So, I’m going to start off this week reporting that I did end up going to the Waltz workshop last weekend at the Endless Dance Hall. I couldn’t find any of my normal dance friends who were free, so this was a solo dance field trip for me, and without any of them coming with me I ended up being less than half the age of everyone else attending, so I stood out a little. On top of that, Sir Steven was also at the Endless Dance Hall teaching one of his other pupils, so I could feel him watching what I was doing during his lulls. This workshop was taught by a Dance Lord who not only teaches dancing, he also is the highest-ranked judge at many competitions around, so there was added weight behind the things that he discussed. The workshop was billed specifically as ‘Silver-level Waltz’ and I am happy to say that I totally fit in with what they were covering, so that implies that I at least belong in Silver-level for Waltz. It was even International Waltz (as I feared before showing up), and I still managed to know every figure that they used in all the patterns even though I normally do American Waltz. There were three main concepts that he spent a lot of time covering during the workshop. The first he told the gentlemen about was a concept that he said carried over into everything we would ever do – when being a responsible Lead, our job was to do three things for our Follows: the first was to keep them safe, which meant we always had to make sure that they weren’t going to run off the floor or into other people, since they usually move backwards. The second was to keep them comfortable by making sure we always provided that rock-solid foundation and stability for them as they danced with us. The third thing is to keep them entertained. He said this was the reason we worked on learning new figures and more interesting technique – it kept us from repeating the same things all the time when dancing and becoming boring to dance with. If we were more knowledgeable, we become more entertaining leaders in the process.
The second concept that was emphasized was that Waltz was one of the Swing dances, so every figure we used during the day we were supposed to focus on adding in the swing to each. There are four of these Swing dances like this – Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep. Tango falls into the category of Rhythm dances, being much more staccato in nature. When doing Swing dances, there were three types of swing that he told us to look for: rotary swing (in a circle), lateral swing or sway (from side to side), and what he called ‘porch swing’ which, as you can imagine, is swinging front to back (like a porch swing). In the Waltz, almost every figure should have all three types of swing if done correctly, just done to a varying degree. For instance, any four-step Waltz figure (like a chasse or a lock step) does not have sway-type swing since they travel pretty straight. For practice using sway, he suggested we go work on Foxtrot, because apparently every figure in Foxtrot should have sway if done right. He said that in a few weeks when he would be out judging another competition, he will be watching the competitors doing the Waltz, and even if they get everything else perfect, if they don’t include the swing into their Waltz figures he won’t be advancing them to the next round, because (as he said) they don’t truly understand the Waltz.
The third concept that was stressed was about the timing. According to him, once you move beyond Bronze-level Waltz, the timing starts to become less directly synchronized with the music. He called this idea “rubato timing.” As we all went through the figures, after we had started to establish the final choreography to work on in class, he told us that we all had to stop taking our last step right on beat three. That step should be held for half a beat longer, so from that point on we would have to step on beat three-and until class was over. This, obviously, is difficult to do if you have never really worked on it before. Years of dance training where I have always done my best to make sure I was dancing on time was suddenly in conflict with what he was trying to get us to do. It got easier as the workshop wore on and I was able to spend some time practicing, but those first couple of run-through were likely painful to watch. When changing the timing like this, if you delayed the third step of the figure, that would inevitably delay the first step of the next figure, so we all ended up stepping on beats three-and and one-and. The only beat we always took in time with the music was beat two. This was probably the concept that I messed up the most during the times we ran through things for practice. I had to actually pay attention to the music in order to take steps on beats that weren’t naturally apparent to me. When I would get to thinking about other things he wanted us to work on, I would fall back into taking steps on the beat, because that’s what my body has been so trained to do. There are a lot of concepts and techniques that I have been taught to use for competitive purposes that find themselves in my social dancing in different forms, allowing me to practice, but this one I don’t think will be one of those. I can’t imagine I would be able to do this during a social dance with a partner without somehow warning her about the change in timing beforehand, and confirming that she knew how to expect things to be different. We would end up really off if I was stepping on completely different beats than she was. There’s a good chance I might even get stepped on, since I would be delaying taking my steps for half a beat and she would not.
After the workshop wrapped up, I ended up talking to Sir Steven. He called me over to point out a few parts where I had raised my foot off the floor way too much during the practice dances. That made me feel kind of sheepish – that’s something I should know better than to do, but I got caught doing it. He said the workshop was good for me, since a lot of the figures that we ended up using are the same type of things we had been spending a lot of time improving in our own Waltz routine, and now we’d just have to introduce the concepts of swing and rubato timing to Sparkledancer to start really adding that into how we dance together.
After I had changed into my normal shoes and was getting ready to leave, Sir Steven flagged me down once more. He wanted to introduce me to the coach he has been training with. Sir Steven is working really hard on preparing with his new professional partner to compete at some major events in the near future, so lately he has been going to see a coach to work on improving things himself quite frequently, and he just happened to be at the Endless Dance Hall that day. Being introduced was… intimidating. Here was my coach’s coach – the guy that Sir Steven has been going to in order to better his own dancing, and now he knows my name. I bet if he ever sees me again, he is going to watch me in order to judge what I have learned about dancing through what Sir Steven has learned about dancing. Vicarious judgement of his own coaching, as it were. So, now if I ever see him again first, I will have to point him out to Sparkledancer so that she can feel intimidated as well.
Fear is a great way to improve at anything, isn’t it?
Saturday night I ended up going out as well. The City Dance Hall was having an open dance party, and since it has been so long since I’d gone there, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. The evening opened with a lesson in Foxtrot. The pair leading the class started everyone off with doing some basic Foxtrot movements to warm up with – we sway-stepped side-to-side a few times, then did two sets of forward walks, then two sets of backward walks to bring us back to our start position, then four rock turns to go around in a circle before starting over. We repeated these figures for fifteen minutes or so, with and without music, until everyone was feeling pretty good about things, then they started going through some more advanced choreography that incorporated many of these basic steps that people could use during the social dance that night. The pattern seemed to me to be sort-of a mixture between American Foxtrot and International Foxtrot – there were a few figures where we broke frame and opened up, but we also did a Whisk in place of a Twinkle, which I’ve only ever done Whisks in International Foxtrot and Waltz. Maybe the choreography was really just meant to be used during social dance parties, so it could pull figures from both sides of the spectrum without raising too many eyebrows. I’ve certainly done that sort of thing before – like in Cha-Cha for instance, I would start out only doing International style, and then halfway through the song throw in a Check-And-Pop, which I’m told is a figure only in American style. During a social dance, no one watching should care, as long as everyone’s having fun.
There was one person in particular who stood out during the dance party. There was a kid that Sparkledancer pointed out to me early on in the evening. It really was a kid – he looked like he could just be starting high school, and he came to dance along with his mom. Sparkledancer pointed him out because the way he danced looked really familiar to her, so we made a point to go say hello to him during the evening. Partly we did it to thank him for helping us not be the youngest people at the party, but partly to figure out where he was coming from. It turns out that he had just started taking lessons a little over a month beforehand, and he was studying at the Great Dance Hall with his mom under Lord Bradley. That explains why what he was doing looked so familiar – the dances he did that I was able to watch were all textbook syllabus figures from the Great Dance Hall.
In high school, ballroom dancing probably won’t make him popular, even at his school dances. But if he manages to stick with it, by the time he reaches my age ladies will be throwing themselves at him during social dance parties because he will be really good.