Stop, Collaborate And Listen

Do you ever regret agreeing to do something? As I mentioned last week, there was a dance party going on last Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall, and HotDog had been bugging me to make sure I would be there because he wanted to ask me questions about my line of work. Knowing how all of his other ‘career change’ ventures have gone in all the years that I’ve known him, I wasn’t totally thrilled about having that conversation with him, but I was planning on going to the dance party anyway so it was bound to happen whether I wanted it to or not. There was a part of me that wondered if this time it might be different, since he claimed that he thought going into this line of work was his ‘passion’ (though he’s made that claim about several other job prospects he’s looked at), and he claimed that he was willing to put in the time to learn what he needed to know. So I thought that maaaaaaaaybe he might actually ask me some real, meaningful questions about the field, since I’ve worked in it for a long time. Boy was I wrong…

I’m pretty sure all he actually wanted was validation from someone in my line of work that he was some kind of super genius, to tell me about how impressive he was and for me to offer him some kind of job making stupid amounts of money even though he has no experience. He didn’t actually ask me anything. He just sat there telling me about all these things he was reading online about going into the field, and how everything he had been playing around with was totally easy for him so he should be able to master everything in short order. When I tried to stop him and tell him that there was more to it than that, and he really needed to not only have mastery in the stuff he was reading about online but also a good grasp in some high-level mathematics, he told me that he was already a master of math. There was some kind of claim that he taught himself a whole year’s worth of material for one of his math classes in high school in only three days…

It was like being trapped conversationally with nowhere to go…

I don’t remember much of his actual boast. By that point I had realized that he didn’t actually want my help, rather he just wanted to brag while I was in earshot, so it was time to get out of the conversation. Luckily, a Foxtrot song came on and Sparkledancer came over to grab me so that we could practice together, so I was able to escape before I said something that I might not have actually liked. I did my best to avoid spending much time near HotDog for the rest of the evening to avoid getting drawn into another conversation about how awesome HotDog is, and he left early to go back home and play with stuff some more because of how jazzed he was with his studying.

On Saturday afternoon when I got together with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, we continued to work on making sure we were using the proper shaping on our figures, especially where the Progressive Chasse turns into the Natural Turn at the end. That was mostly to rehash what we did the week before, so we didn’t really cover anything new there. Once we finished looking at that though, Sir Steven wanted to look at the short wall in the Waltz routine. Since most of what we had been focusing on thus far was the long wall, he wanted to make sure that we were able to apply everything that we had discussed to the short wall figures as well. We did pretty well for the most part, so that was an encouraging sign. Hooray!

One change that he did want to make based on something he saw was to the Whisk we do after the second Reverse Turn. He said that how we had done it while he was watching that afternoon made it look like the Whisk stops traveling before moving backward when we both cross our legs behind. What he wanted us to change was to make the first two steps of the Whisk really drive forward before the foot does a very small step backward as it crosses behind. This changes the Whisk so that it looks more like if drives in a straight line and just slows down the travel at the end, instead of traveling forward, pausing, and then traveling backward over the three steps. This change does make the Whisk travel farther, so he said that depending on the size of the wall we are practicing on we can either come out of the Whisk into a Progressive Chasse like we have been doing in our routine, or just go into a Natural Turn if we don’t have enough room for the Progressive Chasse. That’ll be totally on me to decide when we are dancing.

Finished with the Waltz, we switched over to look at Foxtrot for a bit. What we ended up doing this time was to spend a lot of time again working on the Reverse Turn again. From what Sir Steven said, Sparkledancer had gotten much better about bringing her feet together immediately going into the Heel Turn, but she wasn’t turning as much as she should. We did a few Reverse Turns where we would stop halfway through and I would back away, allowing Sparkledancer to see where her feet were pointing. It seemed like her feet were pointing between line of dance and diagonal wall, about 1/8th of a turn short. We worked on some things to try to help get the turn that last little bit around, from me coming around Sparkledancer even more to adjusting the position of her upper body, and it all helped a bit, but no change seemed to fix it all at once. Finally we decided it was just going to have to take practice while we were aware to look at it, so we added that to our homework for the week to continue working on it later.

At the end of our session, after Sir Steven got done filling in his paperwork on what we had done, he told Sparkledancer and I that the Fancy Dance Hall had gotten done talking about what they wanted to do for their next showcase event that they will be holding in June. Sir Steven said that the artistic director for the studio had picked out a theme (a kind of esoteric one, in my opinion), and had started compiling a list of songs that related to the theme to help out people who were interested in participating that couldn’t think of their own song. He told us that if we wanted to be part of the show that we should start thinking about what we wanted to do now, so that the artistic director could talk with us and help fit our performance into the show. Also, we might also be asked to help out in a couple of the other ‘acts’ of the show if we wanted to help, on top of doing any performances together that we signed up for.

Sparkledancer and I have talked about this offer since then. There was one idea that popped into my head immediately when Sir Steven told us what the theme of the show was going to be, and Sparkledancer thought it would be a really neat thing to look at doing. We discussed a few interpretations of how we could portray this idea, and I think we’ve come up with a rough outline that would be pretty cool. We’re going to tell Sir Steven about what we’re thinking when we get together this coming Saturday and see what he thinks. In my head it sounds really cool, but I obviously won’t be the one trying to choreograph dance figures around this idea, so he would have to buy into it as well. So, there might be more on this to come!

Saturday night I was scheduled to go help out at the monthly dance party hosted by my Royal Dance Court group. This was a St. Patrick’s Day-themed party where we were also holding a raffle to help raise money for an upcoming dance competition scholarship fund. We raised quite a bit, luckily – a couple hundred dollars or so. Most of that came from just two people who donated about a quarter of the total money raised that night. As you can imagine, one of them was also the one who won the raffle prize because they ended up with the most tickets, but she was nice enough to donate her winnings back into the scholarship fund pool as well.

Because the instructor that we had originally planned on having come in and teach a Samba lesson had to have surgery a couple of weeks ago and still hadn’t healed enough to get into dance frame comfortably with people, a few people on the Royal Dance Court had begged Lord Junior to come in on short notice and teach instead. He was gracious enough to acquiesce to the request for us, being the class act that he is. What he chose to teach in the Samba class that night was something that I thought was fun, but I know a lot of the other people in class struggled with. Then again, the other people in class also struggled with rotating through partners as we practiced at the end, so maybe I should have expected some of the difficulties.

There were only two figures that Lord Junior covered that night, one of them Bronze-level, and the second (and arguably, simpler) was Silver. He had us looking at the Reverse Turn, and near the end he also threw in a couple of Back Rocks in the middle of a Reverse Turn to keep things interesting. In the beginning, Lord Junior tried relating the footwork for the Reverse Turn to Viennese Waltz, since the footwork is basically the same. The problem was that since only a handful of people in the class knew how to do Viennese Waltz, the comparison fell apart. We did two variations of the Reverse Turn – one doing the footwork with even timing, and the other doing the turn with more traditional Samba timing. The Back Rocks are a lot like simple Batucadas, since there is not nearly as much twisting needed, so I thought they were fairly easy since I was comparing them to Batucadas in my head.

Since the Reverse Turns could cover a lot of distance, and rotating like that in a large crowd can be rather dangerous, at the end of class when we were just going to run repetitions of the figures Lord Junior wanted the men to line up at the end of the long wall four at a time and dance down the floor with a partner. This turned out to be a disaster… Since I was dancing with the men, I grabbed Sparkledancer and asked her to coordinate the women to make sure they would stay in line. We then tried to recruit another Royal Dance Court member to coordinate the men. When we got someone to agree to come help and asked her to make sure the men stuck with the plan, she looked at us like we were crazy and said (this is an actual quote) “I can’t even seem to keep a man in my life. How would I keep a whole group of them in line?” I just stared at her in shock for a minute.

Luckily, the music started, snapping me out of that. Sparkledancer told the other lady to keep the line of ladies under control while she would go try to deal with the men. Yet, even with someone standing in front of them telling them how the rotation worked, the guys still did whatever the hell they wanted. We ended up with a few rounds where we had four dancing at a time, like we wanted, but most of the rounds had anywhere from two to eight men trying to worm their way down the floor at once. It was nuts!
  Speaking of men being crazy, there was one other interesting note I heard during the dance party that night. For a lot of these dances, and others I go to around the area, there are some women or groups of women that hire out a male dance instructor for the night as a Dance Host. These instructors, willing to take some extra money for giving up their Friday or Saturday night, will spend their time dancing exclusively with the lady or ladies who hired him. Generally I don’t see any more than two or three Dance Hosts at any party that I go to. Apparently there are some amateur male dancers that are starting to feel threatened by these male instructors. They feel like the ladies aren’t going to want to dance with them when there is a professional wandering around the floor. It doesn’t matter that said professional limits himself to dancing only with whoever hired him for the night, they still feel threatened by it somehow. This was the first time I had ever heard that, and I am kind of surprised by the news.

I have a quarterly meeting with the Royal Dance Court next week, and I’m thinking this may be a topic that needs to be brought up for discussion. As the old saying goes, ‘if it’s a problem, yo, we should solve it…’ or something like that. You know what I’m saying?

Here’s an interesting thing from when I was out practicing on Tuesday night, for any men that might read this: I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall on Tuesday to get in some practice time with Sparkledancer. The dance floor was actually kind of open that night. I’m guessing that the thunderstorms that rolled through the area kept some of the normal group class attendees away, but since I’m not an evil witch, I’m not afraid of getting wet in the rain, so I headed out there. Lord Junior was there giving a private lesson in one corner of the dance floor, while the small group class for this week was using the back half of the floor for their needs. Sparkledancer and I kept to the other corner opposite Lord Junior, just to keep out of the way.

When Lord Junior finished up his lesson that evening and was getting ready to head home for the evening, he called me over to the table that is near the front desk. He wanted to show me that his new competition outfit had come in, because he knew that I had been in talks about getting some kind of actual ballroom tail suit. What he had on the table was not a tail suit, but rather it looked like a dress shirt and vest still pressed in their packaging. He explained to me that from what he was seeing when traveling around and competing and watching videos of recent competitions, high-level men aren’t really wearing tail suits so much anymore. Instead, many are opting for wearing Latin dance pants (not ballroom trousers) with a dress shirt on top that is stretchy (like formal workout gear), and a vest that looks like a suit coat with the sleeves cut off. The stretchy shirt he had on the table had black sleeves with white cuffs, so if you wear it under the vest it kind of looks like you have a full suit coat on with the cuffs of your dress shirt sticking out of the sleeves.

One of the reasons that he wanted to show this to me before anyone made me go look at getting an actual tail suit was because of all the muscle in my upper body. He said that for someone like me, having the stretchy shirt would allow me much more freedom of movement, and in the event that I decided to try to put on even more muscle, the shirt would either stretch to continue fitting me, or replacing it would be much cheaper than having to get another coat or get my coat tailored. I must say, that is a really appealing idea. Plus, who knows what kind of fun I could have with a vest that looks like a suit coat with the sleeves cut off at formal parties! I could look super snazzy wearing that when I go to the gym to work out my arms, don’t you think? I took some pictures of the tags on the items so that I could look things up later.

Yesterday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. We had a couple of new people in class with us that night – a man and a woman whom I have seen around the Dance Kingdom at many social parties I have attended, but whom I never would have guessed would be interested in this sort of class. By the end, the new female seemed to be doing quite well, but the new male looked like he was in over his head. I’m guessing he was expecting it to be a class where he could learn new steps that he could use socially, based on the fact that he specifically asked Lord Junior about how in the world he would use the figure we looked at socially. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Lord Junior wanted to work on Foxtrot that night, and specifically work on a figure that forces each partner to travel facing the opposite direction than they usually face when traveling. As Lord Junior was describing things to the rest of the class, I caught eyes with Sparkledancer and grinned, since this was something that we try to work on every time we practice together, so I thought we would have an advantage in class that night. And I was right! That proves that practice actually can make your life easier. Hooray!

We started class with Lord Junior lining everyone up on one side of the room and having us all do both the Lead’s and Follow’s footwork for a Three Step and Feather, since everyone was going to need to know the footwork for the opposite part coming up. Once we had gone through it enough that everyone seemed to have their footwork down, Lord Junior wanted us to all focus on pushing off the standing leg harder so we could travel farther. That became a theme throughout class: once everyone was comfortable with the steps, you had to drive the steps to see how much distance you could cover.

What we ended up working on after the warm-up was a simple progression that started out with a Feather into a Reverse Turn that came out with a Reverse Wave and Back Feather, closing with a Feather Finish. The Reverse Wave and Back Feather is what is basically a Three Step and Feather with each partner traveling in the opposite direction than they are used to. None of the steps are really all that complicated – I think officially the Reverse Wave is a Silver-level figure, but if you can do a Three Step than it’s not all that hard. The new girl, though short, seemed to pick up on things relatively well after going through everything a few times.

On my second or third time through it with her, she mentioned to me how the heel turn during the Reverse Turn felt weird, and she felt like she had never done a Reverse Turn correctly before if this is how things were done. I started to tell her that it was OK, since the heel turn is something she’d really only do in International Foxtrot, while a Reverse Turn in American Foxtrot doesn’t have her doing that. She stopped in her tracks and said “Wait, this is International Foxtrot?” then ran over to ask the new guy in class if he knew that we were doing International style instead of American. I guess they missed the whole Standard Technique part of the class’ name…
  Well, tonight I went out to meet up with Sparkledancer to work with that high-level female coach for a while. It turned out great, and I took a bunch of random notes that I haven’t had time to compile properly yet. If I was able to stay up later tonight, I’d have them done, but I have to get up earlier than usual tomorrow morning to meet with someone. Boo. I’ll have them cleaned up into something more readable by next week, I promise. Until then, I hope your week of dancing is fun!

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