Getting So Much Better All The Time

This past Friday night Lord Junior had taken on the responsibility of teaching the Hustle class, much to his chagrin (the man really dislikes Hustle for some reason). Not having stuck around to watch the previous week’s classes, he briefly reviewed the basics for the syncopated form of Hustle that he prefers to use, which includes the back check on the half-beat before each measure. I really prefer just pointing my foot to the side for beat one of every three count – that is really what feels GettingBetter1right stylistically to me, but since he was showing everyone in class the back check, that’s what I did most of the time. HotDog was having trouble keeping the basic figure straight with what he had learned the last couple of weeks, so each time Lord Junior was working with the ladies to review their half of things I worked with him to make sure he had everything down. We covered simple things for the first half of class, sort-of review from the last few weeks – the basic, man’s turn and lady’s underarm turn, all with the back check. After going through those a number of times, Lord Junior showed us what he said was his favorite Hustle figure, the Grapevine. I had never done a Grapevine in Hustle before, so my ears instantly perked up. Sure, it wasn’t terribly complicated; the Grapevine in Waltz is much more difficult in my opinion. Still, this was a new figure for me, so I was excited. As class ended we played around with things for a while as we rotated through partners, and I think I have it down well enough to throw out there during the next social dance I go to when a Hustle comes on. Progress!

Lately, as you can probably tell, my coaching sessions to work on my competitive dances have been… frustrating. I have gone back and read the things that I’ve written recently, and I can see it underlying my word choices. Dance training has become much harder work than it used to be, and with all the difficult things going on in my actual job the last couple of months, I have been struggling with finding a reason to do something else that required so much work when I’m no longer at the office. Getting proper technique to become second nature is much more difficult than picking up new figures, and proper technique is also something that not many average people notice. New dancers would see me practicing with Sparkledancer and be amazed that we can Foxtrot or Waltz or even Tango around the floor without hitting anyone, using a wide variety of figures that is more than just repeating the same basic steps over and over. They don’t notice if I don’t keep my knees bent a lot the whole time, or pull my chin back in toward my neck, or do any of the weird foot placement required for proper Tango. Those subtle details are lost on anyone who is not a dance instructor or an adjudicator. I’m not the only one who is going through these struggles with working on refining my technique either – I do read about the struggles others in this community are having with many of the same things I am doing, and I completely understand. None of us are going through this alone! I hope I’m not the only one to notice that theme…

Anyway, there was a point to that tangent – this week, as we started our coaching session, Sparkledancer asked Sir Steven if he could show us a new, more advanced move for Hustle, just to have something fun to look at once we got through the frustrating portion of the day’s work. I loved this idea, and I’m guessing she asked largely for my benefit, since much of the technical work we’ve been doing has been correcting things that I do wrong or need to do better (because when the Lead does better, a lot of what the Follow does is automatically made better). We started with Sir Steven putting on a song and watching us go through our Foxtrot. We would get through several walls while he would yell out technical things we would need to watch (like our posture slipping, or head not being in the right place), and as we rounded toward the end of the fourth wall he stopped us and made us go back through certain parts to work on things he noticed us doing during those figures. After that, we went through the same thing with our Waltz routine. This time, after we got done going through it once he took us aside and told us he was going to make some changes to the choreography. We had set the routine so that the two long walls matched, and the two short GettingBetter2walls were different – he wanted to change that so that we would have a different sets of figures for each wall. Quite a bit of time was spent going over the new choreography to make sure we had them down and could do it using all the proper technique we had been working on for the rest of the routine. Then we moved on to Tango. Luckily, for Tango all we did was a short review, ending things after the first long wall since that seems to be as far as we go with Tango anymore. There were a couple of points when I missed turning my head like I’m supposed to, but otherwise it was pretty good.

As we finished up the coaching session, Sir Steven told Sparkledancer and me that what he had just seen us do was the best ballroom dancing we had ever done, and that it was clear we were making real progress. We both stood there, trying not to giggle with joy from the compliment – with so much work done lately, and so much frustration on my part because of all the things that I can never seem to remember, it was really nice to be told that it is starting to look the way it should when other people watch us. In celebration, he showed the two of us that new figure for Hustle that Sparkledancer had asked about at the beginning. “New figure” might be a bit of an exaggeration, it was more like a variation on something that I had done before, but made to be much more difficult (for the ladies at least). It was a lot like a Triple Spin from closed position, but instead of GettingBetter3holding the girl’s hand to turn her, I am to put my hands around her waist and spin her as she reaches her arms up when spinning, and brings them down like a propeller when she lands on the other side. It was a little ridiculous going through it the first couple of times, since I thought I was going to get hit in the head with a rotating arm, but we managed to get through things without any serious injuries. That makes more than one new Hustle move added to the list in the same week! It’s like my knowledge of this dance style has grown by leaps and bounds recently; I just don’t even know what to do with myself anymore!

Wrapping things up, Sir Steven brought up an idea for something else fun we could start putting some serious thought into. A while back, I had heard this crazy song that really fit my personality – it’s a variation of an extremely popular song from the mid-1980s that I’m sure everyone has heard before. Months ago, Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I had been sitting and talking about people doing showcase dances, and I told him about that song. He had never heard it before, so he pulled it up online and we were laughing while listening to it, and dreaming of how cool we would look and what we would have to wear to pull it off. Well, Sir Steven brought it back up this week and said that we could really start looking at seriously doing it for an upcoming showcase performance this summer. The song is a Pasodoble, so we took a few minutes to review some of the figures that Sparkledancer and I could remember off the top of our heads, and I screwed things up pretty royally since it has been so long since I’ve spent any actual time looking at Pasodoble, but I think with some review and refinement we could pull this off. Lord Junior was there as we were finishing up as well, and we played the song for him. He thought it would be great fun to perform to that number. I’m sure we could convince him to devote one or two of the Latin Technique nights to looking at Pasodoble in preparation. It’s been a long time since I have done a showcase-style performance, so deep down I’m excited and a bit nervous. My dancing has changed a lot since the last time, so I’m hoping we can put together a performance that will be memorable (and fun) for all who come and watch.

When I went to the Latin Technique class this past Monday night, we didn’t do Pasodoble. Lord Junior wanted to go back and work on what he had started to do a couple of weeks back when I missed the class, the day that the class had worked on the advanced Opening Out in Rumba. Sparkledancer had tried to show me what they had been doing a few days after the class, but she hadn’t really paid attention to the Lead’s part, so when I saw Lord Junior demonstrate things what she had told me finally made sense. We went through that for about fifteen minutes, then he wanted to work on a much more advanced step he called something like the Switchback, but I could be wrong about that. I can’t find any reference to that name in any Rumba syllabus. Anyway, it starts from a Hockey GettingBetter4Stick, and as you do the forward check at the end the Lead is to turn the lady’s arm so that she rotates 180 degrees around, raises her left arm up and points her right foot back. Then quickly she would turn and come out, pointing her foot forward at the end to give the illusion of taking two steps when in reality only taking one. It’s hard – really hard. By the end, Sparkledancer and I could almost do it together to music, but just couldn’t quite put all the correct technique in and turn her safely without slowing down slightly, which put us off the beat. Maybe the next time she and I connect to practice together outside of a class I will see if she wants to spend a few minutes going over that figure again.

That’s been my dance week. It feels like a long time since I went out social dancing, so this weekend I am hoping to change that, and have cleared my schedule to accommodate a dance field trip. There’s the bi-weekly dance party tomorrow at the Electric Dance Hall, and I think I heard that Saturday night there is an open dance at the Cherished Dance Hall, so I will probably make my way there to hang out and dance the night away. If there are any other open dances to choose from that you know of, let me know! Maybe we can go out together someplace and just twist awkwardly like we have no idea what else to do. That’s always fun in my book!

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