Don’t Think About It, Just Move Your Body

This past Saturday afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for my regularly scheduled coaching session. We all got together an hour earlier than usual, since there was going to be something going on at the Fancy Dance Hall later in the afternoon and we wanted to make sure that we had enough room to run through all of our stuff before people started showing up and taking over the floor. That was also nice because it gave me an extra hour that afternoon to get all kinds of other things I needed to do done, though I was sad that I had to get up an hour earlier than usual on a Saturday. Getting up earlier is stupid, right? Sigh…

That afternoon started out with us working on some Waltz. Sir Steven had us focusing on our swing motion in the Waltz that day. To begin with something easy, we worked on the swing we should be seeing in a normal Natural Turn, since that is one of those places where the swing motion should be very obvious to anyone watching. Satisfied that we were looking good at that, he moved us on to looking at what the swing motion should be when we were finishing up our Progressive Chasse to the Left and going into a Natural Turn, near the end of one of the walls in our Waltz routine. The closing of the lady from Promenade Position to dance position is important, because closing improperly and being too far over to the right (from the Follower’s perspective) can throw off the swinging action that gives you the correct sway on the following Natural Turn. It’s easy to get the swing right and have the correct sway in a Natural Turn starting right on the figure (or using a prep step to go into the Natural Turn), but add in some momentum and the shift of closing from one position to another and it becomes more challenging to make it look correct.

Once we finished working through the Waltz, we switched over to Tango to finish out that day. Sir Steven liked what we had done with Lord Junior the previous Wednesday, cleaning up our Open Reverse Turn so that it looked better. Hooray! However, while we had been working with Lord Junior, he had us doing the figure by the book, which has the lady going in-line during the second half of the figure. In our routine, we were doing the figure with the lady on the outside during the second half, so Sir Steven made us go back and readjust a few things to get where we were supposed to be. That wasn’t so bad. We also worked some more on basic walking – smoothing out the slower steps while keeping the quick steps very staccato.

Those items became our homework to work on during practice after our lesson was over – working on the swing motion in our Waltz, and working on walking in Tango.  Sir Steven also told us to continue to practice walking ‘backwards’ like we had been doing, where Sparkledancer is driving forward while I am moving backward (which is the opposite direction that we normally travel when dancing together). He said he has seen improvement in our Foxtrot, since that is the style we normally default to when practicing moving in the opposite direction, but we should start mixing in basic Waltz Change Steps to do the same thing in that style as well. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

The last thing he told us to start playing with during our practice sessions is the timing in the Waltz. I know I’ve mentioned before that you will see very high level dancers dance the Waltz much looser than the music – the step on beat two is always on time with the music, and is where the emphasis should generally fall during most figures. That leaves the steps you do on beats one and three are sort-of ‘around’ time. Not really off time per se, but not really on time either; usually the steps are slightly behind the music, allowing you to hold the step for beat two for slightly longer to emphasize it more. Sir Steven wants the two of us to really start working on this more during our practice so that it becomes more natural for us.

After we had left for the day, Sir Steven sent both Sparkledancer and I a text message to tell us that Lord Dormamu had called during our lesson (he thought it would still be at our normal time, so he had tried to get in touch with Sir Steven before we met). Once they got done chatting about how things had gone that day, Sir Steven let both of us know that Lord Dormamu wanted us to spend time working on a few different items for him while he was out, and that he would check on our progress when we next met up. The two points he said that we should focus on were A) to work on keeping our elbows up the entire time we were dancing, and B) to make sure we move our enter over our standing leg when moving forward. Yay for more homework…!

Even though it was rainy and cold outside, I went to Latin Technique class this past Monday (I am such a trooper!). Lord Junior was finishing up some paperwork with a student for her private lesson when I got there, and the place was pretty empty otherwise. I took the most comfortable seat at the couch to change my shoes, mostly because no one could stop me. Soon after, Sparkledancer and Ms. Possible showed up for class. As Sparkledancer was changing her shoes, Lord Junior shouts over to us from the front desk that he has something to ask the two of us about, and then goes back to finishing up paperwork.

It turns out that next Thursday, he is having this super high-level female coach who mostly does International Standard come in, and he had only one timeslot left that day that wasn’t taken by other students, so he wanted to offer it to Sparkledancer before he asked anyone else. Apparently this female coach really focuses on working with other Followers to help them get better. I needed to be involved because obviously things will work better if I am there to dance with Sparkledancer so the coach can watch from the outside to see what’s going on, and also so I can to pay attention to the things that she says so I understand any changes that she offers to Sparkledancer. Lord Junior says that she could probably give me some help too if I’m around, but mostly this would be for the benefit of Sparkledancer. Since this coach was going to be in town for other reasons anyway, Lord Junior managed to secure her coaching services for an unbelievably low price (I did the math – an hour of this lady’s time will cost less than an hour of Lord Dormamu’s time, so that’s a really good deal).

Sparkledancer was super excited to hear about this, and asked me to check my calendar and see if I could go to this with her. I told her that I would be available, so the two of us got signed up. It’s the least I can do to help out Sparkledancer. After all, by working with her as an amateur partner all these years, it has allowed me to work mostly with male instructors, which really helps me out with the things I need to know to dance the Lead part. I know that people like Lord Junior spend a lot of time studying the Follower’s part (it’s a requirement for the certification tests he has passed), but neither Lord Junior or Sir Steven has ever done a competition dancing the Follower’s part before, so I’m sure there are things that they just don’t even think about that this lady will know from experience.

This should be fun. I promise to take some notes about the advice she gives while I’m there (even if it’s not for me) and then I’ll let you hear all about it afterward.

We worked on a short but fun progression in Samba for the actual class that night. There was one Open-level figure that Lord Junior wanted to look at with everyone that he said he sees a lot of professionals use in their routines nowadays. The footwork for the entire progression for the Leads isn’t very complicated at all. The Followers have it much worse off, since they are doing steps that require them to turn around 180° and turn back very quickly. You would think that would have been the hard part of what we worked on that night, but it turns out that the piece that we used to transition from the figure we used to start the progression into that Open-level figure was what gave the ladies the most trouble.

To lead into the new figure, we started out with some Promenade/Counter-Promenade Runs, which are basically the same footwork as doing Passing Twinkles in American Foxtrot. We started ours in the middle of the short wall with the Lead’s weight on the left leg and the right leg back, holding onto the lady with only the left hand in her right. Next we did three of the four-count movements, finishing the last one up rounding the corner so that everything else we did would travel down the long wall. Then we did the transition piece that I mentioned earlier. The Lead part was rather easy – we finished the Promenade/Counter Promenade Runs with our right leg forward and the left leg pointed backward. We would then shift our weight back to the left leg, bring the right foot back to be together with the left, and then take a step forward with the left, grabbing onto the lady’s left forearm with your right hand. Basically we just switched our feet around so we could start on the other foot. Sounds pretty simple, right?

The ladies were supposed to do a Three Step Turn heading out away from us down the line of dance. This seemed to really throw Ms. Possible and Sparkledancer for a loop for some reason. The figure was supposed to be three half turns in a row, ending with the weight on the right leg and the left foot pointed forward. It seemed like a large portion of the time both ladies were either taking an extra step and ending up on the wrong foot, or ending with the left leg pointed behind them and continuing to move, or traveling way too far while they turned so that we couldn’t reach them when we were supposed to clasp arms, or not even putting out their left arm at all so the guys were fumbling in the air trying to grab on. Compared to this transition piece, the next figure turned out to be relatively simple. By the end of class the ladies seemed to have the figure down, but it did not go well for more than half the class that night.

If you made it through the transition properly, you should end up clasping forearms with the lady with your right hand on her left arm, her right hand on your chest and your left arm out to the side. From this position we would take one step down the line of dance together, then the Leads go into a Forward Lock Step, rotating so that you have a prominent left-side lead in the process as the ladies turn 180° to face away from you while moving, turning back around at the end so that you can repeat the process again starting with the step down the line of dance. The movements are quick, especially for the ladies trying to do two 180° turns in a short timeframe. Letting the ladies put their hand on your chest allows them to push off you slightly when they turn, which helps to speed the turn up. If the guy also keeps his right arm locked as he does the lock step, the rotation of the body to go into a left-side lead should also pull the lady’s arm toward you, leading them into the turn and helping them turn slightly faster as well.

The whole figure relies on coordination to be pulled off successfully, and isn’t recommended for beginners. Lord Junior actually said at the end of class that there weren’t many other Leads who come to Latin Technique class that he would have trusted to go through the figure with, which made me feel pretty good about myself. We did three of those turning figures in a row as described. On the fourth one, we would reach out and grasp the lady’s right arm with our left, preventing her from turning again as we did the same footwork, which would set us up at the end to go back into Promenade/Counter Promenade Runs. This whole pattern can travel quite a bit, which is why we set ourselves up to do it going down the long wall before going into it that night, so if you’re going to try it out on your own make sure you’ve got some room to run before you start.

If you remember, last week when I went out on Wednesday night for Standard Technique class, there were so many other things happening on the dance floor that we had to cancel class. Lord Junior had wanted to go through the Turning Lock to the Right figure in Quickstep, and there was no way that we could have done it without plowing into the other people on the floor. Yesterday night when I went out to Standard Technique class, there were slightly fewer people hanging out in the studio taking classes or lessons, and everyone was nice enough to give our class a lane going down the back of the long wall, so class got to go on and we finally got to go through the Turning Lock to the Right in Quickstep. Hooray!

By now, if you’ve looked at (or for some reason have memorized) the Quickstep syllabus, you’ll be thinking ‘Hey, the Turning Lock to the Right isn’t a Quickstep figure. Isn’t that a Waltz figure?’ And you’ll be exactly right. This is one of those Open-level things where someone thought it was a good idea to take a figure from another dance style and adapt it because they thought it would look cool. The footwork that you would do is pretty much the same whether you are doing the figure in Waltz or Quickstep, but the timing obviously has to be different.

What we ended up doing in class was a progression that could cover the entire length of the floor if you pushed yourself. We started out with a Natural Turn into an Overturned Natural Spin Turn, which has you coming out backing line of dance. Then we did the Turning Lock to the Right. We actually did two of them, just to keep things challenging, using a pair of Natural Pivots in-between to flip us to face the right direction for the second one. We came out of the second Turning Lock to the Right in Promenade Position, and depending on where you ended up on the floor and who else might be dancing you could head either toward diagonal center or continue the next figures down line of dance further.

Next we added on two Scatter Chasses which continued to travel in the direction you had come out of the Turning Lock to the Right traveling. Following that we did two Step-Hops that would rotate us around the corner to begin heading down the short wall. For the Leads our first Step-Hop is with the right leg, the second with the left, and you should turn enough over the course of the two of those so that your back is facing the wall along the short wall (the exact amount of turn depends on the direction being traveled when you start). Ladies do the steps with the opposite feet, but don’t have to rotate as much since the Leads are basically turning around them. Finally we added in some more Scatter Chasses that moved us down the short wall for fun, and called it good after that.

This weekend should be a pretty exciting dance weekend. There is a dance party on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I think I need to go to. HotDog has been bugging me about being there because he is looking to change career fields into something closer to mine, and he wants to ask me all kinds of questions on Friday about that. Hopefully the question and answer session won’t take all night, and I can get in some dancing too. Then on Saturday night I am helping to host the monthly dance party for my Royal Dance Court group. Both dance parties are going to require me to wear something green, since we are so close to St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m not terribly excited about that. How are you planning on celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? If you’ve got nothing better to do, then come out and join me at those parties! We’ll have a lot of fun!

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