A lot of the people I know in my neck of the woods were off at some big Pro/Am competition last Saturday, so my weekend got a bit switched around. All of the dance-related things that I normally do on Saturdays had to be done on Sunday, so all of the dance-related things that I would have otherwise done on Sunday I did on Saturday instead. By the time I was heading off to bed on Sunday night, I had to remind myself a couple of times to set my alarm to get up for work the next morning, because I was feeling a bit mixed up trying to remember what day it was.
On Sunday I had planned to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella so that the girls could continue to work on improving how Sparkledancer looks while in dance position. Much of our practice time over the prior week had been devoted to working on the Waltz, so Sparkledancer asked Lady Tella if she could start off looking at that style with us. Near the end Sparkledancer and Lady Tella switched over to looking at the Tango for a little while, since that style has positioning for the lady that is so different from every other style. Most everything that was talked about during this session didn’t really impact me, but there was one particular note that Lady Tella gave to me that I have two minds about, so I’ve been trying to digest what to do with the information since Sunday.
Lady Tella told me that while my posture is good and I am obviously much bigger than most male ballroom dancers, my presence on the floor needs to change slightly. She used the words “arrogant” and “haughty” to describe the look that she wanted to see me going for. I guess that in her experience being around male dancers in the Professional circuit where she competes with her partner, the really good men all strut around like peacocks with too many feathers up their backsides… or like nobility that is looking down on the peons. I do not look like that normally, as you can hopefully imagine, so she wants me to try to incorporate that into my presence while I am dancing.
This bothers me a little. I guess on one hand I can understand why really high level dancers would want to pass themselves off in this way. For one thing, that is essentially the mental picture that most people have in the back of their minds of ballroom dances: the suave prince who is hosting a ball, and waltzing around the floor with a princess. In that scene, of course the guy is going to hold himself above all the others. He’s the frickin’ prince, so the peons (historically speaking, of course) are actually below him. For another thing, wandering around looking like this for most guys will make them look even stronger and more confident, like they are definitely the ones in control of the situation. During a competition, looking like you ‘own’ the place can be very advantageous.
Even though I can understand this in that sense, I have to say that it feels wrong to me to try to dance while in that mindset. I don’t like even pretending to be haughty or arrogant. Trying to be arrogant does not feel natural to me, and I can’t say that I particularly enjoy being in that sort of mindset, even if it’s just for a performance. That’s not how I was raised, and part of me thinks that my mother would smack me upside the head if she ever caught me looking like that. I much prefer to be charismatic, approachable, happy, and maybe even a little funny if I can pull it off while I’m dancing.
The bigger question that this raises for me is… why have high level male competitors over the years decided that this is the best way to portray themselves anyway?
When I think about going out and being a dance ambassador, trying to convince people to try out ballroom dancing for themselves, I can’t say that being arrogant or haughty would pass off as an enticing selling point to people who have never set foot in this world before. If anything, I think that me looking arrogant would actually dissuade people from wanting to come out and dance with me. So why in the world would I want to act that way during a competition? Since competitions seem to be the only part of this sport that is ever broadcast on television, do you think that someone tuning in and watching a bunch of haughty-looking men out on the dance floor would suddenly think to themselves ‘Huh, that definitely looks like something I want to try. Where do I sign up?’
Somewhere along the way the idea of ballroom dancing seems to have gotten twisted. Instead of being a social activity that we can all go out and do for either fun or sport (or both), it’s turned into this world where you have to look and act a certain way to fit in and do well: old men complain about people who show up at social dances wearing jeans; during competitions, it is entirely possible for a couple to be judged based on appearance rather than purely on skill; knowing the right people can help you advance further – and usually ‘knowing’ people involves spending money to take lessons from or go to events hosted by said people. All of this adds up to make the world of ballroom dancing appear to be a world where only those well-to-do enough hang out, and people of lesser means get scared away before their own adventures in dancing even get started.
So what is a poor boy like me to do? I mean, aside from singing for a rock ‘n’ roll band, of course. Do I take the advice of this young lady who I was working with on Sunday and pretend to be more haughty and arrogant when I am out on the dance floor competing, because that is what the recommended look is? Since I can’t really watch myself very well while I dance, and videos I take really only show me a limited amount once I move away from them, I can’t tell with my own eyes if the act I would be putting on really does make me look better while dancing. Or do I fight against that notion and be more like my normal persona? If I can prove to others that I can do well while appearing to be charismatic and approachable, perhaps I can use that as a selling point to others who have never danced before and say ‘hey, if I can do this, you could totally do it too!’
I don’t have an answer at the moment. I think I’m going to have to noodle on this a bit more before I can figure out what the best answer for me actually is.
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Well… that went off on a bit of a tangent, didn’t it?
In Latin Technique class this week we looked at some Cha-Cha. Lord Junior had been having a conversation with one of his more advanced students before class started about a particular concept in Cha-Cha, and being the nice guy that he is, he wanted to talk about the concept with the whole class once we got started. This was mostly something that would be useful to ladies, but Lord Junior said there were some specific places that men could use this trick as well, depending on the choreography that was being used.
The idea was this: in Cha-Cha, what you see high-level dancers doing nowadays is replacing spots where they would normally do a Turning Walk action with a Straight Leg Pivot. He demonstrated this using a fairly simple figure that most ladies have done before, which was the Hockey Stick. During a normal Hockey Stick, on step seven the ladies will do a Turning Forward Walk that rotates ⅜ of a turn to the right. Now picture this: on step seven when you step forward onto your straight right leg, you leave the left leg behind you and pivot for ⅜ of a turn on the right foot. When you finish the pivot, the left leg is already in the right position for your next step backward onto it with no additional leg action needed, speeding up the entire movement by a fraction.
What makes this simple-sounding concept more advanced than the Turning Walk action is that you have to do it well, so that it actually looks like you are doing a Straight Leg Pivot on purpose. If you don’t keep your leg lines crisp and the pivot precise, you run the risk of it looking like you just messed up while doing a Turning Walk and are just trying to fake something until you can get back into the correct choreography. If you want to do this substitution during a competition, make sure that you practice enough so that the change looks clean, otherwise a judge could fault you for it. Oh yeah, and avoid making this change until you hit Open-level choreography. If you try this in Syllabus rounds, you can get faulted for it, since the official syllabus figures are still written as Turning Walk actions.
To practice this action, we were given a short progression during class to work with that incorporated the example used in demonstration. We started right off with the ladies already out in Fan Position, closing them into a Hockey Stick while the guys did a Slip Chasse. After we finished the Forward Lock in the Hockey Stick, Lord Junior had us do something a bit silly to let the ladies also work on their hip actions that night. The guys would step forward and point their opposite leg to the side for three steps while the ladies were doing Batucadas, an action you normally see in Samba. At the end of the three pointing steps, we did two quick steps forward to end up on our right leg (ladies on their left).
From here we did a normal checking action into a basic Backward Lock Step. To finish everything off, Lord Junior had the guys just transfer their weight onto their right leg to get close to the lady, which stopped her from moving any farther forward. She would then raise her right leg up while balancing on her left leg, putting her into a line that looked kind of like a flamingo to me. The guys then lunged out to our left side while twisting to give the lady more of our left arm, which would help her rotate her body a bit further while she was still up on one leg, before we led her across our body at the last moment for a three-step turning motion that put her back out into Fan Position. The guys could either do a small chasse to the right here, or if the lady didn’t travel all that far we could just step to the right and hold to make our own movement smaller.
Standard Technique class this week was a lot of fun. This was the first week in a really, really long time that there was no one else in the studio except for those of us who were there for Standard Technique class. I don’t mention it much (not really at all), and I don’t show it in pictures very often, but the Electric Dance Hall usually has tons of activity going on. I would make the argument that it’s the busiest dance studio within an hour drive of my house – and there are quite a few dance studios to choose from in that radius, so that’s really saying something. To have the whole floor free for a single group class was pretty awesome.
To capitalize on our good fortune, Lord Junior had us work on some Quickstep, and gave us what almost amounted to a full competition routine. Some of us were able to use the progression to easily cover three-quarters of the loop around the floor. He would have given us more, but we ran out of time just trying to practice what we had at the end of our time that night enough so that all the ladies could get through it well. I specifically say ladies here because there were five women in class, but only Lord Junior and I to dance with them, so he and I got to practice the figures quite a bit more than all of the ladies that night.
We started off in the corner of the long wall, facing diagonal center. After a prep step we went into two Forward Lock Steps that were in Pepperpot timing (for those of you who don’t know, “Pepperpot timing” is five steps done at a count of ‘quick-and-quick, quick, quick’). Depending on who you are dancing with, these two Forward Lock Steps can cover a significant amount of ground, so you may need to adjust your angle slightly to avoid crossing into traffic on the other side of the dance floor. Lucky for me that the dance floor was completely empty during class, right? After the two Forward Lock Steps, we went into a Quick Open Reverse followed immediately by a Four Quick Run, finishing with a basic Natural Turn. That chain of figures was enough to put us into the far corner on the first long wall.
To turn the corner we did a Running Natural Spin Turn and used that to go into a Backward Lock Step. How much the Running Spin Turn was actually turned really depended on how far down the floor you and your partner managed to get as you traveled down the long wall. If you ended up with some space between you and the wall, the Running Spin Turn should end with you backing diagonal wall on the short wall, and the Backward Lock Step will then follow that path. If you and your partner end the long wall right against the short wall, you have to underturn the Running Spin Turn and end backing line of dance, then take the Backward Lock Step that direction to avoid crashing into the wall.
Most of us were able to easily cover the entire length of the short wall with those two figures, so at the end of the Backward Lock Step we used a Running Finish and another Natural Turn to turn the second corner. At this point we did an Overturned Open Telemark, which I think was the hardest figure we did all night, since a Heel Turn is not something you can easily do in Quickstep at tempo. Coming out of the Overturned Open Telemark put us in Promenade Position facing line of dance. Here we did a step and hop action over the next two beats of music followed by a Promenade Chasse that was in Pepperpot timing, and then we repeated that amalgamation one more time. We ended the progression by just taking a few steps that ‘ran’ forward, using those to bleed off any momentum that we had left.
Have I mentioned that I’m doing another competition in a few weeks? I’m pretty sure it’s scheduled over the last weekend of this month, but I don’t have my calendar in front of me to confirm that for sure. I know I’ll be there for sure whatever date it actually is, since I already paid my entry fee and signed up for the rounds I wanted. Is it terrible that I can’t remember the exact date right now, and I really can’t bring myself to either get up and go look at my calendar, or open another tab in my browser to look up the information online? I am so lazy sometimes…
But that’s what all my practice work has been preparing for lately. Here’s hoping that the field of competitors at this event is pretty large and that I haven’t danced against most of them before in previous competitions. I feel like I would get a better read on how well I’m doing if I can face off against more people, rather than the same people over and over again.
We’ll start the countdown and see what happens soon!