Let me set the stage here: It started like any other normal Friday night. There were a number of us out at the last Samba group class of the month, enjoying things as we wrapped up and reviewed everything that (those of us who had been in all the classes) we had learned the last few weeks. Both The Crank and Enthusiasm hadn’t made any of the other classes in the month, so they got the benefit of going over everything all in one night. We had put together all the figures in a configuration that allowed us to travel from one side of the dance hall to the other, and as we reached the opposite side from where we started, we switched partners to travel back the way we came. Lord Junior was watching the class at first, but received a phone call and stepped outside into the parking lot to get some quiet, leaving just the five of us students with Sir Steven running the show. After a run down the floor with music, we were collecting ourselves on the far side to start our run back when something odd happened. A man walked into the dance hall looking nervous. He looked like he might have just graduated college, dressed in cargo shorts and a t-shirt. We all stopped what we were doing and looked over at him, waiting for him to say something. He spoke not a word, but proceeded to drop down on the floor to attempt to spin himself around on his back, much like you would see a breakdancer spin (only… poorly). After forcing his way around a few times by using his arms, he struggled to get himself back on his feet and brushed himself off. Sir Steven finally spoke up and said “Can I help you sir?” The man shrugged a little and said “No, I’m good.” Then he bolted back outside to meet up with his friends who were standing on the sidewalk, watching the whole thing through the windows and laughing. After he was gone Lord Junior returned, and we asked if he had seen what just happened. He had been oblivious to it, having wandered off to a quiet corner of the parking lot to be away from the music. We all had a laugh, and spent the rest of the class making cracks about the event.
The next evening there was a beach party planned at the Electric Dance Hall. Since this was a holiday weekend, I had thought that there would be a small turnout, allowing Sparkledancer and I plenty of room to practice all our routines. I was surprised (and also a little disappointed) to find out that this was not actually the case. There was already a huge crowd gathered by the time I arrived, and more people just kept trickling in long after the party started. To begin the evening, Lord Junior had a lesson on East Coast Swing. There were a lot of people who had come who had never done East Coast Swing before; many I talked to were new to dancing all together. Lord Junior made a point to let people know that there were a lot of people who knew what they were doing scattered in the crowd, so if anyone felt really confused by what we were doing they could ask any of us. Looking back on things, I realize we really only did two figures: the basic, and an open pass of the lady with a stop at the end. If done correctly, that figure is a lot like the underarm turn with a back check, except the partners actually separate for a few moments. We formed a couple of circles around the room during the class, with men on the outside and women on the inside, so that we could rotate around the circle and change partners. Many of the women I danced with struggled with this second figure. One of the biggest problems that I ran into was when the lady would try to put her left arm around my waist when I would put my hand on hers to stop her. If executed correctly, I should have been able to pass behind the woman and grab her left hand with mine as I stopped her, but many times as soon as I let go the lady would try to wrap her arm around me, and thus twist herself up awkwardly so that we would have to stop and separate. Why are ladies so grabby?
Most of the party I spent just having fun, dancing with anyone who was free or anyone who asked, working up a sweat (turns out it’s really hot in the Electric Dance Hall with that many people in there), and watching people do Bachata. I still haven’t committed to learning Bachata, so I just sit off to the side and watch everyone else doing it, and take the opportunity to catch my breath. About halfway through the party, Sparkledancer came to find me. She pointed out a couple who had been standing against the far wall most of the night. Figuring they were relatively new to dancing, she asked me to go over there to meet them with her and said that if things went well the two of us could split them up to dance. We made our way over and talked for a bit. The guy kind of reminded me of someone else I knew, so I’ll call him Slightly-Older Dave, and his wife introduced herself as Amandrea. They told us that they had been wanting to do this for a while, and had finally worked up the courage to come out and were having a lot of fun, but didn’t know much in the way of dance. Apparently, they also spent a lot of time watching Sparkledancer and I dance, both when we were dancing together and when we weren’t, and they wished that they could dance like us someday. Amandrea said that it was nice seeing that there were some young people at the party, which helped them feel less out-of-place. I completely understand where she’s coming from with that. This hobby tends to attract an older crowd, so even someone as young as I am feels like a kid during most dance parties. We all danced together a bit, and then Sparkledancer and I tried to convince them to come next Friday for the American Waltz class to learn more, plus the social dance afterward. Here’s hoping that my Dance Ambassador skills work out this time. So far, I haven’t been very good at convincing people to stick around.
My Tuesday session with Sir Steven seemed to be all about arms. We worked through our Rumba and Cha-Cha routines and focused on what the arms should be doing during each movement. Arm movements always feel funny to me; no matter how well I do them, or how much I work to make them look exactly like I am shown for figures, it feels weird to be waving my arms around like that. I guess they are supposed to look fluid and strong, but mine tend to look forced, and my hands seem to take on weird shapes no matter what I do with my fingers. Whenever we work on arms, my shoulders also inevitably get mentioned in the process. I’m told to roll my shoulders back, because I guess it looks like I am pulling my head down into my chest cavity and my shoulders are in line with my ears. Believe it or not, I’m keeping my neck as long as possible, but when I flex my shoulders (as tends to happen when I use those muscles to also move my arms around), my shoulder muscles rise up quite a bit. Normally I am proud of this, since it is a good indication that I have spent many years strengthening them, but then I’m doing something like holding Fan Position with Sparkledancer, and Sir Steven walks around behind me to try to push my shoulders down, and it makes me wonder if I spent too much time working on them. Maybe I can be a legs-only dancer, and just let my arms hang loose at my sides unless I absolutely need them to hold on to the lady. That would make life so much simpler, don’t you think?
We’ve now made all the official decisions and signed up to compete at Silver level in October. The plan is to do all closed Silver routines, with dances in American Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Viennese Waltz and International Rumba, Cha-Cha, Samba and Jive. I must say, in some ways I’m pretty terrified of this decision. As I mentioned last week, right now I’m feeling more or less like a ‘Silver-plated Bronze’ dancer rather than someone who has actually reached Silver level. With only a month to go before the competition, will I be able to achieve a feeling of preparedness that makes me feel like I am competing at the right level? I’m sure many of you also have this voice of self-doubt that nags you when you’re not sure if you’re ready for things. My voice just happens to have a specific timbre to it; it sounds like an yin to the yang I so often listen to, if you catch my drift. Some evenings after I get home from dance events, I will be drifting off to sleep on the couch, picturing myself stepping through my routines, trying to keep the order of the figures straight, and that mean-spirited voice will drone on over my thoughts, telling me that I really shouldn’t be doing this competition because there’s no way that I am ready to consider myself Silver level yet. I know I often get picked on during classes because I’m doing things wrong, more so than many in the class. Like the thing with my shoulders for example. Often I justify it, saying that I am one of the few males in class, and in many ways it is more important for me to be technically sound when dancing because that helps the lady do things right. But is the reason really just that I’m doing things horribly wrong, so I need to be pointed out as an example of what not to do for others to learn from? “It’s just such ignorance which forever relegates you to the ranks of underling.” the voice in my head says with a laugh… and he’s right.
And then I think a little bit deeper, and wonder… if no one really watches the male dancer during competitions anyway (because let’s face it, everyone is way more interested in watching ladies dance half covered by their sparkly dresses), then is it really so important that I know the correct angle with which to turn my foot out when taking a step? As far as I can tell, the only dance people are actually supposed to care about watching the men is during Pasodoble, and that’s mostly due to the history behind the dance than the actual movements.
Sometimes I wish there was a book on the philosophy of ballroom dance that I could use as a reference when I struggle with these thoughts.