To Make It A Place Worth Fighting For

Kind of a quiet dance week this week for me. There only ended up being two things of note that I feel I need to write down. Can I keep this post from growing to be verbose? We’ll have to see…

The only dance-related thing that I did on Saturday was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for a coaching session. We continued to look at the Waltz this week, picking up right where we left off last time. He had us run through our routine for him once with music playing, then brought us right up in front of the mirrors so he could watch us go through a few repetitions of the exercises that he gave us to work on last weekend. After about five minutes of that, he stopped us so that he could give us his impression of how our practice had gone over the last week.

Overall he said that he was much happier, and he was definitely seeing an improvement. He called it a ‘30%’ improvement, but when he throws out numbers like that while smiling, I can’t entirely tell whether he’s just making up numbers to be funny or if he’s being serious. Specifically he said that the actions that we were doing from beats one to two and two to three were much more in line with what he was looking for, but the action from beat three to the next beat one still needs work. Based on that assessment, you would think that we were doing 66.67% better, right? I mean, that’s how the math works in my head…

I brought up the fact that it would make sense that the actions from beats one to two and two to three would show improvement, since the exercises we had been given really focused on those actions. The one exercise I was thinking about which would specifically help was the exercise where we would extend the box step to a six count, taking steps one and two with normal timing and then closing our feet together slowly over the remaining four beats. So, I asked, were there any exercises that we could do which would help with the action where we still needed work?

As it turns out, there is… sort of. It’s really the same exercise, but you just change the timing of the steps. Rather than slowing down after the first two steps to practice the action of closing your feet, you could take the second and third step of the box at normal timing and slow down the next step for a four count to focus on the transition of lowering into the next box step. So now, in addition to the exercises we were already told to do, we have to add in an additional two minutes of working on the action between beats three and one. Can you feel my excitement about this?

I suppose, theoretically, you could also do the same idea and take the third step of the box and the first step of the next box in normal timing, slowing down the second step for a four count to work on the middle action. There is a variation available for everyone! Well, really there are only three variations, but you get my point, right? Sigh… math again…

Once we got through looking over the practice exercises, we turned to looking at things in the actual routine that needed some attention. One concept in particular that Lord Dormamu spent some time discussing with Sparkledancer was the amount of volume she was creating while in frame… or actually the lack of volume. Sparkledancer was telling him that while he was having her to do all this work on how her legs were moving, she was totally forgetting to think about anything else, which is why the volume appeared to be decreased as we were dancing.

Lord Dormamu told her that he was more concerned during our sessions with him with how our leg action was progressing, since that was the key to bringing our Waltz up to the next level. His advice to her was (for the time being) to focus on practicing the leg action while working with him, and to focus on her volume and position while working with Lady Tella. Eventually the two techniques will have to be put together, obviously, but for the time being he wanted to make her life a bit easier. He’s such a nice guy, isn’t he?

There were a couple of figures that he wanted to cover at in particular that day based on what he saw during our initial dance-through. The first one was the Hesitation Change in the first corner… again. It seems like there are so many things about this simple figure that Lord Dormamu really wants to be different, doesn’t it? This time he told me that he didn’t like the way that the backward step I take from the Natural Turn right beforehand looked. We went through a number of changes to try and fix it, with me dancing with Sparkledancer, or by myself, or with him, as he assessed what was going on and tried to think of a way to make me look the way he wanted. The lowering action was what he decided was causing the problem – something about the way that I was lowering from the Natural Turn and going into the Hesitation Change seemed out of sorts.

We moved off the Hesitation Change for a little bit, but came back to it again later after he had some time to think. This time he asked me to try to just lower straight down before taking the step into the hesitation. This was a surprising request, because we have been working so hard over the last couple of weeks to make sure that none of the figures that we do are lowering straight down, but rather lowering while continuing to travel forward/backward (depending on the step). So I gave it a try, and apparently that did the trick.

He said that watching from the outside, the brief pause at the height of the Natural Turn and lowering straight down before taking the step into the Hesitation Change made the transition between the two look clean and precise finally. For the time being, he wants me to practice stopping and lowering like that between the two figures to work on control, and once that improves he’ll go back with me and start to reintroduce the lowering on an angle while moving aspect.

The other figure that we looked at quite a bit was the Whisk. For this particular figure, it wasn’t the steps themselves or any of the actions that he wanted to have me adjust, but rather the angle. I had been coming out of the previous figure and generally aiming the Whisk straight down the line of dance for pretty much the entire time I’ve ever done this routine. Lord Dormamu wants to change the angles so that I finish the previous figure facing diagonal wall, then take the first two steps of the Whisk heading towards diagonal wall, rotate to Promenade Position on the small step that crosses behind while pointing my Promenade toward diagonal wall, and continue to travel in the Promenade Chasse that follows in that same direction.

Now this made a lot of things weird. First of all, as I said I had been taking the Whisk down the line of dance for forever, so trying to turn it like this fights against all of the muscle memory that I have built up in all of that time. Secondly, the amount of rotation when I move my upper body to Promenade Position that is required to get Sparkledancer into her correct placement is a lot, and my upper body is not particularly happy with rotating that much. That’s something I can fight through with practice, but it’s not the most pleasant thing to do.

The biggest issue with this change though is that now we are traveling straight toward the wall. With the amount of movement that we usually get during the Whisk and the Promenade Chasse attached, we just ran out of space the first few times we tried this. That was an easy enough fix while working specifically on this figure because we could just back up away from the wall far enough to fit everything in. Easy-peasy, right?

But (I’m sure you saw this coming), when attaching the Whisk heading in this new direction to the rest of the routine, we were still too close to the wall. The Whisk is a part of the first short wall in the routine, and with the way that the short wall was built, most everything travels laterally down the line of dance. Even when I rotated the three figures prior to the Whisk so that they were moving solely toward diagonal center, I still couldn’t create quite enough room to fit in the Whisk and Promenade Chasse heading toward diagonal wall. You know, because the wall was in the way and whatnot. Silly wall!

Am I the only person you know who talks about issues with moving too much?

This means that, in order to make this change fit, I have to remember to purposefully short my steps a bit on the first long wall so that when I finish the first corner, I am starting the first short wall farther away from the edge. That’s really the only way I am going to be able to fit everything in properly. This was something that felt OK while we were working on things in the Endless Dance Hall. The floor there is huge, so cutting down six to eight feet on a long wall doesn’t make my steps look short. But what happens when I have to try to do this on a much smaller floor? I’m afraid that it will make my steps look teeny-tiny!
Who knew that being able to move so much while dancing would cause me so many issues?

Latin Technique class on Monday night was entertaining, but full of a bunch of stuff that made me feel like a terrible dancer. Those are two wildly conflicting emotions, I know, but that’s how the class went for me. When I first got to class, I thought that I was in for a rough night since there were five ladies sitting there, waiting for class to start, and no other men besides Lord Junior. A few minutes before class, he walked by all of us and said that we would be working on Samba that night, so that was red flag number one for me. Of all the Latin dances, Samba is my least favorite. For some reason I always feel wildly uncoordinated while dancing Samba, and I know I doesn’t look very Samba-esque while doing it either.

As Lord Junior continued to talk with us, he said that he was considering doing a bunch of stuff in Shadow Position, which would give him and I a little bit of a break since there were so many ladies to dance with. However, there was supposedly one more person who had mentioned coming to class that night, so he wanted to give them time to show up. Rather than get started early we all just hung out and talked amongst ourselves.

When the front door did finally open, it actually ended up being more than just one person who showed up… it was actually three. And they weren’t ladies, but girls, each of them being probably twelve years old or less. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but I know that they were all super young. These girls were sisters, and the youngest of them was barely half my height, if that helps put it into context. I felt like a giant standing near her, and I knew there was no way I would be able to dance in Shadow Position with someone that small. It would have been easier for me to just hold the tiny girl off the floor by her arms in front of me and dance! Luckily, Lord Junior had only been expecting the tallest of the sisters to show up, so he modified his plans for the night and threw out all of the partner work in favor of having us all work on exercises by ourselves to accommodate. Whew!

Totally would have worked perfectly.

Since there were so many of us now, Lord Junior had us line up in three lines so that we could travel down the floor in sets. The first section of figures that he gave us to work on was two Cruzados Walks, two syncopated Locks, and then two more Cruzados Walks, which should fill an eight-count bar of music. The first couple of times I went down the floor, Lord Junior made a point of telling me that I looked really good… if I was dancing Foxtrot. My Rhythm Bounce action left quite a bit to be desired. I will freely admit that. What can I say, I only compete in International Standard, and we don’t do crazy bouncing actions with the hips and core in any of the figures I’ve seen so far!

Adding on to that section of figures, the next eight-count bar of music was one more Cruzados Walk (to put you on the right leg), then repeating Samba Locks for the next three-count. At the end you need to pull your right leg in quickly because you go right from moving forward in the Samba Locks to moving backward for a couple of Batucadas. The Batucadas were pretty easy for everyone to get through while we were doing the figures slowly, but the transition between the Samba Locks and the Batucadas threw a lot of the ladies off. When we sped up the pace, you could collect your right leg to the left before taking the step backward, but personally I found that action just took too long, and then I was off time. I found it worked best to just bring my right leg up close to my left leg where it would go for the first step of the Batucada and then just transfer my weight on beat five. That worked best for me – your mileage may vary, of course.

For the last few minutes of class, to give us a break from struggling with the Batucada movements at tempo, Lord Junior had us all work on Body Rolls. I have only ever gone through the Body Roll action a few times in my life. I can’t say that I’m all that good at it… but I’m not as terrible as you might think. With all the exercise I do regularly, I have a lot of strength and control over the muscles in my core, so bending myself like I was being asked to for a Body Roll wasn’t so bad. Granted, we didn’t do this action very fast, so things could change if I was told to try it out to the tempo of your average Samba, but I could probably do it to a Rumba song and not look terrible. 😉

I do lack some of the flexibility in the middle part of my back when compared to all of the women that were in class with me that night (especially those really young girls, who could bend like they had no spines), but I wasn’t as bad as you might think. It’s really twisting actions where my muscularity holds me back the most, and there is no twisting in a Body Roll so I was able to get through it pretty OK. Yeah, pretty OK indeed.

Maybe having so many ladies in class on Monday night wore Lord Junior out, because Standard Technique class was cancelled on Wednesday. You would think that I would have used that extra time that I wasn’t expecting to have to do something productive. I was actually going to get some studying done for some new material I am trying to learn for work, but as soon as I sat down on the couch my cat came and curled up in my lap, and then I couldn’t reach my computer without disturbing her, so I ended up just sitting there quietly for over an hour letting her rest on me. Silly cat…

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