If I Had One More Day I Could Be Better

There were so many things going on this past week! I’m probably going to leave a few things out to try to avoid making this super long. Let me try to arrange what I think is most important to remember into some sort of coherent framework…

Let’s begin with events from last Saturday. The first thing that I did in the morning was to head out to the Fancy Dance Hall to work with Sir Steven. There is not a whole lot here to make note of – we were mostly running rounds because of the competition coming up in a couple of weeks. I know that’s not the most interesting thing to talk about, so I’ll just move on to what I did next that was new and exciting.

After finishing with Sir Steven, I got a bit of a break to hunt down something for lunch and then I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall for the coaching session that was planned for that day between Lady Tella and Sparkledancer. In a surprise twist, it ended up that Sir Bread, who is Lady Tella’s professional competitive partner, was also hanging around at the Endless Dance Hall that afternoon, so Sparkledancer and I actually got input from the two of them that day. Double the fun! The majority of what we spent time on was exactly what I had originally planned on, which was Lady Tella talking with Sparkledancer about the position that she is working on twisting her body into. I was just there as a male body who was roughly Sparkledancer’s size.

That’s an important note right there. As I’ve mentioned in the past, both Sir Bread and Lady Tella are tiny compared to me. Sir Bread told me that day as he was showing me something that he is only 5’6”, and Lady Tella is shorter than him. Since the two of them look like typical dance instructors that you’ve probably seen (i.e. extremely thin from spending all day doing cardio training), I felt like a giant when I was next to either of them, since I am at least half-a-foot taller and much, much more muscular. When Lady Tella would get into frame with me to demonstrate something for Sparkledancer, I instinctively tried to hold on very gently because I was afraid of accidentally breaking her!

Luckily no one was crushed by me that day, and what Sparkledancer and Lady Tella were able to go over was extremely useful to her. Sparkledancer told me afterward that a lot of what Lady Tella said wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking – many of the points are things that Lord Junior, Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu had been telling her to do for forever. The difference here is that Lady Tella could actually bend herself properly in the manner that she was asking Sparkledancer to bend. If she told Sparkledancer to keep her core straight and bend her body backward from the ribs up, she would then show Sparkledancer how she did that, and get into frame with me to give her a rough picture of what it would look like.

The entire session was spent on Waltz, except for the last few minutes when Sir Bread threw out a challenge to see if we could go through our Foxtrot routine a couple of times while applying the pointers that he and Lady Tella had given us that afternoon. While we were going over things, the staff at the Endless Dance Hall was setting the venue up for some kind of event that was taking place in the evening. Because there was a lot of noise and movement going on around us, I was easily distracted, so I only caught about half of the things that Lady Tella was telling Sparkledancer. I know, I should have been paying more attention… but they weren’t talking to me, and sometimes my attention wanders.

But there were a couple of things that I was asked to do, and those I did pay attention to. Hooray for me! The only major note that I got from Lady Tella was about the Hesitation Change that is in one corner of the routine. She watched Sparkledancer and I go through the figure, and didn’t think that there was enough going on that separated the figure to make it seem like a deliberate hesitation, versus just pausing like someone was in my way. She told me that I could help Sparkledancer shape properly for the step by keeping my right leg bent to stay low, but driving out slightly to the right with my right hip. This very much changes the way that I have normally done this figure, so it feels very different to me now. I assume that means it looks very different as well.

Sir Bread interjected a bunch of pointers for me throughout this session, so I didn’t feel like I was just being used as a Dance Dummy the whole time. One point that he told me which was different from the rule I have been operating under for years was about my left arm. He personally thought that I was keeping my left arm too low. I told him that I had been told by several people over the years that I should be keeping my hand (and thus the lady’s hand) level with my partner’s eyes, which is why my forearm was down. He told me that he has always been told to keep his hand level with his own eyes.

According to him, if my partner keeps bending herself backward over my right hand further and further, keeping my left hand level with her eyes is going to make it drop lower and lower as Sparkledancer improves, which is no good. On top of that, as we progress further through the ranks, I will come across spots more frequently that are like the Hesitation Change we were looking at earlier, where Sparkledancer is trying to extend herself further create a particular line as we pause. Keeping my hand level with her eyes means that I will be adjusting my arm every time that she does something like that. By keeping my hand up higher and in a permanent spot  will help my partner maintain her own shapes better by working off my arm.

Another point where Sir Bread stopped me to talk about something was with my Natural Turn into the Natural Spin Turn. He thought that I should be shaping my whole body more as I went into the height of the Natural Turn, bending myself into more of an arc with my left hip out. This is something that I do during the Reverse Turns that are in the routine, but I guess it doesn’t look that way when I do the Natural Turns. Interestingly enough, when I put some emphasis into that shape, it made it much easier for me to remember to turn my head slightly and look over top of Sparkledancer like Sir Steven asked me to do. Maybe that is what I was missing the whole time.

Coming out of the Natural Turn and going into the Natural Spin Turn, Sir Bread thought that the first pivot looked like it was struggling. Sparkledancer and I never fail to turn enough, but Sir Bread thought that it looked like we were forcing the turn too much. His advice for me to fix that was to not let my heel come down on my left foot until it absolutely has to. To do this, on my first step backward onto my left foot, I have to try to stay on the ball of my foot the whole time. There is a point in the pivot where my heel will naturally kiss the ground before I am able to take the next step, but Sir Bread told me that the rotation will be much easier and there will be no mid-turn crash action if I always think about taking the step this way.

On Monday night I was excited to head back to Latin Technique class. Two weeks ago in Latin Technique class Lord Junior had worked with us on some Pasodoble. The last figure that he wanted to go over with us that night was The Twists, which is a Gold-level figure off of the syllabus. As I mentioned two weeks ago, the figure did not go super successfully, but since we had started working on it near the end of the class, Lord Junior didn’t have any time left to devote to correcting the issues that were popping up. He promised all of us who were there that after the Easter vacation, the next time we all met up for Latin Technique class he would do Pasodoble again, this time starting with The Twists so that he could help everyone through any troubles they ran into.

So that is exactly what we got to do this week. For me, the figure went fairly well. Other than having to run through the steps slowly for a couple of the ladies the first time I danced it with them, I was able to get through my steps and add in the proper shaping. Of course, I did have the opportunity to practice the figure a fair number of times two weeks ago and then again that night, since there were far more women than men. That might have had something to do with my success. Boys don’t get breaks! Also, I didn’t have to do any Heel Turns, unlike the ladies. For a couple of them, the Heel Turns were the part that they struggled with the most, especially as we tried to do it with music and increase the tempo more toward normal speed.

We started The Twists on beat one of an eight-count measure,  and ended them by holding in place while lowered down on our standing leg for beat four of the next measure. To come out, we did six beats of continuous syncopated Forward Lock Steps heading toward diagonal center, slowly rising ourselves up as we traveled to look even bigger by the time we finished. Not content to have us rest on our laurels after struggling through The Twists, Lord Junior decided to have us finish up that night by doing a set of continuous traveling Natural Pivots as well.

Switching up our arms so that we could hold on to our partner’s rib-cage with our right hand and keeping the left arm out as we turned, we did two slow Pivots and two or three faster ones, depending on what direction you were facing as you finished. Lord Junior didn’t expect us to force these to travel straight down the line of dance, so most of us ended up curving toward the center in the process. The trick was to come out so that both partners were facing forward, which is why sometimes you needed an extra pivot at the end to do that. At the end of the Pivots the guys would release their partner and we ended traveling in an Open Promenade Position, ready for whatever would come next.

With several competitions going on during April, Lord Dormamu has his weekends pretty much booked with out-of-town events. To make up for that, he was able to set aside some time on Tuesday night to work with Sparkledancer and I. He was especially interested that night to look over how Sparkledancer was doing after her coaching session with Lady Tella, and he thought the results were very pleasing. Based on what he saw, we were asked if we could schedule a few more sessions where Sparkledancer and Lady Tella could get together (with me as a Dance Dummy to help out) before our competition at the end of the month.

There are other things going on this month, so finding the time to do these sessions is going to be the hardest part. It’s entirely possible that we may have to drop coaching sessions with someone else to fit in more coaching sessions with Lady Tella. I mean, I wouldn’t feel terrible about doing that – if you’ve been reading my notes here for a while, you know that Sparkledancer and I have almost exclusively worked with male instructors up until this point, so I have gotten a lot of help to make my dancing better. The problem is, male instructors can talk with Sparkledancer about what she should be doing, but they generally won’t be able to show her what she should look like very well. You know, because they’re male and whatnot.

The few times we have scheduled coaching sessions with female instructors up until our last session with Lady Tella, the ladies that we worked with ended up spending most of the time pointing out things that I could improve rather than helping Sparkledancer. That’s been great for helping me, but I always felt bad about how those sessions turned out. Finally having a female coach focus on Sparkledancer the whole time was awesome, and Sparkledancer told me that the lesson was extremely useful. If Lord Dormamu recommends we do a few more sessions like that, then I will do my best to help her out if they need me to be there.

Aside from that, we also talked about the upcoming competition that we were planning to dance in at the end of the month. Guess what? Lord Dormamu was asked to be one of the adjudicators for that event! Now, not only is he focused on making sure that we are ready before stepping into the venue, but he is excited about being able to directly review the results of our work when we are under the pressure of competing. So, you know, that doesn’t add any more stress or anything. Not at all!

Moving on… we went back to Foxtrot again that night. The major point I took away from what we covered that night was that I need to be careful that I don’t lower myself too far while dancing the Foxtrot. One thing that apparently Sir Bread had noticed that he mentioned to Lord Dormamu was that sometimes he sees me doing this weird double bounce thing. It is especially noticeable coming out of whatever starter step I may use to get into a routine, but there are other points where Lord Dormamu saw me doing it too while he was watching me Tuesday night.

After he and I went through and tested a few things, he found that since I am trying to keep myself fairly low to the ground to begin with, if I do something that causes me to lower even further (like taking a really long step which extends both of my legs, thus lowering my center toward the floor), I end up having to raise myself up in order to move my back leg underneath me. Because my legs are fairly muscular, I can’t get around this – if I don’t come up, my leg just doesn’t fit. So the obvious fix for that is to make sure I am not doing anything that causes me to be so far down that I can’t get my leg underneath me without rising up.

The other thing he told me to think about while I practice to try to fix this is to think about the four beats in a measure of Foxtrot like a limbo bar, not a high jump bar. Normally what you would see if you were watching someone exaggerate the actions is that person taking a step on beat four and then, as if they were high jumping over beat four, coming down as they are carried toward beat one. Instead of that type of action, Lord Dormamu wants me to lower earlier as if I were going under the bar at beat four and then holding myself at that level as I travel through into the next beat one.

Obviously this would create a very strange way of dancing if I were to do it all the time, especially during a competition, but the point of this exercise was not to make a permanent change to the way I understand how to dance the Foxtrot. This exercise is only to be used to correct the problem that Lord Dormamu was seeing. Theoretically, once I no longer have this issue, we will slowly go through and relax this abnormal action until it is no longer needed. Kind of like taking medicine for a sickness, if that simile makes sense.

We also spent some time talking about the Change of Direction. I guess when I go through the figure I have this tendency to bring my feet together holding only the ball of my left foot on the ground. As we were talking about it, Lord Dormamu also mentioned that he sees me doing the same thing during the starter step in Foxtrot as well. What he wants me to do instead is bring my feet together with my left foot flat on the ground as I twist my upper body to create a right-side lead briefly.

While he watched Sparkledancer and I step through things, he told us that he wanted us to go back to practicing the figure with a pause in the midpoint. We are supposed to use that hesitation during practice to check that we are in the right position for the Change of Direction specifically, and also to reset our thinking before moving on to begin repeating the routine. So I’ll have to try to keep that in mind as well during practice.

Finally, I just want to do a brief recap of Standard Technique class last night. We also covered some Foxtrot in that class, but because we had a new face in class who hadn’t done much International Standard before, Lord Junior put something together for us that took some figures from American Foxtrot as well so that there would be some pieces that this new girl was familiar with.

Discussing the figures gets a bit confusing because of this amalgamation, so you’ll have to follow along carefully. In International Foxtrot, generally when you talk about a figure and use the word ‘Open’ before it, that means that the figure ends with you being in Promenade Position. In American Foxtrot, if you use the word ‘Open’ before a figure’s name they are usually referring to the figure having an ending where you pass your feet instead of closing them together (i.e. continuity ending). We used a lot of ‘Open’ figures in this progression, so I’ll try and point out which is which as I go through them for you.

With that in mind… we started off with a Simple Twinkle toward diagonal wall that ended in Promenade Position. Next up we did an American Open Left Turn, and then added on an International Open Impetus which ended with us heading toward diagonal center in Promenade Position. From here, Lord Junior had us do a syncopated Grapevine action, taking the first step as a slow, which meant that we had plenty of time while taking the step to really drive forward with a heel lead. This Grapevine action required both partners to cross their foot behind on the third step as they traveled.

Once through that first Grapevine we did another American Open Left Turn and then another syncopated Grapevine action. In this Grapevine, we essentially started out backward from what we did during the first one, and because of that we had to cross our feet in front on the third step. As we finished the second Grapevine, we did an International Open Telemark and Feather Ending, which would align us heading back toward diagonal center as we finished the progression.

Let’s just call it good right there. Maybe I can shorten this a bit when I read through it for editing before I post. Probably not though. Usually I end up making things longer as I edit them somehow. I have too many words…

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