With Thunder We Ride, With Lightning We Strike

This past weekend was a competition for me. Overall, I think things went pretty OK. There was a lot about the dancing I did during the day that I am happy about, but there were just as many points that I was not happy with. That’s all good though – it’s a learning process, and I have some time before my next competition to work on correcting the issues that I have control over.

But I phrase it like that intentionally because there was an issue that I ran into at this competition that I don’t know if I can really fix. Yes, “ran into” – my problem that morning was that a lot of the other competitors on the floor during my rounds did not seem like they knew what they were doing, and I got run into a lot. A. LOT. I like to think that I have come a long way over the years with my floorcraft skills, but it seemed like almost every time I had to pull my own steps short to avoid running into someone who crossed into my path without looking, someone near me did not and then they ended up  smacking into me. Yeesh.

Hitting people is something I really worry about, and do my best to avoid if at all possible. People hitting me is a different story. I am very solid because of years and years of weightlifting, so depending on how my feet are set on the floor when I hesitate, I will barely budge when someone runs into me. Most of the people I dance against are not very big by comparison, which is why I go out of my way to avoid hitting them accidentally. I move a lot and I am pretty heavy, so I could really hurt them.

This competition made me wonder if I could also really hurt them if they are the ones doing the striking, and whether I should try to do more to help prevent that from happening. I haven’t quite thought of a way to do that yet, but the idea has been noodling around in my brain. Obviously I am unable to look behind me, since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, and Sparkledancer is doing a quasi-backbend when she is in frame that prevents her from looking over my shoulder as well. Maybe if I had a headband, I could fashion a rear view mirror for myself? I bet I could make it look classy if I tried.

While the idea of a dance rearview mirror sounds pretty awesome to me, I don’t think that my coach will be so eager to let me try it out. So, for now, I’ll have to file that idea away somewhere and try to think of a different one. Sigh…

Two of my rounds were very different, because they had no one participating in them. The first one had only two other couples on the floor besides Sparkledancer and myself, while the second one (which was Foxtrot and Tango) was basically a showcase performance for us all alone. I wonder why neither of the couples from the first round wanted to do Foxtrot and Tango? With no one in my way during that round, and to some extent the Waltz and Quickstep round with only the two other couples on the floor, I was free to move around as much as I wanted, and things felt pretty good.

What didn’t feel good in that instance was the floor. As soon as I had room to stretch my legs, I could really feel how slippery the floor was. It was like someone had gone out to wax the floor the night before and then never made a note about it, so the morning crew came in and waxed it all over again because they thought it hadn’t been done. During the Quickstep round there was a spot where my right foot slid more than I expected and I ended up rolling my foot all the way over onto the side. Luckily I didn’t put any weight on it when that happened so I didn’t get hurt or anything, but it threw off my momentum a bit until I managed to get to the end of the figure I was dancing and was able to pull back a little to reset.

Otherwise, the competition went good. The results were nothing to be ashamed about, there were just points in the dancing that I didn’t feel went as well as I wanted. Everything seemed pretty normal, all in all. Except for one thing… the strangest thing I want to mention about this competition actually happened after I was done dancing.

The events were all running really early, so I had time after I finished up to find a place to change back into my street clothes and go back to the ballroom and watch some rounds before I had to leave to make my trip back home. There were some people who I knew who were dancing that day, and I wanted to see if I could catch them on the floor and watch how they did. Sparkledancer decided to come hang out with me as well, and to chat with all the people at the competition that she knew. I’m not as popular as her, so I just stood there quietly most of the time.

While I was standing there though, a competitor that I did not know approached me. He introduced himself and shook my hand, and then told me that he thought I was a lot of fun to watch. That’s always nice to hear, nothing weird about that. But then he said (and I quote), “Your poise is very strong, and you do a great job of keeping her [gesturing toward where Sparkledancer was talking to someone] under control.” Then he excused himself to head up toward the on-deck area, leaving me standing there.

So. Many. Questions.

What in the world do you think he meant by that? I waved Sparkledancer down so that I could relay this brief conversation to her, and we both stood there scratching our heads to try to figure that out. I never feel like Sparkledancer is out of control, so I don’t know what that guy saw me doing that made it look like I was keeping her in control. Is it actually a good thing that I am keeping my partner under control? I have heard that ladies like to boogie away from you if you don’t hang on to them when you’re dancing… but that’s not really an issue in International Standard.

I didn’t know what to make of that comment, and since the guy was going on during the next rounds and I had to leave shortly, there was no chance for me to ask him to elaborate on that observation.Since that was the last notable thing to happen to me while I was in the ballroom at the competition, that little nugget of information has colored all of my thoughts about the event. Not to worry though – the more time that passes, the funnier that the comment gets, and I’m sure I will use this as an inside joke between Sparkledancer and I in the future. She won’t have much choice in the matter, since I am so good at keeping her under control, obviously. 😛

With that event out of the way, the next thing that I got a chance to go to this week was Latin Technique class on Monday night. Because Lord Junior and a number of his competitive students were still preparing for a competition (which they left Wednesday afternoon to head out to), in class this week we touched on techniques in several different Latin dance styles to help with their training. This was fun for me because one of the styles we got to look at this week was Pasodoble, and you know by now that Pasodoble is my favorite International Latin style.

But that was the style that we looked at last. To start with we worked on Botafogos from Samba. The point that Lord Junior really wanted to emphasize in this figure that several of his competitive students in class hated doing was the hip placement when you landed on the third step. As I’m sure you know, when you finish each Botafogo and you hold briefly before the next figure, you are supposed to have the non-standing leg’s hip lifted as much as possible. Lord Junior likes to describe it as being like a shelf that he could set his drink on.

My white-boy-hip syndrome really prevents me from looking good while trying to do this. Sure, I have the mechanics basically right, and my body parts are in the right place as far as I can tell, but when I look at myself in the mirror I think that I just look silly. I don’t know if I could ever fix that problem.

Next up we spent a bit of time looking at Jive. The figure that Lord Junior used for our exercise here was the Mooch, but he really only wanted to have us work on the kicking action from that figure, so we only did the rock step and the kicks and then switched to the other leg without traveling anywhere. I don’t do Jive too often anymore, so my kicks may have looked a bit more martial arts-esque than they should have for a Swing dance, especially when we were doing them super slow.

Finally we got to the Pasodoble, and this was the only style we got to work on with partners during class. Two of the ladies that were in the class that night had never done the Pasodoble before, so the figures that we did were pulled from the Bronze syllabus to keep things simple. We did a basic Promenade and Counter Promenade, and then went into a Grand Circle to finish.

Even though the figures were fairly simple, we ran into an issue because those same two ladies that had never done the Pasodoble before had also never done any ballroom dance styles before, so they didn’t know what ‘Promenade’ or ‘Counter-Promenade’ meant. Even after Lord Junior spent a few minutes demonstrating the differences, it took several repetitions of the figure for one of the two ladies to get the idea of what she was supposed to be doing. I didn’t mind though – more time on the Pasodoble makes me happy.

Finally, on Wednesday night I got a chance to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. This session started off with us spending twenty minutes or so going over our results from the competition. Through the wonders of technology and one of us remembering to bring our paperwork from the competition to the lesson with us, we got to review all of our results for each heat and see what went well and where we needed to focus on in preparation for the next competition.

A point that Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I based on the results actually had to do with the judges. We had the names of the judges who had marked our rounds available, and Lord Dormamu knew who all of them were (since he just knows everybody in the dance world somehow). He was able to point out a difference in our marks from judges who were formerly high-level competitors in International Standard or American Smooth versus the marks from judges that were former competitors only in American Rhythm or International Latin.

He told us that the judges who knew about ballroom dances would be able to see the difference in our quality of movement versus our competitors, which is why the marks we got showed that they had scored us really highly. Judges who had never spent much time studying ballroom dances gave us a more mixed bag of scores. One judge in particular Lord Dormamu didn’t like, because he was part of some faction of dancing that is out of favor with ‘the powers that be’ (whomever they are), so his marks we were told to just ignore entirely.

My obvious question for Lord Dormamu was, if we are always going to get marked better by judges who know more about ballroom-style dances, can we either A) go to competitions where all the judges for our rounds are ballroom experts, or B) do something that will make us look better so that even the judges who are experts in Latin and Rhythm will see us as the winners? Lord Dormamu laughed at me and told me that there is a competition where all ballroom-style dance events are judged only by judges who are experts in Smooth or Standard, but I am nowhere near ready to go overseas to compete in that yet (I’m sure you can guess which competition he was referring to).

So that leaves us with working on looking better so that even judges who are not experts in ballroom styles will see us as the best dancers in our rounds. Lord Dormamu’s initial suggestion was to look at volume for Sparkledancer, and posture for me. Sparkledancer’s volume is an ongoing thing, one that she is going to be constantly improving as time goes on. He can’t force her to bend more and create even more space between her head and mine. She has been working diligently on improving her flexibility, so the volume will continue to improve as she continues to improve over time. He did give her some suggestions on tweaks to her frame through certain figures, and they spent time working on how she looked in Promenade Position before the night was over.

But for me, things were a bit more difficult. Lord Dormamu was quick to admit that my posture is really improved, and out of all the events that he has been judging recently where he got to watch dancers at my level (including a few events where I was dancing), I stand out a lot because I not only am standing up tall and straight, but I also look imposing through my chest, shoulders and arms when Sparkledancer is creating enough volume that a judge can see me clearly. But he mostly sees me while I dance during our lessons, which may not be exactly what I do while on the floor at every competition.

His thought for me was that I may not be maintaining my posture the whole time I am out on the floor. We spent some time looking at this in the context of the Quickstep, where we had our closest call in the results from the competition. After dancing through the routine a couple of times, his impression was that we were moving with a lot of power, but there were places where he could see our topline wiggling a bit more than he would have liked.

What he told me that I should do to fix this was to continue to practice the idea that we had talked about during my last session, which was to allow gravity to drop my body at the points where I needed to lower, rather than trying to control the lowering action the whole time. Lord Dormamu thinks that when I am working to control the action rather than just let gravity do the work, that is what is causing the wiggling that he is seeing in my upper body. And anytime my upper body is wiggling, that guarantees that Sparkledancer’s upper body will wiggle too, since I weigh so much more than her.

Allowing gravity to do the work did significantly improve the way our Quickstep looked, so yay for that! I was a bit worried, much like I was the last time we had looked at this, since I thought that dropping myself so quickly was going to have a negative impact on Sparkledancer (I would be, I imagined, like an anchor dragging her down). Sparkledancer told me that what we were doing was working pretty well, and that she would let me know if my actions become too much.

So, since that seems to fix the lowering action in the Quickstep, I had to ask Lord Dormamu about the Waltz before we wrapped up for the night. Should I be doing the same thing and letting gravity drop me faster as I lowered in the Waltz, or should I keep controlling that action like I am currently doing? He told me that he would like to see me incorporate this same idea into my Waltz if I could over the week while Sparkledancer and I practice. Once he can see how I look dropping myself in this manner, he would tell me if it is too much and I need to pull back. He said that it is going to feel like the fall is happening too fast if I am dancing the Waltz to slowed down music, but when dancing at tempo it shouldn’t feel weird.

So that is what my plans are focused on for this weekend. Lots of practice, working on giving up control to gravity a bit more when I am dancing, and focusing on always maintaining a calm and strong topline while I move. We are looking at going to a small competition during the month of March where we can get some initial feedback on these changes, and then a larger event in April where hopefully everything will look perfect by that time.

I’m still moving forward – that’s always the right way to go.

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