I Was Lightning Before The Thunder

Another busy weekend for me, though this time it was because I was actually competing. All of that work over the last several months getting me ready for this one day where… I actually didn’t dance a whole lot. We’ll talk about that later though. Let’s start with the stuff that I did the day before the competition first, just to keep the chronology intact.

I started out on Saturday having a coaching session with Lord Dormamu. Because this was the day before the competition, he wanted to deviate from what we have been working on so that he could have us dance all four of our routines for him to review. Before we started, he sat us down and told us that when we got on the floor for the competition, there was only one thing that each of us should try to remember. With everything else going on during a competition and the adrenaline of competing, trying to remember a bunch of important points would be too much for anyone, so he wanted to narrow everything down to one focal point for each of us.

For me it was posture. Lord Dormamu said that he didn’t care if I were to go out on the floor, throw out my routines and just do basic box steps down the floor – if I could maintain the best posture and frame, that would give me a better score than more than half of the competitors in that round, guaranteed. He said the best thing that I could do was to check my posture constantly. Each of our routines has points where we hesitate briefly, and those would be perfect opportunities to verify that I was still in perfect posture. That was my recommendation.

For Sparkledancer, the idea was volume. More than anything else, Lord Dormamu wanted her to try to create as much volume as possible between the two of us while dancing. Apparently any time she got into position and thought she had incredible volume, he wanted her to try to give more. He demonstrated by having her get into dance frame with me and then manipulating her to bend backward even further. Sparkledancer has told me that she been working on increasing her upper back flexibility for months so that she can bend like this, but it still makes me cringe to watch. My back would not be happy if I tried to get into that pose, since I have too much muscle mass in that area.

With those words of wisdom out of the way, we ran through each of our dances, with Lord Dormamu giving us his thoughts on each style when we finished. For Waltz he wanted me to try to make the rise and fall even more distinct if I could. In Quickstep he said that I needed to make sure to watch the footwork I was doing, because from where he was standing there were a few times he thought I was taking a heel lead when I should have been using my toe, or a toe lead when I should have been using my heel. Some of them were because my foot was closer to being flat against the floor, so it was hard for him to tell what I was really doing. He wanted me to make sure my steps were distinct.

Tango was up next. When we got through dancing the routine once, we talked about the idea of Tango as it relates to Sparkledancer and I. Lord Dormamu said that while it meant something that Sir Steven told us that Tango was our weakest, he had to be careful saying the same thing. Tango was his favorite of the International Standard dances, and also the one he consistently scored the best in when he competed. He said he will always think that our Tango looked weak until he can get me to dance Tango more like he does.

We then went over the suggestions that the Princess gave us in Tango earlier in the week. He liked all of them except one – the placement of my right arm. Lord Dormamu preferred me to bend my arm so that my right hand was further down toward the middle of my partner’s back. He told me that he knows the Princess prefers the arm to be up higher, as she in fact would ask him to move his hand up during the times he has danced Tango with her, but he personally liked the way it looked when the hand is down further. Other than that one change, he promised that after the competition was over, all of us would need to start looking at Tango specifically to fix a number of things, much like we have been doing with Foxtrot.

And that left Foxtrot as the last dance of the day. When we danced through the Foxtrot the first time, I felt like it went pretty bad when compared to the other three dances we had just done. When the song that was playing finished up, I rolled Sparkledancer out and we walked over to where Lord Dormamu was. He asked us what we thought our strongest dance was. Feeling bad about that particular Foxtrot, I said that I thought Waltz was the best of the four, and Sparkledancer nodded in agreement.

Lord Dormamu surprised me by saying that it was definitely the Foxtrot by a large margin. He thought that was good because, according to him, Foxtrot is the most difficult of the International Standard styles. That is why he has been working on it for so long with us, and the results were apparent that day. The only change that he wanted me to make was with the last Change of Direction figure. When I did the figure a few minutes prior, I had ended up between two tables on the floor, and he said that I looked unsure there because of that. He wanted me to make sure to did every step confidently, whether there were tables (or other dancers) around me or not, because I could be marked down if I wavered like that during a competition.

With that, Lord Dormamu finished up with us for the day. Sparkledancer and I had a lesson with Sir Steven scheduled next, so Lord Dormamu called him over to review what we had just done. He let Sir Steven know that he wanted our lesson to focus on making sure that our posture and volume were good, the footwork was correct, and overall our dancing was as clean as possible. We were to treat the lesson as a final supervised practice session before the competition.

For the next hour Sparkledancer and I ran through rounds with Sir Steven, focusing on all the points that Lord Dormamu had commented on. When we messed things up, we would go back to that section after we finished that round to step through it again correctly before moving on to the next dance. By the time we finished up that afternoon, I was feeling pretty good about how everything was looking. I still had some insecurities about the Tango, but I didn’t feel as bad about that style as I had before we had reviewed everything with the Princess.

Sunday was the day when all of the rounds I had signed up for at the competition were being held. That morning as I got up, I quietly thanked Lord Dormamu for telling me not to do Viennese Waltz this time around. Those heats were being held first thing in the morning starting around 08:00, so I would have had to get up hours earlier than I actually did at stupid o’clock in the morning. Someday I’m going to get to know the organizers of competitions, and have a long talk with them about why they feel the need to do Viennese Waltz so early…

I had offered to pick Sparkledancer up and give her a ride to the Dance Death Arena where the competition was being held that morning. She had told me that she was going to get ready at home, and didn’t want to worry about messing up her hair and makeup before dancing, so she was going to put her gown on and wear it to the venue. I thought it might be safer for me to give her a ride than for her to try to drive with the big, poofy gown billowing around her feet.

When we got to the front desk to check in, we gave the lady there our names and she scurried off to find our information packets. While we were waiting for her to return, the gentleman behind the desk asked Sparkledancer and I what college we were from. I paused, trying to figure out how to respond to an out-of-the-blue question like that. When I told him the name of the school I went to, I also let him know that I hadn’t been back there in years, since I had graduated quite a while ago. Sparkledancer told him the same thing, that she graduated from college some years ago as well.

The gentleman seemed truly surprised by that answer, saying that neither of us looked old enough to be out of school. When I told him that I was already in my mid thirties, he sat down on the desk and stared at me with his mouth agape. By then the other lady had found our packets and handed them to us so that we could be on our way. Sparkledancer thanked the man profusely for making her day by saying that she looked so young. I just laughed, because it was kind of funny.

What a strange way to start off a competition, huh?

Wandering around the Dance Death Arena after getting signed in, I didn’t recognize many of the competitors that were there. I did recognize many of the dance instructors that were hanging around with their students, and also many of the people who were either organizers of or volunteers running the competition. I guess my involvement in the world of dance politics introduces me to a very different part of the crowd that you see at events like this. I was a bit surprised by that.

There were a handful of competitors that I did recognize though, so I’m not completely out of touch with that side of the aisle. Two of those were Ms. Possible and her amateur partner, a gentleman named Grampy Snaps. As it turns out, they were actually dancing in one of the categories that Sparkledancer and I were also signed up for, so they would be on the floor with me for half my heats that day. The fact that we were directly competing didn’t seem to bother Ms. Possible that morning, and she was all hugs and smiles as we talked and waited for our first round to start.

Speaking of categories… as I mentioned before, I had signed up for the events in the four styles of Bronze International Standard of two different categories, which meant eight different events for me that day. My first two rounds of dancing were mid-morning, but then I had a really long break, with my other six rounds being stacked close together during what would normally be lunch time. There would be one pause to hand out awards in the morning covering my first two rounds, and then a second awards break mid-afternoon that would wrap up all my other rounds in one go.

Let’s get this out of the way now, since I know everyone is interested: things went really, really well for me that day. I placed much, much better than I had anticipated. Personally, I didn’t think that some of the heats I danced went super good, but apparently the judges didn’t see what I was feeling, because I still scored really high in those dances. Either that or my competitors just had worse rounds than I did. Yay?

The competition in one category I signed up for was significantly lighter than the other. During the rounds I danced where Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps were also on the floor with me, each dance we did was considered the Final because all competitors could fit on the floor at the same time. The other category had many, many more people dancing, with the rounds split into Semi-Final and Finals, and then the Semi-Finals also split into ‘A’ and ‘B’ sections because there were too many people to be on the floor safely at the same time in each Semi-Final.

After the first award ceremony in the morning when I found out I did really well in my first two heats and Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps found out they placed in the middle of the pack, Ms. Possible started to act frostier toward Sparkledancer and I. Before she was all hugs and smiles, but afterward the smiles started to fade and her words became more terse. That continued to get worse as the day went on. Part of that was due to Sparkledancer and I doing better than her and Grampy Snaps during the rounds where we were directly competing, but those two were also dancing in a lot of other categories that day, and in those rounds they ended up scoring in the middle of the pack as well.

She and Grampy Snaps train together under Lord Latin, and he was at the competition to support the group of his students who were all competing that day. I saw that Ms. Possible was monopolizing a lot of Lord Latin’s time, asking for advice and feedback in the hallways and practice room in between each of her rounds. I could see the frustration on the faces of Lord Latin’s other students because none of them were getting any attention with Ms. Possible eating up all of Lord Latin’s time. I heard later that things were made worse when Lord Latin, Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps were watching Sparkledancer and I dance in our other rounds, and Lord Latin was pointing out things that we were doing that he wanted Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps to emulate to improve their placements.


Judge Dread was also at the competition that day as a judge, if you can believe that! He was on the floor grading half of my heats that day – just the larger ones, I believe. That actually made me a little nervous. For some reason, dancing in front of and getting judged by a group of people I don’t know doesn’t really bother me, but dancing in front of a judge whom I have talked to quite a bit and who knows who I am does make me nervous. Based on how well I scored that day, I know that he can’t have marked me too bad, so I should just realize that it wasn’t a big deal, but still… I think that was the part of the day that gave me the most anxiety.

I found out after the competition was over that I probably didn’t have much to worry about as far as making the Finals in my larger heats. After the final awards ceremony was over and all the adrenaline had worn off of both Sparkledancer and I, we both realized that and neither of us had eaten in a really long time. Feeling good about our results, I suggested we stop down the street at a restaurant and get a quick lunch to celebrate before I drive her back to her place, which she agreed to.

While we were eating and talking about how things had gone, we saw four dancers come into the establishment that I recognized from our four largest heats earlier. After Sparkledancer and I had finished eating and were about to head out, we stopped to talk to them. We introduced ourselves and made some small talk about how the event had gone for each of us. One of the guys told me specifically that he wasn’t surprised that I had made it into the finals and then placed so well (he didn’t make the final round with his partner). He was amazed that I could dance, smile, and also engage with the crowd while dancing, all without messing up the figures in my routine.

Leaving the restaurant later, that comment really stuck with me. I know that part of the score that we get as dancers is for the ‘performance’ of the dance, which is pretty much all that gentleman was complimenting me on, but I didn’t think that what I was doing was all that extraordinary. After all, those skills – the smiling, talking, interacting with the crowd and just being mildly entertaining – that’s all stuff that I picked up from going out social dancing so much over the years. To me, that was the easy part of everything I did on the dancefloor that day.

So, to sum up the whole experience… how does this all feel? Honestly, I’m more relieved than elated at doing well. I’m not sure if anyone besides me remembers, but once upon a time I made a remark about how I didn’t consider myself a competitive dancer, but rather an “advanced social dancer.” When Lord Dormamu made the offer at the beginning of this year to direct my training and mold me into some sort of world-class competitive dancer because he saw a lot of potential in Sparkledancer and I, I went along with it mostly because I thought it could be fun, not because I actually wanted to compete on a world stage for any reason.

But I have really worked hard at improving since Lord Dormamu has begun pulling the strings of my dance life. I practice much more, and more seriously; I take what all the instructors I work with tell me to heart and really try to incorporate that advice into my dancing; when I do go out social dancing, I don’t really dance ballroom styles with anyone other than Sparkledancer anymore (if she’s there) to avoid falling back on bad habits, and if I do dance ballroom dances socially I use those opportunities with Sparkledancer to practice my routines while also working on the Lead-and-Follow of floorcraft that is essential for dancing safely during any ballroom style.

It has been ten months of work leading up to this competition, and doing as well as I did proves to me that all of that work I’ve done in that time really has made significant improvements in my dancing. That is where the relief comes from. I don’t feel like I need to celebrate doing well, or berate myself for all the things I know that I did wrong that day. I just want to acknowledge that I have actually and legitimately made progress while taking this trip down the ‘super competitor’ path. All of that time (and money, let’s not forget all that money) I’ve invested in this trip has not been in vain.

How’s that for an advanced social dancer?

I’m not the type of person to get into the “Post-Competition Funk” that I’ve read other dancers write about. A competition for me is just another day of dancing during this crazy adventure of mine in the Dance Kingdom. With this competition over, it’s time to get back to work.

After all, the next competition I was told I’m doing is less than a month from now!