I had an interesting discussion with Sir Steven on Saturday in addition to the work we got through on our lesson. Where to start? Well, how about at the beginning. Like we sort-of do regularly, we started out by running our International Standard routines in order – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot then Quickstep. Finishing up those, we switched gears to look at our American Waltz routine. Sparkledancer and I ran through it once from beginning to end for Sir Steven. When we finished, he told us that he wanted some things to end up in different places than what we had originally learned, now that he had seen us do it a couple of different times.
The big thing was the placement of figures in the last two corners. What we had before was a Contra Check that is done about two-thirds of the way down the second long wall that he now wants to have us do in the corner instead. We have two syncopated Fallaways and a Curved Three Step right before the Contra Check, so I think with my long legs it should be easy enough to cover slightly more ground and put the figure in the corner. That means that the figures that come after are shifted onto the short wall. Because of that, Sir Steven wanted the back check step that I do while Sparkledancer does a Ronde around my right side to be the figure we use in the last corner.
There are still a few figures left after we come out of that Ronde, so if we do everything on the list we end up about a third of the way down the first long wall before we would repeat the routine from the top. This may end up being problematic in the future, since we have been really good about covering a lot of space with the figures on the first long wall to fill the floor from corner to corner, so taking out a lot of the floor means we will probably run out of room. We’ll see how it looks once the changes are really committed to muscle memory.
At the end we spent a bit of time looking at our American Tango routine. Because it always seems like at the end of the Viennese Crosses where we were closing our feet and then try to go into a Reverse Turn we would mess things up (i.e. I would mess things up, for some reason I would often go into a Progressive Link instead), Sir Steven changed the fourth figure in that set to be another Viennese Cross like the previous three. This continues the rotation, and makes going into the Reverse Turn feel much more natural. To compensate for the timing change that causes, he took out a similar Ronde-like figure like the one we have in Waltz that we had been doing at the end of the first long wall in Tango. We also talked about how he didn’t like the way the second long wall looked. He didn’t want to change anything about that right then, but he said he would think about what he wanted it to be instead and we would come back to it soon.
After we got done with our coaching session, Sir Steven and I got to talking about the competition he and the other instructors at the Fancy Dance Hall had put on the weekend prior. Somewhere in the conversation I asked him about whether they would consider allowing amateur dancer pairs to run heats at their competitions like they allow Pro-Am pairs to do. Believe it or not, I don’t mind competing, but I do it for more pragmatic reasons than probably anyone else you would meet. I liked to use competitions as an assessment of how I’ve improved in dancing. When I was dancing somewhere that allowed amateurs to run heats, it was nice because I could run each routine multiple times, and I’d get some kind of score back and a few notes from the judges that then I could take and compare to how I had done the last time I competed in those styles. The competitions I have found available for amateurs lately are all one-and-done style competitions, meaning you go out and run something like Viennese Waltz at some unspeakably early time of the morning if that is when you are scheduled, and if you mess up that was your only chance. At the end you get some placement between first and last place, and no other feedback about how you did. That sort of setup doesn’t really help me see how far I’ve come or get an outsider’s view of things I need to improve.
Sir Steven said that the crew at the Fancy Dance Hall has been having some interesting discussions about that. He told me that they have been cooking up ideas for recreating their Ballroom Boot Camp weekend sessions that they used to run at the Endless Dance Hall quite a while ago. They have discussed including a ‘lite’ version for amateurs that will include competition-style practice heats, workshops to cover important technical points everyone needs to work on, and having outside instructors standing around as pseudo-judges to watch and provide feedback to everyone who attends on what they should work on. That sounds like the kind of thing I was sort-of going for. Apparently they are thinking they can get something like this up and running around December or January, so there may be something else fun I can start doing in my dance career. We’ll have to see!
I did end up going out to that dance party last Saturday night over at the City Dance Hall that I mentioned last week. Since I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what kind of costume would work for the musical-themed party, I just went wearing normal clothes. That ended up being a good life choice, since the people who put together the event hadn’t put a lot of effort into the theme. There were some printed up playbills that they had stapled around the fake candles on each table, and a poster that someone had set up in the entryway, but that was all that I saw that had any relation to the chosen theme. I had at least hoped there would be some kind of dance rumble, like two competing line dances on opposite sides of the floor, to celebrate the theme. That would have amused me. Sigh… missed opportunity. Sometimes I wonder if it’s necessary for every dance club (club as in ‘group of people’, not venue) in the area to go through the effort of picking out a theme for every dance party they put on. Would people be turned off if we sent out a note that read ‘Hey! We’re having a party this weekend! The theme is dancing!’ and left it at that? Maybe that’s worth a discussion at some point.
The party this weekend started off with a Salsa lesson. As I mentioned last week, they really missed something by having a lesson on Salsa as opposed to Mambo, which I think would have been more thematically appropriate, but that’s just me. The steps that we covered in the Salsa class would certainly work for Mambo if you changed the timing, so that’s something. The class was also interesting because there were two people teaching, professional partners who I’m pretty sure I have seen at least the female teaching over at the Endless Dance Hall before. Before they started teaching, the guy gave a little speech introducing the two of them to everyone, and then they demonstrated what it was they hoped to teach that hour. The progression was really long – even the guy who was going to teach the progression acknowledged that it was pretty ambitious. So, we got to work.
The first thing that they did was ask everyone in attendance if there was anyone who had never done Salsa before. Two hands went up, so there was a quick overview of the Salsa basic. Once the two newbies to Salsa had that down, the instructor said he preferred to start off dancing Salsa using a side-to-side basic step more like a Whisk in Samba rather than the normal basic that everyone else does, so we began the progression with four of those before going into two normal basic steps. Next up we added on two Cross Body Leads, essentially turning us all the way around in a full circle. Now came the hard part – not a hard figure itself per se, but hard because it made some of the ladies uncomfortable. We were holding the lady’s right hand in our left, and he wanted us to reach with our right arm around her side to trade her hand behind her back. It was a weird hug-like position to get into, and some people were just uncomfortable with that. If you did it right, the men would rotate around the lady on her right side to roll her out into handshake hold facing the opposite direction from where you started.
Once we got past everyone being uncomfortable, we got to do some things that could be difficult if you tried to turn too early or in the wrong direction. Facing each other in Handshake Hold, we would reach under our right arm with our free left hand to take the lady’s left hand so that we were holding both hands with our arms crossed. From here we would do an Open Break and lead the lady through a Underarm Turn. As the guys would bring their feet together after the last rock step, we would turn 180° so that we ended up with the lady behind us (I’m not sure what you would call that. Reverse Shadow Position?), holding her hands over our shoulders. While in this position we would do four Cucarachas, breaking in the opposite direction (i.e. when we would go to the left, the lady would step to the right). If you were on top of the footwork, you could also do a fancy thing with the arms, crossing the right arm over your head, then the left, then uncrossing the left and finally the right.
And we still weren’t done after all that! In the next measure of the music, the Lead released the Follower’s hands and flipped around to face them on the first two beats, and then both partners were supposed to Shimmy for the last two beats. I can’t Shimmy to save my soul. I can use my shoulders to lift very heavy objects, but I can’t shake them quickly or gracefully, so I just raised my fists up to my chest and shook those instead. Next we would take the Follower’s right hand in our left again and lead them through another Cross Body Lead, this time overturning it a bit so that we could open up side-by-side. In this position we went back to the Samba Whisk-like movements like we had done at the beginning, doing two sets right then left (or left than right if you are doing the Follower’s part). The instructors gave us some variation we could do here, either adding in a saucy hip bump with your partner, or bringing the Follower’s arm up and over your head and letting their hand slide down your arm if you prefer that. Or both, if you were so inclined.
We finally got to the end section after that. After the second set of Whisk-like steps, we would link back up with the lady by doing a figure that looked almost like a Natural Top, rotating us around enough to face the wall we were looking at before the last Cross Body Lead. Then they had us do two measures of Cuban Breaks, which is something I’d only seen done in Cha-Cha up until then. After the last set of those, we would go back into a normal basic figure, rotating ourselves slightly to be facing one another at last.
Whew! Like I said, that was an ambitious plan to try to teach everyone. Several people dropped out during the course of the lesson, probably due to mental exhaustion. I’m surprised I even remember the whole pattern, writing it out several days later like I am now. To reward us for making it all the way through the class, the two instructors took to the floor and performed a Cha-Cha number that they had used for competitions they were in in the past. It must have been for some kind of solo performance, because the figures they used covered the whole room as they danced.
I felt good about the actual dance party afterward. Mostly because I made a point of dancing International Foxtrot instead of American in a social setting and it went really well. International Foxtrot, more than any other International style, has always seemed to be harder to get through on a crowded dance floor than American Foxtrot. That night though, I was on top of things, and it felt safe and traveled quite well through everyone else. That one point alone made my night, so I felt pretty good about everything else. Ms. Possible showed up to the party super late, with slightly less than an hour left before the dance would wrap up. She had come with a guy who has been trying to date her (he’s a dance teacher at some studio, I think), but she’s not totally interested in him. And yet, because he actually knows how to dance, she keeps leading him on. I’m not sure how this will end, but there’s a part of me that feels bad for this guy. I don’t know how I would feel pursuing a woman I meet at a dance party. I think that would be a weird dynamic, especially if we didn’t have much else in common. But that’s just me. To each their own, I suppose.
Skipping ahead, let’s talk about the thing I did last night that was probably way more entertaining to me than it should have been. Remember what I said last week about working on Spin Turns in Standard Technique class and Lord Junior switching roles with the ladies so that they could feel what it was like if they did and did not provide the driving force on the parts of the Spin Turn where they are moving forward? Well, Lord Junior wanted to get back to an idea from that class. Which idea from that class did we expand on last night? The idea where the guys and girls switched roles, having the ladies dance the Lead part while Lord Junior and I were dancing the Follow steps.
That’s right – I got to be such a pretty lady last night, though if I wanted to be prettier I’d probably need to go on an all salad diet for a while since my chest and shoulders are much broader than your average lady. Lord Junior’s explanation for us before we started was that way back in the day, early on in his teaching career, he could get by teaching the footwork for both halves of a figure, but it wasn’t until he really had to sit and learn the proper technique for the Followers part that his Leading really improved. Once he had an idea of what the ladies he danced with were trying to do and how they reacted to what he did, he could totally understand how his movements really affected them. So we were going to spend the evening dancing the opposite part to help us understand our partner, and in the process make us better dancers.
Lucky for us, we didn’t do any crazy steps. We kept with Waltz, like we had done last week, giving us a chance to start out super slowly and work our way up to a nice slow pace. The pattern we used was almost all Bronze-level figures. We started with a prep step to get moving and then a Natural Turn. Next up we did an Open Impetus into a Progressive Chasse to the Left, closing from Promenade Position on beat two. Next up was a Quick Open Reverse, which is just a regular Reverse Turn but you are starting on the wrong foot, so you have to take two steps for beat one to make up for that. At the end we had another Progressive Chasse to the Left, this one in normal dance frame the whole time, and ending with anther Natural Turn.
I have to say, believe it or not, that switching between one part and the other wasn’t too hard for me. It did help that I got to step through the Follower’s side of the figure once or twice before trying to do it with a partner so I could keep my footwork moving in the right direction while we worked. It seemed like the ladies in class were actually having a harder time with the switch than I was. Sparkledancer was thrown off by her left arm being out and her right arm being in – she said it felt all wrong to her. Veep kept cutting me off when we danced together, because she wasn’t used to having to give someone else the room. Bony had it the worst, I think. She was really unsure of herself, and didn’t like having the pressure on her to start moving. When she and I danced together, she would wait until I started moving on the first step in order to begin her own movements. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to be leading me – if I would wait for her to start moving before moving myself, we would just stand there awkwardly letting measure after measure of the music go by until I finally got us going.
At the end of class, we switched back to our normal dance roles and did the same pattern with each partner a few times. I have to say that I thought it made a bit of a difference. The ladies seemed to be more comfortable with providing the power on the parts where they are moving forward (like on the Open Impetus), and with both people really driving out of their standing leg with each step, we managed to run out of room on the floor using these figures. Plus it was weirdly amusing for everyone. Lord Junior said that this won’t be the last time he has us go through this exercise in this class, so maybe once a month now we will start switching places and using that as a way to improve our understanding and our dancing.
Also, he mentioned that while he has been working on building himself a bigger dance studio, he has been thinking that when the construction is completed he will start offering more beginner-level group classes, but rather than hiring a professional to come in and teach those classes he will open it up so that the higher-level students (like those of us who attend these technique classes) could teach instead. If we wanted to seriously do that, we would have to know both parts of each figure anyway, so really he is secretly training us for the future. How cool would that be, getting a chance to teach newcomers how to dance? I think it would be fun, and since I make enough money at my normal job for everything I’d ever want to do in life, I’d consider doing it for free from time to time. We’ll have to see what the future holds. I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it here if it actually happens!
This weekend is when the Royal Dance Court that I am a member of will be hosting our own monthly dance party. I think we are going to have a lesson in East Coast Swing before the party, so if you want to come and dance, let me know and we’ll have some fun!