Turn The Clock All The Way Back

When I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven on Saturday, I was in for a surprise. The prior weekend we had thrown out our American Tango routine to begin recreating something from the ground up, and this week we were told that the same would be happening with our Waltz, Foxtrot and even Viennese Waltz routines. Since we had started on the Tango already, we decided to continue looking at that one first. Continuing where we left off from the week prior, we added on two Viennese Crosses followed by a Reverse Turn that ends with a lunge for me and a Developé for Sparkledancer. After bringing her leg down, we went through this piece where we each hooked the lower half of our right leg around the other person’s right leg, followed by some Left Rock Steps before doing a normal close step to end things in the corner. That completed the first long wall, and we decided to leave things there for the day rather than try to cram too much information about the new routine into our brains all at once. That didn’t mean that was all the new information I had to try to cram though…

Sir Steven wanted to start looking at our American Foxtrot routine next. We managed to get through just a few steps before running into some issues. The story we were given was that Sir Steven had workshopped these routines one weekend with Lord Latin and Lord Dormamu to be standard versions of the Silver American Smooth routines for anyone at the Fancy Dance Hall to use. On that weekend, he and Lord Latin had been dancing the figures as Sir Steven came up with things (Sir Steven is the only one at the Fancy Dance Hall with any real experience in American Rhythm or Smooth), while Lord Dormamu had been writing down the figures and recording videos of what they were doing. Well, since Lord Dormamu really only does International Standard, when he wrote down the figures that Sir Steven and Lord Latin were dancing he wrote down what he thought the steps looked if they had been doing the BrandNewDay1International version of the dance if no one told him the actual name of the American-style figure. The notes on the routines don’t completely make sense (I took pictures of the notes too, so I could study them myself). We only got through the first couple of the Foxtrot figures before we ran into a part of the notes that Sir Steven couldn’t figure out what Lord Dormamu was trying to document, and since the videos were all on Lord Dormamu’s phone and he was somewhere halfway around the globe, we had to stop our Foxtrot there for the time being.

Waltz was the last thing that we looked at, and this one we managed to get through one long wall just like we had with the American Tango. In total that gave us quite a bit of new material to study before the next time we planned to all get together, so we gave the American Smooth routines a rest for the day. With only a few minutes left, Sir Steven wanted to have us run through four of the five International Standard routines (no Viennese Waltz). As we wrapped things up for the day and wrote some notes on what we had worked on, Sir Steven made a comment that he wanted to have us work with the Princess so that she could see us go through our International Standard routines, and give us some pointers from a high-level female’s point of view (the Princess has competed over several years in a few big name competitions overseas in International Standard, so it’s like her wheelhouse). She was going to be hanging out at the Fancy Dance Hall the next weekend, so we were able to conveniently sign ourselves up for a timeslot right after our normal session. So next weekend should be interesting… or terrifying. One of the two.

My Saturday night was spent out at the Cherished Dance Hall, and the whole night turned out to be a lot of fun. We started the evening off with a Samba lesson taught by the internationally famous Judge Dread, and while I’m not a huge fan of Samba, it was very enjoyable. Judge Dread specifically told everyone that they could go to any old Samba class anywhere around the Dance Kingdom and pick up common basic figures, so he wasn’t going to spend a lot of time rehashing any of those unless it was needed for what he had hoped to get through. There were a few people who admitted to having never done Samba before that looked a bit worried at that comment, but they stuck with the class anyway and it looked to me like they did just fine. Judge Dread’s mission was to show us some figures and variations for Samba that he considered useful in adding more fun to the dance.

We started off by looking at what we were told was the ‘other’ basic footwork in Samba – the version that looks more like a Waltz Change Step than just the step forward or back and bringing your feet together while doing your Rhythm Bounce. The term he used for these was ‘Closed Box Steps’ since we were bringing our feet together at the end. Judge Dread then showed us the ‘Open Box Steps’ that he wanted us to do, telling and showing everyone the footwork and then having all of us step through the footwork while chanting ‘Forward, side, back. Back, side, forward.’ We were told that by stepping and chanting, when we left the dance hall after the party there was a better chance that we would remember how to do this step, and maybe we would even wake up in the middle of the night chanting that mantra. We did the box steps two ways – the first had the boxes going in straight lines (two of the figures back to back had you covering an actual box on the floor), and the second way had us curving the figure as we went. Depending on the angle of the curve used, you could make these box steps look more like a circle as you traveled.

Then we looked at Whisks. They started out like normal, just to make sure everyone was on the same page, but then he said that Whisks are so much more fun if you do them while traveling. The first step of ours ended up going diagonally forward, like you would do for a Botafogo. The idea of using the traveling Whisks was to set us up for the figure we were going to do next. BrandNewDay2Since Samba travels around the room (as you all know), and in a social dance you should always plan on doing figures that stay in one place toward the middle of the room (as I hope you all also know), traveling Whisks allowed you to move out of the line of traffic. The figure we were given next that had us staying in one spot for a while were Cucarachas, which is not something I’ve ever seen done in Samba, but totally leadable. At the speed and timing we were doing things, they felt a lot like Cucarachas you would do in Salsa. We were also given some fancy hand and head movements to throw into the mix, just to make things even more interesting – as we stepped to the (my) left, we brought our hands on the (my) left side arching in a semicircle across the chest, down to the side while turning your head left, and bringing the hands and head back to their starting position as you brought your feet back together. When we stepped to the (my) right, we brought the left arm up, arching toward your head while turning the head to the right side, and then bringing everything back to neutral as the feet came together. We added these fancy Cucarachas into a pattern of things that people could use at the dance party.

The overall pattern was fairly simple. You start with four of the traveling Whisks, angling things so that you head toward the center from wherever you happened to start on the floor. Then you would do four of the Cucarachas. Next up we tacked on the box steps that we had started the evening with, using only the curved variety. We did two of the ‘Closed Box Steps’ followed by four of the ‘Open Box Steps’ and finishing up with another two of the ‘Closed Box Steps’ where you would curve yourself enough so that you were facing toward the wall, allowing figure you did next to move you away from the center and back into the line of dance. With a few minutes left in class, he added in one more minor variation and had everyone put a lot of hip action into the box steps, accentuating things so that you felt like your hip was the thing pulling you over as you took your step to the side.

The dance party afterward was super crazy, in a very fun way. There was no one playing DJ that night, but someone had set up the music in a unique fashion. Each song only played for about a minute and a half before it abruptly changed to the next. No one running the party called out what dance style everyone should be doing, so each Lead had to think quickly about what they wanted to do, or it was possible a third of the song would be over by the time you actually started dancing. The setup reminded me of running competition prep heats for practice in a way, except there was no definitive order to the song choice you could use to anticipate what would come next. Even though I thought this setup was a lot of fun, there was one downside. Switching partners was practically impossible unless you happened to be over near all the chairs where the ladies were sitting out when the last song ended. If you were dancing and ended up in the middle of the floor with everyone crowded around you, it made more sense just to stick with the partner you already had and dance the next song rather than try to fight your way through the crowd to deposit one lady safely and pick up another. I wasn’t the only person who noticed this as well – I watched a lot of men who would keep the same partner for song after song, and it wasn’t just the men who had come with a partner (those men don’t normally switch very often at parties anyway). Still, as a change of pace from all the dance parties I have gone to over the last several months, this was a very entertaining experience in my opinion.

I had a good time at Latin Technique class on Monday night. Probably not for the reasons you would expect though. At the start of the night, when Lord Junior asked what everyone wanted to work on for class, no one really jumped up to give a suggestion except Miss Possible, and she wanted to do Cha-Cha. Hearing that made a couple of the ladies who were sitting nearby groan, since they were teachers and that day had been their first day of having kids to teach (I can only imagine how exhausting that would be). Hearing the groans, Miss Possible acquiesced and asked if we could do Rumba instead, which made the other ladies happier. Little did they know that there was some difficult material on the horizon for them. One of them in fact just gave up halfway through class, stating that she was exhausted and couldn’t do the complicated turns. I thought it was funny to dance with someone who had essentially stopped trying every time I rotated through.

What made things so hard? Let’s look at the progression of figures. We started with a progression of steps that has become pretty familiar to me in Rumba and Cha-Cha: with the ladies already out in Fan Position, we went into a Hockey Stick, overturning the ladies with a subtle wrist rotation when going into the second half so that their turn was more like a Spiral Turn and they ended up facing away from the Lead as we stepped forward. During the rock step that happens at the end of the Hockey Stick, we rotated their wrist slightly again to get them facing us, and had them take their final step on a bit of an angle to put them on our right side. Sound familiar? The next steps are where we did things differently. On the beat right before they would take their next step, the men would lunge to their left while pressing slightly BrandNewDay3forward with their left arm, which rotated the ladies about an eighth of a turn so that their next steps would move them in a path across the front of our bodies. On that path they did a Spiral Turn followed by a Three Step Turn, and at the end they did a 180° pivot, pointing their left leg out to the side. All of that in just one measure of music. Can you see why we had one lady just give up?

The men had things easy by comparison. We just had to shift our weight from one leg to the other twice and then turned 90° to point our right leg out to the side at the same time the ladies pointed theirs. At the end though, just to make things hard on me (since I only saw Lord Junior do it once or twice as we went through the figures at the end of class), he had me release the ladies left hand and do a full 360° turn on the spot in one beat right before we would take the next step into whatever figure we wanted. Turning 360° is not all that difficult by itself, and turning fast is pretty easy if you have a partner to help you start the turn, but turning that much that fast when all you have to use is yourself is harder than it sounds. By the end of class, I was flicking off the floor with the big toe on my right foot just to make sure I could do things fast enough. That might have been cheating, but I don’t think anyone would know (except for anyone reading this, I guess. Shh… don’t tell!).

Unfortunately, we were back to having tons of ladies in class for Standard Technique class this week, and only two guys to dance with them. We made do as best as we could, but I still heard some grumbling from some of the women about how they couldn’t really work as hard on things without having a partner. Tango was the order of the night, and Lord Junior was BrandNewDay4interested in looking at a figure that he had been working on earlier in the evening with Veep – the Viennese Cross, which is essentially doing the Reverse Turn like you would see in Viennese Waltz, except much, much more staccato (you know, because it’s Tango). So we all lined up to start looking at the figure, with two rows of four women each, and Lord Junior and I in the middle between the two rows to do our side of the figure. Lucky for me, I had just recently gone over this figure with Sir Steven, since it had been put into my American Tango routine (see above), so I was able to get working on things right away.

We didn’t cover much other than the Viennese Crosses that night. There were four reverse turns, with the last one slowing down a bit on the last few steps so that we could bleed off the momentum. After ending we did a normal Progressive Link to get into Promenade Position, and then we did Promenade Walks with Taps down the floor for a few steps. These I’ve seen before, and you might have as well. Once in Promenade Position, you take one slow side step in Promenade Position, and then you take one quick step with the other foot, tap the floor with the big toe of the outside foot, drop that foot flat on the floor and then repeat for as long as you would like. I’m fairly certain that the last time we looked at Tango in this class we used this figure as well in whatever pattern we had done that night. The footwork is a lot of fun, but it would be hard to lead if the lady hadn’t seen the figure before, so I’m not sure how easy it would be to throw into social dancing with any pick-up partners.

Whew! I’ve been unusually verbose today. Do you think that there will be this much to talk about by next week? I guess we’ll have to find out!

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