To start with this week, I’d like to talk about something that I’ve found in my world outside of dancing that I think is really going to help me with things I try to do while dancing. I’ve heard many people talk about how dancing has helped them with other aspects of their life, but this takes the opposite track – allowing me to incorporate something I’ve been working on in a non-dance setting into what I do on the dance floor. There are a couple of skills I picked up outside of dancing I’ve been able to do this with, the most obvious example of this is my ability to hear the rhythm in music, which is a skill I really developed during so many years spent in various choirs (yes, I was a choir geek growing up, not a band geek. I’m not ashamed to admit that). Another example is the balance that I acquired through years of doing Yoga, which really helps when I have to stand in semi-awkward positions for long periods of time.
So… want to know what I’ve been working on lately that I’ve discovered may be really useful to my dancing?
Yes, the kind involving fists.
Let me set this up a bit: over and over again in the Latin Technique class that I go to every week, I’ve been told that any arm movements done should happen naturally, with my arm movements really coming from the movement of the muscles in my back. This is a concept I’ve struggled with understanding for a long time. As a boy who likes to keep myself in shape, I’ve spent a lot of time lifting heavy things over the years, learning to isolate the muscles in my arms while lifting those things in order to develop those muscles. I struggled with the concept because I always feel like, since I have strong muscles in my arms, I should be able to use those muscles to move my arms! That’s what they’re there for, right? It feels right to me to do things that way, at least. Well, as I mentioned not that long ago, recently I’d changed up my workout routine during the average week to make it half resistance training and half kickboxing, just to add in some fun and variety to what I normally do. Two weeks ago, while I was in class, they talked about adding more power to your punches by throwing them from behind the shoulder and keeping the elbow soft. While practicing that through a variety of jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts, I could feel how the more powerful strikes I could throw would actually originate from behind and just underneath my shoulder, and I stopped moving briefly when it occurred to me that the feeling I was noticing must be what Lord Junior has been telling me over and over again. So, to work on my arm movements for dancing, I am actually learning how it feels to move my arms from my back by throwing punches. It’s still a work in progress, since I can do it much more easily with my right arm than I can with my left (I’m right handed, if you couldn’t guess), but it’s helping me to practice a concept of muscle control that I should then be able to take out on the dance floor and use successfully.
See, experiences you have outside of dance can actually be really useful to draw on while you are dancing. I could spend hours in front of a mirror working on making my arms move gracefully (or something close to it) using my back muscles in Rumba or Cha-Cha figures, or I could go out and burn off a lot of work stress by pretending to punch things and work on learning the same muscle control, while also getting a great workout for my core muscles at the same time since punching properly requires a lot of fast core rotation! I am laying out this information that I have discovered, so do with it what you will. While I can’t imagine many other people going out and picking up boxing or kickboxing as a means to improve their arm motions in Latin or Rhythm dances, maybe there is just one other person out there who, like me, was struggling to figure out what proper arm movement should feel like, and this information could help them with that. Sometimes coming at a problem from a completely different angle is all it takes to get the breakthrough that you have been looking for.
Since I mentioned fast core rotation, let’s talk about what I did in Latin Technique this past week (look at that! An awkward segue! Why is it that I don’t write professionally?). No one had any strong thoughts one way or another about what to work on during class, so Lord Junior decided we were going to work on our speed in Cha-Cha by doing some syncopated New Yorkers. The big thing that all of us in class were doing wrong without realizing it was that we wouldn’t commit to turning completely to the side when doing the New Yorkers until it was pointed out to us. Basically, subconsciously we must have been thinking that if we only rotated enough in one direction to make the New Yorker work, with each of us also keeping our heads turned inward enough to keep an eye on our dance partners, then we could get our bodies back to center faster because we were already partially there. Though this sounds logical when you talk about it, you are actually able to generate more power (and thus rotate faster) by fully committing to the turn, which allows your body to wind up a lot in the opposite direction and then when you unwind you can snap back around quickly which (in our case that night) allowed us to go right into a New Yorker going the other way. So, lots of core rotation equals much faster turning. After pointing out everyone’s fear of commitment that night, Lord Junior had Sparkledancer and I try the pattern again together. When we finished, he told us that by fully committing to the movements, that was one of the best times he had ever seen either of us dance. That made me feel pretty good about what we got through that night.
In Standard Technique class this week we went back to Quickstep again to look at a figure similar to the one we tried to get through last week. Without anyone there to nitpick on what we were doing, we managed to work on quite a bit. We looked at a Quickstep figure called the Rumba Cross, which is a Gold-level figure according to the syllabus I just looked at to make sure I had the name correct. The footwork isn’t too difficult – as the Lead, you step forward on your left foot, cross your right foot behind, then take a side step in front of your partner on your left foot and pivot around. We went through two Rumba Crosses in a row, taking one slow step in between with the right foot to link the two together. After coming out of the second one, we added on the second half of the Running Right Turn that we had worked on last week in class, starting from the point where the Follower does a heel turn while the Lead steps around them to come out backing line of dance and do the Running Finish. We were told to try our best to get the entire figure to travel down the line of dance up until the Running Finish, which we came out of on the third step going diagonal center. Lord Junior said that normally you would plan things so that the Running Finish was used to turn a corner, but if you wanted to do the figure in the middle of a room you could come out of the Running Finish into a basic chasse and continue down the same wall. Once we managed to get everyone comfortable with doing the figure, he stopped to think about what people would normally do as a previous step to get into the Rumba Crosses. Because you have to start the figure by traveling down the line of dance with the Lead’s left foot, it requires a bit of forethought to make it happen – most of the Quickstep figures people use put you on the wrong foot to go into this figure. He said that the easiest way he could think of to get into it if we were dancing Quickstep socially would be to do a Reverse rotation and close our feet so that the Lead is backing line of dance, and then do a 180° pivot and take one slow step forward with the right foot, setting yourself up to do the Rumba Crosses properly. Once we established that as our starting figures, he put on some music and we ran through everything repeatedly to get the pieces all up to tempo.
As you can probably guess, I’m super excited about Halloween. Pretty much the best dance parties I go to every year are the Halloween ones. I’m not sure if that’s because the parties themselves really are so much better than all other dance parties, or if it’s just because I like Halloween so much. Either way, I’m super excited about going. Because of a work thing I didn’t get to go to any costume parties last weekend, which was sad, but this weekend I’m planning on going to parties on both Friday and Saturday night. I’ve got my costume ready, a few dance tricks up my sleeves, and I think I can find some candy too that could be used for a real treat! It’s going to be a spook-tacular time!