Well I’ve Got One Foot On The Platform

Last Friday night I was back in pre-competition preparation mode, and I met up with Lord Dormamu for one last run-through of everything before the weekend’s event. There were only a few things that Lord Dormamu pointed out that he wanted to see changed that night, because he knew that we would have very little time to practice before actually taking the floor in front of the judges. Mostly these points were items to file away and begin work on once we get back from the competition, to help improve our dancing going forward.

The big overall note that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on changing was the connection point that we had while in frame. He wanted to see Sparkledancer up higher, and pulled around my right hip a bit more. The changes that Sparkledancer had been making with Lady Tella were obvious to him, and he was quite pleased with the difference it was making in the amount of volume that we showed while moving, but he personally preferred the connection point to be in a different spot than what Lady Tella had been recommending. Next time that Sparkledancer gets together with Lady Tella to look at her positioning, we’ll go over the changes requested with her to see what her take on the matter is.

I also discussed with him the note that Lady Tella had given to me about trying to look more ‘haughty’ and ‘arrogant’ while I’m in frame. He thought about that for a few minutes, then told me that he understands what Lady Tella is trying to get at, but he doesn’t want me to worry about trying to convey one of those emotions through my frame and posture. Instead, he wants me to hold myself as tall as possible, but not do any weird tilting of my head, just look normal. That was quite the relief to hear, let me tell you. Have I mentioned that I don’t know how to be haughty? 🙂

After that, we ran through everything in the order that we would be doing the routines during the competition, got a few notes back on things to look at, and then ran through the dance style again before moving on to the next. Starting with the Waltz, the big item that he pointed out was the Hesitation Change. He liked the way that Lady Tella had moved Sparkledancer and gotten her to grow the volume over the course of the hesitation, but he wanted to see us put a lot of sway into the figure. A lot. When he was moving me into the position he wanted to see, I felt like my left elbow was almost going to touch my left thigh!

Aside from the Hesitation Change, he also told us that he wanted to see us slightly extend out closes at the height of all our Natural Turns to really emphasize that “perfect, beautiful moment” there. In the Double Reverse Spin he wanted to see Sparkledancer create a diagonal line from her foot to her elbow on the second step, and also have us be sure to step out of the Double Reverse Spin straight down the line of dance. Some of these notes would be easy to remember for the competition, but there was really no way to repeat them enough to make them muscle memory, so I am writing them down to work on in practice later.

Quickstep was next, and that style didn’t have much in the way of notes. As I’ve mentioned several times, our routine is pretty simple, so there isn’t a whole lot of fancy technical points we could do to make it look any different. We were told to continue working with Lady Tella so that Sparkledancer can increase the volume during the dance style even more, and hold it more consistently, but that was about it.

Our Tango had only one point, but it was kind of a big item, at least in my opinion. Somewhere along the way, with a couple of different instructors emphasizing the staccato nature of the dance and how I should always wait until the last possible moment to bring my feet together, I have taken to closing my legs with a lot of power before moving on to the next figure. Lord Dormamu told me that what he actually wanted to see was still for my feet to close together at the last moment, but they would do that because the closing action should have very little energy, moving much more slowly than I was doing. So no more ‘slamming’ my feet together – now it’s nice and gentle, while the steps before and after are sharp and fierce.

We finished our runthrough with Foxtrot, and this one, like Quickstep, didn’t have much going on that Lord Dormamu wasn’t happy with. His told us that the Foxtrot was the most obviously changed dance he can see from how things looked when we started working with him a year-and-a-half ago. That makes sense, since he told us long ago that International Foxtrot is the hardest of the Standard styles, which is why we’ve spent the most time working on this style with him early on in our competitive career. I believe the way that he phrased it during this lesson was that our Foxtrot was looking well beyond Gold level, so now we can work on making sure all our other dances are like that. If the hardest dance style is already looking that good, the rest should be easier, right?

Let’s talk about competition weekend. All of my rounds that I had signed up to actually compete in were on Sunday morning, but I was also out at the competition venue on Saturday as well. My primary reason for going there was to see if I could test out the floor a little before having to dance on it in front of the judges. Different floors have a different feel to them, which sometimes makes my shoes respond differently, so I wanted to know what I would be dealing with. Around lunch the organizers had scheduled a break so that the hard-working judges could get a little food, which was a perfect opportunity to meet with Sparkledancer in the actual competition hall to try dancing a bit.

Some of the other competitors who were there practicing talked with Sparkledancer and I and told us the same thing that I was feeling – that the floor was unusually sticky for some reason. This was one of those snap-together dance floors that you sometimes see, where they click together a bunch of wooden squares to make a floor of any size desired. Usually what I worry about when I see floors like that is getting a heel caught by one of the seams, but every seam that I tested in numerous parts of the floor was smooth and flat, so lucky for me that was something I didn’t have to contend with this time around.

Sliding my feet along the floor was a worry though. A fellow competitor that I talked to described the floor as being “one of the slowest floors” they had ever danced on, and I like that description. I could get my feet to move, but it took a lot of force to cover the same distance that I am used to covering in practice. Rotational figures were also tricky. When Sparkledancer and I tried dancing together in practice hold to test things, I started off with the Waltz, and on my first Natural Turn my left foot stuck to the floor on the second step so the figure was pulled short, and my right foot closed to my left a lot faster than I wanted because all of my momentum seemed to transfer to my right leg when my left stopped moving. Yikes! It was really good idea to head out there a day early to figure out how to work on this floor. If I hadn’t done that, I think things would have gone terribly on the day of my actual rounds.

I said that this was my primary reason for going out to the venue both days this weekend, but it wasn’t my only reason. The competition organizers had also invited a well-known West Coast Swing competitor and judge to come in and teach a class that was free for all registered competitors of the competition, and I wanted to go to that as well. What? Two back-to-back weekends with fancy West Coast Swing classes? Unpossible! But it’s true, it totally happened.

The instructor for this class spent some time showing everyone a progression of figures, and talking about his ideas on how to make the dance more interesting. The way he liked to do it, as he explained to all of us, was to always think of figures to use in West Coast Swing as multiples of two. Almost all the figures you will ever see start with the same action on beats one and two, and finish with the same action that covers the last two beats. If you keep the beginning and ending of your figures constant, you should be able to dance with most partners and be successful.

But in the middle of those two pieces, almost anything is possible, as long as you always use a number of beats that is a multiple of two. Do you want a slow and dramatic turn for the lady? You can change it from a two-beat turn to a four-beat, or an eight-beat, or a thirty-two beat turn if you want (though the lady might get bored if the turn is that slow…). That was how he thought of dancing West Coast Swing musically. It’s a different take on things from the idea I got about musicality in the last West Coast Swing class I went to, but it is still an interesting and valid point, so I thought I would mention it.

The amalgamation of figures he used to show the class these ideas was built around a basic idea, where each figure uses what most people would call its “normal” timing, and we were also shown some variations that could be thrown in if you wanted to extend the figures by two-beat increments. I’ll just list the basic figures, since there were so many variations demonstrated by the instructor for many of the figures that I could go on for pages and pages just trying to describe them all.

This pattern started off with a basic Sugar Push just to get moving. From there the man would lead the lady to do a Left-side Pass, with or without a turn thrown in depending on how advanced you were. The tricky part was that at the end the men would also turn themselves through a Waist Roll, changing hands in the process to be in Handshake Hold for the Anchor Step and beyond. The Waist Roll that the guy does needs to add in at least two more beats to the figure, so at a minimum the whole thing becomes an eight count, but you could hotdog it if you wanted and make it longer.

From there we did what the instructor called a “Surprise” Tuck Turn, which was really just a basic Tuck Turn while in Handshake Hold where the partners don’t change places in the slot. As the lady finishes her spin from that turn, the guy needs to catch her right hand with his left underneath your other arm so that now you are in a Crossed-hand Hold. In this hand position the instructor had us do what he referred to as the Hustle basic without the butterfly-arm action – basically the partners changing places in the slot with no lady’s turn for the first three beats. We repeated this Hustle basic action for the second three beats of the figure, but this time we turned the lady to unwind our arms as she moved down the slot to our former location.

The men actually didn’t change places with the women as we unwound them here, we just stepped out of the slot to the left and stayed there while we turned the women. That put the ladies into a position perpendicular to us on our right side. Now we could take the next two beats (or four, or more – however many you wanted to use, as long as it was divisible by two) to let go of their hand with our left hand and slide our right hand down to pick up their left. This would allow us to use the arm to lead the lady through a Free Spin across the slot while we moved to get back into normal dance position with her for the Anchor Step of the figure, which is where the instructor ended the pattern for the day.

On Sunday I was back at the Dance Death Arena early in the morning. My rounds weren’t the first scheduled that day, but I was in the fifth or sixth one, so I was on the floor pretty early, which is never fun. I got up at the buttcrack of dawn that morning so that I could eat some food, get ready to compete, drive out to the venue, and still have some time to stretch out and warm up with Sparkledancer before the day’s events began. That was probably the least fun thing about the day.

Overall, my rounds felt good. The results I got once the judges’ scores came back were pretty good too. I didn’t manage to sweep the results and get first place from every judge in every dance I did, so obviously I still need to work on improving my dancing and my prowess in dance politics, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the numbers that I got back I can analyze the data, along with the data from my previous competitions, and refine my practice focus and my work with my instructors to get closer to that goal.

If you’re interested in the brief version of the analysis of the results I got for this competition compared to the scores that I got at the last competition, I can tell you that I definitely show a specific area that I need to improve in – the Waltz. That is definitely the style that the scores show the most weakness in when compared to the other International Standard styles. Foxtrot is still definitely my strongest, without question. That is completely understandable though, since that is the style that Lord Dormamu has worked on the most with Sparkledancer and I, as I mentioned earlier.

The other two styles that we did in the last couple of competitions are kind of a toss-up. Tango has definitely been improving, so it has been very strong recently. Prior to that, when we didn’t work on it at all, it was obviously much worse. Quickstep just… is. We do fairly well in the Quickstep, based on the aggregate scores that I see over the last few competitions that I have pulled up here in front of me. That is good, considering that we don’t put as much time into working on the style with any of our instructors as we have with any of the other dance styles, but that also means that there is likely room for improvement in there somewhere.  The scores across the board haven’t gotten better or worse over the last few competitions. Like I said, it just is what it is. I should probably spend some more time working on Quickstep and getting some feedback on improvements I can make if I want to see any change in these scores next time I compete.

Moving on… I also want to mention briefly that I skipped Monday night’s Latin Technique class this past week to go to a different dance-related meeting. I maaaaaaaaaaaaaay have gotten myself roped into helping out with another dance nonprofit endeavor. This one is very different from the Royal Dance Court group that I am also a part of, since this dance nonprofit has a focus on helping out children, but the two definitely have similarities, which is why I think that I was asked if I would help out.

In reality, I was probably asked to help because I know a bunch of the people who are helping to run this nonprofit. Lord Dormamu works with this group, as does another dance instructor friend of mine, Indiana. You may remember her as being a part of the Royal Dance Court in the past, but then having to leave because other dance commitments took up her time? Well, this was one of those other dance commitments. Also Sparkledancer is a part of this group. And now I guess I am too, since they officially voted me in at the meeting on Monday night. Hooray for me?

What does this mean for me? I’m not sure. So far, in the meeting that I was in this past week, I just threw out some ideas I thought would be useful for the projects that they are already working on. There is a new project that Lord Dormamu wants to start for this group that he said that I am going to help him with. Because it sort-of directly relates to my non-dance career, I am considered the ‘expert’ for this project. He and I are going to have a dinner meeting next week to draw up an outline of what he is thinking for this new project, and then I can take a look at his ideas and figure out if it is even going to be feasible. That could be fun, right?

Man, I just get pulled into helping with all kinds of dance things. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to end up with my fingers in so many different aspects of the Dance Kingdom that my real name is going to be well known in the dance community soon. That’s actually kind of a scary thought. I prefer to help out and work on things in the background, and let other people take the fame. Am I going to be able to keep that up if I’m going to get really involved with every new club/group/nonprofit/council/board/gang that comes to ask for my help? Will I long for the days of anonymity in the future? We’ll have to see…

This weekend will be focused on reviewing our results from the competition and putting together a plan for going forward toward the next competition on my calendar, which I think is going to be in August. I have a lesson scheduled with Lord Dormamu, and then Sparkledancer asked me to meet up with her and Lady Tella so that they can continue working on improving her positioning and volume. I don’t know if I’m going to make it out to any other dance events this weekend though. I have some work that really needs to be done on my house, which I wasn’t able to do last weekend because I was competing, so I was hoping to make that a priority for this coming weekend. But it’s always possible that I’ll be talked into going out dancing somewhere. Apparently I’m easy to talk into doing dance-related things…

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