Come Along With Me And The Butterflies And Bees

I like holiday weekends. About half of them afford me a little extra time to myself to get some normal life stuff done. This past weekend was like that. A bunch of stuff was cancelled on Monday because of the holiday, and a dance party that was supposed to happen over the weekend got cancelled because the person running it got ill, so the weekend ended up being quieter than I had initially planned. Hooray for that. I was able to get some extra sleep for several days in a row.

But I still managed to do some dancing, because I always manage to do some dancing. Actually, humorously enough, I managed to somehow schedule multiple times to see Lord Dormamu this past week. I know I mentioned that it is hard to pin him down due to his crazy travel schedule, but he was actually in town over the weekend because of the holiday, so I was able to fit in a bit of extra time working with him and Sparkledancer on Monday afternoon since I wasn’t in the office. On top of that, we had a normal lesson scheduled on Wednesday evening already! That’s like… a lot! I’ve got the notes to prove it too!

Rather than break things down per session for the two days I worked with him, I think I’m going to combine my notes for the two coaching sessions and instead break things up by dance style. When I look back on these notes during practice, that will be far more helpful for me instead of trying to keep things chronological. I don’t really have to mention that I’m doing things this way, since these are my notes and I can do whatever I want, but I thought it might be nice to warn you ahead of time.

Let’s work back through these from the one with the least amount of notes to the ones with the most. That means that we start with Quickstep, obviously. Our Quickstep, as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t really have a whole lot to think about in it right now. The routine is mostly a combination of Chasses and Lock Steps and very few rotating figures. The real fun/work (depending on how you look at it) doesn’t start until we get to do all the figures with hopping and kicking in them. For now, the only real change that Lord Dormamu wants us to try and work into our Quickstep comes in the first corner where we have that Reverse Pivot from a Natural Spin Turn. During the checking action that connects those two pieces, he wants both Sparkledancer and I to try and work in a double head flicking action, like you’d see in Tango. Yeesh… that will be fun if I can get it, right?

Moving on to Tango, I was only given a couple of notes, though one of them was a bit more… impressionistic, I guess, rather than technical. That was the first thing that we talked about after running through the routine once. Lord Dormamu caught up to Sparkledancer and I as we were walking back and told me that he wished that I would just be more arrogant while I danced the Tango. He said that he realized that I was a nice guy, which is why I appear so calm and friendly while I dance, but that is not the spirit that the Tango is supposed to give off. Does this sound like a familiar argument?

According to Lord Dormamu, it’s easy for me to look more intimidating than other male dancers on the floor. I don’t need to do anything weird to puff myself up and try and look bigger – because of all the weightlifting that I have done over the last few years, I can already look bigger and more intimidating than other men in my rounds without even trying very hard. The problem is that I have a tendency to dance while smiling, or I will tell jokes while we’re moving and start laughing, which completely breaks the intimidation persona. Personally I don’t see this as a problem, but I have a different outlook on life than Lord Dormamu.

He told me a story about a time when he was auditioning a new partner back in the height of his competitive career. Before they started to dance a Tango, he asked how she felt about the dance. She told him that she would be able to keep up with him, so they put on some music and they danced in the serous and arrogant manner he wants me to start using to see how things would go. The audition had to end shortly thereafter so that they could pop over to the Emergency Room, because he basically broke this girl in the process of dancing that Tango.

Yeah, really. That actually happened. Don’t worry though, they made up after that incident, and ended up competing together quite successfully for years. That didn’t really make me feel better about what he was asking me to do though. I mean, you have to realize that Sparkledancer is tiny compared to me, and I am much, much stronger than Lord Dormamu… can you imagine why I may not want to just step up and dance the Tango in that fashion?

Aside from the comments on styling, we talked about doing a more advanced shaping in every Back Corte during the routine, which involves me stepping around Sparkledancer slightly more to allow her to work off me differently. During the Right-side Lunge in the first corner, Lord Dormamu cautioned Sparkledancer to make sure that during her shaping she needs to keep her shoulders open to me and avoid tipping to one side. Finally, in the Natural Promenade Turn Lord Dormamu wanted to see us flow more as we go through the rotation.

Next up we have the Waltz. The first thing that we touched on was the Natural Spin Turn. Here, he wants us to emphasize the shaping much more than we have been doing so far, and to watch the second step of the figure to make sure that it doesn’t rise too quickly while we’re thinking about other things. During the Chasse from Promenade Position, Sparkledancer was told to be careful with her footwork – she got caught taking a heel step at the wrong time. All along the short wall, Sparkledancer was told to watch her head openings, to make sure that they were nice and slow and deliberate.

The last issue in Waltz was a strange one. After the Whisk along the short wall, we go into a Chasse from Promenade Position and then right into a Natural Turn. As we were going into that Natural Turn, Lord Dormamu said that he saw me cocking my hips off to the left strangely. They got back into shape once we closed the Natural Turn, but he couldn’t figure out why I was doing that. He tried to do it with me while watching, and I didn’t do it that time, which confused him even more.

Stepping through the figure slowly with Sparkledancer, I found that the process we had been using where I closed her from Promenade Position while winding up to the left to go into the Natural Turn was pulling her across my body just enough so that her right leg ended up in front of mine. Since I have muscular legs and needed enough room to swing my leg freely to move, I had been moving my hips off to the side to give myself the room I needed without really realizing that I was doing that. So, now I’m not supposed to do that anymore. Sparkledancer isn’t really changing where she ends up while closing, so apparently I just have to force my leg to squeeze through an area where there is not enough room. I can just picture this not ending well in the long term…

Finally, let’s close with Foxtrot. For me, I still need to continue focusing on my leg actions, keeping myself lowering slightly at the end of the last step in each figure and holding at that level for the first step of the next. Most spots I am doing really well with this, but the places where Lord Dormamu isn’t quite happy yet is still the transition that happens after every Three Step, and the transition after the Change of Direction. He said if I can really fix those, everything would be beautiful. The only other small note he gave me was to start working on adding the sway back into my Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. It was taken out previously to get my Heel Turn under control, but now he says it looks like I am doing well enough to work it back in. Hooray for progress?

Sparkledancer had a few more notes to remember. First she was asked to think about keeping her hips toward me during the Feather and in the Natural Weave, which really means that she needs to be more contra-body to me. We spent some time looking specifically at the Natural Weave for her after that. The big takeaways were that she needs to move her foot more to the side during the Heel Turn at the start of the figure, and then as we come around she wants to delay her head opening until the body can’t wait any longer.

Once we got past the Natural Weave, we looked briefly at the checking action in the first corner, where Sparkledancer was asked to keep more in line with me. After that, we went back to look at her part of the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. She was told that she needs to be sure to step around me more so that we fully rotate as much as we need to, and to think about her part of the figure much like a Natural Spin Turn in the Waltz, where she basically comes up and around me as I pivot in place.

Finally, we got to her part in the Change of Direction. Lord Dormamu already mentioned to me that I need to work on controlling my step coming out of the figure as I go into the Feather afterward, but even when I was thinking about it he saw me come up unexpectedly during the transition. We came to the realization that I was basically lowering on top of Sparkeldancer’s leg as I stepped through, which caused me to come up instinctively to protect her (and myself). To counter this, Lord Dormamu wanted Sparkledancer to move her hips back during the latter steps of the figure to make sure her legs are out of the way for safety.

Whew! You got all that? OK, well we’re moving on anyway.

I had another dance-related meeting that I had to go to this Tuesday night as well. It wasn’t a Royal Dance Court meeting, like I had to go to last week. This one was for the second dance NPO that I was talked into helping out for. Remember when that happened back in July? Yeah, that group scheduled a meeting that just happened to be exactly a week after the other dance NPO group that I am a member of scheduled a meeting. Do I have conspiracy theories running rampant in my head that tell me these two groups are working together to monopolize my Tuesdays? You bet your butts that I do, but I can’t talk about those theories right now because all my tinfoil is so far away at the moment…

This meeting ended up being really short because most of the other people that are supposed to be on the board of this organization were not able to make the meeting, and only informed the rest of us of that fact at the last minute. Silly people, letting their lives get in the way of their dance lives… who does that? Even without the others in the meeting, those of us that did attend made decisions on some ideas that the others are just going to have to live with. Only one decision has any real monetary consequence though – the others are mainly about projects already in motion and organizational things that I’m surprised no one has set up before.

Let’s start with that thought, because it really makes me shake my head in sadness. So we were talking about some grant that the organization had applied for before I was asked to join. There is all kinds of documentation that the grant people are asking to have submitted for consideration before they would award the grant, as I’m sure you could guess. Some of that documentation already exists supposedly, while other pieces of it I was told could be cobbled together in less than an hour if a couple of the people got together and worked on it.

As I was listening to these people discuss gathering the documentation and creating the missing pieces, I had to raise my hand and ask the silly question that no one had mentioned in the discussion: where is all this documentation stored, and how does everyone in the group get access to it? That got me a bunch of strange looks. Apparently the documents exist in a number of different locations and there is no way for everyone to easily get access to it all if needed for a project like this. All the files are either attached to an email in someone’s inbox, saved to their personal computer’s hard drive, or printed out sitting in a folder on their counter at home. There is no organization to this mess at all!

I just sighed and realized that this was probably something that I was going to have to put together. In this day and age, when you can easily create an account for the organization that comes with massive amounts of ‘Cloud’ (I hate that term) storage which can be shared with everyone in the group, why hadn’t someone taken the initiative and set something like that up on day one? I have the same problem with my Royal Dance Court group – the same two ladies have been in charge of the group for the last six years, and the one that kept all the records is old and doesn’t like technology. All those records are stored in crappy computer files that are hard to understand if you’re not her, or on handwritten hard copies that are kept at the lady’s house that someone would have to dig out and read through to answer questions that come up. There is no way for all of the Royal Dance Court to gain access at the moment.

At least with this NPO group (I’m going to have to think of a better name…), when I mentioned creating a shared storage drive to collect all of the documents in, they all nodded their heads like it was the greatest idea they had ever heard and told me I could go ahead and set it up. When I mentioned the same idea a long time ago at one of my Royal Dance Court meetings, the older people in that group looked at me like I was speaking Greek and told me that they didn’t want to change the way things were done, because that was the way they understood how to do everything, and also change is hard work. To me, the implication of that message is that the only way things would ever change would be if someone (like me) seized power and forcibly instituted a new way of storing records, or if the older people slowly left the group and allowed the people remaining to gradually change the way record storage is done.

So file organization is important to me, I guess is what I’m trying to say. I don’t like it when you say that you need things, but then no one knows who has what you need because you keep everything scattered to the winds. That isn’t helpful. At least here there is a chance that I can push to get everything collected into some kind of logical manner in one central location. Whether or not the others will follow the template that I put together once I release it to them all remains to be seen, but I have to at least give it a try.

Beyond that, the next most important thing that we talked about was bringing in funds. Right now, the NPO is only able to serve a handful of children simply because the budget outputs are greater than the budget inputs. That’s one of the reasons that they decided to apply for the grant. In the short term, we talked about putting together a fundraising event to bring in some extra revenue. Since Sparkledancer and I were both in the room, and we are both also members of the Royal Dance Court, one of the ideas that was thrown out was hosting a dance party, with proceeds from the night being donated to the NPO.

Dance parties are something that I have become kind of good at setting up, so I had all kinds of useful input to add to the discussion here. Between Sparkledancer and I – and the Internet on our phones – we were able to find a date that didn’t seem to have any other big dance parties scheduled yet, which happens to be the last Saturday of this month. Lord Dormamu, since he knows everyone in the dance world and happens to have their phone numbers on hand, pulled out his phone and started making a bunch of calls once we had decided on a date.

A good ballroom DJ in the area was available for that Saturday, so he had us penciled in for that night before anyone else. Yay! He left a voicemail for the guy who owns the City Dance Hall asking if we could rent out the studio for the evening. The guy happens to be a dance instructor as you might imagine, and was teaching a lesson at the time, so he sent Lord Dormamu a text saying he would call him back later to discuss. We talked about having a group class before the party, since social dancers like dance parties where they can also learn new dance steps.

Unfortunately, Lord Dormamu is going to be out of the country on that weekend, otherwise he said he would teach that class for free (that would have been an amazing deal). He thought of a dance instructor friend of his who owes him a favor, and left him a voicemail asking if he might be able to teach a dance lesson that evening before our dance party at a discounted rate. That instructor confirmed this morning that he would be able to come teach a class for us, and said he would do West Coast Swing just for fun. So hey! Now there’s a dance party going on that night. See how easy that was?

The final thing that we discussed before the meeting ended was the big fundraising gala that this NPO put on last year. As you can imagine, they want to do it again this year. This time, instead of just being a volunteer helping out on the night of the event, I am also getting to be a part of the planning phase as well. Obviously the theme proposed for this next iteration of the gala is ‘more’ – more performers, more tickets sold, more money raised, etc. etc. etc…. You get the idea.

Last year a couple of us had been asked to advise during the initial meetings about the gala from the perspective of the Royal Dance Court. One of the big suggestions that those of us who spoke for the social dance community made at that time was disregarded, and I think that was one of the reasons that there were less butts in seats during the night of the performance than there could have been. The people planning the gala, many of who are still around planning the next one, don’t understand that the average social dancer who wants to support ballroom events and charities doesn’t have the disposable income to drop $100 for what they considered the ‘cheap’ seats to the performance. A lot of social dancers are older retirees on fixed incomes, and that’s a lot of money to them. Last year, they didn’t take our suggestion to offer an even lower-priced tier of seats that those kinds of people could afford, and I think they really missed out because of that decision.

This year, that was one of the first things that both Sparkledancer and I brought up in the discussions, and since both Sparkledancer and I are still on the Royal Dance Court, we put our feet down together as we spoke out for those people again. The rest of the board members agreed (though some agreed reluctantly) with our idea. Hooray! This time there will be a much, much lower price option for seats – seats that still offer a decent view of the stage, but won’t be anywhere near $100 a pop. One lady who agreed with us said that we should take it a step further and make it so that the low price we decided on also includes the taxes and fees for the ticket, rather than having those added on after the fact. I hadn’t even thought of that, but I heartily supported the idea once it was brought up. She jotted down some notes and was going to call the venue we booked for the performance and ask what those taxes and fees come out to so that we could make the math work.

It’s going to happen, and I think it will make the show better. So yeah! Fight the power! We are the greater-ratio-of-people-with-lesser-net-worths-than-those-in-power… or something like that.

*    *    *

In closing, I want to go off topic and say this: on Monday, a dog, a human, a vampire, some bubblegum and a video game console reminded all of us that even though every adventure must end so that new adventures can begin, the most important part of all adventures are the people you experience them with. So find your friends, grab your trusty sword, and pack a backpack full of handy gear and tasty snacks – because I know you know what time it is.

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