This Is Where We Dance Tonight

I mentioned last week that I had some stuff to take care of at home last weekend, so I didn’t actually go out and do much in the way of dancing, but what I did go out and do made my head spin a little. I’m sure that you’ve seen in the past that I’ve referred to Lord Dormamu as my ‘coach’ and not just my ‘instructor’ – that is a very deliberate choice of words. Sure, I do get together with Lord Dormamu for instruction on how to improve my dancing, because he has lots of things that he can teach me. However, on top of that, Lord Dormamu also helps my competitive partner and I play the games that are involved with doing well in the competitive dance environment. When I met up with him this weekend, we spent a good long while discussing just that.

The lesson block that I had scheduled with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu ended up running really long last Saturday, but that was because we spent a large portion of it just sitting around a table talking. We went over the results of the last competition, my analysis of the results, and made a bunch of plans for what Sparkledancer and I would do going forward for the rest of the year. You know, all sorts of coach stuff.

Between the three of us looking around online, we managed to find a large number of competitions for Sparkledancer and I to consider signing up for before the end of 2018. We narrowed the list down to six finalists. Several of these are being held at venues that are only a short drive from my house, so those ones are more than likely to happen. A couple of them will involve traveling quite a bit… like hopping on a plane to get there, because driving to the location would require taking extra time off of work. Plane tickets obviously drive up the cost of those events considerably, which is always a little bothersome. It’s not that I can’t afford to do these things, it just makes me think about how much money I actually want to spend to travel and compete while Lord Dormamu is still holding me at Bronze?

One other point that we looked at was the historical evidence that we could find to give us a rough idea of how many people we might be competing against in these chosen competitions. I personally don’t think it’s super worthwhile to dance unopposed – I mean, unless I screw something up pretty terribly, I am guaranteed to get first place. For some people, getting a first place ribbon/trophy while dancing unopposed is something that they celebrate. I know a pair that competes in Amateur competitions for both Latin and Standard, and there have been lots of times I’ve run into them at competitions where they exalted me with stories of all the first place ribbons that they won so far… only for me to find out later that they didn’t have anyone else dancing against them.

While it does make me happy that they are happy for winning those first place ribbons/trophies, for me, it doesn’t really feel like I earned anything if I win that way. I say this because there is one competition in particular that Lord Dormamu wanted us to go and do that was like this – it’s a new event this year, and based on the registration information we could find online, no one else was signed up in any of the events that we would be heading out there to do so far. Because it looked like there was a chance that we would just be paying a bunch of money to travel out there and dance unopposed, I argued that it wouldn’t really be worthwhile.

Lord Dormamu had a different take on the matter. He knew the people who were the organizers of this new competition. Apparently, in addition to organizing events like this throughout the year, they are also well-known adjudicators who are brought in to judge many high-level competitions that he wants Sparkledancer and I to end up going to as we move up in the world. His view was that it was more important for Sparkledancer and I to show up and support this competition, even if we end up dancing unopposed, so that we can get in good with the competition organizers. If they see us at their brand new event, and then see us later competing at an event that they are judging, that could be the little bit of political capital that we need to get marked better than someone we are competing against if we are otherwise dancing at the same level.

There it is, the dreaded Dance Politics coming back into the picture. Going to this event sounds like it is purely a political move, not really a test of how well we dance in front of the judges. That means that when I go there, the most important thing that Sparkledancer and I will have to do is to say hello to the competition organizers when we see them (not ‘if’ we see them, ‘when’ – we will have to seek them out to make sure it happens), tell them how much we loved this brand new event, and pass on greetings from Lord Dormamu so that they know that he is our coach. The dancing part of the competition is almost secondary.

Sure, there is always the hope that someone else will sign up to dance in the same rounds that we do, but unless the rounds fill up with eight to ten more couples, I’m not sure the priority level will change. Is that weird? It feels weird to me, but apparently playing this political dance and meeting with and supporting the right people in the right competitions is an important part of being an up-and-coming competitor. Sigh… I’m going to register my distaste for this part of the game here so that I can get it all out of my system before I have to go out and play these games. Is this is how Champions are really made?

Moving on… one of the competitions that was added to our list in October actually happens on the same date as a different event that I’m pretty sure I have to be around town to help out with. Do you remember me mentioning last week that I was talked into being a part of another dance non-profit? Well, during that meeting where I was brought into that group, they talked about throwing a fundraising event in the fall. The date that they wanted to book the fundraising event for is the same weekend as the competition Sparkledancer and I were told to do in October. I didn’t realize it at the time last Saturday when I was going over all of this with Lord Dormamu, but when I got home and started adding all these potential competitions to my calendar I saw the overlap. I’ll have to confirm with Lord Dormamu, but most likely that competition won’t actually happen.

With the schedule of what we are planning for more-or-less set, we next spent some time discussing the results of our last competition – not our placements, which were good and didn’t really warrant discussion, but how Sparkledancer and I felt we did, and what we thought didn’t go so well when we were out on the floor. I brought up the basic data analysis I did of the results, and showed Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer how the math showed that Waltz was our weakest dance style based on how we’ve done during the last couple of competitions. While neither one of them seemed to care about the math too much, Sparkledancer agreed with my assessment, so Lord Dormamu agreed to look at our Waltz first that day when we finally got around to dancing.

I also showed him how there was one judge that marked us with significantly different placements than all the others in all of our events. This was something that Sparkledancer and I had experienced before – I even mentioned it here if you remember. This time around, when I mentioned the name of the judge who had done this to us, Lord Dormamu didn’t just chalk the placements up to the couples who were placed higher than us by this judge being students of his and leaving it at that. No, this time Lord Dormamu actually knew who the judge was quite well. In fact, there is a competition that Lord Dormamu is running in August, and he said he was flying this particular judge in to… well, judge.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Now there is a plan that, while this judge is here, Lord Dormamu is going to set aside one of the coaching sessions that this judge will be running the next day so that Sparkledancer and I can work with him. This is another one of those Dance Politics moves, as explained to me. If Lord Dormamu arranges this coaching session and introduces us to this judge at the start of the session, then this judge will, from that day forth, associate our names and faces with Lord Dormamu. The judge (supposedly) will then think to himself ‘Hey! Lord Dormamu was cool enough to bring me in to work on this competition and pay me to judge, but he also entrusted some of his students into my hands to get my advice on how they can dance better!’ – which should change his opinion of how we dance if he ever sees us in a competition he is judging in the future.

This is one of those places where dancers who compete Pro/Am have an advantage. Sparkledancer and I have to put in the face time with judges if we want to be able to subconsciously improve their opinion of us when they see our names on the list of competitors. Lord Dormamu already knows a lot of these judges. He talks about being friends with lots of them. When he goes to competitions to dance with some of his Pro/Am ladies, the judges can clearly see that it is him, and they know the lady is his student. That automatically brings along the subconscious improvements of their perception of how the lady is dancing.

Unless Sparkledancer and I figure out how to start competing in some sort of weird three-way hold with Lord Dormamu, we can’t purely get by on his name – we have to build this kind of recognition for ourselves. Lord Dormamu told us that he can introduce us to all the right people, but we’ll still have to put in time with those people so that they will remember us after the initial introduction is over. The best way to do that is to take coaching lessons with the judges, unfortunately. It’s an expensive method of gaining recognition, but it is by far the best way to have one-on-one time with a judge where everyone can get to know one another.

Dance politics… what in the world have I gotten myself into?

We were lucky that Lord Dormamu had a bit of extra time between when he had scheduled his lesson with Sparkledancer and I and when his next lesson was scheduled, because after all of that discussion we still hadn’t done any dancing! True to his word earlier, he had us start off by showing him our Waltz so that he could see what changes we would need to make in order to bring it up to the next level. One lap around the floor was all that Lord Dormamu needed to see in order to make a plan about what he wanted us to work on.

The biggest problem that he told us he saw with our Waltz was that there was too much ‘floating’ on the floor while we danced. Yeah, that’s actually a problem that you can have in the Waltz. The dance style should give the illusion that you are floating as you move for anyone watching your upper body, but the lower body needs to tell a completely different story. That is what Sparkledancer and I need to improve the most in order to bring our Waltz up to the next level.

What I need to work on first and foremost is to show more connection to the floor. This is actually the easiest thing to change for me. Sparkledancer has to work on grabbing the floor with her feet and holding onto the connection, which is bound to make her feet sore after we’ve been practicing for a while. But me? I’m a couple hundred pounds of muscle who, for some unknown reason, walks very lightly. I just need to let the weight of my upper body hold my lower body down properly. This goes against all of my natural inclinations while I’m moving around, but I’m heavy enough that it makes a real difference with my connection to the floor. Sounds easy, right?

On top of that, Lord Dormamu said that we can always work on showing more drive from the standing leg, which is something you’ll probably never hear a judge tell you that you see too much of. For me specifically he also wants me to work on smoothing out my transition to the “second standing leg” as I move. I’m sure that you can figure out what that is if you’ve never heard of it before – if you are pushing yourself forward with your right leg, your left leg eventually has to hit the ground and start absorbing your weight. Along the way you will reach the point where 51% of your weight has transitioned to be over your left leg and only 49% is left over the right leg, and that’s when you’ve changed which leg is the standing leg in the same step. The new leg now needs to pull you forward for a bit before it can transition behind you and start pushing to create power.

Lord Dormamu said that sometimes he can tell when I make that transition between legs, because there is a bit of a wobble going on, which is why I need to work on smoothing the transition out to get rid of that. This is the same concept that I am working on in the Foxtrot, basically, though with different timing, different rise and fall, and less continuity of motion in the Waltz. This type of usage of the legs is a very advanced concept, and supposedly if I can master it early on while I am still competing in syllabus events it will make my life much easier as I move into the world of Open choreography.

What is the best way to practice this kind of change for our Waltz routine? Well, we were told to take things all the way back to basics – plain old box steps. Just Reverse and Natural Turns, no rotation, focusing on our legs and the floor. Until we are told otherwise, he wants us to start each of our practice sessions by doing the following exercises for two minutes each: standing side-by-side, Sparkledancer and I will do box steps by ourselves for two minutes starting with the left leg going forward, then two minutes that start with the left leg going backward. After that we will stand in front of each other and hold our arms wide (not real dance frame) and do two minutes that start with my left leg going forward, Sparkledancer’s right leg going back, and finish with two minutes of my left leg going backward, Sparkledancer’s right leg going forward.

But wait! There’s more! To help practice for smoother transitions between legs as we move, we do one last set of the exercises where we are standing in front of one another, but this time we extend each box to a six count. The first step forward/backward and the step to the side are normal, but dragging your feet closed while rising should cover four beats. We do two minutes in each direction of those as well. When all is said and done, that’s ~12 – 15 minutes of work, staying in roughly the same spot on the dance floor.

Doing those exercises makes practice all kinds of fun, let me tell you… <feel the sarcasm here>

Enough about that. I seem to have prattled on forever on just one thing that I went out and did last weekend! Oh boy, that does not bode well. Tell you what, I’ll only talk about one more thing, and leave it there for the week. Let’s… let’s talk about Latin Technique class, since that seems to be the class I seem to discuss the least lately.

This week in Latin Technique we looked at some Cha-Cha. There were three ladies in class this week that are relatively new to International Latin, so the figures that we covered in class weren’t all that difficult, but we never got to a point where all of the new ladies could do them well enough to do everything with music up to full tempo. I could do it though, but that’s probably mostly because I get to repeat the figures a lot more than any of the ladies as I rotate through class to dance with all of them.

What I danced with everyone was as follows: starting off facing your partner with your right leg back (ladies with their left leg forward), we did a prep step on beat one, then a normal Cha-Cha Checking action. The guys then did a Slip Chasse while the ladies did a Forward Lock, ending with leading the ladies through a Curl. Rather than do the normal ending for a Curl which sends the lady out to Fan Position, Lord Junior had us instead collect the lady back into dance position and go into a Reverse Top, just for fun.

We went around in the Reverse Top over the counts of two measures, and then the guys would turn the lady through another Curl and lead them to follow him through a Backward Lock into an Aida. After the Cuban Motions of the Aida, we came out of it with a Forward Lock, then went into side-by-side Switch Turns, coming back together at the end for a basic chasse action to the right.

Let’s call it good there for the week. This next weekend I have some work stuff to do, so I probably won’t go out much again. I have just one lesson scheduled, another with Lord Dormamu, but that’s about it. Hopefully we won’t get into another long conversation about our competitive plans this time around. Documenting all of that is a lot of work!

Until next time, keep on dancing!

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