Now I’m Here Blinking In The Starlight

Something funny happened over the weekend – on Sunday morning, as I was on my way out the door to meet up with Sparkledancer to practice for a while, I got a text message from Lord Dormamu. Getting a text message from him seemed a little weird since he was at a competition judging, so when my phone made the noise to tell me that I got a message from him, I was surprised. The message itself was terse, asking me if I could check a couple for him based on their competitor number and send him some information on who they were. The final line in the message was “We need to make u [sic] move more.”

After some minor Internet stalking, I was able to track down the name of the competition Lord Dormamu was judging at, and then I found the registrants so that I could pull the names of the pair dancing under the number that he sent me. Based on the events I saw their names in from past competitions, it looked like they were dancing in an age category well below me, so I wondered what it was about this couple that made him think of me for some reason. I sent the notes I made back to him, and hung around my house for a few more minutes waiting to see if he would reply. When nothing came, I started to wonder if he was in the middle of judging and had just decided to text me randomly while doing so, which just seemed really funny to me.

I took off to go practice with Sparkledancer. Once I had made it to the studio and was putting my shoes on, I finally got a reply from Lord Dormamu asking if Sparkledancer and I had danced against this couple before, which obviously we hadn’t since those kids were still dancing in the kids’ categories in the previous competitions that I had seen online. Sparkledancer decided to get into the Internet stalking game at this point, and she managed to pull up what they were entered in at the competition that Lord Dormamu was judging that weekend. It looked like the two of them were dancing in the 18+ group at this competition for the first time, which would explain why they might have flagged on Lord Dormamu’s radar.

We have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Wednesday night, so I imagine that I will find out more about this mysterious couple that he saw at the competition and what that told him about my movement specifically. Up until that text message, the running joke with Lord Dormamu was that he thought I moved too much and I needed to pull things back to fit my steps into any ballroom smaller than the Endless Dance Hall (which is all other ballrooms that I have ever been to in my life). So the idea of trying to move more just makes my brain pop a little bit. What if I start running off the floor at the Endless Dance Hall too? Where would I even be able to go and dance if that starts to happen?

Aside from that strange little incident, the second item on the “Notable Dance Things From Last Week” list was Latin Technique class on Monday night. It was notable because Seedling came back! I had questioned whether I would ever see him again, since he had told Sparkledancer that he was reluctant to leave his current franchise studio situation, and his original complaint about that situation was that it was more expensive than he was comfortable with. I guess he has more money sitting around than he let on, because he is apparently willing to continue to spend money at the franchise and then also take classes elsewhere.

Also showing up to class that night for the first time in quite a while was Tanya Tiger! I have to point her out specifically because the story behind her being there is pretty funny – Tanya used to come to Latin Technique class all the time back in the day, up until she became unhappy with her current career path and went back to school to move into a different field. She actually finished school quite a while ago, but never returned to take class again with us when that happened.

At her last private lesson with Lord Junior, she was apparently telling him all about how she was sad that Latin Technique class was so early in the evening, because on Monday nights her significant other is out working late, so she just sits at home all alone. Since class was so early, she couldn’t get there in time after she got out of work. Lord Junior looked at her confused, and told her that Latin Technique class didn’t start at the time she mentioned… apparently she had forgotten what time class was, even though that time has never changed in all these years! Also, she used to come to the class all the time! Also, the monthly class schedule is always posted on the calendar at the studio! Ha!

So Tanya promised that she would start coming to class again to have fun with us. Welcome back! This is good for her, since she still competes with Lord Junior, and there is an event coming up that she is working toward. Actually, Lord Junior and quite a few of his Pro/Am students are deep into preparations for an upcoming competition that they are all traveling to at the end of February. Class this week was built as a medley of steps from different styles that his competitive students who were there that night needed to work on.

We started off by looking at Botafogos in Samba. Lord Junior had us do Botafogos going both forward and backward that night individually (without partners). The Backward Botafogos were new. I’ve seen them before at social dances where the technique didn’t matter, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to do them and actually care about what I look like. The forward ones went better for me, but I think that’s only because I’ve done them in Latin Technique class many times before. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Samba is not my favorite dance style. I just feel awkward trying to move my body in the ways that people who dance Samba competitively are supposed to. I believe that it’s part of the ongoing curse of my white boy hips.

Lucky for me Botafogos were all we looked at in Samba, and then we moved on to look at some Rumba. Here we specifically focused on the Closed Hip Twist releasing to Fan Position. This time we were able to work with partners, since the Closed HIp Twist works much better for the Followers if you can rely on your partner to assist with the movements. Lord Junior did have Seedling and I step through the Follower’s figures before we paired off, saying that knowing what the Followers were doing would help us lead the figures better.

Finally that evening we looked at the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward figure from Cha-Cha. We started these off facing our partner, went into an Opening Out and then did the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Right-Side Position. At the end of the three we did an Opening Out on the other side and came back with the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Left-Side Position. At the end we did one final Opening Out, then squared up with our partner for a basic chasse to the left. Nothing too crazy, but Lord Junior focused on pointing out things that everyone could improve on to make the steps sharper, faster and cleaner to keep up with the music when we got to full speed.

So… how do you think that Seedling felt about class this week? Lord Junior is really nice to people the first time they come to one of his technique classes, so during last week’s class he really didn’t call out Seedling for things he needed to work on. This week was a completely different story, and there were several times that Lord Junior stopped him to make corrections on what he was doing (like he does with the rest of us who have been coming to class for a while).

Do you think being corrected might have changed Seedlings views on Latin Technique class? Well, lucky for you, you don’t have to wonder! Seedling was quite willing after class was over to share his thoughts with Sparkledancer, and she thought some of them were funny enough to forward to me. And now, to continue to pay it forward, I’m going to put them here for you to see!

“My only complaint. I wish he would’ve stuck with one style of dance for the whole class. That samba preferably. It’s harder than what we do at my studio

Feel like 3 is way too much to make the technique stick”

“The Cha Cha and rumba didn’t give me much trouble except for the rumba timing and him enforcing it more than I’m used to”

“I mean it’s no [sic] enough

It’s a lot higher level and I will have to practice it to make it muscle memory

Right now I feel like I just walked into class for the first time”

That last line really brings back memories. That was pretty much exactly how I felt after the first time I went to one of Lord Junior’s advanced classes after only taking the ‘advanced’ classes at the franchise studio I started off at. I remember feeling like I had gone to all those classes, but the instructors must have been leaving out large portions of the material for some unknown reason.

Maybe, based on these musings from Seedling, he might be starting to see that dancing competitively outside of his franchise location is going to be a challenge for him. Maybe. Sparkledancer told me that she tried to explain to him that non-franchise judges like the ones at all the big-name competitions that he is dreaming of going to with his franchise instructor are not going to be forgiving to him if he focuses solely on figures as he competes through the syllabus and ignores the technique until he ‘finishes’ that. He didn’t seem phased by that at all at the time, and continued to think that his plan was flawless. But now, that last line… maybe he’s finally starting to see the light.

I guess we’ll have to see. I get the impression that Seedling will be back for more, so this probably isn’t the last time I will mention him. 🙂

Yesterday night I got to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. We started out having a nice long chat about what he witnessed while judging that competition over the weekend that he was texting me during (he really was texting me during the event, he totally confessed to that), and how it related to my dancing. He also told me all about the drama going on behind the scenes with the event and the organizers, which was fascinating to hear about. The world of ballroom competition organization is kind of cut-throat business from the sounds of it!

More importantly though, we talked about the couple that he had asked me about, and what they were doing that made him think of me at the time. He told me that he was watching them dance in a smaller heat, so he was able to spend a bit more time paying attention to what they were doing. What dawned on him while watching that couple was exactly what it was about my dancing that was so different and still needed to be improved: the dynamic aspect of my movement. The way that this couple was moving – the quality of their movement, if you will – was much more dynamic and impressive than everyone else on the floor dancing against them. That is what Lord Dormamu wants to work with Sparkledancer and I over the next several weeks to improve.

We also talked about the results of that competition, which was another fascinating insight that I need to remember for when I take the floor. Despite how good the quality of the movement of this particular couple looked to Lord Dormamu, they did not end up winning those heats. Another couple actually took home the first place stickers for those rounds. I was curious what it was about that other couple who actually won that was so much better, because I thought that I should know to also work on that aspect, since I think the goal Lord Dormamu has for Sparkledancer and I is ultimately to take the top spot.

He started to tell me all about the other judges that were watching the events with him. Most everyone else on the panel that day were formerly high-level Latin champions, so he told me that the way they look at people who dance American Smooth or International Standard is very different from how he and other high-level Standard champions would judge a couple in those events. Those judges, according to him, were likely focused on picking at various small technical points – footwork, connection, etc., because they didn’t know as much about how the movement should look in International Standard. One couple taking more heel steps in the wrong places than another is an easier thing for any judge to count up and mark down rather than evaluating the way that the couple was moving together across the floor in the particular style of dance being done.

The remaining judges on the panel were all apparently ‘old and blind’ according to Lord Dormamu. One judge that he name dropped to me is supposedly in his 80s and can barely see his score sheet if he holds it up in front of his nose as he marks each couple. To a judge like that, the quality of the movement or the technical points of the dance style don’t matter as much as which competitors are the ones moving the biggest – because the bigger the couple moves, the easier they would be for that judge to see.

So… with all of this in mind, I asked what it was that we needed to focus on going forward. Well, Lord Dormamu’s answer to me was that we needed to make sure that we were better at everything. You know, nothing too challenging, right?

To begin with, Lord Dormamu was going to start working with us on making sure that our movements were as dynamic as possible so that we could easily beat couples like the one that stood out to him if we come across them in competition. That is going to be the focus of our next lesson(s) until he is satisfied with that aspect of our dancing. The technical points he told Sparkledancer and I are actually something that should be a part of all of our practice sessions to ensure that all of the points outlined in ‘the book’ are perfect for each figure. He wasn’t going to spend his time with us focusing on that because those are all written down, but he would point out any spots that he saw when we were together if either Sparkledancer or I did something wrong.

As far as moving big to be noticeable to one of the ‘old and blind’-type judges that he mentioned, that was something that Lord Dormamu admitted that I actually had an advantage over. I already move really big, covering a lot of space with each figure that I cover. I am also a pretty large guy compared to most other male dancers we come across, so my musculature is actually an advantage here because it makes me more visible. But other than the quantity of my movement and my size, there isn’t really much else we could do here to help in this situation… so for now I’m going to just hope that that’s enough!

We spent the entire time we were dancing last night working with the Waltz as our tool to discuss quality of movement. Starting out, Lord Dormamu had us go through the dance once with the music before he started talking about any specific points. When he stopped us and had us come back over, he told the two of us that everything was looking a lot better than he was expecting. I guess the work that I have been doing trying to increase the flexibility in my back is paying off, because he mentioned that as one point that made it all look much, much better than last time we were together.

The biggest change that he asked us to work on starting that night was actually for Sparkledancer. He wanted her to start really focusing on getting herself out of my way when I am moving forward. The goal is that as soon as she feels my body begin to shift, she needs to move herself backward (obviously without breaking body contact). This will prevent me from actually pushing against her body when I am ‘driving through’ as so many people have called it over the last few years.

Having her do this kind of threw me off the first time Lord Dormamu had her try with me after he was done going through the change with her. Sparkledancer doesn’t weigh a whole lot, so it has never been much of an issue for me to move myself forward while she is in front of me. I chalk that up to having strong legs. But suddenly there I was pushing myself forward using the same amount of force that I normally use, and there was no weight at all in front of me holding me back! So that amount of force almost became too much. This is definitely a change that is going to require practice this week to feel more comfortable with, in all of the dance styles.

Also, as a side effect to not having any weight pushing against me as I move forward, I cover more distance. Just what I needed… I really am going to start running myself off the floor no matter where I am dancing. It’s a real problem for me!

Quality-wise, there is a lot of focus on the two of us moving this way, all while ensuring that we are completely grounded to the floor and really into the legs. In the Waltz, that means a renewed focus on the falling action to really show the swing through the dance. This is actually easier for me to do when I am bending my back in this banana-like shape – the curve forces me to ‘sit’ when I am lowering, almost like going into a one-legged Chair Pose in Yoga (it’s one-legged since the other leg is preparing for the next step). This subtle change actually helps me control the lowering a lot better, interestingly enough.

Aside from moving through each figure slowly to ensure that our swing and sway actions looked impressive (which is a bit boring to talk about, so I’ll save you from that tedium), the only other notable fix that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on was coming out of the Hesitation Change in the first corner and going into the Double Reverse Spin and a Reverse Turn. His problem was that the first step into the Reverse Turn looked weak, so we had to back up through the preceding steps until we found the source of the issue.

It turns out that as I was exiting the Hesitation Change, I was unintentionally squaring up my body, rather than leaving the left-side lead that I create while hesitating. Coming out of the Hesitation Change and leaving my body in the same position through the Double Reverse Spin and the Reverse Turn fixes the weakness with the first step  of the Reverse Turn that Lord Dormamu was seeing. So this was totally my fault. Now it should be fixed, and as long as I remember to always do it the right way, hopefully that takes care of that.

So yeah… that’s about it for this week. Practice is probably what I will spend much of my weekend working on, to try to get more comfortable with the changes that Lord Dormamu wants from me. Other than that, I think that a few people mentioned to me that there is a dance party on Saturday night… so I should probably make an appearance at that as well, but practicing the dynamics of my movement has got to be a priority. After all, we are only about a month off from my next competition. If I want to be ready to showcase improvement in these areas at that event, I’ve got to do the work!

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