In The Chase Of The Dragon

True story: I thought I was being funny last week, taking the picture that had the dragon in it as “what I’d hope to find…” Well, when I went through the second half of my Pasodoble routine with Lord Junior last Friday, he said that the line that I struck halfway through the routine where I lunged forward on my right leg and bent my arms at my sides wasn’t big enough. He told me that I should lunge further down, but poise the upper half of my body forward so that my back leg and my back were on one straight line and spread my arms out to my sides “like a dragon” (his exact words). Hearing him say that caused me so start snickering under my breath. When I showed that change to Sir Steven, he thought it would be even better if I struck the pose on beat one with my head looking down and my arms curled in, and then unfurled everything over a four count to open up as if I were spreading my wings. So, I guess the dragon thing is actually going to happen. That was one of those weird moments where something I did as an artistic joke is actually going to become a reality. Now I just need to make sure that my surreal-joke-becoming-reality doesn’t get stuck in my mind so that I can pull the line off with a straight face every time…

That's what it's supposed to look like, but my dragon Ofnir makes it look so much better...
That’s what it’s supposed to look like, but my dragon Ofnir makes it look so much better…

Last Saturday night I went to what was being called a ‘beach party’ but it was being held indoors at a dance hall. Before going, I briefly considered wearing swim trunks to the party to be funny, but I opted for normal shorts instead. After all, they are comfy and easy to wear, as I was taught in my youth. Anyway… prior to the dance there was a class on Shag. Since I live near the east coast, you would think that I would have been exposed to a lot of Shag by this point in my dance travels, but this was only the second time I had ever been somewhere where that dance style has come up. It’s kind of like a mash of East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing, but with a lot more shuffling. Really – the way the basic was taught in this class was that we would do a rock step, then shuffle toward each other three times, then away from each other three times. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. After going over the basic for a really long time, we added in an under-arm turn for the ladies, and then a step-and-kick action that allowed both parties to touch their outside feet together (I don’t really know if the touching was supposed to be in there, but I have long legs so it just naturally happened). After getting these few figures down, they wanted to do a Shag mixer so that people could try dancing with new people. Let me tell you, figuring out how to rotate was the hardest thing for everyone to do. We started with two circles: Leads in the inner circle, Follows in the outer. During the sequence, if you did the under-arm turn correctly, you would end up switching which circle you were in, so when it got time to rotate you would rotate once in the inner circle and next time on the outer circle, and so on and so forth. I don’t know how they did it, but several men ended up in the wrong circle after doing the sequence of steps, and that totally messed up the rotation. They had to have either ChasingTheDragon2not done the turn correctly (that is, without rotating themselves around the lady), or they turned the lady and stayed in the same spot. One guy quit after a few runs because he always seemed to be in the wrong circle, so he just left to sit in a chair off to the side. After the third messy rotation attempt, I made an off-handed comment to a woman standing near me that we were probably all college graduates too, and she giggled with me about it. We did finally manage to succeed in making the mixer work, so hopefully someone took notes to be used the next time it happens.

After we put the Shag lesson to bed, there was a dance party. One of the bigwigs from the West Coast Swing group in the area that I saw at the workshop I went to last month came to this party along with his wife. During the party, he was kind of funny and sad to watch at the same time. At the workshop I went to that his group was running, he was totally in his element – correcting me on things and keeping watch over everyone that was there. At this party, he just looked like a fish out of water. He managed to get through the Shag lesson OK since elements were familiar to him, and the DJ would always let everyone know when you could dance West Coast Swing to a particular song, which would bring him out to the floor, but for the songs that West Coast Swing wouldn’t work for (like any Waltz for instance) he just sat in the back of the room, pretty much by himself. His wife happens to also be a ChasingTheDragon3high-ranking member of the West Coast club that he belongs to, but she seemed to know many of the other dance styles that we were doing, so she was out on the dance floor quite a bit and looked like she was having a great time. I guess that is one of the big reasons I like that I have gone out and worked on (at least) the basics in a lot of different dance styles, and even competed in all twenty-one recognized ballroom dance styles in the four major categories – sure, I could be really awesome if I had just picked one style or one category of styles and spent three years learning to do just that. But then I’d be like him, sitting out all the time during dances when songs were on that whatever I learned didn’t fit with. And you know what? Sitting out a lot doesn’t help me impress ladies, so why would I want to do that? I need every advantage that I can get.

(OK, so I will confess that knowing how to ballroom dance has really only helped me impress older women [Sparkledancer has told me that Cougars seem to be my demographic], who then look at me like they want to maul me. I don’t know if I can actually claim it as an advantage when looked at in that light…)

Going to workshops put on by Judge Dread seems to be becoming a monthly habit for me. I went to another pair being held this past weekend, and this time he was covering Waltz and Jive. I had gone to one he did a few months back where he had covered the Waltz, and there were a couple of points that he went over during this month’s exercises that we had gone through last time, so I got another chance to work on them. The big one that he really wanted to push was the timing. Specifically the idea of being off time for much of the dance. He went back through explaining how Waltz was one of the “swing” dances, in that the movements done during the dance were supposed to look like they were swinging in the same way a pendulum swings. Pendulums move fastest when they are at the bottom of their arc, and slow down as they reach the higher points of the arc on either side. Because of this, the only beat that a dancer should really be stepping in time with the music would be beat two, because our dance-pendulum has a three beat arc. The steps done during the other two beats should naturally slow down so they end up being stepped beyond the beat. It’s not a hard idea to wrap my head around, but it’s a difficult thing to do consistently when all my years of training have conditioned me to step in time with the music. This was the first time that Sparkledancer had really spent time looking at this concept, so when she came to practice the figure with me using the alternate timing, it was a bit fuddled the first time through. Some practice is definitely in order to get that concept into working order.

Near the end of the Waltz workshop, Judge Dread said that we were going to spend ten minutes and switch places in order to help each of us understand what our dance partner was going through. We changed up the pattern we had been using to practice with, simplifying it so that none of us had to worry about doing anything overly complicated during this exercise. I had spent the majority of the workshop switching back and forth to work with two different girls that I knew (Sparkledancer was one of them), so I stuck with the two of them for this part as well. The big problem that I ran into trying to be a Follow was that I am just bigger than all the girls that were in the class. I’m taller, and I have broader shoulders, so I’m not that easy to see around if I’m standing in front of them. There were a few really small women in the class with us, and everyone else there (even most of the other women) would have been a challenge for them to see around. I didn’t get to watch them work through things (since I had my back to them during the exercises), which was sad. I would have liked to see how things went. The weirdest thing about getting into the Follow position for me was getting my right hand into the right place. It just didn’t feel correct, no matter what I did with it. Even when I knew I had it in the correct hold with my Lead it still felt wrong to hold on like that. But based on how things went, I think I could get through both sides of the basic steps in most dances without putting much extra thought into what I’m doing. Once we get beyond the point where the Follower’s ChasingTheDragon4steps are the natural opposite of mine, then I think I would have to go through it once or twice before trying it with another person. Funny note: my other friend that I danced with was super excited about being able to be the Lead for once. After we got done going through the figure the first time, she loudly exclaimed for the whole group that she felt like she was better at leading than at following. She looks a lot better than me in a dress, so I hope she isn’t thinking about switching sides permanently (I’m going out on a limb to say that – I’ve never actually worn a dress, so I don’t have any proof to back up my claim).

The Jive workshop focused much more on basic technique than anything else. There was a lot of talk about how to make sure that the knees are coming up before each triple step, making sure the foot was pointing down when that happened, and keeping the legs close together as you were doing it all. He made a joke about how he used to tell ladies all the time that they needed to be able to hear the sounds of their fishnets sliding together as they did things, and after he said that, for the rest of the workshop, whenever he wanted to remind people to reduce the amount of light showing between their legs he would just yell out ‘Fishnets!’ and then everyone would laugh and fix things. The most interesting thing to me was the talk of the evolution of Jive, and how all the hip motions are reduced (not eliminated) because of the speed the songs generally move at. He said that if you took the dance style and danced it to slower music, or used some program to slow the same song down with, the hip movement should become more pronounced and the dance would start to look a lot like East Coast Swing.

I don’t know why I found that so interesting. I just did. I hope someone else thinks it’s interesting as well.

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