post up. Summer dance adventures, here I come!

Only You Have That Magic Technique

Let’s start with this past Saturday, because that’s when the interesting stuff started. I had two lessons scheduled for that afternoon – first one with Sir Steven, and then one with Lord Dormamu. This seems to be becoming a habit for me, because I’ve met with both instructors over the last couple of weeks, and I’ll be meeting with them both again next Saturday as well. At this rate my wallet is probably going to start cursing my name soon because of how empty its stomach is all of the time. Poor guy…

 With Sir Steven we worked on Waltz and Quickstep. There were only a few points I wrote down to remember from each of those. First off, the Waltz: Sir Steven thought that we were rising too much when he watched our starter step. He wanted us to stay at the same level the whole time, only rotating the body as we move side-to-side before lowering as normal to travel forward. There would be no rising until we get into the Natural Turn that follows. The next note I wrote down for Sparkledancer (because she’s the only person who actually knows me that reads and cares about my dance notes): Sir Steven wanted her to keep an eye on what she was doing in the Double Reverse Spins, to make sure that she takes a big step when she is traveling across my body before crossing her feet, and to make sure to take it slower on her last two steps.

We spent more time on Quickstep than Waltz that day. The big thing that Sir Steven pointed out to us was that we needed to watch our timing. It’s not that we were dancing the steps off beat, but we were dancing them very smoothly, like a Waltz. He wanted us to really emphasize the quick steps in each figure, more like a Tango than a Waltz or Foxtrot. We looked at our Natural Spin Turn again, and he was glad that we were coming out in the right direction this week, but now he wants us to travel more during the figure. Finally he briefly talked with us about our sway. He wanted us to only put sway into rotating figures like our Natural Spin Turn or Double Reverse Spin. During the chasses that would travel in a straight line, he wanted us to make sure to stay level the whole time, although he wanted us to be level and also stay even lower than we were.

After finishing up with Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I didn’t actually have to wait long for our lesson with Lord Dormamu. His student who was scheduled to meet with him before my lesson ended up canceling at the last minute. I had just managed to walk over to a place, hoping to grab a bite to eat when I got the call from Lord Dormamu letting me know that we had the option to move our lesson up. Having some extra time that afternoon sounded awesome to me, so I ignored the grumbling in my stomach and rushed back to the Fancy Dance Hall as fast as my legs would carry me.

Sparkledancer was already there talking with Lord Dormamu when I got back. I quickly changed into my dance shoes and headed over to join them. As soon as I was within range, Lord Dormamu said that he wanted to start that day by looking at something in our Waltz routine briefly, something he had noticed while we were working with Sir Steven. He had us back up away from the edge of the floor and do the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change, Chasse from Promenade Position and finally the Natural Turn that would be in the corner. After going through that whole progression, it turns out that it was really the Natural Turn that he wanted to comment on.

What Lord Dormamu had noticed were two things that were both caused by the same issue: first of all, the Natural Turn was rotating too much for his liking. When he saw us dancing with Sir Steven, and then again when he had us try the shorter combination of figures for him, we tended to end the Natural Turn with me facing backing line of dance. He wanted to make sure that we ended the Natural Turn rotating 45° less, or with me facing diagonal wall against line of dance. Secondly, he told me that a wise teacher he had in his youth had told him that there should be a brief pause at the height of the rise on a Natural Turn, where absolutely all movement stops for a “beautiful moment” before you begin to lower and go into the next step. Because we were rotating too much in our Natural Turn, we didn’t have that pause at all, so he wanted to make sure that we added that in.

The cause for this issue was pretty simple for him to point out – I am a very solid piece of meat, so I am much, much heavier than Sparkledancer. When we build up momentum through the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change and Chasse from Promenade Position and then I take the outside of the rotation in the Natural Turn, the weight of my body just keeps me going, and Sparkledancer’s weight is on my right side which just adds on to what I’m doing. This means that it’s all on me to really keep my own body mass under control so that the Natural Turn stops when I hit the right amount of turn and pauses momentarily before moving on.

Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was at that moment: what about the Reverse Turn? Should I have the same pause? Am I unintentionally over-rotating there as well? I asked Lord Dormamu that very thing. He said that yes, I should have the same brief pause in a Reverse Turn, but I am already managing to put that in where he wants so we didn’t need to go back and look at that figure. Because I am rotating the other direction in a Reverse Turn and essentially trying to turn through Sparkledancer’s body, the momentum is unable to continue turning me unchecked like it does in a Natural Turn, so it isn’t an issue for me. Yay! I managed to dodge one bullet.

Finishing that, we moved on to Foxtrot. We first looked at our movement, since that has been the focus for Foxtrot over the last few weeks. Apparently that day our movement was rising too much for his liking, so to fix that he wanted us to stay down lower and keep ourselves traveling fairly evenly the whole time. He gave us a demonstration using his belt buckle as the focal point, to show us how he could travel all over the place in Foxtrot and his belt buckle stayed pretty much the same distance from the floor the entire time. Does that mean that I am going to have to start wearing belts with obnoxious buckles when I practice? I’m going to try doing it without first, and we’ll have to go from there.

Next we looked at a completely different topic, which was the sway that he wanted us to start adding into the Foxtrot while we danced. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I ended up discussing sway in two different dances in one day…

 Before we started dancing, Lord Dormamu gave us a brief lecture on the idea of sway so that we would understand the big picture of what he wanted us to work on. What he said was that first off, our sway basically makes our shoulder line work like a teeter-totter around the central focal point under our head. If we raise the right side, then like a teeter-totter the left side should go down by an equal amount, and vice-versa. Obviously this over-simplifies the idea because there’s a whole thing about not ‘breaking’ your side while doing this, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

The next idea he wanted to stress was that the sway that we do needs to be “harmonic” throughout the course of the routine. What that means is basically if we were to dance two figures in a row, like a simple Feather and a Three Step for instance, we would sway with the left side forward and up on the Feather, and the right side forward and up on the Three Step. To achieve the harmonic balance that is needed, the amount that your left side goes up when you would sway during a Feather needs to be the same amount that the right side goes up during the sway of the Three Step.

Sounds easy enough to do, right? Well, here’s the last (and arguable the most difficult) idea that Lord Dormamu told us – the sway should always be initiated naturally based on the footwork of the figure. If you are just swaying because someone told you to, then the movement looks unnatural and forced. Sway should happen in a figure whenever you go up on your toes, and it should level out when you lower down to your whole foot. For a Feather, this means that you are neutral for the first step, but as you take the second step with your left foot and roll up onto the ball of your foot, that movement should naturally make the left side of your body rise up. As you take the third step with your right foot and roll down from the ball of your foot to using your whole foot your left side should come down and level out once more. You can follow through with the movement to accentuate the sway, but you should always make it look natural, never forced.

As I digested the information, I asked if our routine had been specifically choreographed so that each figure changes from left side sway to right side sway. Initially Lord Dormamu said yes, but then he paused and started slowly looking along the edge of the room. I could see his eyes twitching as if he were watching an invisible couple dancing through the routine. Finally he looked back at me and said the answer was yes, but there was an exception he had to tell us about for the two Weaves that we had in the routine. A Weave, because it is a series of steps where you are up on the ball of your feet for more than one step, should have no sway at all. He used the Natural Weave to demonstrate this, showing how there was a left-side sway as you go through the Natural Turn at the beginning, but then the sway levels out until you get to the Feather Finish at the end of the figure and have to add in the left-side sway once more.

Whew… so that was my crazy ‘Theory of Dance’ discussion from this weekend. We spent the last few minutes of our session practicing this idea. Now that I’m putting a lot of thought into how I’m swaying, it seems way more difficult than it used to be, so it’s definitely going to require some practice on my part. I have to say that these discussions with Lord Dormamu are the most fascinating part of taking lessons from him. I feel that one thing for an instructor to just tell you to do all these things while dancing, but I personally like that Lord Dormamu actually takes the time to explain to me the theory behind how and why these techniques are the way that they are. I find it really helpful.

And now something completely different:

Saturday night I headed out to the City Dance Hall because I was asked to go to an open dance party being held there. I was told that there was going to be an American Viennese Waltz lesson before the party. These sorts of pre-party lessons involving the more complex dance styles like Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, West Coast Swing, etc. usually go one of two ways, either A) the material they cover is super simple, to encourage all people who might not know the dance style to dance, or B) the instructor is looking to have fun, and covers something completely out-of-the-ordinary to entertain both themselves and the crowd. I’m easily excited about the potential to learn something new in Viennese Waltz, so I got to the City Dance Hall early enough to join in.

This lesson ended up being option A, unfortunately. The instructor only covered three different figures, but probably not the three you are thinking of. The first thing that he showed everyone was the Reverse Turn, allowing people to travel down the line of dance. To turn corners, he showed the people basically how to do a Throw Out to get the lady into Open Fan, two Sliding Door-like movements in Cantor timing (though he didn’t talk about Cantor timing, he just told people to pass each other over three beats), and then when you got back to your original Open Fan position he had them do a Underarm Turn in Cantor Time which would rotate you the 90° needed to go down the next wall. He gave this combination some fancy French name, but I’m not going to try to spell what that was.

Before starting down the new wall, he had people do four Hesitation steps (forward, backward, left, right) to allow everyone to get back in frame before moving on. Then it was back to the Reverse Turns to begin traveling again. He didn’t have them look at the Natural Turn or Change Steps at all, so this was really meant to give everyone a way to do simple circuits around the room. The class started out pretty full of people, but by the end of the class a number of the older folks and a few beginner students had dropped out to take chairs along the side and just watch. That tends to happen a lot in Viennese Waltz classes like these, so I wasn’t too surprised by that.

After the class finished, I felt like most of what I did the rest of the night was talk rather than dance. Ms. Possible came to the party that night, and she brought her drama-filled life along with her, and was not really enjoying herself no matter how many jokes I tried to tell her. You see, Ms. Possible recently decided to try switching from dancing Pro/Am to Amateur with a gentleman that she met at a dance party. He was interested in her as more than a dance partner though. She mostly rebuffed his amorous advances, but didn’t turn him down completely. Well, things came to a head a few days ago when Ms. Possible found out that he had finally moved on and found a girlfriend. Both this guy and his new girlfriend were also at the party that night.

I guess the phrase ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ applies here. Ms. Possible and this gentleman still danced together at the party, and they still plan to compete together from what I could ascertain, but she does not seem to be happy that he has found someone. Especially considering that the new girl also dances. Is she afraid that the girlfriend will eventually take her place as his amateur competitive partner? Does she now realize that she secretly harbors romantic feelings for this gentleman? Is Ms. Possible just a bit crazy? No one can really say for sure. The gentleman in question apparently told her that she was breaking his heart whenever they danced together by leading him on, and he finally decided not to wait around for her anymore. I don’t blame him.

So that night rather than dancing I spent a lot of time listening to the discussions that people were having about this situation, and I also tried to make sure Ms. Possible was doing OK. She ended up coming to tell everyone I was standing near that she was leaving about half-an-hour into the party. I don’t know if there is anything more I could have done. Sigh… dance drama. Remember when I mentioned that expecting to have a romantic relationship with your dance partner was often a bad idea? This is a perfect example of that.

Skipping ahead a bit in the pursuit of brevity… Wednesday night I co-opted Standard Technique class because I wanted to use the class to work on sway in Foxtrot. Lord Junior had been thinking of having everyone work on some Viennese Waltz that night, but because he and I were talking about the things that I had gone over at the end of my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday and it was on my mind, I asked if we could spend the time working on that concept. I’m going to count that as practice time too, since technically I was practicing things that Lord Dormamu had asked me to work on. It totally counts, right?

Lord Junior picked out three simple figures for us to use for practicing our sway, and we did them ‘by the book’ using the documented steps and sway as written in that fancy book that Lord Junior has lying on the front desk. One of these days I’m going to find out the name of that book, since I’ve looked things up in it a few times when I had questions about a step, and Lord Junior refers to how steps are done using that book all the time. Maybe I’ll even buy a copy of this book for myself someday! Then I could constantly quote passages from the book on this site! Wouldn’t that be fun?

OK, probably not fun. Informative? Educational? Annoying? Maybe one of those would be a better description.

 The first two figures that we used were the same two figures that Lord Dormamu used when demonstrating this concept to me on Saturday – a Feather and a Three Step. The sway is fairly easy for people to see and grasp in these two steps because you are essentially just walking forward in a straight line, so there is no rotation to think about at the same time. We did use a prep step at the beginning before going into the Feather, and that extra step seemed to really throw off the older gentleman who had joined us in class that night. I caught what he was doing out of the corner of my eye a few times. He was having a hard time just getting through the steps for those two figures, so he had abandoned trying to do the sway altogether.

The final step that we added was a Natural Turn, but we did this one exactly as written in the book. I have to specifically state that, because in the book the Natural Turn essentially has two sections: the first half covers the Heel Turn that the ladies do. This turn is actually a 180°, starting with the guys facing the line of dance, and ending with them backing line of dance. The second half, which Lord Junior says that no one does in the real world, involves the gentlemen taking three slow steps. The first one goes straight back down the line of dance, the second is a Heel Pull, which is essentially a fancy way for a guy to rotate, and the third step is forward heading in the new direction you turned. In our case we were using the Heel Pull to rotate around a corner, so we were turning about 135° to end facing diagonal wall on the new wall.

For the most part, the class was a good practice for me on this whole ‘harmonic balance’ sway concept. Lord Junior said after class that while he was watching I appeared to sway evenly from my left side to my right side as I changed through the figures (or in the case of the Natural Turn, halfway through the figure). Some of the ladies in class were a lot easier to practice sway with than others. For example, Bony was in class that night, and she probably almost a foot shorter than me, so I was limited in how much I could sway while dancing with her due to height difference. Sparkledancer and I are closer in height and we practice together all the time, so I was able to sway much better with her.

It was nice to have a directed practice session like that and get feedback on what I was doing. Maybe I’ll have to start asking about covering other concepts Lord Dormamu asks me to practice during Standard Technique class. It could be super helpful!

The Two Of Us Ain’t Gonna Follow Your Rules

Not much to talk about from my dance adventures this past week, what with the holiday and everything. Let’s see, what is of note to remember…

This past Saturday I was supposed to have two lessons, one with Lord Dormamu and one with Sir Steven. I arrived at the studio early as usual, to give myself a chance to loosen up, stretch out my shoulders and get in a few rounds of dancing with Sparkledancer before we started working with anyone. Fifteen minutes prior to when our lesson with Lord Dormamu started, I saw him pull up along the curb in front of the studio in a pickup truck, with the back filled with tables. He began to try to unload them, while also trying to have a conversation on his phone and responding to all the people who would walk into or out of the Fancy Dance Hall and greet him.

He was… fairly unsuccessful. Lord Dormamu only managed to get one table into the building and one more down off the truck, then stopped inside the studio and waved Sparkledancer and I down. He wanted to apologize and say that the Fancy Dance Hall had been rented out that night for an event, and less than an hour ago the people who had rented out the hall had called him and told him that they were going to have a lot more guests than they had originally planned. Since the credit card for the studio’s expenses was in his name, Lord Dormamu had to go across town and pick up some extra tables and chairs to meet the extra demand for that night. He had thought that he would be done by the time our lesson was to take place, but obviously he was still unloading the tables, and still had to go back across town and pick up the chairs once he finished.

The reason he had been on the phone was to try to reschedule his other lessons from that morning, and now he was asking us if we could push things off until Sunday. We ended up taking the earliest slot he had available Sunday afternoon. He thanked us profusely, and headed back outside to start rolling in the second table he had unloaded from the truck. I felt bad after seeing how he had struggled to get the two tables out of the truck by himself, so I stepped outside and asked if he wanted any help unloading. After getting a vigorous acceptance of my offer, I changed into my street shoes and went out to help.

After Lord Dormamu and I got the next two tables down off the truck and rolled them inside, Sir Steven had finished teaching his lesson and came out to help as well. Sir Steven and I unloaded all the tables from the truck, and I leaned them up against a stone column near the curb so that Lord Dormamu could start rolling them inside. Once all the tables were on the ground, I found it easier (and faster) to just pick up the tables by the two wooden support beams that ran along the width of the underside of the table and carry them rather than rolling them. When I told Sir Steven as I passed him how much simpler carrying them was, he just laughed and told me that while it was easier for me, he didn’t think he could accomplish that.

The three of us managed to unload all the tables in about twenty minutes. Once done, Sir Steven and I headed back inside as Lord Dormamu headed off to pick up his next load of furniture. Sparkledancer was hanging out in front of one of the mirrors doing some kind of practice activity, so Sir Steven called her over to let both of us know that he didn’t have any lessons that hour when we would have otherwise been dancing with Lord Dormamu, so if Sparkledancer and I wanted to move up our lesson with him and get done earlier, he would be cool with that. I said that would be great, as long as they gave me just a few minutes to go wash all the table dirt off my hands. I didn’t want to get that all over Sparkledancer, after all. I’m nice like that. J

After a quick bit of scrubbing, I changed back into my dance shoes and was back out on the floor. The first thing that Sir Steven did as we got started was to ask Sparkledancer and me if we had any questions. I decided to ask about some of the things that the coach that we had met with the Tuesday before had told us. Sir Steven didn’t realize that we had met up with her that day. Apparently he didn’t really have a good impression of this lady – he had never worked with her personally, but had spoken to her on a few occasions while she was at the Fancy Dance Hall that week. There had been a couple of times when Lord Dormamu had been going over things with her in the office and Sir Steven needed to speak with Lord Dormamu about studio business things that required his input. From what Sir Steven tells me, the coach lady did not like the fact that he was interrupting her talks with Lord Dormamu for these paltry ‘business’ purposes.

After describing the major points that the coach brought up, Sir Steven was also confused, much like Lord Dormamu was, with the coach’s take on the starter step. He thought that coming out on a toe lead for that third step wasn’t right – he had never done it that way either. Sir Steven sided with Lord Dormamu and told me to just ignore that comment. The recommendation she gave for me to make a ‘W’ shape with my elbows when I got into frame was also thrown out. Sir Steven told me that until he or Lord Dormamu, or someone with more authority like the Princess or the King tells me otherwise, I should always make a straight line with my elbows and shoulders below my neck. Always, end of discussion. So, that comment of hers was also basically useless.

Based on all the stuff I’ve been told to ignore, I’m really starting to feel bad about agreeing to drop all of that money on that lesson with this lady. I don’t think I would do it again with her in the future if the opportunity presented itself. If I’m going to have to ignore half the things she tells me, and she isn’t going to charge half price for her time, is it a worthwhile experience? I’m leaning towards no…

As far as actual dancing goes, we spent time reviewing things in our Waltz routine, and then went over some things in our Quickstep routine. The big takeaways to remember from what we did in Quickstep were: the Natural Spin Turn is not under-turned, like in our Waltz routine. Because we did Quickstep after Waltz, this may have been throwing me off a bit, so I was coming out more toward backing diagonal center against line of dance, or even toward backing center, rather than backing diagonal center like I was supposed to. I was compensating for that when I would go into the Progressive Chasse that followed, but I shouldn’t be doing that. I just like making things harder on myself, apparently.

I was also told to stay down in the knees more than I was doing. Sir Steven said that while Quickstep is not totally like Foxtrot, I should aim to stay low like I would in a Foxtrot. Staying low also shouldn’t be because I am just bending my knees more, but because I am pushing from my standing leg enough with each step so that I have to lower as I reach farther. This will naturally make me travel more with each step, which may mean that I run out of room as I approach the far corner. I was given the option to throw out one or both of the Forward Locks that are in the routine if I run out of space. I guess that it’s not necessarily a bad problem to have, as long as it looks like everything is under control while I’m doing it.

Sunday rolls around. Sparkledancer and I had planned on arriving at the Fancy Dance Hall about an hour before our scheduled session with Lord Dormamu to both warm up before our lesson and get in our normal Sunday practice time. However, our plans were thrown for a loop when we found that the doors to the studio were still locked at that time of the afternoon. Being early afternoon, it was already quite warm outside, and we didn’t want to practice out in the heat and get all sweaty before our lesson, so we decided to wander over to a nearby restaurant, get some cold drinks, and sit at one of the tables out front where we could see the entrance to the studio to watch for someone who could unlock the door.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get in any practice time that day. Lord Dormamu was the first person to arrive with a key to the Fancy Dance Hall, and once he unlocked the door and we stepped inside we were all able to behold the mess that was left behind after the party the night before. The tables were still set out all over the place with only a small clear area in the center. The chairs were strewn about, with a set in the back that looked like someone had started to remove the chair covers and pile those on one of the tables, but quit halfway through. The floor had food and trash all over, and some of it looked like it was more than what a push broom could handle. The mess wasn’t quite as bad as when we had come in for a lesson after the random Salsa party that had trashed the dance hall, but it was still a mess.

Lord Dormamu and I started to pull the tables and chairs back against the wall to give us a good-sized area in the middle of the floor to dance. I was able to stretch out a little bit as Lord Dormamu gave the cleared-out section of the floor a once-over with a large push broom to sweep away the loose debris. All of us were walking around the floor at that point , and we each pointed out any sticky spots that we found so that everyone knew to avoid them when we started working. After about fifteen minutes we were set and ready to go. Lord Dormamu apologized for the state the place was in, saying that the unfortunate reality of any dance studio he’s ever been associated with is that the studio needs to rent itself out to keep the lights on year round, but it always means that the studio risks ending up in a state like this with each rental.

We started things off much like we did with Sir Steven by discussing our recent coaching session. Lord Dormamu knew the coach that we worked with much better than Sir Steven did, so he was able to explain her insights better. According to him, the lady that we had met with learned to dance overseas 70+ years ago, so much of what she sees as ‘right’ harkens back to that time of training. The comment she made about me making a ‘W’ with my elbows and using that for my frame is because that’s actually how men used to create their dance frame before people realized that you couldn’t get much of a connection with your partner like that. The same is true with her comments about me taking the toe lead when coming out of the starter step – what she learned was that every third step of a figure should be a toe lead, but our version of the starter step came later, and is essentially a prep step with some fancy stuff beforehand, so a heel lead is correct in that context.

The choreography option she gave us in the last corner is apparently also something that Lord Dormamu wouldn’t do. He understands why she thought it might be better, but by taking out the Natural Impetus, she is taking out one of the more challenging figures in the routine. He recommends keeping it in to really learn how to do a Natural Impetus correctly, because figures that come later in Silver and Gold will build on the technique needed to do a Natural Impetus correctly, and Lord Dormamu prefers setting us up for long-term success. The Natural Hesitation figure she offered as an option may be useful if the floorcraft of the situation calls for something of that nature, but he prefers to rotate the Natural Impetus more or less to come out at a different angle in order to get around people instead of hesitating to let them pass.

Unless I’m reading too much into things, based on that comment it sounds like Lord Dormamu trusts that he will be teaching us Silver and Gold at some point in the future. That’s promising.

We spent the rest of our time continuing to focus on our movement in the Foxtrot, because he thought that we still needed work on that aspect of the dance. According to him, when he is judging a competition, the way a couple looks when dancing is what gets them called back from a Semi-Final to a Final round, but the way that they move when dancing is what gets them to first place in a competition, so that is why he is spending so much time making sure we are moving correctly. A lot of his concern comes down to consistency – he can see us doing everything right, but there are points while dancing where we lose it temporarily. If he can get us to stop doing that, we will be great!

With so many people being out-of-town for the holiday, there was no Latin Technique class on Monday night, but there was still Standard Technique class on Wednesday, so that’s the only other thing I did this past week. Lord Junior wanted to have us work on some Tango. The studio was fairly quiet that night, as were the other businesses that are along the same stretch as the Electric Dance Hall. The other classes that usually go on over on the far side of the dance floor had relatively few attendees compared to what I usually see. Our class had a decent number of people show up, and the pattern we were doing traveled a fair distance if you did things correctly, so we might have been encroaching on the other class’ floor space just a little…

Lord Junior wanted to start off that night with a Progressive Link going into a Natural Twist Turn. He had us do a full turn on this one, so that we started and ended facing down the line of dance. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Natural Twist Turn that rotated that much before; the most I can think of that I’ve done is ¾ of a turn. At the end of the Natural Twist Turn we added on an Open Promenade and finished everything up with a Brush Tap. The Brush Tap is something I’d personally never seen before – it is a Silver-level step, but all it really does is have you take a side-step to the right and then bring your left foot in to meet your right quickly before putting it back out to the side. It’s a weird, fancy way to kill two beats of music to help put you back on phrase, Lord Junior told us. It’s not a step we would likely see (or use) all that often.

One big problem that Lord Junior kept running into when dancing with the ladies in class was that they were dancing through steps without actually being led to do them. This does happen a lot in group classes, but that night Lord Junior was pointing it out because the ladies kept taking steps before he did, and then they took really small steps, so they were essentially cutting his stride by doing so. At the end of class he made the ladies go through an exercise where they got into a two-hand hold with the guys and we walked the length of the floor. He told the guys to take every step and pause afterward, while varying our stride length. This was to force the ladies to really pay attention to what we were leading. I may have tried to throw a couple of ladies off by telling jokes while walking, but I do not regret that decision.

Let’s see… what do I have planned for this weekend? Holy cow, it’s almost the weekend already… mid-week holidays just mess everything up, don’t they? Well, what I know for sure is going to happen is another set of lessons, one with Sir Steven and one with Lord Dormamu. I’m sure I will be out practicing at some points too, but the time for those meetings varies from week to week. I think I heard that there is some kind of dance party going on at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night, so I might end up out there if I don’t get pulled away for something else. Do you want to come along as well? I’ll save you a dance if you do!

None Of Them Can Stop Us Now

This week, I want to tell six short dance graybles. They should get progressively longer as you go on. Are you ready?

Here’s a very short dance grayble:

I’m not entirely sure what brought it on, but during one of my practice sessions last week I told Sparkledancer that I had decided that my Summer dance goal was to work on being swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, and mysterious as the dark side of the moon. She stared at me for a few minutes just blinking slowly and then told me that she didn’t realize our dance competitors were the Huns. I just shrugged and then offered my hand to her to get back into dance frame and continue practice.

Here another short grayble that is only mildly dance related:

 Saturday night I was out at a singles party. There was one guy there who was doing something that I thought was really weird – without getting too specific, let’s just say I was standing somewhere where I could clearly see him reviewing online ads for call girls on a classified advertising website through his phone. After watching this gentleman out of the corner of my eye click on and study ad after ad for a good fifteen minutes, I wondered if this was normal behavior for some guys to do when they were attending an event where he could meet real (and more age-appropriate) women. I mean, really? I can’t be the only person who would possibly see him perusing these ads and find the behavior skeevy, right? You would think that a man of his age would at least know not to spend time on such activities while he is in public…

Because I’m not entirely familiar with how most men act when they are out at events like this, I decided to send a text to a couple of my female friends to ask if this was a normal occurrence. However, I must have accidentally clicked on something when I was putting the message together, because one of the people whom I sent the message (with the description of what I was witnessing) off to was Lord Dormamu! When I finally noticed the error a few minutes after I had sent the first message, I quickly removed his name from the list and sent him a separate message to apologize. He was cool about it, though I have this feeling that the incident could come back to haunt me at a later time.

Now, a more normal dance grayble:

 Saturday night after the whole text-message-boondoggle, I party hopped to go to the Electric Dance Hall where they were holding a Summer-themed open dance party. There was supposed to be some kind of lesson before the party started, but I didn’t leave the other party I was at early enough to make the lesson, so I have no idea what they looked at. But there were other exciting things to see when I made my way through the door to join the dance.

First off, Jem was hanging out just inside the entrance, and was quick to come over and say hello. She had disappeared a probably about six months ago on another one of her extended overseas work trips. No one ever knows when she’ll be gone and when she’ll be back, so seeing her is usually a surprise. It was good to know that she was still kicking butt and taking names, and even though she had forgotten most of her dance moves while she was away, she still came out to the dance party to do her best. I tried to get her to give me an idea of how long she would be in town for this time, but she didn’t know anything beyond the next few days. I may have then told her that if she had nothing better to do on Monday night, that she should come hang out with us in Latin Technique class, but she couldn’t make any promises as to whether she would be there or not.

There were probably a whole host of things that I should have done that night, but instead of being responsible I just spent the night dancing for fun with people who I knew. I probably should have used the opportunity to get in some minor practice with Sparkledancer. I probably should have made a point to talk to the two young couples who came to the party that I did not recognize. I probably should have taken that a step farther and asked the female of each of those new couples to dance a little. But I didn’t. Instead, I just screwed around, and danced while talking too much to whoever my partner was at the time so every step that I took was pretty small and simple, or pretended to be overdramatically awesome and then break out into laughter (I can’t keep up that act for an entire song).

Here’s an abnormal dance grayble (at least, abnormal for this week):

 Sunday afternoon I was out practicing with Sparkledancer. As we finished up practice and I was changing my shoes, I happened to take a look at my phone, and it told me that I had a text message from Lord Dormamu. Fearing that he was going to ask me awkward questions about the subject of the message I accidentally sent him the night before, I opened the message with some trepidation. It turns out that he was just telling me that the Fancy Dance Hall was having this “very special” dance coach come in to town on Monday, and he was recommending that Sparkledancer and I take a lesson.

Since Sparkledancer was sitting right there, I showed her the message and asked her how she felt about missing Latin Technique class Monday night, since I didn’t think I could get out of work, go home to change out of my work clothes, and make it to the Fancy Dance Hall any earlier than the time I would normally be in class. She shrugged and said that it would be cool if that’s the best I thought I could do. We both then replied to Lord Dormamu to let him know what times we could be there, and he said that he would make it happen.

Throughout the short conversation with Lord Dormamu that afternoon, I never got the name of this special coach. Sparkledancer and I decided to go off and grab lunch after practice so we could speculate together about what we just agreed to. During lunch, Sparkledancer looked up the Fancy Dance Hall’s schedule to see if she could get an idea about who was going to be there. She managed to find a name of some lady I had never heard of before, so we assumed that was who we would be meeting with, without any other information to go on.

Monday night, after I got home from work and was rushing around to get ready to head out again, my phone rang. I wasn’t going to stop what I was doing and answer until I saw that it was Lord Dormamu calling me. He wanted to let me know that the coach had gotten up at some super-early time in the morning, and had been giving lessons all day, so she was just totally exhausted at that point. However, the coach lady had decided to extend her stay for an extra day, so Lord Dormamu was calling to see if I would feel good about rescheduling for Tuesday instead. Since Tuesday nights I usually meet up with Sparkledancer for practice, I said that would work out, and that I could contact Sparkledancer and let her know so that he wouldn’t have to call her. Lord Dormamu was super happy about that, so after hanging up and making another phone call, I now had time to relax before going to Latin Technique.

Different grayble, though also a bit abnormal:

 I had gotten to the Electric Dance Hall earlier than usual Monday night for Latin Technique class. Because I had rushed to get home from work, and rushed to complete everything at home expecting to have to make the much longer drive out to the Fancy Dance Hall that night, when I found out that I didn’t have to go there I had all sorts of extra time on my hands. Rather than sit around at home twiddling my thumbs, I left the house. There were only a couple of people at the studio when I showed up. Lord Junior was surprised to see me there so early, so I told him about the random coaching session that I had almost gone to that night. He asked if the coaching was with the lady that Sparkledancer had found the name of at lunch on Sunday, and I told him that I had no idea since I had yet to be given an actual name, but I assumed it would have been.

That’s when I got an unexpected response. Lord Junior told me that if she really was the coach, I really dodged a bullet by not having that lesson. He had met the lady who was supposedly going to coach me that night, and had also heard about many of her exploits – in fact, she had given him his first outside coaching session when he started teaching a couple of decades ago. According to Lord Junior, this lady is one of those people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time when she became ‘famous’ in the ballroom dancing community, and doesn’t really know as much about dancing as she wants people to believe.

This is especially true because she learned to dance a long, long, long, long (long, long) time ago. Lord Junior didn’t give me a timeline, but said she was already fairly old when he got his coaching session from her back in the day, and she never kept up with the way that dancing has changed since the era when she originally learned the dances. This reminded me of a class I had taken years ago from a high-level coach where the coach talked about how a simple thing like the Cha-Cha chasses in the syllabus had evolved over time, so what he had learned in the ‘70s when he was a youth looked only vaguely like what he was teaching to people in the present.

Lord Junior believed that this coaching was more of a political move than something that would actually help Sparkledancer or I learn more. This lady coach is frequently hired as a judge for competitions, and Lord Junior said that it can help both the studios and the students to have them take a lesson with the judge. If the judge recognizes you, they are more likely to be interested in what you are doing versus a competitor that they have never met. That can lead to better marks during a competition. While Lord Junior didn’t think that this influenced who got the top marks during dances, he has seen firsthand where this behavior had influenced whether you were called back if there were semi-final and final rounds in the competition round you were in.

Class started shortly after that conversation of mine. I don’t remember much about what went down during class. I know we covered Rumba. I know that Jem actually did show up for class, and she thought it was funny how much she had forgotten in the time since she last practiced Rumba. In fact, it had been so long since she had put any real effort into dance that her dance shoes rubbed the skin off during class since her dance callouses were gone. She had to stop and put a bandage on at one point after the skin rubbed off in order to continue. But other than that, my mind was elsewhere during class so I couldn’t tell you what we did. I spent the time wondering if this coaching I had agreed to was a good idea. I didn’t tell Lord Junior that the cancelled session had been rescheduled for Tuesday…

The final grayble has a somewhat funny ending:

 I ended up going to the coaching session. I couldn’t think of a good excuse not to, and I kept thinking to myself, “Well, at least it will give you something to write about, right?” In retrospect, it was a rather funny experience. Lord Junior was totally right, in that the lady thought she knew a lot more than she actually did, and in that case I kind of regret all the money I dropped on the lesson. Several major points that she stressed were in conflict with things that Lord Dormamu has told me repeatedly to do. However, she talked about likely being one of the judges for the next competition that Lord Dormamu told me I’m going to be a part of, so in that case… is it good that I met with her? Will that earn me brownie points in the future? That remains to be seen.

Dance politics would be a more fun game to play if it wasn’t so expensive.

What kinds of things did she tell me to do that conflicted with what my normal instructors have said? Well, let’s start with my frame – she didn’t like my dance frame with Sparkledancer. Not one bit. She noticed it because she saw my right hand on Sparkledancer’s back, and thought that it was too high on her shoulder-blade. That led to a discussion about how my elbows were up too high. She said that I should create a ‘W’ with my arms, so that my elbows were down, and then just rotate my forearms forward to their position. My right hand ended up not on the bottom of Sparkledancer’s shoulder, but cupping her left latissimi dorsi muscle. Now, when I take lessons with Lord Dormamu, and in lessons I’ve taken with Sir Steven and even the Princess, I am told to keep my elbows up and in line with my shoulders to form a straight line below my neck. The position this coach asked me to get into was… weird.

Another thing that we spent an inordinate amount of time on was the little starting sequence that I’ve been told to use. In both Waltz and Foxtrot, when the music starts and I get into frame I take one step to the left, a step to the right, then lower and take a heel lead for the last step before taking the first step of the actual routine (either a Natural Turn or a Feather in Waltz and Foxtrot, respectively). That heel lead was what bothered her. She said that because it is the last step of the ‘figure’, even though it is just a starter step, technically it should be a toe lead. And that feels really… unnatural, which is why we spent so much time on just that step. I kept going over it and inadvertently taking a heel lead, because if I lower down and drive out of my right leg I naturally want to take a heel lead. Having to make it a toe lead just feels wrong.

There were a couple of small suggestions that she made, mostly about the choreography in our Foxtrot routine, but those two points were things she really focused on. After the lesson was over, coach lady went to go talk with Lord Dormamu. I was feeling unsure about the situation, so to cheer myself up I went over to the front desk to talk to the two female Australian instructors that teach at the Fancy Dance Hall. Their accents make me happy, so I just wanted to hear them talk for a bit. After a few minutes I heard Lord Dormamu calling my name, so I excused myself and went to see what was up.

Coach lady was trying to tell Lord Dormamu what we looked at. Unfortunately, she started by telling him about the change she wanted us to make to our starting sequence, and they never got past that point. She asked him if he saw that I was taking a heel lead on the third step, like it was the most appalling thing that she had ever witnessed. Lord Dormamu just shook his head yes and said “Of course, I told him to do that.” That was not the answer coach lady wanted, so she started to teach him how it has to be a toe step, because that’s the correct way to do it. This led to a bit of an argument where Lord Dormamu might have mentioned how he’s been training for over twenty years and has always been told to do it his way, while she countered with how she’d been dancing longer than he’d been alive and so a heel lead is wrong.

Lord Dormamu then took a step back, put up his arms in a practice frame and tried to do the starting sequence with a toe step. The first time he naturally tried to take a heel step (just like I had done) so he had to stop and retry. The second time he forced himself to take a toe step, stopped, visibly shivered and then looked at me and said that it feels “so unnatural!” I nodded in agreement, so he shook his head and turned back to her and thanked her for her input, and said we would work on things when he met up with us this weekend for our lesson. That seemed to make her happy, so she turned and started walking toward the back of the ballroom.

With all other things that she had gone over with us forgotten as she departed, Lord Dormamu waited until she was out of earshot and then clapped Sparkledancer and I on the shoulders. He then told me to forget about changing that step. He drove home the point by again repeating how long he has been dancing, and added on how many world championships he’s won and all his placements in various other major competitions before saying that he won all those while doing the starting sequence with a heel lead, and no one ever judged it wrong before. I was going to ask him about the change she wanted with my frame, but I figured it could wait until this weekend.

Is this what Lord Dormamu meant when he told me that all ballroom judges were old, blind and stupid? Your guess is as good as mine!

And that’s… all the graybles I want to tell this week. What do you think? Did you guess the theme? It was bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Like this is. 😊