You Put Your Arms Around Me And I’m Home

I had thought that my life would relax a little as the holidays drew closer. It seems like I was totally wrong in that assumption…

When I got together with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer on Saturday morning, everything seemed to have finally fallen into place. Sparkledancer and I had been given the entire choreography for our showcase less than a week beforehand, and had only managed to meet up for an hour on the Thursday evening beforehand to run through the sequence to try to memorize everything, but we managed to get it all down. It helped that I had gotten a video of Sparkledancer and Sir Steven dancing through the routine from start to finish the night we got the routine. I watched that over and over again, which helped me know which figures I needed to lead in the right order. Hooray!

I also think that I have my costume done. To keep things rather simple and inexpensive, large chunks of what I am wearing are items that I already had at home. For instance, I am just planning on wearing a pair of my dance practice pants during the performance. The look I was told to go for was semi-formal, but I need to have full range of motion for my legs to be able to squat down far enough so that Sparkledancer can hop up on my shoulder. Normal dress slack have the right look, but are too stiff for me to bend down like that. My dance practice slacks do flex in that manner, so they are a great choice.

Also, I actually saw the Artistic Director at the Fancy Dance Hall this weekend! We didn’t really get a chance to talk much though… she came walking through right at the end as we were finishing up our lesson. Sir Steven had her stop to take a look at what the lift which ends our performance, to help her figure out how to cut the music and give us enough time to draw the lift out dramatically. I wanted to ask her about all kinds of things related to the acting pieces that I’m going to have to do, but I was told that those questions would be answered during the blocking rehearsal that was scheduled for Thursday night.

So much for getting any time to practice that part of the show…

All that remains now is to continue practicing the routine to make sure it is comfortable and hits the few marks on the floor that I have. The performances are a little over a week away now. I am feeling pretty good about how things are going, but I’ll admit that I still feel no attachment to this performance. I guess that it’s good that I’ll be portraying a specific character, rather than trying to play myself while dancing. Having to give up all my ideas for this performance really disconnected me from the dance, and I don’t think anything is going to change in that regard between now and the first performance date.

I also managed to make it out to the Waltz workshop that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall on Saturday afternoon. This workshop was being put on by Lady Lovelylocks, who is Lord Junior’s professional partner. Lord Junior was also there milling about in the back of the studio, practicing some choreography from the looks of things. He jumped in near the end of the workshop when we started dancing with partners. There were quite a bit more women than men, so it was nice of him to help even out the ratio a little bit.

It felt like we spent most of the workshop on just stretching. Lady Lovelylocks wanted us to all get warmed up and work on using all the various parts of our bodies isometrically, so she showed us all sorts of different stretches to help with that. First we did all the stretches slowly, so that everyone could learn what they were supposed to do. Next she put them into a pattern so that we could all do them in the same order with some rhythm. Finally, we did the pattern with some Waltz music playing. That sequence lasted for multiple songs.

When we were finally all super warm, Lady Lovelylocks got down to business and had us focus on our rise and fall. To do this, we started with normal rotating box steps on our own. The points we were given to work on while doing these box steps were to make sure that we kept things slow and use all of the music, and to make sure that we didn’t come crashing down from our rise on beat three. I had somehow gotten stuck in the middle of the floor with people all around me that took tiny steps, so I felt like my box steps didn’t move a whole lot while I was practicing them.

There was only a little choreography used at the end of class that we danced with a partner. We looked at some Open Natural and Open Reverse Turns in Shadow Position, and the Change Step to switch between the two. I think I’ve mentioned this before at some point, but the Change Steps that you do while in Shadow Position are actually just three steps forward or backward.

These are not like a Three Step in Foxtrot, however. Lord Junior yelled at me from across the room because he saw me at one point doing my footwork like a Foxtrot Three Step. I didn’t even realize that I had done it until he said something, so it was totally my fault. Slightly embarrassing! The footwork should be like a normal Waltz Change Step, so make sure not to do a heel lead on the second step, or else you’ll get yelled at like I did…

The remainder of the class was spent switching through partners and dancing through these figures. We started off in Shadow Position already and did two Open Reverse Turns, then a Change Step followed by two Open Natural Turns, and we could finish with another Change Step if we had the room before we hit the wall. As the ladies were asked to rotate through the guys to practice, I seemed to be forgotten quite a bit. I was in the front of the room, because I didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone while I was traveling down the floor. When we all lined up on one end of the room and the ladies paired off with a guy, I was constantly having to wave my arms at them to have a lady come dance with me. Were they afraid of me or something?

Last Monday night at Latin Technique class I got to work on Rumba. We started off the class by warming up using Lord Junior’s new favorite Rumba exercise that involves doing Three Step Turns from side-to-side. Once we had gone through that enough times to make him happy, he had us do some work looking at basic Rumba walks. We used four types of Rumba Walks to start with, which were: the Forward Walk, the Checked Walk (which is what everyone does when they do the basic Rumba movement), the Turning Walk (which has you take a step forward and then turn 180° without moving your feet), and finally the Backward Walk.

Lord Junior wanted to build us a sequence of figures that night that focused on all of these walking movements, plus the Delayed Walk, which is basically just a normal walk but with some different (i.e. ‘delayed’) timing. We started things off facing our partner with our weight on the left leg and our right leg pointed back, ladies on their right leg with the left pointed forward. Our starter step was a step forward on beat four. Next we did a delayed Check forward, holding the check until just before the next beat four, when the ladies then would step toward us while the men just switched their weight to the right leg and pointed the left behind them.

Next we wanted to get the ladies out to Fan Position, so the men would lunge off to the left while twisting their upper bodies to press forward with the left arm, which would lead the ladies to collect and turn 90° clockwise, and then the men did a chasse to the right as the ladies did a Turning Walk to get into Fan Position. To give the ladies even more practice with their Turning Walks, we next led the ladies to do an Alemana. The men would shift slightly to the left as the ladies did this so that we could close with the ladies on our right side.

The last thing that we did was to lead the ladies through Opening Outs. Making things more difficult, Lord Junior asked the ladies to do these using the Delayed Walk action, where after doing the rock step backward, they would point their leg forward without moving until the absolute last second, and then step and turn to go into an Opening Out on the other side.

This was probably the most difficult thing we did that night. As a guy, you had to be careful not to push the lady forward too much after letting her open out. It had to be a balance of pushing enough so she came forward to get on her leg and point her other toe, but not enough to actually step forward through both legs. We did two Opening Outs with this delayed action, and then a third where we brought the lady forward as normal and then led her into a Spiral Turn before sending her back out into Fan Position.

The last thing that I want to talk about this week was the coaching that I got signed up for last night. Lord Dormamu had a good friend of his, who much like Lord Dormamu is also a world-famous International Standard coach that many of you have probably heard of, in town on Wednesday. They were meeting up to discuss some business propositions about putting together a new competition in the Dance Kingdom. I’m sure this means that Lord Dormamu will tell me that I’m going to be competing in this event when they get it all up and running.

Since there was some extra time in the schedule between and after their business discussions, this gentleman offered to hold some coaching sessions for any students that were interested, and Lord Dormamu signed Sparkledancer and I up. Because I had things going on at work yesterday, I could only get to the Fancy Dance Hall late in the evening, so I ended up getting the coach’s last time slot of the day. In a way this worked out very nicely because there was no rush for us to complete our session so that he could move on to other students after us. Our lesson went waaaaay over the time it should have as we looked over all sorts of material together.

Once Lord Dormamu introduced us, he asked that we spend our time having the coach look over our Waltz and Foxtrot. With those marching orders, we got started, though we didn’t stick to the script we were given for the entire session. The lesson basically went like this: the coach had us dance through our routines once for him with music, and when we finished up we would talk about what he saw us doing through his adjudicator eyes. Throughout the night we were given specific notes about each dance style we completed, and by the end of the session I also had several overall takeaways that covered all dance styles universally that he wanted me to think about.

Let me start with the notes on the individual dance styles. Though we were told by Lord Dormamu to work on Waltz and Foxtrot, apparently our Foxtrot was pretty good so we didn’t spend much time going over it, and had time left over to look at Tango as well. Sparkledancer chose to start with the Waltz, so that’s what we received notes on first.

There were really only a couple of things specific to the Waltz that he picked on, and some of these may just be his particular preferences when he judges competitions. These were his notes:

  • He wanted to see us doing more distinct rise and fall during the Progressive Chasses throughout the routine. As we tried it out, I thought that it felt overdone, but he said that it looked better from where he was standing.
  • Next up, he thought that I was taking far too small of a step going into the Double Reverse Spins. I asked him about how I’d always been told to take small steps with early quick rise to lead a Double Reverse Spin, and he said that by the book that’s what I should do, but it looked like I wasn’t traveling anywhere on my first step when I did that.
  • The final thing he wanted to talk about was when going into the Whisk, it didn’t look to him like I was taking a complete step onto my left foot before rising up and taking a step to the side and slightly back onto my right foot. To make sure it looked the way it should, he wanted me to take the first step and have all of my weight over my left leg (almost to the point where I could stand on one foot) before moving to my right leg.

Foxtrot was definitely where I felt the strongest that night, and there were only a couple of items that he said looked out-of-place in his eyes (the last one is definitely a personal preference of his, since I have been specifically told by Lord Dormamu to do it differently):

  • I was told to put more emphasis on moving slower during the slow steps. He wanted me to really extend my legs and push myself as far as possible during those two beats before putting my foot down and going into the quick steps. It wasn’t that I was rushing when I danced it as he watched, he said, but I wasn’t using my timing to its full potential.
  • There were a few points, like on the first Feather in the routine, where he said that it seemed like I was rotating too much and Sparkledancer was ending up beside me rather than in front of me. He wanted me to lessen the rotation through my body to avoid that, and instead change the placement of where my steps were going to help keep her in front. If I feel like she is ending up beside me on my right instead of in front of me, I need to take my step slightly more to the left to compensate.
  • During the Weaves that we do, he wanted me to add shaping through the progression. On the Natural Weave for instance, Lord Dormamu has always told me that I would be shaping with the left side through the Natural Turn, then level out through the actual Weave, and then shape to the left again through the Feather Finish. The coach wanted me to shape to the right through the Weave to emphasize the difference in those steps. This I think may just be a personal preference thing, so I’ll run this item by Lord Dormamu before I work on adding it into my practice.

With some time left, the coach wanted to keep going and switch over to the Tango. Before we got started, Sparkledancer and I warned him that our Tango was still a work in progress, and it was what we considered the weakest of our dances. After we finished dancing through the routine once, he stopped us and said that he thought our Tango actually looked fairly good, which was nice to hear. There were a few points that we managed to talk about that he suggested we change:

  • He thought that we were too low in our Tango frame, which he said explained why we always had to air close our feet because our partner’s knee was between our own. I was told to bring my legs together and stand with Sparkledancer in front of me, with her legs also together. We then bent at the knees until we met resistance from each other’s legs. That was as far down he said we should be while dancing.
  • The coach specifically mentioned leading my partner to roll into Promenade Position through rolling my right hip forward slightly. This goes directly against what Lord Dormamu said last time we got together when he told me to stop doing exactly that. What…??? This is definitely something that I am going to have to discuss with Lord Dormamu.
  • We spent a bit of time looking at the Right Lunge in the corner. He wanted me to adjust the rotation in my upper body so that as my legs are lunging toward diagonal wall, my upper body is pointing more line of dance, and thus is pushing Sparkledancer to shape out more line of dance with her upper body as well.
  • Much like with the Foxtrot steps, he wanted me to make sure to slow down when bringing my feet together at the end of a figure. Usually the close happens over two beats in the music, but I am closing my feet immediately and then just hanging out. He prefers that I hang out with my legs still in their previous position and my body split-weight between them, and then close my feet at the end of the two beats.

There were some additional comments he made about our overall dancing as competitors that he’d like to see us work on. One note he told each of us was based on our positioning when dancing together. He told me that I needed to watch my right elbow, to make sure that I was not pulling it back too far. I was told to think about when dancing with a partner that there is essentially one-and-a-half people for my arms to get around. There’s the front half of my body, and then my partner’s body. To ensure that my right arm is capable of covering this distance, my arm needs to be bent enough so that my elbow is out in front of the front half of my body. I had never heard it described like that before, and I thought that was an interesting way of looking at things.

Sparkledancer was told that her upper body needs to lean on an angle more to the left. She has been working a lot lately on bending herself back to create more volume, but not as much on leaning herself to the left side at the same time. Leaning in this direction essentially presses her left lat muscle into my right hand as we stand in frame. This will probably be something that we will have to focus specifically on during practice, to move while having her lean to the left while bending backward instead of just one direction at a time.

The last thing that we talked about last night went off on a weird tangent that I had never heard anyone talk about before. It came up while we were looking at the Right Lunge in the Tango. At one point he wanted me to lead him through the figure. When I got into frame with him, he said that I was not holding him tightly enough with my right hand. Afterward, when I got back into frame with Sparkledancer, he said that I was also not holding her tightly enough as well. What gives?

He told us a story about how he once had a coach work with him back when he was competing. This coach wanted to have him demonstrate a figure with her, so she asked him to lead her through it and got into frame with her with a considerable gap between their bodies. This made him uncomfortable, as he had been told over and over again that the lead should come through his body, so having to lead her through the figure without body contact felt wrong to him. Then she asked him: why should it be a problem?

This coach explained to him that we need to use our arms to lead our partners properly, even in International Standard. They are an important tool that should be used to communicate with our partner. People who dance American Smooth have to lead like this all the time, because many of their figures obviously break body contact. Why should people who dance International Standard handicap themselves by trying to only lead with the body, she asked him. The trick is to learn to lead with your arms correctly, so that you can do it without your partner complaining that it feels like you are pushing and pulling her all over the place.

His suggestion for me was to get into the habit of having a more firm hold on any partner that I danced with. This would allow them to clearly feel what my right arm is doing around their back, and take away any confusion that could arise from the leads with my body. While I should be leading my partner to turn to Promenade Position through a roll of the hip, for instance, I should also be pulling back slightly with my right arm to make the implication for her to turn to Promenade Position unmistakable.

Learning to lead like this will be challenging after being told for so long to lead solely through my body. Even the coach admitted that it took him quite a while to learn how to lead certain figures after his coach told him to start using his arms. He said that as he started to lead like this, whenever he had a partner complain that they felt like he was pulling or pushing them with his arms, he would take that as a sign that he was doing it wrong and then have to reevaluate what his arms were doing and try again.

That was quite an interesting concept to end the night with, and I have been thinking about it on and off ever since. I’m not sure what exactly I would have to change to use my arms more in this manner, but it might be helpful that I started out dancing doing only American Smooth, so maybe some of that training will be useful here? I guess I’ll have to talk it over with Sparkledancer the next time we meet up to practice to see what she thinks too. After all, this will probably affect her more than it affects me.

It’s been a long night. I had the blocking rehearsal for the showcase performance tonight, to get everything mapped out before dress rehearsal next Thursday. I haven’t really had time to process that yet, so maybe I will talk about it next time. I have another super busy week ahead of me with all sorts of dance-related activities, so I’m going to leave it here for now, take a deep breath, and get some rest before jumping into it. I hope your week is just as fun!


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