Don’t Watch That, Watch This!

As promised, let’s start off by taking a trip back to last Thursday evening when I had gone out to the Electric Dance Hall at Sparkledancer’s request so that she could meet with that high-level female coach. We’ll call her Lady Kate the Great, just so that I have a name to refer to her by. From the sounds of things, Lord Junior had been trying to arrange a time with her for quite a while to get her to come out and work with some of his female students. This young lady has a super busy schedule, since she’s in that place in her career where she’s out competing a lot and winning tons of national and international titles, and everyone around the world wants her to come by and share her wisdom with them. And wisdom she has in spades, so if you’re a lady who dances International Standard, and you find an opportunity to schedule something with her, I’d recommend putting your name on that list!

Most of what I did that night was to serve as the male partner so that Lady Kate the Great could see Sparkledancer actually dance with someone. Sparkledancer said that going to this coaching session was one of the most useful things that she has done in a long time. It wasn’t that Lady Kate the Great told her a whole bunch of things that she had never heard before, but rather that Sparkledancer actually got to see a high-level female, who was about the same height and shape as her, actually do the things that she gets told to do all the time. After all, as good as Sir Steven, Lord Dormamu and Lord Junior are at walking through the Follower’s steps of a figure, incorporating all the correct footwork and techniques, they will never look like Sparkledancer (at least not without some extensive and expensive surgery), and I really don’t think any of them would ever be able to bend like Lady Kate the Great was bending when she got into dance position.

So, what were the big things this coach said about Sparkledancer that night? The big takeaway that she gave us was that we were too close together when in frame. Since we have really been pressed lately to work on maintaining body contact, for me to lead by using my core and for Sparkledancer to follow by reading what my core is telling her, it is understandable that this might have happened – we made sure to maintain body contact by essentially pressing our right sides together. Lady Kate the Great told us that doing this is actually working against us in a number of ways. One obvious thing she pointed out to us was that when we were so close together, if I bend my knees I will end up bending them right into Sparkledancer’s legs. That limits my range of motion, and (depending on how fast I bend my knees) leaves bruises on Sparkledancer.

She took Sparkledancer over to the closest wall and gave her an exercise she could use to practice the right position. Starting by standing with her toes a few finger widths from the wall, she had Sparkledancer bend her knees until they touched the wall and then pressed her lower ribs into the wall while attempting to drive her sternum toward the ceiling. That was where the contact should come from. She emphasized this by easily sliding her hand between Sparkledancer’s stomach and the wall, showing that while we maintained contact, we shouldn’t be pressing ourselves together completely. We worked on going through some of our Waltz in this position, and it actually felt rather comfortable.

There was one other major point that she talked about that really stuck with me from that night. We looked at Foxtrot for a little bit as well, and one thing Lady Kate the Great specifically talked to Sparkledancer about there was Heel Turns. What she said, that made a lot of sense to me but I’ve never heard anyone say out loud before, was that you shouldn’t be pulling your feet together before you turn. Various technique guides I’ve seen say that the turn should not start until the foot you are dragging in is even with the standing leg, and various instructors over the years have also told me that you bring the heels together before turning. Lady Kate the Great said that you should actually be pulling the foot in and slightly past the foot of the standing leg. If you do that, your feet will end up being even when you finish the turn. If you start turning with the heels together, either your feet will run into each other and make your life difficult, or you will finish the turn with your feet in third position. It sounds so logical, doesn’t it? I have been trying to practice doing this too on the few Heel Turns that I have.

Sparkledancer was super pumped about all the help she got that night, and has already told me that she is going to sign up to see Lady Kate the Great again the next time Lord Junior invites her to come back and work with his students. Lord Junior has already said he will for sure be bringing her back when her schedule allows. He also said that he enjoys dancing with her when he gets a chance too, because it’s useful practice for him as well. The funniest thing he said to me about the experience was that dancing with his high-level students was like going out and driving a nice car, but dancing with Lady Kate the Great was like test driving a quarter-million dollar luxury sports car (test driving because he couldn’t afford to keep her, obviously). That comparison made me laugh.
  The next exciting thing that I did this past week was to actually get together with Lord Dormamu to look at things. Hooray! It felt like it had been forever since we last saw him, with him jetting off all around the world for all sorts of dance-related things. He happened to be at the Fancy Dance Hall on Saturday when I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and since we were all there we pulled out our calendars to see if there was a time that would work for all of us. It turned out that we all had an opening around lunchtime on Sunday, so we set that time up to get together.

What kind of interesting things happened on Sunday? Well, there are really two main takeaways, one funny and the other serious. Let’s start with funny: last Sunday was the first time in my life that I’ve had another guy put my hand near his crotch. That was something I really wasn’t expecting to happen that day, and yet, looking back on it now, all I can think is that in the world of dance, it really wasn’t all that strange of an occurrence. What went down (lolz) was that Lord Dormamu was once again trying to tell me that the majority of my drive and the lead for my partner should come from my pelvic region. Rather than just watch me do things and point out what I was doing wrong, he positioned himself right in front of me, turned around, and then reached back to grab my hands. My left hand he put on his chest, and my right he put… well, in an awkward place… just slightly off to the right and below his belt. Then he told me to keep my hands there and follow him as he danced through a few steps.

Let me tell you, it’s a difficult thing to do to follow along behind someone when you don’t know what steps they are going to do and you don’t really want your hands sliding anywhere in the process. On top of that, Sparkledancer looked like she was trying really hard not to laugh at me, so much so that she had to turn around and look the other way while we were doing this. I’m sure it was because the expression on my face was priceless. Luckily we only went through a basic Natural Turn in Waltz, so I was able to get through everything without any awkward hand sliding that day. Still, that was definitely a new experience for me, and one that I don’t think would have happened if I had a female instructor.

On a more serious note, Lord Dormamu said that we still haven’t quite gotten to the point yet where the frame and posture that Sparkledancer and I are holding is consistent enough while dancing for his liking. Until further notice, this will be our number one priority. He said that what he is trying to do is to erase everything that we currently do – all our learned bad habits, all the shaping, all the stuff that other instructors have taught us over the years – and reset us so that we are able to hold a new “home” position consistently before trying to do anything else. He is even having me keep my head in one spot, with my nose in line with my sternum, not turned to the left at all anymore. For me specifically, he said that I need to increase the amount of time I spend during practice dancing alone while holding those cups to help with this process.

Lord Dormamu explained that what he is shooting for with us is to take us back down to a blank slate, so that he can rewrite all the things Sparkledancer and I do while dancing in the manner he wants. He flat-out admitted that the times he has gone out to judge competitions (he has his adjudicator’s certification, or license, or whatever it’s called), that most of what he judges on is based on how the couple looks. Their technique and their footwork may be sloppy or even incorrect at times, but if they look good then they will likely get scored better than someone who has perfect technique and footwork that looks like they just walked out of bed and onto the dance floor. That’s why our frame and posture has to be perfect, because the upper body of the person is a much easier place to look at on competitors while they are dancing, whereas feet are hard to judge when you’re on the other side of the dance floor and there are couples in between who get in the way.

To that end, he said he will be talking with Sir Steven about all the work we’ve been doing lately covering shaping and making our different dance styles look more distinct from one another. There’s a good chance we may be setting all that work to the side to work on this new top priority.

The last thing that he brought up that day was that he has a competition in a couple of weeks that he helped organize that he may want us to do. The sign-up date had already passed for competitors, but since Lord Dormamu is helping run things, I guess that items like ‘dates’ and ‘protocols’ don’t really matter. Interestingly though, he said that whether or not he puts Sparkledancer and I into the competition, he wanted to have us come out to the Fancy Dance Hall that weekend while he has the judges in town so that he can introduce Sparkledancer and I to them, and possibly even set us up with a coaching session with one or two of them so they can work with us and get to know us. He strongly implied that knowing the judges and working with them actually makes a difference for competitors.

Hearing all this doesn’t really make me feel good about choosing to head down this “serious competitor” route for dancing. It seems that immersing yourself in the world of DanceSport is more of a test of who you know and how much money you spend on looks, rather than an actual competition to determine who is more skilled as a dancer. That thought hasn’t really been sitting well with me since Sunday…

On that happy note, now for something completely different!

Tuesday night I went out to attend a meeting of the Royal Dance Court, to discuss items of concern to dance politics. Let me tell you about the high points of the discussion that night…

  First off, we have already sold out of tickets to our spring formal party. Hooray! And pretty much everyone who ordered a ticket has already paid. Hooray hooray! That means that we have more than enough money on hand to pay all the vendors and the venue before the event even starts, which is a wonderful position to be in. Things are looking really good for this party, and I’m excited about it. The next thing to do will be getting to the venue early in the day on the Saturday of the party to set everything up.

Next up we reviewed the list of our remaining monthly dance parties for the remainder of 2017. We made a few alterations to the list – nothing super serious, and there are some things that will need to be confirmed with the guest instructor we’ve invited to teach that night before we can set things in stone. One notable item we were told was that the day our monthly party is scheduled to be held in September is also the day that the famous competition adjudicator Judge Dread will be in town holding workshops. We agreed to reach out to him to see if he would be interested in being our guest instructor for our party that night. After all, our September party also coincided with National Ballroom Dance Week this year, which is a week-long celebration of ballroom dancing that some group has been trying to promote. So if we are going to celebrate properly, inviting Judge Dread to come teach would be a good way to do that.

Last week I mentioned being told a tale about how some of the amateur male dancers in the Dance Kingdom were sort-of offended by ladies hiring out a male dance instructor to attend a dance party with them as a Dance Host. At this meeting, fact was put to this rumor. It turns out that there was just one older gentleman that wrote out a long post on a social media account of his complaining about this issue. Basically his complaint boiled down to the fact that these male dance instructors are able to lead the ladies through “fancy steps” and he felt like they were out of control and running into people when they did that. Several of the ladies who are members of my Royal Dance Court spoke up in objection to that, saying that they have danced with this gentleman at parties and he is the one that actually lacks the floorcraft skills, and has run into people before. As a whole, we were unconvinced that these male instructors were really the ones who were out “running into” other people on the floor, and then we got off on a tangent for a bit trying to figure out who might be the culprit.

As a takeaway to that last point of discussion, we talked about how to reinforce the points of floorcraft to the dancers in our area. One of the members brought up a story about how, many years ago, there was a lady who would hold periodic workshops where she specifically covered floorcraft. This lady has since moved on to other things in life and no longer holds these, so we can’t promote those workshops for people to take. Instead, the Royal Dance Court decided that since our dance parties are becoming more well attended and the size of the dance floor hasn’t increased, we should start reinforcing the points of floorcraft at the beginning of each dance by giving a few floorcraft pointers before the social dance starts.

 Guess who was chosen to do that? Yup, it was this guy. I guess the rest of the members think that the men at the party (who are the ones responsible for floorcraft) will be more likely to listen to me, since I am young and I look more threatening than any of the female members of the Royal Dance Court. Sigh… I have a couple of weeks before our April monthly dance party to come up with some notes that I will say about floor craft. Don’t be surprised if I post those notes here to get some feedback once I have them written down. 🙂

And finally, let’s talk briefly about Standard Technique class last night. I almost didn’t go to class, since I had gotten up that morning around 04:00 so that I could be to work by 05:00. I hate early mornings, so I was a bit exhausted by the time I arrived at the Electric Dance Hall for class. It was good that I went though, since going out to class always helps to improve my mood, even if I’m sleepy. There were an even number of men and women in this week’s class as well, which helped lighten my load for class a bit. One of the men was the new guy who had come last week, who wasn’t overwhelmed enough to be scared off! The new lady from last week didn’t come back though, so I guess the technique class was too much for her. The other new guy was the (friend? boyfriend? husband?) of one of the ladies in class. Both men were more inexperienced with the technical side of dance, so Lord Junior ended up spending a lot more time working with them individually. That means that I got to stand in the back and just watch from time to time.

We looked at a bit of Waltz this week. There were originally three steps that Lord Junior wanted to go through in class: a Backward Lock, an Outside Spin and a Running Spin Turn. However, the other men in class had a tough time just getting through the first two of the steps so we never made it to the Running Spin Turn. Both the Backward Lock and the Outside Spin were figures that I have done lots of times before, so most of the night Lord Junior told me to work on my frame and (surprise, surprise) keeping my head in the right place. He also had me dancing with the two other ladies in class who had never done the Outside Spin before to help them get through the steps correctly. Things went mostly OK with both of them. One lady felt like she didn’t like all the turning that you do in the Outside Spin as I danced with her, as she would really put a lot of pressure on me, especially on my left arm, until we finished spinning. I think she might have been worried about losing her balance, but I never asked.

Because I was dancing mostly with those two ladies at Lord Junior’s request, that meant that Sparkledancer, who was the only other person in class who had done the figures before besides me, was getting passed back and forth between the two new men. She told me after class that she had to back-lead through parts of the figures for much of the night, since the men were struggling to get through their steps. I felt kind of bad about that. Hopefully she didn’t get stepped on too badly going through things!

There’s another busy weekend of dance or me coming up. It seems like all my weekends have been like that in recent memory. I had to rearrange things last weekend a bit and blow off practicing last Sunday just to give myself a couple of hours to do my taxes! I know, I know… people who have kids would look at me and wish that they had my kinds of problems. Hopefully I’ll be able to get in lots of practice this weekend to make up for last weekend. Maybe I’ll see you out on the dance floor!

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