I Speak To You Like The Chorus To The Verse

All of my lessons, and all of my practice time over the last two months have been focused on preparing for the competition that I went to this past weekend. And you know what? It was… underwhelming.

This particular competition did not have as many people sign up to participate as they have had in years past. On top of that, the majority of the people who did sign up were only dancing Newcomer or Bronze (or both). While that did give me a fair number of competitors to dance against in two of the four rounds that I signed up for, the other two rounds had no one in them. Not. A. One. This meant that for half of the events I danced in last Saturday, Sparkledancer and I were on the floor by ourselves. The organizers didn’t even have other events for different age groups or skill levels in International Standard that they could put on the floor at the same time to be more efficient.

The rounds where I did have other competitors to test myself against weren’t much of a test either. Most of the people who signed up for those two rounds primarily danced American Smooth, and no one had ever really told them the changes that they would have to make to the way they danced to do International Standard. Sparkledancer and I swept the field pretty handily because we had actually been practicing International Standard, so we knew what the judges would be looking for.

But… I kind of feel terrible about that. Like, winning in this way wasn’t really meaningful.

Other than that bitter taste from the results of the competition, the event was actually a lot of fun. I was able to get to the Dance Death Arena early enough so that I could run through my routines a couple of times on the floor there, and adjust (i.e. pull back) the length of my stride so that I would fill the floor from corner to corner in each routine. I happened to know two of the judges, so I got real feedback from them on how things looked while I was competing. One of the judges was Lord Dormamu, which was why Sparkledancer and I had signed up for the competition in the first place (because he told us we should). Another judge that was supposed to be there that day ended up getting sick, so the organizers called the Princess for help and she actually showed up to be a judge too.

I wasn’t super worried about how the results would turn out after meeting the competition. In fact, I may not have taken things as seriously as I probably should have. Case and point: during one of the events that Sparkledancer and I danced unopposed, a Waltz number, we spent the whole time talking about what kind of dessert foods would be good to eat at that moment. Apparently Sparkledancer doesn’t like cake batter. I think that cake batter is delicious, though it’s not something that I have sitting around in my house to eat like… ever. Luckily she agreed with me that cookie dough would have been pretty good, so we would have been able to find something to eat. Not exactly a normal thing to discuss in the middle of a dance competition, but that totally happened.

After we had finished dancing in our session and the awards for the International Standard rounds were handed out, Sparkledancer and I had both signed up to volunteer at the competition for a few hours to help. I changed out of my competition outfit and put on something slightly more comfortable, and then I ended up out at the front registration table. Unfortunately, because the rounds that were scheduled for that day were already half over, and not too many competitors had signed up overall, there wasn’t much for me to actually do while I was there. I answered a few questions, checked in a couple of competitors who showed up a little late to the party, and directed a lot of people to the restrooms. Super exciting work, right?

Just as Sparkledancer and I were finishing up our volunteer shift at the front desk, we could hear the emcee making announcements about some upcoming events that they were looking for more people to join in for. I guess they had scheduled two ‘fun’ rounds, which ended up being for Hustle and West Coast Swing, but they had very few people who had signed up for them. The emcee was telling everyone that they were still allowing people to join, so they should go sign up at the front desk if interested at all.

As we were counting down to those rounds, some of the braver young couples were trying to decide if they could do the dance styles. The hallway next to where the front desk was became a sort of impromptu practice ground for undecided competitors to see if they could hack it. There were a few boys who seemed to know how to Hustle, and they managed to pair off with a couple of ladies who knew the steps well enough to get by, so they all signed up for that round.

The West Coast Swing was a different matter entirely. After the Hustle kids left, some new kids took over the hallway and were trying to figure out if they could do West Coast Swing or not. One girl who told everyone that she knew West Coast Swing kind of took charge of the situation and was trying to explain the Sugar Push basic to a couple who were debating on signing up… but she was telling the guy the wrong steps, and they kept messing up. After watching this in my peripheral vision for about ten minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left the front desk and took over the situation.

I maaaaaaay have caused some trouble in doing so, however. See, I started trying to help out the guy who was trying to learn the West Coast Swing basic, pointing out the problems in his footwork and getting him to do it correctly. The girl who had been trying to teach the couple before found out I was there, and then she wanted me to show her how to do it too.Another couple of competitors stopped by to watch what we were doing, and soon they were trying to pick up the steps at the same time. Then the girl who had been trying to teach everyone before I showed up started asking questions about the female part. I tried to explain as best I could, but it had been a long time since I had learned that part of the steps, so I ended up flagging down Sparkledancer to have her come over and help.

As Sparkledancer and I were demonstrating the steps and explaining things to all of these interested ‘students’, we ended up drawing in so many people that we were blocking off the hallway. Eventually, someone on staff for the venue had to come and disperse everyone because they needed to keep the walkways clear for safety reasons. Oops… my bad.

In demonstrating to these competitors just how much they didn’t know about West Coast Swing though, I think I ended up discouraging some of them from entering the event that was going to happen. By the time that heat came up, the emcee made an announcement that only one couple had signed up to participate, so they were throwing open the floor to anyone that thought they could dance West Coast Swing, whether they had a competitor number or not. The emcee managed to goad the organizers of the competition into dancing, and then managed to convince the competition DJ and her husband to get on the floor as well.

Sparkledancer told me that we should do it too, seeing as how we had just scared away all the other kids. I was no longer wearing my competitor number and neither Sparkledancer nor were wearing dance shoes anymore, but I agreed. So, I stripped down to a t-shirt and took to the floor in my tennis shoes to try to dance. By the time I got on the floor, they were up to eight couples. We were told that they would do this in two rounds: in round one, each of the six judges would go tap one of the competitive couples who they wanted to see dance in the finals. Round two, all six judges would deliberate and assign each of us a placement.

Somehow Sparkledancer and I managed to make the finals. I didn’t actually do anything fancy, since I couldn’t turn myself all that well in tennis shoes, and Sparkledancer’s street shoes weren’t all that great either, but I guess that we managed to impress one of the judges enough with the few moves that we did do to get chosen to move on to the next level. Hooray!

You can probably guess how the final round went though. After dancing for about 90 seconds, the judges deliberated briefly and awarded first place to the competition organizer and his wife. No surprise there. Second place went to the DJ and her husband. Also no surprise there. But third place… third place went to Sparkledancer and I! What in the world…?

Of all the results that I got from this competition, that is probably the one that I am most proud of. One of the judges even gave me a third place ribbon so that I could commemorate this victory for all time. I’m going to put up a special hook just to hang this ribbon on my wall, so that anyone who comes to my house can see it and be amazed.

I’d like to dedicate that pseudo-victory to Joanna and Shawn. Deep down inside, I know that you two made it all possible. 🙂

Once the afternoon rounds finished up, there was a brief break to allow everyone to get dinner, and then other festivities were planned in the evening. First off, the organizers had convinced one of the judges to give a group class to all competitors who wanted to stay for the evening and any other dancers/spectators who wanted to pay a $10 entry fee, and then once that was done they were going to turn the DJ loose to spin some tunes so that everyone could just dance the night away for fun. I decided to stick around for both events.

A funny thing happened while I was waiting around for the class to start – I was hanging around along the side of the dance floor exchanging superficial pleasantries with other people who wandered by that I recognized, when suddenly Sparkledancer walked over toward me and turned her back to all the other people in the room. She proceeded to tell me about how she had just been in the bathroom, and there had been two girls in there with her who had been in the competition earlier that day. Apparently they had danced a few rounds in International Standard (two of those rounds against the two of us, as it happens), and both girls and their partners did not do super well.

During a break in the afternoon, both ladies decided to approach Lord Dormamu and ask him why it was that they had placed so poorly. As soon as Sparkledancer said that, I thought to myself, ‘Oh man, that probably did not go well for them.’ See, Lord Dormamu is a super nice guy, who is very charismatic and loves to joke around… unless you are talking dance with him. That is his passion, and if you are doing things wrong, he won’t hesitate to tell you about it.

These girls apparently called him an ass because he told both of them that their frame and posture needed work if they wanted to do better in International Standard. That answer didn’t sound so bad to me, because based on the work that I’ve done with Lord Dormamu, frame and posture always need work, since that is the foundation for everything else you do. Those girls had been told by whoever their regular dance instructor is that when competing in Bronze International Standard, the only thing that matters is their footwork and technique in dancing, and that frame isn’t a big deal.

When Sparkledancer said that, I had to stop and scratch my head a little. How could that instructor say that ‘footwork and technique’ are the only things that matter in Bronze Standard, but then say that frame doesn’t matter? The frame and posture are one of the most basic techniques, pretty much underlying everything. How in the world could this person make a distinction like that?

Both of the girls walked through the room at that point, and Sparkledancer pointed them out to me so that I would know who she was talking about. I didn’t remember dancing against them earlier in the day, but both had obviously changed out of their competition gear, so not recognizing them wasn’t too surprising.

Then the organizer of the competition took to the stage to make an announcement. They were waiting a few more minutes for people to finish up dinner and change back into their dance shoes, but the plan was to start the group class shortly. And, he was really excited to announce that the person that would be teaching the group class was… Lord Dormamu!

Suddenly the conversation that Sparkledancer told me became twice as hilarious.

I’ve never seen Lord Dormamu teach to a crowd before. Obviously with his level of success in the dance arena over the years, the man can take on students and be paid a ridiculous amount of money for his time in private lessons, so teaching group lessons is probably not something he does very often. This class that he gave was interesting, though it was all things that I have heard before in working privately with him. But based on my estimation of the average skill level of the competitors and social dancers that attended the class, the information that they received was worth its weight in gold.

I’m not just saying that because Lord Dormamu happens to be my coach either. I have been in group workshops like this that are taught by judges before. Judge Dread happens to give them all the time around where I live. In those other workshops I’ve seen, usually the judge-person goes over different patterns of figures, and throws in a little bit of technique on top of that for the more advanced students. Pretty standard fare I’m sure you’ve also experienced before.

Lord Dormamu gave something more like a lecture, where he laid out what it is that he sees as a couple of the most important points of dancing International Standard, and used a basic amalgamation of figures in Foxtrot as a demonstration tool for the points he was making. I happen to think that these sorts of discussions about dance philosophy are much more interesting than learning figures, but maybe that’s just me.

In the past I’ve mentioned what Lord Dormamu told me were the five major points that I need to be thinking about when I am competing: 1) posture/frame 2) connection 3) footwork 4) timing and 5) alignment. In this class he wanted to talk to everyone about just three of those point that he saw a lot of competitors doing incorrectly while he was judging (footwork, timing and connection), but he had to touch on the other two briefly in order for the information that he was conveying to truly make sense.

Being regular students of Lord Dormamu’s, Sparkledancer and I got dragged into the spotlight during class, though it was worse for her than it was for me. Obviously to truly give people an idea of what he was talking about, Lord Dormamu needed to do some dancing and demonstrate with a partner, so Sparkledancer got to play Dance Dummy for the majority of the class. This actually came back to haunt her during the social dance later, unfortunately. I was singled out a few times when Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the correct word to use in English. I’ve gotten pretty good at following his train of thought during my lessons with him, so when he couldn’t figure out the right word he would turn to me and see if I could help him finish his sentences.

What was the most fun for me though was watching the progression of facial expressions on the two ladies that Sparkledancer had pointed out to me before the class started. When Lord Dormamu first took the stage, there was a look that seemed more like anger or disgust. By the time that the class ended, the look they were giving him bordered on wonder, and they were laughing along with all of his jokes like everyone else in class. Maybe after getting a more thorough explanation of what he was looking for while judging they had changed their tune about his answer for why they placed so poorly during the International Standard rounds.

That just left the dance party on Saturday night to celebrate, and then I would finally get to go home. I got the impression early on that many of the competitors I saw at the dance party that night didn’t really go out social dancing very often, if at all. There’s a good chance that if the DJ hadn’t started playing songs right away as the group class ended, many of those people would have left the event, never to be seen again.

At the beginning of the party, the competitors refused to mingle all that much. I saw many of them only head out to the floor to dance with their competitive partners, or just hanging around the edge of the dance floor with their competitive ‘team’ members from their home studios. That worried me a little. I think the DJ saw this too though, because after the first couple of songs she made an announcement that she was going to play a Foxtrot and make it a mixer dance to help people meet other dancers that they didn’t know. This tactic really seemed to break the ice, and afterward the dance floor was filled with many more dancers and people were beginning to rotate through partners as I would have expected. Genius!

Earlier I mentioned that being used as Lord Dormamu’s dance dummy didn’t end up being a good thing for Sparkledancer. During the dance party, I had been wandering around the hall, just talking to people, going out to dance occasionally, and mostly trying to blend into the background just to observe. Sparkledancer came and found me at one point and told me that she was having a hard time getting other guys at the party to dance with her. When she would ask them, they would either refuse her, or while they were dancing they would be extremely tense and apologize profusely every time being tense caused them to mess up.

She was worried that being used to demonstrate so much in the class with Lord Dormamu made the guys at the party afraid of her, as if they thought she was better than them. That made me feel terrible for her, so I did my best to dance with her more through the rest of the evening. It’s so weird that guys will act like that. After all, if we had a female teaching the group class, and the female instructor had used me as a demonstration tool, I probably would have had more women seek me out for dances later in the evening. It’s funny that men seem to avoid dancing with women that they view as better than them, but women gravitate toward men that they think are better to dance with. What a weird way for our brains to be wired!

And that… was my weekend. I think I have rambled on long enough on just this topic, so I’ll leave things here for now. Until next week, keep on dancing!

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