Despite the misgivings I had last week about competing and not being able to use the experience as a way to measure my progress, this past weekend proved to me that it is possible to see how far along I’ve come without having to be told by a judge. As I previously hinted, over the course of the weekend I went on a dance field trip to the Grand Dance Hall, where they had several activities planned. Friday and Saturday night they had the dance floor open for a formal dance event, with an orchestra up on the theater stage providing the accompaniment. During the day on Saturday, there were several workshops available for people to attend, both for newcomers and dancers with some experience under their belt. If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because it is an annual event that they hold at the Grand Dance Hall, and I also signed up to go last year. I hadn’t gone back and read what I wrote last year before I went, but while dancing the night away I really felt like there had been a lot of improvement since my last time on this particular dance floor – going back and reading my notes about last year’s event even served to confirm that for me.
Much like last year, Sparkledancer was the only person from my usual group I could talk into going along to this event with me. Because of all the workshops you get included with the weekend ticket, it’s a bit pricier than just attending a normal formal dance party, and some people would rather do things like buy groceries or pay their mortgage than spend a weekend dancing. Psh… who needs to do that? So I met Sparkledancer there Friday night. To open the weekend, they had a reception planned where people could meet for snacks, drinks, mingling, and do a little dancing with a
four-piece band playing on stage, all before dinner was to be served. The whole night was an entirely formal affair – you had to be dressed up to even be allowed to wander around the building during the party. At the reception, Sparkledancer and I mostly stood off to the side and watched to see what we would be getting ourselves into this year. After all, last year we felt pretty outclassed, and after the competition the previous weekend my dance confidence wasn’t feeling up at its highest level, so I wanted to make sure that things weren’t too crazy before I just jumped in and got bumped into constantly like I did last year. I only briefly mentioned before how dangerous things seemed last year when we were there – I was scared off of dancing Foxtrot socially for quite a while because of this event last year. There were those people who would be on the floor doing East Coast Swing during the Foxtrot, and during one of our first times out for a Foxtrot Sparkledancer got stepped on by one of those East Coast Swing people. It was a bad enough injury that she has a scar she could show you today from that incident. Floorcraft is one of those skills I have been trying my best to improve for a long time, and it’s a hard thing to work on because it’s mostly experience that makes one better at it. This year, as we took to the floor at this event, with the same huge crowd of (mostly much older) people out dancing, and with Foxtrots that still had people out doing East Coast Swing at the same time, I had to force myself to take a deep breath and ask whether I had actually improved enough in my floorcraft skill to handle things.
Turns out that the answer was a resounding yes. This year I managed to weave my way through the hordes of people who were out on the floor without getting all tense and worried about things. Sure, there were some instances where there was a crush of people filling my line of dance, and I would have to do a hesitation move of some sort to allow for an opening to appear, but most of the times I was out dancing with Sparkledancer we could use our long legs and some of the more complex figures we had learned over the year to basically dance laps around everyone else. I would never assume that in the year since we last participated in this event that we were the only ones to put much effort into improving our dance skills, which is why I could suddenly dance like that, but many of the couples that were there were significantly older than we were, and they seemed to want to take teeny tiny little steps while they danced. All it would have taken for me to overtake them would have been for me to lengthen my normal stride a little, but if you factor in how much I now normally keep my knees bent and how much I push myself off of my standing leg, I easily left everyone behind to eat my dust. It made me feel good about how far I’ve come.
That’s not to say that all the other people on the floor were impressed with how we were dancing that night. I caught several people throughout the evening eyeing us up as we passed, viewing us with either looks of terror or disgust on their faces. I’m sure there was some fear there, since we were so much younger and we danced so differently from everyone else, so they might have thought we were being rash and uncontrolled (we weren’t though – I was very calculated about the movements I was using). Dancing through the crowd turned out to be a lot of fun, and since the party lasted until midnight, as the night wore on more and more people left, giving us more space on the floor to play with. By the time Sparkledancer and I decided to call it a night on both Friday and Saturday nights and head back home, we left the dance hall both having worked up a good sweat from all the dancing, and with big goofy grins on our faces from how good we felt about how things went.
As mentioned earlier, the other part of the appeal of signing up to be able to attend the event this past weekend was that it included three different workshops during the day on Saturday. Like last year, we had the option to go to either a beginner-level class, or an intermediate/advanced level class. Last year Sparkledancer and I weren’t sure what level we would fit into, so we started out the day in one of the beginner-level courses, but quickly moved up to the higher level one once we figured out we knew everything they were going over. This year we didn’t have to go through the same process, since we felt comfortable jumping right into the intermediate class. The three classes they had this year covered Foxtrot and Samba in the morning, and after they gave everyone a break to run out and get some lunch we all came back and did East Coast Swing. The same crazy old couple that taught the workshops last year was back again this year to teach. We went over some stuff during the classes that I didn’t know, but much of what they were showing this year looked like an ordered combination of various figures that I already knew. Because both Sparkledancer and I already had some form of the figures in our dance arsenal, we were able to work through things with ease and move on to assist some of the others in class, helping them with things they weren’t quite getting. There were a lot of people in these classes – few of the people who had been at the dance party the previous night ended up over in the beginner-level class, so the intermediate class was the place to be. With that many people trying to work through things, the class didn’t switch partners, and the portions of class where we were given time to try out the parts of the figure we were working on took forever as the instructors wandered around trying to help everyone at least a little. So much time was eaten up with those work sections of the class that the instructors never got to teach all the pieces that made up the total figure they demonstrated at the beginning, so like last year I had to record the entire bit of choreography so that I have the chance to go back and figure out what we missed at a later time.
This year, I’ll actually try to do that. I still have the videos I made of last year’s class… somewhere. I haven’t really put any effort into learning that choreography since the event last year. Maybe I’ll make a point to pull those videos out and try to go through everything before the end of the year this time.
So that whole experience was a great way to work on fixing what the competition had done to my dance confidence, and now I’m feeling better about dancing again. Sure, spending all of my weekend dance time on those workshops and late night parties instead of practicing what we had gone through with Sir Steven during our last coaching session meant that when I saw him again on Tuesday I struggled to remember the things I was supposed to know, but it was totally worth it to actually be able to see some marked improvement in my dancing like I did. If I get the opportunity to get tickets for the event again next year, I’m going to jump at the chance to go, and see if I can drag Sparkledancer along as well. Perhaps this is a better way to gauge real progress than any kind of competition score might be.