You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated

During a lesson that I had with Lady Q this past Saturday, we ran through all of our American Rhythm and International Latin routines. After watching us go through everything once, we talked to go through her thoughts on what we had done before going through everything again. One thing she mentioned that we really needed to make a point of working on was making the dance styles really look and feel distinct. For example, it wasn’t enough that we had dance routines for International and American Rumba with different figures in them, but the technique we used also really needed to differentiate the two dances for the people watching us. She also lumped the Bolero in with Rumba, telling me that she could see that I had this bad habit of inadvertently adding in extra movement to the Rumba that could be construed as rise and fall, and conversely there were times that I was not giving enough rise and fall in the Bolero. Of all the comments we received last Saturday from all the people watching us practice for the competition this concept was what stuck out the most for me. Since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the subtle differences in those three dance styles, not only when it comes to technique, but also about what the differences would be for the character of the dance. Musically, it is easy for me to tell when someone puts on a song for American Rumba versus an International Rumba, but what about deciding between an International Rumba and a Bolero? Does the choice between the two come down to the mood of the dancers? There’s only one song I know that always makes me think of Bolero when it comes on, but I’m pretty sure that’s because the word ‘Bolero’ is in the title of the song. Does one decide based on the atmosphere of the dance hall or club where the song comes on, or the knowledge of your dance partner of each of the styles? Bolero is an American Rhythm style, so if I weren’t dancing in America would this even be an issue?

Obviously, in all these pictures I am doing International Rumba, since I don't have knee joints to bend my legs.
Obviously, in all these pictures I am doing International Rumba, since I don’t have knee joints to bend my legs.

I should really find a college course in philosophy of dance. That’s probably the best place to get my questions answered.

Character aside, I also asked Sir Steven to elaborate further about this idea that Lady Q had planted when I saw him on Tuesday night, and we spent almost an hour working on the techniques for these three styles to help make the dances look different. Starting with American Rumba, we went through the basic box figure over and over to really emphasize the bent leg step and straightening during the weight change. There was also a fair amount of Latin walks, both forward and backward, before applying the walk technique using the open walk and turn figure that is in my ComeOutAndPlay2American Rumba routine. Once we had gone through the walks for long enough to make my feet hurt, we did the same thing with International Rumba walks using a straight leg step. By the time we moved away from any sort of Rumba, my calves were burning and my toes were in pain from how much I was pressing them into the floor. It didn’t get any better as we moved into the Bolero and really worked at the basic rotating box step while adding more body sway and rise and fall. Sir Steven made fun of me a lot for letting my head drift away from looking over my left hand while in proper closed Bolero frame, but then I asked where my head should stay when moving into figures that are in open frame, and I was told that the head position could look toward my dance partner like it would in a Latin dance. Keeping all of these things straight is going to take some major practice. Hopefully I can get enough practice time in with Sparkledancer before the competition at the end of the month to get better at these techniques, but I don’t want to spend all of our limited time focused on just three styles and neglecting everything else.

Back to Saturday, we also spent some time on the American Smooth dances early on in the morning. Lord Fabulous and Arcee were there watching us, giving comments about the way things looked. One of the things that they said, much to my disbelief, was that our Foxtrot and Tango looked better than anything else. Foxtrot and Tango have always felt weak to me, so the fact that they said those were the best says that at least some of the practice time being put in on those routines is paying off. It was also early in the morning and I know at least I was not fully awake yet, so if the two of us dancing together can do that well in the early hours of the day, who knows how much ComeOutAndPlay3better it would have looked if I was more with it. The early hour might have been what made the Viennese Waltz feel sluggish though, since that is not really the kind of dance to run through when you are not prepared. I’m guessing that, had we gone through the Quickstep routine up to tempo, it too would have felt sluggish. Luckily there was no one else on the floor at the time we did the Viennese Waltz – I’d be afraid to try that again in a heat with other dancers. For the actual competition day, I’m either going to have to get up really insanely and do enough physical activity to get all my body parts on board with what my brain tells them to do, or I’m going to have to rely on some caffeine to do the job.

As I mentioned last week, Sparkledancer has recently been having a lot of shoe-related problems. The pair she had been using for a long time finally fell apart, and shortly thereafter her backup pair (which she used as practice shoes) also broke. The big problem she tells me that she has with finding replacement shoes is that she can’t find anywhere to try some on before buying them. Because she wears a non-standard size shoe, no one carries them in stock, so she has to place an order and wait for them to arrive before she can try them on. As you can imagine, this makes getting shoes a very slow process that is prone to mishaps. Apparently, she has spoken with many shoe distributors and a few shoe manufacturers to get recommendations about what kind of shoe would work best for her size feet. The first pair she purchased when this ordeal started was a custom order from a manufacturer out west that took three months to show up. Once they arrived, she found that they fit her foot pretty well, except the front straps were too far forward. Every time she flexes her toes, they almost pop out of the shoe. On top of that, the heel seems too far forward, so the balance is weird. Since she had been waiting so long for the custom order to show up, she had ordered a second pair in the same size that some other place online said they had in stock and could ship out right away. Those actually arrived about the same time as the first pair did, so I’ve seen her using both during our practice times together. The second pair has much better balance, but from what she tells me the front part of the shoe has too many thin straps that are too tight, so if she wears the shoes for long periods of time the straps cut into her feet. I’ve seen the bloody after effects of our practice time when she changes back into normal shoes, and it’s not a pretty sight. There have been a few nights recently when we were practicing together, and we just danced around the studio floor in socks to give her feet a break and let the cuts heal (I wore socks too so there wouldn’t be a crazy height difference, plus it sounded like fun).

When I said her feet were weirdly sized, what I meant was that they were perfect squares. Luckily, this guy knows how to make perfectly square shoes.
When I said her feet were a non-standard size, what I meant was that they were perfect squares. Luckily, this guy knows how to make perfectly square shoes.

All this makes me feel lucky that I have normal guy feet. They aren’t narrow or wide, and I’ve worn the same size shoe for around fifteen years, so buying dance shoes for me was easy. The only time I had to go try on shoes was back in the day when Sir Steven recommended that I get dance shoes that were actually a smaller size than I normally wear so that the leather would better form to my foot once broken in. I just wanted to try the smaller size on to make sure that it didn’t cut off the blood flow to my toes if I did that. On top of that, from what I keep hearing, female dance shoes are way more expensive than boy shoes, so each of these pairs of shoes that Sparkledancer gets that she tests for too long and can’t return is a major investment. It sounds like she has already ordered a third pair to try out, which should arrive four days before our competition. I’ll set aside some time so that we can run through each of our routines with her wearing her new shoes, but if she can’t break them in before the competition, I don’t know what she’s going to do.

We are counting down the days now! Spring Fling is almost upon us, so it’s almost time to see what all of this hard work adds up to. In only two weeks I’ll be able to tell you all about how things went! Also, I am posting this early because there’s a good chance I’ll be going on a dance field trip o a Latin-themed dance party tonight since everyone around here has the holiday off tomorrow. Yay!

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One Reply to “You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated”

  1. Oh, I feel Sparkle Dancer’s foot pain! Why it has to be so difficult to get hold of a pair of comfy dance shoes is beyond me. I, too, have a large collection of expensive shoes I can’t wear. The devilish thing is that you can’t always tell right away that a given pair will ultimately hurt, so you keep ’em, scuff up the soles so you can’t return ’em, and then you find out they aren’t right for you. I wish there were a company that would send molding material (as the orthotic manufacturers do) so customers could have custom shoes made based on actua models of their feet. Then, future pairs sure to fit could be made in different styes. Yes, it would be expensive, but likely no more so than the current system.

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