Last Saturday night I went on a dance field trip to an open dance being held at the Endless Dance Hall. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to a dance party being held there just to dance for fun with people, and this particular social dance was scheduled to coincide with the DJ’s husband’s birthday, so they even served cake. Hooray for cake! I picked Tango to be the dance style that I would sit out for the night, but I think I did pretty much everything else. Sparkledancer and I had spent the afternoon together working on mastering the changes that were made to our Rumba and Cha-Cha routines earlier in the week, so we didn’t feel like we needed to use this social dance to practice much more. That allowed me to relax a bit more than usual. Because I didn’t have to practice Cha-Cha that night, I danced every song that even closely resembled Cha-Cha with Bony. She says that she doesn’t like Cha-Cha, so I did the only logical thing I could think of and dragged her out there to make sure that she did it anyway.
The dance field trip didn’t turn out to be all fun and games for everyone who went though. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned the older gentleman who had danced with Sparkledancer and then afterward lectured her on all the things he felt she was doing wrong? Well, he showed up for this dance party as well. Sparkledancer did her best to hide from him most of the night, several times even standing behind The Heartbreak Kid and I so that he wouldn’t see her as he looked for a partner, but somehow for one of the Tango numbers that the DJ played he managed to sneak up on her. As she told all of us when she got back after the song was over, she tried to lessen the impact by telling him at the beginning that she didn’t know much Tango, so she was more like a beginner, but after they were done dancing the guy still spent more time than necessary explaining to her how she had done things wrong without really giving her many details on how to fix all these “problems” she has. Funny enough, we usually travel to dance parties like this with only a handful of guys and a larger number of ladies, but for some reason this old guy didn’t ask any of the other ladies in our group to dance. Just Sparkledancer. If he were about fifty years younger and didn’t seem so intent on telling her what she does wrong, I’d think that he had a crush on her or something.
One of the most interesting things that I witnessed that night was The Heartbreak Kid. I’m not sure what happened to him at the competition he did a few weeks ago, but his dance confidence seems to have skyrocketed since the last time I saw him. He said that at the competition he placed pretty high in a few things, so that might be what did it, but it was kind of like watching a butterfly that had finally climbed outside of its cocoon. He seemed relaxed, and was smiling and chatting with all the ladies he danced with, and he spent more time going out into the crowd and inviting ladies he didn’t know to dance with him than he did dancing with the ladies that came as part of our little group. Sparkledancer made the comment that he had suddenly become a “dance pimp” and even tried to teach her some new things that he had learned in a swing dancing class that he has been taking recently. This is a big change from the quiet, seemingly shy guy that I met when he started taking lessons from Lady Q way back in the day. I’m proud of him. I hope that one day, someone will also think that I’m a dance pimp too. If I can achieve that, I would have it printed on a shirt to wear when I go out dancing, so that everyone would know.
I did end up going to the workshop that was being held last Sunday afternoon. Lord Junior had invited someone whom I’m going to call Lord Basil down from the big city. Lord Basil is one of the people who Lord Junior has often gone to for professional coaching. He brought him in to the Electric Dance Hall to offer hour-long sessions to work with students, and to teach this workshop focusing on different Cha-Cha chasses. The first fifteen minutes of the workshop, we all stood there and listened to him talk (in his heavily accented manner) about what a chasse is, how they move, and the various chasses he would be covering with us. He kind of went off on a rant about chasses that moved forward and backward – unless they are lock steps going forward or back, he said, they looked silly. The figure that he pointed to as an example of why one should never do forward and back chasses was a figure that I know of as the ‘There And Back’ (that’s the name that I have always called it). “If you watch people doing that figure” he said, “the speed at which they do the chasse makes it look like the dancers are running away from each other in an awkward, shuffle-like manner.” So we only spent any real amount of time working on other chasses: the standard Cha-Cha chasse (listed as either one or two figures in the syllabus, depending on if you count the versions heading to the right and left as the same figure or not), forward and back Lock Steps, the Ronde chasse, Hip Twist chasse, Slip chasse, Cuban break chasse and finally the Stationary or Compact chasse. Many of these alternate chasses, as I found out, are Silver-level figures, which is weird because I learned most of them early on when going through the Bronze syllabus. Remember me mentioning how different places seem to have different syllabus that they work off of? This is a prime example of that. He spent time on each one talking about the correct foot placement, moving up to how the hips should move and look while doing each one, and he even gave us a sort of history lesson on how the chasses have evolved over the last forty years or so. It turned out to be a very interesting insight into why things are done the way they are, even though sometimes it seems silly to watch. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, apparently it looked even sillier.
Come Monday night I dragged myself back to Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class. I know, you’re saying to yourself “Working on technique is so fun and repetitive! Why would you have to drag yourself there?” …anyway, it did turn out to be a good time. We spent the first fifteen minutes or so going over what Lord Basil had worked on with everyone in the workshop the day before. It amounted to a quick review of the notes about each different chasse, and then running through the pattern we learned that combined all the chasses for a few minutes, using music of varying tempos to see how well we did. Lord Junior has this habit of always starting things painfully slow as a way to allow mastery of the movements, but then putting the song on at full speed only a short while later, just to see how well everyone does (maybe he finds that to be funny to watch). After we worked through the chasses, we switched over to working on Rumba. He wanted to go through the technique of the Rumba Alemana and Rope Spin. The nice part of this little pattern was that most of the technique was for the ladies. As guys, since we started while already in Fan position, all we had to do was a check forward, a check backward, and then a Cucaracha left then right. Sometimes, being a guy has real advantages. I was told that the hardest part of what we were doing for the gentlemen would be those two Cucarachas. The idea, Lord Junior said, was that as the lady is spinning around the guy, he needs to be as still as a flagpole for her to walk around. So to do the Cucarachas, we had to plant our feet firmly and then rotate the hips without having any movement in the rest of the body, other than the slight arm movement needed to hold on to the lady as she walked around us. I must say, it’s rather challenging to keep your shoulders in one place and hold on to someone who is walking around you, because sometimes they like to walk farther away from you than your shoulders really find comfortable without moving. Also, I’ve learned that the Rope Spin is considerably easier to do with someone who is almost my height than it is with someone who is much shorter than me.
As we did last week with our Rumba and Cha-Cha routines, we work with Sir Steven on Tuesday night to rebuild our American Smooth routines so that they are pure closed syllabus routines as well. We mapped out the Waltz, Foxtrot, half of the Tango, and by the end we quickly discussed what Viennese Waltz would look like. After reviewing what we had put together in all of the routines against the syllabus that this particular dance organization uses, it looks like I have to compete at the Silver level. That… is terrifying to actually say. In a lot of ways, I don’t think I am good enough to be labeled as ‘Silver,’ and yet because of the syllabus that is used at the franchise where I started learning to dance, many of these Silver-level figures are things that I learned early on in my dance adventures. Some are even figures that I know better than some of the ones listed as Bronze-level figures in the syllabus I’ll be competing in now. The chasses I mentioned earlier for Cha-Cha are a good example. The earliest Cha-Cha routine that I had back when I first competed at a Bronze II level had both the Ronde and Hip Twist chasses in it, and no one batted an eye. The syllabus this next competition is using says that I have to be Silver level to use those, at least without being disqualified. So the figures for all the closed routines won’t be a problem for me. Technique, however, will be. I don’t know how to tell if I have good Silver-level technique when I dance. There are a lot of small things that I’m sure I can be doing better, but getting them to be natural things by early October seems like a stretch. I think by then, if I work really hard at things, I may be able to pull off Silver-plated Bronze level dancing. That feels like a good way to describe things. I should trademark that phrase, and introduce it into the official dance vernacular. If I could do that, then maybe I will automatically get better dance scores at all future competitions I participate in because the judges will know that I’m an important person who contributed something. Sounds like a plan to work toward…
There is one good thing about being forced to compete at the Silver level though. If I can pull it off in the American Smooth category without getting myself disqualified, that means I will have officially done Silver-level Foxtrot, and thus I will have achieved my dance goal of becoming a Silver Fox. And I will have managed that years before I turn 35, and without having any gray hair. How’s that for an accomplishment?