There’s been a lot of Samba this past weekend, which is both good and bad. Samba is one of those dance styles that I don’t think I will ever truly be able to master since I lack South American heritage, so having more exposure to the style can only help me improve. On the other hand, I’ve mentioned many times to many people that I have very Caucasian-male hips, and even after years of study, practice of the motions, and utilizing tons of flexibility training to try to open things up more than I ever thought possible, some types of movements are just never going to look natural for me. This month on Friday nights I have signed up to attend a Samba group class at the Electric Dance Hall. This week I think the idea for the class started one way, with us looking at some Samba figures and learning how to do them with a partner, but ten minutes into the class we had gotten up to ten women attending, and only myself and the instructor on the boy’s side of the room, so the class turned into an hour of technique for the Samba line dance. I was really glad when that switch happened – I know I need to work on dancing Samba properly with a partner, but the pressure of being passed between that many women and making sure they all had a chance to try out the figures was intense. At least while going over the line dance, I could stand quietly in a corner and work on the technique that I’m not really good at on my own.
Afterward I stuck around for the first part of the social dance. The ratio of men to women didn’t get much better by that point, since a new group of women had shown up to join the large horde that was already camped out in the building, and only a couple more guys came to back me up. Luckily this weekend there was to be a contingency of Lord Junior’s students traveling out to participate in a small competition that was being hosted somewhere south of us, so those students were going to put on a show of some of their routines for us all to watch. That gave the few guys in attendance a bit of a respite. Have I ever mentioned that being a guy is hard work? Because it is! At one point before the performance began they put on a Samba so that everyone sitting around the sidelines could join in the line dance, and I grabbed Sparkledancer to go through our routine on the outer edge of the room. The nice thing was that our routine seemed to line up perfectly with the people doing the line dance. We started with the group to our backs facing the opposite direction, and every time we turned a corner to go down the next wall the group in the middle of the room rotated so that they were still going with their back to us. It was like I planned that or something. I’m going to pretend like I did at least.
Saturday night I made it out to the City Dance Hall for the social being held there. The City Dance Hall is on the south end of town, covering most of the second floor of the building it resides in. This would only be my third time visiting this particular location, and for some reason I remember it being much larger than it seemed when I was there this weekend. Granted, the other times I was there were early on in my dance life, when I first started going on dance field trips with others, so back then all places that weren’t my “home studio” seemed big and scary. Only a few of us from my usual group of dance buddies made it out – Jack and Diane, The Heartbreak Kid and Sparkledancer. Just prior to the open dance they had a guest instructor who spent an hour going over Samba. Unlike the class I was in on Friday night, this time the ratio of men to women wasn’t terrible so everyone got to dance with a partner. The pattern that he went over that night was all figures I had seen before, so I felt like the cool kid on the playground because a lot of the other men were struggling to make out the footwork for everything. Because we were all starting on the same side of the room and traveling down to the other side, practicing the pattern was a bit dangerous because some of the people who paired off would barely move while running through the figures, and others were flinging themselves around kind of crazy-like when doing botafogos. The pattern did feature the Samba rolls at the end, which was good because it gave me a chance to practice those early on in the evening. The mechanics behind the rolls seems easy enough, but the circling rotation of my body still feels weird and jerky. Once the class was over and the dance started, there was no safe way to do those rolls during the Samba songs that were played over the course of the night. There were just too many people on the floor, and a lot of times I seemed to get stuck behind people who would dance for the whole song and not really travel more than fifteen feet or so. I can’t say that Sparkledancer and I managed to run through our whole routine from start to finish during a single song, but over the course of the night we managed to get through almost all the figures in some order, so I’ll call that a good step toward practicing that. I’m fairly certain every Samba figure I know is in this routine, so anything I would have used would have been practicing part of the routine.
Otherwise, the dance party was a good chance to throw out the routines and just take to the floor and have fun. Because of the number of people who were attending the party, Sparkledancer and I found it hard to do our routines. They travel a lot, and there always seemed to be someone in the spot where we wanted to end up next, so we mostly abandoned them after the first Foxtrot we attempted and never looked back. I did get a chance to do two Viennese Waltz numbers with Sparkledancer, which was a lot of fun. It had been a long time since I had last done Viennese Waltz, so I stuck with International Standard Viennese Waltz rather than try anything fancy that would stop in front of people. Later in the evening, an older gentleman came over to our table and asked Sparkledancer out to do a slow Waltz with him. As I watched them start down the wall, I found it strange that he seemed to be doing Viennese Waltz footwork in slow Waltz time. When the song was over and Sparkledancer came back to her seat, she told the rest of us at the table that she felt really bad about that dance because she couldn’t figure out what the guy was trying to do with her – I guess he had been digging his fingers into her back like claws, and then at the end he told her all about how she wasn’t doing things correctly. Apparently he had been trying to lead her into outside dance position by pressing his claw-fingers into her back and direct her, and she somehow missed that cue. That wasn’t exactly the way I was taught to lead people into that position, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it wrong, right?
As we were leaving, the same old guy that Sparkledancer had gotten lectured by earlier in the evening stopped her to give her a few more ‘pointers.’ As she explained it to me afterward, he told her that she walked wrong (I’m not even making this up). He said that when she walked around, even when she wasn’t dancing, she walked from her knees, and that was just wrong. She had long legs, he said, and she should always be using them to stretch more, and walking around when not dancing was a good way to practice how to walk when dancing. When she finally had collected her things and met with The Heartbreak Kid and I as we were walking out, she wasn’t thrilled about that talk. We headed out to the parking lot, and tried to figure out if this guy was some kind of retired dance instructor or not, because what average person would critique people at a social dance unsolicited like that? Sure, in the past I’ve taught some random women I’ve danced with some of the figures I was trying to lead that they didn’t know, but only if they asked me about it afterward. Unless we all took lessons from the same instructor at the same studio (or franchise of studios), there’s no guarantee that we all learned from the same syllabus of steps, so not knowing what your partner is doing at a social gathering like this is to be expected. But I get the feeling that if I were to tell any of the random ladies that I might dance with that things they are doing are wrong, then those ladies wouldn’t ever want to dance with me again. Sparkledancer has already said that the next time she is at a dance and that same guy is there, she is going to avoid him so that he doesn’t chastise her again. I don’t think she is joking about that.
Part of me knows that all of us who are members of the Dance Kingdom will share our knowledge of dance with each other. It is part of the fun of dancing – to grow together, because ballroom dancing is a social pursuit by its very nature. But should you be giving out unsolicited criticism at a social dance to random people you just met like that?
Obviously, when Sparkledancer and I met up with Sir Steven on Tuesday night, she told him all about what happened. We were working on our Waltz routine, and Sir Steven was telling us to really try to push farther, to cover more ground in fewer steps, and he would set goals for how far he thought we should be able to travel with each figure. Since this reminded Sparkledancer of the criticism she had gotten over the weekend, she spilled the beans, and we all kind of laughed about the incident. Sir Steven is much nicer about getting us to work harder at things that need improvement. It’s a major reason I’ve stuck with dance as long as I have. Maybe I should get that older gentleman to talk to Sir Steven, that way he can filter the old guy’s advice so that it doesn’t sound so harsh. That might convince Sparkledancer to dance with him again, don’t you think?