The Strangest Zoo You Ever Knew

After discussing things for a while with my dance partner, we decided that it would be best to meet up with Sir Steven twice a week to start really fine-tuning our routines. There’s only a month left to go now, and while I think we can do the steps, I want to make sure we can clean up all the little technique things that will give us that extra leg up with the judges. So, starting next Tuesday night, we are going to split things into two lessons: Tuesday nights we will meet with Sir Steven instead of going to the dance fitness class to work on our American Rhythm dances, and Saturdays when there is no group classes going on we can use the space to work on our American Smooth routines. The last couple of weekend lessons we had with Sir Steven, we only focused on two to three routines in each lesson, so this should give us a way to go over most of the ten routines we will be doing together each week, thus maximizing our potential in the time remaining.

Otherwise, we are at the point now where it is coming down to pure repetition to put things together. I don’t know what anyone else thinks of dancing, but sometimes I look at it in the same way I looked at a lot of the RPG video games I used to play as a kid – if you want to build your levels, you’re just going to have to grind it out to get better. This past weekend Sparkledancer and I started with the Cha-Cha. As you know, there is sort of a love/hate relationship with Cha-Cha on my part. I really like energetic sorts of dances, but there’s just something about the Cha-Cha that has never sat well for me, so I never seem to remember moves. A lot of the time if I try dancing Cha-Cha with someone during one of the Friday night socials, it would end up being incredibly rudimentary because of that. It’s getting better, but I don’t think I would ever put that dance on my ‘Top 5 Favorites’ list. So that seemed like a good place to start this grind. Over and over again- I’d start the music, we would start the dance, and if we messed up we would stop, go back to the top and start over. When the song was done we would just put on another and start the process all over again. There were a couple of breaks here and there to catch our breath, or occasionally we’d switch gears to something else just to avoid letting the frustration eat away at our sanity. The breakthrough seemed to come Sunday night in my living room, when we finally were able to do the entire routine in a loop four times without losing a step. That covered over four minutes of the rather WackadooZoo1briskly measured song we had on, so that for sure would take care of the minute-and-a-half to two minute heats we would be doing. I can tell you, the smile of elation I had on my face by the time we collapsed on the floor at the end out of sheer exhaustion was immense. That was a moment of pride that has stuck with me all week.

Also last Saturday, right after our regular lesson with Sir Steven, we met up with Lady Q to start looking at the other routines we would be doing. I almost called them ‘simpler’ – but that would be an incorrect adjective to use. It is true that the level we will be dancing for those sits below the level of the routines Sparkledancer and I would be dancing together, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them simple. It will take just as much work for me to memorize them in order. The steps individually are all pretty simple, and we could easily pull off the whole thing while Lady Q was calling it out to us without stopping. Yet, if you asked me even as soon afterward as Sunday to show you one of those routines, I wouldn’t have been able to. I was promised that I could get a write-up of the order of each one, so I’m hoping that will help me learn them. I’m also going to have to make a point to start stealing some of Lady Q’s time away from WackadooZoo2Young Dave during the Friday night social dances so that I can get accustomed to dancing with her. I can dance fairly well with most of the ladies who attend the same group classes that I do during the social events, but Lady Q and I do not dance together all that much, so it will take me a little practice to learn what her personal style is. Most of her dancing is done with her male students, and she has told me in the past that a lot of the time she tries to anticipate what they are going to do next, so if I am going to be leading her and would need to alter the routines in any way, I have to know just the right amount of pressure to apply so that she knows what to do, but I don’t break her bones doing it.

Speaking of breaking bones… that’s a great segue, isn’t it? (this next bit will probably seem a bit off from my usual line of writing) Lately I have been thinking a lot about the body, and what it means to “look like” a dancer. It all started a while back in a dance technique class I was taking one sunny Saturday morning. We were working on proper arm motions, so everyone was standing facing toward the front mirror making large circles with their arms. Right arm out, then back in. Left arm out, then back in. Repeat ad infinitum, you probably know the drill. As my gaze wandered up and down the line of people, watching how they whirled their arms around, it suddenly struck me that my arms were much larger than all the other people in this class. That has kicked off this whole line of thought.

Thinking about that, I realized that I had my own biases toward what a “dancer” should look like, and I really didn’t fit that mold. I guess growing up I had learned somewhere that dancers should be tiny little things that weigh nothing, are really tall and legs reaching up to forever. Sure, the Lords and Lady that teach at the Land of the Loft do fit into that category, so that sort-of helps reinforce that stereotype. I guess that’s what it is though: just a stereotype. I remember back to a story Sparkledancer once told me, about discussing her hobby with some men she worked with, and they made some cracks wondering if I was effeminate. I’ve never met those guys, but they would probably be surprised to see what I look like. Years of working out regularly are fairly evident, especially to people who knew me when I was younger. My dance partner was nice enough to tell me that I am far from effeminate, so you don’t have to just take my word for it.

This is how I imagine you all picture me now. It's close, but I'm slightly less tan...
This is how I imagine you all picture me now. It’s close, but I’m slightly less tan…

(I promise there’s a real point to this, it’s not just me talking about how awesome I am. Bear with me…)

I feel like without the level of athletic, flexibility and cardiovascular training I have done, I would have been much more reluctant to start doing something like this. Sure, it does have its disadvantages – I tend to roll my shoulders forward in Tango, for instance, because I let my anterior delts pull them forward. I tend to be exhausted all the time, because I work out almost every night and dance afterward. I’ve been toying with the idea of changing up my normal workout routine to see if I could add another twenty pounds of muscle doing something different, because it sounds like fun. However, I think that would start to impinge my ability to even do simple yoga moves somewhat, so I haven’t jumped on the idea quite yet.

But being like this sets me apart from the people in the studio in my own unique way. It doesn’t make me better as a dancer there because of my strength and athleticism – certainly there will always be Sir Steven, who reminds me a lot of the body shape I used to have when I was just a runner. He couldn’t beat me in arm wrestling, but I’m the one paying to learn dancing from him, aren’t I? And there’s the point I’ve been leading to – my stereotypes just needed to go away. There are people I’ve seen in my dance adventures in the Dance Kingdom of all sizes. Some really small, some people who might call themselves “average,” some super tall and skinny, some large people, and those whom people would call “fit.” And there are people in all those categories who are amazing dancers, in my honest opinion. Like the tiny twelve year old girl I call Corte who is another of Sir Steven’s students, who makes Cha-Cha look easy. Like the overly large girl who I saw dance Lindy Hop for almost an entire evening with Lord Bradley effortlessly – that sight made me wish I knew more Lindy Hop so I could do that (maybe someday…).

The thing it seems that makes all these people really good is not that they have that stereotypical “dancer’s body,” but that they were passionate about what they were doing, and just go out and dance it for themselves. Passion makes them pay attention in class, and practice extra hard, and also lets them have fun the entire time they are doing it. So this last week I have taken to looking around the studio when I’m there and trying to identify who the best dancers are not by the shape they are in, but by the look on their faces when they move. I think that will help me eliminate the stereotype and realize that though we all look different, we can still all look like great dancers.

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