My last Sunday was a lot of fun, so I think I’m just going to skip everything else and go straight there…
I mentioned a workshop being held this past weekend at the Endless Dance Hall when I wrote a couple of weeks ago, and it was a fascinating experience to go to. Not necessarily for the workshop itself (though we’ll talk about how interesting it was in a second), but for what I witnessed beforehand. I arrived at the dance hall about fifteen minutes early, like I normally do so that I could stretch out a bit and warm up, but when I walked in the door there was a large group out on the dance floor and they were all… running laps. Not because it was some kind of fitness class; many of the people running were dressed in dress shirts, slacks, fancy dresses, and they were all wearing dance shoes. Sparkledancer was already at the dance hall, so the two of us decided to grab a couple of chairs against the back wall and watch what was going on. From what we could tell, there was a fiery dance lord by the name of Lord Dormamu on the other end of the dance floor from our seats, and he was leading the event, yelling at everyone to keep going. We saw (as they ran by) Sir Steven and his dance partner running through the crowd past us. Sir Steven, being among the youngest runners, was easily lapping many of the others in this marathon of sorts. With only a few minutes left before the workshop was slated to start, everyone was told to stop running, grab their dance partners, and start dancing. They ran through four “heats” – Waltz first, then Tango, Viennese Waltz, and finally Foxtrot. Every time he started a song for the dance, Lord Dormamu yelled at the couples to give him everything they had and make it look great. The couples (and two random single men dancing alone) danced the entire length of the dance floor at the Endless Dance Hall, and as they came close by the corner where I was sitting I could see the sweat dripping down many of their faces from the exertion. Watching this was truly a fascinating experience. Sir Steven mentioned at the end when he stopped by to say hello that they had been doing that sort of exercise for the last four hours, which is impressive. Sparkledancer and I were discussing it afterward, and the best reason we could come up with for why they would do something like this would be for endurance training: you could simulate the exhaustion of dancing hundreds of heats in a competition by dancing one heat in each style, then running hard for ten minutes, then dancing heats again ad infinitum. It would make a pretty good simulation. Obviously, I wasn’t there when this event started, so I’m only speculating that this is the reason they were doing it, but it seems logical to me.
Once that was over, there were two workshops planned for the afternoon. The first was a Silver-level Foxtrot workshop, and the second was Silver-level Rumba. When the first workshop started, the leader (who I’m going to refer to henceforth as Judge Dread, since I would be nervous if he was a judge at a competition I was in) asked who amongst the crowd did American Foxtrot primarily versus International Foxtrot. There might have been close to forty people in that workshop, and only three of us raised our hands to say we primarily did American style. With that information in mind, Judge Dread started to talk about the competition that he had been judging yesterday in the area, and the things that he saw people doing wrong that he wanted to talk about. There was one phrase that he started with, that he also had everyone in the crowd repeat to make sure we knew how important it was. The phrase was “The devotion to the motion creates the emotion.” There was some talk about what this meant for dancers, and I am still trying to wrap my head around that idea. I will have to come back and talk about that in a different week after I organize my thoughts and put them into words.
The other big thing that was brought up as a problem seen frequently in Foxtrot by both spectators and judges is people rushing through their figures, getting ahead of the beat. We spent most of the time in the workshop working on what Judge Dread said was a good way to slow down the movements to prevent rushing – Edging. That is, when taking most steps in the Foxtrot, there is one edge of the foot that should be coming down first to hit the floor, and once it’s down the foot should naturally roll flat as it takes weight. It doesn’t seem like that sort of movement would add much time to each step, but while we were working on practicing the figures Judge Dread picked, it took some thought to make sure I stepped like that continually, so at that point it added some time. The main figure we used to practice this were normal Quarter Turns. For the guys part, we would focus on taking the first step on the inside edge of the left foot, then the outside edge of the right foot, then the side step would be inside edge, then the feet would come together flat. Going backward was the same way – inside, outside, inside, together. Judge Dread started having everyone chant that mantra as we stepped, which most people did quietly under their breath. We went through a few figures focusing on this, like the normal Promenade and the Quarter Turns utilizing Outside Dance Position, nothing terribly difficult. By the time the Foxtrot workshop was over, I felt like my shoes had shifted over to the left of my feet, and I had to knock them against the leg of a chair a few times to center them again so that they felt normal.
After a few minutes break, we started in on the Rumba workshop. Here, Judge Dread also wanted to look at a few things that he noticed at the competition the previous day to help all of us learn from other people’s mistakes. The big thing we looked at was hip motions… Cuban motions… those things that those of us with white boy hips aren’t designed to do all that well. The issue asked of us was: if you are doing Cuban Rocks with your hips, how would your partner know to do the same thing? He wanted us to get away from thinking about the connection with the arms moving slightly forward and backward showing which hip should be forward or backward, but rather that the whole hip motion AND the lead given to your partner was done by the muscles in your back. Let me say, while I am used to working with the muscles in my back (I work them out a couple of times a week), generally the exercises I do to engage those muscles don’t require a lot of thought into what your back is doing – if you’re doing a pull-up, no matter what style, you have to use the muscles in your back to get your feet off the floor, so they engage on their own. Have you ever tried to put thought into moving things in your back rather than moving other parts of your body? I don’t think about it all that often because it gets weird. Lord Junior talks about arm movements coming from the back muscles from time to time in his Latin Technique class, so I have some experience taking my arms out of the picture, but I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about the same process with my hips. We paired up to do this with partners for a while by standing facing one another, holding hands with our arms spread out wide, to see if the movement from the back that was rotating the hips could be felt naturally down the arms. As we were working in class, I kept watching the guy who ended up in front of me. He was a dance instructor I had seen before somewhere, and watching him dance looked like… like he had a ferret wiggling around where his spine should have been. I don’t think my back is capable of moving quite like that at this point!
I did all that, and it was all just Sunday. Whoa, I’m tired out just trying to think through everything all over again.
Things were a bit calmer Monday night when I went to Latin Technique class, which gave me a bit of a breather. There was a gentleman I didn’t recognize who came to class that night, who didn’t seem to have much dance experience but decided to stick around for this more advanced class anyway. I’d like to say that he stayed because of how much fun I am to hang out with, but I have no scientific evidence to prove that fact, so I won’t say it. Before class started, Lord Junior was talking with the new guy to find out what his dance background was, and since he didn’t mention knowing any Rumba we didn’t go back to working on what we had been doing for the last two weeks. Instead we did the first Latin dance style the guy had mentioned, which was Cha-Cha. Lord Junior showed us a variation on the Crossover that could be used to add some additional dynamics to our dancing. Instead of doing normal a Crossover with both people going toward the same side and putting their outside arm behind them, we changed it so that the Follow still did the Crossover like she normally would, but the Lead would actually have his hand over the Follow’s forearm while moving his own body in the opposite direction. This was a challenge because it required finding out how much leash to give to the lady when holding her forearm while maintaining enough control to let her know that she needed to stop moving forward, and at the same time moving your body backward without pulling her arm out of the shoulder socket in the process. From what I hear, ladies generally don’t like it if you do that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure this was not a syllabus figure, since in order to do it I had to bend my left knee to lunge backward when the Follow was doing the normal crossover move. I don’t think a judge would be happy with me bending my standing leg while dancing International Cha-Cha in a syllabus heat, which is why I think it is something from open choreography. But the next dance party I go to, I may totally throw this in at random just for fun. I wonder if people who weren’t in the class would understand what I was trying to do. We’ll have to see!
So what are you doing this weekend? I’m going to prom again. It was such a big hit when I got talked into doing it last year and Sparkledancer and I danced with all the kids watching, I was asked to come back and help chaperone again. This time she promised me that she would bring a real pair of dance shoes so that we can really impress all the high-school students. I have always wanted to be the guy in high-school everyone talked about. Now I have another chance to become that. Wish me luck!