When The Stars Make You Drool Just Like A Pasta Fazool

I had a pretty busy weekend full of dance activities. All of that coupled with the time change meant that I woke up Monday morning feeling even more exhausted than I did when I went to bed Sunday night. There’s a voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that I should just take a “sick day” from work some day soon and stay home to sleep all day. Will I do it? Not likely. But the siren song of that voice and its ideas are a very persuasive sound…

Where to even start? Let’s see… well, Friday night I went out to a social dance at the Electric Dance Hall. There were a couple of reasons that I headed out there. First off, I haven’t gone to many social dances of late. I spend a ton of time in dance studios for lessons and practice, but I seem to rarely go out and actually see people who I know anymore. Several friends had asked me if I was planning on going to this party, so I felt like I should be there. Also, a while back I had brought a big poster over to the Electric Dance Hall at Lord Dormamu’s request that advertised the big charity event that was happening on Saturday. Lord Dormamu needed that poster back before the event Saturday night, so I figured I could also pick it up while I was out at the social dance. I am so efficient sometimes!

HotDog was at the party that night. Sometimes I really don’t know what to do when he is around. He will come talk to me, and it’s fine as long as I just smile and nod along with whatever he is saying, but anytime I try to say something he has to make some sort of grand comeback to show that he is better than me… even if I am the only person within earshot. Maybe he is just desperate for attention? Sparkledancer has told me in the past that he likes to text her a lot during the day, heaping awkward compliments on her and fishing for her to do the same back to him. Is that what he is looking for from me as well? If he had my phone number, would I get those same kinds of text messages? That would be a little weird.

Saturday night was the big charity dance gala that Lord Dormamu had been putting together for the last few months. The show was taking place in a big theater in the downtown area of one of the Dance Kingdom’s big cities. In my youth I was much more apt to go and hang out in various downtown areas of big cities with friends, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped doing that. Especially now that I spend all my free time practicing for dance competitions, it is very rare for me to go anywhere other than a dance studio on a weekend. I was kind of amazed when I first got downtown for the event, because so many things had changed since the last time I had been downtown.

I volunteered to be helpful that night in my capacity as a member of the Royal Dance Court. Originally I had thought that I would be hanging out at the venue doing some sort of odd job, but it turns out that I got to do something that was slightly more interesting. See, Lord Dormamu, being the big name guy that he is, had gone directly to the King of the Dance Kingdom to ask for his blessing on this charity function. Lord Dormamu thought that if the King deemed the event worthy, then he could use that as a marketing ploy to get more people to buy tickets, and thus raise more money for the charity the event was giving to.

The King actually liked the idea of the event so much that he decided that not only would he give the event his blessings, but also that he would come and watch the show! How’s that for an endorsement? In addition to that, the King asked one of his Grand Viziers to attend the event with him. That gentleman ended up being my job for the night. The Grand Vizier lived in a far-off portion of the Dance Kingdom, so Lord Dormamu bought him a plane ticket to the city where the show was being held. His plane was to land at the airport exactly one hour before the show started, and it was my job to pick him up at the airport and haul ass to the theater downtown as fast as I could. I maaaaaaaay have broken a few minor traffic laws in that process…

Once I had safely deposited the Grand Vizier at the front door of the theater and then found a place to park my car, I managed to get into the theater myself. Lord Dormamu was in the lobby schmoozing with all of the people showing up, but he stopped to come say hello to me when I got there, thank me for getting my ‘cargo’ to the event, and told me that if I wanted I could go sit and help out at the donations table for the evening. With no reason not to do so, I wandered through the lobby to find the table, and guess who I found sitting there running things? None other than Sparkledancer! Now I knew that this was a good place for me to hang out, since at least I would have someone I knew there to talk to.

The show itself was great. Lord Dormamu seems to be friends with everyone in the world who is somehow connected to dancing (ballroom or otherwise), so he managed to talk to a bunch of high-level dancers who lived within an hour or so of the city the performance was in, and convinced them to perform for free to benefit the charity. We’re talking several current and former National Champions, World Champions, a pair of national champions from one of the franchise circuits (that was an unexpected sight), and many of the city’s ballroom studio owners and their professional partners – all coming together to put on a show!

There were video introductions before the first performance of each couple, and many of them remarked in those videos how they all compete against each other all the time in the highest echelons of dance competitions, but they all wanted to put aside those rivalries to help out for a bigger cause when asked. I got to watch most of the performances, since there wasn’t much reason for Sparkledancer and I to sit out in the lobby trying to collect donations while everyone was in the audience. Seeing all of these high-level dancers perform for without having to pay for a ticket made it even better for me. 😉

When the performances were over, I was back out in the lobby collecting donations. The end of the night seemed to be when most people wanted to donate – we got a handful of people during intermission, but the bulk of the donations came as people walked through the lobby to exit the theater. Sparkledancer and I hung around until all the audience members had left, and the Grand Vizier finally came out from talking with all the performers, and then the three of us left to head over to the after-party.

If you remember, back when I went to the meeting where Lord Dormamu introduced the concept for this show to a bunch of us, those of us who weren’t members of this charity’s foundation convinced him that it would be a good idea to hold the after-party in conjunction with the already-scheduled social dance that was going on that night. That social dance was being put on by the dance club that President Porpoise is in charge of, so as soon as I arrived I introduced the Grand Vizier to President Porpoise so that they could chat for a bit. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch that day, and it was already almost 10:00PM, I wandered off to find out if there were any good snacks left in the snack room.

I swear I ate my body weight in cheese and crackers, because that was pretty much all that was left. While I was pigging out, the King decided to give a short, impromptu speech on how happy he was that all of his subjects in the Dance Kingdom could come together to put on fabulous events like the gala he had just watched, and support charities that promote dancing in the process. While he was talking, one of the decorations for the party was making noise, and President Porpoise couldn’t figure out how to disable the sensor that triggered it. He ended up detaching the part of the decoration that contained the speaker and running into the snack room where I was standing with it, hoping that by taking the speaker farther away people wouldn’t hear it as much. That was pretty funny.

Sparkledancer came to join me at one point during the speech, and she decided to grab her own plate and feast on various cookies that were on the snack table. That was pretty much where we stayed the rest of the evening, at least until I had to leave to head home and do some work. Several people came to talk with us while we were in that back room, but neither of us did any real dancing that night. Only eating. If I do this sort of thing again, I will probably remember to try to eat some kind of dinner beforehand.

While the King departed to do kingly things shortly after the evening festivities concluded, Lord Dormamu had set up the plane ticket that he purchased for the Grand Vizier to all for a block of time on Sunday that the Grand Vizier could meet with students to give coaching. Somehow, after all the talk I had last week about thinking that I had so many different people giving me dance advice, I ended up taking one of those coaching sessions…

I know Lord Dormamu asked if I wanted to take the coaching mostly out of political motivations. After all, this gentleman is also a well-known adjudicator for many dance competitions, so the chances of me being judged by him in the future is high. It is better for me if he knows a little about who I am as a dancer, rather than just as a chauffeur, right? That’s what I kept telling myself as I agreed to do it. The only bad part about agreeing to the earliest morning session on Sunday was that when Lord Dormamu asked me about it on Friday, I didn’t realize Daylight Savings Time was also this past weekend. If I had known that before I agreed to do it, I probably would have at least asked if there was a later session I could go to instead.

Aside from being tired the whole time due to the time shift, having the coaching with this Grand Vizier was actually fascinating. We didn’t really work on our routines at all, surprisingly enough. What we spent the majority of the time discussing was how dancers should be using their feet. Obviously feet are pretty important for dancing, since that’s (for most people) the only part of your body that is actually on the dance floor!

This turned into one of those kinds of discussions that I like having with people who have achieved super-high levels of accomplishment in the dance world, where they don’t talk about just ‘how’ to do steps and technique, but rather they tell you all about the mechanics of the human body and how to use that to create the right movement.

Side note: I have found over the last year that coaches who are younger, who achieved National and International recognition for competing more recently, have studied dancing from more of an athletic perspective, and they understand (and can explain) much more about using the body to accomplish the dance. Older coaches who were champions eons ago just tell you to make your dancing look a certain way, but never really explain it much further than that. For me personally, knowing the mechanics really helps me accomplish what I am trying to do, much more than someone just telling me to do it a certain way, and if I can’t do it on the first couple of tries then I just need to try harder.

Grand Vizier guy explained that there are actually four separate feelings that the foot will experience when you are moving. These sensations all happen in greater or lesser proportions depending on the type of figure you are doing, but they are always in the same order. You can think about this the next time you are just walking down the hallway in your office one day. When you take a step you experience:

  1. Resistance – contrary to what you may think, the first thing that you experience when you take a step is resistance. Most people will lean forward slightly, allowing gravity to help them with the job of moving. This will create the feeling of resistance on the ball of your standing leg’s foot as it is pressed down into the floor.
  2. Release – once you have leaned forward enough to allow gravity to help push your spine forward, you should experience the initial resistance that you built up under the ball of your foot releasing.
  3. Control – as you are moving forward, your back leg does not come off the floor immediately. It will linger there on the floor behind you, helping to control your balance and direction.
  4. Push – when you finally shift your weight to your other leg, the standing leg should give you one last push to help you start the leaning function again, which will start creating the feeling of resistance on the next foot as you continue to walk forward.

We spent some time slowly going through these feelings using a small chunk of our Waltz routine for practice. The Grand Vizier told us that while this is a good concept to know and a good way to help us work on our footwork in places of the routine where we screw the footwork up, we shouldn’t let the idea get out of hand. He has known people who would walk through each figure of their routines figuring out exactly where the resistance, release, control and push is with every step, and how much emphasis to put with each of those feelings. He personally thinks that it going way too far. So, if you’ve never heard of this idea before either, take from it what you need as you practice.

The other interesting concept that he told me in that coaching session was about my frame. His view on getting the frame right was very different from anyone else I have worked with. He told me specifically that he has heard all sorts of instructors in the past tell their students to do all kinds of wonky things to try to get their topline to look right. Because I have large muscular shoulders, he said that he bet I’d been told to try to roll my shoulders back or pull them down quite a bit (which I have).

What he told me to think about was not my shoulders, but my spine. According to him, the human body is built to have everything in the correct place with the spine in the center connecting it all together. If I am about to get into frame with my partner, he wants me to take a minute and just adjust my spine to make sure it is straight and long from my tailbone to the place where it is attached to my skull. If I do that, he says that my shoulders should naturally be in the right place when I raise my arms. For students that he works with frequently, if he finds their shoulders sticking up when they are in frame, nine times out of ten he can fix it by having them straighten their spine completely rather than moving the shoulders around to adjust.

That’s definitely a different way to think about a problem I have. Likely I will have to spend some time in front of a mirror trying things out to see what works best, but maybe this will make a difference for me. We’ll have to see!

Finally, in Standard Technique class this week I worked on some Foxtrot, and we did a lot of different Feathers. A lot. I mean, I know there are a bunch of different figures that involve the Feather in International Foxtrot, but I don’t think I’ve ever done choreography that has contained so many before. If we had tried to add even one more, I might have just flown away!

Terrible joke, really. Give me a bit, I’ll try to think of a better one…

For those of you who are mildly interested, the choreography is as follows: starting with a prep step, we did a basic Feather, then an Open Telemark with a Feather Ending. That moved into a Three Step and then to a Gold-level figure called ‘Curved Feather to Back Feather’ which is basically those two Feathers stuck together, and then you do a Feather Finish to end it. To change things up a bit at the end, we added on an Open-level figure that was basically a Overspin from a syncopated Viennese Reverse Turn, finishing with a Change of Direction.

I’m going to preen a little, so I will say that the choreography went fairly well for me (see, that was a much more sophisticated feather joke! Good job me!). Some of the others in class were definitely struggling with certain figures. I know that the syncopated Viennese Waltz-style Reverse Turn threw off a lot of the ladies as we tried to get through and tack on the Reverse Pivot at the end.

There was one new lady in class that night who was struggling a lot with the figures. Watching her dance, I could see that she had some sort of background in ballroom dancing, but I had never seen her before. As we walked through the steps, there were a few times where I swear that it looked like she was going to cry because she kept fumbling up the footwork. I felt bad for her, so when I finally rotated through and had a chance to dance with her, I asked how things were going. She told me it wasn’t going too well, so I offered to step through what we had so far slowly in practice hold to help her get the footwork down.

After that initial walk-through, I was walking back with her to where we had started, and she started asking me weird questions. She asked me if these figures were in the normal syllabus for International Foxtrot. At this point, we had only gotten through the beginning up to the Three Step, so I told her that the figures were common Bronze and Silver figures from the syllabus I was familiar with. Then she told me that she had spent a lot of time learning International Foxtrot in the past, but none of these figures were familiar to her at all, so she wondered what the heck was going on. By that time, I had to rotate, so I didn’t get to continue that conversation any further at that point.

I finally got another chance to talk to her after class was finished, and I started by asking her where she had been taking classes before she showed up at the Electric Dance Hall. As it turns out, she hadn’t been ‘taking’ classes before, but rather she had been teaching ballroom at a franchise studio in the area! Where she had been working, apparently the syllabus that they used for International Standard was nothing like what we had been doing that night in class. In fact, she had never even seen a Heel Turn before! I had thought that was a basic concept that everyone who does International style starts working on pretty early.

Then she asked me if all of us in Standard Technique that night were also instructors. I feel kind of bad, but that question made me laugh out loud. When I managed to collect myself, I told her that no one but Lord Junior and herself had ever taught ballroom before – the rest of us were all just students who had been dancing for a long time, and most of us trained to dance competitively. That information really seemed to shock her. From the look on her face, I would guess that she never really dealt with advanced students at whatever franchise location she had been teaching at.

Lord Junior came over at that point and told her that he was going to go through Heel Turns for a bit so that she could see what they were. I took that as my cue to leave, but before I did I told her that she shouldn’t feel bad about how class went, and she should come back next week to do it again with us. Lord Junior smiled at me and told me that she would definitely be back, because he was working with her so that she could start teaching at the Electric Dance Hall soon. Surprise! So I guess we will all likely see her again in the future at some point.

Maybe she’ll even stick around long enough that I will have to come up with a name for her. It’s been quite a while since anyone new has done that. I wonder what kind of cool and/or funny name I can come up with…

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