I’m Never Gonna Stop The Rain By Complaining

What kind of stuff did I get into this past week? I’m sure you are guessing that it was the dancing kind, seeing as how that’s pretty much all I write about on this site. Some of it was even fun! I know, I know, that’s crazy to think about. Dance isn’t supposed to be fun or anything…

Let’s start out with last Saturday night. It was time once again for my Royal Dance Court gang and I to host our monthly all-access dance party for anyone who is cool to come to. We had invited some hot-shot instructor in the West Coast Swing community to come out and teach a lesson for us before the dance party started. The hope was that if we got this lady to teach for us, it would entice a number of people from the West Coast Swing community to come to the party, hopefully making the dance floor overflow with people for the night.

In reality, the West Coast Swing community ended up putting on some big party on the same night as ours that was being held a few hours north, and many people from our area ended up driving up there to attend (including one of the members of my Royal Dance Court group… WTF?), so we ended up having only dancers from the ballroom community attend our party. Also, it rained pretty hard on and off throughout the party, which I’m sure kept some people away. Our final count of attendees for the evening was only a little over fifty people, which isn’t bad by any means, but just not as many as we had hoped for.

The instructor we brought in that night started off class by asking if there was anyone there who had never danced West Coast Swing before. Several ladies put up their hands, so she started off with some real basic footwork to warm everyone up – pretty much just having everyone march in place to get the feel for the timing of all the six-count West Coast Swing figures. After stepping in place for a while to music, she had the class continue marching in the same timing while traveling forward and backward, basically training them to move in a slot while stepping in time. In the last part of the warm-up, she had everyone pair off with the person across from them and do the same exercise, except one partner was now moving forward while the other moved backward, then they switched after each count of six.

With everyone warmed up, she showed everyone how to modify their footwork so that they could do the Sugar Push. During this portion of class, the instructor kept an eye on the ladies who had said that they hadn’t done West Coast Swing before to make sure that they were doing OK, but she also found some guys in the class who hadn’t raised their hands at the beginning but were struggling just to do the Sugar Push correctly, so she had to spend some time with them to help out. To be helpful, and also to even out the number of men and women in class, I ended up jumping in to dance for at that point as well.

I ended up talking to the ladies who had never done West Coast Swing before to make sure they were understanding their steps. One of those ladies told me that she had never gone out to a dance class before that night! I felt bad for her, because West Coast Swing isn’t exactly the easiest of dance styles to pick up first. Lucky for her, we spent a lot of time just getting the Sugar Push down, so she rotated through a couple of times so that I could work with her, and I think we managed to work out all the bugs.

Because the newcomers were the focus of what we were doing, the class didn’t end up covering a whole lot of material. After the Sugar Push, the instructor also showed everyone how to do a Left Side Pass. Once we got through that, she had to spend some time telling everyone about the timing for an eight-count figure in West Coast Swing before she could add on what she wanted to do next – this involved going back to everyone marching in place while the music played for a bit. When she was sure everyone had the timing down, the last figure she showed the class was the Basket Whip.

After the class finished up, the dance party commenced. There was a real storm going on by that time, complete with thunder and lightning. At one point I thought it would be funny if the storm caused a power outage, and I imagined that people in attendance would just start humming songs together while they kept dancing. The DJ would have been the one to pick and call out what songs for everyone to hum, obviously, because the scenario wouldn’t work if everyone just started humming different songs. Then it would have just been chaos! Luckily, there was no power outage and the dance party continued on all night uninterrupted.

I want to mention last Sunday momentarily, because it was funny to me. On Sunday I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice around noon, like we normally do. When we got to the studio, the only people that we saw there initially was a guy taking a lesson with his female instructor, who happens to be a high level competitor in the world of Shag dancing. I’ve seen this girl around from time to time on Sundays giving private lessons, but I couldn’t tell you her name for the life of me. I know I learned it at one point, but for some reason it just never stuck. I feel kind of bad about that.

So Sparkledancer and I start working on our stuff for practice, with the beach music that the Shag lesson was playing in the background. A few of the songs that come on are at a decent tempo for Foxtrot, so we’d switch to working on that style when the music fit just to keep things interesting, but mostly I am just keeping time in my head as we practice (I have a decent internal metronome from all my years spent studying and performing music). As we roll over the end of the hour into the next, another gentleman shows up at the studio who is scheduled to take a lesson with the Shag lady. When he starts warming up, now there are three Shag dancers hanging out and dancing to beach music, and then Sparkledancer and I doing ballroom off against the other wall.

A little more time passes, and then suddenly Mr. Rubber-legs enters the studio with his professional partner! Mr. Rubber-legs, as you know, is some sort of reigning Shag champion or something – I’m not entirely sure what his reign is in, but I know that he’s really good. He and his professional partner showed up apparently to get in some practice time for a competition they were planning to go to in the near future. Suddenly, my quiet day of practice had turned into a meeting of five different Shag dancers, all talking to each other and dancing along to beach music. Apparently I did not get the memo that last Sunday was actually supposed to be Shag practice day. Boy, did I feel silly!

Monday night, rather than going to Latin Technique class, I had to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for coaching. I swear, that man is always traveling all over the known world, and sometime scheduling time to work with him is an art. Sometimes the three of us joke about getting together for lessons more frequently, but in the back of my mind I wonder if that would even be possible with the schedule that the man keeps. Finding time during the week for one block of coaching is hard enough that I think that even dreaming about fitting in two would be nothing but short of inconceivable!

Anyway… that night we started out by looking at the Waltz. Before I make note of the points that I was told to remember, I want to pat my own back for a moment. By the time we finished up the Waltz that evening, Lord Dormamu told me that if we manage to keep up our improvement in the dance style at the same rate as we have been going since we started focusing on it after the competition I did at the end of June, then in a few more weeks our Waltz should rival our Foxtrot for the position of our best dance style. That feels like a huge jump in such a short amount of time! It just goes to show that practice can really make a difference.

There were a couple of points that Lord Dormamu gave to us that we need to start incorporating into our practice. The biggest one involves all of the Natural Turns that we do throughout the routine. He told me that while the figures look really good for a student dancing in Bronze, he wants me to go beyond. From here on out, I’m supposed to wind up to my left even more than I already am on the step prior to the Natural Turn so that every one of them will have a really nice rotation going into it.

This was something that I was already doing a little at the beginning of the routine, because a Natural Turn is the first figure that I do after the starter step, which had some rotation in it already. He wants me to increase the rotation a lot during the starter step now to make it much more dramatic. The place where this wind-up action affects Sparkledancer the most is whenever we are in Promenade Position during the preceding figure, such as when we do a Whisk and then go into a Natural Turn for example.

To get the same kind of rotation in a situation like that, Sparkledancer has to close back to dance position much farther than she was closing before, because I am going to be taking all of the rotation to the right out of my body. That means that, even though we will still be moving in Outside Partner, I won’t be in any kind of Contra-Body position with her because I will be winding myself up to the left. She has to now close to me, but stay off to the right side enough that my legs can still move outside of her.

I did have to stop for a moment and ask Lord Dormamu about that. I was worried that a judge could stop and question us about what we were doing at a competition if the judge saw that we were dancing in Outside Partner but I wasn’t leading it by keeping my body rotated to the right. He told me that the only reason a judge would question what I was doing was if I was doing a figure, or a different timing of a figure, that was outside of the syllabus level I was competing in. Dancing in a position without leading it wouldn’t be a concern for them. Good to know.

There was a small note about the footwork that Lord Dormamu saw – while overall he said that our feet look much, much more grounded and precise, from where he was watching he could see that my legs and feet were closing together at a much slower pace than Sparkledancer’s were. This is pretty easy to explain, since I am so much heavier than Sparkledancer, I just naturally put more weight into the floor with my feet, so dragging them together is easier for me to slow down because of that. He wanted us to watch that and spend a little time making sure that our feet close in sync with each other. Not a major thing, but something worth noting for us to practice a little.

After we finished looking at the Waltz, Lord Dormamu wanted to watch us run through the Foxtrot. This style we only looked at for maybe ten minutes or so – it is our best, after all. He told me that the only real complaints that he had was that he thought I was raising myself up too much as I moved, and that he still wasn’t entirely pleased with the way the step looked on the first figure after my Three Steps. Being up slightly higher while I danced was easy to explain – even while we dance in the Endless Dance Hall, I still manage to run out of room because of how much I am able to move. If I lower myself down even further, my legs will be able to reach out even more and I will cover more ground, which will be bad. Sigh… I’m not going to be able to dance on any floor smaller than 10,000 sq/ft soon, I just know it!

The last thing we looked at that night was Tango. The takeaway that we talked about adding into our Tango after this session was ‘more attack’. Basically what that means is that on the first step of each figure, he wants to see me lower slightly before taking the step. The combination of lowering slightly with the push off my standing leg as I begin to move gives the step more of a pounce-like feeling when taken. As I go through the figure, I would hold myself at that slightly lowered level until I get to the end of the figure, when I can come back up to the level where I originally was. Lord Dormamu called that ‘taking a breath’.

I know that in the level of Tango I’m competing, normally the dance is supposed to travel very flat, with my hips and shoulders staying the same distance from the floor the whole time. This way of moving during each figure is the next step above that, and (from what I am told) makes it more interesting to watch. The pouncing action is supposed to be subtle – I’m not dropping down like six inches before I start moving, just enough that I can feel it, and someone watching from the outside would notice. It should make things more fun if I can get it down. I’ll be like a cat pouncing on things. I like cats.

In Standard Technique class on Wednesday night, we got to go over Tango as well. This week’s class was a lot like last week’s class that Lord Junior gave on the Waltz, where he pulled out a bunch of figures from the Silver-level Tango syllabus to build the choreography. He specifically mentioned to everyone that I would find it the most useful to go over them, because he believes that I will be working my way into Silver soon. There’s nothing like being called out in the middle of a class, right?

The figures themselves didn’t seem all that hard when chained together. Much like I mentioned last week, this bit of choreography is designed to go around a corner, so you want to start off facing diagonal wall with a bit of space to travel in between you and both walls. We started off with a Four Step, which is basically like the first three steps of an Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside plus a fourth step where you bring your feet together and rotate to Promenade Position. That rotation to Promenade Position is actually what changes the wall you are heading down in this amalgamation, so you should be facing down a new line of dance in Promenade Position when finished.

Next up we did two back-to-back Fallaway Promenades. The second and third step of this figure travel in a curve toward the wall, which is why you needed to give yourself some room away from the back wall when you started. We over rotated the Fallaway steps so that we came out heading toward diagonal center rather than toward center like the book tells you to do. After two of these we went into a basic Open Promenade, stopping on the fourth step and then taking a step backward to lead the lady through an Outside Swivel. To finish up we added on a Promenade Link, which is the opposite of a Progressive Link (i.e. it closes you from Promenade Position to normal dance position). Since the lady closed to us by rotating ⅜ of a turn, Lord Junior said that technically this was a Reverse Promenade Link, just in case you were curious.

The hardest part of this progression seemed to be the Fallaway Promenade figure. The footwork is really easy to do, but during the whole figure you remain in Promenade Position, so the lady has to keep her head looking to the right the whole time. If the Lead accidentally rotates his body wrong while moving, or if the lady just doesn’t like looking to the right for that long, then she’s going to turn her head back to the left. The second step of the Fallaway portion of the Fallaway Promenade was where you’d usually catch the ladies rotating their heads back to the left if things felt wrong to them. Basically, from the fourth step of the Four Step until third step of the Open Promenade, you should be keeping them in Promenade Position if you’re doing things correctly.

That’s all the interesting stuff that I did in the last week. As for the coming week… I may be signed up to take part in another small competition this weekend. I know what you’re thinking – only two weeks after the last one? What are you, crazy? Yeah, sometimes I think I am. This event is all small and local though, and it’s being held at the Endless Dance Hall, so I couldn’t really pass it up. That would have made me stupid rather than crazy, right?

Even though this event is much smaller than the competition I did two weeks ago, it will actually be more meaningful than that one was to me. From what I can gather so far, all of the rounds that I will be dancing have other competitors signed up to be in them. Two weeks ago I danced completely uncontested, so this will be a nice change. Here’s hoping that things go well!

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