A very happy National Ballroom Dance Week to all of you! I hope everyone has gotten out to do a lot of dancing this week!
Well, as I mentioned last week, the big party where most people showed up last Friday night was the Endless Dance Hall’s anniversary party. Everything was free that night to anyone who wanted to show up – free entrance to the party, a free basic dance lesson before the open dance started, all kinds of free food and tons of prizes were being given away raffle-style. All of that, plus good music and dancing on the huge dance floor that the Endless Dance Hall provides. Where else would you have wanted to be? Obviously you weren’t there, because if you were there and you didn’t at least say hello to me, I would be super sad!
Since the dance lesson before the party started was billed as being a beginner lesson, I didn’t show up until about halfway through so that I wouldn’t interfere with all the new students. Sparkledancer was sitting at a table in the back corner of the room that had an empty seat, so I went to join her there to watch what was going on. There were a number of people in class, a lot more than I thought there would be, that seemed to have quite a bit of dance experience, and I wondered what they were doing joining in on a class for newcomers. A lot of the people looked like they didn’t have any dance experience at all though, and they were kind of adorable to watch as they fumbled around and got their feet all mixed up. I thought to myself that it wasn’t too many years ago that I probably looked like that when I was trying to dance, and I sympathized. One younger couple in particular caught my eye, both because they were in the back of the class near where I was sitting, and because of what they looked like dancing together. The young lady had some ballroom experience before, and was dancing through some figures while the instructor taught that weren’t among the set he was showing everyone that night. Her partner did not know what he was doing at all. They were quite the mismatched pair, and there was an instructor who was floating around (not the guy teaching the class) who would split them up so that he could dance with her, encouraging her along, while the guy was shuffled back and forth between other ladies in the class whom he apologized to profusely when he would do things wrong. I felt kind of bad for him.
The funniest thing I got to do that night though was a Waltz. I had this older woman ask to do a Waltz with me, which normally wouldn’t be all that out-of-the-ordinary, but this woman I don’t think even made it to five feet tall in her dance heels. I’m up over six feet tall, so getting into frame with her was a bit awkward. I couldn’t just bend my knees more to lower myself either, since she wasn’t afraid to be in closer contact with me. I thought if I bent my legs any more, I’d end up pressing my knees into her stomach. I asked her before we started dancing whether she wanted to do American or International Waltz – she chose American. After the first time we broke frame to open up for some figure (it was probably Passing Twinkles or Open Change Steps, or something similar), I struggled to get my right arm back into the correct place around her shoulder without making things awkward. That made me try not to open up for too many other figures until the end of the song. I must have been a funny sight to watch from the sidelines, I’m sure, since I probably had a look on my face that reflected my discomfort. Good times, right? It was fun though. I danced until I wore myself out and then went home to get some sleep to prepare for more dancing the next day.
Saturday night I finally got the opportunity to go to a ‘70s Disco-themed dance party. Can you imagine, I’ve been dancing for all these years, and I’ve never gone to a Disco party until this point? There’s been quite a few of them that I’ve known about over the years, but I always had other commitments that I couldn’t get out of before. Well, now was the time, and there was the added bonus that this was the monthly dance party hosted by the Royal Dance Court of which I am a member, so I was even helping to run things. That meant that I had to go out and find a costume for the party beforehand, since I didn’t have anything sitting around. Lucky for me, a store near my house had recently started putting out all their Halloween costumes and accessories, so I took the easy route and went and found something simple to wear there. Not too many other people put any effort into getting dressed up for the party, which was kind of disappointing. All of the people from the Royal Dance Court wore theme-matching costumes, but only four or five other people did anything. We handed out glow sticks to everyone who came, as a way to help them get into the groove, and I tried to say ‘jive-turkey’ throughout the night whenever appropriate to do my part as well.
We had invited Sir Steven to come in and teach Hustle at this party for us, to keep the spirit of the era alive. The class didn’t manage to cover a lot of figures in an hour, because as excited as some of the people were to be going through the Hustle, a lot of the ladies really struggled with their footwork. I’m not trying to be mean to ladies or anything, but if you’ve danced ballroom-style Hustle before, you know that it’s a dance where the men really just shift around in one place while they spin the ladies. Our footwork was super easy. We covered the basic footwork for the dance in both Closed Position and Open Position, and how to transition between the two. Then we looked at the Roll-In/Roll-Out figure. If you haven’t seen that before, basically you do a Throwaway to bring the lady to one side of you, and then you would roll her in along your arm in a wrapping motion, and then flip around 180° and roll her back out. You could do this movement as many times as you like (for the whole song, in fact!), but eventually you roll her in, take her free hand in yours, and then turn her under your arm to have her come back out into Open Position.
This last figure really did in a lot of people. Some ladies seemed to get really confused about where they should go, so they tried to roll in and stand really far in front of the Lead. One lady could not move very fast at all, so when she would roll in it would take three times as long in the music as she should have been moving, and even at that pace she kept saying that she was getting dizzy. A few of the men were trying to put way too much energy into rolling the ladies around, and I thought someone might end up finishing the lesson with whiplash. It was highly amusing to watch what everyone was doing. I had done this figure before in a few different dance styles (it’s actually one of my favorites to use in both Hustle and West Coast Swing), so I would calmly walk through it with anyone who came to dance with me while keeping an eye on others around the room for fun.
The dance party afterward was where I really struggled that night. Once the lesson was over, they turned down the main lights in the room, and there were a whole bunch of decorative light and strobes and things scattered around to give the place a ‘trippy’ feeling. I could not dance in front of those lights. I don’t even know why. The first Foxtrot I tried to do, when I moved in front of one fixture and accidentally caught it right in the eyes, I could not figure out what was going on for quite a while. I ended up hesitating along the short wall until I got my senses back. But that didn’t last for long because as I went down the next long wall the same light was being reflected off of the mirrors along the back, so I got it in the eyes again, which caused me problems all over again. After having the same issue for a few different dance numbers, I ended up sitting out for quite a while, trying to get my head back on straight. Eventually someone found the light fixture and turned it so that it was pointing almost straight at the wall it was sitting next to, which took it off of the dance floor, and that seemed to help a lot. But man those lights really messed me up – I thought I was losing my mind for a while there!
This week during Latin Technique class, we had a lot of ladies show up. It seemed like all the ladies that skipped out on class last week decided they all had to make an appearance this week to compensate. Once everyone found out that we had done Pasodoble last week, there were some lamentations to be heard from the group that wasn’t there. Because of that, Lord Junior decided that we could do some more Pasodoble this week. Hooray! That made me happy.
We started our Pasodoble pattern again this week by holding for the first eight count in the music (giving whomever started the song a chance to get out on the floor) and then going into a Promenade/Counter-Promenade combo. This one was altered a bit over what we did last week to make things more interesting. Our Promenade started out traveling down the line of dance, but as the guys crossed in front of the ladies to go into the Counter-Promenade, we rotated everything 90° so that we were traveling toward the center of the room. At the end of the Counter Promenade, we rotated things again another 90° and took one step in Promenade Position against the line of dance on our outside foot. That whole thing covered one more eight count of music. Our next eight count was a figure called the Grand Circle. This one was done strictly by the book, and rotated us back around to face the line of dance. Then we did a Separation, bringing the lady back to our right side at the end. This was the fourth eight count. The next two movements covered the four count to the first highlight and an additional four count afterward. With the lady on our right side we did a curved basic movement for two steps and then a Fallaway movement for two steps, and then we rotated to face our partner and ended with two slow side steps to the right.
Standard Technique class this week was all about drills for footwork and frame, and we used the most difficult dance style to work through such drills: Viennese Waltz. Actually, the conversation at the beginning of class went something like this…
Lord Junior: “What do you guys want to go over tonight?”
Lord Junior: “If no one has anything else they want to work on, I’m going to have you work on Viennese Waltz.”
Sparkledancer: “I’d love to do Viennese Waltz. Let’s do that!”
Class: <More mumbles in affirmation>
(Can you totally tell that I’m an aspiring playwright?)
We did a lot of movement on our own, really working to have everyone driving forward when they were the outside half of the turn, and not driving so much when you were the inside half of the turn. All the while we had to ensure that we were only rotating certain amounts on each step. Facing the right direction after each rotation is super important in Viennese Waltz. Lord Junior talked about watching people dance the style, and sometimes they don’t turn quite enough on one rotation, which makes the next rotation harder, and the rotation after that, and the one after that, until you find some way to compensate for the mistake (usually by using a corner). To make sure everyone could get things right, we spent a lot of time dancing the rotations on our own, heading down the floor in small groups so that Lord Junior could watch everyone and call us out if we messed things up.
We did dance with partners a bit during the evening, but it wasn’t anything super complicated. Once paired up, we would do either all Reverse Turns or all Natural Turns from one end of the floor to the other. This was done one couple at a time, with the ladies lined up along the wall and the men lined up along the front – kind of like a Viennese Waltz mixer (think about how crazy that would be at a social dance!). Our practice was done at two different speeds with music: the “slow” rounds were done using American Viennese Waltz songs and the “fast” rounds were International Viennese Waltz.
Near the end of class, to force all of us to really work on listening to the music and moving in time, Lord Junior had us change things up a bit. First, he put on an International-tempo song and told us only to take steps on beat one of every measure. The other two beats were only to be used to follow through with the other leg, but you weren’t supposed to put your foot down (unless you were falling over). After doing that while moving both forward and backward a few times, he wanted to finish up by having us move in a Grapevine pattern in Canter Timing. This was a bit harder for Jack and Diane, since they had just started dancing again after taking so much time off. Neither one could remember what a Grapevine pattern looked like, or when to step in Canter Timing. The rest of us finished things up while Lord Junior traveled down the floor holding each of their shoulders to get them to do the right thing.
So it’s National Ballroom Dance Week, if you didn’t know. The name is a bit misleading, since they scheduled this ‘week’ over a 10-day period, but no one said dancers had to do a lot of math, right? There’s a big dance party that we’re running at the White Dance Hall on Sunday afternoon, hosted by the Royal Dance Court, to celebrate the end of National Ballroom Dance Week, which should be a lot of fun. Since it’s the fourth Saturday of the month this weekend, I believe there’s also a dance party going on at the Cherished Dance Hall if you’re interested. Based on the crazy fun way they ran the music last month at their party, Sparkledancer already asked me if I would head out there if they are having a party this weekend to see if they do that again. Plus, if you’re looking for something a bit more relaxed, there’s an open dance going on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that should be a lot of fun as well. Will I see you at any of those places? I hope so!