It’s A Grand Night For… Dancing!

This weekend I was lucky enough to once again take a trip to the Grand Dance Hall for their annual weekend of fancy formal dancing and workshops. This is one of those events I look forward to, and I have been lucky enough to be able to attend AGrandNightForSinging1now for three years in a row. After a quick boat ride over to the magical island that the Grand Dance Hall is located on (it seems like I’ve been on more boats in the last few weeks than I’ve been on in the entire rest of the year) I got changed into my finest attire to join the pre-dinner dance reception that would begin the weekend’s festivities.

For the reception, they had a small four-piece ensemble playing the music, and lots of people were out dancing while others were munching on the snacks laid out on tables on either side of the dance floor, or they were partaking of some pre-dinner cocktails to loosen up and have some fun. The small band was OK with the music – there were a lot of older songs from the 1920s and 1930s that I recognized, but the tempo was a lot faster than I liked for many of the songs played. For instance, they would play a Waltz or Foxtrot song, but with how fast they were going it wouldn’t have been too odd to do a Viennese Waltz or Quickstep to the music instead (though if everyone else on the floor is doing Waltz or Foxtrot, you become dangerous if you’re not keeping with the flow and dancing a different style). After the reception the dining room was opened and we all started to filter out to get some food. Sparkledancer and I, being the youngest ones there by at least fifteen years or so, ended up sitting in a small alcove near the back of the dining room, so we joked about getting stuck at the kid’s table. When dinner was over and we returned to the ballroom, the full orchestra was all set up, and that’s when the real fun began.

As you can imagine, with live music being played, your musical selection is not nearly as wide as you would get from going to a dance hall and dancing to whatever someone has saved on their computer. The orchestra mainly stuck to dance styles I’ve heard referred to as ‘The Big Five’ – Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba, Cha-Cha and ‘Swing’ (which would be either East Coast Swing or Jive depending on the tempo). There were a few other styles that they played once or twice during the evening – a Samba or two, Viennese Waltz, one Tango, and there were a couple of Swing songs that the conductor specifically said were West Coast Swing – but most of what we did was one of those five major styles. There’s something about dancing with live music and tons and tons of other people on the floor that makes events like this really exciting. It’s a AGrandNightForSinging2really good test of my floorcraft skills, and every year I’ve done this I feel like I do better and better about weaving my way through the packed floor. That, more than anything else that I’ve done over the past year, shows me that I’ve actually managed to become better as a dancer, so it makes me feel really good (and is one of the major reasons I’ve come back for this event three years in a row now). Plus, coming to this event is a good excuse for dusting off my dress clothing that doesn’t involve a fancy work thing, though usually after the dancing weekend is over I have to take everything in to be dry cleaned. It’s a small price to pay though, and something I would probably forget to take care of otherwise.

After wearing ourselves out on Friday night dancing, Saturday morning we got up early to have breakfast and attend the three workshops that were being offered as part of the weekend package. The two in the morning were on Foxtrot and Samba, and after a break for lunch they offered a third in East Coast Swing. The figure set we worked on for Foxtrot ended up being the funniest. In the middle of the figure there is a part where we would chasse forward holding on to our partner with just our front hand, and at the end of the chasse we would do a check and bring the rear arm up and over our front arm in an arc. Every time we would do the arcing motion with our rear arm, Sparkledancer really liked to say “Awwww yeeeeaah.” I’m not entirely sure why she was doing that. For the Samba, we worked on a figure that was essentially a combination of several ways of doing Botafogos and Voltas, most of which didn’t travel much, moving more circular than down the line of dance. The East Coast Swing that we looked at was a combination of figures that might have also worked in Jive. There were some kicking walks going one way followed by some repeated triple-steps going back the way you came, and near the end you were AGrandNightForSinging3supposed to spin your dance partner around so that the guy is standing within arm’s length behind her while she does a squat in front of you, wiggling her body on the way down. All the older people in class thought that was a really funny move, and it was kind of adorably disturbing watching them all practice that figure. All in all, there were some fun things in the workshops, and I got all the sequences on video so that I can pick them apart later and memorize the pieces that I like.

Saturday night was the final night of the event, so I took all the energy that I had left in me and left it all out on the floor that night. The evening started with another pre-dinner reception with minor dancing accompanied by the small four-piece musical ensemble like the night before, and then after dinner the orchestra was back onstage to play the night away. I stayed out all night dancing, until the orchestra called it quits for the evening, and totally exhausted myself. That is what dancing AGrandNightForSinging4should be all about – dancing until your thighs burn! As the night wore on, the older folks decided to head out, so the floor opened up more the later things got, allowing me to do more and more complicated and fancy figures. The most exhausting thing I did was around 11:30PM when the conductor went to the microphone and said that they were going to play a Viennese Waltz next – not just any ol’ Viennese Waltz song, but a medley of several. Feeling confident, I grabbed Sparkledancer and told her we were going to do it. It seriously felt like we were out there spinning around for about half-an-hour as the orchestra played through blending one song into another, but I just didn’t want to quit. By the time the song(s) finished, I was grinning like an idiot and I headed off the floor and wobbled over to a chair to sit down and have a glass of water while the next song played. After a quick breather Sparkledancer and I were back out there again. I will admit that the dancing started to get a bit messy and slightly more uncoordinated after midnight, but it was a lot of fun so we didn’t let that stop us from staying on the floor.

Earlier in the evening, during the first short breaks the orchestra took that night, I wandered over to the back of the dance floor to talk with one of the other attendees. I had seen this group of people wandering around earlier during the workshops – not really participating in them, but hanging around in the back of the room and watching sometimes. Almost everyone in the group had on a jacket or a shirt that proclaimed that they were all members of a specific chain studio location (other people I have seen refer to this place as the ‘famous franchise’ of ballroom dancing). I had never seen people who were current members of said franchise out in the wild before, so I wanted to go talk to them. The guy that I talked to said that he was actually one of the instructors at their franchise location. They liked to invite everyone who was a member at their studio (both instructors and students) to go out on dance field trips like this together a couple of times a year, just to step outside of the franchise world and make sure they were familiar with how things worked in other places. I thought that was super cool of them. Having experienced being a part of a franchise system myself for a very brief time where we were… discouraged… from going out to other places to dance, it was surprising and refreshing to see that some places are open to being part of the wider world of dancing.

As much fun as the fancy weekend was, all good things must come to an end at some point. Getting back to the real world, I was out at Latin Technique class again on Monday night. We worked on Rumba, because Lord Junior wanted to work on Latin Walks. He said that no matter how high a level you obtain in dance, Latin Walks are one of those things you can always do just a little better, so it’s good to constantly look at them. One especially fun thing from that night’s class was who actually showed up: there is a girl who has been coming to various events for a while now (I like to call her ‘Tanya the Tiger’ because… reasons. You may be able to pick her out in some pictures). She showed up for class that night, but brought someone with her… an identical twin sister! They weren’t dressed alike, so it was easy to tell the two of them apart that way, and one of them was wearing heels that were much taller than the other so there was a subtle height difference to work with between the two of them, but as we rotated through partners in class to work on practicing Latin Walks AGrandNightForSinging5in Shadow Position it was so easy to jump from dancing with one to dancing with the other because they moved so identically. That was kind of fun. One cool thing about dancing with a variety of people is that you get to feel everyone’s individual dance style in the way they hold themselves and how they move about. Dancing with the other ladies in class that night was very different – Sparkledancer is really good about dancing with power (she has been told just a few times about pushing off her standing leg when moving…), Jem works on keeping her long limbs under control while moving, and Bony has a hard time turning crisply, so as the music gets faster her rotations turn less and we have to adjust our direction. But the two twins, even though they would sometimes mess up in different spots while we worked on various things, the flow of their movement was so similar. It was kind of fascinating.

Because the Monday night class has been getting bigger and bigger, and Lord Junior enjoys teaching that class the most, he has decided to turn his Wednesday night Advanced-level ballroom class into a Standard Technique class to mirror the format of the Monday Latin Technique class, covering International Standard dance styles. I also think he is doing it partially because he is studying to take some sort of certification test for International Standard, but that’s just conjecture on my part. This week he started class by asking everyone what they wanted to work on. No one else who was there had any strong feelings one way or the other, so I suggested we look at Heel Turns in Foxtrot. When switching between American and International Foxtrot, Heel Turns are the hardest thing to switch and do in place of the American Reverse Turns. We went through some cool exercises to warm up with and practice Heel Turns on our own – you can do them with no rotation by taking a step back with one leg, dragging the heel of your other foot back until your feet are together, rising up onto your toes and then stepping out onto the leg you started with. As you get comfortable with the action, start adding in the turn after you drag your feet together. We worked up to turning 180° to both the right and left. After we got through exercises we started to put together a few simple figures to work on things: a Feather into a Reverse Heel Turn followed by a curved Three Step into a Natural Weave with a Feather Finish. Simple figures that all are actually in my International Foxtrot routine, so it made going through them good for me.

Whew… just thinking through all that again makes me exhausted. But, there’s no rest for me, so I’m sure there will be more dancing to be had this weekend. What will I do next?!?

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