Have you ever had someone mention something to you in passing that caused all sorts of things in your world to suddenly fall into place? I had one of those moments last weekend while I was working with Lord Dormamu. It was this great little moment where I finally could see things clearly… like when you can actually make out the picture on a puzzle you are putting together for the first time. There are also some unexpected repercussion questions that have come up since then, questions that I have been trying to think of answers for in my quiet time (what little quiet time I have). It’s weird how a simple, offhand comment can have such crazy effects, isn’t it?
So what exactly happened? This short story takes us back to Saturday afternoon. I had time set aside to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. A lot of the other people I knew were off participating in a big Pro/Am dance competition that was happening last weekend, but since most of Lord Dormamu’s students are more advanced, and therefore they dance their rounds in the evenings, he came back from the competition Saturday morning so that he could teach during the day, and was planning on heading back to the competition again that evening.
It was a productive lesson. We spent some time at first looking at our Waltz, which Lord Dormamu said was already looking much better after the tweaking we had done in our last coaching session. Then we moved on to look at Foxtrot. He told us that he wanted to spend some time going back to our discussions on the movement in Foxtrot, because looking at that concept again would help us would help fix many of the issues that we had been given notes on from the judges at our last competition, specifically the notes that said “Use your standing leg; Too steppie at times; Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow.”
He started off by having Sparkledancer and I dance our routine for him together a couple of times, and then he split us up and had us each dance the first long wall of the routine with him a few more times. When we finished with that, he told me that he noticed, as did one of his pupils who had been watching Sparkledancer and I in one of our lessons recently, that I had developed this weird ‘bounce’ in my steps when I dance Foxtrot, and I really needed to get rid of it because it disrupted the continuous flow of the dance.
That led him off on a tangent, talking again about his theory behind how Foxtrot is supposed to look. You may not know this about Lord Dormamu, but when he gets to lecturing like this in his lessons, he tends to start dancing around the room as he talks. During the time that he was dancing around the room and talking, he mentioned that I really needed to be working on straightening my legs as I move, then demonstrated it while smacking his back leg for emphasis.
That right there… well, it’s an understatement to say that it blew my mind. I stood there for several minutes, just staring at Lord Dormamu stupidly with my mouth open. Sparkledancer started laughing at me and told Lord Dormamu that she could actually see the light bulb turning on over my head.
I had to stop everything and ask about that. Yes, I had been told by a few people at this point that I needed to straighten my legs while moving, but I had assumed, and no one had corrected me on the assumption, that they were talking about straightening my front leg. I know I had asked about that fact several times during various lessons, telling whomever I was working with at the time that it felt weird to move around while trying to straighten that leg like that. Lord Dormamu then said that straightening my front leg was completely wrong. If I was competing, none of the judges would be watching my front leg, so if it never completely straightened before I transferred weight no one would care. This wasn’t Latin, after all.
The back leg is a different story though. If I am traveling forward, and I’m supposed to be driving from my standing leg, the only way a judge can tell that I am actually doing that is by watching what I am doing with my standing leg. The standing leg ends up being the one behind me if I am pushing myself forward. When I am driving correctly, the back leg should almost straighten completely if I am doing everything right. Lord Dormamu told me that this is normally a rather difficult concept for people to grasp. He has had lots of students he has trained who compete at the Professional level, and apparently this is something he has to teach them all the time because they don’t do it right.
That. Right there. That one note about exactly which leg to straighten. A simple comment. That was the piece to the puzzle I have been missing this whole time.
I’m not sure that Lord Dormamu even realizes, or could understand, how much that one piece of information really helps me out. My whole view on the important aspects that I should be thinking about while trying to move around the dance floor has shifted. Sure, so far in practice it has been a bit rough, and one of my big concerns about moving so much that I actually run off the floor space is now even greater, but everything seems so much easier now that I can focus on doing something with my legs that makes sense mechanically.
* * *
And it makes me wonder… why has no one ever mentioned this fact to me before? If it was obviously an issue that I was having, why in the world didn’t someone stop me last month, or six months ago, or a year ago, and say “hey dude, you gotta work on straightening your back leg when you move, brah” (I guess they would have been surfers when they told me for some reason). After all, if I had known that this is what I would be judged on six months ago, then I could have spent all of the practice time that I went to during those months making sure that I was doing things right… or at least better. Now I’m just trying to incorporate this change into my dancing after the fact.
This whole train of thought lead me down a different path of thinking, one that has brought up all sorts of philosophical debates in my mind. The main one I keep wondering about is: have I let too many cooks into the kitchen to try to put together the soufflé that is my dancing? I mean, I regularly work with two different instructors, and take classes in dance technique for International Standard every week from a third. While I am taking lessons at various dance studios around town, there are often other instructors wandering around, and they have been known to stop (or be stopped by whatever instructor I am working with at the time) and offer their own advice on how I can ‘fix’ things. On top of that, there have been random coaching sessions from visiting experts thrown into the mix.
Each of these people looks at the things that I do slightly differently, and tries to explain how they think I should fix everything in a different way. Sometimes the things that one person says directly conflicts with things that another one of them has told me, in which case I am left confused. Some of these people are able to communicate with others who are training me to make sure that they are all working toward the same end goal. A few of these instructors really don’t like each other, so I can’t mention that one of them told me a new way to think about a technique I am working on without the risk of having to listen to a tirade about how that other instructor is dumb and not to be trusted.
So far, my excursions into the world of dance politics over the last few years have helped me navigate these situations. I generally regard myself as a friendly person, so I can get along with pretty much anyone, and no one faults me for being able to get along with and take lessons from people they don’t like. Either that, or they just don’t tell me that it’s a terrible idea to my face. It is one of the few perks of having a non-threatening personality like I do. I like to believe everyone likes me!
But what about the pieces of information I am missing, that I don’t even really realize that I am missing until someone tells me? Are there other facts that would be super helpful for me to know, like the fact about my legs I learned the last weekend? I certainly get a lot of information, sometimes enough information that I feel kind of overwhelmed at times, but is it really helpful to have all this information handed to me if it isn’t really fixing the problems I am told that I have? Just imagine how much better I would be by now if one of those many people who I have worked with over the last fifteen months had told me that while I am competing, the judges are looking at whether or not I am straightening my driving leg behind me as I move?
Maybe all these different people thought I wasn’t ready to receive this one missing piece of information. Maybe each one thought that someone else had already told me what I was supposed to be doing, and I was just terrible at doing it. Maybe someone did mention it, but not in a straightforward, easily understandable manner that my logical brain could latch onto like it was mentioned to me this weekend. Maybe I’m really just kind of stupid, and this was an obvious technique that everyone else already knows. I mean, it did make me feel kind of stupid once I found out. It really does seem obvious to me now. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.
So what should I be doing with myself? Is working with all of these different instructors and coaches actually helping me progress as fast as I possibly can, or is working with so many different people hindering my progression somehow? Do I really need the input from so many sources while I am working on competing through the syllabus levels? After all, there is a book that lays everything out for all of the closed syllabus figures. I have actually found and purchased a copy of this magic book that everyone kept referring to. Should I just rely on the book for information, since the facts that it holds shouldn’t change?
Is it too much to ask for someone to just tell me the information I need to know that I don’t actually know I need to know, so that my dancing will improve…?
Well… I seem to have gotten stuck in a tangent there. I’m not going to go back and change it though. Let’s just finish up with what happened yesterday night in Standard Technique class, to get a taste of something a little more on topic.
Now that the big competition that everyone in the world seemed to be preparing for is over, more people decided to come out to class last night. When Lord Junior was asking around to gauge what people wanted to work on in class, most of the people who didn’t show up last week wanted to do Waltz. Even though we had worked on Waltz last week, because so many people had skipped class Lord Junior conceded to their wishes and decided to do it again. That night he wanted to focus on some choreography that used the Turning Lock figures, since it has been a while since we had practiced them.
First off, we did two figures to get moving and build some momentum, a Natural Turn and then a normal Natural Spin Turn, one that ended with the guys backing toward diagonal center. Coming out of the Natural Spin Turn is what set us up to do the Turning Lock. The first one was the Silver-level figure that curves to the left, in case you were wondering what the difference between the two of them is. The end of the Turning Lock has us in Outside Partner position, so from there we went into another Natural Turn that started off in Outside Partner before closing with us backing line of dance.
In order to set ourselves up for the other version of the Turning Lock, we had to build up some rotation while staying on the line of dance, so we did an Overturned Natural Spin Turn that turned us a full 360°. Now we went into the Turning Lock to the Right. If done correctly, this figure should turn you so that both partners are moving toward diagonal center at the end in Promenade Position. To complete the choreography for the night, Lord Junior went back to what some of us had done in class last week and had us doing a Quick Open Reverse Turn, though this week we didn’t have to add on the extra Reverse Pivot at the end, which made it slightly easier to get through.
This weekend may or may not be busy for me. So far I have one lesson that I have to attend during the day on Saturday, but then on Saturday night there is that big charity fundraiser gala that Lord Dormamu is putting on. I think I might be volunteering to help out at that, but I have yet to get any information about where I should be or what time I should be there, so it was only a vague commitment that I was given. Maybe they won’t need me after all. I’m pretty certain that I’ll make it to the after party on Saturday night, to do some dancing with all the people who performed at or attended the show.
So that’s potentially what I’ll be up to this weekend. What about you? Do you have anything exciting going on? Are you going to go to the show and the party afterward to dance Saturday night away? I hope so. If you’re there, come say hi to me. I’m sure I’ll be wandering amidst the crowd somewhere.