Master Of Puppets, I’m Pulling Your Strings

Well, just as I predicted when I signed up for this new competition-focused training, we’re basically restarting things from the beginning. That’s what I was told when I met up with Sparkledancer on Saturday morning to have our first coaching session with Lord Dormamu. We started our coaching session late because he was finishing up a lesson with a different student when I arrived at the Fancy Dance Hall. Having only observed the two of us from afar before, and never really working with us (if you discount the time last month that the Princess got him to give me a weird massage), he told us when he finally finished up his other lesson that this first time would be just to step through a couple of our routines so he could watch how we do all sorts of basic things. The phrasing was more elegant than that, of course – he used a metaphor about how you can’t go off and buy a high-end sports car if you don’t make sure you can pay your rent every month first. So I guess this first session was making sure we could afford to pay the rent. The next time will probably be like that too, since we only got through two dance styles with him that morning.

We started with the Waltz, running through the routine once from start to finish just so that he could get an idea of what it looked like. Lord Dormamu watched from across the room, and masterofpuppets1when we started repeating the routine at the end he stopped us and came over to talk for a bit. We went over a few minor things that he wanted to clean up immediately, and then he told us what we both specifically needed to work on. My priority for now is working on my driving of the movements. He told me that it is fairly obvious that I have strong legs, so I need to start really using my standing leg to push and drive the movements when going forward. Going back to the sports car analogy, he said that he wants my engine to output 500-600 horsepower, rather than the 200-300 I appeared to be giving.

He also told me that the drive should always be given to my partner from my… hip region. There was some sort of joke I think he tried to make about the drive in ballroom dancing coming from the crotchtal area, much like the drive for all sorts of other things in my life (there were also some circular gestures being made emphasizing this), but I’m not sure the joke was really funny. Maybe it was lost in translation, and it would have been a funnier joke if I understood his native language? I just laughed awkwardly to be nice.

Anyway… Sparkledancer was told that her focus for the time being is going to be learning to keep up with me as I drive more, and also being able to add some power herself when it is her turn to go forward and provide the power for our actions. She isn’t expected to drive with as much power as I was, but if we are doing something like a Double Reverse Spin there would be no way for me to turn enough if she isn’t giving me the power to turn as I bring my feet together.

To that end, we were assigned homework in Waltz to work on between when we left our lesson with him that afternoon and when we would next meet up. We were told to:

  1. Warm up by doing basic box steps separately in front of a mirror. Ten minutes of box steps rotating to the left, then ten rotating to the right. Focus on driving with each step, rising completely on every second step, and lowering immediately when the feet come together on the third.
  2. Finish the warm up with ten minutes of basic box steps together. Five minutes of box steps rotating to the left, five minutes rotating to the right, with the same focus points as before, just together this time.
  3. Run through the routine from beginning to end. Three times each completely around the room without a partner, followed by running it three times together. He wanted us to make sure before we next got together to really work on making sure the Reverse Turns were distinct from the Reverse Progressive Chasses. Our Reverse Turns should have more rotation but less momentum, while Reverse Progressive Chasses should have no rotation and build more momentum.

Nearing the end of our allotted time, we switched over to look at Tango. After running through the routine once so that he could get an idea of what we were working with, he decided that there were several alignments that looked off in some of the changes that we had made to the routine the week before. He stepped through the routine with us one piece at a time, having us change the alignments on some of the figures to move the direction he thought was best, or change which of us was closing some of the Promenades which also changes the alignment of where the next figure starts. Once we got through everything, he told us that our homework for Tango was the same as the last item he gave us in the Waltz – to run through the routine on our own three times each without a partner, then together three times. The focus for the Tango would be to make sure that are alignments were perfect. We could adjust them slightly as needed if there were other couples on the floor in a competition, but he wanted us to make sure that our lines down the floor in the Tango were three-dimensional, and nothing was traveling straight down the line of dance ever. If we included the homework we have for Waltz, he said that all together it should take us about two hours to get through everything each time we do it. Easy, right?

After all that, we were well past our allotted time (I was told later he never starts or ends his lessons on time, so I should never schedule anything immediately before or after a session with him), so we signed off on some paperwork to complete everything and called it good for the day. The three of us made plans to get together again at the same time next weekend. Normally we would space out our sessions with him, giving Sparkledancer and I a couple of weeks to work on the list of things he gives us, but after next weekend he is heading out of the country to go help out his mother for a few weeks, and he didn’t want to wait until he came back to see us again. So we’ll get to do this all over again next Saturday as well. Hooray?

Since Sparkledancer and I had scheduled our normal weekly lesson with Sir Steven immediately following our scheduled lesson with Lord Dormamu (which we were now running late for), he told us that he would have Sir Steven focus on International Foxtrot with us that day. I guess that really goes to show who is in charge of our dance journey now…

We spent the entire time with Sir Steven working on exactly what Lord Dormamu said we each needed to focus on the most – driving when we were the person moving forward. Sir Steven did have us take things a step further by getting us to add in attempting to maintain body contact the entire time we were moving while also using the body sway that he had been really pushing us to do the last couple of weeks. We only managed to get through the figures in the first long wall of our Foxtrot routine while doing this during our time that day, which I guess is better than the last weekend where all we did was walk in straight lines going forward and backward, sometimes shifting to Outside Partner. Sir Steven told us at one point near the end that we had done the steps the best he had ever seen us do things, but when trying to repeat that he said what we did wasn’t as good even though I didn’t feel like anything had changed in what I was doing. That was a bit frustrating. It’s hard to fix something when you can’t tell anything is wrong, you know?

Then on Saturday night I got to help host a social dance party with the rest of my Royal Dance Court team. This month the party had a sort of jazz theme, and to fit in with that we had found someone to come in and teach a lesson in American Foxtrot. This instructor was formerly teaching at the Star Dance Hall, but since that place shut down some time ago he has been wandering around and freelancing anywhere he can find floor space and students interested in listening to him. For this class he had also brought along his sister and brother-in-law (or brother and sister-in-law, I’m not quite sure on the dynamic that was in play) to help him out.

The instructor had chosen one Silver-level figure that he wanted to work on with everyone, something he called the Gem. I had never heard of that figure before, so I was pretty excited to pick up a new figure in American Foxtrot. When he grabbed his female helper/friend/relative to demonstrate what he wanted to teach everyone, it turned out to be a figure that I know well and have used quite frequently in the past. When Sir Steven originally taught me the figure long ago he called it a Hairpin, so that’s what I’ve always referred to the figure as. This was the first time I had ever heard this other name for the figure used.

If you’ve never seen this particular move before, what it looks like is: start with the first half of an Open Reverse Turn like normal. On the second half, the guy will lead the lady to go across his body into Counter-Promenade Position (basically with her right side over on his left side) on the first two steps before checking on the third step to hold for two beats. Coming out, the guy will take a step forward and swivel, either with the feet together or with the right leg pointed outward, leading the lady to bring her feet together and swivel to get back into dance position, and then the guy will take a step forward and lead the lady to do one last swivel before coming out in Promenade Position. You can come out of this with some sort of Progressive Chasse Forward or a Natural Turn of some kind to make things easy. In class, we ended things with just the one figure, stopping with both partners in Promenade Position.

The figure did not go well for a lot of people, which is part of the reason that we spent the masterofpuppets2whole hour on just that one figure. Luckily, there were three of us that were able to wander through the crowd and help people out while the main instructor tried to explain things to the whole class to get everyone moving correctly. Because I had done the figure before, whenever we changed partners, I went looking for some lady that I had noticed who had been having trouble with the figure. I could then spend a few minutes with her going through everything to make sure she had the steps down correctly. We weren’t asked to change partners all that frequently, so I only managed to help out seven or eight of the ladies before the class wrapped up without disturbing things by wandering around on my own.

The biggest problem that I kept running into was that as I slid the lady over to my left side into Counter-Promenade Position, no matter how hard I would try holding her to keep her chest rotated toward mine she would keep trying to turn herself to face down the line of dance. I would have to actually stop and explain to her about keeping her body turned toward mine, which would make all the swivels at the end much easier for her because she wouldn’t have to turn as much. Usually after I explained things and stepped through the figure again slowly, it would be like a light bulb went off and the lady would be all smiles and excited that things actually worked. I swear I heard the instructor telling everyone repeatedly about the exact same rotation requirement, but I guess no one was listening while he was talking or something.

We had a lot of people stick around for or show up specifically for the dance party after the class. A LOT. The dance floor was super packed for almost every song! Everyone seemed to have fun though. Lord Junior showed up partway through the class with his friend Mister, whom I hadn’t seen in a really long time. Lord Junior was trying to convince Mister that he should try to partner up with one of his younger female students who was attending the party, who is also a fitness coach. I’m not sure if he meant ‘partner up’ as in for dancing or romantically – I could see it work out both ways. When the two of them showed up and Lord Junior pointed her out to Mister, and he saw that she was in a fancy top and a short skirt, he ran back out to his car to put on a tie and a blazer (I guess he keeps emergency ties and blazers in his car for this very reason).

We also had a group of dancers whom I had never met before show up. The group seemed to know the basics of a lot of dances, but not much more than that, and they had quite a bit of wine as the night went on. I had to pull them off the floor during the first of two Viennese Waltzes of the night. They were trying to do slow Waltz, and not moving very fast, so I ran over and managed to call one set of them off to the side of the floor and ask if they had ever done Viennese Waltz before. The older gentlemen got big eyes and said “This isn’t Waltz?” before turning around and looking at what everyone else was doing. Seeing the others move so fast, he looked at me and said “Whoa, that looks dangerous!” and then wandered off to talk to someone else. The lady he was dancing with stumbled toward me and said “I’ve done Viennese Waltz before. We should go do it!” I was still trying to get the other couple they came with to come over off the floor before people ran into them, so I just smiled and asked her to give me a bit to save her friends. Luckily, the song ended shortly after I cleared them off so I got out of that awkward dance.

Drinking and Viennese Waltzing probably shouldn’t be done together, for safety reasons. I should make a sign for that…

I think Monday nights are going to become my only night of the week where I can take a break and focus on dancing that I wouldn’t be using competitively, since I can’t see myself competing in International Latin styles in the foreseeable future. This week when I went to Latin Technique class we started out working on Samba. Lord Junior wanted to have all of us warm up that night by doing Batucadas, or else he wanted to have us do Batucadas to amuse him, I can’t tell exactly which. As you can imagine, my white boy hips and I are not masters of the Batucada, so they probably looked fairly amusing if you were watching. We all started somewhere in the middle of the room and just did endless Batucadas until one of us finally ran out of floor space as we all stepped backward. That got a brief respite for everyone so that we could reset our position, and then we would do it all over again.

One young lady, a girl who has been showing up more and more frequently of late, was several minutes late to class that night. Let’s call her… Juniper. She is in the back getting her shoes on while the rest of us are already groaning our way through the awkward hip movements of the masterofpuppets3Batucada (OK, maybe it was just me doing that…). When Juniper finally takes a place on the dance floor slightly in front of me, she starts trying to mimic the movements that Lord Junior is doing. She keeps looking around at the rest of us for confirmation that we are all doing it as well. Lord Junior is going on about how the Batucada is a good figure to work on, because if you can really master the movements that you need to do from your core to do a Batucada, your overall body control will improve greatly for all sorts of other things. Finally, as she turns her head again and catches my eyes, I do an overly-obvious stage whisper and say “This is a Samba figure.” She smiled really big and said “Ooooh.” That got a chuckle from the rest of the class.

Now that everyone was on the same page, we went through the warm-up a bit longer until Lord Junior finally got bored with watching us. Then he said he wanted to do a variation of a progression he does in some of his student’s Cha-Cha competition routines that uses Batucadas. So we completely switched dance styles and worked on this short progression the rest of the night. We started in Shadow Position with our partner, weight on the left leg with our right leg forward. There was a rock step into a Progressive Lock Step Forward, then the front half of a rotating Cha-Cha Box Step (one step forward, a step to the side with an eighth of a turn, then a step backward with another eighth of a turn). Next up we did two Batucadas heading backward, then the second half of the Cha-Cha Box Step. After that we did a third Cha-Cha Box Step where the last step was over-rotated from an eighth of a turn to a full 180°. We then did two normal Forward Walk Steps and then finished things up with repeating syncopated Progressive Lock Step Forward for four whole beats.

Also of note this week, on Wednesday night I was out at Standard Technique class working on Foxtrot. Lord Junior wanted to work on a set of figures that would have both partners really working on their driving action whenever they were the person moving forward (yay! More unexpected practice of things I was told to work on!). Based on the number of figures, we didn’t do a very long progression, but if you really pushed off your standing leg as you moved forward, the progression covered a lot of distance. This one is best done along the long wall of a competition-sized floor.

We started off in one corner with a prep step into a normal Feather Step, heading toward diagonal center. Next up we added on a Bounce Fallaway, which faded into a Tumble Turn. The masterofpuppets4Tumble Turn was the only figure that didn’t travel quite so much, since the only piece of it that headed down the line of dance was the Feather Finish at the end. Then we added on a Three Step, now heading toward diagonal wall. The final piece we did which could allow you to change the corner was a Quick Open Impetus. As I’m sure you know, adding ‘Quick’ to the front generally means that you are starting a figure on the wrong foot, so you have to add in an extra step to make it work. With our Quick Open Impetus however, we were starting off on the wrong foot but also facing the wrong direction, so our first step was actually a slow step with a pivot to turn us from diagonal wall to backing line of dance, and also get us on the right foot. Then we did the steps for a normal Open Impetus, speeding up the steps of the heel turn to finish without adding extra time to the figure.

So those are the interesting bits from my week. I also spent time with Sparkledancer at the Electric Dance Hall on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening to work on our homework. That means that I was in a dance studio dancing six out of seven days this past week, with my only day off being tonight so that I could finish up this post. That’s just like my normal workout schedule, except my one off day per week is on a different day! So, by that logic, if I managed to get in such good physical shape by working out six days a week, then working on dancing six days a week should be able to get me into great dance shape too, right? We’ll have to see how things go after a few months of sticking with the schedule, now won’t we? Stick around and I’ll be sure to relay my ongoing progress to you right here, same dance time, and same dance channel!

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