Here We Are, Juggernaut

It’s been another crazy busy week over here in my little corner of the world. Sometimes I wonder if the amount of dance-related things that I do with my time in this quest to be a Competitive Dancer that I am on is normal. Do other people who are working to dance competitively and hold down a day-job also forego their social lives to dance all the time?

Maybe I’ll ask around sometime (if I ever socialize with other competitive dancers) and write about that in the future. It could be an interesting topic. Or sad. I haven’t decided yet.

Anyway… at the end of my notes last week, I mentioned that I had managed to meet up with my coach Lord Dormamu on Thursday night for one last review before my competitive partner Sparkledancer and I went off to compete over the weekend. Lord Dormamu had been out-of-town for the last week or so, which is why I hadn’t gotten to get together with him in a while. Thursday was the first day that he had been back at home and out on the dance floor again, so he offered Sparkledancer and I an opening in his schedule that evening to look over our routines before we left. Since Sparkledancer and I were planning to meet up to practice together that night anyway, we jumped on the chance to have him watch us.

We danced through all of our routines for him when we got started, and then he went back over each one with us one at a time, to point out what he thought the weakest point of each dance was so that we could work on practicing those points before we left for the competition. This is what we were told:

  • Waltz – In the last few weeks Sparkledancer and I were told to make sure that our rise and fall was distinct, so that is what we had been practicing. Lord Dormamu said that now our rise and fall looked distinct, but really forced. He wanted us to focus on smoothing it out to clearly have us begin to rise on beat one, continue to rise on beat two, and peak our rise on beat three before lowering just before stepping into the next figure.
  • Quickstep – Somehow we had gotten the timing on the Overspin from a Natural Spin Turn in the corner wrong. We were trying to do the figure with the last step syncopated, when Lord Dormamu said that we should be doing all the steps slow. If we hadn’t fixed that timing, we were told that we could have been invigilated if we got caught. Good thing we found that out before going!
  • Tango – According to Lord Dormamu, Tango is our most improved dance style – night and day from where it was after our last competition. So yay! He did want us to spend some time working on the Twist Turn in the final corner. Most of the focus was on working to pull my left side more toward Sparkledancer when we were in Promenade Position.
  • Foxtrot – We were told that Foxtrot was our second most improved dance, but still our strongest overall. We ran the routine for Lord Dormamu straight through several times, and he didn’t have any specific points that were terrible for us to go back and focus on when we finished.

Much like when I met up with Lord Dormamu before the competition in November, as we wrapped up for the day he told Sparkledancer and I each one item to focus on while we were on the floor at this competition. For Sparkledancer, he said that she should always think about creating more volume. For me, he said to think about nothing else but maintaining the “Holy Cross” shape that my spine and shoulders create if I’m in the correct position. If each of us could hold on to that one item, then we would make him happy, which should also make any judges watching us happy.

So… competition time. Did I mention that it’s been crazy? Because this weekend was pretty crazy. I spent most of it traveling, so there really wasn’t much that was actually exciting, other than those few punctuated moments when I was on the floor Sunday morning. But it felt crazy to me, so that’s what I’m going with as the theme for the weekend.

As I mentioned last week, my first round of dancing was the very first heat on Sunday, so I had to be on the floor and ready to go at a stupid time of the morning. My other heats were all earlier in the morning too. The nice thing about that schedule was that, even with me hanging around for the final awards ceremony that covered all of the morning sessions, I was done for the day by 11:15AM. I had plenty of time to head back to my hotel room, shower and change back to my street clothes, and still make check out of the room before noon. Yay me!

To not let you hang in suspense, I’ll say this now: things went pretty OK at the competition. There were a lot of parts that I did not feel too happy about, but none of the judges scored us all that badly, so our placements at the competition looked really good. Discounting the judges placements however, there were points that I walked away from this competition knowing that I would need to do better next time around. So I personally think it went pretty OK, even though everyone else I’ve talked to seems to think that things went really well.

The first heat was the big one that I felt did not go well at all. There are lots of excuses I could use… like the fact that I’m not a morning person, or the fact that I barely slept the night before because I had some work for my job to do that took me a lot longer to take care of than I would have liked… but excuses really aren’t going to cut it. I’ll just have to try harder and do better next time.

The first round was a two-dance, Waltz and Quickstep, and I felt like the Waltz was terrible in that round. The floor that the competition venue had was smaller than the floors of the studios where I normally practice and take lessons, so covering that amount of space shouldn’t have been an issue. Yet for the life of me I think that this Waltz never made it all the way to the end – like all the steps I was taking were super tiny for some reason. On top of that, even though there were barely any other dancers on the floor for that first heat, I felt like my Waltz was always running into someone. That was disheartening.

Surprisingly, Quickstep was really solid – not just in that first heat, but in all the other rounds I had where we did Quickstep as well. You would think that during the first dance of the early morning for me, Waltz would have been better than Quickstep because it’s slower, but I felt just the opposite. Weird.

Sparkledancer didn’t feel very good about the first round either. I’m pretty sure that was primarily due to her messing up one figure during the Quickstep routine. After our first round was over we had about forty minutes before our second round, and she seemed really down during that time. I was worried about her. Our next round was a Tango and Foxtrot two-dance, so we tried to run through each of those styles a little on the practice floor.

The practice floor that they had in the back of the venue was a mess that morning. It was covered with a million kids who were barely half my height, all practicing under the direction of their instructor who was yelling at them in another language that sounded harsher than it probably really was (based on the way it sounded, it was a type of Slavic language, but I couldn’t tell you more than that). Sparkledancer and I weren’t the only adults who had to run ourselves off  the edges of the floor when dancing to avoid accidentally knocking one of the small fries over.

Tango and Foxtrot went much better in the second round, and that more than anything really helped Sparkledancer regain her confidence. The Tango felt sharp and staccato, and Foxtrot has always been our strongest dance, so I walked away from the second heat feeling pretty good. Our third round was only a couple of rounds later, so I had just enough time to have a glass of water and a mint before getting back in line at the on-deck area to wait to get on the floor again.

Round three was a Waltz and Quickstep two-dance again. There were enough couples in this round that we started off with a Semi-Final and only six of the ten couples would get to come back and dance the final. This time, my Waltz and Quickstep both felt strong. The Waltz moved the way I wanted it to and covered the floor with ease, and the Quickstep once again just felt on the whole time. When I got done with the round, I was fairly certain we would at least make the Final, even without looking at the board to confirm.

I even managed to have some fun with one of the other couples on the floor during that Semi-Final. I cut them off accidentally in Quickstep as I did a Forward Lock past them on their left side into one of the corners. Rather than do that funky Overspin from a Natural Spin Turn, I did a Hesitation that I held for a long time, and I told the guy that I cut off that he could go first down the short wall. I don’t think he was expecting me to actually talk to him in the middle of the heat, because he looked really surprised. It took his brain half-a-second to process what I said before he started moving, just a bit behind the music.

We did make the Final, just as I thought, and we had about fifteen minutes to wait before we would be on the floor again. By that time though, I was finally awake, and I was talking to other competitors I recognized, and other people in line with me for my heat, and even the deck captains who were trying to wrangle everyone into their places. The Final itself felt really good, and with only the five other couples on the floor I had all the space I wanted to really push and cover as much of the floor as I wanted with each stride. That was great.

My last round of the day was about half-an-hour later, and it was my second Tango/Foxtrot two-dance of the day. By that time I was well past the initial nerves of getting on the competition floor in the morning, and I’d had enough caffeine to really make me super-awake, so this round was by far the strongest round I danced of the day. And the scores we got back from the round proved that without a shadow of a doubt, since we got perfect scores from all judges on both dances. That’s something I’ve never done before, though I’ve come close, and I was really happy to see that. Hooray!

So… what about Grampy Snaps and Ms. Possible, the other amateur couple that I know that was at the same competition? I first ran into them on Saturday night after I had checked into the hotel and walked to the competition venue to register and pick up my packet of stuff. Ms. Possible was all aglow, saying that all of the International Latin rounds that they had danced on Saturday were going super well, and that they took mostly first place all day long.

They did not fare so well in the International Standard on Sunday. The two of them were in two of my rounds, the early morning Waltz/Quickstep heat and the end-of-day Tango/Foxtrot heat. Based on the scores I saw, Sparkledancer and I beat them pretty handily. As the awards were being handed out, they didn’t do any better than second place in any of the Standard rounds where they weren’t uncontested.

Ms. Possible was not happy about the results. When the awards for the first heat of the day on Sunday were being called, and Grampy Snap’s name was called before mine, she went to get her ribbon and walked back while staring daggers at Sparkledancer (and me to a lesser extent). Apparently she was also sending videos of her rounds off to Lord Latin that morning, who was giving her recommendations on what to fix to make their next rounds better. That reminded me of how she had monopolized Lord Latin’s time during the last competition where we danced against her, except she was doing it virtually this time instead of in person.

Final thoughts about the competition before I move on to something else… much like last time, I can’t say that I am feeling overly happy or proud with the results that I got back. The feeling is more like relief than anything else. Relief that I didn’t do terrible and disappoint Sparkledancer, relief that I didn’t do terrible and disappoint Lord Dormamu or Sir Steven, and relief that all the practice time that I have been putting in lately has actually made a difference. Hopefully I can continue to improve at this rate for quite a while longer before I collapse from exhaustion.

Will I ever be happy with the results? I don’t know. At this point, I’m still only allowed to compete in Bronze. Maybe if I go to a national competition and do super well I might feel more than relief at that. Maybe when the powers that be finally decide that all of my main issues are corrected and I can move up to Silver I might start being proud if I do well. Or maybe as long as I’m dancing in syllabus categories, none of this will really mean anything since I’ve been told that you essentially start over at the bottom once you hit Open choreography. So for now, all I think I will expect to have when I do well is relief. I’ll let you know if and when that feeling changes.

To finish up, since this is already starting to run pretty long, let’s talk about a bit of amusement from last night. I made it out to Standard Technique class on Wednesday. With all the preparing I have been doing cor competitions lately, I have been terrible about getting to class, and I feel bad about that. Lord Junior wanted us to work on Foxtrot for the evening, specifically a figure from American Smooth Foxtrot that could also be used in Open-level choreography for International Standard since you don’t break frame: the Curved Three Step. This not to be confused with the Gold-level Curved Feather from International Foxtrot, but the idea behind the figure is the same.

What we did in class was not actually the interesting part of the night. Lord Junior had all of us warm up by practicing our Heel Pulls, since everyone can always work on getting better at that action. Once we finished, we did a pattern consisting of three Curved Three Steps in a row with a Feather Finish on the third, and then a Reverse Turn with Feather Finish at the end to give the ladies a figure with a Heel Pull in it for more practice. There were a lot of ladies in class, so we didn’t add on any other material than that to give all the ladies a chance to get some practice during class.

The amusing part of class was that both Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps decided to join class that night. As I mentioned, Ms. Possible did not seem too happy on Sunday morning when Sparkledancer and I did better than them at the competition, so I was a little worried about how she would react to being back on the dance floor with Sparkledancer and I in a class setting. I’m happy to report that Ms. Possible wasn’t an issue that night, playing off the loss as a lack of practice on her part due to her busy work schedule. Grampy Snaps on the other hand…

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but Grampy Snaps is actually sort-of a pseudo-instructor. He teaches group classes and private lessons to dancers at the Endless Dance Hall, but he has never declared himself a Professional for competitive purposes, which is why he still is able to compete in the Amateur category against people like me. Also, he’s a lot older than me – we’re talking at least twenty to twenty-five years my senior. This has the unfortunate effect of making him pretty set in his ways as a dancer. The Princess told me once that when they first started competing together, Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps signed up to get some coaching from her, and throughout the lesson Grampy Snaps wouldn’t really make any effort to adjust his technique based on her recommendations.

Anyway, I bring that up because as you can imagine, throughout this class we ended up rotating partners a lot, which means that Sparkledancer got to dance with Grampy Snaps quite a few times. After class was over, when a bunch of us were walking through the parking lot toward our cars, Sparkledancer was telling everyone that when she had to dance with Grampy Snaps the first few times, the figures did not go as expected, and he tried to explain to her how she was doing her part wrong. She was getting really frustrated by that, since she didn’t have any problems dancing the figure the exact same way with either Lord Junior or I. Finally, Lord Junior caught what Grampy Snaps was doing and stopped him to tell him that he was actually the one doing the figure incorrectly, and worked with him for a few minutes to try to get his steps right.

And that is why, gentlemen, you shouldn’t try to ‘teach’ ladies what they are doing wrong unless they actually ask you for assistance. Especially during a social dance or a group class! Because we are the ones leading them in the dance, there’s a pretty good chance that it is actually our fault when figures don’t work. 🙂

Hey, you know what? I’m competing again this weekend! Well, only sort-of – this is not really a competition like the one I did last weekend. This time around, I am just dancing a bunch of heats in front of some judges, and they will actually give me feedback on how the heats go. I’m kind of excited to see what kind of reviews I get this time around. Hopefully there is some good information that I can use to refine my practice time.

It’s also the weekend before Valentine’s Day, so there are dance parties aplenty going on around the Dance Kingdom. The two that I am interested in that are both happening on Saturday night are a free party being held at the Endless Dance Hall, and a party with a live band playing going on at the Electric Dance Hall. Maybe I’ll go to one of those. Maybe I’ll hop between both of them! Who knows? With the power of my youthful enthusiasm, I can do anything!

I’ll see you on the dance floor, I hope.

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