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!

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