This past weekend was my annual excursion to the Grand Dance Hall for two nights of formal dance parties, some crazy food, and a bunch of workshops where I was able to pick up some new amalgamations of figures. I love going to this event every year, and this was my fourth time being an attendee. When I think about it, the math tells me that the first time I went I had only been dancing for about six months. How crazy is that? This event more than anything else that I have done on my ballroom dancing journey really shows me how much I have improved as time as passed, and more and more people every year like to stop me to tell me that, or ask me where I’ve learned to dance the way I do because they want to be able to look that way as well. That shows me that all the money and time I have invested in learning to dance has some real returns for my investment.
Friday afternoon I made the trip up to the Grand Dance Hall. It’s a few hours’ drive from my house, and I wanted to attend the opening night reception and dinner party before the big formal dance, so I took Friday off work for this. After I made the trek to the Grand Dance Hall and checked in for the event and got the schedule, I had a couple of hours to kill where I could get myself a room to hang up my formal attire and locate my friends. Once all that was accomplished, it was time to change out of my street clothes and head out to the opening night reception.
I have to say, there’s a lot of fancy food they try to get you to eat while at the Grand Dance Hall. At the pre-dinner reception, they had two tables out will all sorts of snack foods, from fancy meats on sticks to crackers with a wide assortment of cheese slices. And of course the bar in the back was open, for those dancers who wanted their dance moves to be ‘even more amazing.’ The reception had just a four-piece house band playing on the stage, and I have to say I was not as impressed by the group they had this year versus the groups they had in years past. They played most of the songs at way too fast a tempo that even I with the youthful strength of my legs was having trouble keeping up with. Many of the older attendees sat out along the sides if they couldn’t keep up. I thought it might have just been the particular songs they had picked on Friday night, but I found the same to be true at Saturday night’s reception as well.
After about forty-five minutes of dancing, dinner was ready to be served, so I made my way down to the dining room. Do you want to know a secret? I’m always slightly terrified of eating when I’m wearing formal attire. I know that the clothes I wore to dance in would need dry cleaning anyway after the event was over if I even sweat a little bit in them, but dropping food on myself while wearing a suit just seems so much scarier to me. On top of that, half the things that they offered on the menu I had never even heard of before. I prefer to eat rather simply, enough to fuel my active lifestyle. I generally don’t even think about eating fancy food or going to high-class expensive restaurants. That is except for this one weekend a year, when the meals are included in the price of admission to the Grand Dance Hall’s ballroom dancing event. The only thing I specifically remember eating was the white chocolate cheesecake, since I rarely eat dessert foods, but this just sounded super good. Even then, the best part of the dessert were the little almond-crumble ball things that were in a small pile on the side of the plate. Those little things were even better than the actual dessert, I swear!
After dinner it was time for the actual Friday night dance party. I love the formal dance parties at the Grand Dance Hall because it is one of the few times that I get to go out dancing with a live orchestra playing the music. That doesn’t mean I don’t like a good DJ who is well versed in dancing and can pick the right songs for the theme of the party, but there is just something about having an orchestra playing while you are Waltzing along that feels so right. That doesn’t mean there aren’t limitations. With a full orchestra, the majority of the songs they will play will be one of the five big dance styles (Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba, Cha-Cha and East Coast Swing). There are the occasional forays outside of those styles, but the majority of what you will do will end up being along those lines. You can add some variety for yourself by doing International and American versions of some of those styles, but the Rumbas I heard were mostly American tempo, and there was only one Swing song played at Jive tempo. Still, I really enjoy dancing to live music, and I highly recommend it to anyone reading this who hasn’t tried yet.
During the day on Saturday, I was lucky enough to once again attend three workshops that were included with your admission to the dance parties. I don’t think any of the figures that we looked at in any of the workshops were new to me necessarily, but some of the figures I hadn’t thought about in quite a while, so it was nice to see them once again. The first one held in the morning covered American Waltz. I promised myself that this year I was going to make a point to try to remember the figure sequences that I learned so that I could use them again later. So this year, I have actual notes on what the progressions were, and I’m going to put them here so I can find them later, and so you can all see them too. Hooray!
The Waltz pattern was specifically built around the Progressive Chasse figure, so you will end up doing a lot of them (don’t say I didn’t warn you). To start, we did an Open Twinkle to end up in Promenade Position. From there we did a Left-Side Throwout to separate from our partner. The first couple of Progressive Chasses were all done in a wide two-hand hold, which is what you need the Throwout for. The first was a Progressive Chasse to the Right. At the end we did a Check with the left foot (right foot for the ladies) and a Underarm Pass to switch sides with our partner. That set us up to do a Progressive Chasse to the Left. At the end of that we did another Check, this time with the right foot (left foot for the ladies) and then took a few steps against the line of dance to go into a Whisk, which got us back into dance frame. Next we did another Progressive Chasse to the Left while in Promenade Position, rolled the lady out in front of us with a Underarm Turn, and took one step forward and held our position so that the lady could do a Developé. Coming out, we did another Underarm Turn to bring the lady back to dance position, and that would allow us to move on to whatever other steps we’d like to do afterward.
The second workshop of the day was American Rumba. I had a hard time watching the initial demonstration of this progression because the couple teaching the class was really playing up the figures, and I just felt dirty watching them. I mean, I felt way too young to be in on the joke they were making, but all the other older people in class seemed to love it. I’ll give you a description of the figures used, but I’ve mind-bleached all the wriggling that the lady was doing in the middle of the progression, so you can just picture that on your own time…
The whole thing starts with the front half of the Rumba Box Step, with an additional step to the right to get us out of the box. We then did an Open Break, giving the lady a turn to spin her into Shadow Position slightly off to our right side. The man has to fake a step here, because we want to be on the same foot as the lady before moving on. While in Shadow Position we both do a back rock step together and then Latin Walks for two measures. At the end the man does a check to roll lady out in front of us, but then we did an Overturned Underarm Turn to put her right back in Shadow Position, only this time directly in front of the man. Here we did two Cucarachas together, right then left, before rolling the lady out and getting her into Fan Position. The last thing we did before finishing up the sequence was a normal Hockey Stick figure, closing with a turn back to dance position.
The last workshop in the afternoon was on East Coast Swing. The pattern started off easily enough in my mind – a normal Curved Basic, then a rock step into two forward walks, then another Curved Basic and finishing with pointing each foot once before your next rock step. For some reason, this turned out to be the thing that most people in the class had trouble working out. It was like they had never had to rotate while doing the East Coast Swing basic before, and when they tried to it really caused them headaches. I ended up taking a seat at one of the tables nearby to just watch while everyone else practiced. After about forty minutes, most people were finally able to move on.
We next added on a Tuck-Turn for the ladies, opening them out to our sides at the end. Here we did the Sliding Door figure. What was fun about this was that we ended up having the ladies turn when crossing in front of the man. I’ve done the Sliding Door lots of time in various forms of Swing, but I’ve always had the lady do a turn when crossing behind me. I don’t know why I never thought to turn her when she went in front too. After two sets of Sliding Doors (four passes) we did an Underarm Turn and then a figure I learned as the ‘Advanced Throwout’ – basically the man lunges to the side when separating from the lady, building up more tension with a bigger range of motion, allowing her to cross in front of us. We finished with some Chicken Walks, two slow and two fast.
One of the more interesting and random encounters I had over the weekend happened on Saturday afternoon after the East Coast Swing workshop had completed. The staff at the venue had closed off the large dance hall to prepare everything for another reception and dance party happening that night, but the smaller dance floor was going to be left open for a couple of hours, giving anyone who wanted to do some practicing a floor to use. Sparkledancer and I decided to make good use of this practice time to really nail down our new American Waltz and Tango routines. There was only two other people in the room when we got there. The floor was a bit small to run our routines on completely, so Sparkledancer and I had to start off on the carpet on one side of the dance floor to begin the long wall, and we ran right onto the carpet on the other side of the dance floor before we finished. The short walls would have fit on the dance floor, but since the long walls ran us over onto the carpet, the short walls ended up being entirely on the carpet next to the dance floor as well.
About halfway through our practice session, a couple of other dancers showed up to do some practicing of their own. The male half of the pair asked if any of the other four of us in the room would mind if he put on some music from his phone for them to practice with. As they started dancing, both Sparkledancer and I had to stop and watch for a bit. These two were obviously very high level dancers working on some of their routines. Since everything they were doing was Latin in nature, the two of them kept to the middle of the floor, allowing Sparkledancer and I to keep practicing our ballroom routines around them. At some point, all of us stopped to grab a glass of water at the same time, so we got to talking. Turns out that the two of them were both instructors from one of the most-famous-of-franchise studio locations, and they were going to be performing at an upcoming franchise competition being held in Las Vegas later in the week.
Now it should be quite obvious that this weekend excursion to the Grand Dance Hall is a non-franchise event, since I was able to sign up to participate, and it should be fairly obvious that I spend my time going to a lot of different ballroom studios, which is frowned upon in the franchise world. So I had to ask these two about that. It turns out that a whole group of people from their franchise studio, both instructors and students, make the trek out to the Grand Dance Hall every year to be a part of the action. I had even met other members of their studio when I attended the event at the Grand Dance Hall last year. Both of these instructors said that it was a nice way to relax and have some fun rather than stress out before their trip out to Las Vegas for that big competition event. I thought it was super cool that many of the people from this studio would all take this trip together. It’s nice to see these franchise dancers out in the wild, to see what they can do.
There was another pre-dinner reception and dance party on Saturday night, and the same four-piece ensemble was back to play again. This confirmed for me that the tempos that they were using for the songs they were playing were super-fast. Like a Waltz that’s not-quite Viennese Waltz tempo, but is just fast enough to make normal Waltz uncomfortable to do. I got a kick out of watching some of my friends out dancing to the songs and coming back all out of breath. I don’t know why that amused me, but it did.
The orchestral set on Saturday night seemed to be all about Foxtrot. I swear they played more Foxtrot that night than anything else, and I know there were some points where they did multiple Foxtrot numbers in a row (the singer with the orchestra was calling out the dance styles, so it was hard to confuse what they were intending). They also did a ‘Waltz’ number, where they told everyone before they started playing it was a Waltz, but it was actually a Viennese Waltz tempo. A lot of people rushed the floor to dance the Waltz, but they could not keep up with the music’s tempo. I did like three steps of a normal Waltz and then switched to Viennese Waltz footwork. That was probably the most challenging Viennese Waltz I have ever done because of the number of people who were on the floor who were trying to keep up with the dance rather than sit down, so the floorcraft needed to navigate without running into someone was pretty intense.
Speaking of floorcraft… at one point during the evening I went out into the hallway where the organizers had set up a station where everyone could get some water. Sparkledancer joined me to talk about some things she found funny that evening. While we were out there, Kilt Guy also showed up! I had seen Kilt Guy every year that I had come to this event, but this was the first time I had ever actually had a chance to talk with him. He stopped by where Sparkledancer and I were chatting to compliment my “Crowd-Craft” (that’s what he kept calling it), saying that he was really impressed with how I was able to weave through the people on the floor without running into anyone. We got to talking, and it turns out that he has been coming to this event for the exact same number of years that I have, and has only been dancing about five months less than me. He was surprised to hear that I still take private lessons and group classes so frequently – I guess he did for a short while when he started, but since then he has really only learned new figures from the workshops held earlier in the day and a few other random dance things he has done throughout the year.
The weird thing was, he wasn’t the only person I talked to that night that was really surprised by how often I spend time trying to improve my dance skills. There were several people who would pass by where I was standing or sitting throughout the night, or who would catch Sparkledancer and I as we left the floor when the two of us were out for a dance number, who complimented us on our dance skills. Some asked about where we learned everything and how often we took lessons. I guess it’s an uncommon thing to take private lessons once a week and go to group classes specifically focused on improving your technique, because all the people who I told that to seemed shocked that I would do that. I don’t find that to be weird at all. Does that mean I have a problem? Am I going to need an intervention soon?
It was good to be back again at the Grand Dance Hall this year, and I was sad to leave. This year though, unlike previous years, I put my name in to reserve my spot already for next year. I figure I’ve already gone four years in a row, there’s no reason to believe that I won’t make it for five. The last couple of years I had waited quite a while before signing myself up to go back, but this year they offered a discount if you reserved your spot a year in advance, so I decided to take them up on that.
This weekend is looking good for dancing too though, so that will help keep me moving forward. It’s Halloween dance party weekend! This means that I will get to go out in costume and dance the night away. I think I heard about costume parties on both Friday and Saturday night, and I’m sure there will be plenty of candy to go around at those events, if you’re into that sort of thing. Maybe I’ll see you on the dance floor… but then again if we’re in costume, we’ll never know!