Last Friday night I got the chance to go out with friends to an open dance party at a place I’d never been to before that we’ll call the Star Dance Hall. There was a lot of different things going on in the area on Friday night, so the party I was at turned out to be rather small, but was a lot of fun. I began the evening by going to the Salsa class being offered before the dance, and I talked Sparkledancer into meeting me there early so that I would have someone to dance with for sure. I’ll admit, most of what I do when I dance Salsa comes from things I learned in Mambo classes – I’ve only been in one actual Salsa class before the one I went to that night. The class was billed as a beginner’s class, but I didn’t feel bad about being there. With what we went through during class, the background I had in Mambo served me well. I’m not used to doing things with the low two-hand hold that they used, but I had seen many of the figures before, so things went OK. There was a couple who looked to be about my age that joined class, and it was pretty clear that the guy had never done any dancing before but his lady-friend knew what she was doing. There was one other girl who came in late who was attending a dance class for the first time as well, so when I saw her dance with the guy that hadn’t danced before for the first time, they looked to be leading each other astray, and it was kind of funny to watch. I tried to help her out when she rotated through, and I know both Sparkledancer and the guy’s date were helping him figure out his steps to make things easier for him. That was a good time.
The dance party afterward had some… interesting points. Before the start, Sparkledancer and I were over in the corner, just chatting away, when this older gentleman who had been standing nearby decided to strike up a conversation with us. It started out with him asking us about where we normally danced, and him telling us about his great experiences dancing at the Star Dance Hall, but somehow he got off on a weird tangent and asked us if we had ever thought about Social Security. My eyes might have bugged out a little at that, and the first thing I could think of to reply was “I think I’m still a bit too young for that…” Then he went on for the next fifteen minutes to tell us all about this trick you could use if you do something at age 62 but suspend things then when you hit 65 you can do something else, but if you find out you’re dying you can get a whole bunch of money all at once… it was one of the most bizarre and sort-of depressing conversations I think I’ve ever had at a dance party. When he got done telling us all about things, Sparkledancer and I went off to dance. Later on in the evening, as Sparkledancer and I both happened to be taking a break at the same time in the same corner, the same older gentleman was there again, and decided he wanted to tell us a different story. This time he explained to us how he got into dancing. Apparently, something like forty years ago he was dating a girl, and then had to leave her to go into the Navy. As they broke things off, she gave him some advice that he should learn to dance because women (like her) liked to go out dancing, and it would be an impressive date to take women (like her) on. Well, as he was in the Navy, he thought about her words, so he found a nearby studio and started dropping in for classes whenever he could, and continued dancing all the way to this day. He got married and had some kids, and at some point not too many years ago he met up with this ex-girlfriend at some wedding that his family and her family both attended. He took the opportunity to thank his ex-girlfriend for her advice all those years ago, because it really had served him well. The ex-girlfriend’s daughter was confused, and wanted to talk with him about how he knew her mother. When he explained the story to the daughter, she laughed and told him that her mother didn’t know how to dance – she had never followed her own advice.
Ever had one of those times when you just feel really young? That was how I felt when I walked away from that conversation…
Judge Dread had another set of workshops this past weekend at the Endless Dance Hall, so I decided to go. I found his perspective on things interesting during the last two that I went to, so I had high hopes for this one as well. When I got to the Endless Dance Hall, I found Sparkledancer waiting for me, along with a couple of girls from the Great Dance Hall by the Lake whom I had actually recommended the workshops to during a social dance one night about a month ago. The four of us were the youngest non-instructor dancers there, so we tried to stay nearby each other throughout the afternoon for moral support.
This month’s styles were Tango and Cha-Cha. First up, we looked at Tango. Now, I’ll admit that I was a bit wary about going into this particular class, because I really only do American Tango, and I know that Judge Dread spends a lot of time on International style. I only really remember very basic bits of International Tango, and since the basic steps are so different from American Tango, I thought I might have a hard time keeping up. The hope was that the class would focus on generic things that worked for both International and American, like the Foxtrot workshop I went to last month did. Lucky for me, that’s the way things went. There were a couple of good points to take away from the workshop, and lucky for you, I’m going to tell you all about them for free! The big one that tripped me up was the notes he gave on walking, mostly when moving backwards. The idea is that when you walk forward, you need to keep your toes on the floor as long as possible before flicking to the heel at the end of the stride. This makes the footwork look much more dramatic, and the recommendation was to keep the toe on the floor for about 85% of the forward walk before letting the heel hit the floor. We looked at the same idea when going backward, which was much harder for me to do (being a Lead, I don’t travel backwards nearly as often). When going backward, you start with the toe up and the heel on the floor, but then flick the toe down as soon as possible before pulling the foot under, then behind you – sort of the reverse of the idea for the forward walk. He said that when a judge is watching you dance, if your feet don’t look like they care about the style of dance you are doing, then why would the judge want to look up the rest of your leg to see what else you do with your body? It was an interesting thing to consider. We spent a lot of time working on dancing simple figures to practice this idea – mostly the American-style Tango basic figure and we also walked back and forth down the whole floor in Promenade position. Near the end of this class, Judge Dread said that most exercises should not be overdone. Too many Promenade exercises could actually make Promenade position look worse if you are inadvertently practicing it badly. The only exceptions to this rule he gave were two exercises which any ballroom-style dancer should do all the time: turning your body without turning the head or feet, and swiveling the feet and head without turning the shoulders. Those exercises he said we could go nuts on and do all the time until we were able to make them look perfect.
For the Cha-Cha I felt a lot more comfortable walking into class because of all the work I’ve put in during the Latin Technique classes I’ve been taking on Monday nights. We didn’t cover any of the three points Lord Junior likes to hit repeatedly on during that class (pushing off the standing leg, keeping the hips from being square, keeping the legs as straight as possible), which I thought might have come up at least a little. Instead, one point that stood out to me that we discussed was about compression. When you take a step, one hip should always be higher than the other, and on the side of your body where the hip is higher the torso should be compressed in between. The shoulder on the side with the lifted hip should be pushing downward to help create this compression… but this should not be something that is seen by anyone watching you. The shoulders should always be down, maximizing the distance between your ears and shoulders, but as you lift one hip there should be an internal feeling of the shoulder pressing downward slightly – an invisible movement, but one that has an obvious effect. We also spent time discussing the musicality of dancing to Cha-Cha. Judge Dread made comments similar to something someone wiser than me wrote not that long ago that a different judge told him during a coaching session: if you are counting the Cha-Cha music by saying (or thinking) “…two, three, cha-cha-cha, two, three…” then you are hindering yourself and will miss an important point of the Cha-Cha. The accents in Cha-Cha should always (unless you are doing something super fancy) be on beats one and three, so if you are glossing over beat one by calling it ‘cha’ instead of by its number, you will be tempted not to hold your step for its full musical value. Instead, you always want to count using “…two, three, four and one, two, three…” to help. He had us work on this musicality by running through a simplistic Cha-Cha pattern with us, but he made us dance the pattern to a song most people would hear as disco, a song that I know I’ve danced Hustle to before. The idea was that this song, with its funk and soul roots, had the backbeats emphasized (beats two and four, for any non-musical people reading this). So to dance Cha-Cha properly to this song, you really had to count the time and dance against the natural inclination you’d hear and feel in the music.
Sometimes I think back to all the musical training and music theory classes I took in high school and college, and wonder what my instructors would think if they knew this was how I was applying that training so many years later.