Unbelievable Sights, Indescribable Feeling

Last Saturday morning I got my result sheets from the pseudo-competition I was in the Saturday prior. Someone who works at the Fancy Dance Hall had been nice enough to type up all of the notes for me so that I didn’t have to try to read all of the judge’s handwriting, but since I danced in so many heats the feedback still covered more than one sheet of paper. My lesson with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer that afternoon was focused on some of the specific notes that we were given, much like all of the practice sessions I have had since I got the sheets back.

Let’s start by talking about the results from the last round that I did that day, which was the five-dance challenge round that Sparkledancer and I opted to be a part of. The only reason we decided to dance in that round was because at the level we are dancing right now, none of the competitions we take part in have us dancing all five International Standard styles back-to-back, so we wanted to give that a try to see how we did. Initially I thought that this round would just give us feedback from the judges, like all the other heats, but I was wrong. Apparently they scored this round with placements, like you would get at a real competition.

Sparkledancer and I were ranked second or third by all judges in all five of our dances, but when all the scores were added up we were placed third overall out of five. I know that doesn’t sound super good, but being ranked in this way overall wasn’t a good idea to begin with, for a number of reasons. First of all, we were the only Amateur pair that danced in this five-dance round – everyone else was Pro/Am, so we definitely had that working against us. Secondly, this was not a leveled challenge. The Pro/Am couple that took first? That lady was doing her Gold-level routines. The second place Pro/Am pair I know competes in Silver regularly, so I assume they were using those routines that day as well. Then there was us, dancing our Bronze routines.

I’m sure that makes it slightly more impressive, seeing as how the people who beat us are definitely dancing at a higher level, but I still don’t feel right about it. Had I known that we wouldn’t be getting feedback and would be ranked, I probably would have made the argument with Sparkledancer that it wasn’t really a good idea to dance in the five-dance round, and instead would have signed up for five more single-dance heats. Still, what’s done is done, and it is nice to know that at least we didn’t take last place against a while field of Pro/Am couples.

With that out of the way, the more interesting thing I got was the notes on the single-dance heats. Many of the notes are only semi-helpful, because they aren’t overly specific. There were quite a few that mentioned something about keeping the frame stronger or more consistent, but they don’t specify where I need to do that, or even tell me whether it is Sparkledancer or I that should be doing it. Those comments I just skimmed over, because frame and posture is going to be a constant point to work on (at least, until I figure out how to replace large portions of my upper body with cybernetic parts).
There were also a lot of comments about how Sparkledancer and I were fun to watch, or looked like we were having fun. While that is good to know, and was something I was actively working on that day, those notes don’t really help me focus my practice. In fact, all of the comments that talked about how I did something well I just skipped over. When all was said and done, I highlighted just the comments that were actually useful information on things I should work on in each dance style.

Because I’m not ashamed to admit my own faults, I am going to put that list here. Also, it will make it easy for me to look up the notes if I lose my copy of the results sheet, which is entirely likely to happen at some point…

For Waltz – More rise and fall actions need developing; More lowering and rising; Man’s left side up and forward; Beautiful closing action on the natural turn. More consistent with this; Closing action in natural turn could be more precise; Maintain a good head position.

For Tango – Powerful movement but inconsistent; Keep Tango flatter.

For Viennese Waltz – Stay in your left space at all times; Work on bigger steps; Head position needs to be more aware of space, too much rotation in the head, needs to be longer; Needs more depth on the first step in both natural and reverse turns.

For Foxtrot – Use your standing leg; Too steppie at times; Use your sides to pass one another; Shape gets slightly distorted because of foot position; Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow; More projection outwards needed; Slows need to be fuller to show contrast from quicks.

And finally, for Quickstep – Too steppie at times; Use your standing legs and divide the feet; Longer steps; More confidence; Great energy, but inconsistent.

(All notes are verbatim as on the papers I got)

Based on those notes, if I didn’t know any better I would feel like Tango is my strongest dance style all of a sudden. How in the world did that happen? Quickstep seems to come in as a close second though. I mean, if I think back to the results that I got from the last actual competition I was in, that would follow with the scoring that the judges in that event gave Sparkledancer and I, so I guess maybe that has some merit, but Tango and Quickstep are definitely not the dance styles I feel like the strongest in. I always thought that Foxtrot was my strength, with Waltz behind that. Maybe this means that I will have to devote more practice time to those two styles to keep them at the top of the heap.

Saturday night was a big night for me. This past weekend was the scheduled weekend for the monthly dance party that my Royal Dance Court group hosts, but this month was special. Many months ago I had asked the Princess to come in to teach the lesson that we hold before the dance party, and Saturday was the night that she actually did it, and oh man did things turn out great!

First of all, we had so many people show up to see her that night that there was barely any room on the dance floor during the lesson that she taught. People didn’t seem to mind that though – they were enraptured listening to her talk about American Tango, and entranced by watching her demonstrate the steps. Second of all, though she didn’t have to, the Princess actually stayed for the majority of the dance party afterward, talking with anyone who wanted to talk with her and dancing with any man (or woman) brave enough to dance with her. All the while using her magical princess powers to liven up the room.

(I’m not even kidding about that. If you’ve ever spent any time in the same room as her, you know that she has a way of commanding attention if she wants to. Her personality is a force of nature, and it sweeps anyone nearby up in its wake. Good thing she’s also super nice. If she were a villain, she could be really dangerous and manipulative.)

So what does a Princess tell her subjects if she is giving a class on American Tango? Well, first she made everyone dance for her so that she could stroll around the room and evaluate how everyone danced currently. Then she split up the class and gave everyone a look at some important Tango technique that would make everyone better, but was especially good information for those more advanced dancers in the crowd. Finally she showed everyone a fun and challenging combination of figures that would help people practice the technique she taught, but would also give them something that could be pulled out during dance parties to impress others on the floor.

The technique that she spent time going over in class was something that she had been discussing the weekend prior, after the competition I was in was over, with that multi-time world champion who had come in to judge that I mentioned. Apparently they had somehow gotten into a conversation about taking steps in Tango. I guess if you are both world-class dancers, like the Princess and that judge guy are, these are the sorts of things that just come up in normal conversation when you talk…

The technique that they discussed really was about how to take steps in Tango. Whether dancing American or International Tango, to make it look and move differently than any other ballroom dance you need to drive out of your standing leg and step on the beat and then hold, split weight, body weight in-between your legs. On the ‘&’ of the beat (or on the ‘&’ of the second beat, if you are taking a slow step) you will shift your weight to the new leg, and the old leg essentially becomes dead weight until it is collected. This driving and then holding action is what, more than anything else, will give your Tango the powerful staccato look that it needs to really look like Tango at a world-class level.

To practice this, the Princess had people just do the American Tango basic a few times down the floor alone, then she partnered everyone up to have men and women try it together. As soon as she had people partner up and give it a try, she had to split the men and women up again to tell all the men about being in frame correctly with a lady and having a right-side lead the whole time while dancing Tango. Apparently watching the men near her try to dance with a partner offended her so much that she had to stop everyone to fix it.

By the time she was finished having us work on walking, everyone in the room had been drawn into her lesson in some way. Normally we have people who show up for the dance party and spend their time during the lessons on the sidelines, just sitting and chatting with each other, but even these people were standing next to the chairs and paying attention to everything the Princess was saying. Even Lord Junior and Sir Digler, who had both stopped by the party at different times just to visit with people they knew for a little while, ended up in line with the men so they could work on the things that the Princess was talking about. I wish that I had a magical air of command about me like that!

Splitting the men and women up again, she now went through a small progression of Tango figures. None of the figures were super difficult, but she made it look amazing. Have you ever watched a world champion-level dancer dance a Bronze-level routine before? It makes the Bronze-level routines I practice look terrible by comparison. Luckily, I wasn’t the person she asked to help her demonstrate the routine. Sir Digler happened to be standing in line near the Princess, so she called him out and told him that she would just back-lead him through the sequence. The whole time she kept calling him ‘darling’ (or “dah-ling” in that accent of hers), which made him blush a lot. Poor guy…
The progression began with a normal American Tango basic – two curved steps followed by a three-step close. On the last step of the basic, she had people shift to Promenade Position heading diagonal center. Next we did a Promenade that ends in a throwout to get the lady into Open Fan position. Here we led her through a Underarm Turn with an extra spin on the end to get her into Shadow Position. While the lady turns, the man just has to rock in place.

From here we did an Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position, ending the figure with a right-side lunge/picture line that stretched toward diagonal wall. To finish, the guy takes two steps backward to settle on right leg and holds while lady is turned across our body to collect back in Promenade Position, before taking off into a basic closed Promenade that ends facing wall so you could start all over if you wanted.

So yeah, things went well. The class was challenging for a lot of people – most people who only dance socially don’t usually think about their technique, so the Princess really pushed them outside their comfort zone to help them improve. Plus there were so many people trying to dance in the class that the floor was super crowded, which also made things challenging. All those people stuck around afterward for the party to hang out and dance with the Princess more, and because of that anyone who was dancing had to keep themselves really contained. I didn’t hear any reports of injuries throughout the night, so I’m going to assume that everyone was successful. Hooray!

I dealt with an ever-so slightly smaller crowd on Monday night when I went out to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class. Lord Junior still wanted to use class that night to give his competitive students who joined class some extra practice for the competition they are going to in a couple of weekends, and tonight’s class was primarily for the benefit of Gatekeeper. She had gotten her feedback from the competition she participated in with me two weekends ago, and one of the comments that the judges made repeatedly was that she needed to work on straightening her legs completely in her Latin dances. So tonight we worked on Rumba to let her practice that.

When we really focus on doing the Latin dances on Monday with super straight legs, it hurts me on the inside. Straightening my legs like that is pretty much anathema to everything I have been practicing so hard for International Standard to improve my movement. Also, there is this very fine line that I walk while straightening my legs like this, between really flexing the bottom of my quadriceps to hold my leg straight, and just being kind of lazy and letting my knees settle back a little farther to lock in more of a hyperextended position. Because I don’t do Latin all that often, if I’m not thinking about what I’m doing I have a tendency to allow the latter to happen, which ends up being painful when I get home.
For the first twenty minutes, we drilled the basic steps and New Yorkers extremely slowly to make sure that our legs were straightened perfectly when they needed to be. I’m talking music so slow that dancing sloths would have told Lord Junior to kick it up a notch. If they danced ballroom, that is – I have a feeling that dancing sloths usually end up at raves for some reason, slowly waving around glow sticks. Yeah, you can picture that too, can’t you.

When we had been tortured enough with this extended warm up, Lord Junior gave us a few more complicated steps to use to continue working on our legs. We did three New Yorkers (to the right, left, then right) into an Alemana that ended with lady on man’s right side. Then we finished with a Closed Hip Twist that sent the lady out into Fan Position. There weren’t too many figures, but if the fastest you dance them is to 80% of International Rumba music tempo, it takes a long time to get through what little is there. By the end of class, I started to wonder if what we were doing was practice, or punishment.

There was much less torture for me on Wednesday night when I went out to Standard Technique class. Once again, we took to working on a style and a figure so that one of Lord Junior’s competitive students could get in some additional practice with it before competing. This time it was Foxtrot, and the specific figure she wanted some more work on was the Reverse Wave.

We didn’t get through a whole lot as far as steps were concerned because a few of the ladies were struggling to get through the few figures we did use. What we ended up doing was just a prep step into a Feather, then an Open Telemark with a Feather Ending. We took that into an Overturned Reverse Turn that flipped us 180° so that we ended up backing diagonal wall, and now we added on the Reverse Wave, which curved to head down the line of dance. To get out of that easily, we just did an Open Impetus that turned us to head toward diagonal center in Promenade Position.

The most difficult part for me was going through the Overturned Reverse Turn into the Reverse Wave. Lord Junior had told all the ladies about turning their heads to the right as they started the Reverse Wave. This had the unintended effect of making the ladies want to go in that direction. If the lady did not want to dance in body contact with me (there were two in class who really didn’t like doing that), then I had very little ability to control where they ended up, so they would drift off toward outside partner on my left side. It didn’t matter how strong I held my arms, or how many times we went through the figure and they were told not to do this, those two ladies kept trying to shift to that side for some reason.
On a funny note, Lord Junior spent some time getting on the ladies to make sure they took a heel step for their first step when we were in Promenade Position. After the third or fourth time telling them all to do that, he threatened to make the next lady who didn’t take a heel step run a lap around the outside of the dance floor using all heel steps. We all thought it was a pretty funny threat, until Bony stepped up to dance through the progression with him… and failed to take a heel step for her first step in Promenade Position.

Lord Junior told her to go run her lap, and to make sure to go around the outside of the dance floor, which would take her behind the other group class that was going on down at the other end of the floor. Bony told him that she didn’t run, so she just started sauntering along slowly. When she got to where the other group class was, rather than go around them she stopped to talk to one of the people on the edge of the class. At this point, we were all laughing, and Lord Junior started calling across the room to her to keep moving because this was not supposed to be a break for her to socialize.

The instructor leading the other class stopped what she was doing to ask Lord Junior what was going on. He told her that Bony was supposed to be running her lap as a punishment. Everyone in the other group class started laughing too, so the instructor fought to get her class back under control and told them all not to talk to Bony because she was being punished. Finally Bony sauntered her way around the room and back to our side, looking pretty pleased with herself.

The funny part was, after going through that exercise, Bony never messed up her heel step in Promenade Position again that night. It was a hilarious method of getting there, but apparently her punishment really did teach her the right lesson. 🙂

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