Until Someone Moves Or Cares, Stay Captive

I had the unexpected addition to my dance calendar this past weekend of working with a visiting coach on Sunday afternoon. Lord Dormamu called me up late in the day on Friday and asked me if I would be available. The coach was a high-level female that he is friends with, and he wanted to have her spend some time working with Sparkledancer if possible, but he wanted me to be there as well so that I could play the Lead during the coaching session. Since I had nothing else planned for Sunday afternoon at that point, I told him I could be there.

This was one of those coaching sessions where the coach actually knew a lot about International Standard, so she had useful information to pass along to Sparkledancer, and even some for me as well. Other coaching sessions that I have done where I was just meeting with the coach for purely political reasons don’t usually give me many useful things to think about. I prefer the kind of coaching session I had last weekend, as you might imagine. It makes me feel like the money I spend on working with the coach gives me a better ROI.

First off, I want to relay something that I thought was funny. The coach was talking with Sparkledancer about something related to her left hand. I admit that I wasn’t paying much attention at first, since the way she holds her left hand doesn’t impact me too much, but after they talked for a bit the coach wanted to demonstrate to Sparkledancer, so they came over to where I was standing so she could use me as a prop. She asked me to stand there as if I was in frame and hold up my right arm for her to demonstrate with.

She started off showing Sparkledancer some change in the way she hooked her thumb around the front of my arm. Everything seemed fine until she started talking about how to hook the rest of her fingers over the arm… only to find that she couldn’t actually hook her fingers over mine. She stopped talking and fussed with her hand for a bit, and then looked at me with a funny look on her face. Looking back at Sparkledancer, she apologized and said that she’s never had to think about this before, because she had honestly never danced with someone who had an arm as wide as mine before.

Of course, I couldn’t hold back my laughter any longer after hearing that. I mean, obviously it did my ego good to hear her say that my arms were too big for her to demonstrate with, but it was just so funny to see how surprised she was by that fact. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt that afternoon, so it wasn’t like I was doing anything to hide my arm from her before she tried to wrap her fingers around it! That moment amused me quite a bit, so I thought I would share it here.

There was one point of information that the coach told me that afternoon that I thought was really profound, something that I had actually never thought about before. We were looking at the Waltz, and I had just led Sparkledancer through a Natural Turn when the coach randomly called out to me and asked me to stop and come back over. She had stopped me to ask why I was swaying so much during the Natural Turn.

I was a little taken back by the question. I told her that I’ve been told lots of times by various instructors that I should be arching my body as if I am pulling my left hip to the left while I close my feet on a Natural Turn, so that’s just what I do at this point. She said that was OK, but when we just did the Natural Turn a second ago, we had been looking at something else in the dance so we really hadn’t moved so much while going into the figure that would have caused me to sway like that.

That statement kind of confused me, and I guess she could see it on my face, so she told me a story. She said that once upon a time, deep in the history of ballroom dances like the Waltz, people used to dance without swaying. The topline was held level with the floor the whole time. She joked that this was also back in the days when the ballroom frame was much more loose, with the elbows held closer to the body, not wide and strong like it is supposed to look nowadays. A long, long time ago. This must have been like the ‘70s, or something. 😉

Anyway, when dancers started to move more as they danced, they found that they ran into an issue – driving yourself to move as much as possible in something like a Natural Turn while holding your topline level with the floor didn’t help you slow your momentum, so you would lose your balance in the figure and (potentially) fly off the floor. That was the whole reason that Sway was born. By arching your body away from the direction you are traveling, it shifts your weight toward the opposite direction which helps you arrest your movement and stop safely. That is the actual point of Sway she told me – to help stop your movements. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, going back to why she stopped me, she told me that I should only be swaying as much as my body naturally wanted to do, which is based on how much I drive myself along the floor. If I am just working on something and not moving a whole lot, than the sway shouldn’t be forced to look big, otherwise it seems really out-of-place. Whereas if I am flying down the floor in a Quickstep and I have a lot of momentum built up, going into a Natural Turn would naturally make my body want to sway a lot in order to bring my feet together and stop safely.

Her advice was to always let the sway happen naturally. Forcing it to happen or to be bigger than needed just made it look weird. Judges at competitions don’t like it when things look weird. I thought that was super interesting, and I had never thought about it like that before.

The other point that she gave me that I really liked was about my frame. At the beginning of the session she had us dance through our Waltz routine to music so that she could get an idea of what she was working with. Later on in the session she told me that she noticed places in the routine during my first run-through where my elbows were drooping a bit and not coming back up like she would have expected.

She told me that if I try so hard to hold my frame rigid, all I’m going to do is exhaust myself in the process. As my body moves around the floor, or even just breathes deeply she told me, judges would expect to see some subtle movements in my frame. That’s just how the human body works. Holding my arms completely rigid the entire time through multi-dance rounds would be impossible, and she thought it looked like I was trying to do that when I was dancing.

Her recommendation to me was to train myself to let my elbows rise and fall more naturally as I moved. In the Waltz for instance, I would work on lifting my elbows on every beat two in the music, and allow them to relax a bit at all other points. This will not only take the stress off my shoulders of trying to hold my arms in place the entire time, but it will also look more natural.

This coach really liked it when movements looked natural. Can you tell?

One other note that she told me along these same lines that was interesting was about taking steps. She said that as you are moving forward or backward, like when you are walking or dancing or running, your body naturally wants the width of your steps to be as wide as your shoulders. She called this a ‘universal principal’ of dance, a rule that many other rules in dance are expounded from.

Why was this relevant? Sticking with the Waltz as the example, I was told that when I am driving on the first step of each figure in the Waltz, I should always be moving forward or backward, and I should let my legs naturally take steps as wide as my shoulders. If I try to make the steps narrower, I run the risk of being unbalanced while I’m moving. If I open my leg up to step wider than my shoulder on either side, I will make myself turn in that direction whether I want to or not.

This tidbit of information came up because we were looking at one of the Reverse Turns in the routine. The coach thought it looked like Sparkledancer was having trouble getting around me, and she thought it was because I was stepping weirdly on the first step of the figure. Her advice to fix the problem was to step more naturally (surprise, surprise) and allow my leg to go straight back and only out as wide as my shoulder. That did make a difference, as Sparkledancer said afterward that the figure was much easier for her than it was than the way we had normally been doing it.

Working with this coach was good, and I enjoyed her unique perspective of how to dance properly using the natural movements of the body. Sparkledancer enjoyed the lesson quite a bit as well, and I know she mentioned to me that there were lots of points that the coach gave her that she is eager to put into practice. In the future if we get an opportunity to work with this coach again, I will definitely sign up for a time slot.

Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class. Class was pretty big that night, with some old familiar faces joining us for the evening. Ms. Possible has been coming to class on-and-off for the past couple of weeks, but this Monday both she and her amateur competitive partner Grampy Snaps decided to come out and join in the fun. With the diversity of competitors and non-competitors in class that night, there was some disagreement on what Latin dance style we should look at that evening, but the people who wanted to work on Samba won out in the end.

The pattern that Lord Junior gave us to look at that night didn’t consist of a lot of figures, but it could cover quite a bit of distance easily. We started off by doing three Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs, then we added on three Natural Pivots. Coming out of the last Pivot we did one more Promenade and Counter Promenade Run and then immediately stepped through a Volta and held the last two beats of the measure to slow down a little bit. To finish up we did a couple of twisting steps to work on rotational action in our cores, but the name that Lord Junior called the figure is really eluding me at the moment. Maybe it will come back to me later.

Things in class seemed to go alright for the most part while we were doing the figures slowly, but once Lord Junior had us do the progression with music and started to increase the tempo, I ran into an unexpected issue that I have never experienced before. The problem came during the Natural Pivots. The figure itself was fine, and I could get through them with no issues even at the fastest tempo we ran that day. My issue was actually with my partners. There were a couple of the ladies that freaked out while doing the pivoting action with me, and they just stopped dancing before we could go into the next figure.

I understand why it happened, but I’ve never actually had this issue really come up before. I will freely admit that I have a lot of mass (I admit it all the time, actually), so if I get my body moving it can be a lot to handle. Since I spend so much time moving myself, I know that I also have the control needed to stop my movement when I need to. I do it all the time, so I know what it takes and how to make it happen.

But when I start moving and my partner doesn’t know that I am in control of my own body mass, it can be a bit of a surprise. Especially if the lady is tiny and doesn’t weigh very much, like the ladies that I had the issue with that during this class. They weren’t driving themselves when they needed to, so rather than being a part of the movement that was happening, they were just holding on for dear life and the rotation of my body took them around where I was going. That freaked them out, so they stopped dancing as soon as the pivots were over, leaving me to move on into the next step all by myself.

I don’t really know if there is a good way to help with this. I tried to tell them that everything was under control, so they didn’t need to worry. Partners that I have danced with a lot (like Sparkledancer), or partners that were more… substantial (I’m sure there’s a more politically correct way to say this, but I can’t think of one at the moment) could get through the pivoting actions with me just fine. So… I don’t know. Pivots like this come up so infrequently during classes I take that I probably won’t put much thought into the issue this week. There are too many other things to think about right now.

In Standard Technique class on Wednesday night, we didn’t get to cover a whole lot of material. At my request, because I wanted to continue working on the items the coach talked with me about over the weekend, we looked at International Waltz. The figures that Lord Junior wanted to have us work on that night were very different from the ones we ended up doing. He had lofty goals for the progression he said he would cover, but all we ended up doing was a Natural Turn into a Running Natural Spin Turn, coming out into a Back Lock, and finishing with an Outside Spin into a second Natural Turn.

The reason that we didn’t get any further was because Seedling decided to join us in class again that night. This was his second foray into Lord Junior’s Standard Technique class, and he was in way over his head. So much so that Lord Junior had to pause class quite a few times to give Seedling extra assistance. Even simple things like how to do a Lock Step – which I know that Seedling had done with us during last week’s Latin Technique class – he struggled with during this class.

One of the people who joins us in Standard Technique class most weeks is an older lady. She loves to dance the ballroom-style dances, but her sense of balance isn’t that good and she gets dizzy easily if we do too many figures that spin in our patterns. Because Seedling was so unsure of his part during class this week, Lord Junior told this lady that she would only be dancing with either him or I, and she should skip over Seedling until he was more sure of his steps. He didn’t manage to get to that point before the end of class, so this lady never actually danced with him during the evening.

Unfortunately, that meant that the person who was asked to dance with Seedling through most of the class was Sparkledancer. Lord Junior paired the two of them up quite a bit because he knew Sparkledancer could help Seedling get through his part – essentially back-leading him as necessary to help him learn. Sparkledancer told me after class as we were walking out toward the parking lot that she felt like she didn’t get much out of class that night. She understood why she had been paired up with Seedling so much, but because he was so unsure of what he was doing she couldn’t use the rounds where she danced with him as time to work on her own part. That made me sad for her.

Hopefully over time Seedling will start to improve if he keeps coming to this class with us. I know that the franchise studio he normally takes classes at has not prepared him for this type of technical dancing, so for a while he will be working on acclimating to this kind of training. I wonder how long it will take for him to get through that phase? We certainly could use more Leads in both Latin Technique and Standard Technique, so the faster he can get comfortable the happier all the Followers in those classes will be!

This weekend is going to be a bit more than I originally bargained for. I was planning on going to a small competition on Saturday to dance. Last weekend I got a call from the competition organizers begging me to volunteer and help out during the competition as well. Now I am also going to be there most of the day doing who knows what. Maybe it will be fun? So far, after a few brief conversations with the people in charge, it appears like the competition is not very well organized (information-wise), and no one person can answer all the questions I have. When I needed to know things about what I’m doing this weekend, I have to talk with three different people to get all the information. That has been a bit of a hassle.

Can I help this event go off without a hitch? Tune in next week and I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it!

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