Open Mind For A Different View

Lately I’ve taken to standing on one foot a lot more frequently when waiting for things. In lines, or while standing in meetings at work (if I don’t need to take notes, I will generally stand rather than sit), or while in dance classes when the instructor is going over the Follower’s footwork. I don’t know why; it just seems like a fun way to stand around. Try it out sometime!

Probably the most interesting thing to happen all week was our Standard Technique class on Wednesday night that was led by the famous coach dude who was in town from whatever country of origin he hails from. The class was fascinating, and you should have all been there. I use the term ‘class’ loosely here – it was actually more like a lecture than anything else. If the instructor was standing behind a lectern, I would have felt like I was back in college. We did very little in the way of dancing, and most of the hour we all stood in a line along the front of the NothingElseMatters1dance floor as he talked to us about a topic he said he had learned that had been more helpful to his dancing than anything else: Direction. He gave us a unique perspective on some things I had been told about in a disjointed way before regarding the direction of everything in ballroom dancing (specifically related to dancing International Standard, though things can be applied to American Smooth as well). I think it was helpful having him discuss this in more of an intellectual fashion – not making everyone do different figures over and over again, but talking about this theorem on movement and explaining why it was important to think about, rather than just hoping that we’d all pick up the importance through repetition of figures over and over again. He was a funny guy, forcing Lord Junior to be his demonstration dummy when he wanted to quiz us to make sure we were understanding his points, and since English wasn’t his first language some of his word choices were unintentionally hilarious. The few times he wanted to show something to everyone who attended the class, you could see the fear in everyone’s eyes as he took their hand and led them onto the floor to show them things and see how well they understood the concepts. That was also funny to me as I watched, though I’m sure I also had that look cross my face when he asked me to go out on the floor in front of everyone.

So… direction. What about that? Well, I’ll sum up his discussion as best I can for you. The important thing to think about when dancing any International Standard style dance is that you are only moving in one of two directions: forward, or backward. That’s it. Nothing else. Naturally, since you are dancing with a partner in close contact (as you should be doing if you are a more advanced ballroom dancer), then each partner will be moving in the opposite direction, and the direction is always indicated by the way your spine is moving. This is important. Most people, we were told, naturally think that the direction that they are moving is determined by the direction that your feet are pointing. But think about a dance like Tango, where your feet are always pointed in weird directions like a pigeon – can you really trust them to be pointing in the direction you want to be moving? His trick for determining which direction he was moving in at any given time was to look at his partner and figure out the direction her NothingElseMatters2spine is moving, since she is right in front of him (it’s hard to look at your own spine, if you didn’t already know that). We were using Waltz to demonstrate everything, so he pulled out a simple figure to help us picture what he was talking about. If you look at a Natural Turn from the perspective of the Lead, you will see that the first step you are moving forward, the second step you should also be moving forward, and then as you bring your feet together on the third step your spine is pointing backward. When doing the figure correctly, there should be no side steps. The Follower is doing the opposite – the first step sees her spine traveling backward, the second step still sees her spine traveling backward even with the rotation that happens between steps two and three, and at the end of the rotation as they bring their feet together on step three their spine is now traveling forward. Easy peasy, right? This works for every figure. If one partner has their spine traveling forward, the other partner should always have their spine traveling backward. Since you can never break frame in International Standard styles, this should always be the way things work. The person whose spine is traveling forward is the one doing more of the driving by pushing off their standing leg as they move, and the person whose spine is moving backward is receiving the drive from the other partner since it is harder to move backwards.

I know what you’re thinking, since it was the first thought that I had as well: what about when you go to Promenade Position? Aren’t both partners moving forward? Well, if you were paying attention when I said that partners are always moving in opposing directions, and that this holds true for every figure, you would know that isn’t the case. If you are dancing with a partner, and the leader rotates to Promenade Position using his arms (as newcomers are wont to do), then conceivable you could both be traveling in the same direction… but we all know that this is the wrong way to do things. If the Leader properly rotates the Follower into Promenade Position by pulling his right hip back so that the Follower is rolling around his right side, then she will be in the position to be driving things forward through him, and the Leader will have turned himself just enough so that his spine is traveling backward and his body is receiving the driving force from the Follower. I’ve been told in the past that in a Promenade I should think about moving in the direction that my left ear is pointing, and that makes a lot more sense if I think about it in the context that I am essentially moving backwards. So, to bring this idea back to Waltz, we were told that you can break down pretty much every Waltz figure into three parts. For step one, you will be driving yourself either forward or backward, depending on where your spine is pointed when you begin. Step two sees you still driving in that direction, but step two is also where all the rotation happens which changes your alignment so that in step three you are moving in the opposite direction from where you started. He scaled this concept up to show how Viennese Waltz actually doesn’t consist of any spinning like most people think, but rather is all linear movement if done correctly, with just enough rotation between steps two and three when going in a straight line to flip the direction that your spine is moving.

So that was the interesting thought that we spent a lot of time discussing at this class. Hopefully you all found it as interesting as I do. The application of this concept in your dancing will take some time to get used to, but if you can get the hang of it, supposedly it will greatly improve the way you and your partner look – making it seem more like you are dancing together rather than just dancing as two people doing different sides of the same figure in tandem. I would highly recommend talking with this guy if you ever get a chance to see him. Taking private coaching sessions with him would be expensive (based on the rates for his time that Lord Junior mentioned when he started talking about bringing him into town), but he knows his stuff so it was definitely a worthwhile experience to hear his lecture.

In other random news from this past week…

Saturday night I was out for a dance party at the City Dance Hall for fun. They had a lesson offered before the dance party that covered American Tango. It was one of those interesting amalgamations of figured that was kind of funny to watch all the older people attempting. I managed to convince Sparkledancer to come to the dance party with me, but no one else, so we were two of the three younger people who attended the party that night. The instructor tried to pass off the lesson as something risqué to do with a partner, but since he was also much older and had a kind of creepy vibe about him, the joke didn’t really land with me like it did with the rest of the crowd. Blast my youthful enthusiasm… the pattern we went through that the instructor had come up with started with a normal basic walk figure with the close at end. That was followed by Forward and Back Tango Rock Steps. We did four of these total, which basically had me stepping back and forth while keeping my right foot in one place the whole time. While rocking, we moved the lady’s right hand behind her back to grab hold of it with our right hand, generally sometime around the second or third Rock Step (how quickly you moved the hand was left to personal preference). This allowed us, using a gentle push of our left hand on her waist, to roll her out after the Rock Steps so that she stood in front of us in a handshake hold with her right leg pointed to the side while we had our left leg pointed. The pattern originally called for doing four steps where you would step across your foot and point your opposite leg out to the side (‘step and point’ is the term the instructor kept using to describe the figure), and at the end of four of those we would turn the lady to the right and she would roll in toward the Leader and then do what they called a ‘leg climb’ at the end. This was basically the lady coming NothingElseMatters3all the way in up against your body and sliding her left leg up your right leg so that she is standing on one foot and pressing herself against your body for balance. Since the ladies were standing on their left foot at the end of the ‘step and points,’ turning her to the right was awkward – she was on the wrong foot for that type of turn. The instructor knew this, and even mentioned to the ladies that the turn would feel awkward as they did it, so they should be prepared. When I got around to practicing things with Sparkledancer, I stopped doing four of the ‘step points’ and only did three, keeping her on her right foot before the turn, which Sparkledancer told me felt waaaay more natural for her. To make up for the lost time (I had taken out the figure filling two beats of the music by making that change), she would just hold the leg climb figure for an extra two beats, since that was the most dramatic figure we had done in that progression and it felt like it deserved some extra time to be admired. I was pretty proud of making that change, and if I can figure out how to gracefully get out of that final pose (the Leg Climb was where the pattern stopped in class), I might be able to use this pattern in another setting pretty easily.

Much like the earlier pictures show for the class I took Wednesday night, the Latin Technique class I went to Monday night also had a lot more women than men attending. I wonder why the ratios have been so skewed lately? We looked at Cha-Cha this week, and Lord Junior was really interested in having us cover one particular figure. To get to that figure however, we went through a whole lot of other figures. Things started simply with a Forward Check opening up into Fan Position for the ladies. Men were given the option to do whatever kind of chasse we wanted to get there, so I generally went with a Hip Twist Chasse because it was fun. From Fan we went into Hockey Stick. At the end of the Hockey Stick we overturned the ladies with a subtle wrist rotation so that we ended up in something akin to Shadow Position. We the did another Forward Check and rotated the ladies back to face us by turning their wrist slightly in the opposite direction before replacing our weight, allowing the ladies to do a Lock Step forward while the men did a Stationary Chasse to get closer into a Promenade Position-like frame. That allowed us to do the figure that Lord Junior had wanted to work on from the start, which he kept calling a Telemark. The figure was a lot like a Three-Step Turn in frame and less like the NothingElseMatters4Telemark figures I am familiar with from International Waltz and Foxtrot, with the Leads pivoting around our partner for the first two steps, and coming out of everything with a normal Chasse to the Left when completed. This type of turn with a partner is what required getting into the much closer Promenade Position-like frame. If you are spread out too much, you would never be able to pivot all the way around your partner in time with the music. To end things slightly more neatly than just stopping at the end of that Chasse to the Left, we also added on two Curving Chasses in Guapacha timing, because regular timing would have been too easy. Since I was one of two people Leading during class, I got a lot of repetitions in while we worked on everything, so I felt pretty good about the pattern by the end. Boys don’t get breaks, you know.

Looks like it might be a quiet week for me coming up. I’m actually kind of excited for that. Maybe I’ll get to sleep in both days this weekend! I’d really look forward to that. Cross your fingers for me, please!

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