We Only Stay In Orbit For A Moment Of Time

Since I posted last week, there has been lots of stuff going on! I’m kind of excited that next weekend I don’t have nearly as many things scheduled. So far. That’s not to say I won’t go out and do something that I haven’t scheduled, but as of the moment that I’m writing this, next weekend looks relatively clear. Yay!

I started off last Saturday meeting up at the Fancy Dance Hall with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. Sir Steven had come out to watch us compete the weekend prior, so he had lots of things to say about that. As we were standing in the middle of the dance floor and talking, the Princess happened to show up and parade through the studio regally. She stopped just as she was about to pass the three of us to tell Sparkledancer and I that since she had been asked at the last minute to be a judge at the competition we just did, she was glad that she happened to run into us. We got compliments on how well we did that day, but she wanted to ask why it was that we had been talking during some of our rounds while we were dancing…

Trying to tell her that it was just meant to be funny to help us calm our nerves while we were performing solo wasn’t a good excuse for the Princess, as you can imagine. She did say that she had actual dance notes that she noticed while she was judging that she wanted to tell us about, but she felt bad interrupting Sir Steven. Since she offered to go over what her ‘judge’ notes with us, we set up a time to meet with her next weekend to get her perspective. That should be interesting to hear. Plus, who is crazy enough to turn down an offer like that from the Princess? Not me, that’s for sure!

After that, Sir Steven went over some points with us that he had noticed from where he was watching from the sidelines during the competition. Some of the things he saw we had already picked out to work on ourselves during practice, so he only had us briefly touch on those items. One point that he wanted to pick on was my head in the Waltz. I had been turning it when I closed for my Natural Turns, but not enough for his liking. He wanted me to look all the way over, basically so that I was looking over Sparkledancer’s left shoulder. That’s… a lot of turn. I have gotten to the point where I can turn my head so that my chin lines up with my sternum and then get it back into place without throwing me off, but turning it more than that just makes me feel unstable. I don’t know why. Maybe practice will help.

We also spent some time looking at Quickstep. There was a point during the Quickstep in the competition where Sir Steven caught Sparkledancer doing a heel step at the end of a Backward Lock that he wanted to be sure that she knew about. On top of that, he mentioned that he still thought that I needed to work on traveling more on my second step of the Natural Spin Turn. I have some questions about whether doing this is a good idea or not, since A) my Quickstep already travels more distance than available floor space in most situations, and B) the Natural Spin Turn is a figure with a lot of rotation, so normally I’d say it isn’t supposed to travel a lot. It will take some practice to figure out what works best to make the energy throughout the figure look consistent without traveling too much more and running myself further off the floor.

Also on Saturday, I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to do some work with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella. There really wasn’t much information specifically for me in this session, mostly it was the girls talking about girl things and using me as a warm body to practice with. I do have some notes on what Lady Tella told Sparkledancer though. I figure that if they are written down, it will be easier for one of the two of us to remember her words of wisdom. For me, ‘remembering’ usually means ‘reading through it again later’ when I forget, but it’s totally like the same thing.

During this session with Lady Tella, we started out by looking at Foxtrot. Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to make sure that during the Foxtrot she is reaching even further left and keeping her chest turned up. In the Feather she told her to avoid letting her right shoulder rise up. Next, during the Reverse Turn she told her to delay the head opening a bit and let her body come around first. She wanted to see her keep her body shifted to the left with shoulders down and to take her weight into a bent knee when we went through the Change of Direction. Finally, in the Three Step she said that Sparkledancer should ‘breathe’ and not stay so flat. I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, but Sparkledancer seemed to understand, so I’m just noting it here because that’s what I heard.

Once we got done looking at Foxtrot, we switched over to look at Tango for a little while. The ladies spent some time discussing what Lady Tella prefers in the Tango hold and how to adjust that for Sparkledancer’s different body size. Have I mentioned that Lady Tella is tiny? Super tiny? I have trouble dancing with her because I’m afraid to extend my legs. I feel like I’m going to knee her right in the naughty bits accidentally if I do so. So obviously there are some differences between what Lady Tella does while she dances with me versus what she recommends that Sparkledancer should do.

One point that I remember her mentioning about Tango was that she wanted to see Sparkledancer connect against me higher up on her ribs while shifting her rib cage to the left more. Lady Tella also asked me some questions about how I usually hold my right arm around Sparkledancer’s back. She said that she prefers her partner to hold his hand up higher than I do, but ultimately if Sparkledancer felt comfortable with where I was placing my hand, that was what was most important.

While we were dancing, Lady Tella told Sparkledancer that she wanted to see her open up more (i.e. create more volume) while we were in Promenade Position. What she was seeing was OK, but could have been better if there was more. I think that’s always going to be the case though. Will there ever actually be enough volume? The only other thing we really spent time looking at was the Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. She said that while we were dancing through the figure, we were losing connection to each other just a bit. She actually told me that it was possible that my steps were too big at that point, so I should try shorting them a bit to not pull away from Sparkledancer as I moved.

One thing that I did that day which I noticed because this session wasn’t about me, was that I managed to cover the entire floor of the Endless Dance Hall, corner to corner to corner, while dancing the Foxtrot. I would have managed to get to the fourth corner where I started, but they keep the stereo equipment and some other things on the floor in that corner, so I had to stop before I ran into something expensive. I may have pulled off this feat before, but since I wasn’t being given much instruction that afternoon I could pay more attention to how I was dancing, so I really noticed how far I traveled.

That’s the actual path, as best as I can draw…

I know that it doesn’t sound super impressive to dance from corner to corner, but consider this: the dance floor at the Endless Dance Hall is well over 7,000 square feet. Yeah. That changes the equation slightly, doesn’t it? Yup, I did that. Sparkledancer too. Hopefully she didn’t feel like I was dragging her around the whole time, since my legs are slightly longer than hers.

Late Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for some coaching. As you can probably imagine, the first thing that we sat and talked about was how the competition went. Being one of the judges in the competition, Lord Dormamu had his own take on how the competition went, but he wanted to hear ours as well. What he said was that based on what he knew that Sparkledancer and I were capable of when he watches us in our lessons, the way we danced when we were out on the competition floor was not the best that we could do. That was partially expected – Lord Dormamu only knows one person who actually dances better when competing and under pressure than he does when he is taking lessons, and that’s not me.

What Sparkledancer and I will have to work on is decreasing the amount of disparity between how we dance in a competitive situation versus how we dance during our lessons. So if we consider that how we dance in our lessons is our 100% baseline, we don’t want to be dancing at 70% when we compete. We want to learn to dance 90-95% at minimum, or maintain 100% optimally.

A big part of fixing this issue is going to involve just competing more frequently. If this becomes a ‘normal’ thing for us to do, then there will be less nerves and adrenaline coursing through our systems when we compete. That’s going to take time though. We talked about trying to do some kind of event once a month through the rest of the year, but there are some months where there really aren’t any convenient competitions that we could do, so even without considering the expenses related to competing and traveling all over the place that will be a nearly impossible thing to schedule. Maybe there’s another way, but I haven’t thought of one yet, so this is what we’ll be attempting for the time being.

Aside from that, Lord Dormamu thought that we were still moving in the right direction that will allow us to do well. The overall recommendation for Sparkledancer was to set up some more sessions to work with Lady Tella on her positioning and shape, because he can really see a difference with just the few sessions that the two of them have already had. For me, I need to continue to work on mastering the transitioning when using my legs, where I move from pushing with my back leg to pulling with my front as I travel. These two skills are well beyond Bronze techniques and will take time for the two of us to get down, but if we can master them now it will prove to be invaluable as we move up the ranks.

With the discussions out of the way, it was time for dancing. We started off by looking at a bit of Waltz. A lot of what we were doing made Lord Dormamu happy, but there were places throughout the dance where he thought that Sparkledancer and I were rising too much too quickly. He told us to spend some time this week practicing by doing a bit of a strange exercise: dance through the Waltz and take out all of the leg rise, using only foot rise where we would otherwise be going up.

This is a strange feeling. I have gone through this a few times since this lesson, and while it definitely keeps me from popping up too high through the whole routine, it also causes me to bang my knees against Sparkledancer’s in a few spots. Hopefully by the time I see Lord Dormamu next, practicing this way will have corrected the actions that he was unhappy with so that I can go back to dancing Waltz normally.

Next up, Foxtrot. It’s official – I am able to move enough during my Foxtrot to cover the entire floor of the Endless Dance Hall from corner to corner. I had considered, when I managed it on Saturday while Sparkledancer was working with Lady Tella, that it might have been just a fluke, but I did it again on Sunday with Lord Dormamu so obviously it wasn’t. Yay?

As impressive as the feat sounds, dancing like that actually caused some issues on the short wall for Lord Dormamu. He could tell that I had risen up at the end of the Three Step on the short wall, and I did not lower down again until after the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish in the corner. What I told him was that I had risen up to pull my steps short, because that Three Step took us extremely close to the chairs that line the wall that we were moving toward, and I didn’t want to put Sparkledancer into one of them. When we danced through the short wall again starting further away from the wall, all the issues he saw with me rising up went away.

We stopped to talk about this a bit, because I keep running into this problem. It wasn’t enough to just change the angles on the figures that comprise the short wall, since the origin of the issue is the fact that I am so close to the wall when I turn the corner on the last figure of the long wall. What we ended up doing was going through the entire long wall of the routine and adjusting the angles on most of those figures slightly. This would allow me to continue traveling as much as I am able to, but still end further away from the wall on the short side.

This helped a lot. However, I ran into a different issue when I danced around the room again with Sparkledancer. See, I didn’t begin the routine further away from the short wall in the corner I started, so by the time I got ¾ of the way around the room I was back hugging the wall again and had to pull my steps for the second short wall. Sigh… I need to remember that there are always going to be four walls. If I remember to start away from the wall in whatever corner I start in, then adjust all the angles of the figures on the long wall, I should be able to dance the routine mostly in the middle of the room away from all the walls.

That’s the new path, with crappy arrows added since the paths cross at points.

Unfortunately, this does mean that my figures on all sides will travel further into the center of the room, which on smaller floors means that I could very well be cutting into traffic that is moving the opposite direction on the other side of the room. I just don’t think there is a way I can win here without throwing out these routines and starting over from scratch. Lord Dormamu has told me that when he recreates my routines after he moves us up into Silver he will be taking this into account, but am I going to be able to wait that long?

Let’s spend a little bit of time talking about Latin Technique class this week. It feels like forever since I’ve mentioned it!

During this week’s class Lord Junior had us look at some Rumba. Much like last week’s class (that I never talked about… oops), this week we spent some more time discussing concepts that Lord Junior had picked up from the fancy high-level female coach that they had come in a couple of weeks ago to work with his competitive Latin students. I know she was someone pretty well known, but I only know her first name, and it’s a fairly common name, so I don’t know exactly how to find out any of her background. I’m absolutely no help sometimes…

That night Lord Junior had us doing a progression that was only a couple of figures long to have us focus on techniques. The pattern started out with us doing half a basic on our right side, then leading the ladies out into Fan Position. From there we took the ladies through an Alemana, ending with them out on our right side. This allowed us to link on a couple of Opening Out actions. The ladies were told to do these with a delay before they closed from the Opening Out and cut across our bodies into the next one, and along with that there was some kind of weird double arm action. I was told to also try to do two actions with my arm to match the ladies’ double arm motions, but that made me feel like I was flailing my arm around, so I maaaaay have abandoned that after a few tries.

As for the techniques that the coach talked about which Lord Junior wanted to demonstrate, we started off with the positioning in the legs as they moved. He stopped and had us do some Time Steps to demonstrate this best. In the Time Step, you’ve got the weight on one leg, the heels of your feet more-or-less together, and one knee out in front of you. The object when in this position is to pull the hip of your standing leg backward as you drive the knee of your bent leg forward, trying to create as much space as possible between your legs where light could shine through. This position needs to become your default anytime you pass through this action, like during normal Rumba Walks, or in our pattern as the ladies closed from Fan Position and stepped forward.

We also talked about the connection between the partners as the ladies closed from Fan Position. The coach Lord Junior had worked with described the feeling as a ‘Pull, Push, Pull’ feeling if you are doing it correctly. While out in Fan Position, as the lady is pulling back her right hip and closing her legs you should create a ‘Pull’ on the connection between partners. As the lady shifts her weight between legs, the roll to have the opposite hip backward should cause her to ‘Push’ against the connection. When the ladies finally are about to move, the roll back on the hip that sends the other leg forward should create another ‘Pull’ on the connection. All that change, all in just a few moments of movement if everything is working properly.

That just leaves Standard Technique class to talk about, then I’m done. Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall to work on some Waltz with Lord Junior. I thought class was fun, but I’m sure some of the ladies did not enjoy it as much as I did. Part of that was because there were six of them, and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. A third guy was there before class began, but then something came up and he had to leave. That meant no breaks for me that night!

With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Lord Junior started class off by telling us we were going to go through one of his favorite warm-up exercises – Waltz box steps over a count of nine. He said that he was making us do this to help us practice controlling our rise during the Waltz. Based on what Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I to practice to work on controlling how much we rise, I wondered to myself if the two of them had talked this week.

The exercise itself is fairly simple, but requires a lot of balance and leg strength to do well. Doing a non-rotating box step, take the first two steps in normal time, but the step to the side and the rise while you drag your legs together happen over seven beats, making each half box a nine count. You should be able to feel this a lot in your inner thigh muscles if you are pulling your legs in slowly and correctly. Once your feet connect, do the second half of the box and repeat. Halfway through the warm-up time, we switched to box steps that rotated the other direction.

Once we were all warmed up, we did a short and simple progression that required a lot of control of the rise and fall to pull of well, with some modified timing to change which step the rise was done on. On top of that, there were places where you could add in some fancy head rotations if you wanted to make the movements look more dynamic. I always get thrown off by moving my head the first few times I try it, so it took me a few rounds to get that action to even look passable, and I can’t say that I ever got it to look good.

What we did was to start out facing diagonal wall and, using whatever kind of preparation step you’d like,  go into a Natural Turn. We did a full 90° rotation on this Natural Turn, ending with the guys backing line of dance because the next figure that we did was an Overturned Natural Spin Turn which also ended with the guys backing line of dance. That little extra turn on the Natural Turn makes it easier to get around that much on the Natural Spin Turn. The only other figure that we added was two Turning Locks to Right, back-to-back. Because we were doing two, the first one ended with a Natural Pivot to put us back facing backing line of dance for the second, but we ended the second one by the book, going into Promenade Position heading toward diagonal center.

That was my week! So much fun, right? I’m hoping that this coming weekend stays slightly quieter. I changed up my workouts this week, which also means I changed up my diet, so my body is feeling slightly more trashed than usual (it usually does the first week I rotate to a different workout configuration). I kind of want to find some quiet time to just stay home and stretch out for a while. Will I manage to do that, or will other crazy dance adventures come up that will take away my free time? We’ll have to wait and see!

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