This past Saturday when I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal weekend lesson, we worked on Waltz and Foxtrot. A lot of what we did that afternoon was to work further on our shaping during certain figures, and further practice having Sparkledancer travel moving forward while I traveled backward. What I didn’t know at the time was that a lot of the work we did on the Foxtrot that day would be thrown out the next day as Lord Dormamu took a look at what we were doing in Foxtrot and now he wants us to change our whole focus for that dance. Specifically all the practice we’ve been doing working on doing Three Steps and Feather Steps while traveling backwards, Lord Dormamu said that we should stop doing that for the time being. Going backwards with a Three Step in Foxtrot is really a Reverse Wave, which is a Silver-level figure, so he said we shouldn’t be spending so much time on that until we nail down other things.
But I am getting ahead of myself. We did spend some more time going through the Reverse Turn in Foxtrot, making sure that Sparkledancer brought her feet together quick enough for the heel turn, making sure that after coming around her I would take enough of a step backwards and to the right so that her step could be between my legs, and overall making sure whomever was moving forward was driving the step down the line of dance. That was really the most notable thing that we did which we will continue doing as we move forward. Everything else we worked on that day in Foxtrot essentially got put on hold after my lesson the next day. Sigh…
So Sunday afternoon I got to head back to the Fancy Dance Hall to get together with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for coaching. To be honest, I was a bit worried about things heading into this lesson. I had just met up with Lord Dormamu for coaching the weekend before this, and during that session he had given me things to work on in the Waltz. Having a busy life like I do (most of the busyness is due to dance, if you couldn’t guess), I had only gone out to actually practice a couple of times since that lesson, so I wasn’t sure if I had truly mastered everything I had been given to work on in that short amount of time. Lord Dormamu started the session exactly as I imagined, by asking Sparkledancer and I to dance through our Waltz routine. Lucky for me, it went pretty well! Hooray! He had us go back and redo a couple of spots to make sure we knew what we should be doing, but then he turned his attention to Sparkledancer for what came next. Poor girl…
I guess the thing that caught his eye the most this time around was Sparkledancer’s positioning while in dance frame. Lord Dormamu went off on this long explanation for her about how it appeared to him that when she is in frame and attempting to create volume, a lot of the time it looks like she is bending outward away from me from her pelvis and up, instead of from below her shoulders and up. To try to reinforce the point of what position she should be getting into while dancing, he told her that he would show her an exercise to do, but that we (all three of us) would have to go somewhere more private for him to do so. That remark made me a little nervous, since I had no idea what his thought process on this was. After he ran to the back of the ballroom to check and see if anyone was using the smaller ballroom off the hallway back there, he came out and waved Sparkledancer and I down to have us join him in the other room.
Once we were all in the small ballroom, he shut the door. I was expecting something weird to happen at that point, and I started to think up excuses to get myself out of that room since I didn’t know either of these people well enough for any really weird things to go on. Lord Dormamu pulled a chair out onto the floor near one of the mirrors and asked me to sit there. Once seated, he turned to Sparkledancer and asked her to trust him, then told her to sit on my lap facing me and grasping my forearms. Once we were in position, he told her that she needed to work on bending herself in such a way that would keep her lower back straight while thrusting her boobs toward the ceiling, so to help with that she was supposed to roll herself backward from this sitting position. I was there to make sure the chair was heavy enough to not topple over while she did this, and to help pull her up from that position when finished. As she rolled her body back, Lord Dormamu took a knee on the floor behind her and pushed on her back with his fist to show her where she should be bending from.
I’m not exactly sure why he thought we needed to be in a ‘private’ room for him to have her do this. The studio holds a Yoga class in the main ballroom once a week, and I’m sure they do poses that are more titillating than what Sparkledancer was doing (see what I did there?). Once she seemed to have a good idea about what she should be feeling, we went back out in the main ballroom to continue dancing. Since I didn’t see either Sparkledancer or I wanting to spend a bunch of our practice time in a dance hall somewhere doing that exercise, I asked Lord Dormamu if there were other ways she could work on stretching like that, like possibly using a stability ball or something similar. He said that would work fairly well if she had one of those sitting around. I happen to have one at home that I use sometimes (there’s all kinds of interesting resistance exercises you can do with one to help improve strength and balance), so I offered to let Sparkledancer use it if she needed sometime.
Halfway through our session Lord Dormamu wanted to shift gears on us and look at a new dance style. Apparently we are doing well in the Waltz, so it is time to add something else to our plate now, and he had chosen Foxtrot to be next, as I alluded to earlier. He had us go through our routine for him. I have been told in the past that Foxtrot is one of my strongest styles, but I could tell by the look he was giving me when we finished dancing that he didn’t think it was good. Without giving any explanation, he asked us to dance it for him again. When we finished, he was looking at us contemplatively for several long moments before he strolled over to where we were standing and started telling us about his theory of Foxtrot.
This was probably the most interesting part of the lesson that day, just listening to him talk about how all the world champions that he has hung out with or learned from, and how he himself (as one of those former world champions) looks at Foxtrot when you are trying to be an advanced dancer. We had a talk like this during our first session with Lord Dormamu when he described to us his philosophy of the Waltz so that we had an understanding of why we were being asked to do things the way we were, instead of him just dictating that we do things his way and ignore what all other dance teachers have told us. I find dance philosophy like this to be interesting and useful, but that’s just me so if it bores you go ahead and skip this section.
Foxtrot, as I was told, was supposed to look smooth while you danced, with a constant flow that moves you from one place to another. The problem with Foxtrot, as Lord Dormamu explained, is that for the most part what you are trying to do is take three steps over four beats of music. It seems like a simple concept, taking three steps over four beats while being very smooth, but it’s nearly impossible to pull off. When you first learn Foxtrot, you divide the three steps among the four beats and end up dancing them as either Slow, Quick, Quick or Quick, Quick, Slow, depending on the figure. What this does though is to halt the smooth flow of the dance when you try to take that one step over two beats, which is why newcomers to Foxtrot look jerky when they dance through the figures.
Apparently in the community of world champion dancers, what you’ll find is that many of them do not dance the steps as written in the book. There are no real ‘Slow’ or ‘Quick’ steps in Foxtrot at the world-class level. Instead, to keep the dance flowing as smoothly as possibly, your steps begin to even out, until eventually you are dancing fairly close to three even steps over four beats. Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing that I was thinking when I heard this: “Wouldn’t that just make it a Waltz with weird music then?” And the answer I was given was that this is why it was so important that Foxtrot does not have any real rise and fall to help distinguish it from a Waltz.
There was a metaphor used that went like this – suppose that you are out at the beach along the ocean or the Great Lakes (both places are nice, and I would recommend visiting either to reinforce this point). Along the beach you will see the waves coming in before they break along the shoreline. This is what you should see if you watch a group of people dancing the Waltz. There is a smooth line as the wave travels on beat one, a crest as the wave hits its peak on beat two, and a lowering as the wave breaks on beat three. The Foxtrot is what you would get if you were to travel out to the middle of the ocean or lake. There, there aren’t really waves. The top of the water is smoother, with just a hint of low hills and valleys on the surface as the currents flow smoothly underneath. That is what Lord Dormamu wants our Foxtrot to be aiming to look like.
(Note: I know that is a vast oversimplification of how waves work, and doesn’t take into account what happens during bad weather. Trust me – I grew up very near a large body of water, so I know. That wasn’t the point of the metaphor.)
We spent the rest of our time that day working on taking all the rise and fall out of our Foxtrot. Because we were staying lowered into our legs while going through everything, this did cause both Sparkledancer and I to take a lot of heel leads in places we shouldn’t have, because naturally when you are lowered you want to take a heel lead on the next step. This is something that we are really going to have to fight against to make sure that the footwork remains how it should without raising ourselves up to step with the ball of our foot. Sparkledancer also told me that doing heel turns like she has in a Reverse Turn or Natural Weave feels weird when lowered down that much. Our homework for Foxtrot for now is to get comfortable dancing things as smooth as possible with no rise and fall at all. Once we master that concept, he will work with us on how the timing for the steps should feel for our next evolution of our Foxtrot.
Whew! Got all that? I hope I do!
Monday night I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class. At first it appeared that we would have a small class that night since only a few of us had shown up, but then little Tanya Tiger burst onto the scene with a couple of friends in tow. Her friends were just in town for a bit and wanted to come watch her dance while they were there, but Tanya started to talk them into joining class with us since that was more fun than sitting out. Neither of her friends had danced any partner dances before, but one had had some ballet training, which made her easier to convince to join in than the other young lady. In the end, they both succumbed to the peer pressure, and because of that Lord Junior decided we should stick with some Rumba to take it easy on those two.
‘Taking it easy’ was just a phrase to make the two of them feel more comfortable though, since what we ended up doing was a challenging step for even the veterans of the class. We began by warming up using the Rumba basic for a few minutes – to make sure the newcomers would remember at least that much of Rumba once they left the class. Then we started off with the ladies out in Fan Position and led them into a Hockey Stick. At the farthest point of the Hockey Stick, we had the ladies do a Switchback, which is an Open-level figure I’ve seen several times before. It involves having the lady turn 180° without changing weight, having her point her left leg back and raise her left arm up when she was facing away from us. The men lead this by rotating her wrist slightly. All of this happens on a single beat of the music. On the next beat of music we have the lady turn back around to face us and take two syncopated steps forward and then hold there for beats four and one of the measure.
After the hold the lady will do three Rumba Walks going forward while we collect her back into closed dance position. The guy will do two steps backward with her and rotate a bit to take the third step to the back and slightly to the left, which will be the start of a Natural Top. We went around in the Natural Top for two measures, and at the end the guy just brings his feet together and rotates the lady around into an Opening Out position. By the time we had gotten to this part it was already close to time for class to end, so Lord Junior said that would be a good enough ending for now and we just danced several repetitions of the pattern with music of varying speeds until we got up to full tempo right before class was over.
On Wednesday night I headed out to Standard Technique class. While waiting for class to start, Lord Junior was wandering around finishing up some business things and asked us what we wanted to work on that night. Both Veep and Sparkledancer said that they wanted to go over something “super challenging” while Bony was quick to speak up saying how much she had really enjoyed Monday’s class, because having newcomers meant that the steps that we did were easier for her to get through. Winking at the other two ladies, I took Bony’s side and said that we should go through something simple that night. I may have gotten punched for that joke…
In the end, we did something that was only halfway challenging in Tango. Two other people joined us for class that night, and while they had danced quite a bit in the past they had given it up for a while, so now they were trying to relearn all sorts of things. A class like Standard Technique would not have been something I would have recommended for that purpose, but Lord Junior didn’t send them away so the figures that we did were modulated a bit to make things easier on them.
We worked on the Reverse Turn that night. The lady from the new couple that joined us got pretty wide-eyed and terrified when Lord Junior started to explain the figure by relating it to Viennese Waltz (apparently Viennese Waltz is really scary for her), so to ease her fears Lord Junior also showed her that she could do the figure in Samba as well to emphasize that it was just the same footwork he was pointing out. That seemed to relax her a bit, for the time being. To start with, we were doing the Reverse Turns over a four count in the music, which is almost painfully slow if you’ve ever done Reverse Turns in Tango before. Once Lord Junior was confident that everyone had the footwork down, he told the newcomers what the timing for the figure actually was, and how we would be able to do two Reverse Turns in a four count when done to speed. He then put on some music and demonstrated the step.
That demonstration, for some reason, made the new lady who was terrified of Viennese Waltz start laughing. She was laughing so hard, and for so long, that it started to get a bit awkward. Since she wouldn’t stop, Lord Junior said that we could just go on with one less lady until she was ready. We added a couple of figures to the end of the Reverse Turns just to give everyone something else to work on. By the end we had a progression that was three normal Reverse Turns, one slower turn to close both partners facing diagonal wall (backing diagonal wall for the ladies) so that we could go into a Progressive Link. We then took two steps down the line of dance in Promenade Position, and at the end we did a couple of leg flicks – one pointing forward, one behind, a quick weight change from your crossed leg back to the standing leg and finally one more flick of the leg to bring it back forward so that you ended in Promenade Position ready for another step.
What do I have on my dance schedule for next week? Let’s see… I think I have a meeting with my Royal Dance Court group on Tuesday night, and there’s a dance party on Saturday night that I’ve been told by a couple of different people I should go to, so I’ll probably be there. There will also be lots of dance practice I’m sure, since that’s what I spend a lot of time doing on the weekends nowadays. I’m sure I’ll meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer at some point on Saturday afternoon, and there will be classes to attend next week as well. There’s always a lot of dancing in my world, if you hadn’t noticed.
But Friday night? I’m not going to do any dancing on Friday. In fact, I’m going to try to leave my house to do something that isn’t dance related for a change. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone out on a weekend to do anything that didn’t involve dancing. Is that weird? Maybe I’ll go out on the town. Maybe I’ll find some lady to ask out on a date. Or maybe I’ll just go see a movie. Hey – do you want to go see a movie with me? I’ll buy the tickets if you bring the popcorn.
Let’s see if I’m successful at pulling that off, or if I end up out dancing somewhere instead!