And When I Start To Come Undone, Stitch Me Together

Lots of information this week. That tends to happen when I meet up with Lord Dormamu and he gives me all sorts of things that I need to remember. Hopefully this doesn’t end up running super long, but no apologies from me if it does. It’s all important, so I can’t forget to make note of it! But, to keep things easy to understand, let’s go through everything chronologically.

Last Saturday I agreed to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella so that the girls could use me again as a dance dummy. We spent the entire time looking at Tango. Most of the items that Lady Tella talked about were for Sparkledancer’s benefit, with very little information that was actually related to me. I took a few notes anyway, because it is useful to remember what your partner is supposed to be doing, right? Also, there’s always the off-chance that something that I write down will be helpful to someone else who may come across my notes, so it’s good to have information for both the Lead and Follow parts of the dance mixed in.

One thing that Lady Tella and I did spend some time talking about without Sparkledancer was the Back Corte. She had been working with Sparkledancer on how to improve her shape while we do the hold for that figure, and came to dance through it with me to demonstrate something. After we got through, she told me that it felt weird to her, so she wanted to do it again. We went through the steps three or four times so that she could figure out what felt off to her, and it ended up being that she thought that I was coming around too much on my first step, which was making it hard for her (and ultimately Sparkledancer) to create the shape she desired in that spot.

I told her that I had been given a couple of different theories on how to do that particular step, with no one ever giving me a final decision on what was best. I’ve had coaches tell me that if I start out facing the wall, my first step with my left foot should curve around my partner enough so that my toes are pointing backing line of dance. Other instructors have told me that the step should be to the side and slightly back, with my toes pointing toward the wall when finished. I had just been kind of taking a step that was between those two points, splitting the difference in case anyone ever stopped to look at it again.

After explaining that, I asked her two things: A) where does she prefer that my step end up to help create the shape she wants, and B) what does ‘the book’ say the correct foot placement is? I knew that there was a copy of the magic book of Standard Syllabus figures floating around the studio, so I wanted to know what it said in case anyone asked me in the future. I have a copy of the book at my house, but I’d never looked up the Back Corte in it before, since I had never had a reason to until that point.

The book said that taking the step around my partner so that my toes were pointing backing line of dance was the correct way of doing things. Lady Tella didn’t like that though, since she thinks that it makes the rotation too big. She prefers it when the step rotates around the side of my partner like the book says, but only until my toes are pointing backing diagonal wall. That’s what she and her professional partner do when they have Back Cortes in their competition routines, and she thinks that it feels the most comfortable. I told her that I could do that for her, at least until someone else comes along and gives me a good argument as to why I should do it a different way.

As for what Lady Tella and Sparkedancer worked on, they started off by continuing to talk about the best place to line up the connection point with my body. It’s funny when they talk about this, because I end up just standing there with my weight on my right leg while the two of them are pressing themselves into and wiggling against me, talking about where their ribs are and what direction their boobs are pointing. I guess that has to be the best way to describe getting into the right position, because they sure do mention it a lot. Either that or they are trying to see what it would take to make me blush. One of the two. These are the sorts of things that are considered ‘normal’ in the world of competitive ballroom dancing!

As for the other items they discussed, all I have are short notes: in the Back Corte, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to focus on keeping her elbows up as she opens away from me, and to watch the topline to make sure that her arms are mostly parallel with the floor; When getting into Promenade Position, she wanted Sparkledancer to swivel her back foot more; During the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside she told Sparkledancer to keep her hips back; In the Natural Promenade Turn (a.k.a. Promenade Pivot) Sparkledancer is supposed to focus on keeping her body out in order to keep the volume up; and finally, in the Right-side Lunge, Lady Tella noticed that Sparkledancer was taking her last steps before the first pivot weird, as if anticipating the turn. She told her to focus on taking all three steps straight toward me. She also wanted to see less head movement to avoid the chance of creating body movement, since the head movements are so fast, and to focus on emphasizing the left direction in the head flicks. Whew!

Monday night was a rough night for me. I had gone to my gym after I left the office that day, and decided that it was time to up the amount of weight that I used in a fair number of my sets, which meant that I pushed myself to failure quite a bit during my workout. Because of that, my upper body was a little burnt out, as you can probably imagine. When I went to Latin Technique class later that evening, I was really hoping that we would spend our time doing some Rumba just to make things a little easier on me, but that did not happen. We ended up doing Cha-Cha instead, much to my chagrin.

Much like the week prior, we had a lot of ladies show up for class that night. A LOT. Then, just before class started, those three young sisters who had come to class last week showed up again to join us, which added even more ladies. With so many ladies and only the two of us men, Lord Junior was nice enough to have a little pity on me and decided that we would work on some solo choreography again like we did during the last class. Yaaaaay. At least that allowed me to flail my tired upper body around on my own without worrying about wrecking anyone else’s steps. Hooray for that, I guess.

We broke things down into sections, with Lord Junior giving everyone one figure to add to the progression at a time. After looking at each new figure individually, he would have us go back and do the whole thing from the beginning. His focus with this progression was to have us all work on speed, which as many of you know, is a pretty important part of the Cha-Cha. To get us all moving, we started with a prep step on the left side and then went into a basic chasse action that went to the right. The first thing that we added on to that were two Outside Checks (that’s the name I learned for the figure waaaaaaay back in the day), one on the right and one on the left. This first section was done using basic Cha-Cha timing.

The next figure sped things up a bit as we added on both kinds of Cuban Breaks that I know of offhand. First we did the single version, checking to the right, then transferring to the left leg with no chasse and repeating. Immediately after those we did the double variety, the one where you do a checking action and then put your foot back out to the side and do a weird hip-bump before checking again. You’ve probably seen both varieties of these done before somewhere, if you haven’t done them yourself. Based on what I can find in the book, these are only Silver-level figures, so a lot of you have probably done them at some point or another.

To give us a brief break and change the dynamics of our movement a little, the next figure that we added on to the progression were slow Cuban Rocks. There were four of these total (two with each hip), and each one covered two beats in the music. We finished the whole progression by doing two Hip Twist Chasses, first to the right and then to the left. For some reason, that night I was having a much easier time doing the one that started off rotating the right hip back to bring the left foot forward than I did going the other way. Whenever I have had this figure in a routine in the past, or if I ever use it while dancing socially, I always seem to do the one that goes to the left, so I would have expected that side to be more comfortable for me. I guess not.

With music playing we ran through this progression a number of times, starting out slowly and then pushing the tempo up toward normal. Near the end of class, Lord Junior gave us a break from the progression to have us work with a partner to do some New Yorkers, also with a focus on speed. This was a simple exercise involving a prep step and then a basic chasse action going to the right, four syncopated New Yorkers that went back and forth, then one New Yorker at normal timing to give everyone a chance to slow down safely before finishing with a basic chasse to the left.

Once we had done a fair number of repetitions of this New Yorker exercise, Lord Junior had us all go back to the original progression right before class was over. He threatened us saying that he didn’t want to see anyone mess up the figures, and that if anything less than 75% of the class did the progression perfectly, he would make us repeat the whole thing plus increase the tempo of the music, and we would keep repeating and increasing until at least 75% of us got it right. I guess the threat was scary enough to motivate everyone because we only had one person mess up in the first run-through, so we didn’t have to repeat the exercise at all. Way to go team!

I ended up having to skip Standard Technique class on Wednesday night to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer to work on stuff. Since we are just a little more than two weeks away from the next competition I am supposed to be doing, that night Lord Dormamu had us go through our Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Quickstep routines for him so that he could get an overall impression of how they were going. I got a number of notes from him that night, so this might end up being a bit long…

We started off with the Waltz as I expected we would, but what we spent most of our time discussing wasn’t the material that I had actually been working on in practice this past week. The leg action that has been our focus lately is getting better, as we were told, but still needs more practice. Fair enough, that was pretty much how I felt about it before we started our coaching session. Rather than spend any time working on it with us though, Lord Dormamu started talking about how Sparkledancer and I looked while in frame.

So far, with the work that Sparkledancer has been doing with Lady Tella, Lord Dormamu thinks that we have been moving in the right direction and are looking good for a pair of Bronze dancers. That is actually what his problem is as well. He wants to have us immediately start working on moving things to the next level. I guess he has plans to get us signed up for some really high stakes competitions that will happen before he moves us up to Silver next Spring, so moving all these techniques up to ‘the next level’ (whatever that actually means) is his new goal for us.

To help us visualize what he wanted us to work on, he pulled out his phone so that he could show us a video. There was some recent post he had seen by some Amateur couple that is the current world champion of something-or-other – who also happen to be friends of his that he has coached – where the video clearly shows the two of them getting into frame. As they came together, he paused the video so that he could point out the differences between what their volume looked like and what we were doing. Once in frame, the lady was positioned in such a way that, if you looked straight at the Lead, her upper body was bent over far enough that you could see the Lead’s whole shoulder line, and his whole right arm down to his armpit. That is definitely a lot of space between their heads!

On top of that, the male had a slight curve in his back, which helped to give the illusion of increasing the volume between the two of them even further. Overall, when I looked at the way they were standing together, and the big open space their arms created, it really reminded me of the closed frame used in Paso Doble. I mentioned that, and Lord Dormamu actually thought that comparison was funny, but not incorrect. There are some obvious differences between ballroom and Paso Doble he said, but the idea behind that shape puts Sparkledancer and I closer to what he wants us to work on.

Sparkledancer is closer to my height than the girl in the video was to her partner’s height, so Lord Dormamu told her that if she could create the same shape as the girl in the video, people looking at the two of us would be able to see the top line of my shoulders for sure, but not my entire right arm down to my armpit. He was worried that if she tried to bend back that far so soon that she could hurt herself. However, he did mention that there was no limit to how much she should bend, so if over time she could work on her flexibility enough and bend so that people could see my entire right arm down to my armpit, that wasn’t a bad thing.

The rest of the time we spent looking at the Waltz was focused on hitting something as close to that position as we could when in frame, and then trying to move around while maintaining it. This was not exactly the easiest thing to do. I’m sure it will get better with practice, but I can’t say that it looked or felt good at all during this lesson. I guess that can be considered a good thing? Someone once told me that when something that you do often feels terrible, that’s when you know change is happening. If it always feels comfortable, then you are never really improving.

After Waltz we moved on to Foxtrot for a little while. Foxtrot is still our strongest dance according to Lord Dormamu, no question there. The two things that he pointed out to us that night that he wanted us to work on were creating and maintaining that same kind of volume in this style as we had worked on in the Waltz, and then the action of my legs as I accept the weight into them at the end of a figure in preparation for the next figure. That action is what I have been working on in practice for a while now, and it isn’t perfect just yet. It’s a lot better than it has been, so that’s good at least.

From Foxtrot we switched to Tango, which in Lord Dormamu’s assessment is our second best dance style currently after the Foxtrot. The frame in Tango is obviously different from all the others, so for the time being he didn’t want us to worry too much about the volume while we practiced that aspect in the other styles. One minor change that he noticed that he wanted us to put in was to the first Natural Twist Turn that we do. He wants me to adjust the end of the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside that is right before so that I end facing diagonal wall. That sets me up so that the Progressive Link that goes into the Twist Turn will have a full quarter of turn. Up to that point I had been told to end facing wall, so the Progressive Link only did an eighth of turn. Simple enough.

I also asked him about the Back Corte that I had looked over with Lady Tella that weekend, to get his perspective about the angle on the first step. After looking at us do it a couple of times, he told me that he was happy with what Lady Tella told me to do there, so I should use that angle until he tells me otherwise. Hooray!

Finally, we spent just a couple of minutes looking at the Quickstep right at the end. We danced through the whole thing once and then Lord Dormamu called us over to where he was standing. Before he even said a word, Sparkledancer apologized for taking a heel step at a wrong point near the end of a Backward Lock. Lord Dormamu said that he had seen it, and was going to point that out. Sparkledancer confessed that she had been thinking so much about trying to create and hold the volume the whole time that she just got it wrong.

Lord Dormamu seemed fine with that, but then he went off on a little tirade about how he thought that Syllabus-level Quickstep was just stupid. He told us that as long as the couple is on time with the music and the footwork is correct, there really isn’t much else that you can use to separate a good couple from a bad one beyond the way their frames look. Basic Quickstep doesn’t have any complex figures like Foxtrot or Tango, so when he’s judging a competition he finds those rounds to be boring.

He told us that all we needed to do whenever we practiced Quickstep was to split it into five rounds of two run-throughs with no music. The first time through the routine we should focus on the feet, making sure they are grounded to the floor and that the footwork is based on the action of the step, not just superficial heel or toe steps because we know we’re supposed to do those. The second time through the routine is where we focus on the volume. After five rounds of each of those two practice runs, we should then dance the routine once to the music, and then we are done and should move on to something more important.

At the end before we left, we spent a few minutes talking about an upcoming development that is going to impact us. I’m not sure if I can quite talk about it yet before I have all the details, but it’s going to happen. So… yeah. There’s that to start thinking about.

Man, I think that my weekend is going to be mostly free to do things that I want to do! Obviously I will have to set aside some time for practice, but since many of the instructors in the area are performing in a big show this weekend, there won’t be any private lessons for me to go to. I heard that Judge Dread is going to be in town running some workshops, so maybe I will take this opportunity to go to one of those instead! It seems like forever since I was able to do that, since my lessons with various instructors always seem to happen at the same time. Hopefully it will be fun! Maybe I’ll see you there.

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