So Can I Get A Handclap?

Man, this past week has been full of all sorts of twists. If there were any more, I’d almost swear I had my left hand on blue…

Since last time I posted my notes, the first thing I did was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven at the Fancy Dance Hall for my normal Saturday lesson. Except this week we didn’t meet up at the normal time. Apparently the Fancy Dance Hall had been rented out for the afternoon and evening by some group for a big West Coast Swing workshop and dance party extravaganza. In order to avoid being in the way when their event started, we had moved our lesson up to way-too-early o’clock on a Saturday morning so that we could be finished and gone before the event started. I’ve mentioned lots of times that I am the farthest thing from a morning person, so I can’t say that things really went perfectly for me that morning, even though I had consumed copious amounts of caffeine before arriving at the studio that day. Such is life…

I will admit honestly that what we worked on that morning is a bit fuzzy to me. I didn’t sleep all that well the night before, and with all the other things that happened that day the things I was supposed to remember from early that morning have eluded me. I know we started out by running through all of our routines except Viennese Waltz. I remember that when we finished up we looked at one corner of our Foxtrot routine again, and we worked on Tango a bit and I think also Viennese Waltz toward the end, but don’t quote me on that. Now that I’m sitting here at the end of the day trying to write everything down, I feel a bit stupid for not being able to remember exactly.

One thing I do remember (because it came up again later) was that as we were finishing up that day Sparkledancer told Sir Steven and I that she wasn’t going to be in town next weekend, so if I wanted to still come in for a lesson it would have to be on my own. Sir Steven asked me if I still wanted to do that, and I told him that I could go either way. He said that we could pencil something in, and he would ask around to see if any of the female instructors who teach at the Fancy Dance Hall would be interested in either filling in for Sparkledancer during my lesson with Sir Steven, or working on things with me on her own. I just agreed, and headed off to find a quick bite to eat (and some more caffeine) before the coaching session we were supposed to have that afternoon with one of the judges who was in town for the competition that Lord Dormamu was helping organize on Sunday.

The coaching session was something that Lord Dormamu, Sparkledancer and I had worked out via text message on Friday to find a time that worked out for everyone and to figure out what this would cost each of us. Since there was that event going on at the Fancy Dance Hall in the afternoon that had required us to move our lesson with Sir Steven to the morning, the staff at the Fancy Dance Hall had actually rented out the City Dance Hall for the afternoon so that all of their students could have coaching sessions and workshops with the judges before the competition. As I was heading over to the City Dance Hall, I couldn’t help but think that it was funny that the staff from one dance studio had rented out another dance studio to give lessons.

Just as I pulled my car into the parking lot at the City Dance Hall, I got a message from Lord Dormamu telling me that there had been a bunch of flight cancellations for one of the big airlines, and unfortunately one of those cancelled flights was the one that the judge/coach that I was scheduled to work with should have been on. So he wasn’t going to make it in time for our session. Instead, Lord Dormamu said that he would work with Sparkledancer and me instead, but he was going to be half an hour late since he had to deal with the fallout from the judge not being around on time before he got to us. Since I didn’t really want to sit by myself in the parking lot, I headed inside the City Dance Hall to wait until everyone was there.

Working with Lord Dormamu that afternoon was really good for my dance confidence levels. After Sparkledancer and I danced through our Waltz routine for him once, he told me that he could really see a difference in my posture and frame, so all the practice I was doing dancing by myself holding those cups must be paying off. I wasn’t told that I could stop doing that, but he did say that when I was dancing with Sparkledancer, I was now allowed to turn my head to face 45° to the left, and also start pulling my body to the left while she pulled her body to her left (though I am not pulling left anywhere near as dramatically as she is). Anytime I dance with Sparkledancer, this will now be my new ‘home’ position, and I should always come back to it until such a time as he tells me I need to change things again. So yay! He said I improved noticeably! Now I can move on to other things! Progress can be made!

But as much as I’d love to gloat about my own personal progress, there were still points that were given to me to work on. Lord Dormamu said that he didn’t like the way my upper body looked when I was moving backward. He said that sometimes it looked like I was leaning up chest forward as I moved backward, making it look like I was off balance. To help break that behavior, he wanted me to start leaning my upper body backward anytime I would be taking a step backward with bent knees. My knees have to be bent because that is the only way to counter-balance the weight of leaning my upper body backward. I couldn’t think of any times I’ve ever taken steps backward while my knees aren’t really bent (as if I were walking backward during the rise in the Waltz), so for now I am assuming that I will be leaning back slightly every time I take a step backward. That certainly makes it easier for me to practice.

Sparkledancer definitely got it worse than me that afternoon. Now that my posture and frame were less on Lord Dormamu’s radar, he could focus more on her and manipulate her posture and frame. He was trying to get her to pull her body even more to the left when she was in frame with me. Lord Dormamu at one point took Sparkledancer over to a chair and had her sit. He asked me to gently hold her waist in place on the chair so that she didn’t move anywhere while he pulled her upper body to the left, trying to get her spine into almost a 45° angle with her hips. Once he positioned her and let go so he could verify she could hold herself in that position, we helped her up gently so that I could take frame with her and we could dance for a while.

With things like this, it amazes me that anyone, especially me, does this for a hobby. The more I dance, the more it seems like the only way you know you are doing things right is if you are super uncomfortable. Why do we do this to ourselves?

As we were wrapping things up, Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and me that if we can remember the things that we had gone over that day and apply them during the competition that was going on the next day, then we should do fairly well. That stopped us in our tracks, since Sparkledancer and I hadn’t signed up to be in the competition. I told him that, and asked him if, since the competition was on the morrow, if we were too late to even consider signing up. Lord Dormamu just laughed and told me that since it was his competition, he could sign us up at the last minute if we wanted to take part. He told us to think about taking part during the morning for the heats in International Standard, and also later in the evening for the championship or scholarship rounds, and just let him know before the end of the day what we wanted to do so he could add Sparkledancer and me to the list, and he would see us early the next morning if we were going to run some of the heats.

Afterward, Sparkledancer and I stood in the parking lot for a while discussing what we should do. I still had something going on Sunday afternoon I wanted to be able to do, and the championship and scholarship rounds were scheduled to start super late in the evening on Sunday, so it seemed like our best option was to join in for just the heats in the morning. I sent Lord Dormamu a text telling him that we talked it over and would be good with doing two or three heats in each International Standard style in the morning, so whatever he thought was best he could put us down for and let us know the approximate cost at some point and we could get it paid for soon. Neither of us heard back from him that day, but he had already told us what time to show up the next morning, so I guess he just assumed we were all set.

With that, on Sunday morning I was once again awake much earlier than I would have wished so that I could be out at the Endless Dance Hall for the competition. I had not gotten a reply back from Lord Dormamu to the message I sent him Saturday afternoon, so as I walked through the door I had no idea what I was getting myself into that day (or how much it was going to cost me, for that matter). It turns out that I wasn’t the only person like that who was supposed to be competing that day. The lady at the check-in desk did not have a number or a heat sheet printed out for me, but told me I was the second person who had already shown up who had that problem. Lord Dormamu was wandering around getting things situated, so it was pretty easy to flag him down and get everything straightened out. He pulled a number out of the stack that wasn’t in use yet, handed it to me and told me to go ahead and start warming up while he put my number into the heats he wanted me to do.

As I was waiting for Lord Dormamu to finish up, I got roped into helping the Princess set out some noisemakers on all of the tables around the room. That basically means that I carried around a large box full of all the noise making props and followed her from table to table, while she just took what she wanted from the box and arranged things to her liking. I guess my strong arms are actually useful for some things in the dance world. By the time I had finished up with that and gotten back to the table where I had set my dance shoes, Lord Dormamu had delivered a note to the table with a bunch of handwritten numbers on it. That was all the information I got about the heats I was to be dancing in. The numbers told me I was dancing in three different five-dance sets spread throughout the morning. Unfortunately, I was also starting in heat one, so it was time to change gears and get ready to go!

With only a little time before the event was scheduled to start, I tracked down Sparkledancer and got to work warming up. Sparkledancer had recently found, fallen in love with and purchased a new competition dress that she had decided to debut that day, so it was important that we spend a bit of time getting used to dancing with her wearing that piece. The dress had a really unique design that made Sparkledancer stand out, so she was easy for me to find while scanning the room. Our initial practice was important for me because the bottom of her dress flared out a bit, and I wanted to make sure that hitting it with my lower legs as I took steps wasn’t weird. Everything felt good, and all too soon the DJ changed the music to signal that the opening remarks were going to begin, so Sparkledancer and I made our way toward the on-deck area to get ready to go.

In some ways, the competition went exactly as I expected. The first five-dance set of heats did not go as well as the two that we danced later in the morning. For the most part the dances were OK, but the Viennese Waltz left something to be desired, and the Foxtrot was a bit of a disaster for the first two walls. The Foxtrot was completely my fault though. In practice that morning, we had been running through each of our routines starting on the short wall, since that’s where we had room to work on things. When we began the first Foxtrot heat we were already in a corner to start on a short wall, so I figured we’d just go with that. Somehow by the end of that wall I had messed something up, so I was off for the beginning of the long wall, and I maaaaaaay have gone into an American Foxtrot Open Reverse Turn instead of an International Foxtrot Reverse Turn at one point (shhh… that’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone I did that). Still, I picked up enough from the first five dance set to make adjustments to all the routines for the next time through.

Even though the floor at the Endless Dance Hall is pretty huge, I was still finding myself compressed for space to fit all of the figures in during most of my routines. I took that as a good problem to have, since that meant Sparkledancer and I were really stretching our steps and pushing with our standing legs as we traveled. For the second and third five-dance sets I ended up cutting out some figures if I felt I was getting too close to the wall. Sparkledancer was awesome and able to follow me without me having to say anything to her when I did that, as well as the few times I had to break routine because of other couples on the floor getting in the way. See folks, that’s why I keep saying it’s important to go out social dancing: it really teaches you to properly navigate the floor and learn to adjust your steps on the fly to avoid other people. I hope someday they give out bonus points in competitions for floorcraft skills.

In a surprise twist, even though we only had three five-dance sets on our handwritten heat sheet, during one of the later five-dance sets that weren’t on my list the MC called out my name and number for the Viennese Waltz right in the middle of the set. I was a bit stunned, but they were looking right at where Sparkledancer and I were sitting, so I knew it was no mistake. Shaking off the surprise, I went out to dance. So in the end I did three full five-dance sets plus one random Viennese Waltz heat that morning.

Afterward, there was a short break as they transitioned from all the International Standard heats to American Smooth. Since I wasn’t doing anything else that day, I took the opportunity during break to change back into some street clothes and, after watching some dancing for a little while, I took off to go get some lunch with Sparkledancer to discuss how things went. If this competition is anything like the last one I did, I should get back my notes from the judges when I am at the Fancy Dance Hall for my normal lesson next weekend, so I can see what things the judges think I should focus on during practice to improve further. I feel pretty good about things though. For a competition I decided to join and then finished dancing all in less than twelve hours, it was a great experience.

Going back to something mentioned earlier, I got a text from Sir Steven the next afternoon. Apparently they had a short wrap-up meeting after the competition was over, and he had asked around with the female instructors there about working with me next Saturday. I guess the Princess actually told him she knew some things she wanted to work on with me based on what she saw me doing during the competition, so she volunteered to have a private lesson with me. Sir Steven wanted to make sure I was OK with that before putting it on the schedule officially. I’m a bit nervous to find out what she saw that would make her volunteer her limited and highly valued time to work with little old me exclusively, but I’m not stupid enough to turn down an offer like that from the Royalty. So I have something officially scheduled on Saturday now. We’ll have to see what she has to say about how I danced during the competition!

Back to more normal things… yesterday night I spent some time out at Standard Technique class working on Tango. Because Lord Junior is still studying for his upcoming advanced certification test in American Smooth, what we worked on that night involved some steps that would be American Tango, and finished up with a figure from International Tango. At the beginning of class it looked like we were going to have even numbers of Leads and Follows, but there were two ladies that showed up late that threw off the ratio. Not that I was complaining. Before class started, an older gentleman who was there for class was telling me all about his bad knees and ankles, and how he was going in for hernia surgery soon. I don’t know how I got roped into that conversation, but it was rather depressing. Luckily class was about to start when he began repeating himself, so I managed to get away before hearing the sad stories all over again.

What we ended up doing that night in class started out with both partners in Promenade Position. We took two steps in Promenade position before squaring up to our partner and taking a side step, then crossed our foot behind (the Lead’s right foot, Follow’s left) and did a Ronde with the other leg. You can lead the Follower to do this by sliding your hand down to their elbow as you take the side step and then use that hold and some rotation in your body to ‘push’ their right side backward. As you bring your foot down after the Ronde, we would take another side step in the opposite direction, release our partner’s left hand from our right, and turn to take a step forward, kind of like a Crossover Break, before rotating to face our partner again. As the Lead takes a step forward onto the right leg, we would bring the Follower back around in front of us and into closed dance frame once more.

After that whole section, which took much longer for many of the people in class to pick up than I expected, we took a page from the International Tango syllabus and did a Four Step. This would take you toward diagonal wall, but we did this as if we were in a corner, rotating slightly to finish up to come out in Promenade Position facing diagonal center on the new wall. The older fellow who told me all about his upcoming hernia surgery had trouble doing this figure in time with the music when we were doing things at full speed. He managed to finish things up a few beats behind where he should have, which wasn’t too bad, but the transitions between the figures and the speed of the steps in the Four Step were what kept getting him off time. I only got called out for having my head in the wrong place once during class, so I’m feeling pretty good about that overall. Yay me!

So what do you have on your dance plate for this weekend? I’ve only got a couple of things that I need to do. There is that lesson with the Princess on Saturday, and then on Saturday night I have a dance party hosted by my Royal Dance Court gang that I will be helping to organize. Oh yeah, I was supposed to put together a mini-speech about floorcraft to give before the social dance portion of the night. I wrote a few things down, but I never finished that up. Looks like I will be spending some time tomorrow night putting that together before I go to bed. Sigh… who needs rest anyway, right? It’s such an overrated luxury.

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