I’m So Powerful, I Don’t Need Batteries To Play

Oh man, a second post this week? I must have all sorts of free time if I am able to write so much! Either that or I did something dance-related that I need to remember in the future. I’ll give you a little hint: it’s the latter.

Let’s start off chronologically though, since that works best for my brain when I have to review things later. The first thing I did that is worth remembering was my lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven on Saturday afternoon. We took our time together to work on continuing to try to improve our dancing based on the review notes that we got back from the judges the weekend prior. This week we focused exclusively on Foxtrot. The specific notes that Sir Steven wanted to have us work on were the two that read “Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow; Slows need to be fuller to show contrast from quicks.”

We went about this in a weird manner. I think, now that I have had a few days to digest what was going on, that I kind of understand what Sir Steven was trying to get Sparkledancer and I to do, but I was really confused by the method during our time together. Parts of it just felt wrong, and went counter to a lot of the techniques for moving in Foxtrot that I have been working on for so long, which may have been what brought on most of my confusion.

What we were doing saw us just using a simple Feather and Three Step combination while we took steps. Sir Steven wanted us to work on really driving as we took the first step, and then taking the last two steps of the figures with straight legs. Yup, you read that right, straight legs, like in a Latin dance. Obviously practicing the steps like this slowly will easily fix the issue of taking the steps with my knees bent, which makes it look like I never fully straighten my legs while moving, but how we were doing it also added significant rise to the figure, which is something I was told to never do. Remember in the past when I told you about Lord Dormamu’s theory of Foxtrot, described as a body of water? Yeah, adding ‘waves’ to my Foxtrot completely goes against that theory.

The whole lesson was spent pretty much like this, first using slow Feather and Three Step combinations, then moving up to slowly walking through our routine and applying the same action. Again, it felt weird to me, but Sir Steven thought that it helped by the time we were near completed for the day. As my luck would have it, as we were nearing the end of our lesson, the Princess arrived at the Fancy Dance Hall. She had a coaching session scheduled with a client at that location Saturday afternoon. While she was waiting for her client to arrive, Sir Steven asked her if she would want to watch Sparkledancer and I do our Foxtrot routine, to see if she could see improvements.

So we danced for her, then we had to stop and show her the notes from the judges that we were actually working on, then we had to dance for her again once she was on the same page. Her take on the proper approach in order to fix our issues was completely different from Sir Steven’s take. The Princess told me that I was basically off time when taking the slow steps in each figure, and that is what was causing all of the issues I was having. She had actually sat and watched a private coaching session with that world champion judge guy and a different male student of the Fancy Dance Hall where the judge tried to help the student fix the same problem she saw me doing.

To make the explanation easier, it turns out she had  grabbed a video of the world champion guy and this student dancing the same steps in Foxtrot side-by-side, and she forwarded the video to me so that I could have a copy to refer to. Watching the two men dance the same figures was enlightening. Though the music is playing and they start each figure on the same beat, it looks like the male student is off time compared to the world champion. On his slow steps in each figure, the judge always takes the weight onto his moving leg on beat two, whereas I (and the male student in the video) tend to transfer from leg to leg on beat one, so it looks like we are rushing even if the next two steps are on time.

The Princess told me that if I were to work on fixing my timing to look more like the world champion guy in the video, that would help fix my issues. For one, it would definitely improve the timing contrast between the slow and quick steps in each figure. But the best way to really make sure that I transfer weight later in each slow is to continue to stretch through my legs longer, which means that likely I will take bigger steps, fully extending my legs in the process, and since the legs are spread farther I will have to really pull my legs together, which will require flexing my knees, at the end of the slow step.

So… no problem, right? I should be able to fix that easily! Sigh… I just know that this is going to probably take me hours of repetition with each figure in my routine, likely danced with really slow music playing to force me to slow down and think about every single step. Sounds like soooo much fun. 😛

I finally managed to meet up with my coach Lord Dormamu this past Saturday as well. He’s been out either competing or running competitions the last several weekends in a row, so the last time I saw him was the first of last month, if I remember correctly. When we got together, we had a lot of things to talk about because of all the stuff that has happened over the prior three weeks.

The first thing that he wanted to sit and review with Sparkledancer and I were the feedback notes that we received from the judges, the same notes I had just shown to the Princess. In general, he seemed rather pleased with what he saw. There weren’t any notes that any of the judges had written that Lord Dormamu wasn’t already working on with us, and he was happy with the notes that we got about how we were fun to watch and had charisma. As Lord Dormamu put it, there is no way that he could teach either Sparkledancer or I to dance with charisma, that is something you either have or you don’t, so he was delighted that the judges thought we had it.

The next major thing we had to discuss was what Sparkledancer and I should be working toward next. It’s always nice to have something on the calendar to work toward, so we talked about what competitions that each of us knew were in the near future in the Dance Kingdom. We settled on one that is coming up around the end of April as our next event, and even talked about several that were coming up shortly after that which we should seriously consider. The one in April I’m feeling fairly good about, since it’s less than an hour away and it’s on a weekend, so there aren’t any conflicts to consider. Some of the others involve a bit more travel, so Sparkledancer and I will have to discuss those to see if we can both make it work with our work schedules.

Business out of the way, we started to look at dancing, and since we had the comments from the judges handy, Lord Dormamu had us start right at the top of the list with Waltz and the first two notes I wrote out last week (More rise and fall actions need developing; More lowering and rising). This was another one of those instances where Lord Dormamu thought of a different way to explain the mechanics of a certain dance technique to me so that I could understand how to apply the concept more easily.

Rising is the easy part, and he didn’t think that I needed to work on that at all this past weekend. It was actually the lowering action that I was doing when Sparkledancer and I demonstrated our Waltz for him that he thought needed the work. Over the years, I was taught by several people that when lowering, I should be bending my standing leg kind of like I was doing a single-leg squat (i.e. going straight down). Doing things in this manner does give the illusion of me lowering, but it also kills my movement in the process. If he were to let us advance to higher-level figures where we bring our feet together less often, this would become very problematic.

What he actually wants to see when I lower is my knees to come forward without moving my foot/feet, to the point where I would need to lift my heels off the ground. I got taken over to a wall to practice this action. Standing with my arms out in front of me on the wall, I was told to bring my knees forward and bend my elbows to alloy my body to move toward the wall. This is the feeling that lowering in the Waltz should give me every time I do it

When moving forward, this action will have me driving my body into my partner before even moving my feet. If I am going backward, the forward drive from my partner is a definite signal that I need to be preparing my leg backward to take the next step, because if I don’t then she just runs into me. And my body is fairly solid, so if I make my partner run into me, it’s probably going to hurt. Promenade Position is obviously a little different. If you rotate to Promenade Position properly by turning your nose and toes, the falling action will have both partners’ knees moving forward in the same direction.

We also talked briefly about two other points on the list (Beautiful closing action on the natural turn. More consistent with this; Closing action in natural turn could be more precise). When we danced through the routine for Lord Dormamu, he thought that our Natural Turns looked really good, but he wasn’t at the competition we did to see what the judges saw that day. He assumed they were talking about us closing our feet together with one foot being in front of the other, like you should see in Tango, but not in Waltz.

His advice to make our closing action on the Natural Turn (and any other place where we close our feet together) more precise was to not think about bringing our feet together, but just to think about bringing the toes of our feet together. For most people who aren’t pigeon toed, they can’t bring their toes together without the rest of their feet being together without a lot of difficulty. According to him, if that was really the issue the judges were referring to, focusing on just that small change should fix the precision issue pretty quickly.

Class on Monday night was pretty small, with only four of us showing up to attend Latin Technique. Even though that meant my vote counted for 25% of the total, I still got outvoted and we worked on Samba that night. Yay……………. Can you feel my excitement? Does it come through the screen like a slap in the face? Probably not. I’m too nice to slap you!

The big competition that Lord Junior and his students are preparing for is this coming weekend, so in class we were reviewing some figures that Veep uses in her Silver Samba routine with Lord Junior. The pattern itself was pretty simple footwork-wise: we started off by doing three Reverse Turns, but later in class Lord Junior cut that down to just one so that he could prevent us from traveling so far away from him. After the last (or only) Reverse Turn we did two Back Rocks, then a Plait, which is essentially the Samba equivalent of Chicken Walks you would see in various Swing dance styles. After the Plait we finished by bringing the lady across us to get back into dance position during one final Reverse Turn.

There were a couple of tricky points for me specifically during that lesson. First off, the Back Rocks. These aren’t like the rocking action you see in Tango, which is essentially what I tried to do the first time through the figure. There is about a quarter-turn of rotation in the course of the Back Rock, and a little slide action with the front foot when you shift your hips forward. So it’s actually like you step back with an 8th of a turn rotation and shift your hips back, slide your other foot forward and to the outside a little to do another 8th of a turn as you shift your hips forward, and then shift your hips back over the standing leg again to prepare for the next figure. I kept wanting to pick my front foot up instead of sliding it for some reason, which was bad.

Next up, the Plait. The first couple of times through the figure, when I would take that delayed action step backward onto the ball of my foot with my heel off the ground, I was letting my knees track in the direction that my toes were pointed, mostly because that was comfortable for me. Lord Junior stopped me and made me redo the step action and bring my knee inward while twisting my foot so that I could step on the inside edge with my toes till pointed outward. Yikes. Luckily we were near a mirror, so I could walk through it a few times while watching to see what I was doing.

Finally, there was Ms. Possible. Yes, she was one of the tricky parts for me that night. I have real trouble dancing with Ms. Possible for some reason, and apparently it is always my fault. I know I’m not a Latin competitor, so obviously I have trouble with techniques I don’t use all the time, but as soon as she hears that I am doing something wrong, like with my knees in the Plait, that ends up being the whole reason that she can never do the figure successfully with me. Even after I step through things enough to fix what I was doing wrong. Even after Lord Junior stops her to tell her that she is doing parts of the figures wrong. Even though I can switch partners and dance through the same choreography with Veep with no trouble at all. Nope, Ms. Possible still blames me, loud enough for everyone in the studio to hear.

I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Sparkledancer and I have directly competed against her and her amateur partner a few times at this point, and we always do better than the two of them. Maybe she is holding a grudge against me for that? I don’t know. I like to believe I am nice, so I don’t know why she would treat me like that. The other guy in class Monday night had trouble the same choreography with her as well, but she never blamed him for it like she was doing with me. Hmm… what can I do to make her my friend again? I’ll have to think about this for a bit.

Standard Technique class was also used by Lord Junior to give Veep some extra practice on a section of one of her routines. Hopefully all the extra practice he worked in for her will result in awesome scores this weekend when she competes! The routine they had been working on in their lesson that day was her Open Waltz routine, and there were a couple of fairly challenging figures back-to-back that she needed to perfect.

The two figures in question were variations on more basic figures that people who have done International Waltz before have likely gone through. We started the set with a basic Chasse from Promenade Position just to build up some momentum to carry us through the turns at the end. I believe the technical name of the next figure would be ‘Overspin from a Quick Open Reverse Turn.’ You take an Open Reverse Turn (which is a Reverse Turn where you pass your feet at the end), add in an extra syncopated step at the beginning because you are starting on the wrong foot when finishing the Chasse From Promenade Position, then add a Reverse Pivot at the end.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, if that was too easy for you, we connected onto the end of that a Overspin from a Double Reverse Spin. Take the Double Reverse Spin, which is arguably the most difficult figure in the Bronze syllabus for Waltz (and Quickstep), and then add on a Reverse Pivot to the end of that too. That’s why I mentioned using the Chasse from Promenade Position to create momentum – the Chasse and the first couple of steps of the Quick Open Reverse Turn are the only traveling that you get to do. Once you start the first Reverse Pivot, and then for the entire Overspin from a Double Reverse Spin, you will barely cover any ground.

The big trick to getting all the turns at the end to work properly is for the ladies to keep their bodies (especially their heads) out to the left. You may have heard that advice once or twice if you are a lady that dances International Standard often. With the head weight on the outside of the circle as we try to turn, it helps us get all the way around. If the lady straightens up and puts her head over her feet, then it becomes a struggle to get the turns to rotate as much as they need to. As you can guess, each of the Reverse Pivots we did was supposed to rotate 180° to set us up for the next figure, so killing the rotation would also hurt whatever figure we would go into afterward.

I think it’s going to be a quiet weekend around the rest of the Dance Kingdom since so many people will be congregating at the Dance Death Arena for this weekend’s Pro/Am competition extravaganza. I thought about offering my time to help out behind the scenes as a volunteer for the event, but then I realized that if everyone was gone, I could get in a bunch of practice without having to share floorspace. The last couple of weeks the dance floors where I normally practice have been filled with people taking extra lessons to get ready for this competition, so I have had to keep my own practice contained, or only work on small sections to avoid running into anyone.

If you are competing this weekend, good luck! I hope that you manage to kick some names and take some ass, or however that saying normally goes. I’ll give you a high-five for every heat that you win if you happen to be nearby. My arms are only so long, so I have a limited range of where my high fives can be received from, but I’ll make an effort!

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