Practice Makes Perfect Sense To Me

Last Saturday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal standing coaching session. We started things off by running through just three of our International Standard routines for warm-up, the Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot. When we finished those up and Sir Steven started talking about what he wanted to look at that day, one of the things he said that really stood out to me was that he complimented Sparkledancer and me about how much things have improved lately. He said the difference has actually been noticeable, especially in the Waltz. I know that working with Lord Dormamu is probably the catalyst for this, but I don’t think it has actually been the few sessions we had with him that have really helped. After all, we have only managed to meet with him three times to work on things. We were supposed to get together more than that, but have had scheduling conflicts so it hasn’t happened yet.

No, I personally believe much of our improvement has to do with the fact that the first time we met with Lord Dormamu, he gave us ‘homework’ to do, and ever since that day Sparkledancer and I have set up regular practice sessions every week to spend several hours working on stuff ourselves. Before, we used to practice routines mostly by making plans to get together during social dance parties, but now we are actually spending serious time on the floor going through figures that gave us trouble in our lessons, practicing techniques that our instructors have told us to work on, and running our routines on our own rather than always relying on a partner. I’ve had other people tell me in the last month or so that they have noticed a difference, but most of those I just ignored. But when my primary instructor, the guy that pretty much taught me almost everything I know, says he sees a difference? Then I may actually believe that something has changed.

Sooo…. Anyway, this weekend’s lesson was pretty good for me, but not so much for Sparkledancer. She was the one getting corrected on things for much of our time this week. I know her well enough at this point to know that she wasn’t having a good time during a lot of our lesson since she was being corrected so much. After things were all over and we were walking out to the parking lot together, she told me that logically she understood that most of how well a Follower dances is based on how good the Lead is, so if she is getting corrected more, that means that I am doing things a lot better, so overall we are improving. Still, she said, it kind of made her feel like a terrible dancer. I told her I knew exactly how she felt, since most of the time in our lessons it is me being corrected for all kinds of things, and I know how that can erode your dance confidence sometimes.

The major thing that we worked on that afternoon was Foxtrot again. One of the points that Sir Steven actually pointed out to Sparkledancer and brought me in for as well was the heel turns. He said that it looked like she wasn’t actually bringing her feet all the way around when she turned during the heel turn, which was throwing her off for the next couple of steps afterward since she had to work harder to get into the right place. Heel turns ended up being our homework for this week to work on. Sparkledancer has a couple of heel turn figures in our Foxtrot routine, both a Reverse Turn with Feather Finish and a Natural Turn, as well as a Natural Weave which basically starts out as a Natural Turn. I also have a Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish, which has me doing a heel turn too. So Sir Steven said that we should spend some time working on heel turns during our practice sessions, both just doing the footwork on our own and then working on the figures together. Nailing those out would really help for our Foxtrot, and because Sparkledancer also does heel pulls in Waltz and Quickstep during the Double Reverse Spins it would help for those as well.

I must report that sadly, my planned lesson last Sunday with Lord Dormamu did not happen. He was also out competing at the big competition this past weekend, and had said that he would be back by Sunday afternoon and would have time to get together with both Sparkledancer and I. That morning he sent both of us text messages to say that he would be leaving the competition venue in a little bit and would be back at the Fancy Dance Hall “soon” and that he would keep us posted about getting together that afternoon. Well, neither of us heard anything else from him that day. So we’re going to have to reschedule things again. Sigh… is working with world champion dancers always this difficult? I must say it’s kind of annoying.

We got to work on some Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday. Before class started, Lord Junior was asking us what we all wanted to work on, and said we could do anything but Jive or Samba, since he danced hard at the competition this past weekend and he wanted to have a break from those two. To get everyone warmed up, we started off with an exercise we had done before where we all started on one end of the floor standing on our left leg with the right foot pointed back and took two steps forward, did a Spiral Turn on the right leg on the third step, then took another two steps forward and did another Spiral Turn on the left leg, then did two measures of normal Rumba Walks, then started over from the top until we got all the way down the floor. Some people with long legs (like me) didn’t get to repeat the pattern quite as much as others, but luckily we got to flip around when we hit the end of the floor and start everything over.

For the actual work of the class, one person had suggested doing something using the Sliding Door figure, so Lord Junior made up a solo progression that allowed everyone to do a portion of both the Lead and Follow part of the figure, as well as fitting in some further work with Rumba Walks and Spiral Turns. We started off standing with our feet together and did two Cucarachas, first right then left. Next we went into the ladies footwork for the Sliding Door, doing a rock step backward on the right leg that turned into a Hip Twist with a Press Line. Putting the heel down, we did a Cuban Rock to the left, collected our feet and turned around 180°, stepping forward afterward. As we stood on the left leg, we turned another 180° clockwise and went into the Sliding Door again.

The second time through, instead of the Cuban Rock that we did the first time, we went into a syncopated Cucaracha to the left, which we used as a transition piece to shift into doing the Lead’s footwork of the Sliding Door. As we brought our feet together after the syncopated Cucaracha, we checked our left foot forward and did a Ronde-like move that brought our left leg back behind the right, basically into the same position you would for a Cuban Cross. We then did a Spiral Turn in place (which Leads can do during a Sliding Door if they want to be fancy), pushing out of it hard with the left leg to move to the right, sliding slightly along the floor on purpose as we put the right foot down. Once we collected the feet we went into a Rumba Box. Starting with the left foot we went through the footwork as normal (forward, side, back, back, side and forward, if you know the mantra). As we landed on the right foot we did another Spiral Turn, and for the last four beats we did three steps forward, turning a full 360° on the second step, finishing with a one more step going to the right side.

As I’ve mentioned quite a few times now, there was a big competition going on in the northern regions of the Dance Kingdom this past weekend. Because of that, a lot of the dance halls were shut down since all their teachers were competing with students. There was one dance party that was going on Saturday night to help tide over the other dance peasants in the kingdom, but rather than attend this party, I made plans to meet up with Sparkledancer out at the Electric Dance Hall to practice on Saturday night. Since Lord Junior was off competing that weekend, there wasn’t much scheduled to go on there, so I figured it would be a good chance to get the floor mostly to ourselves.

It turns out I was right about that. There were a couple of private lessons scheduled with one instructor, so that guy had the building unlocked for us during the few hours that we were there that evening. In between his lessons, he decided to go off and grab a bite to eat, so we even got to practice for a while with the place completely empty and full control over the music as well, which was even more awesome. I cannot say that we had the same situation when we met up for our regular Tuesday night practice session at the Electric Dance Hall. Tuesday night when we got to the studio, there were four different private lessons going on already, limiting the amount of free space available on the dance floor. It was probably because everyone had been out competing over the weekend, so they were trying to fit in all the private lessons that couldn’t happen while they were out, but I don’t know that for sure.

Things weren’t all bad having limited space on Tuesday night though. Saturday night since we had the place practically to ourselves we ran through everything, going through all of our routines (including Viennese Waltz this time) all around the room, looping everything a couple of times when dancing by ourselves and dancing together. I also spent so much time dancing by myself holding those stupid cups in my hands that my shoulders were screaming at me by the time we called it quits that night. On Tuesday, since we were limited to pretty much just a corner of the dance floor, we specifically focused on Foxtrot and worked on all of the heel turn figures that we had, just like Sir Steven asked us to do. Those were fairly easy to keep contained, with us only using the figure leading into the heel turn, the turning figure itself and the Feather Finish coming out of it, so nothing really traveled all that far. Nearing the end of our hour on Tuesday, all of the lessons that had been going on finished up, so we managed to also run the entirety of our Foxtrot routine a couple of times before leaving.

And the party with all the people hanging out at the Electric Dance Hall didn’t end on Tuesday night, either. When I headed over there on Wednesday night for Standard Technique class, there were even more people hanging around on the floor. There were so many people on the floor that the class I showed up for didn’t actually happen that night. When I got there, Lord Junior was going over some paperwork with a new student, which took him a bit longer than he expected. There were four of us who had shown up for Standard Technique standing over by a couch together, and he apologized profusely to all of us and said we would get started as soon as he finished up all the paperwork.

At the same time that class was supposed to start, a whole bunch of other things started happening on the dance floor, taking up a large portion of the space. Sir Steven had come over from the Fancy Dance Hall and was teaching a private lesson to a couple in one corner (he still teaches over at the Electric Dance Hall at least one night a week). Sir Digler was giving a private lesson to a different couple along the back wall. There was a new female instructor that I have only seen a few times teaching Salsa to a male student closer to the back wall. And finally, taking up a ton of room in the front of the studio, Lord Fabulous and Lord Scarry were teaching what looked like a group class to a gang of women. Other than the Salsa lesson going on, everyone else seemed to be teaching various ballroom styles, so all of the various groups of people kept shifting around on the floor. With so much activity going on, I was having a hard time focusing on anything in particular.

When Lord Junior finished up all his paperwork, he came and joined the four of us standing off to the side watching all the action on the floor. He told all of us that what he had planned on looking at that night was Quickstep, to go through Turning Lock Steps with us. However, since there didn’t seem to be an open lane on the floor where we could safely do those, he said we’d have to scrap that idea and go through something else, and asked if any of us had any contained figures we wanted to look at instead. Sparkledancer made a joke that it was the perfect night to practice some floorcraft, with so many obstacles to work around. The other guy that had shown up for class said that he had just finished up a private lesson, so he would be happy to just go home, and Prez just shrugged and said she didn’t have anything in particular she wanted to look at.

Lord Junior said that if no one had anything, we could just cancel class and let everyone head home or stay and practice if we could find a small opening on the floor. He said that if anyone stuck around to practice, he would come around and work with them for a while, but he wouldn’t charge anything for the time since he felt bad that the floor was overbooked. So, with a small open space in the back of the room by the mirrors, Sparkledancer and I took to the floor to get some more practice time in. Wanting to stay relatively confined, and since we already spent an entire session working on heel turns in Foxtrot the day before, this time we worked on our Tango Open Reverse figure for the entire time.

When Lord Junior came over to check on us after a while, he asked us what we were doing. We explained to him about how we were told that our Open Reverse Turn looked off, and we were given all kinds of suggestions on what could possibly fix it, but none of them made anyone tell us it was actually good, and some of the suggestions conflicted with each other. So we went through the figure a couple of times for him so he could see what we were doing. After watching, he told us that what he tells his other students is that if he brought in four high-level coaches and they each watched you do the same figure, they would all tell you how to “fix” it. 90% of what they tell you would be the same, but the other 10% comes down to the way that coach likes to do things, which is purely up to their own taste.

For us, he said he would go through what the figure should be doing based on what the official books say for pure footwork and technique. To start with, he said that Sparkledancer wasn’t pulling herself to the back and left far enough, and maintaining that poise through the whole figure. He also said he immediately noticed me turning my head toward her in the middle of the figure, which is also a huge no-no. So those were the first two items to fix. After that, what it all seemed to come down to was that I wasn’t coming around Sparkledancer enough on my second step. For Tango, I’m supposed to be selfish and not really care about making sure there is room for my partner. I need to make sure that my first step is heading straight toward diagonal center, and then my second step turns and becomes a side step that basically also travels diagonal center, cutting right in front of my partner. If I don’t come around far enough, she’ll try to go outside of me, which is why sometimes the middle looks funny.

He also said that my next step doesn’t need to go backward on an angle to make room for my partner’s leg to go between mine. By the book, I just take a step going straight back down the line of dance. If I maintain the CBMP rotation in my body, the lady should naturally take a step between my legs, and I don’t need to step backward on an angle to accommodate her. I guess if she doesn’t want to step between my legs when I do that, I’m supposed to just leave her to dance by herself. We practiced things for a while to make sure that we had everything down and committed to muscle memory. At one point, as he was heading out the door after his lesson, Sir Digler stopped to stand there watching us. I thought he had stopped to talk to Lord Junior a bit, but he told us he was actually stopping to watch Sparkledancer and I, and that he could see the improvement in the way we were holding ourselves lately, and we were looking really good.

That’s another instructor mentioning that we’ve improved noticeably in less than a week’s time. Does that mean that we might actually have pushed past the plateau that we were stuck at before? Or is everyone just being nice? I guess only time will tell…

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