For this week I’ll probably limit what I talk about here to what happened over the weekend, since there is so much information to cover from just Friday and Saturday…
This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the famous ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza that is held annually at the Grand Dance Hall. They make a point of bringing in some fabulous dinners to serve to the attendees, hold formal dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights with a live orchestra providing the music, and offer some pretty fun workshops for both beginner and advanced students during the day on Saturday. This year marked my fifth time attending the October-weekend festivities, because I happen to find it so entertaining.
I made the hour+ drive out to the Grand Dance Hall mid-afternoon Friday, hoping to get there with a little extra time before the welcome reception started so that I could find a place to change into my formal attire. I’ve made the long drive while wearing a suit the first few years and it is super-uncomfortable, so I just don’t do it anymore. Once I had found a quiet corner to change into my formal attire and stowed my street clothes back in my car, I met up with the small group of people I knew by the dance floor to begin the evening’s events.
The main dance hall was opened up an hour before dinner would be served to allow everyone to come in, mingle a bit, eat some snacks that were set out at the back of the room, and even partake of a few adult beverages from the cash bar if that was your thing. A quartet of musicians was playing some dance tunes during the reception, giving everyone a chance to take to the dance floor and begin warming up their legs before the bigger dance party that would start after dinner, when the rest of the orchestra would join the quartet.
Not recognizing too many people at the reception, I stuck with the ladies that I did know when I went out to dance. The times that I went out to dance with Sparkledancer were apparently very noticeable to others in attendance. Near the end, just before the group I was in began wandering off to get some dinner, people started to approach either Sparkledancer or I and ask us if we were dance instructors, or if we were in fact THE dance instructors who would be teaching the workshops the next day. That was a bit strange.
One gentleman approached me and told me that I made him look bad by looking so good. I laughed and apologized to him for that, thinking he was just joking around. He then got quite serious and asked if I would be attending the workshops the next day. When I told him that I would be there, he asked me if I would be able to help him out if he got stuck on anything during the classes. I was really surprised by that question. Of course I told him I would do the best that I could, but it still surprised me that someone would go out of their way to ask me in advance for assistance with dance figures. I’ve never had that happen before.
Dinner was a delight, as always. The food that they bring in for the event always seems really extravagant compared to what I normally eat. I even had a fancy dessert, which is the part of any meal that I rarely (if ever) partake of. Around nine o’clock, the orchestra began to play and we all made our way back out to the dance floor to dance for a few more hours and burn off all those calories that we had consumed. Hooray!
Making my way back to the Grand Dance Hall early on Saturday morning to attend the first workshop being offered, I got to work on Tango for a while. These workshops that they hold are to give people new choreography to work on, rather than to focus on technique. This is a nice change of pace for me from what the lessons I normally attend focus on, so I was having fun.
The choreography we learned was fairly easy to put together if you’d seen all the figures individually before, and because we never broke frame you could theoretically use this when dancing both International or American Tango. I see it as more of an American Tango progression though, but that’s just my take on the matter.
We began facing diagonal wall and did two basic curved Walk steps. Next we attached a 180° pivot to the left and went into a Back Corte. Coming up from that, we did another 180° pivot to left and led the lady to do an Outside Fan, ending with a three-step-close like you see in American Tango. Next we did a Reverse Turn, closing our feet at the end, and then a Contra Check. At the end of the Contra Check we went into a Cobra Fan (another figure from the American Tango syllabus). When we close lady from the second Outside fan portion of that figure, we did two 180° pivots turning to the right this time, finishing with another three-step-close from American Tango to put you facing diagonal wall once more.
Next up of the three workshops offered that day was a Cha-Cha lesson. Everyone in attendance got a brief ten minute break after finishing up the Tango to prepare, and then we got to work immediately. Much like the Tango, the choreography wasn’t all that hard to remember if you had seen all of the individual figures before. Based on how everything was put together, I would guess that you could also do this pattern in Rumba with some minor variations.
The instructor had us begin by doing a full basic, mostly to get everyone’s mind out of Tango and into Cha-Cha. At the end of the basic as you chasse’d back to the left, the Lead would drop the lady’s arm down to waist level. This set you up to push the lady backward into a diagonal Lock Step as we would do a chasse back to the right. With the lady moved away from us, we then did a Slip Chasse as we brought her back forward, which would make her do another Lock Step. Once we were back together, we led her into a Underarm Turn on left side, then a pair of Cross-Over Breaks, one right, one left, and then a set of Cuban Breaks on the right side.
Finished with the Cuban Breaks, we went into Solo Spot Turns on the left side. one last Cross-Over Break on the right, and in place of the next chasse both the Lead and Follow did a Three-Step Turn to the left. At the end of all that spinning, we linked hands to do two steps backward and then a backward Lock Step, ending in Aida position. To finish the whole progression, both partners turned to face each other, did a Stationary Chasse, and then we led the lady through a Cross Body Lead, releasing her at the end to lead her into one final Spot Turn on the left side.
We broke for an hour at that point so that everyone could grab lunch. When we all got back together, it was time for the last workshop of the day, which covered East Coast Swing. In this amalgamation we once more started out with a full basic movement to help everyone change mental gears, then transitioned into a Continuous Tuck-In with a full turn at the end. As the lady is turning, the Lead should back away so that she completes the turn out away from you, ending up in the position she would take to begin the Sliding Doors figure.
The next figure is kind of like the Sliding Doors, but not. You would bring your partner in front of you as normal, but stop her with your right hand when she gets directly in front of your body. Here you would lean from side to side, first to the left, then right, then repeat, while the lady leans in the opposite direction (right then left x2). This creates what the instructor described as a ‘Peek-A-Boo’ effect. If you know your partner pretty well, you can place your opposite hand on her waist as you lean – this is not a requirement on the first three leans, but on the fourth one you will need to place your left hand on your partner to signal the finish.
Using your left hand, you will lead the lady to turn to the left and roll away from you while you do a full basic movement. She can either do a half-turn, or one-and-a-half turns, depending on how much she likes spinning. After the next rock step you will take both of your partner’s hands in your own and lead her to step forward as you do, getting really close to each other and there hold for a beat. Then each of you will take a step back and hold there as well for a beat. To finish everything up, you do two Sailor Shuffles (right then left), lead the lady through a Underarm Turn, both partners go through Solo Turns, and then you can catch her hand once more to go into whatever you want next.
That all seems pretty normal for workshops at the Grand Dance Hall, right? So what was different about this year, to make my fifth time coming to this event special? Well, I’m not sure what I was doing differently, but it seemed like this year a whole bunch of people really wanted to approach me and ask for my help on how to do all the figures that the instructors were going over that day. I felt like I must have had some sort of neon sign hanging over my head that read “HELPFUL!” or something, drawing people over to ask me things when the instructors were busy with other people..
Remember that gentleman that I met at the reception who asked me if I would be willing to help if he got stuck? He actually got stuck, so I definitely had him approach me early on in the Tango class. What he forgot to mention at the reception was that he had come to the weekend’s events with a whole group of dancers from his home dance studio, and apparently he had told all of them about both Sparkledancer and I. So on top of him coming and asking me for help, other men from his group also asked me for help when they got stuck, and I could see women from that same group collecting around Sparkledancer on the other side of the room to ask her for help too.
When the instructors wanted the men and women to practice the figures together during class, Sparkledancer and I ended up frequently getting shepherded together so that the whole gang could stand around and watch as we demonstrated how the pieces worked with a partner. When these people felt confident enough to try things out with a partner from their group, they would ask either Sparkledancer or I to watch them to validate they got everything right, or if they got stuck they asked us to step through the trouble spots with them until they got things right.
On top of that, being the center of attention of these ten people in one corner of the dance floor started to attract the attention of others in the workshops, and soon we had even more people who would stop either one of us for assistance too! One older gentleman even came and found me during the morning and said that he took a lot longer to process the figures than most people, so he asked my permission to record me walking through the steps so that he could use the video to learn at his own pace.
I agreed to his request, of course. Not wanting to be in some stranger’s video all on my own though, I made Sparkledancer be in the video with me. That allowed him to see how the steps were done with a partner. To be even more helpful, I also talked through what I was doing as I did the steps – I thought having some kind of audio cues could help keep confusion to a minimum when he watched the video in the future. He thanked me profusely when we finished.
With so many people talking to me all through the classes, I ended up cutting out of the East Coast Swing lesson a bit early to go find a secluded spot to collect my thoughts. It had been kind of an overload to talk to so many people, and while helping people is always thoroughly enjoyable, I needed a little bit of quiet time to reset afterward.
Once the workshops were over and done with on Saturday, the main dance hall was closed off so that the staff could prepare the room for that night’s final reception before dinner, and prepare for the dance party afterward. However, there was a smaller room closer to the front of the building that was opened up as a practice hall for anyone who wanted to use the few free hours that afternoon for practice. I was only too eager to get some extra practice in, so I wandered around until I found Sparkledancer and convinced her to come with me.
The dance floor in this practice room was much smaller than I had hoped for, so Sparkledancer and I ended up just running through pieces of our Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot routines for about 45 minutes until the floor really limited what we wanted to practice. I noticed that the back wall of the room had a mirror attached to it that hung about chest height for me over a carpeted section of the room. Limited on space to dance big steps, I suggested to Sparkledancer that we spend a little time working on something that was a bit more stationary instead: the lift for our upcoming showcase routine.
The last section of the lift I already felt pretty good about, so we just ran through that a couple of times and called that good. This time around I wanted to work on making sure we mastered the first section, because that would be where I get her off the ground as the whole thing starts. Basically, without going into too much detail, I end up crouching down as low as I can go with my feet still under me, then I help Sparkledancer hop up onto my right shoulder and stand up again with her sitting there facing behind me. The mirror on the wall was actually really helpful for this, because as I stood I could see how she was sitting without having to turn my head, using that view to help me figure things out.
There were a couple of important notes that we worked out while going through this section. Getting Sparkledancer up like that was the easy part – as I’ve said, she’s pretty light, and I’m positioned in such a way when we start that I can use both my legs to lift myself and her, so that’s no problem. The first note is that I needed to make sure that she hops up onto my shoulder so that her right hip ends up right where my shoulder starts to curve up to my neck. If she’s seated too far over to the right, she’s liable to start sliding off the rounded end of my shoulder and down my right arm as I begin to stand.
The second big thing we found out was that Sparkledancer really needed to remain engaged in her core the whole time while up off the ground. For the second part of the lift, I need to be able to move around with her up there, and then I start to manipulate her position with my arms. If she is loose and wiggling around, trying that becomes difficult. Funny, but difficult. Keeping her core in place to keep her solid and steady fixes that issue.
Finally, there’s the arms. When I stand up, I have my right arm bent at a 90° angle so my hand is behind her back, and my left hand is holding her right hand to keep her stable as I stand up. Once up, I must be able to let go and start moving my hands to their new positions for the next section, so I can’t rely on just holding Sparkledancer in place. Once I reposition my hands under her right arm and left leg for the next section, my arms become useful again, but there is that brief moment where I do actually have to move them and can’t hold on that can be a bit scary. As we tried things out, the first few times either I or Sparkledancer were holding on too tight to move my arms at all, which caused all sorts of problems.
We ended up stopping there for the day, promising to work on the middle section later. That part will involve a lot of rotation of her body and lifting on my part, but she ends up behind my head, so I wanted to keep things safe. For that piece we will have to do our initial tests somewhere where I can have a big cushion available for Sparkledancer to drop into if something goes really awry. I don’t expect anything to be terrible, but just like I mentioned before, safety is always rule #1 when doing lifts, especially during the learning phase.
Plus, I think word had gotten out that Sparkledancer and I were practicing this overly athletic dance move, and people kept poking their heads in to see what we were up to. Fellow dancers spying on us was unnerving enough, but when members of the staff started doing it I thought it might be best to call it quits for the day. I didn’t want anyone who worked for the Grand Dance Hall to start having conniptions about me letting a girl sit on my shoulder as I walked around the room…
Saturday night’s reception was a lot like Friday night’s, though many of the attendees broke out attire for the evening that was even more formal than what was worn the night before. The same four piece band provided the music during the reception, though their tempos seemed to run a bit looser in their interpretations of the songs than what they had performed the night before. It was an entertaining time, and I got to eat a plate of super fancy cheese slices on top of that!
The dance party that night after dinner was the big one – the last chance to pull out all the stops and leave everything out on the dance floor. The set list that the orchestra had picked out for the evening did leave a lot to be desired, but that’s just my own take on things. To me it felt like they only played Waltz, Foxtrot, East Coast Swing and Cha-Cha songs that night. There were a couple of other styles interspersed in occasionally, but those were very rare. I think during the few hours they played they did only one Rumba, I know they only did one Tango, and there were no Viennese Waltz numbers at all. There was one song that I heard as a familiar Quickstep tune, but a bunch of dancers took the floor early on and started to dance Swing instead, and many were all in the line of dance instead of in the middle, so Quickstep would have been super dangerous.
Overall this year was another really good time, and I snagged a flyer on the way out that night that contained the sign-up sheet for next year’s event. I’ve already mailed in my form along with the down payment to reserve my spot, so I’ll for sure be back next October to party at the Grand Dance Hall once again. Do you all want to come along with me? We could make it into an even bigger party! Just let me know and I can send you a link to all the information you’ll need to reserve your spot too!