I Give You He Who Suffers The Truth

This week’s stories of ballroom dancing that I have for you are actually going to be about the adventures of a different guy…

Remember that guy that I mentioned, the one whom Sparkledancer met on New Year’s Eve and she has continued to talk to ever since? He finally managed to meet up with her to go to some dance events outside of his home franchise studio! Sparkledancer has been telling me over the last couple of weeks that the guy was a bit strange, so she wanted me to be around at these dance events that she was going to, to help share the experience. Because I’m a sucker who is prone to being helpful, I agreed to go. These stories I am going to tell this week from the position of an observer.

My understanding of the situation surrounding this gentleman, whom I’m going to call Seedling, is as follows: he has been a member of a pseudo-franchise studio for the last two years. During that time he has had three different instructors. While he seems (at least, from what I can glean from talking with him) to enjoy the social aspects of the franchise studio, there are a couple of points that he is dissatisfied with. For one, the cost is too high for his tastes. For another, he believes that he is so much better than most of the other people at his studio, including his current instructor. Third, he was frustrated that his instructor had been holding him back in Bronze. She kept telling him that she wanted to make sure that his technique was good before promoting him, but he thought that he was doing great and was more than ready to move up.

Sparkledancer wanted to help him out, because she’s nice like that, so she asked Seedling what his dance goals were. That was where the story that Sparkledancer was relaying to me gets a bit harder to follow. First she was telling me that he said that all he wanted to do was be an awesome dancer. That is a pretty common goal, but the biggest things that help with that are time, patience and practice, so there wasn’t much Sparkledancer could do for him. Then he came back and said that he wanted to become a competitive dancer like her – but he wanted to do it by learning and competing in all the figures up through Gold, and worrying about learning the technique only after he finished doing that. Sparkledancer tried to caution him that going that route was possible, but to compete without mastering the techniques means placing badly in competitions, so he had to be ready to accept that.

That plan didn’t sound right to him, so then he told her that his goal was to be a super awesome dancer that was basically an instructor, and all the ladies would be able to recognize his skill and he could give “semi-private lessons” (his exact words) on the dance floor during parties. That really irked Sparkledancer, because she is really against men at social dances who think that they should be teaching women how they think they should dance during a party. So she told him off about that goal. Seedling backed away pretty quickly, coming  back with the idea that he wanted to become a Dance Host that women would hire to dance with at social dances instead.

When Sparkledancer told him that the majority of the Dance Hosts that are in the area are dance instructors from various studios, Seedling told her that he could totally be an instructor. After all, he reasoned, he wears all black when he goes out dancing already (yes, he actually said that to her), and he already helps other students in the Bronze I classes at his studio with their steps when they are having trouble. To that Sparkledancer responded that if he actually wanted to become an instructor, he should start off by talking to some of the instructors in the area to get some advice. After that, he would need to go back to his Bronze I classes and start learning the Follower’s part, because an instructor needs to know both sides. If he can master that, she told him that he then needs to make a name for himself so he can attract students.

Given that information, he decided to change his goal yet again. This time, he said that he was going to become a super high level competitor and make a name for himself by winning some big-name competitions. For some reason, he chose International Latin to be his thing. If he did that, he reasoned, then the ladies would come knock his door down to ask him to be their instructor. Bringing it back around, Sparkledancer told him that if he really wanted to do that, then he would need to start working on the technique immediately because that is really the only way he is going to win any competition, especially the bigger well-known competitions.

So this conversation had been going around in circles between Sparkledancer and Seedling for the last two weeks. I have gotten texts from Sparkledancer while at work where she has sent me snippets of things that he has said because she was having a hard time believing that he would think that way about whatever subject he was currently going on about. I think it’s kind of funny, since I haven’t had to deal with it firsthand.

At the end of last week, when the conversation between the two of them came back around again to how he wanted to become super good, but he was already better than his instructor since she only started dancing six months ago, yet he didn’t want to leave his franchise studio because he loved the people there, Sparkledancer finally threw down the gauntlet: she told him that he could go out to a few things that were happening in the Dance Kingdom that weekend and see what the dancing world outside of his franchise had to offer. Then, armed with that knowledge, he could make up his mind about whether it would be better for him to stay and be happy where he is, or leave and be happy on the outside. Seedling agreed to her challenge, so the great test began!

This was a particularly good weekend to go out and experience things for a franchise dancer – Saturday afternoon, Judge Dread (the internationally known ballroom adjudicator) was in town giving workshops. After that, on Saturday night there was going to be a social dance out at the City Dance Hall. Before the dance party there would be a lesson in East Coast Swing given by an instructor who has racked up a number of national dance titles in her competitive career. Finally, Sparkledancer told him that he should make an appearance at Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night, since Seedling had decided that he wanted to dance International Latin competitively. That class would give him a glimpse into what the world of competitive technique for Latin looked like so he could see what he was in for by taking that path.

And so, Seedlings quest began!

The first stop on this tour of the outside world for Seedling was the Endless Dance Hall for workshops with Judge Dread. I only stayed for the first one because I had things to take care of back home, but Seedling stuck around for both – the first being in the Waltz, and the second in Cha-Cha. The Waltz concepts that Judge Dread went over would work for either American or International Waltz, but from what I heard the Cha-Cha choreography was purely from the American Rhythm side of the house.

There were two concepts that Judge Dread wanted to have everyone think about during his Waltz workshop – figures that progressed a lot down the floor, and figures that stayed in place. To give everyone an example of the first kind of figures, Judge Dread had us all do an Open Progressive Twinkle followed by an Open Natural Turn. The Open Progressive Twinkle was done at a very wide angle so that it started heading toward diagonal wall and continued almost straight in that direction. If the Open Natural Turn was done using the expected angle, you would finish the two figures heading toward backing line of dance.

To prepare us for a set of figures that would stay in one place, Judge Dread changed the Open Progressive Twinkle that we were currently doing so that it turned us 90° to come out diagonal center, and then he told us that we were going to move the Open Natural Turn to the end of the progression. In its original place we instead did the first three steps from a Weave From Promenade Position. After those steps we did a basic Reverse Turn which brought us to a complete stop with our feet together, setting us up for the first non-traveling figure – a basic Right Lunge. Coming out of that, he had us do a Spanish Drag, which is a picture line that you normally see in the Tango, but it works just as well in the Waltz.

The Spanish Drag was only held for one beat, allowing us to use the third beat of that measure for a Slip Pivot to turn us to face against line of dance. That positioned us for a Back Twinkle to change directions, and we began to travel again down the line of dance using the Open Natural Turn that Judge Dread had moved. Once we had all those figures down and everyone in class had run through the choreography as-is multiple times, Judge Dread told us that all the steps that we were doing were even in timing, so normally a dancer would try to mix things up by adding in figures that had syncopated steps to keep the choreography exciting.

With that in mind, Judge Dread showed everyone the footwork for the Grapevine as seen in Waltz. We put one of these in between the first Open Progressive Twinkle and the opening to the Weave from Promenade Position, and two of them in a row after the Back Twinkle near the end before the Open Natural Turn that finished the choreography. The whole progression was pretty long as you can see, but it flows very nicely from one piece to the next so it is easy to remember once you step through it a time or two.

Next up on Seedlings tour was the dance party held at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. There we were given another long progression by the instructor that the group hosting the party had asked to come teach. This instructor was someone who I had met before, but I’d never had a chance to take a class or a lesson from her until that point. I must say, I thought she was pretty funny. There was a method to what she was trying to show the class, but she kept jumping around from point to point, often coming back to figures that she had explained before to tell us all something that she had forgotten when she first talked about the steps. The fact that I could follow her train of thought either means that I was paying attention really well, or I am actually pretty scatterbrained and so jumping around between topics makes sense to me (the jury’s still out on which of those facts is true).

Because we had a couple of people in the class that had never seen East Coast Swing before, the instructor started off by showing them how to do the basic. This was actually the part that threw me off the most – I came from one of those schools where they taught you to start off with the rock step for the basics in Swing dances like East Coast Swing of Jive. This instructor started with the triple steps instead. Even when I was thinking about what to do, my body still tried to wind up to take that rock step right at the beginning, and that messed me up more times than I would like to admit during her class. Please don’t think less of me for admitting that to all of you…

Once all the newcomers were comfortable with the basic, she began going through the progression she wanted to show everyone. The whole thing started with one normal basic, then added on a basic that rotated 90° counterclockwise. Once facing the new wall, she had us go into a regular Cuddle. After we came out of that so that the partners were standing across from each other again, she had us go into a more advanced variation of the Cuddle. The variation started out the same way, but once the Follower was wrapped up the Lead would take four steps going forward clockwise around the center point. On the third step the Lead would release the Follower’s left hand and move his right hand down to rest on her right hip, so by the end both partners were in a side-by-side position facing opposite walls.

The Lead’s hand on the Follower’s hip allowed him to give her a nudge to lead her to start the next part of the progression. We did three triple-steps in a row heading toward the Lead’s right. After each triple-step, the Lead would rotate their body 180° to face the opposite wall. Keeping pressure on the Follower’s right arm would get her to flip to face the other direction at the same time. So the progression was a triple-step, 180° to the right, triple-step, 180° turn to the left, and then one last triple-step and 180° turn to the right.

After the third triple step the Lead would bring their left hand up to lead the Follower through a Tuck Turn while he did two steps in place, which kept the Lead on time to do a triple-step with the Follower after the turn was finished. From here the instructor had us do another basic with a Link to get back into dance frame, and to give everyone a chance to take a breath before the next figure, which turned out to be a Lindy Whip. Coming out of that she had us go into Back Walks And Points (I’m pretty sure that’s the actual name of the figure), and we finished everything with one final basic.

The dance party after the class turned out to be an interesting test for Seedling… but we’ll get to that in a bit. Right now, let’s go over the final class that he went to outside of his normal studio this past week, which was Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night.

During class, Lord Junior wanted to have us all work on the opening section from the Closed Silver routine for Cha-Cha that he uses with his competitive students. The opening section isn’t very long, but Lord Junior designed it to showcase a lot of quick movements in an attempt to try to wow the judges right at the start. It opens with both partners facing each other and going into a set of Cucarachas to the right, leading into four in-place chasses. After the fourth, we stepped backward on a diagonal to open up away from our partner while still holding on with the left hand – Leads going off to their right, Followers to their left. This was supposed to give us some space to do Cuban Breaks without kicking each other, but I have really long legs so sometimes if my partner didn’t step very big there still wasn’t quite enough space for me.

After a set of those with the left leg, we would pivot to turn around 180° so that we could do a set with the right leg as well. Finishing those we rotated to square up with our partner again briefly, then launched right into a set of four syncopated New Yorkers. Coming out of the last one we did one normal tempo New Yorker on the right side (which seemed awfully slow by comparison), which finished with a basic chasse to the left. That was all the figures that Lord Junior wanted us to do, so the rest of class was spent trying to perfect the movements so that everyone could do them at full tempo.

So after several days of romping through the world of dance outside of his franchise world, how do you imagine that Seedling felt about his future dance journey? Well, if the conversation that he had about his dance goals with Sparkledancer gave you any indication about his train of thought, you might be guessing that he would be unable to make up his mind about his future now that he has more information – and you would be correct. Seriously, I heard all about his discussions with Sparkledancer after each of these outings, and the guy was all over the place!

For instance, after Latin Technique class was over, I went home and was sitting on the couch looking at some things for work when my phone beeped at me. It was Sparkledancer, forwarding me a message that Seedling sent her after she asked him what he thought of the class. He said: “Yeah it was really good. I mean my instructor said it before but the WAY he said it made sense a lot faster. It was a slower class figure wise but a lot of technique in exchange.”

…I guess he missed the part where the class was called Latin Technique?

Anyway, on top of that Seedling was convinced that he was way better than all of the other women in class, telling Sparkledancer that he wasn’t sure why the girls were in the advanced class when they were struggling to keep up with him. He had the same issue with all the ladies that he danced with at the social dance on Saturday night, telling Sparkledancer that he thought he was so much better than all the women because he knew so many more figures than they did and the women were struggling to understand what he was leading.

…I know what you’re thinking, because it was the same thought that I immediately had too: if ALL the women are struggling to follow you, then likely the problem is not that the women are too low of a level compared to you. The common denominator in that situation is staring at you in the mirror.

Now that Seedling has been to two social dances in the world outside of his franchise studio, he says that it is exactly the same as the social dancing at his franchise studio – meaning that the majority of the women he is going to meet there are going to be outside of his age range for dating. With that information, he seems to be leaning toward wanting to be a competitive dancer. The conversations that Sparkledancer told me about are back to going round and round, because it seems like he wants to dance competitively, but going down that path doesn’t solve his original problem of dancing being more expensive than he can afford comfortably. It actually makes that problem worse.

From the sound of it, he doesn’t like the fact that the franchise studio he is currently a member of won’t cut him a break and let him take private lessons without paying for the group class package on top of that. But he doesn’t want to look at dancing with other instructors outside of his studio where he wouldn’t have to pay for group classes if he didn’t want to. I wonder if it’s because he actually likes this instructor that he has. Even though I have heard him say that he is a better dancer than her, so he isn’t sure that she can teach him a whole lot, secretly I suspect that because she is young and pretty, pays attention to him and praises him for everything that he is doing with a constant stream of high-fives and saying ‘Good Job’ instead of offering any criticism, he doesn’t want to leave her.

The young and pretty thing I know for a fact is something he likes – seriously, he was very eager to show me a picture of how pretty this girl was over the weekend for some reason. I didn’t even ask, he just started pulling up her pictures on some social media site on his phone right in front of me. It was a little creepy.

Overall, I think that Seedling’s weekend of adventure through the Dance Kingdom probably won’t change anything for him. I get the impression that he is set in his ways, even if he isn’t content with those ways. Change is hard. It’s daunting to look at a new path and convince yourself to take it knowing that you basically have to start over at almost the beginning to actually further your progress. I should know, I went through it before – both when I walked away from the franchise studio where I started out and had to adjust to dancing on the outside, and then again when I started to compete seriously under Lord Dormamu’s tutelage and he made me reset and go all the way back to the beginning in International Standard to rebuild my fundamentals into what they are now.

I don’t know when the next time I will see or hear about Seedling again will be. I suspect that this isn’t the last time he will show his face. I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens!

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