I love Halloween so much. I always have. As I’m now an adult, and not technically allowed to go out Trick-Or-Treating, I’ve found that over the last few years my favorite part of Halloween has been to find some sort of costume that makes me happy and then head out to a dance party somewhere. Unless you’re a brand new reader of this site, I’m sure you can guess that the dance parties I would be going to would be all about ballroom dancing. This past weekend I was lucky enough to go out to two such parties…
The City Dance Hall was holding their Halloween dance party on Friday night, and it was open for everyone so that’s where I ended up. The place was a sight to behold, transformed from the bright, welcoming studio on the second floor that I have come to know and love into a dark, eerie place full of unexpected things that move in the night. The one decoration that kept surprising me throughout the night was the animatronic mad scientist that they had standing behind their ‘bar’ area. The thing was as tall as I was, and would move around occasionally, and in the dimly lit area when I wasn’t fully paying attention, I would think there was an actual person standing on the other side of the counter from me until I would look directly at it. So that was fun. I’m sure there were lots of people who I knew at this party, but since most everyone was in costumes, it was hard to tell who I knew and who I didn’t. At one point late in the evening I was talking to a guy dressed up very formally in what I thought was a waiter costume, complete with a tailcoat, fake mustache and his hair slicked straight back. It actually turned out to be one of the co-owners of the City Dance Hall, someone whom I have talked to a few times throughout the years. I didn’t even recognize him! But then, he didn’t recognize me at first either until I went into the other room and took part of my costume off my head.
One of the things I was most entertained by during this excursion was the performances that happened halfway through the party. The City Dance Hall had two of their Pro-Am couples show off some dance routines that they had specifically put together for Halloween. I wonder why more places don’t do Halloween-themed showcase performances. That seems like it could be a lot of fun, doing some darker and scarier dance performances once a year, right? The first performance was a Tango number, with a male student and his female instructor. The song they used was from a fairly famous musical number, one that I’m sure you have probably danced to songs from its soundtrack before. That Tango song from the musical gets used fairly frequently in all the dance halls I’ve gone to in my days. I think there was a bit of a wardrobe malfunction about halfway through the performance. Either someone bumped the mask the gentleman was wearing, leaving it askew on his face, or he moved it at some point to uncover his right eye, because the mask was over on the side of his face. Maybe he couldn’t see too well out of the eye hole?
The second routine really surprised me though. The team was a female student and her male instructor, and they had chosen a famous theme song from an ‘80s movie that often gets played around Halloween. They were wearing the jumpsuits and everything, just like the characters from the movie(s). What was impressive about this routine though was that they were doing it as a Pasodoble. It took me a little bit to catch on to that, since I had never thought of the theme song as a Pasodoble before, but once I saw them doing several Promenade / Counter-Promenade combinations with the big shaping like I am used to seeing in Pasodoble, there was no mistaking it. Near the beginning of the routine, the male dropped his ‘blaster’ prop before he took full dance frame with his partner for the first time. It stayed in the middle of the floor, forcing the couple to avoid stepping on it several times, until the pair moved far enough away at one point and someone from the audience ran out and grabbed it without interrupting them. It was a very fun and well done routine, and I think from this point forward I am going to associate that song with Pasodoble every time I hear it played.
When I got to the Fancy Dance Hall on Saturday afternoon for my weekly coaching session, the parking lot was awash in activity. There were kids running around everywhere in Halloween costumes, and in the corner of the little shopping area there was a booth set up with a DJ playing some kid-friendly songs that I could hear from the other end of the parking lot. I guess the little shopping complex area was having an event where kids could go around Trick-or-Treating at the local businesses. I guess going Trick-or-Treating from house to house in your neighborhood on Halloween night is only something that we did when I was a kid, and no one does that any more. That might explain why very few kids showed up at my house on Halloween night and now I have all this leftover candy. Anyway… when I finally made it through the crowds to the door of the Fancy Dance Hall, I had to wait in line behind a whole group of kids that the Princess was talking to, as she tried to figure out their costumes and give out a little stamp maker to each one when she finally guessed what they were.
Once safely inside, I found Sparkledancer sitting in the corner putting on her dance shoes. We warmed up a bit while Sir Steven wrapped up the lesson he was giving. With all the activity going on outside and quite the line at the door for kids to get to the Princess, the spillover of kids and many of the parents were gawking at the people dancing inside through the front windows, so we spent most of the session dancing for an audience. When Sir Steven came over to join us and get started, the first thing Sparkledancer and I wanted to look at was one issue that we had come across in our American Waltz routine. There was a figure on the last short wall that just seemed messy, no matter how many times we tried to practice it. Turns out that we were just going through the figure too fast, and if we used twice as many beats in the music to accomplish the same amount of steps, the figure flowed much more naturally. Who would have thought?
Then we switched over to look at International Foxtrot for the rest of the session. We spent the whole time working on a concept that has been introduced to me in the past, but we really haven’t spent much time and effort perfecting yet. It involves having me telegraph my forward movements by pressing forward with my ribs when I want to move. Naturally, if we are traveling backward, Sparkledancer is supposed to do the same thing, filling in the space I create by pulling my ribs back slightly so that she can use her standing leg to give the power for the drive moving forward. We practiced this for a while by doing continuous Three Step and Feather Step combinations down the floor, with me moving forward when I was facing forward, and then with me moving backward when we got all the way to the other end of the floor.
Naturally this brought a question to my mind of how should Sparkledancer know when she should be driving forward if we had to vary away from our normal routine. The figures in our routine are more or less fixed in order, but if I had to change them it would throw off the expectations of when she should be doing this. Sir Steven thought about it for a second, and then related what Sparkledancer should be doing to one of the Laws of Motion. Basically anytime Sparkledancer is facing and moving forward, she should always be driving forward in a straight line… unless acted on by an outside force (i.e. the Lead she is dancing with) to change her direction. Look at that, a science lesson and dance lesson all at the same time! The whole reason we started working on this was because Sir Steven wanted Sparkledancer to work on her Heel Turns, so that when she does on, all she is doing is stepping and bringing her feet together. All of the turning is done by me, since I am the one moving forward. We spent the whole time working on this for just that point.
I also got to go to a Halloween dance party on Saturday night at the Electric Dance Hall. When I got to the party, the place looked radically different from it had when I had been there just a few days before. Previously there had been only a few Halloween-themed decorations scattered about, mostly by the front desk, but now we were in a full-blown decoration extravaganza. Rumor had it that Lord Junior had just ‘borrowed’ a lot his next-door neighbor’s Halloween decorations to put up in the dance hall for the night, which I thought was kind of funny.
The party was a great time for me. Since it was the last Halloween party of the year, I danced a lot. I danced until the DJ called it quits and started to pack up for the night. Then several of us hung out and started going to town on the leftover Halloween-themed snacks that were on the snack table. Somehow it seems that when I stay at dance parties super late at night, I always end up eating a bunch of snacks right before I head home. You would think that I would learn to grab some snacks earlier in the evening before the table gets picked over so much, but the thought never crosses my mind while there’s dancing to be done. As I sat there eating cookies that were shaped like witch fingers, I congratulated myself on having another successful year of dancing through Halloween. We’ll bid farewell to all of our ghastly and ghoulish friends and start counting down the days until next Halloween when they will all come out to play again.
Now it is time to get back to some of the more normal things in life, right? Or, at least, things that are more normal for my slightly crazy life…
There was no Latin Technique class on Monday night, since there was supposedly Trick-or-Treating going on in Lord Junior’s neighborhood (he’s so lucky…), so the only class I really went to this week was Standard Technique. When I got to class, Sir Digler was hanging out at the Electric Dance Hall. I guess he had just gotten done teaching a student of his, and was just hanging around for a bit before heading back home. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while, so we talked for a bit. I tried to use peer pressure to get him to stay in class with us, since leading up to class it looked like there would be a ton of Followers and not too many Leaders.
At first he wasn’t going to stay, despite how much I told him that it would be awesome to have him around (not just because he’s another guy either), but then Lord Junior mentioned that unless anyone had any specific things they wanted to work on in class, we would spend some time working on Fleckerls in Viennese Waltz. That perked Sir Digler’s interest, so he ran back out to his car to trade in his Latin shoes for ballroom ones so that he could do Viennese Waltz safely with us. According to him, this would be the first time he had ever formally looked at Fleckerls. He had picked them up informally using videos online once upon a time, but that’s not the same as spending time specifically hammering out the step until you get everything right. With the extra pair of hands, we ended up with almost as many men as women for the class, which I’m sure the ladies were quite thrilled with.
This would be the second time I have ever looked at Fleckerls in an official sense, and I must say that things went much, much better for me this time around. I think I figured out the trick to them (at least for the Lead’s footwork) so that I could do them now outside of class. If you’ve done Fleckerls before, you know the footwork is a lot of forward- and side-steps, and every now and then you will cross your foot behind the other. I used to try to count off the steps (forward, side, forward, side, back, side, etc.), but that would always end up confusing me. Especially when the music is at International Viennese Waltz tempo, trying to say (or think) the word ‘forward’ just takes too long. What I realized last night is that if I break the Fleckerls down into a count of six, I will always cross my foot behind on beat five. It doesn’t matter if it is a Reverse or Natural Fleckerl or how many times I want to go around during the Fleckerl, I will always cross behind on every beat five. Once I caught that, it became super easy for me, because I can just inherently hear the beats in the music (thank you, music theory classes of my youth!).
Adding in the Contra Check did kind of throw things off of my realization just a bit. We were doing two Reverse Fleckerls (or twelve beats), a Contra Check and then two Natural Fleckerls. The Contra Check that we did was a very quick one – we didn’t hold anything, so the Contra Check only lasted for three beats. That was what threw off my count the first couple of times we did things, because we would have to count ‘1-2-3,4-5-6, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 4-5-6’ in order to keep my trick of crossing behind on every beat five working. Lord Junior said that for his higher level students he would take an extra three beats on the Contra Check to make a bigger shape, so you could pause there if you really wanted to, but to keep things moving along in this class we weren’t going to do that. So there you go! I hope my inspiration that I found last night can help someone else nail down their Fleckerls. Maybe I’ll feel brave at the next social dance I go to and give them a try in a non-class setting!
Well, with another holiday moving into memory, things should be back to normal around here. Hopefully scrubbing all the fake blood off the windows and mirrors wasn’t too much work for everyone, and now all the dance floors are back in their pristine shape. I know there’s a normal dance party this Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall, and I’m sure there’s something going on Saturday night as well, but I haven’t really looked up what might be available yet. We’ll have to see what kind of fun things I get to do next week!