There’s A Magic Running Through Your Soul

As you can probably imagine, last weekend I spent a lot of time running through all of my routines, because this coming Saturday I am competing. On top of actually competing at some point in the early afternoon, the organizers of the competition sent out a notice asking if anyone would be able to volunteer to help out. I guess many of the people in their normal pool of volunteers had other obligations they couldn’t get out of, so they were desperate. Being the nice guy that I am, I signed up for the shift that should be just after I get done actually dancing on Saturday. Showing up to volunteer with my number still pinned to my back will get me bonus points, right?

Anyway, I started off last Saturday morning by meeting up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven to run rounds. Sir Steven thought that things were looking pretty good for the competition, and didn’t have much in the way of notes for the two of us that day. The takeaway from him that day was to practice and fix just one thing in each dance style, rather than try to overwhelm us with a bunch of points when we are so close to performance.

In the Waltz, the point he wanted us to work on was continuing to have our knees moving forward as we were lowering into the next step. Obviously if you are moving backward the effect is slightly different, but I’m sure the point makes sense if you’ve done Waltz before. For the Foxtrot he told Sparkledancer to work on keeping herself off to the left more throughout the whole dance. During the Tango he could see that we had been working on bringing our feet together later during figures where we close them, but it is not consistent. He told us to keep practicing that action so that every time we close our feet we bring them together at the last moment before we start moving again. Finally, in the Quickstep he wanted me to work on extending my step further on the first step into the Natural Spin Turn, because apparently the step looks stunted when compared to all the other steps.

Once I finished up with Sir Steven, I had another session scheduled to work with Lord Dormamu. He told Sparkledancer and I that he was going to do the same thing that Sir Steven did – have us run through each of our routines that day so that he could give us an overall impression and correct any glaring issues before we head off to the competition. He ended up giving me more notes than Sir Steven did, but that’s not totally surprising. Lord Dormamu is more vociferous than Sir Steven, after all.

Again we started with the Waltz. Overall the Waltz was good, there were just a few items that Lord Dormamu wanted us to keep in mind as we danced in the competition. The first thing that he stopped me to change was how I was turning my head as I closed my feet on a Natural Turn. Remember how I mentioned that turning my head at that point was throwing me off? Well apparently it was because I was turning it too far. I had been told to turn so that I was looking over Sparkledancer’s head, but because she has been working on her positioning and is now further back and to the left, this means that I am turning my head a lot. Lord Dormamu told me to turn my head no more than to the point where my chin lines up with my sternum. That makes things a lot easier!

Besides that, we were cautioned to make sure that we change direction on the last step of each Chasse from Promenade Position that we do. I guess we sometimes allowed the final step of the chasse to continue traveling sideways, which would throw off the first step of any figure coming afterward. Finally, Lord Dormamu wasn’t entirely happy with the first step of the Hesitation Change. He thought that the first step looked really weak compared to the second step and the line we created on beat three, so he wanted me to practice lowering myself more after the preceding figure and extending my leg to put a more consistent amount of power into the first step to matches the next.

Next up we looked at Foxtrot. Foxtrot continues to be our strongest dance style, likely because that is the one we have spent the most time looking over with Lord Dormamu in the last year. There were only a couple of pointers that he had for us to keep in mind going into this weekend. First off, Sparkledancer was told to keep her head closed as we go through the Reverse Turns. Whether she should open her head or keep it closed during the figure changes almost every other time we see Lord Dormamu, but she made sure to confirm that he wants it closed and won’t change his mind before this event is over. Besides that, I was told to continue working on my lowering action through the ending steps of figures and maintaining that through the beginning of the next figure. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s not perfect yet, so I still have to focus on practicing.

Tango was where we spent the most time going over things that Lord Dormamu wanted us to clean up. Most of the items that he pointed out were for the figures in the second half of the first long wall, though he did also want Sparkledancer to keep working on pulling her frame wider. When we would get into frame to start dancing, he would come up behind her, hook his hands inside her elbows and pull outward to try to “help” with that.

The first thing that he mentioned was about the Natural Promenade Turn (or Promenade Pivot, depending on how you learned it). He was happy that we had managed to slow down the rotation during the turn to his liking, but he said that when we continued into the Closed Promenade afterward the first step was missing the slight foot flicking action that all our other Promenades had. He postulated that it was because we were rotating and never actually stopped before we went into that next step forward, so to fix the problem he wanted us to be sure to come to a complete stop in the rotation before going into that step. That definitely seemed to fix the issue.

The other issue was with the Right-side Lunge that was in the first corner. Lord Dormamu admitted to us that day that based on what the approved syllabus is now versus what it was all those years ago when he originally designed this routine, he personally would no longer consider this figure to be a part of the Bronze syllabus. So… yeah. That makes me worried about whether anyone else might come to that same conclusion and possibly invigilate us for having it in our routine. That thought is going to bother me now whenever I am out in a competition doing that move in front of a judge. Sigh…

When he saw us go through the figure the first time that day, he thought that we were off time as we hit the line, like we were rotating too slowly. I managed to tighten that up by rotating my third step more as I came around Sparkledancer, which meant that the step into the lunge had to travel less, speeding up the process so that everything hit sharply on time. Lord Dormamu also wanted me to put in a bit of an arc as I shaped Sparkledancer into the lunge. He told me I should (seriously, this was his exact comparison) think about swinging up and over like a lumberjack swings an axe when chopping wood.

This was already pretty funny because Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the English word for ‘lumberjack’ at first, so he was trying to describe the person doing the action to me so that I could come up with the word for him, but once I had figured out the word he was looking for Sparkledancer had to stop and ask if that made her the hatchet. Then all three of us devolved into a string of jokes for a few minutes that somehow ended up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer deciding that for this competition she should wear a red plaid flannel dress while I was told to show up wearing a ‘Canadian tuxedo’ (with apologies to any actual Canadians who might see this). I guess I should have started working on growing the requisite beard a while ago. My bad.

Finally, we finished by going through Quickstep briefly. Overall the Quickstep was good, since there isn’t much to the routine. I was told that I kept the timing of the steps correct and the alignment of the figures was by the book except for the places I needed to adjust to get around people, so if I could replicate that at the competition then we should be golden. The only real suggestion was for Sparkledancer. Lord Dormamu wanted her to try to quadruple the amount of volume she was creating in our frame during the Quickstep. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was joking or not when he asked her to do that much, so I’m making a note of it so that I can remind her to practice bending that much.

I want to go off on a slight tangent here, because I saw something on the way to a dance party on Saturday night that was… strange. Now I have to tell someone else, so I’m writing it here.

Before I headed off to help set up for the monthly party that my Royal Dance Court group hosted on Saturday night, I had stopped off to get a sandwich to eat. Once I had my food and took a seat at a table to eat it quickly, I looked out the window nearby and saw a group of teenage boys hanging around outside causing a ruckus. Normally this wouldn’t be of note, since it was a nice day out and I would expect teenage to be hanging around in public places trying to attract the attention of teenage girls (I did this myself in my youth, so I totally understood why they were there).

What struck me as odd was what one of the boys was wearing. Attached to his belt he had a holster, and in the holster were what I can only describe as three kunai. If you don’t know what those are, a kunai is the kind of knife that you have probably seen anime ninja characters using. It has a short, leaf-shaped blade and a handle that ends in a ring that you can tie things to. You’ll see them used as both melee weapons and for throwing. I have certainly seen these types of blades in cartoons many times when I was growing up, but I guess I didn’t know that people could actually buy knives like that in real life.

Why in the world did this teenager have knives like this, and why in the world was he carrying them around openly in what was more or less a public shopping area? I couldn’t figure out if he just had them as a prop to try to make himself look cooler, or if his hobby involved knife throwing. Maybe Kunai Guy (that’s what I started calling him in my head) was concerned about ninjas attacking him while he was trying to pick up girls. Maybe the sandwich shop I stopped at was in a much more dangerous part of town than I realized. After all, if there were roving gangs of ninjas lurking about there, I wouldn’t see them until it was too late, right? Sneaky ninjas…

So yeah. That totally happened on my way to a dance party. For reals.

Anyway, the party that my Royal Dance Court group and I had set up that night was going to be a lot of fun. We had gone out of our way to get a hold of the famous Judge Dread, internationally acclaimed ballroom coach and adjudicator, and convinced him to come teach a class on American Foxtrot for us before our dance party. Also, apparently Judge Dread knows who I am, and knows that Sparkledancer and I are working with Lord Dormamu. He stopped both of us to ask how our training was going, and he wanted to know what competitions we would be doing next. Turns out that, while he won’t be a judge at the competition this coming weekend, he will be a judge at the competition I was planning to do next month. No pressure there or anything, right?

We ended up with a lot of people coming out to attend Judge Dread’s class, which I sort of expected. What I didn’t expect was that when all of the men and women lined up to dance together, there was an even number of Leads and Follows. That meant that I didn’t have to jump into the class to fix the ratio, like I usually have to. I was kind of paying attention to what he was teaching from the sidelines, but not really. I was more intrigued by the game that Sparkledancer seemed to be playing with Bony, where she kept grabbing items off of the snack table and sneaking them over to where Bony was sitting by the front door to see how much she could get Bony to eat.

For those of you that are curious, Bony managed to finish about half a bowl of chocolate-covered pretzels before she asked Sparkledancer to stop dropping food on the desk.

On Tuesday night, rather than getting to go out and put in some practice time, I had to go out and meet up with my Royal Dance Court gang for our quarterly meeting. In all reality, I don’t feel like there was really a reason for me to be there, other than the fact that I am the Keeper of Records and I have to take all the notes. No one really brought up any business that night where I felt like I had any input, so I sat there quietly wishing that I was out practicing all of the stuff that I had been told to practice over the weekend. That’s the same way I feel sometimes when I get stuck in meetings at work, but at least I get paid to go to those meetings.

One of the points brought up that I did pay attention to was the fact that we have ‘officially’ sold out all of the seats for our upcoming formal party in May. There was a family that came to our dance party on Saturday night who thought that the formal sounded like a fun idea, so they bought up the last four seats. This means that all of the originally planned tables have been filled, and we have gotten enough money from ticket sales to cover all of the expenses for the evening.

Unofficially there is room in the venue to add one more table if anyone else wants to go, and we can do so without adding much in the way of cost. The caterer that we contracted with to provide dinner is already planning on bringing enough food to feed a hundred people, and right now we have sold ninety seats. Adding in another table wouldn’t change the food equation at all. I guess the ladies in the Royal Dance Court had decided to leave the extra table out unless absolutely necessary because there would be more space on the dance floor without those ten extra people dancing about.

Since we have sold all the tickets for this year’s formal, I guess that meant that it was time to start planning for next years formal, because the ladies who were at the meeting had already decided on and tentatively booked a date for next year with the Endless Dance Hall. All of the ladies seemed to be happy with the date that was selected, so I bet by the end of the week one of them will have called the Endless Dance Hall to solidify the reservation and send in the deposit. I just couldn’t believe that we were already working on an event that far in the future. Personally I would have preferred to wait until this year’s formal was over before starting to plan the next one, but what do I know. I’m just a boy.

That was really the most exciting part of the meeting on Tuesday that needs to be remembered. I did finally get some printouts of data from our past monthly dance parties that I can start inputting into a digital format to do some trend analysis and find ways to make our parties better, but that probably isn’t exciting to many other people. The eyes of all the older ladies that run the Royal Dance Court sort of glaze over when I talk about doing this kind of thing, so maybe it’s something that only I care about.

The last thing of note that I did this week was to go to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night to work on some Foxtrot with Lord Junior. This week we did some fun figures that I have seen before, but hadn’t gone through in a long time, so it was nice to have a refresher. I think only one other person who was in class that night might have also seen the figures before, so the progression would have seemed pretty new to everyone else.

We started with a prep step into a Feather and then went into a Gold-level figure called the Bounce Fallaway with Weave Ending. After practicing this figure several times, Lord Junior felt like everyone in class had it down so he upgraded our progression by swapping out the Weave Ending with an Open-level figure called a Tumble Turn with Feather Finish. The Tumble Turn portion was probably the hardest thing for everyone to pick up that night, and caused a real issue for the older lady who had joined us for class (more on that in a bit). Once Lord Junior had gotten everyone comfortable with the Tumble Turn, he had us change the last step of the Feather Finish into a checking action so that we could add on a Silver-level figure called a Top Spin to finish up.

Near the end of class, we had an incident where the other gentleman who had come for class that night was leading the older lady who tends to join us most weeks through the entire progression for practice. What we think happened was that she tried to cross her foot in front instead of behind during the Tumble Turn and ended up tripping her partner. He did the best that he could trying to stay up, but being an older gentleman himself he just didn’t have the strength or balance to hold both himself and the lady up, and they fell to the floor.

No one was hurt, but the older lady seemed to be really embarrassed from the fall, so she told Lord Junior that she thought that was enough for the night and took off before class was over. The rest of us spent the remaining minutes running through the progression. After we finished up, Lord Junior was standing in the middle of the floor looking troubled. He wandered over to where we were all sitting and changing our shoes and said that he felt really bad about what had happened, and he might need to have a conversation with this lady soon about her coming to the Standard Technique class.

See, while he was glad that this older lady came to class from time to time and he enjoyed working with her, she is old enough that she had real troubles moving, her sense of balance is out of sorts, and she struggles to remember the footwork for the figures we go over. That’s not his diagnosis, the lady freely admits to these problems even when dancing with me. I guess there have been weeks when Lord Junior had planned out earlier in the day to do some really hard stuff to challenge those of us who dance International Standard competitively, but when this lady shows up he throws out those harder figures and techniques in favor of steps that he knows she can get through.

Man… that sounds rough. I feel bad for him even having to consider having that conversation. Here’s hoping that she doesn’t take it the wrong way and give up dancing entirely. 😦

Yay, it’s competition weekend finally! I’ve gotten emails from the organizers of this particular competition saying that they have “compressed” the schedule this year. The unwritten implication of that statement seems to be that they had a lot fewer people sign up to compete than they were originally expecting. That’s too bad. The one nice thing about compressing the schedule though is that they took out all of Saturday morning in the compression, so now I don’t have to dance until early afternoon. Hooray for me! That gives me a chance to be much more awake before taking to the floor, which I am very happy about.

Also in that email they mentioned that they changed the plans for the evening session on Saturday. Rather than doing a bunch of weird events and all the championship rounds, they pushed those back to the afternoon session because they had time. Instead, they have set up a free group class from one of the adjudicators for all competitors plus a social dance for anyone wanting to dance the night away. The social dance is apparently open to all, not just people who were in the competition.

Normally going to a social dance wouldn’t be much in the way of news for me, but during this social dance they are holding some ‘extra’ rounds to add in some fun, and one of those actually sounds interesting. There will be two of these extra rounds the email mentioned – one is a Jack & Jill Swing, and one a random-pairing Waltz. I have never done a competition where I get paired with a random lady before, but I do consider myself to be pretty OK at the Waltz at this point in my life. I’m thinking about signing up for that event as a test of my ability to lead properly. I hope they let me participate!

Tune in next week to find out all about what kind of crazy stuff I get myself into this weekend!

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