I Was A Hand Grenade That Never Stopped Exploding

Last Saturday night I was feeling mildly extroverted, so I decided to head out to the dance party that was planned for the evening out at the Endless Dance Hall. This party wasn’t like most of the parties that go on in the Dance Kingdom – normally the hosts of the party set up a pre-party dance lesson from some local instructor to lure people to their event. This party wasn’t going to have one of those. Instead, the Endless Dance Hall had planned on having a showcase performance on Saturday, so the organizers of this dance party worked with them to schedule their party to start right after the showcase finished. They gave people a special deal that let you get a ticket to both watch the performance and attend the dance party for one low price, so of course I got there early enough to do both.

My friend Indiana had a huge role in putting the showcase part of the evening together, and I think that she was either dancing in or had choreographed at least two-thirds of the dance numbers in the show that night. Hooray for her! Normally when I go to showcase performances, what I see is basically an all-male review, with the majority of the acts being by a few male instructors dancing with their amateur female. It’s nice to occasionally switch things up and see what kind of show you get when a lady takes the spotlight.

Indiana spends a lot of time working with a gaggle of kids, and has been crafting them into a dance troupe over the last couple of years. This is an endeavor of hers that has been supported by donations from the whole dance community, and she likes to use events like these to give the community a chance to see what their donations are helping to achieve. That night the kids were the ones dancing the most – sometimes as a big group with all the kids participating, and sometimes as smaller groups. One of the acts was even done solely by the eldest male and female students, dancing together on stage alone. Sometimes when I am out at the Endless Dance Hall for my own lessons I have been able to see Indiana working on these routines with the kids, so it was cool to see the finished products.

There was one part that I admit that I was a bit worried about. In one of the routines I had seen them practice, two of the older boys pick up two of the much younger girls and hold them over their heads. I saw them practicing this lift in a couple of their rehearsals prior to the show, and what I saw had me a little worried. My biggest concern was obviously for the safety of the girls. I know that they chose the younger and smaller girls because they weigh less. The two boys doing the lifts were older, but are still in that scrawny early teen phase of their lives, so they don’t have a ton of upper body strength. As a male who went through that same scrawny early teen phase, I know what it’s like. In rehearsal there were a few times when the girls came dangerously close to being dropped – one time would have become a close encounter with the ground if other kids standing nearby hadn’t helped catch the young girl. So that was one thing that concerned me.

Also, the place where the boys were putting their hands on the young girls back to hold the girl over their head caused her to bend her back weirdly. At least, it seemed weird to me when I watched them do it in rehearsal. Then again, I am no longer that young, and it’s very rare for me to bend in strange angles like that nowadays. The young girls may have thought that bending like that was totally comfortable, even if it looked like an awkward angle for their spines to me. I never asked them, so I don’t know for sure.

But my concerns were all for naught because the lifts went off without a hitch that night. The crowd went nuts for them, as I’m sure you could have guessed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you want to do a dance showcase and really impress your audience, a lift is the way to go. People love them!

Other than Indiana and her kids group performing that evening, there was one other notable instructor that was there performing with a couple of his students that evening. He was notable to me not because of how well his acts went (they were all really good), but rather because of him… I had never seen this particular instructor before in all my travels around the Dance Kingdom. I found out later that he had come in from out-of-town with his students specifically to perform in the showcase, which explained why I had never met him before. I like to believe that I’ve talked to or seen pretty much all the instructors that teach in my little corner of the Dance Kingdom by now.

There was something… I don’t know exactly, but the guy just gave off a creepy vibe. Have you ever been in the same room as someone, and you know that they’ve done nothing out of the ordinary, but the person just feels creepy? That was this guy for me. Maybe it was the greasy pompadour that he had going on that was throwing me off. Maybe it was because during his dance performances he seemed to like doing things that would shift the focus away from his students who were dancing and onto him. I’m not entirely sure, but I just couldn’t get away from the fact that he creeped me out.

Before you think badly of me, just know that I did intend on trying to talk to this guy after the performance was over. I thought that if I said hello to him and talked for a moment, I could learn more about who he was and probably find out that he was actually a really nice dude. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around after the performance was over, so I never got a chance. I guess I will never know unless I see him around again sometime in the future.

The dance party after the showcase was also a lot of fun that night. There were a couple of younger guys who came to the party and danced together most of the night. That is not notable in-and-of itself, but I noticed it because they kept switching off which guy would lead and which one would follow. I did stop and talk to those two to praise them for being able to do that. Neither one of them was an instructor, they just both liked to have the option to be both the Lead or Follow as the mood struck them. I’ve been in classes where the instructor has asked everyone to try dancing the other part before, and it is a hard thing for me to do if the steps are not the natural opposite of what I would normally do, so my hat was off to these guys for being able to do that!

On Monday night out at Latin Technique class, I had a really easy night. The ladies that were in class did not, but Lord Junior and I did (relatively speaking). The weekend before class, Lord Junior and a few of his students had worked with some high-level out-of-town coach, and the coach had helped Lord Junior take a large chunk of Veep’s Open Rumba routine and throw it out to put in something much harder. Because they had just put the new section of the routine together only a few days prior to Latin Technique class, Lord Junior decided that since Veep was in class that night he would go over that new piece of choreography with the whole class… mostly to help the two of them memorize it faster.

Like a lot of high-level Rumba routines I’ve seen in my time, this new choreography is also focused on having the ladies do some crazy stuff, while the guy gets to basically just shift his weight back and forth over his legs without moving around. Most of what that consists of is standing strongly in place so that the girl you’re dancing with could use you for support, or as a platform to push off of. Man, us Leads have really got a rough job sometimes, don’t we?

We started out with the guys in a bit of a lunge on our left leg with our body twisted to offer our left arm to the lady. She was stretched out away from us with her weight on her right leg and her left foot pointed forward. The ladies would do a delayed walking action forward, holding on beat two and stepping on beat three, walking across our body and pivoting at the end to face away from us like in a Switchback, then bringing their arm up and pointing their leg back to create a line. The guys just stand up from the lunge while the ladies do this, then shift our weight to the right leg, then back to the left. Hard work, right?

The next part is the only real exciting thing that the guy gets to do. On the next beat two we would lead the lady to rotate back to face us, then release her hand. During the rotation she would lower down into her legs and put up both of her hands in front of her. The guys would then take a step forward on the left, then a small step on the right and go up on our toes to make ourselves as tall as possible while putting our right arm up. Those steps forward should put the guys body so that the lady’s hands are resting against his upper abdominal muscles. Be careful not to lean forward here – the lady’s hands are only there for decoration, not to actually support the guy. Once you are standing super tall in front of her she’ll tilt her head to look up at the guy – Lord Junior says it should be a look of amazement to really get the character of what the coach was trying to show him.

During the next measure in the music, the guy will pivot in place while lowering back down to be on his full foot and then step away, lunging out on his right leg this time. The lady uses that time to do a weird body-rolling move as she stands up slowly and then takes the guys proffered left hand. In the next measure she will step toward the guy on the second beat, then he will lead her to do a slow Spiral Turn over the next two beats. At the end the guy needs to shift his weight to his left leg and  lowered down his left arm to be near his waist, holding it strong there.

The lady will use that arm to press down on to help her create a line where she lifts her left arm over her head and stretches her left side as long as possible. It’s easier for the lady to do if she has something to press against, hence the guy keeping his arm strong. After a brief hold in this line, the lady will step forward out of it and the guys will take a step forward on their right leg. We’ll lead the lady to do kind of a Three-Step Turn where we release her hands, and she’ll move away from us and lunge out on her right leg perpendicular to the guy, turning her head to look over her left shoulder at us. We’ll hold in place until the very end of the third beat in the measure and take two steps forward to stand on both legs near her as she looks at us.

That’s where the new section ended. It’s kind of a neat looking piece, and I’m sure my picture doesn’t really show enough for you to get a true feel for what it looks like. Just trust me that it’s actually cooler than I can describe, even if it is complicated.

The things we did this week in Standard Technique class were a bit easier to explain than that Rumba choreography, since all the pieces can be found in the syllabus book. We got to work on Quickstep that evening at my suggestion – over the last few weeks before class started, I had heard Lord Junior mention that he thought we hadn’t looked at Quickstep in a while. Since no one else who came to class that night asked to work on anything specific, I threw that out as a suggestion, and everyone else just shrugged and went along with me. Hooray for me winning through other people’s apathy!

Lord Junior started off class by talking about the V6 figure from the Silver Quickstep syllabus. The by-the-book figure is actually just a combination of two different figures that you’ve probably seen before – a Backward Lock and an Outside Change – starting off heading toward diagonal center and finishing heading toward diagonal wall. That’s what gives it the ‘V’ shape that the figure is known for. I can’t find anything written about what the ‘6’ stands for in the name though… that part’s a mystery.

We started off simply enough by doing a prep step into a Half Natural Turn, then a Natural Spin Turn that went immediately into the V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn is used as the first step of the V6 in this configuration. At the end of the V6 we added on a Forward Lock and another Half Natural Turn to finish. This gave us the basic outline of what Lord Junior wanted to work with us on that evening.

Once we all had that down, Lord Junior wanted us to upgrade the V6 so that it used the alternate ending that you see done a lot which replaces the Outside Change portion of the figure with a Six Quick Run from the Gold Quickstep syllabus. This speeds up the ending portion, and you really don’t get a chance to take a slower step and breathe until you finish and get to the Half Natural Turn. The trick to keeping this alteration successful is to make sure and watch your rise and fall – you basically start to rise up at the end of step four of the V6 and then stay up the whole time until the end of the Six Quick Run.

Now, you may have noticed that I specifically kept saying ‘Half Natural Turn’ earlier. That was completely intentional, because once we finished upgrading the V6 to its alternate ending, Lord Junior wanted to have us change the Half Natural Turn after it into a full Natural Turn. Now, in Quickstep a full Natural Turn is not like what you would see in the Waltz or Viennese Waltz, where it is just two Half Natural Turns in a row. The second half of a Quickstep Natural Turn involves a Heel Pull action for the lead as you step to the side, then you pass your feet as you step forward onto your left leg.

Supposedly the Heel Pull action allows you to move faster than you would if you had taken three normal steps without the Heel Pull, but I’m not convinced about that. Still, Lord Junior warned us that we likely wouldn’t see people doing this full figure very often. In fact, he admitted that he had personally never seen this version of the figure until he was studying for his certification exam in International Standard a few years ago. If you read through the Bronze syllabus for Quickstep, this is the actual figure you’ll find, so don’t be surprised if you see it there now that I’ve told you!

After we got through the Natural Turn, we added on a Forward Lock that headed toward diagonal center. This set us up for the last step that Lord Junior wanted to show us that night, which was another Silver-level figure called the Fishtail. This is one that I had never seen before, but it wasn’t too rough to get through. Basically it is a forward check on the right leg toward diagonal center, then you step backward and then to the side to change direction so that you can finish with a Forward Lock toward diagonal wall.

There was one time that I messed up this figure pretty bad that night because when I tried to do the check on my right foot but my foot kept sliding forward, and it took some effort for me to get it to stop sliding and then to try to change direction. The mistake put me way off time with the music that was playing. Luckily Lord Junior didn’t notice, and my partner just laughed about it, so it wasn’t too embarrassing for me. I guess I should have brushed my shoes better before class started or something.

That’s all I did this week! So, I have to ask… are you getting excited? We are getting so close to Halloween! I am planning to do some finishing touches to my costume this weekend so that it is all ready to go for next weekend. I know that I will have full range of motion for dancing when in my costume, but this one does have a mask with it so I am a little worried that it may get to be hot as the evening wears on. Still, this costume makes me laugh a lot, so I am excited to wear it even with the risk of being warm.

Do you have your costume all ready? I hope so! Halloween is my favorite time of the dance holiday season! What kind of crazy creatures will I get to see people dress up as this year? I can’t wait to find out!

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