I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again

This past Saturday night I got to help host another dance party with the Royal Dance Court that I am a member of. To be honest, I was feeling really run down before the party started. I got stuck in an airport overnight since my first flight got in late and I missed my connecting flight to get back home, so I had only managed a couple of hours of sleep when I finally got home before there were other things to do. Even so, the power of dance compelled me, so I couldn’t just stay home all night and not get out onto the dance floor to help out. We had decided on an Olympic-themed event for this party, an homage to the Dancesport organization that is still pushing to have ballroom dancing added to the Olympics (obviously they didn’t succeed this year). Before the dance party got started though, we had a lesson to get through, and this month happened to be Salsa…

The pattern that the instructor gave us was rather long, but not too difficult, so I managed to pick things up pretty quickly. I don’t think anyone would possibly confuse me for being Latino based on how I did my Salsa (you know, white-boy hips, and all that), but I’d like to think it was passable. We did one set of basic forward and back checks, an Open Break, and then an Arm Check Turn where the ladies would do a full turn in place while the men did only half a turn. With both of us facing the same direction, the men would have their left hand back for the ladies to grab onto. Next we did half a basic in this pseudo Shadow Position before leading the lady through a turn under your left arm that brought her back in front before we had her turn quickly on our right side to put her into Opening Out position, letting go with the left hand. Opening Outs in Salsa were a bit different from what we would do in Rumba. Here we would rock back together, and use the second two beats of the measure to bring her across our body. The ladies were given the option to add in some sort of fancy hip bump during their Opening Out action, but only when on the right-hand side of the guys (though I’m sure they could do it on both sides if they liked). When finished with the Opening Outs, with the lady on the right-hand side we would do the same rock step, and then as she passed in front of us we would take her left hand in ours and turn 90° to close back into dance frame with her like you would during a Cross Body Lead.

A lot of the ladies I danced with in class had a hard time doing the Arm Check Turn and staying in place as they spun. This led to a lot of people not grabbing on to my left hand since they were either too far away and couldn’t Tubthumping1reach, or way too close and couldn’t see where my hand was. It didn’t matter how small of a step I took when going slightly forward toward their right arm for the Arm Check. I wasn’t the only Lead having this problem it seemed – one guy actually asked the instructor about how to best fix things. So this was the one figure that we spent the most time on in class trying to improve. The fix really all came down to having the ladies do their turn in place without traveling anywhere, but the instructor kept trying to find different ways to tell the ladies this without saying it so bluntly.

For this month’s dance party, Sparkledancer had managed to find a bag of plastic medals like you would give to little kids (they were red, yellow and blue and said things like ‘Awesome’ and ‘Way to Go’ on them). Because she was going to come to the party late, and there were always more women than men at these events, she had given me the bag earlier in the week and told me to give out a medal to each of the ladies I danced with. Half the ladies looked confused when I gave them a medal, the others thought it was pretty silly. I made sure to wear one myself so that I could fit in at the party since I don’t own any gold, silver or bronze colored clothing. Things were a lot of fun, but I only made it about halfway through the party before I was ready to drop from exhaustion because of my lack of sleep. I wished everyone well and turned over the remaining medals in the bag to Sparkledancer so that she could continue handing them out after I left.

Things were a bit bittersweet this weekend when I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our first coaching session where we wouldn’t be looking at a showcase routine anymore. We did have fun though, and even started looking at some new stuff at the end before we wrapped everything up. Our meeting had been moved from early Saturday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, since my unfortunate night at the airport didn’t leave me able to get to the Saturday lesson on time, so after getting a good night’s sleep I was ready to get to work. To start the switching of gears in everyone’s minds and get things going, we began with looking at our four International Standard routines – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Quickstep, in that order. There were a few things we stopped to rehash in each one of them, but most of the mistakes were based on the fact that we hadn’t looked at the routines very much in the last two months. Some of the mistakes were just based on forgetting certain steps (completely my fault), so they weren’t so much technical mistakes as opposed to plain stupidity on my part. What can I say? I have a lot of dance figures and patterns in my brain, so I’m bound to get things mixed up now and again.

Once we finished up with that round, we ‘changed gears’ to move on to our American Smooth routines (Sir Steven said ‘let’s change gears’ an awful lot that day. I wonder why. Maybe he had his mind on the Antikythera mechanism or something?). We started with looking at the Waltz. Sparkledancer and I had actually talked about our American Waltz routine a few days prior to that, both of us commenting at the time that we did not really remember how to do the fancy ‘Double Developé’ figure that we had put into one corner. Well, I totally surprised her as we went through the routine, because in a flash of brilliance that surprises me still today, I actually remembered what I was supposed to do. This caused her to stop what she Tubthumping2was doing and just stare at me for a while and then tell me that I made her look bad because we had both said we didn’t remember. I just stood there and smiled triumphantly as Sir Steven showed her what her part was again. Next we walked through the Foxtrot for a bit, but some of the figures we did got a bit messed up since there were other people on the floor who liked to walk into our path as we traveled.

Before time ran out Sir Steven wanted to look at Tango. He told us that he wanted to completely revamp our American Tango routine, since what we had done up to that point had just been our International Tango routine with minor timing variations required since American Tango has slightly different timing for the same figures. We threw that all out and started on something brand new, something that would actually allow us to break frame and actually look like we were doing American Tango. We only got through the beginning steps of the routine before we ran out of time, so I’m going to hazard a guess that this is something we will come back to next weekend.

I got to do some Jive during Latin Technique class this week. Jive is not one of those dance styles that we get to do all that often… I can’t even remember the last time we did it during class. I’m not sure what made Lord Junior decide to choose that style, but no one had any objections so that’s what we went with. There were a couple of ladies in class who had never done Jive before, so we started off with ten minutes of basic pattern review, discussing how the timing of Jive’s triple-steps differed from East Coast Swing, how there was sort-of a bounce in Jive but the bounce is actually downward rather than pushing you up, and emphasizing how the steps really can’t travel from side-to-side, otherwise you won’t have enough time to do the steps properly. The short pattern of figures that we went over that night didn’t involve anything I hadn’t seen before, so Lord Junior spent almost no time going over my steps so that he could show the ladies everything they needed to know.

We started out with a Double Change of Place Right to Left (which is a Tuck-In, for those who know the East Coast Swing terminology). This double turn was probably the hardest thing we did all night – some of the ladies had trouble spinning fast enough, and others put too much energy into turning fast so they knocked themselves off-balance. Coming out of that, we did a Tubthumping3Change of Place Left to Right (or a Underarm Turn). We slightly rotated the lady’s wrist as she finished up the turn so that it was overturned to the left, winding them up to do a Simple Spin next. Then we did another Change of Place Left to Right, changing hands as we finished up the turn to put us into Handshake Hold. From that position we did a Miami Special, which is basically a Change of Place Left to Right where you bring the lady’s arm over your head in the middle and she slides her hand down your arm as the two of you triple-step away from each other.

And finally on Wednesday night I got to do some Waltz during Standard Technique class. We only managed to get through a few figures in class. Two of the three were Open-level figures, but none of them were all that crazy since most everyone had seen variations of these steps somewhere before. The first thing we did was a normal Progressive Chasse to the Right, which was the only syllabus figure on the menu that night. Next we did a Tipple Chasse to the Right – yes, technically this is a syllabus figure, but only in Quickstep. Other than the timing, there are no real changes between the figure everyone sees in Quickstep and the version we did in the Waltz. Right at the end of the Tipple Chasse Lord Junior had us do a Natural Pivot so that we ended up with the men facing backing line of dance. The last figure that we did was a Running Spin Turn, which is a Natural Spin Turn that starts with two Natural Pivots and ends with two steps backward.

The timing of the figures in this sequence made for an interesting combination. The first two figures are counted ‘one, two and three’ while the last figure was ‘one and two, three.’ If you weren’t careful transitioning between the Tipple Chasse and the Running Spin Turn, you could build up a lot of momentum by taking so many quick, rotating steps in a row, and the last two steps of the Running Spin Turn would either end up having rotation in them instead of traveling in a straight line, or you would be frantically trying to bleed off your momentum to keep from being bowled over. As you can imagine, the two tricks that you really needed to get everything done correctly is for the ladies to really drive through the turns when the Leads were on the inside of the rotation, and for the ladies to really keep their bodies over to the left the whole time. All of the ladies seemed to be allowing their bodies to straighten during one rotation or another in the sequence, which would kill the turn as they did since the weight of their head wasn’t on the outside anymore to generate the centrifugal force that helps get the turn to move. This seemed to be the common theme for the night, so Lord Junior Tubthumping4spent a lot of time working with the ladies to try to get them to keep their frames in the correct place during the whole sequence, even going so far as to have them all line up in front of the mirrors so that he could go around and adjust their frames. Lord Junior told us guys to just take seats in the back of the room while they went through that exercise.

At one point, in trying and get the ladies to stay left, Lord Junior decided to tell them a brief story. Apparently a while back he had a couple that he was teaching who were originally from somewhere overseas, and their primary language was something of Germanic descent. He was trying to explain the same concept to them, to get her to stay out to the left while they danced, but since English wasn’t their first language he would struggle to find good ways to explain things that made sense. Finally, after many weeks of racking his brain, he was able to come up with something that really clicked with the two of them: he told the lady that she needed to think of herself as if she was growing out of the man’s body, like a tumor or a second head. If she were a second head attached to his body, she could turn her neck when shaping or going into Promenade Position, but heads don’t normally slide around on people’s shoulders, so she would have to be in the same place (off to her left/his right) all the time. This couple thought that this was the funniest thing that they had ever heard, but from what we were told it really helped her remember to keep herself in position. I thought it was pretty funny too, which is why I’m choosing to share the gist of the story with all of you.

I think this is the last weekend of the month, so that means that there will be a dance party over at the Cherished Dance Hall this Saturday night. That’s always a fun place to be, so I am looking forward to that. Rumor has it that there will also be a dance party tomorrow night at the Electric Dance Hall, and the Sexy Lady Formation Team Dance Club that performed at the last showcase will be getting together for their Reunion Tour One Night Only Event at some point during that party! It sounds exciting, so that’s where you will probably find me on Friday. So many fun things to round out the summer with!

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