Open Up Your Eyes, Life Is Poetry In Motion

Saturday morning I had two coaching sessions scheduled again, much like last week. This week we managed to get to both lessons in the order that they were originally set up, though a bit behind schedule. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall about a half-hour early to stretch out and warm up, like usual. Lord Dormamu was there giving another lesson at the time, so I knew he was already in the building (always a good sign). A few minutes later when he noticed me stretching out my shoulders near the mirrors, he stepped away from his lesson to come over, greet me and ask if I had a lesson with him first or with Sir Steven. I told him that my calendar said it was him, so he nodded and said that he was running about twenty minutes behind. That gave me almost an hour to warm up instead of the half-hour I had planned on.

I felt like we did actually show some progress in our Foxtrot that day, which is always a good feeling. We got to look at the end portion of the short wall in the routine, if you can believe that. One point we spent some time covering was my Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Ending. Lord Dormamu showed me why my Heel Turn in that figure tended to get messed up. Many people over the years have shown me how to do a Heel Turn – going slowly, you take a step backward (or back on an angle), pull your other heel back to line up with your standing foot, turn however much you need to rotate, rise up on the balls of your feet and then step out onto the ball of the opposite foot. Over and over again I’ve practiced doing Heel Turns just like that.

The issue with my Natural Closed Impetus is that the lady is stepping between my feet, so if I take a step back and to the left and then attempt to pull my right heel to meet my left, there’s a foot in the way. So in the middle of a routine there tends to be some fumbling and stumbling while I attempt to make the turn work without stopping when my foot would run into my partner’s foot. I generally manage to recover fully by the time I hit the Feather Finish. Lord Dormamu looked at what I was doing and told me immediately that my step backward and my turn should not be two separate movements. If I step backward and begin to pivot on my left leg, then as I am pulling my right heel back my right foot will naturally arc around where my partner’s foot as I turn. Basically all that practice I did in the past where I would pull my heels together before turning was what was holding me back. Sigh…

This also led us to a discussion about our Feather Endings and how he thought we were rotating as we went through them. Lord Dormamu explained that the most important thing about the Feather Ending is that it is the ending, so before you take those two steps you have to already have your body in the correct position. If you rotate yourself at all to get into the correct position during the two steps of a Feather Ending, you are doing it wrong and will get marked down. Yet another good point that I’ve never really thought about before until he said it out loud. I’m making a note of it here so that I won’t forget about it in the future.

Skipping ahead… later that night I was out to help host a dance party with the rest of my Royal Dance Court crew. To celebrate the beginning of summer, we had managed to get the famous Mr. Rubber-legs to come in and teach a Shag lesson to everyone. We had booked him for one of our dance parties last year and had such an overwhelmingly positive response, so it seemed natural to have him come back again. The endeavor seemed to really pay off. When Mr. Rubber-legs started teaching his class that night, we had about twenty-five people out on the dance floor by my count. There were quite a few more women than men, so I ended up jumping into the line during class to help out. By the time the class finished up, so many more people had shown up that our line of dancers was running out of space. The count I heard later was that we had more than fifty people show up! I guess half of them missed the memo on what time class started…

The lesson that Mr. Rubber-legs gave that night was pretty much the same one he gave during the party last year. We spent a lot of time (waaaaaay more time than I thought was necessary) to cover the Shag basic. I’m talking like half the hour was spent just going over that one figure. Once he felt that everyone could do the basic, he had us look at a starter step for Shag so that everyone knew how to begin a dance. This basically amounted to getting into a closed dance position and doing a Throwout-like movement. After people got those two figures, Mr. Rubber-legs covered two different basic turns that you could use. At the end of class since there were a couple of minutes left over, he showed everyone how they could transition from the normal open dance position to the closed one used in the starter step, allowing people to dance a basic pattern that could be repeated by going to closed position at the end and repeating the starter step. Nothing too fancy.

I had thought that the DJ would play more Shag numbers that night for the people who came to the party specifically to see Mr. Rubber-legs, but there weren’t that many more Swing songs of any variety than I would normally expect to hear. The ratio of men to women as the party got started was actually really good. We must have had a large number of single men show up after the class got started, because there were a lot more women than men when I joined class, but I was hardly needed to entertain ladies during the dance party. So I spent time that night dealing with… other issues.

HotDog was in high form that night. Originally he had decided to come out to the party because he has taken classes from Mr. Rubber-legs in the past, so he considers himself to be a Shag connoisseur. His quest to show off in front of everyone was quickly derailed by the appearance of two attractive young ladies. One was Juniper, whom I was glad to see out and about on the dance floor that night. She had been away for a while because she fractured a bone in her foot, so I was happy to see that it was finally healed enough for her to begin dancing again. I actually took her out for her first dance of the night to say hi to her. The other was a sorority sister of Prez’s daughter, whom Prez had invited to the party because the girl was curious about dancing. This young lady mostly wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch to see if ballroom dancing was a hobby that she was really interested in taking up.

As I’ve mentioned before, HotDog is a horndog when attractive ladies show up. I found out later that HotDog was texting Sparkledancer for days after the party, asking her to tell him Juniper’s name and how he could get in touch with her. He also spent quite a while awkwardly trying to talk to the sorority girl. She managed to fend off his requests to try dancing, and eventually she got up to come hang out at the front counter near where some of us from the Royal Dance Court were running things. When I caught her making a beeline away from HotDog, I took the opportunity to maneuver myself between where he was and where she was, playing human barricade. That was enough to send HotDog off to find a different girl to dance with.

I made a point to apologize to sorority girl for his creepiness, and she just laughed and said that she’s used to guys like him. Since I had heard Prez mention how this girl was interested in possibly taking up ballroom dancing before the party started, I then put on my Dance Ambassador hat and talked with her about dancing for quite a while. I regaled her with stories of the fun and crazy dance-related things I’ve done since I started dancing all those years ago, and I even waved Sparkledancer over so that she could tell the girl all about sparkly dance dress things (a topic I am not all that well versed in). The girl seemed genuinely interested, and I hope that means we could actually see her come back again, but next time as a participant instead of just an observer.

Now for the thing I did this week that was really outside of my normal schedule…

Sunday afternoon I got to have a coaching session with one of those crazy world-renowned International Standard instructors that travel around spreading their wisdom (for a fee, of course). We’ll call this guy… Lord Maple, since it makes me laugh (this gentleman comes to us from a land up north that you may have crossed into during your own travels). A few weeks ago, Lord Junior mentioned to Sparkledancer and I during one of our practice sessions that he would be bringing Lord Maple in for one day to give coaching sessions to a number of his students, and if we were interested in reserving one of the 45-minute slots that day he would be happy to put our names on the list. Sparkledancer told Lord Junior that she had really enjoyed the class that Lord Maple taught last time Lord Junior had brought him in about a year ago, so she was totally going to sign up.

She then turned to me and asked me if I would do the lesson with her, because it would be easier to show Lord Maple her routines if I were there to lead. I told her that if we scheduled this coaching session at the same time we would have normally been meeting up for practice that day, then I would already have the time set aside in my calendar anyway. This would be a nice (albeit more expensive) way to get some outside feedback on how we’ve been doing since we started taking things more seriously at the beginning of the year.

In order to make sure that this coaching session would be worthwhile, I convinced myself to get up earlier than usual on Sunday so that I could stretch out and warm up my body thoroughly before leaving the house. That way I wouldn’t show up to meet Lord Maple in the afternoon and hear him tell me that my problem is that I need to take bigger steps to travel more all because my legs are still half-asleep. I also got Sparkledancer to agree to meet me out at the Electric Dance Hall an hour before the coaching session so that we could dance for a while, helping to further ensure that I was all ready to go. It turned out that taking those precautions was the right call.

Sparkledancer and I had agreed to have Lord Maple look over our Foxtrot with us, since that is what we have been going over with Lord Dormamu recently. After some brief introductions and telling him about our dance experience, Lord Maple asked us to dance our Foxtrot routine together. Then he asked both of us to dance the same thing again with him so that he could get a better feel for what each of us were doing during our steps. When we finished that exercise, he told me that he really liked my forward driving movements during the dance, since they were quite clear and strong, and he could easily follow what I was trying to lead him to do. I may have done a little happy celebration upon hearing that. Then he asked me to dance through it with him again, and this time he would add in all the parts that he thought I was missing when we danced the first time.

When we finished going through the first wall of my routine, Lord Maple stopped and asked me what was different this time through. I told him that he had been emphasizing the shaping a lot more than I had been, partly because I had been told by Lord Dormamu to not worry about anything else other than working on how I drive my Foxtrot from my standing leg and pelvis. He told me that was one way to describe it, and then listed off a bunch of other words that could be used to also describe it depending on who my teacher was and what country they hailed from originally, but basically what he was seeing that I needed to work on all came down to how ‘powerful’ I was when dancing.

Lord Maple told us a story about how he used to want to be described as a powerful dancer when he read articles about himself. He eventually found a female coach to work with, and she asked him what he thought it meant to be powerful. That’s when Lord Maple gestured at me and started to flex his upper body, saying that he used to think power came from looking super muscular and manly, but this female coach stopped him and said that as a dancer, being powerful comes from being the person that shows the most movement from each step that they take. That’s basically what Lord Maple says that I am missing to take my Foxtrot (and other dances, by extension) to the next level.

To show me how I should be doing this, Lord Maple actually started by working with Sparkledancer. He wanted her to make sure that she is moving herself out of the way for each step so that I would have plenty of room to really take my steps. They danced for a bit with him trying to explain the concept to her, and then he thought of an exercise that someone had shown him a long time ago that he thought would help the two of us with the idea. After searching around the studio for a few minutes with Lord Junior’s help, he came back with a scarf that he rolled up and held taut between his hands.

The scarf is used to give you an actual visual representation of the line your hips are making (and by extension, your shoulders and elbows, since they should be on the same line when you are in a proper frame). It was supposed to be a towel, but we were working with what we could find. If you roll up a towel and hold it stretched between your hands on both sides of your pelvis, this shows the straight line your hips make when they are at rest. Then we started to dance. The first step we covered was the Feather. As you do a Feather in Foxtrot, your left foot is the first leg that you step with, so you need to involve your whole left side as you dance through the figure until the next time you get to neutral (which is normally before you go into the next figure). You can emphasize this by rolling the towel with your left hand, as if you were wringing water out.

This was a fairly simple but eye-opening exercise to do. The way we wrung the towel basically changed from hand-to-hand as we moved through the figures in our routine. The Feather used the left hand, the Reverse Turn used the right, the Feather Ending of the Reverse Turn the left, the Three Step the right, etc. etc.. If you use this exercise to help you see the lead with the proper side of your body, it should get the whole body involved as you move. That helps you feel like you are taking steps not just with your legs, but all the way from your upper back. Rise and fall will happen naturally in the figures if the whole body is engaged. It also easily eliminated the issue where it looked like I was dancing in a constant squat, since stepping with my whole body allows me to naturally straighten my legs as I move. Funny how that works, right?

This is another one of those lessons where it really shows that the techniques that instructors harp on in the early days (rise and fall, heel vs. toe steps) shouldn’t have to be forced or remembered. If the underlying mechanics of how you move are correct, those techniques happen automatically.

Wednesday class was cancelled this week because Lord Junior’s wife had some event scheduled that he needed to attend, so the only group class that I went to this week was Monday night’s Latin Technique class. We looked at Jive for the first time in quite a while. Jive was actually not my first choice for the night, since A) my first choice is always Pasodoble, because I think it’s the most fun and B) it had been leg day for me that day, so my legs were already feeling exhausted from my pre-class workout. I always grit my teeth on the nights when my leg workouts happen to correspond with nights I’m going to be dancing, since I know working out my legs will make things harder than normal.

That was certainly true on Monday night. We always start off any class where we look at Jive by going over the basic triple-steps slowly since Lord Junior thinks everyone should continuously work to improve those. At the beginning when we were going slow, my triple-steps in the figures looked and felt pretty good. By the end, since I did a lot of dancing that night to give all the ladies enough chances to practice, my legs felt like jelly and I’m sure my triple-steps had devolved to look more like fast-ish East Coast Swing instead of Jive. No one said anything though, so I must not have looked all that bad…

We only looked at two variations of two different figures that night: Spanish Arms and Rolling Off the Arm. Starting with the Spanish Arms, we covered the normal configuration of the figure, and then the ‘cooler version’ (according to Lord Junior) where we led the lady to do an extra turn as we unwind her. After doing the two different variations independently we then chained them together, doing the basic version followed immediately by the more advanced version. I will admit that there were a few times when I got over-eager and ended up turning the ladies for both.

The Rolling Off the Arm figure was done the same way. There was the basic by-the-book version, and then a more advanced version where we led the lady to do an extra turn as she is rolling off of our right arm. As before, we did the two variations independently, and then chained them together. After everyone was comfortable with all four different figures, we strung them all together – starting with the basic Spanish Arms, the advanced variation, a single Jive basic to compose ourselves and then the basic Rolling Off the Arm followed by the more advanced version. This small pattern is what we ended up putting to music, starting off slowly and finishing at tempo. The last run-through we did with each partner at tempo was really where I felt that my Jive basics were lacking, but I worked hard that night, so I feel like I should at least get partial credit for finishing to the end.

I am hoping that this weekend stays fairly quiet for me. I haven’t had much of a chance to really practice the things that I worked on in any of my coaching sessions last weekend, and I’d like to spend a few hours working through those items. We’ll have to see if anyone makes a convincing argument to me about going to a dance party somewhere!

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