If We’re Dancing All Alone Or In A Crowded Room

Last Saturday morning I headed out to the Fancy Dance Hall for my scheduled coaching session with the Princess. I must say, by the time I finished up with that lesson, I was not feeling very good about how I danced at all. It wasn’t even like we really covered anything all that different from things I had heard from other people before or anything, she just wanted to emphasize different techniques that morning than the techniques that I have been focusing on in my other coaching sessions of late.

So what things did the Princess really want me to work on with her that day? The biggest thing was she wanted me to really use my body connection with my partner to drive my steps. She also wanted the lead to be coming mostly from my hips, just like Lord Dormamu had told me. I got to go through the semi-uncomfortable demonstration again where I had my hands put on the front of the Princess’ hips and had to hold them there while she went through some figures in Waltz. It was less uncomfortable for me this time around than it was when Lord Dormamu made me put my hands on his hips while he danced – I’m not sure if it was because I had already had to go through this weird exercise with a dance coach once already or if it was because she was female, and thus the threat of my hands accidentally slipping was less awkward to me (luckily I have gotten good at keeping my hands in one place).
  She also told me several times I needed to bring my left side more toward her when we got into dance position. I guess this is something that I am going to need to worry about with any partner I dance with. When I open my arms to allow the lady to walk toward me and get into dance frame, I keep my body in a neutral position with no rotation in my hips. I guess I was assuming that my partner would get into frame with me in the correct place without me having to rotate at my hips to adjust at all… but apparently that is the wrong assumption. So that’s something to keep on my list to look at adjusting before I even start dancing now.

There were several points that I also got called out for my head being in the wrong place. I know, this is a constant struggle for me, and even when I feel like my head is leaning slightly to the left I guess from the outside it sometimes looks like it is leaning slightly to the right. The Princess had this tendency to use her pointer finger to push against my head when it was in the wrong place to make me fix it. Several instructors I have worked with have done this before, but unlike those coaches the Princess has long fingernails that felt rather sharp as they were digging into the side of my neck. That wasn’t really the most pleasant thing to experience, especially when she decided to poke me like that when we were in the middle of dancing.

So yeah, there was nothing really earth-shattering from that lesson. We spent half the time working on Waltz and half on Foxtrot. The Princess was nice enough to tell me at the end that I have noticeably improved, but I still need to work on keeping things consistent and to fix some of these minor things to take it up to the next level. I don’t know why the constant starting and stopping to go back and fix things made me so unhappy with my dancing that day, but it did. I ended up leaving and heading off to go work out and burn off some of that negativity so that I could be in a better frame of mind before I went out to host a dance party later that night.

As I mentioned at the end of my post last week, I was out and about hosting another monthly dance party this past Saturday night with the rest of the gang from the Royal Dance Court. Well, I say “the rest of the gang” but really it was only about half of the group. Being a holiday weekend, many of the members of the Royal Dance Court were out of the area visiting with family. I had expected that we would see the same thing with all the dancers who would otherwise attend our party, leaving us with just a small crowd that night. As it turns out, since all of the other dance parties that would have otherwise happened that night were cancelled or rescheduled due to the holiday, ours was the only ballroom dancing event in the whole Dance Kingdom last Saturday night, so we had quite a large turnout instead. Hooray!

To begin the night’s festivities, we had invited a local instructor to come by and teach a class on American Cha-Cha for anyone interested. From what I was told, this instructor regularly teaches classes and lessons at the City Dance Hall, but I don’t remember ever seeing him there in all the times I’ve been to that location. That could be because I don’t often pay attention to the other male dancers when I am there since there are usually a lot more ladies than men, so my attention is needed elsewhere. He was a fun instructor though, and English was clearly not his first language, so some of the phrasing he used when explaining things was unintentionally funny. When class started, we initially had the same number of men and women, so I was hanging out along the edge of the floor keeping an eye on things.

A couple of ladies showed up about ten minutes into the class, so I ended up joining in at that point to help keep things as close to an even ratio as possible. I ended up in the front row next to the instructor because all the other men chose to stand in two rows behind him; I’m guessing so that they could watch what he was doing during class. Since I hadn’t seen anything new to me in the ten minutes I was standing along the side, I figured I could be right in front as well so that people could watch me too if needed. The pattern that was taught that night wasn’t that difficult in my mind, but there were a couple of parts that surprised the ladies that I danced with in class. Several ladies told me that the other men besides me and the instructor guy next to me were doing things differently – which was kind of a scary thing to hear from the ladies, since the progression we went through ended up being rather long. None of the men complained that they didn’t understand the figures we had gone through, so the instructor guy just kept adding on more until we ran out of time for the class.

We started out with what I consider a normal starter step for any Cha-Cha: a side step to the left on beat one followed by a backward rock step. After that we did a normal chasse to the right followed by a Crossover Break (or, in International Cha-Cha, a New Yorker). From there we did a figure that I had learned long ago as a ‘Snap’ but I’m not sure if that’s its real name – coming out of the Crossover Break, we rotate back to face our partner, but instead of doing a chasse to the left we stop her by putting up our right hand and then turn to do another Crossover Break to the right. This second Crossover Break led to the first piece that many of the ladies I danced with struggled to get through frequently: In the middle of the Crossover Break, you needed to pivot on your front foot (left foot for the Leads, right for the Follows) to go into another basic chasse to the right. This is an easy transition to lead, because if the guy has a good connection with his partner and rotates at the right time, the lady has no choice but to turn. From what I gather though, many of the men weren’t doing this correctly.

After the second chasse to the right, we went through the second figure of the evening that the ladies I danced with didn’t really understand until I went through things with them. This one actually surprised me though. All we were supposed to be doing was a basic Solo Turn to the right (a Solo Turn is where both the man and the woman turn at the same time – also called a Walk Around Turn). Many of the women I danced with just kind of stood there and watched me awkwardly when I turned, even though I was pushing against their left arm to try to get them to turn with me. Once I stopped to talk them through what should be happening, and let them see the instructor guy next to me leading the lady through the same figure, they seemed to catch on. Several of them told me that the men they danced with in the rotation prior to me weren’t doing anything like what I was trying to lead them through, which is why what I was doing was confusing them. I don’t know what to make of that figure causing so many problems though. I had thought that was a fairly common step that pretty much everyone knew.
  Coming out of the Solo Turns, rather than go back into normal dance frame we went into a wide two-hand hold so that at the end of the chasse we could do Cuban Breaks – one set to the left and then one set to the right. As we finished the Cuban Breaks and shifted our weight back to the left leg (right leg for the ladies), the men did a rock step backwards while leading the ladies through a normal Spot Turn. This led into our final chasse to the right of the evening, after which the instructor checked the clock and saw that there was still a bunch of time left, and asked everyone if they wanted to keep going. Most of the class agreed enthusiastically, so he added on two final figures. The first was a Fifth-Position Break on the right hand side, which set us up for the final figure. The final figure was essentially the Promenade Walks from East Coast Swing, modified to fit to Cha-Cha timing. I’m fairly certain this figure isn’t on the Cha-Cha syllabus anywhere (at least, not anywhere I can find), but if you’ve done Promenade Walks in East Coast Swing before you can easily do them in Cha-Cha as well.

Once the class was over was my big moment to step into the spotlight for a minute. As I mentioned a while back, there had been a few complaints from some gentleman who attended our social dances about dance hosts doing ‘fancy’ moves on an increasingly crowded dance floor. In order to combat these issues, I had been elected to start giving out a few pointers on floorcraft before our dances began, to help improve the floorcraft of our attendees, and thus improve the dance floor safety of our parties. I said I would write up a whole speech and present it here for you all to see, but I never got around to that. Instead, since I have become accustomed to talking to random people at these sorts of events, I decided to just wing it. After a brief introduction of myself and an overview of why I was giving this speech, I laid out three random floorcraft points from a list I had made prior to that evening:

  1. When we are dancing ballroom dances, there should be two different tracks. An outer track for those who take larger steps and move ‘faster’, and an inner track for those who take smaller steps and move ‘slower’. This leaves the center of the floor for people not moving or dancing a completely different dance style.
  2. To tie things back to the lesson, I reminded everyone that when doing New Yorkers or Crossover Breaks on a crowded dance floor, they shouldn’t not fling their arms out fully extended. Instead they should keep their arms at their side with their hands on their hips. I did make a joke about ladies dancing near a certain individual being allowed to throw their arms out to smack that person, which got a laugh.
  3. The biggest point I emphasized that night was that people who didn’t know Viennese Waltz or Quickstep should not be on the floor during a Viennese Waltz or Quickstep. I pointed out that a social dance, especially one on a floor the size that we had to use, was not a place to learn either of those dances. After my speech was over, the DJ also reiterated this point.

I closed my short speech with the three points about floorcraft that I had learned from Judge Dread, that the Lead’s job is to keep his Follower safe, keep her comfortable, and keep her entertained. These three points have stuck with me over the two years since I took that class, so I thought it would be a good line to close with. If I really do end up giving a speech like this every month before our Royal Dance Court dances, I think I will close with this line every time.
  For the first part of the dance, I mostly hung out in the back of the room to watch what was going on. There were a pretty even number of men and women at the party, so I didn’t want to get in the way of everyone else having fun. I did have one lady stop by during one of the first Cha-Cha numbers to ask me if I could show her the pattern that everyone had gone over during the class. She had missed part of it, and wanted to make sure she knew what was going on in case some gentleman tried to lead her through this new progression. I took her over to a mostly empty corner of the dance floor to step through it slowly with her, and she seemed to understand once we finished.

The most unexpected part of the dance happened early on in the night, right after the first Foxtrot number was played. I had been standing in the back during that Foxtrot, as I mentioned, just watching people, and making friendly conversation with the few people who came within range of me. After the dance was over and the DJ changed over to a different song and dance style, an older gentleman made his way off of the dance floor and over to where I was standing. My spider-senses started tingling immediately as I noticed his approach – this gentleman was the guy whom had made the complaint that led to me giving the short speech on floorcraft in the first place. I put on my best welcoming smile and braced myself for whatever might happen.

When he was close to me, he reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and pulled slightly so that I would lean down so he could speak in my ear. He told me that next time I should make a point to emphasize that the instructors that show up as dance hosts should watch out as well. Apparently one of the dance hosts that a group of ladies had hired to dance with that night had done what he called a “fancy move” on the dance floor, and he was near the guy when it happened, and it caused him to have to change his steps to avoid what was going on. I bit my tongue to not say too much in response to that, instead just nodding and agreeing until this gentleman was satisfied and wandered off. I really wanted to tell him that I was less worried about what those few instructors serving as dance hosts for the evening were doing than I was with the other social dancers who I see doing all sorts of crazy things on the dance floor, but I didn’t think that the middle of a dance party was a good place to get into that kind of dance philosophy discussion.

Sigh… I’m sure that this will come up again at our next Royal Dance Court meeting.

I missed out on Latin Technique class this past Monday because of things going on at work, but I did manage to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. We ended up working on Quickstep that night, focusing quite a bit on footwork that required you to be up on your toes for long periods of time. Without knowing that we were going to be doing this during class, I had unfortunately worked my legs really hard during my normal workout before class, so my calves were kind of unhappy before we even started dancing. I managed to grit my teeth and get through things, but I was happy when class was over and I got to go home and rest my legs for the night.

We began class warming up with chasse-like steps down the long wall. All of the steps were meant to be done while up on our toes, and we did several variations of timing, with a few runs that had some twists to keep things interesting. We began with normal Quickstep Progressive Chasse timing, then switched to chasses in Pepperpot timing, then did a few where it was Pepperpot timing with a 180° rotation on a slow step between the chasses, and to finish things off we changed over to Lock Steps in Pepperpot timing. The Lock Steps and the Pepperpot timing were good to end the warmup with because we used those in the actual progression we worked on for the rest of class.

Our progression was pretty basic overall. We started with a Natural Turn into a Natural Spin Turn, ending with a V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn was used as the first step of the V6 to make sure everything flowed together properly. We used the Lock Steps that you have in the V6 to work on the timing and footwork we had started in the warm-up. First we were doing the V6 with Lock Steps that had normal timing, and then we changed things so that the first Lock Step was normal and the second used Pepperpot timing, and finally we did both Lock Steps with Pepperpot timing. At the end of class when we were running through the figure for practice, we kept switching up which timing we were using just to keep everyone on their toes (ha ha! Unintentional humor…).
  I know there are several dance parties going on this weekend, but as of right now I’m feeling like kind of a stick in the mud, so I don’t know how much effort I will put into going to any of them. Staying home and curling up with my cat sounds like a grand idea. We’ll have to see what happens. I’ll let you know all about what I end up doing next week.

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