Everyone Hail To The Pumpkin King Now

So many things. Spooky things. And even a little candy this time around. What more could you ask for? Dancing? Oh yeah, I got that too…

Let’s start things off with the two things that I did last Saturday – the first one being work, the second being fun. In the morning I headed out to the Fancy Dance Hall to meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekly coaching session. We had planned on continuing work on our showcase routine this time around.

Before we got started working on choreography, I had to ask about the song again, and Sir Steven actually had an answer for me this time! It turns out that the Artistic Director had listened to the second song that Sparkledancer and I had suggested, but was having trouble fitting it into the mix with the other songs that were being used. I’m not sure what that means, but that’s what I was told. The Artistic Director and Sir Steven had found a different song that was along the same line as what Sparkledancer and I had suggested, and this song would fit in with their mix, so Sir Steven threw out the name to us to consider.

I had never heard of the song before, so he tried to pull up a recording of it on his phone for us all to listen to. There was a lot of activity going on at the Fancy Dance Hall that morning, so it was difficult to even make out the melody of the song while on the dance floor. Sir Steven sent Sparkledancer and I a link to the song so that each of us could listen to it later when we were somewhere that was quieter. That would allow us to review the song, discuss it among ourselves if need be, and let him know what we thought.

With that, we got to work on the new portion of the choreography that he had wanted us to hit on that morning. It wasn’t a whole lot of the choreography – there was a Throwaway Oversway, and a couple of the figures to get into it and how to get out of it, and that was it. I have seen the Throwaway Oversway in a couple of different dance styles before in Standard Technique class, but this is the first time that I will actually be using the figure in any kind of routine, so that’s kind of exciting.

Once we finished up working on choreography for the day and got a video so that Sparkledancer and I could use it for review while practicing later, both Sparkledancer and I took off. In the parking lot, my car was the closest to the front door, so we headed there and got inside, which gave us a fairly quiet place to pull up that song Sir Steven sent us and actually listen to it. The song wasn’t bad – it doesn’t exactly give me the feeling that I had been shooting for, but it’s not terrible. Both Sparkledancer and I agreed to give it a go, so I sent Sir Steven back a message to let him know that the song would work before I left Sparkledancer and headed back home.

It will work… but I don’t know if I am really emotionally invested in this showcase yet because of all the changes that have been made to it so far, just getting it to fit into the theme of the show. Maybe by the time we have everything mapped out I will feel more excited about what it will look like, but right now… I’m just unsure. Is that a bad sign?

I didn’t take much of a break from dancing that day to go home and relax before I headed back out to dance some more. After all, it was Halloween weekend, and my favorite dance parties of all time are Halloween dance parties! This year I had opted to go celebrate the festivities at the Fancy Dance Hall, so for the second time that day I made the drive out there to don my dance shoes and take to the floor.

To get everyone warmed up for the party, a brief class was offered. This class was used, like many other Halloween dance parties I’ve gone to, to teach a well recognized Halloween line dance to everyone. I would guess that many of you went through a similar class if you went out to a Halloween dance party in your area. After much shambling, clapping and laughing, I was feeling more silly than scary, so it was obviously time for the real party to start.

The Fancy Dance Hall made their Halloween party, like everything else they do, into a big production. All of the guests were entreated at the beginning of the party to a show put on by the Fancy Dance Hall’s staff, which laid out a mystery for all the guests to solve. A murder mystery! Spooky… a member of the staff then went around and handed out a slip of paper to everyone in attendance with a clue on it, and a worksheet that could be used to keep track of your results.

The object of the game was to dance with everyone at the party. Once you danced with someone, they were supposed to show you what clue they were given and then you were to cross it off your worksheet. If you crossed off all the clues that were handed out, the leftover items on the worksheet would be the answers needed to solve the mystery. Yes, it did work exactly like that board game that you are thinking of. The first person to solve the mystery would then get a prize for being so smart and so social.

I did not win, so I never figured out what the right answer really was. I got fairly close, but based on what I was told by some of the other people at the party, the staff at the Fancy Dance Hall also had clues and you were supposed to dance with them to find those clues out. Since I actively avoid dancing with instructors, I never found out those answers, which is probably what I had missing on my sheet. Oh well…

I may have avoided dancing with the Fancy Dance Hall’s staff that night, but I did end up dancing with the Princess at one point, weirdly enough. After one song ended, I had gone over to get a glass of water, and when I had finished and looked around the room it seemed like every lady had already found a partner. Thinking that I would get a brief respite, I almost missed the girl who sidled up next to me. I didn’t recognize her at first because she was in a costume, but then I did a double-take and saw that it was the Princess! Apparently she was out party-hopping around the Dance Kingdom that night, and just happened to be at the Fancy Dance Hall to see how everyone was doing at the exact time when I was free for that dance. How lucky was I…?

The song was a Foxtrot. To try to not get judged to poorly, I decided to throw the Princess a curve-ball and tell her that we were going to do American Foxtrot. The Princess holds all kinds of awards and world champion titles for International Standard, so I thought I might be safer going with American Foxtrot. As it turns out, I probably didn’t need to worry all that much about dancing with her at all. There were so many people on the dance floor that I ended up having to hesitate repeatedly whenever some couple would change their angle and dance right in front of us. I kept making jokes whenever that would happen, and the Princess laughed, so my dancing probably wasn’t that bad.

Along the short wall I got stuck behind a large group of people, so to stay in one place and allow the swarm to break up a little bit I went into a figure that I learned as the Run-Around, or Whirlpool (I also heard someone once call it a ‘Horse and Cart’ but I’m not sure about that name). You’ve probably seen it before, where you use your right arm to hook around your partner’s upper torso and then you both turn around a central point. Well, the Princess thought this move was super fun, and she started to turn faster… and faster, and faster, and faster!

Soon the two of us were whipping around in a circle faster than I thought was safe for a social dance. I even ended up pulling in my left arm so that I didn’t accidentally clothesline anyone while spinning. The Princess was laughing so hard and so loud the whole time, and I swear people were stopping to watch the two of us spin. After a few measures of turning at that speed, I decided to reign her in, so I put one of my feet down and used the weight of my body to slow her. She’s a lot smaller than me, so my body was made a good anchor. Once we slowed down enough to get back on time with the music, I did a Back Twinkle to change direction and continued down the line of dance as if nothing had happened.

Crazy, huh?

One last funny thing, and then I’ll move on, I promise – late in the evening, the DJ played the song that everyone had learned the spooky line dance for during the class before the party. It’s a really long song, as it turns out, if you are trying to dance a line dance for the entire duration.

I was on the edge of the group, near the front door. During the third rotation or so, suddenly I had some girls I had never seen before join in near me and attempt to fumble through the steps. They were young, and wearing costumes that were covering a lot less of their bodies than most of the other women at the dance party. Also, they were clearly a few sheets to the wind already. I saw a couple of guys wander in through the front door, talking loudly and stumbling a bit, clearly following these ladies around.

I think these people were just out drinking and wandered into the dance party, which is a strange thing to do. They must have come from the restaurant that is a couple of doors down from the Fancy Dance Hall, since not much else was open at that time of night for blocks around. I never found out though, because as mysteriously as they appeared, they all also left once the line dance was over and the song transitioned to a Waltz (the confused look on one girl’s face told me that she probably didn’t know how to Waltz). Halloween is just full of all sorts of tricks and treats!

Sunday morning I was back out at the Fancy Dance Hall for a lesson with Lord Dormamu. Sparkledancer and I were entered into that competition the first weekend in November, so we had scheduled one last session with Lord Dormamu before that to work on things. We started off by reviewing the Waltz, going over what we all had discussed last weekend so that Lord Dormamu could see how well our practice was coming along. He was pleased with Sparkledancer’s improvement in Heel Turns, which is good to hear since she and I had spent a lot of time just repeating those over and over again during our practice to help her nail those down.

But what we spent most of the time on that day was Tango, and there are two very important and useful things that I came away from that lesson with. He had us start off by just dancing through the beginning of the routine, up through the point where we had stopped last week. I could hear him making noises of disgust behind my back while I was doing this, so I knew something was going to have to be fixed. When he stopped us and had us come back down to start over, he spent a good amount of time manhandling the two of us to fix our frame, so that must have been what was offending him before.

When he was finally satisfied he had us start dancing again. This time, after the first few figures he was exclaiming words of praise in his native language to the others in the dance hall. That caused me to laugh, which broke everything so we had to stop. Luckily, Lord Dormamu thought that was funny, so he told us to get back into that position and start over. As I struggled to manipulate myself, I made an offhand remark about how this Tango frame felt really awkward, and asked who it was that ever thought this was a good way to dance.

That rhetorical question actually made Lord Dormamu stop and talk to me for a few minutes about why Tango was the way that it was, which was actually turned out to be a really helpful explanation for me. He said that back in the day, Tango was danced in a frame that was more like what you see in Argentine Tango now (kind of like dancing while hugging). As competitors tried to move their bodies faster and more dramatically, this frame kept impeding their movements, so they began to adjust their frames gradually to accommodate the types of athletic movements they wanted to make.

What they attempted to create was a frame where you could move your legs freely while staying grounded to the floor more so than in any other ballroom dance, and also to have the lady create as much volume as possible to help make the topline look large and catch attention. This is actually what the frame is designed around. In order to compress and expand like this, you have to essentially become like an accordion – your head is back, your chest is forward, your hips are back, your knees are forward, and your feet are slightly back.

This folded design is what allows an accordion to compress and expand itself and retain its shape, and that same folded look is essentially what you are trying to create in Tango to compress yourself (and retain your shape). The head creates volume, the chest becomes where my lead comes from, because the hips are now back so that you can bend your knees more without driving them into your partner’s knees. With the hips back and the knees bent, your feet then have to be slightly back behind your knees to maintain balance. From top to bottom, this gives you a folded look, like the center of an accordion.

Hearing the frame described in a way that I could actively picture the mechanics is actually what clicked with me. Suddenly it was much easier to figure out where each part of my body was supposed to be positioned, and I could get into frame with Sparkledancer quickly with very little adjustment from Lord Dormamu afterward. It’s still a weird position to be in, there’s no way to change that, but now that I understand why I have to be like this it really helps me recreate the position with ease.

The other thing that we spent quite a bit of time discussing was keeping my shoulders level the entire time that I am dancing. This is something that needs to be done in every dance style, but it is particularly noticeable in Tango because there really shouldn’t be any sway while I am traveling in any of the figures that we have in the routine. That means that, for all intents and purposes, my shoulders and arms should be parallel with the floor almost the entire time. To pull this off, I was told that I should spend my time thinking about… toothpaste.

For real?

According to Lord Dormamu, while I am dancing I essentially have an anchor attached to my right side in the form of a dance partner. I know, most ladies I dance with are tiny compared to me and are not strong enough to slow me down in any real manner, but stay with me on this… having a partner there should effectively keep you grounded on your right side. The problem that Lord Dormamu sees quite a bit with many of his male students is that there is a tendency to compensate for this weight pulling you down on your right side by lifting yourself up on the left side, which will make your shoulder line appear to slope down to the right.

I was told that rather than allow my shoulders to act like a seesaw, where a weight on one side causes the other side to rise up, I instead need to think of my shoulders more like a tube of toothpaste. For your average tube of toothpaste that is pointed from right to left, if you put weight down on the right side, the toothpaste will push outward on the left side. That is what Lord Dormamu wants to see me doing at all times – grounding myself (i.e. pushing down) on my right side, which causes my left elbow to press outward as far as possible. This expands my chest and my back muscles, making my frame appear even bigger. Pressing outward like this should effectively keep my shoulders even with each other, and parallel to the floor.

So that is how we spent our time that day, with Sparkledancer and I dancing while Lord Dormamu yelled at us from across the room about either accordions or toothpaste. And, strangely enough, that really seems to work for me. By the end of the lesson, after Sparkledancer and I had finished our last run-through, Lord Dormamu nodded at us and said that our Tango looked “30% better” than it had looked at the beginning of the hour. 30% feels like a lot of improvement to make after just one hour!

Since my ramblings have gotten to be kind of long, let me spend a minute talking about what I did last night in Standard Technique class before finishing up, just so that I don’t forget. There were a couple of fun figures that I want to remember from class, so I’m going to write them down here. There was even one I have never seen before, which is always fun.

Lord Junior wanted to look at five different figures in the Waltz, all of which can travel quite a bit if you know what you are doing. If done well, you could take these figures from one corner of the long wall to the other if you wanted to. During our class there was someone giving a private lesson on one end of the floor, so we ended up using the third figure to turn a corner and bank the last two figures down a different wall, giving them some room. We’re nice like that. 🙂

Not wanting much fanfare at the beginning, Lord Junior started the progression off using an Open Impetus and went straight into a Basic Weave. Presumably you could use a starter step and a Natural Turn to get into the Open Impetus, but Lord Junior didn’t want to waste time on those, so we just went right into the Open Impetus. Coming out of the Basic Weave we added on an Open Natural Turn, setting us up backing line of dance in Outside Partner position for what came next.

The next figure was the one that I had never seen before. Lord Junior told us that it was an Open-level figure called ‘Chasse Roll to the Right.’ Basically you do a Progressive Chasse to the Right, and on the last step you do a Natural Pivot. Our pivot was what we used to turn the corner because of that other lesson going on, so we started traveling down the line of dance on one wall and ended the pivot with me backing diagonal wall on the new wall. If that lesson hadn’t been there we could have pivoted enough to come out backing line of dance on the same wall if we wanted.

The last figure we tacked on was a Running Natural Spin Turn. This is also an Open-level figure, a variation of a Natural Spin Turn as you probably guessed. Basically the change involves staying lowered down during the first beat of the measure and doing two 180° pivots before stepping out and rising on beat two, with the third step lowering as normal.

The first two pivots build up a lot of speed turning that quickly, so it is important to keep your core engaged so that you can stop your turning as you step out on beat two, otherwise you can end up flailing around out of control. This figure, like the Chasse Roll to the Right, is something that can be led if you are a fairly experienced Leader and your partner has a good idea of the mechanics of pivots and chasses, so give it a try sometime!

So hey… there’s a competition on Saturday. I don’t know how to feel about this one. This competition offers more than just going out and running heats in front of some judges. This event has basically taken over my whole weekend. I have to be there on Saturday morning to dance for the judges, and then I get a few hours off in the afternoon, and then I have to be back that evening for some sort of dinner event, and possibly some more dancing. There’s also some sort of Pro show. Then on Sunday morning there is a ‘Dance Camp’ where all the competitors will get classes/lectures/S’mores from the judges (I really don’t know what to expect).

I don’t feel anything about this competition at the moment. Like the last competition I was in, there are no nerves or excitement, I just feel like it is one more item on my schedule to get through related to my dance training. Maybe the day of there will be some nerves before taking to the floor. In any case, I’ll be sure to tell you all about the event next week!

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