Banging On A Kettledrum Won’t Make You Notice Me

I know you’re probably mostly interested this week in hearing about the competition that I just finished, so I promise that I’ll talk about that first…

Last Saturday was a busy day for me. I spent most of the day out at the Dance Death Arena to compete. This was another one of those competitions where, as an amateur, once I paid the entry fee I could register to dance in as many different rounds as I wanted. I signed up to take part in the same rounds that I had done during the last competition I had gone to the Dance Death Arena for back in the beginning of October. That meant I would be doing four different two-dance rounds that day.

Also just like the last competition that I did at the Dance Death Arena, two of the rounds that I danced in had practically no competition, and the other two were super contested. This time around, Sparkledancer and I had only one person dancing against us in the low turnout rounds. With only two couples registered and a big floor, they put in dancers from a couple of other categories to make better use of the space (and the judge’s time).

The other two rounds I did though… those were nuts. When the rounds finally showed up on the board listing the numbers of all the competitors, I think there were twenty-four couples listed in one, and twenty in the other. Because the rounds were so big, they had been divided up into Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals, and then the Quarter-Final round also had to be split in half to give the judges a chance to see and evaluate everyone properly.

One thing that they offered at this competition that I had not seen before, was the ability for people to sign up to dance in a category without a registered partner. There were a number of people registered that had a partner listing of “TBA” and it took me a bit to figure out what that was all about. These individuals weren’t allowed to dance solo, since no solo proficiency rounds were offered during this competition, but anyone who wanted to compete could find a partner just before taking the floor and dance if they wanted to.

President Porpoise was actually at this competition offering his services throughout the day for any ladies that needed a last-minute partner. Being the experienced dance host that he is, he thought it would be a nice way to volunteer to help out at the competition. The last competition I saw him volunteering at, he was stuck at a table checking people in. This job seemed to suit him much better. He’s such a presidential guy… this is why everyone votes for him.

Let’s get this out of the way before I get any farther – I did very well at the competition, even better than I did at the last competition I did at the Dance Death Arena. They gave out ribbons at this competition for everyone that was sixth place or above, so I got four ribbons to take home as a souvenir. Good job me!

I mention the ribbons because they are kind of funny… I noticed the day after the competition that half the ribbons that I received had the name of a completely different competition printed on the front of them. When I saw that, I took a picture and sent it over to Sparkledancer to show her. Turns out that three of the four ribbons she took home had the name of this other competition too! I can’t find any information online about this other competition, so I wonder if these are just recycled ribbons from an old competition that no longer exists? That struck me as funny for some reason.

There are a couple of interesting points of note I want to mention about this competition so I can reflect on them later. First off, a serious note about my scores: I managed to see the breakdown of how I scored with each judge. For the most part, all the judges rated Sparkledancer and I the same as the place that we got at the end of the day, which explains why we took home ribbons with those place numbers when we left. However, there was one judge that rated us last in every round we danced, which is a huge discrepancy when compared with all the other scores we got.

Since finding that out, I’ve been wracking my brain to try to figure out why this judge would do that. Did the judge just not like the way that I looked? Did I offend him in some way early on in the day, and thus he always rated me last? Was there something technical about my dancing that he thought I was doing wrong compared to everyone else?  It’s too bad I didn’t get a chance to ask the judge (if they would have allowed me to do that). I would have loved to know the reason why his marks were so different from all the other judges’ marks.

Funny note now: in between every few adult rounds they would do a round of junior dancers, which is always fun to watch. Many of these kids are barely half my height, and they are already way better than me at dancing. It makes me wish that I had started out at that age…

Anyway, I was in line waiting for one of my heats to begin when they had these little kids out doing a four dance International Latin final. They started out with a Cha-Cha, then did a Samba. Next up, the emcee announced that all of these young dancers would do “the dance of friendship.” When the DJ put on a Rumba, the whole crowd started to laugh. Apparently when you are that young, judges don’t expect to see any romance in your Rumba. Too funny. I’m going to start referring to Rumba as the dance of friendship whenever it comes up in conversation to see if anyone notices.

After driving back home, unpacking all my stuff from my car and sitting down momentarily to take a few deep breaths, I left the house again to head out to a dance party. My Royal Dance Court group was putting on an event that night, and though I was tired out from driving all over the place all day, I knew that I would be needed for a short while at this party.

I got to the venue a few minutes after the lesson we had planned had started. The big reason that I thought it would be good for me to be there was that my Royal Dance Court group had planned on bringing in someone to teach a lesson on American Viennese Waltz. Knowing that not many people feel comfortable with Viennese Waltz at first because they think it is so fast, I thought it would be prudent for me to jump into the lesson to help guide any ladies who were struggling through the footwork.

As I walked through the door and took a moment to assess the situation, I was pulled into a different problem that had nothing to do with the group class that was going on. The DJ was having trouble getting the equipment that they had brought in hooked up into the existing sound system at the venue. Apparently the DJ had played at this venue before and had no trouble, but that was because a specific cable had been plugged into the back of the sound system control box that would easily plug everything into the DJ’s setup. That cable as nowhere to be found.

Being male, and having plugged in enough stereo equipment in my youth to know a thing or two, I went over to see if I could help. I had already arrived late, I figured that if I could get the DJ to tell me what kind of cable was missing, I could run out and pick one up if needed. The problem with that plan was that the DJ couldn’t give me a good description of what the end of the cable looked like, so I had to wedge myself behind the stereo cabinet and look at all the inputs myself.

While back there, I found one cable lying along the floor that wasn’t plugged into anything. I moved it out of the way to avoid accidentally stepping on the cord and breaking it while I looked at the inputs. When I did that, the DJ reached down and picked it up. There was some sort of adapter on both ends of this cable, and when those were pulled off, it turned out to be the type input plug that was needed.

Once I was told that was what everyone had been looking for, I helped get the cable plugged into the back of the stereo system, since I was already wedged back there anyway. When the DJ plugged in the other end, we were able to test everything and verify that we were getting sound from the speakers. First crisis of the night averted! Hooray!

After extracting myself from behind the cabinet, I finally managed to get my dance shoes on. I surveyed the group class again. Sparkledancer had been watching the class while I was helping out with the sound system, and she pointed out to me that there were several ladies that didn’t have partners in the back corner of the room that were struggling with getting their footwork right.

The instructor was just going through the basic Reverse and Natural Turns at the moment, so I jumped in and worked with a couple of the ladies in practice frame to help them get their steps down. Prez told me later that she thought that I had the patience of a saint for working through the figures slowly with those ladies who were struggling.

Most of the lesson centered around just doing Reverse and Natural Turns and Change Steps, since those figures are pretty much a requirement for getting around the room. In the last ten minutes, the instructor went over a figure that would actually be considered American Viennese Waltz. After a half Reverse Turn, we would then do a Cross Body Lead with Underarm Turn, releasing the lady to open up into Side-by-Side Fan Position.

Next he had everyone do that classic move where you bring the lady back toward you so that you can meet up in the middle palm-to-palm – or you could rub noses, or kiss (if you were really good friends) – before opening back up to Side-by-Side Fan again. In place of the standard ending, the instructor had us do something more like Tango Swivels, where we would turn to face each other and point the right leg (left leg for the ladies) to the side, then step forward, collect the lady back into frame and point the left leg (right leg for ladies) to the side, and then we could start up with the Reverse Turns again.

This last piece seems fairly simple if you’ve done any American Viennese Waltz before… based on my description, you may be able to picture exactly what it looks like in your head. They are fairly common movements. However, when we were all given the last part of class to practice, I found even more ladies that were struggling to figure out what their footwork should be. I did my best to try to help out as many as I could, but I didn’t manage to get to all of them before class was over unfortunately.

The DJ didn’t play many more Viennese Waltz songs than normal than night – maybe one or two extra over the two or three you would hear at an average party – so there wasn’t really much opportunity for people to practice what they learned. One of the first songs that the DJ did play was a super slow Viennese Waltz, which everyone got out on the floor to do, but the later songs that were more normal tempo didn’t see as many participants. Ah well, hopefully this class took some of the fear out of the dance style for these people.

Sunday afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekend lesson. With the competition over, it is time to buckle down and get super-serious about the showcase performance coming up. After all, it is less than a month away to opening night!

Before we even started to go over the choreography, Sir Steven had to talk with us about the show. It turns out that one of the instructors from the Fancy Dance Hall had some kind of project at their day job that had to be scheduled for the performance weekend, so he wasn’t going to be able to dance in the production! The other male instructors were going to take over dancing the routines that had been prepared with his female students, but there were a few holes in the storyline of the show where this instructor was going to be performing with one of the females on staff.

That was where Sparkledancer and I would come in. The Artistic Director of the show had asked Sir Steven if we could move our performance to fill in one of those holes in the plot. They had a different act that could easily take over the spot where we were going to be originally plus the next plot point, so one number could be eliminated. However, there was a pivotal moment in the story that was still missing which our number could be used for without changing too much of the choreography.

This would mean that other things about the act would have to change though… our costumes, for one, are going to have to be  completely different. I had only gotten two pieces for mine so far, so that wouldn’t be too hard for me to accommodate. The portrayal is the other thing though. Sparkledancer and I had talked about doing this number to work on portraying an emotion during our dancing. Since I am generally a happy and comedic person, we had wanted to try dancing something somber and sad.

Taking our routine and moving it to this new slot means that it is no longer going to portray a sad part of the story. In fact, the part that it fits now would be mostly happy, with a bittersweet ending. Still… I said that moving the routine would be fine, and Sparkledancer agreed as well, so for now that’s the new, new plan. One of these days I hope to actually get to talk to the Artistic Director, but we haven’t both been at the Fancy Dance Hall at the same time in quite a while, so that just hasn’t happened.

By the time we finished our lesson that day, Sir Steven had mapped out what he said would be the first half of the routine. There is a bit of an intro that still needs to be put together, but that piece will involve knowing where one of the set pieces will be placed, and no one has marked that spot on the dance floor yet. Combined with the section that uses that ‘Horse and Cart’ figure and the ending with the big lift, I’m not sure how much of the choreography we still have left to learn.

Sparkledancer and I actually timed out what we have already during our practice session earlier this week, and from that clock it feels like we still have a lot more that needs to be added. The big piece that Sir Steven gave us that he said comprised ‘the first half’ of the routine is barely 42 seconds when danced to the tempo of the song. That seems… short.

The ‘Horse and Cart’ piece doesn’t seem to be safely workable to the song’s tempo, with the number of steps we were given and the way Sparkledancer was told to stretch her arms… it feels too frantic, and trying to move my feet so fast involves me taking tiny steps. However, if we manage to use the figure as I was told it should be, that only adds another eight seconds. Unless we are looking for our routine to be only a minute and-a-half, it feels like we need quite a bit more.

We’ll talk about it with Sir Steven come Saturday and see what his vision for the rest of the choreography looks like…

Because of the holiday this week, the group class that I normally go to on Wednesday night was cancelled, so the last thing that I did this week was go out to Monday night’s Latin Technique class. As class was getting started, Lord Junior gave us all the option to do either Samba or Cha-Cha, and I was the most vocal in my choice of doing Cha-Cha, so that’s what we did. Before I went to class, I had gone to work out and done mostly plyometric exercises, so while neither Samba or Cha-Cha sounded particularly ideal to me, Cha-Cha seemed like the least-worst choice to me.

We warmed up by practicing Lock Steps slowly. After some explanation about the specific things that Lord Junior wanted each of us to focus on (for me it was making sure to put my heels down at the right time), we did sets of three going forward and backward on our own. Next we partnered up and did the same thing, with the men traveling backward for the first set of three and forward for the second, and the women doing the opposite.

After Lord Junior felt like we had warmed up sufficiently with Lock Steps, he wanted to have us all go through an exercise that he had been doing with a student of his right before class started. This exercise had us doing Three-Step Turns to the right and then back to the left on our own. This was a figure he wanted to use in the choreography we would do during class, so he wanted to make sure everyone could do it well before we started on that.

The final bit of choreography mostly consisted of adding together our Lock Step practice with the Three-Step Turn. With both partners facing each other and our weight on the right leg (ladies on their left), we did one Hand To Hand and then did three Lock Steps with both partners traveling forward. At the end of those three we changed sides and did another Hand To Hand. Coming back we only did two Lock Steps traveling forward and then squared up with our partner to do a basic chasse to the right (ladies to the left).

At the end of the chasse we did a New Yorker to the man’s right side, then pivoted back 180° to go right into a Three-Step Turn. At the end we would catch hands with our partner, do a New Yorker to the man’s left side, pivot around again and finish with another Three-Step Turn. The goal was to make sure at the end that we finished up being solid and balanced and on time with the music.

Most of the class was spent rotating partners and just practicing this simple choreography with the music. However, the first time that Lord Junior rotated through the ladies to dance with Bony, something funny happened… I was dancing, so I didn’t see what actually happened, but suddenly from the other side of the room I hear Bony yell out “Turn!” Lord Junior starts laughing then and says really loudly “Bony! You’re supposed to actually turn there, not just yell ‘Turn!’”

That made the whole class break out into laughter for a little while. Lord Junior ended up telling us all that we needed to go through that round again with the same partners so that he could see if his partner could turn correctly on her second try. Good times.

Look at me, posting things on a holiday! I must be really dedicated to this, or something. I hope that everyone manages to get out dancing this weekend to burn off all those extra calories. I know that I’ll be out somewhere this weekend. There is at least one dance party I know about going on, and I think I have some dance lessons scheduled, and for sure I’ll be getting in some practice time. The dancing never ends!


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