I Wanna Go Where The Down Boys Go

So what’s new in my dance world this time around? Well, this past weekend it was time for my latest check-in with Lord Dormamu so that he could see how all of the practice time I’d been putting in with Sparkledancer was coming along. We ended up spending our entire session time on Foxtrot this week, since even though he could see improvement in our Foxtrot over where I started, what I was doing wasn’t… enough for him to be happy about.

Let’s start with him wanting me to stay low during the entire dance. I felt like I was super low the whole time, with my knees bent so much that they would run into Sparkledancer if I tried to bend them any further. Apparently that just wasn’t low enough for Lord Dormamu’s taste. Sparkledancer was sent off to stand on the side of the floor for a while and he made me get into frame, and then he came over and put his forearms on my shoulders and pushed me down even lower, and he told me to dance like that while he held my shoulders at that level. Every time I took a step forward, I felt like I was doing the prisyadka (that’s the actual name of that dance figure you always see ‘Russians’ doing on TV, where they are squatting and kicking… I’m sure you can picture what I’m talking about) instead of dancing Foxtrot. Вздох…

I also got called out for not making my movements smooth enough, as if I was dancing three even steps over four beats. This one though, I pretty much accepted. I have had a lot of musical training in my life. It’s a little known fact that I was a professional musician in my younger days, so I might admit to knowing a thing or two about music. That’s part of the reason that I was able to pick up dance pretty quickly when I was in that newcomer phase – my sense of rhythm was really good, so I was able to take steps in time with the music with no problem. But the training I had through the years enforced STRICT rhythm control on me (I was not a drummer, but I always wanted to be), so when Lord Dormamu talked about throwing out the rhythm and making Foxtrot more like Waltz where you take three even steps in each average measure instead of one two-beat step and two one-beat steps, I knew that would be trouble. I’ve worked on it, but when I am focusing on other techniques while dancing, my brain will automatically reset to having my feet follow the rhythm exactly. So that adjustment is going to take me probably several more weeks before it happens more naturally.

On a high note though, I was able to impress, or maybe surprise, Lord Dormamu at one point during our session. We had been looking at part of the Natural Weave in Foxtrot, and he was explaining something about how to best take the first and second step. Thinking out loud, I off-handedly remarked that what he was saying was similar to what I had been told about the first two steps in a Double Natural Spin a couple of weeks ago. He overheard me mumbling and asked me to repeat myself, and when I mentioned the Double Natural Spin louder he nodded and exclaimed ‘Yes!’ loudly, saying that it would be exactly like the first two steps for that. Then as we were walking back toward where Sparkledancer was standing to try things again, he paused and looked at me quizzically and had to ask me who it was that had shown me how to do a Double Natural Spin, since he hadn’t OK’d me to dance anything beyond Bronze yet. Oops…

Having run out of time, Lord Dormamu ran over to collect Sir Steven and go over the things we had just worked on, giving Sir Steven his thoughts on what we should be working on for the next hour. He wanted us to work with Sir Steven primarily on staying down while we were dancing. Sir Steven wanted to add on to this a bit and have us work on staying down, but also work on making sure we didn’t look like we were walking around in a squatting position, which apparently we did for some of the steps that we had taken that Sir Steven had seen while we were working with Lord Dormamu.

One of the most obvious things he noticed was that the person who was moving backwards wasn’t reaching their leg back as far as they could before taking a step. This was the main reason he thought that we looked… ‘squatty’ (for lack of a better term) while we were dancing as he watched. If the legs were bent so much when we got into frame, and they stayed bent when you’re taking a step backward, then it just looks weird if you’re watching. The person traveling forward is also likely taking steps while keeping their legs bent the entire time as well, but since there is someone in front of them hiding their legs half the time it is harder to notice that than it is to notice what the person moving backward is doing.

To work on making sure we were aware of how weird this looked, we switched over to doing some Waltz. Sir Steven wanted to make sure that if we were in frame and we were standing in one place, like at the beginning of the routine or during a Hesitation Change, that our knees were bent. As we were preparing to take a step, the person moving backward needs to reach their leg backward and straighten it as much as possible – not locking the knee, but pretty close to that. The person going forward would obviously wait for their partner to get their leg out of the way first before moving their own, but that leg also needed to be stretched out and straightened completely. Going over this technique over and over again really made sure that the feeling I had of doing the prisyadka never went away that day. It’s a good thing I have really strong legs!

Before we ended things that afternoon, we stopped for a bit to go back and look at our Natural Spin Turn again. The Natural Spin Turn seems like one of those figures that will never look good enough, so it keeps coming back to haunt me over and over. Like the New York figure from various International Latin dances, which seem like they should be so simple, yet never seem to be good enough for whoever is watching me do them. I guess this time around it didn’t look like we were rotating our upper bodies enough before taking the step out of the turn. The first step for me that rotated backward and the second step that drives forward looked good, but Sir Steven said that I was halting the rotation in my upper body at the end of that second step before taking the third step backward toward diagonal center against line of dance (it’s an under-turned Natural Spin Turn).

In my defense, I was spending a lot of mental energy on remembering to keep my legs bent enough to stay down while doing most of the rise and fall through foot rise and stretching out my legs so that it didn’t look like I was walking in a constant squat, so I may have left out some other things in the process… Sigh… I think I’m going to need a brain upgrade to keep all of this stuff straight at some point in the near future.

With those two items out of the way Saturday afternoon, there was only one thing left to do on Saturday before I got to go home and stay home. There was an open dance being held at the Cherished Dance Hall that I attended. Being a holiday weekend, the turnout wasn’t huge, but that just left more space on the dance floor for me to do whatever I wanted, so I couldn’t complain. The staff of the Cherished Dance Hall didn’t even come to the party. In fact, it was President Porpoise who showed up to run the event, being all presidential and porpoise-y like he is. He had found a DJ who had stayed in town for the weekend to come in and play some music, and they just put on songs for a couple of hours for all of us who showed up to dance. It was really nice.

I think this was the first time in quite a few weeks that I just threw out everything I had been working so hard on for the last several months and just danced for fun – quipping jokes to my partners, worrying less about frame and technique, and just trying to make sure the evening was as entertaining as possible for me and whomever was close enough to where I was to hear and see what I was doing. I feel like I managed to accomplish that feat, so it was a fun night for me. I’m not quite sure that many of the older ladies at the dance knew how to react to my jocularity, but that’s OK! Sometimes you just have to have fun for yourself, and hope that your mood is infectious enough to bring everyone else in with you.

Monday night, through the freak rainstorms that kept popping up for short periods, I made it out to Latin Technique class. Only Sparkledancer and Bony were dedicated enough to brave the rain and join me, so we had a small class. We looked at some Rumba that night because everyone was so tired from having the day off, since it was a holiday and all that. Even though there were only four of us and we were just doing Rumba, we kept moving around the room to different parts of the dance floor throughout the night. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but that night we danced in the middle of the floor, over on the side by the front door, later on the far side of the room by the other short wall, near the mirrors… we just couldn’t stay in one place! And it’s not like the figures we looked at traveled all that much either. We were moving around whenever Lord Junior stopped to explain things to us, strangely enough.

Anyway… what we did that night started off in Fan Position. The gentlemen led the lady to close from Fan Position and do an Alemana, whilst the man checks forward and then checks backward, but instead of bringing our feet together after the second check we would take a step slightly off to the left so that the lady ended up on our right side. Both partners would then rotate 90° to the right and the lady would go into an Opening Out while the man did a Cucaracha. We would do three Opening Outs and then lead the lady through a Spiral Turn before taking three steps off to the man’s left side to end in an Aida.

Rather than going through the second half of a basic Aida, in tandem both partners took one step forward, then another step into a Spiral Turn, then a side step to end facing each other again. As we took the last step, the man would reach out with his right hand to take the lady’s right hand. We then led the ladies through two slow Swivels, first by lunging a bit toward the right and rotating our body, then shifting to the left leg and repeating the same movement. At the end we led one quick Swivel on the right side, coming out to take the lady through an Inside Turn and a Pivot, bringing her right hand up and over our head so that it could slide down to our shoulder. We finished the whole pattern that night by doing a fourth Opening Out action on the left side. We were going to try to turn that final figure into some Sliding Doors to be cool, but we ran out of time and Lord Junior decided to leave it there for now.

Finally, on Wednesday night this past week I ended up out at Standard Technique class where I got to work on Quickstep for a while. We had a lot of ladies show up to take part in the class. A LOT. I think we ended up with eight women to three men by the time class really got underway. As I was standing around talking to people before class started, the ratio looked like it would be pretty good, but then more and more women kept showing up! Do you think that since it is now staying light outside so much later in the evening that more people are willing to go out in the evenings? It sure seems that way.

We went over a short pattern in Quickstep that was supposed to get us to spend some time focusing on Contra-Body Movement and Contra-Body Movement Position, but there were a fair number of ladies (and one gentleman) who had trouble just getting the footwork for the figures right, so a lot of Lord Junior’s time was spent on just getting those individuals through the steps instead. I got a workout that night, since we had a few instances where Lord Junior put on music so that we could try out the steps in time, but then he would end up working with the other gentleman, back-leading him through the figures until he was comfortable with them. While they did that, I was left all alone with a line of ladies, going through the parts of the pattern with each one and then running back down to the other end of the floor to pick up the next lady and start over. By the time class was over, I was a bit of a sweaty mess.

We started everything off by facing diagonal wall and doing a prep step into a Natural Turn, setting us up to execute a Natural Spin Turn. Coming out of that we did a figure that I’m pretty sure Lord Junior referred to as a ‘Cross Change’ that was originally taken from Waltz. Essentially, after coming out of the Natural Spin Turn we took one step backwards toward diagonal center, rotated on that foot so that we could take a side step to the left still heading toward diagonal center, and then crossed the right foot behind the left so that we ended facing line of dance. We did another partial Cross Change right after that, taking just the side step to the left and crossing the right foot behind, which rotated us enough so that now we were facing diagonal center if done correctly (and there was no one in the way).

Coming out of the double Cross Change we added on an Open Reverse Turn which should rotate you enough on the first half so that you are now backing line of dance. To end the pattern that night we did a Four Quick Run going into another Natural Turn. The Four Quick Run seemed to give a lot of people trouble that night. A lot of the ladies I danced with kept missing the Lock Step, or doing two Lock Steps in a row instead of two running steps and then a Lock Step. We went through the progression a fair number of times (well, I should say, I went through the progression a fair number of times), and even after repeating things a few times some of the ladies I danced with still had trouble. Because of that, we never ran through things at full tempo. I think the fastest that Lord Junior said he set the music to that night was 85%, so we still had a bit to go. Maybe next time I am out practicing I will see if I can run things at tempo as a challenge.

Can you believe that it’s already June? Crazy! My first weekend in June will be pretty quiet. Sparkledancer is out of town on some work thing so I won’t be able to practice with her this weekend. Sir Steven is busy on Saturday and Sunday putting on some sort of dance show, so I won’t have a lesson with him this weekend. And I only know of one dance party on Friday night that I am sort-of interested in attending, so it sounds like for the first time in who knows how long I will have a free Saturday to do whatever I want! Will I go out for some solo dance practice? Will I try to get my cat to help me do some spring cleaning? Will someone else call me up and ask me to go out to a dance party with them somewhere? Who knows! I have a different idea rolling around in my head that maybe I’ll sit and write about this weekend instead of going anywhere, so we’ll have to see what I come up with next week!