If Seeing Is Believing, Then This Heart Has Never Been Beating

This is going to be a much shorter post than last week. I didn’t go out and do much dancing this past week, as you might have guessed. Not because I didn’t want to, but because of the way all the holiday days fell on the calendar. A lot of things got cancelled for this week since everyone was out visiting with family. So rather than go out and have interesting dance adventures that I could write about, all I had were mental dance adventures… and some time with ice wrapped around my ankle. I don’t know what I did to it, but it has been bothering me. I think I might have landed on it funny when doing some plyometric training, but I can’t say that for sure.

Anyway, last weekend I did get to have a lesson with Lord Dormamu, so I have that to write about. Hooray! As we started off that afternoon, Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that he wanted to check on our progress in the Waltz, but then we would move on to work on something else. The check on our progress somehow ended up taking the whole time from start to finish though… I don’t even know how that happened. One minute he was telling us how much he can see the improvement in the actions that we were told to practice last time we met, and then he starts going over all these other bits and pieces he wants us to incorporate to make everything look slightly better. Before I know it our time was already up!

There were a couple of points of note to mention so that I remember them. First off, I was told to make yet another adjustment to my frame. Just when I start to think that I have been getting the hang of the last adjustments that I was asked to make, I get told to adjust things again. Why does he keep doing that to me? Now I’m being told that I need to work on having a slight backward tilt to my posture once again. Last week I was supposed to keep my spine as long and straight as possible – now I have to keep it as long as possible, but with a slight kink in it in my upper back as I pull my shoulder line slightly away from my partner.

The visual that Lord Dormamu gave me to help explain what he was going for was useful to put the idea into terms that I could wrap my brain around. He told me to picture Sparkledancer and I having a funnel in between us. She is already pulling her upper body up and over my right arm when she gets into frame with me. Now I need to do something similar. When both of us shape like this, as we rotate our bodies around it should stay wide at the top and then come inward toward the point where our right sides meet in body contact, just like a funnel. Can you picture it?

When doing this, it felt like I was contorting my back a lot to hold the position he was asking for. However, according to Lord Dormamu, when he watches from the outside as we travel around, it makes my posture look even straighter and stronger. I’m not exactly sure how me pulling my shoulder line away from my partner makes my body appear even straighter, but I will take his word for it. He is the one who is able to watch me from multiple angles while I dance after all. Not even recording myself can give me that kind of feedback.

The other point of note – after working through that change for a while to make sure both Sparkledancer and I were comfortable, we went back to look at the Whisk figure again. Lord Dormamu told me that he had been thinking about it, and he finally figured out a good analogy to use to describe to me what he sees as being ‘off’ about how I do the figure. I was expecting to have a serious discussion about this, since the figure seems to come up quite a bit, but the whole thing devolved into something kind of silly. Extremely useful for me, but silly. Maybe that’s actually the best way to get points across in my brain?

Lord Dormamu told me that the problem he has is that he normally pictures me as this huge, muscular fellow. When I’m dancing, I give the impression that I have a lot of power (because I actually do have a lot of power) in my legs. So he watches me and imagines that I am just this huge guy that is breaking through walls as I drive forward. He started to demonstrate this by pretending to punch through imaginary walls as he danced down the floor like something out of a movie.

Sparkledancer watched this, and then she laughed and said that I should start yelling “Oh yeah!” with every forward step I take. Yup, she totally went there.

Anyway… when it comes to the Whisk however, Lord Dormamu said it looks to him like I am running into a wall that I cannot break through. Like an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The third step of the figure looks almost like I am bouncing off backwards, which completely breaks the perception of power that I normally give off while I am traveling. That, he has finally determined, is what has been bothering him when he sees me do a Whisk. Oh no!

To counter this, we talked about a couple of things. First off, Lord Dormamu said that I can try thinking about the third step where I cross my foot behind as still traveling forward in the same direction as my second step, rather than being a step backward to cross behind. This should help keep the figure from appearing as though it breaks the frontal plane. I also asked whether I was taking too big of a step when I place my left foot behind my right. My thought was that if the left foot was too far apart from the right, when I transfer weight on it to put my heel down so I can push into the next step it will look like I am shifting backwards. Lord Dormamu told me he hadn’t noticed the step looking too big from his perspective when he watched, but that could certainly do it if that was in fact the case.

So I tried my best to think about moving forward when I take the third step and also keeping my legs as tight together as possible when I cross my foot behind. That slight change (it wasn’t much of a difference between what I was doing before, just fractions of inches) seemed to be all I needed to fix everything. I was told after we finished running through it two or three times that these were the best Whisks that I had ever done in my whole life. Hooray for me! Now all I need to do is remember all of that and do it every time and the figure should no longer be an issue for me from here on out. Oh yeah!

And that’s… all the all the important notes I made about the dancing I did this week. For real! Sparkledancer went off on vacation the day after our lesson with Lord Dormamu, so I didn’t even go out and practice with her during the week. In some ways it was kind of nice to take a break. It’s given me time to get caught up on other things in my life, and hang out with my cat, and the aforementioned icing of my ankle.

Before I finish up though, I do have one last item I want to mention: for those of you who read this and are also members of the Ballroom Village, I have once again made some changes site links. You might say that I went through the list and checked it twice… OK, maybe not quite like that. There were two new sites I added and one dead link that I removed. Since I have been sort-of unofficially maintaining this list now that the original creator has disappeared from the face of the Internet, feel free to copy the changes I made to update your own lists. And, as always, if you know any other sites that should be added just let me know and I can square that all away.

Next week should be a bit more entertaining, since there will be New Year’s Eve dance parties that I can attend and write about, and after that normal dance events should return. Plus, next Thursday will be my first post for 2019, so maybe I will be feeling reflective and ramble on about where the time has gone. That makes me sound like I’m getting old, doesn’t it? I promise, I’m not that old yet! I’m still young and spry enough to chase you around the dance floor. Just let me find my cane first… I can never remember where I set that stupid thing down… crazy kids and your rock’n’roll music, and my lawn, and the weather. Why, back in my day…!

Oh yeah. 🙂

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From Now On Our Troubles Will Be Out Of Sight

Maybe I can actually keep this short this week. After all, I didn’t really do a whole lot, so there shouldn’t be much to say, right? I guess we’ll see how wordy I get by the time I finish. Let’s get started.

First thing is just a short story – Saturday afternoon I was out at the Electric Dance Hall since Sparkledancer and I had decided to meet there that day for practice. Things were going along OK for the most part, but the floor was randomly sticky in parts which made dancing super slowly while practicing our Waltz almost impossible if we happened to hit one of those sections of the floor. I guess the floor had been cleaned earlier in the day before we got there, and it must not have dried completely by the time we started. Seriously, it felt like I had to stop to re-brush my shoes a million times that day, because if I accidentally went over one of the sticky sections then my shoe would stick to the floor from then on no matter where I moved to. Sigh…

Anyway, that’s not really the interesting story, unless you like to hear about my struggles during practice. Do you? Probably not, I imagine. Near the end of our practice time Indiana arrived at the studio. She has recently worked things out with Lord Junior so that she could start teaching lessons there, so she has been trying to build up a client base around the Electric Dance Hall over the last few weeks. A new couple was meeting her there that afternoon for their first lesson, so she had come by a bit early to get everything set up for them.

Indiana and Sparkledancer got to talking a little bit while Indiana was waiting and I was off brushing my shoes (again). When I came back over to where they were standing, both of them were looking at me with big eyes, so I knew something was up that I probably wasn’t going to like. I’m sure all of you ladies know the look they were giving me – lots of ladies I’ve been friends with or dated over the years have given that look to me when they wanted something, so I assume that all ladies know how to use that same look. I’m such a sucker for it, too.
Apparently Indiana has recently started her own dance-related non-profit group. She is in the middle of putting together a show that will be kind of like a showcase performance, to use as a fundraiser for the non-profit. I’m sure you can see where this is going… Indiana has been trying to find people who would be willing to donate their time and perform in the fundraiser, and had asked Sparkledancer if she and I had anything that we would be able to perform. Oh yeah, and the show was going to be happening two weeks from that day.

This information set off all kinds of red flags in my mind, so I started to object and say that I didn’t really know any choreography that was show ready for an event in two weeks. Indiana countered and said that it would be cool if we just did one of our competition routines. I had to reject that idea, because those routines are actually super boring to watch – there is a lot of repetition because of the limited figure set they are built from. Sparkledancer asked if we could use one of our older showcase routines, which would save us from having to learn anything brand new. I thought about it, and said that idea might be possible, but I didn’t remember any of those routines off the top of my head so I would have to see if I had one on video somewhere that was a high enough quality that I could transcribe the figures from it.

When I got back home, I dug through my archive of old dance videos from both my lessons and performances. I could only find one video that was done with high enough quality where I could figure out the figures with a bit of trial and error. I sent Sparkledancer a text to let her know what I had found, and to see if she had found anything different that she had saved. She replied that she didn’t really want to do the routine that I had found, but she had some videos from the lessons on a different routine. It wasn’t anything close to the full routine, just a smattering of pieces, so she wanted to know if I had the rest. Unfortunately, using the date range on the videos, I didn’t have any pieces saved at all. All I had was a video of the performance, but it was a really grainy capture from someone’s cell phone where I couldn’t even see what was going on half the time, so that was going to be no help.

So I don’t know whether that was unlucky or lucky, but I won’t be performing on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. As I’m writing this, I actually feel kind of relieved since I know I have a lot of other things I’m supposed to be practicing. I have no idea where I would have found a bunch of extra time to work on this. Maybe next time, right?

Next up, let’s talk about Latin Technique class on Monday night. We ended up looking at Jive for the first time in a long time. Nothing that we covered that night was all that complicated, because there were two ladies in class that had never done any Jive before. In fact, a large chunk of the class was spent with Lord Junior making all of us go over the basic figure for the dance. He really wanted to emphasized the point for both the two ladies who had never done it before and the rest of us that Jive was not just East Coast Swing done fast. I’ll admit freely – that’s pretty much how I’ve always ended up doing it when I dance Jive. That’s one reason why I stopped competing in International Latin long ago.

Going over the basic in Jive really slow is always a fun exercise. The timing difference between Jive and other Swing dances is easy enough for me to nail, especially at slow speeds. Chanting “three-quarter, quarter, whole” in my head helps me remember while I’m doing it. Raising my knee up high when I’m supposed to is also pretty easy for me. I’ve got strong legs, after all. What really throws me off every time is when I start to do the lowering action with the opposite leg as I raise my knee up. For some reason, as soon as I try and combine those two movements for dance purposes, the figure just falls apart. Hilariously. I’m serious, I’ve been laughed at as people watch me try and do it, even if I’m going really slowly to try and get it right.

I like to believe that I’m fairly coordinated, so I don’t think it’s a coordination issue. I’m sure putting in some practice would help, but if I have time to practice I’m sure my coach would frown upon me using it for Jive. So, for the foreseeable future I expect that either I will continue to look hilarious, or I will leave out the lowering action so that I look passable. Or, even easier, I can just fall back to doing it like fast East Coast Swing, right? 😉

After amusing himself by watching us do the basic for a while, Lord Junior gave us a short pattern that we could work on instead to liven things up. He had us start out with a Change of Places Right to Left (which is just a Tuck Turn – why does Jive have stupid names for the figures?) followed by a Change of Places Left to Right (an Underarm Turn). At the end of the chasse to the right after the Underarm Turn, we did a checking action to start a Simple Spin. Once we connected with our partner again after the spin, the Leads would draw the lady back into Closed Dance Position and go into a Whip, which is where we finished for the night.

I’ve seen all these figures before in some variation or another over the years, so I managed to get through everything pretty well (if you ignore how funny my basic steps looked, of course). The two ladies who had never done Jive before… not so much. One of them got frustrated because she kept inadvertently adding in an extra step before the SImple Spin, putting her on the wrong foot. After the third or fourth time she did it, she started making growling noises whenever she messed up. They were loud enough for the rest of us to hear, which of course made all of us laugh. Latin Technique class is where all the funny people hang out, I guess!

Finally, yesterday night I was supposed to have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu, but I got a message from him earlier in the day letting me know that he was sick, so I got to go to Standard Technique class instead. In an odd turn of events, that night Lord Junior wanted to look at some figures from American Waltz instead of International Waltz. At the beginning of class he was telling all of us about how he had seen a lot of professionals lately adding Pivots in Shadow Position into their American Smooth routines, and though they sound easy to do, they are actually super hard. He was thinking of having all of us try some of those that night just for fun.

That never actually happened, since it was a struggle for some of the people in class just to get through the figures that led us into Shadow Position, so Lord Junior abandoned the thought of trying to do the Pivots in Shadow Position in favor of something slightly less challenging. All in all it was still a fun bit of choreography to go through, even if I never did figure out what to do with my arms when they weren’t being used to hold up my frame. There were several points where I’m pretty sure I just let my arms dangle loosely, because doing anything different with them just seemed so unnatural.

We started off in normal closed frame, then did a prep step into an Open Natural Turn. After that, the Lead would take a step back and then one to the side and hold position on the right leg while we led the Follower through a Three-Step Turn, putting them out on our right side. Next we shifted our weight to the left leg to lead the Follower to roll back in along our right arm as we rotated 180°, then rolled them back out. Lord Junior said that this Roll-In, Roll-Out move was exactly the same footwork as a figure from Cha-Cha, just adapted to Waltz timing. From here we rolled the Follower back across our right arm as the Leads brought our feet together and stepped out on our left leg behind them, putting us into Shadow Position.
It took us a while to get all the ladies comfortable with the figures just listed so that we could get into Shadow Position, which is why (as I mentioned earlier) Lord Junior didn’t even want to try having us do the Pivots in Shadow Position. Instead we did just a couple of figures to finish up the pattern. We started out with two normal Open Natural Turns, and began a third one. During the third the Lead would use the Follower’s left hand to lead them through an Outside Turn, placing that hand atop our right arm in the process to let them know we were going back into normal dance frame in Promenade Position. Once we secured their right hand in our left, we finished up by doing a Promenade Chasse, and closed with a basic Natural Turn.

Writing all about last night’s class really gets me thinking… remember when I thought that American Smooth was my thing, and I was so sure that I was super awesome at it? That seems like a million years ago now when I go through classes like this. Opening up out of frame just feels so wrong nowadays, like I have no control over what my partner is going to do as soon as I let go. I wonder if I was crazy back in the day… 🙂

This next week should be fairly quiet. A lot of people won’t be around because of the holidays, so there won’t be much dancing of note for me. I will have my coaching session with Lord Dormamu this weekend (assuming he is feeling better), so that is something to look forward to. Otherwise I should have some free time for more practice. Or studying. I have a bunch of material I have been studying for work that I could spend the extra time on. Doesn’t that sound like fun???????

So, to all of you out there – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyous Kwanzaa, etc. etc. etc.. I hope you manage to get a few days off to celebrate with people you like. Maybe even people you love, but at least with people you like.

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

How was your weekend? We ended up getting snow here, which pretty much shut down everything for a couple of days. It was sad. I went to work on Monday morning and there was only a skeleton crew of people (like me) who were willing to attempt the drive with all that scary white stuff on the ground. I think everyone else just called in afraid. I wonder if HR classifies it like calling in sick, or if they file it under another code?

So many of the dance-related things I had planned on doing this past weekend just didn’t happen because of that. So what was left? Well, there was still a party on Saturday night that I went to, which surprisingly didn’t get cancelled. I also had that lesson with Lord Dormamu last Thursday that I mentioned in my last set of notes, but didn’t actually talk about then. I had another lesson with Lord Dormamu yesterday night as well. We’ll just roll those two items together here to keep the notes concise.

I’ll start with last Saturday night then, when I went to a holiday-themed dance party out at the Endless Dance Hall. This was a big formal event, and all the tickets for the party had sold out shortly after they had gone on sale, plus there was supposedly a waiting list of people who wanted tickets if anyone decided to cancel. The weather reports throughout the day were talking about all the storms in the area, so much of the day I wasn’t sure if either A) the party would be rescheduled, or B) people who had tickets would end up staying home. Wintery weather makes people in my neck of the woods go crazy. That wasn’t going to keep me home though! I even ended up being one of the first people to show up to the party, since I had left home a bit earlier than I needed to because I was worried that people would forget how to drive in questionable weather.

I am a fan of the way that this group put together the dance party. When I was a member of the Royal Dance Court and we hosted formal parties, we always hired a catering group to make and serve the food for us. I’m not exactly sure why that was, it was just the way it had been done before I joined, and I’m sure it is the way things will continue now without my input. This group had a dedicated sub-group of volunteers that actually cooked all the food that they were serving that night. I know that this practice will fade out over time, since nowadays younger people seem to have so many more weird food allergies and special dietary needs, but for an event like this I think that it adds a nice touch. Like having a nice home-cooked meal with a ton of your friends, and then there is dancing too.

At this party they had set up a smorgasbord of snacks and appetizers on one set of  tables along the edge of the dance floor, and all the different kinds of desserts you could want on another set. These tables were out all night long, so you could have actually started your meal that night by eating dessert rather than saving them for the end. On top of those tables, they had a whole buffet line waiting in one of the small rooms that is off to the side of the ballroom where they kept the actual dinner menu. I think I ended up trying a little bit of everything that wasn’t on the dessert table that night (I’m not a huge dessert person). Everything I had was spectacular.

Once dinner was mostly consumed, the DJ started up the music and the dancing began. With the appetizer and dessert tables being so close to the dance floor, you could get snacks while you were dancing if you were still hungry. Most of the items were of the finger-food variety, which works really well for dance parties. The items that require plates to eat are left behind as the night wears on, because you can’t eat those as easily while moving around. That’s why whenever I am asked to bring food to a dance party, I always do finger food.

(Want to know a secret? Deviled eggs work really, really well. A majority of people I’ve met in my life love them, and they are super easy to eat, so you barely have to stop dancing to have one! I’ve brought deviled eggs to sooooooo many dance parties, because then I never have to worry about taking home leftovers. Hopefully this advice comes in handy for one of you!)

Because this was a holiday party, most of the music played by the DJ that night was appropriately holiday-themed. I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music when I hear it in every store as soon as Thanksgiving is over, but I enjoy it at events like this one. I can take in the songs over a relatively confined time period, and there is an activity related to the songs going on at the same time. That makes me happier than being bombarded by the same five or six Christmas songs anytime I walk into a public building or turn on a radio.

Moving on, let’s swing back to last Thursday and talk about the notes I took from my lesson that night with Lord Dormamu. That night we started out by reviewing things in our Waltz routine and then spent the bulk of our time looking at the Quickstep – something that we haven’t gone back to in a while. Lots of minor things that will need practice were covered that night. Luckily our next competition won’t be until late-January, so we’ll have time to get everything down by then (I hope).

Starting with the Waltz: the first thing that Lord Dormamu wanted me to look at was my Natural Turn. He wants me to start pulling my left hip more to the left in the figure. Doing so will shape my body into even more of an arc than I had been doing, and the effect should be that the pulling of the hip looks like it is drawing the feet together. This particular change will require a lot more practice, since if I’m not super careful it can throw Sparkledancer off-balance when I do it. That would be bad.

We still need to work on our lowering action in the Waltz as well. Lord Dormamu actually made an observation that night – he told Sparkledancer and I that he thinks that being so athletic may be partially to blame for the issue we have with the lowering, something that other students of his haven’t had to work on so much. Between the two of us he says, we have so much strength in our legs and really well-trained balance, so we are able to move a lot with each step in our Waltz without lowering before the step like we’re supposed to. Sparkledancer and I can essentially, while dancing together, hold ourselves up and lower while moving and achieve a greater distance of travel than most people. Other students need to lower themselves before they start moving to even come close to comparing to how much we can move down the floor.

This might explain why Foxtrot is our best looking dance style and many other people dislike competitive Foxtrot, because that’s essentially the crux of what you are supposed to do. However, the Waltz was designed to look different, so this strength of ours in Foxtrot is holding us back a little bit in the Waltz. Essentially, our goal at this point is to force ourselves to lower before starting to travel like everyone else does. To do this, Lord Dormamu actually told us to take our Waltz and slow it down. Once we feel like we have slowed it down a lot, then we need to slow it down some more. This will give us time to think about and force the lowering to happen at the end of beat three and continue over into the beginning of beat one. Basically we have to drill it at ‘punishment speed’ until we get it right. Joy…

With that we moved on to the Quickstep. The first thing that we talked about after running through the routine once for him was the places where he had asked us to add in actions with our heads. He said that right now it looks like our had movements are timed to the music rather than occurring because of an action in our legs, which is bad. Our goal is to have the head motions occur as the leg starts taking our weight, so if there are places where we delay the step because we are playing with the musicality (like at the end of the Natural Spin Turn), the head motions should be delayed as well. Everything has to be connected we were told, and actions have to happen for a reason beyond just ‘our coach told us to do it.’

Next up we talked about the snap back into frame after the shaping we do in the first Progressive Chasse to the Right. Lord Dormamu asked me to make this look more prominent, more like we are actually ‘snapping’ back into normal shape. This comment set off red flags in my head, telling me that I needed to think about it a bit before just doing things. I may have mentioned before that I have a lot of mass in my upper body from all the heavy weight lifting… well, Sparkledancer can’t be much more than a little over half my body mass (I don’t know how much she weighs, but it’s A LOT less than me), so if I accidentally ‘snap’ myself too hard, there’s a chance I could hurt her. So I made a mental note to make sure I don’t do something stupid like that.

Remember the strange configuration that we were given in the first corner of our Quickstep routine? I drew a picture of it waaaaay back in the day if you don’t. Well, we are changing it slightly again, because we’ve managed to make it look good enough that we are now being allowed to upgrade it to the next level. Instead of keeping all the steps in one place, we are changing the first three steps to cover what would be half of a hexagon on the floor. That would make the fourth step at the end, which is a Slip Pivot, turn for a quarter of turn instead of an eighth. Hooray for being able to make things harder, I guess…

Finally we looked at the Running Finish figure. This figure actually took us all the way back around to what we talked about at the beginning of the lesson with the Natural Turn – in every Running Finish from here on out, Lord Dormamu wants me to pull to the side more with my right hip as I take my second step just like he wanted me to pull to the side in the Waltz Natural Turn with my left. This action should look different from the Waltz though because I am down in my legs more in the Quickstep as I take the step (I am in the middle of rising in the Waltz), so I should be able to pull my hip more here. Also, while doing this I need to be sure to take a smaller step to the side to help Sparkledancer get around me. If my step is too big, it makes her work too hard.

When Sparkledancer and I met up with Lord Dormamu yesterday night, we started out once again by looking at the Waltz, but this time we finished up by looking at Foxtrot instead of Quickstep – and that was only for a few brief minutes. While many of the points that we worked on in the Waltz were just continuations on the theme that we had started with last Thursday, there were a couple of new points that we talked about that I need to make note of so that I don’t forget them.

Let’s talk about the point that I found most interesting, because that will probably take up the most space. After dancing through the routine once, Lord Dormamu told us that our lowering action was better, but still needed more work. He then asked about how we had been working on things while practicing. I told him that Sparkledancer and I had been focusing on going through the figures slowly like he had recommended to us, generally by dropping the music down to 75% – 80% of the original tempo to work with. I felt like that was really slow, since I can certainly feel the lowering action in my right ankle from so much repetition this past week. My ankle has been kind of sore lately, even though I told it to suck it up and get over it. Silly ankle… it should just listen to me!

Lord Dormamu had a different suggestion for us to try. He told us that we really should just throw out the music entirely and work on doing the actions that would fall over beats three and one as slowly as we could physically handle. Any steps that would happen on a beat two in the music (in general – not all the time) would be where we rise up, so that had nothing to do with what we were working on here and we could go through those steps faster to move on to the next one. I had to ask, since I was concerned – how would the two of us stay together and take our steps at the same time if we didn’t have a consistent beat in the background to keep us moving in sync? He laughed at me for that question and told me that this exercise would also bey bonus practice on true lead-and-follow. Hooray…

We stopped for a couple of minutes here so that Lord Dormamu could tell us about his thoughts so that we were all on the same page. Apparently, I am one of those lucky individuals that fall into the camp of ‘innately able to hear and follow musical rhythm.’Staying on time when the music is playing is not something that Lord Dormamu ever worries about with me, because I have demonstrated time and again that I can just do it without even thinking. So in an instance like this, having the music playing in the background to try to work on staying in time with a song for extra practice is not all that useful for what we are trying to accomplish by this exercise.

In contrast to what we are trying to do while practicing super slowly – where we focus on lowering down as low as we can go and moving super slowly through those steps to make sure that every action happens in the proper place – once we get to a situation where we want to put on the music (like we did during our lesson), all of the thoughts that we are keeping in mind while moving slowly then get thrown out. Completely. The idea is that we are moving super slow and repeating the movements over and over again to train the muscles in our bodies to act in that manner so that when the music is put on the actions being in muscle memory will make our bodies unconsciously attempt to mimic the movements that we are doing slowly. Even if the music is too fast for us to lower as dramatically as we can when doing things super slow, it will appear to someone watching from the outside that we are doing everything correctly.

This type of training is really only possible because I can feel the rhythm ( yeah, yeah… the same song popped into my head there too). Lord Dormamu has another Amateur couple that he trains that he told us about as a comparison. The male in that pair cannot hear musical rhythm innately. In fact, this guy really struggles with staying on time, even to this day. It has only been through hard work and countless hours of practice that they have been able to achieve the high levels of success that they have managed over the years. Lord Dormamu would never ask that gentleman to practice his figures without at least counting out the time while doing so – because that guy needs all the extra help he can get to work on the timing. For that couple, having the music on so that they can use it to keep the timing correct is always a priority.

Incidentally, this took Lord Dormamu off on a tangent where he told us about one of that guy’s children. He said that this other Lead and his wife had put their son into piano lessons when he was young, and it didn’t take long for the piano teacher to identify that the son also had trouble with keeping musical rhythm just like his father. That has Lord Dormamu convinced that being able to hear music in that way must have some genetic component to it, since not being able to hear the rhythm seems to have been passed from father to son. Interesting…

Moving on – the Lord Dormamu also told us that doing all of our practice like this would help us fix a couple of things. First of all, the lowering, as mentioned earlier. But secondly it would allow us to work on making our dancing look the way it needed to despite the bodies that both Sparkledancer and I have.

Yup, my eyebrow went up there too. Stay with me for a second…

Apparently, as Lord Dormamu explained, both Sparkledancer and I have traits that make us look different from the ‘normal’ competitive dancer. Sparkledancer looks a lot like your average dance instructor from a distance, but I guess from afar it also looks like she has really long limbs. Lord Dormamu told us that he looks the same way – his coaches over the many, many years of training he had, always told him that his limbs looked like they were really long for his body. Because of that, if the limbs look like they are not moving with the rest of the body, it is really noticeable.

For instance, when she is preparing her leg to take a step backward, if the leg shoots backward super fast to prepare for the step, suddenly it looks like there is this long leg just hanging around back there. The longer the leg, the more the leg stands out so to speak. That’s what he said these exercises would help Sparkledancer with. Slowing the leg down will alleviate that impression, because the leg won’t be extended to full length behind her to quickly.

As for me… I am just all over different. I don’t look like a dance instructor at all, according to Lord Dormamu (other than my tendency to wear black clothing while in dance studios). I look “solid” as he so delicately put it, and then proceeded to start punching me in the chest to emphasize that point. Because of all the muscle I have, I cut an imposing and distinct frame on the floor. This becomes a problem if I let my own limbs start moving too fast on me. If the Waltz is supposed to make me look like I am heavy on the floor, and my body is solid-looking, which naturally should be heavy on the floor, then if I am stepping through the routine with very light feet the whole thing just looks wrong. Moving slowly for me and relaxing a bit to allow my natural weight settle me to the floor as I move will fix all of that.

Wow. I wrote a lot more about dance theory than actual dance steps, huh? I guess that’s what I took away from this session.

The whole reason that we looked at Foxtrot at the end of the lesson was because I asked whether we needed to work on practicing slowly without music with all of our routines, or if this exercise was just limited to the Waltz. After all, I wanted to make sure that I got things right during practice over the next week before we see him again! Foxtrot was the first style that came to mind, so he wanted to have us trying running through it once in the same slow, sans-music manner to see what it looked like.

As it turns out, none of the issues we have with the look of our Waltz are apparent in the Foxtrot. It still is our best looking dance style. The only thing he cautioned us on was a few of the foot movements through the Natural Weave, but we weren’t sure if those were an actual problem or just caused by moving at an uncomfortably slow pace through the figures, so he told us to keep an eye on them in practice and we would check them again next time.

That’s all I’ve got to say this week. It was actually a lot more than I thought I was going to say. I really have to stop being so verbose… ah well, there’s always next week for that!

Some Balls Are Held For Charity And Some For Fancy Dress

I went to two different dance parties this weekend. Two very, very, very, very, very… (I think you get my drift) different dance parties.

Last Friday I went to a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. I hadn’t originally planned on being there that night, but Bony was asking a bunch of us if we would go since she was going to be there, and I couldn’t say no to her. She asks so little! It turns out that the only reason that she was going was because some lady that Bony is friends with was going to be out of town, so she had asked Bony to go to the dance party to meet her husband and be her husband’s dance partner for the night since she couldn’t be there. Since Bony had recruited friends to join her at the party that night, those ladies all ended up taking turns keeping the older gentleman out on the dance floor. Pretty good deal for him, right?

Me, I guess I was just asked to be there for moral support, or something. After all, that guy probably didn’t want to dance with me, even if I am super fun to dance with. There were plenty of other ladies for me to dance with throughout the night, so I never actually had to sit out for a dance unless I actually wanted to. The party broke up earlier than I expected, with most of the attendees leaving to go home before ten-thirty even though the party was scheduled to go until eleven. When there was no one unpaired ladies left for me to dance with, I took off as well.

Then there was Saturday… I don’t even begin to know how to describe this, so just bear with me for a moment as I start at the beginning.

Saturday afternoon I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for an hour or so to get in some practice time, like we usually do. She got to the studio as I’m stretching out my legs. Once she spotted me she got this hopeful look on her face, and she comes over and asks if I would do her a huge favor. There was going to be a dance party that night, and she wanted to go to it. She had asked her husband to go, but he had told her he wasn’t interested. Even after that, she still wanted to go, but she didn’t want to go by herself, so she wanted to ask if I would be a pal and go with her.

That didn’t seem like such a huge deal, so I said that I could probably clear up my schedule and go out for a few hours that night. I told her to send the details of which studio we would meet at and what time and I would let her know after I had a chance to go home after practice and move things around and I was sure I could make it. Then she looked at me hesitantly and told me that the party wasn’t actually at a studio…

Turns out that this party that she was interested in attending was a Victorian-era Christmas Ball… and they were advertising that they would give you a discount on the cover charge if you made an attempt at dressing in Victorian period attire. Also, the group that was hosting this event was known for teaching people the Waltz… but not the style of Waltz that I necessarily knew. The flyer that she showed me promised that the event would feature the dances from the Victorian era “including but not limited to quadrilles, polkas, waltzes, and those lighthearted games known as ‘Germans.’” (Yes, that is really what it said!)

Suffice to say I just kept looking back and forth between Sparkledancer and the flyer for a bit, totally unsure what to make of the whole thing. It wasn’t exactly the kind of party that I was expecting to go to, and my first thought was that I wasn’t sure that I had anything that would even vaguely resemble period attire that I could wear. So I backtracked a bit and said that I would think about it and let her know later, and we got to practicing.

When I got home that afternoon, I dug through the closet where I have been storing all the crazy outfits that I have collected over the years because of dancing to see if I had anything that would work. I did manage to find an old top hat and a cravat that I had worn for a showcase performance I had done years ago, and I figured that if I coupled that with a plain white dress shirt and a vest that it was probably the best that I could do for anything even close to period attire. But the question I was still asking myself was whether I really wanted to go to an event like this or not. So, I did what I usually do when I can’t make a decision as to whether to do something or not – I consulted the unbiased opinion of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Since I’m writing out this whole story, you can probably guess that he told me I should go.

My man!

This particular dance adventure was… well, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. This ended up being way outside of my comfort zone. I’m not even really sure why. I do a lot of dancing, of all kinds of different styles. I’ve gone to lots of costume parties over the years because of dance. I’ve even gone to a number of strange dance parties that were completely unrelated to ballroom dancing just so that I could dance at them. But this party… for whatever reason I was just not comfortable being there. Even days later as I write this, I still really don’t know why.

That being said, it was a fascinating party to attend from a people watching perspective. Utterly fascinating. Many people not only dressed in period attire, but attempted to speak and act as if they were from the period as well. I would liken it to being at a Renaissance fair, except it was the Victorian era instead of the Renaissance, and a dance party instead of a fair. I’ve only been to Renaissance fairs like twice in my life so I’m not really an expert on what goes on at those, but that is the closest approximation that I can make to try to help you understand what was going on at this event.

The big problem I ran into once I was there was the expectations that I had built in my head before I arrived at the venue. Even after reading that flyer with the crazy description that I quoted earlier, I had built it up in my head to be some sort of old-timey Waltz party. I am not usually keen on going to parties where they do one style of dance all night, but this particular party had other factors going for it that made it seem like it could have been amusing. What I found when I got there was that they didn’t ‘Waltz’ – at least, not in any sense even close to what I think of as Waltz. In fact, I counted only three songs in the first two hours that were even in some form of triple time (¾, ⅜, 6/8 or the like). I don’t really see songs that are not in triple time as being Waltzes, so why did I imagine this to be a Waltz party?

Most of the dances that they did that evening were what I would actually consider line dances. Everyone would form a big line (or two big lines or a big circle) and all do the same steps. There were a few dances that were more like Square Dancing, where the hostess would call out the names of figures and then everyone would do them. And then there were the weird “Germans” games that had been mentioned in the flyer… those were weird.

Let me mention one of those games that thoroughly confused me. Everyone got split up by sex, The men were arranged into a big circle facing inward, holding up our arms and touching our palms together, leaving space between us on either side. The ladies just lined up on one side of the room. As the game started and the music was put on, the lady at the front of the line would come forward and enter the circle of men. One man would then back out of the circle to be ‘it’ for that lady.

The game was described as being like ‘cat and mouse’ – the lady would run around inside the circle and try to duck out and back in between the men. The ‘it’ man would run around the outside of the circle and try to touch her somewhere on her body. If the guy managed to tag the lady, she stopped running and they would do some kind of dance together of the man’s choosing around the outside of the circle. He would drop her off at one of the chairs in the room after completing their circuit and return to the circle. If the guy was having a hard time catching the lady, the circle of men would take a step inward, slowly closing the circle and making it harder for the lady to get between us. Once the lady in the circle was tagged and she started dancing with the ‘it’ man, the next lady in line entered the circle and the process began anew.

This. Went. On. FOREVER. Since the game was only played with one woman at a time and there were A LOT of ladies at the party, giving every lady who wanted to play a chance consumed well over a half-hour of the party. After the first half-dozen ladies, I was totally bored. Whether I got to be the guy who was ‘it’ or not, I was bored. Maybe it was my fault. I guess my attention span has been shattered by going to normal ballroom social dances, and now I can’t focus on the same dance style for longer than one normal song anymore without getting antsy to switch things up.

Another weird thing about that night was how much the hostess liked to use the word ‘frisky’ to describe parts of the dances she was teaching. I’m sure that she was using the word to try to get a chuckle out of the attendees, but there was a side effect to her use of that word that I’m not sure if she intended. Attending the party that night were many younger people – younger than me, which makes them pretty young. Whenever the hostess would describe a part of the dance as being ‘frisky’ these younger people always seemed to take that as meaning they were allowed to be out of control for some reason.

For example, one of the dances that we did was a pretty simple quadrille where one couple would march over in time to stand in front of the couple on their right, then bow to them, then you would take hands with the new person in front of you and spin for an eight count around before marching back to your starting point. On the next eight count you were supposed to pick someone else to spin around with a few times and make it back to your spot, and then your turn was over and the couple to the right would take over and start the pattern all over. Pretty simple, right? I bet that when you picture this in your head, you are picturing a pleasant, slow dance that would have been enjoyable to Victorian-era nobility. That’s how I was picturing it as we were being taught the steps.

Well… the hostess described the spinning portions of the dance as being ‘frisky’, so suddenly the younger men at the party took the dance from a pleasant quadrille to a death-match style contest to see who could spin their lady around the most times before the eight-count was over. That made things dangerous. The floor at this venue wasn’t a nice wooden floor like they would have at a dance studio, so anyone who was wearing shoes that were more costume-appropriate didn’t have a lot of traction. My dance shoes (which I brought with me, because I had pictured the dancing being different that night) were sliding all over the place too. So we had people spinning as fast as they could while sliding all over the floor. It was nuts!

Another example was a line dance that we did where people paired off and formed two lines facing one another. The line of Followers would step toward the Leaders, then back, then go between the Leaders on their right, then the Leaders would flip around to face them. Then came the part that the hostess described as ‘frisky’ where the two Leads and two Follows at the head of the lines would take hands into a big circle and spin around a few times, then the Leads would stand in place side-by-side at the head of the line while the two Followers marched in a circle around their Lead two times. When the Follower finished marching the second circle they were supposed to take the Lead’s hand and sashay down between the lines of Leads and Follows to take their place at the end of the line, and everyone else moved up in line.

Again, it sounds nice and gentle and pleasant, and you can imagine watching people do this in a Victorian-period movie, right? Well, because the hostess used the word ‘frisky’, the circling that the two couples at the head of the line did turned into a race. First they would see how many times they could spin when all four people were holding hands. Then the ladies would run around their Leads to see who could complete their two circles the fastest. Finally, when the lady grabbed the guy’s hand, many of them ended up sprinting (not sashaying, actually sprinting) down to the end of the line as fast as they could. Nuts!

Kids these days, right?

One other interesting note about the party – unexpectedly, there was one girl in attendance that I hadn’t expected to see. She was a younger girl who has joined us out at the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique and Standard Technique classes for the last several years. When we finally had a few minutes to talk, she came over to say hi to Sparkledancer and I. She seemed to be at the party all by herself, so Sparkledancer asked her how she had found out about the event (turns out that she had seen the same flyer that Sparkledancer had shown me). What she said was kind of remarkable.

It turns out that this was what she had always dreamed of doing – this kind of Victorian-era reenactment dance party with all of the old-timey dancing. In fact, the whole reason that she had originally started to take ballroom dance lessons was because she had wanted to go to parties like this, but there weren’t any going on that she could find, so ballroom dancing was the next best thing. As the girl was telling Sparkledancer this, she started to get teary eyes and choke up a little, because she was so happy that she had finally found a group that held events like she had dreamed about. She had already talked to the hostess about joining their lessons during the week, and was thinking about ways to improve her costume to make it even more period appropriate. So that was really cool. I’m really happy for her that she finally found what she had been looking for. Hooray!

As for me… I can’t say that I would go back to another of these parties. It was certainly interesting, and entertaining for an evening, but it’s just not my cup of tea. As I said, I get bored doing the same dance style for long periods of time (even if the dance style is line dances), and all the dances they did that night seemed to go on forever and ever. I know that was because they wanted to give everyone a chance to participate, but it just bored me silly. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve never put a lot of energy into learning dance styles like Salsa or Argentine Tango to go to clubs where they dance those styles, because that’s all they will do all night long. I’m really happy for people who love to do that, but I’ll stick with ballroom-style social where they switch up the dance styles after every song.

So the next time someone asks me to go to a Victorian-era Ball, I’m going to have to turn them down. I did it once and got the stories out of it. That’s good enough for me!

Enough about that. Since I’ve already said a lot this week, let me finish up quickly by talking about last night’s Standard Technique class that I went to. I’m not exactly sure what was going on last night, but there were very few people hanging around at the Electric Dance Hall compared to what I usually see on a Wednesday night. For one thing, the West Coast Swing class that goes on every week only had three people in it, when usually there are at least ten or twelve. And then the only other student besides me to show up for Standard Technique was Sparkledancer. Where was everyone else last night?

In a way though, it was nice that it ended up being just the two of us – it was kind of like getting a private lesson from Lord Junior for the much, much, much lower cost of a group class. To keep things interesting for all of us, once we had decided on a dance style to work on that night (Foxtrot), Lord Junior basically pulled out the syllabus guide and started running Sparkledancer and I through the list of Silver-level figures for Foxtrot. After all, the Silver figures are more interesting than the Bronze ones, and at some point in the next few months we are going to be moving up to that level anyway, so he thought we might as well start memorizing all the figures now.

We managed to get through six of the figures during the course of the class. They were (not in this order) the Closed Telemark, the Open Telemark and Feather Ending, the Top Spin, the Hover Feather, the Hover Cross, and the “Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending” (yes, that is all one figure). All but two of these figures I have done at some point or another in my life – probably in other Standard Technique classes, if I had to guess. I really don’t know where else I would have gone through them besides in this class.

The two figures that I can’t say that I’ve seen before that night were the Hover Cross and the Closed Telemark. Of those two, the Closed Telemark sounded the easiest – it’s just a Telemark where you finish the turn in normal dance position instead of shifting to Promenade Position like you would in an Open Telemark. Once I had tried it out, I could see why I’ve only ever done the Open Telemark before – it’s hard to turn a full 270° while remaining in dance position the whole time. I managed to get through it successfully a couple of times by the end (hooray for me!), but if I end up having to use this figure in the future I will need to put in some more practice to make it look presentable.

The Hover Cross was a different matter altogether. Unlike the Closed Telemark, where I had a basic understanding of what to do since I have done Open Telemarks in the past, I had nothing to compare the Hover Cross to mentally, so I was learning the footwork on the fly. My first few tries failed because I took the wrong steps. My next few tries failed because the sway that I was trying to do looked funny. By the ninth or tenth time I managed to figure out what I was doing to make the figure look passable, but it still felt funny to me. Maybe that was just because I didn’t really know the figure, but who knows? We moved on once I managed to make it through OK to look at something else. I’m sure I will see this figure again at some point in the future.

I’m going to leave it there for the time being. I did have a lesson with Lord Dormamu tonight, but I think if I tried to put all my notes from that lesson into this post it would get to be much too long even for me. So I’ll probably start with those next time!

This coming week has a few highlights to look forward to. There is a workshop I heard about on Saturday morning that sounds like it could be fun, and then I am going to another holiday dance party Saturday night (a normal holiday dance party, not like the one I went to last Saturday). This is probably the last specific holiday dance party I am going to go to this year. There will be other holiday parties I’m sure – since it is that time of year I would guess that all parties are vaguely holiday themed – but if I end up at one of those it will be a last-minute decision, unlike the party I’m going to this weekend which I bought a ticket to weeks ago to ensure I would have a place reserved.

Will I see you there? I hope so! If you find me, come give me a high-five. That is a less common form of greeting, so I’ll know how you found out about the party if you greet me like that. It will be our secret code.