They’re Just Lousy With Loyalty

If you remember, last Thursday night I was asked by my normal coach Lord Dormamu to take a coaching session with a visiting adjudicator that he knew. This gentleman was only going to be in town one night, and had an opening at the end of the evening that worked in both my Amateur partner’s and my schedule, so we ended up out at the Endless Dance Hall to have him look at how we were doing. I was reluctant to do this coaching session, but Lord Dormamu wanted us to be there, so before I knew what was going on I was meeting up with Sparkledancer in the parking lot of the Endless Dance Hall at the time we were told to come by.

OK, let me back up the train here – to say that I was feeling reluctant about doing this would actually be an understatement. By this point, we had only finished three of the four new routines we were getting choreographed. The third one of those was done right before Lord Dormamu left for his two week trip overseas. None of the routines we just got had even been looked at by Lord Dormamu to make sure that we had everything down correctly after he gave them to us. There just hadn’t been an opportunity to do that. If we had managed to get an extra lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled before this coaching session, I would have wanted to get the last routine choreographed instead of looking over the other three.

So having a visiting coach be the first person to give us any kind of feedback on our new routines  had me worried. On my drive over to the studio that night, I wondered to myself how much we would end up discussing with this guy that would not come up if Lord Dormamu had looked over the routines with us beforehand and pointed any minor issues out to us first. Which would also be a lot less expensive, since the visiting coaches that Lord Dormamu knows always cost an arm and a leg to work with. My normal sessions with Lord Dormamu only cost me an arm OR a leg because we are regular, ongoing students of his. That would have saved a whole limb!

Lucky for us, this visiting coach didn’t tell Sparkledancer and I that anything looked super out of the ordinary. We spent some time looking at all three of the new routines that Lord Dormamu had recently created for us – Foxtrot first, then Waltz, and finishing with the Quickstep. There was really only one comment that he made during the whole session while we were working together that I thought was interesting, which no one had ever mentioned to me before. Sparkledancer may have gotten a few things out of the coaching, but it was really that kind of lesson for me: tons of money spent for just one interesting comment that I made a point to write down.

As I said, we started out with the Foxtrot. After dancing through the routine once, the coach asked me about the figures that we were doing. I walked him through each one slowly in order from the beginning: Feather, Reverse Turn with Feather Finish, Open Telemark, Natural Turn, and then the Outside Swivel. When we got to that part, I mentioned to him that Lord Dormamu had told us to hold after the Outside Swivel for two beats before going into the Basic Weave, because even though that’s not technically how the figure is written in the syllabus, if we didn’t fit in an extra two beats somewhere we would end up off phrase with the music.

The coach kind of nodded along as I explained that portion, then told me that doing the figure like that should be fine unless we run into an invigilator who was a real stickler for how the figures were written in the book. What he said that I found interesting was: back in the day when the figures for these dances were originally designed, which was way back when the only ballroom dancers were probably dinosaurs wearing sophisticated top hats, the figures were created without the idea of connecting them to the music. Yes, each figure has a specific number of beats given to each step, but there was no thought into anything more than the number of beats. Talk of fitting the choreography to a musical phrase never came up back then, apparently.

I don’t know why I find that so interesting, but I do. It’s cool to think that we have managed to evolve a little bit since the days of dancing dinosaurs in top hats. Although, I admit, if I got the chance to dance with a real dinosaur wearing any kind of a hat, I would take it in a heartbeat.

My main issue was with the rest of the session. Much like other male coaches that I am asked to work with, this one was convinced that I would look so much better if I just changed the way I held my frame to be more like how he likes to hold his frame, rather than sticking with the way Lord Dormamu has been telling me to hold myself. It feels like a lot of the male adjudicator I am told to work with have this same opinion, that their way of holding frame is the best way, and everything I do would be better if I was more like them.

Maybe it’s an ego thing? It doesn’t matter what works best for the flexibility in my shoulders, or what Sparkledancer and I talk about when she asks me to change things with my frame for her benefit – obviously I’m not smart enough to realize that their way of holding frame is the most elegant, most solid, and best looking way of holding frame of all time. Someday (if I pay for enough coaching from any one particular adjudicator) I would be able to see that they are right, and then I too will be preaching the gospel to others so that they hold their frame the same way.

This visiting coach was another one who learned the “correct” way to dance decades ago, back when everyone did things differently than is done today. His particular quirk that he wanted to show me was that I should stop using my body so much to direct my partner. Instead, he wanted me to start using my arms and hands more to ‘steer’ my partner while dancing. Yes, there was an analogy to a car thrown in there somewhere during this session.

He was especially keen about how I could be using my right hand on my partner’s back to tell her when to turn by actually pressing either with my fingers or with my palm to initiate the rotation of her upper body. I mean, I sort-of understand where he was coming from, since when he danced with me to demonstrate he didn’t get into body contact, and without that there was no way I could use my torso and hips to direct him. But that’s not a problem I have when dancing with Sparkledancer. Lord Dormamu preaches dancing International Standard in body contact when he trains us. Using my arms to do anything never comes up.

So yeah, a lot of money spent for only one interesting tidbit that I didn’t know before. Was it worthwhile? It’s hard to say. So much of the dance politics game goes on behind my back, it’s hard to ever really know if all this extra money is actually doing anything for how well I score. And if it is making a difference in how I am scored, I don’t know if I actually feel good about that. After all, isn’t getting good placements supposed to validate how well I can dance? If I can sway my scores somewhat just by spending more money with the right people, then that’s not necessarily validating my skills – it’s really validating my wallet.

Sigh… what a weird competitive world I spend time in.

Moving on: last Saturday afternoon I managed to hit a milestone – I finally got the last of my new routines that actually needed to be choreographed. Hooray! That is a step in the right direction! With the Tango routine put together, that means that Sparkledancer and I should have everything worked out after a few weeks of cleanup and then we can finally look at testing these new configurations out in front of some judges to see how we do.

Before we got to the Tango that afternoon though, we spent a few minutes talking about our other routines. Lord Dormamu told us that he had gone out to dinner with the visiting coach after we got done with our session that previous Thursday, and the coach had nothing but good things to tell Lord Dormamu about how good we were looking. Then he asked Sparkledancer and I if there was anything that we wanted to look at in those routines before we got to work on the Tango.

I had something that I wanted to ask about that was an issue for me, but probably wouldn’t have been a problem for the average person. I wanted to go over the last short wall in our Quickstep with him, because with the way that the choreography was designed, I was not able to fit all the figures in on any of the dance floors where I go practice without shortening the steps in an awkward manner.

If you remember, the last short wall in our Quickstep consists of a Running Right Turn, a Quick Open Reverse, a Progressive Chasse, a Forward Lock and a Natural Turn. Now, do you also remember how I described Standard Technique class last week and I said that I was able to cover the whole short side at the Electric Dance Hall with just the Running Right Turn into a Natural Turn? That should give you an idea of how tiny I was having to make all the steps in these figures in order to stay on the floor in any room that wasn’t the size of the Endless Dance Hall.

Lord Dormamu said that I had a couple of options, depending on the size of the floor I was dancing on. First, I could always cut out the Forward Lock and just attach the Natural Turn to the end of the Progressive Chasse.  For a wider competition floor, this would easily get me all the way across. On a smaller floor, I could always do just like Lord Junior had shown me in Standard Technique class and attach the Natural Turn to the end of the Running Right Turn. This way the Quickstep routine has some options available for me to adjust as needed.

Once we had worked through that issue, we moved on to look at the Tango. This routine is a bit different than the other routines that we had done previously. For one thing, it is choreographed so that we start in the middle of one of the short walls rather than in a corner like the others do. But the most notable difference is that this routine only has one long wall instead of two. That should make it easier to memorize. The figures look like this:

S Wall 0.5 L Wall 1 S Wall 1
Back Corte Open Promenade Two Walks
Progressive Link Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside Brush Tap
Back Open Promenade Outside Swivels Progressive Link
Four Step Promenade Link Open Promenade
Natural Twist Turn Back Corte Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside
Progressive Link Progressive Link
Fallaway Promenade Natural Twist Turn
Right Side Lunge
Left Foot and Right Foot Rocks
Back Corte

I think that the only figure we added that I hadn’t seen somewhere before was the Back Open Promenade. I’m not entirely sure about the Fallaway Promenade – it sounds familiar, but the footwork for it didn’t feel familiar once Lord Dormamu showed the figure to me. Everything else listed I at least had a vague idea how the steps went. Most of the non-Bronze figures I know for sure that I have done in a group class somewhere (probably the Standard Technique class I go to most Wednesday nights), so that made my life easy.

The last thing that I did this week was to go to Standard Technique class. This week in class we had a new gentleman join us. Well, sort-of new – this guy is someone who has been hanging around the dance community in the Dance Kingdom for a while after being convinced to go to a dance party one night by Sparkledancer of all people a couple of years ago. Good job Sparkledancer! Because he travels so much for his job, he realized that he wasn’t going to improve all that quickly just by occasionally attending group classes, so he found an instructor to start taking private lessons from to help learn new things on his schedule.

Six months ago his instructor convinced him to try out a competition, and he discovered that he loved it and wanted to do more. His instructor had been trying to find ways that he could continue to improve as a competitor that would work with his travel schedule, and she recommended to him that during the weeks when he was in town he could come to Lord Junior’s advanced classes to help with that. Since the classes are technique focused and don’t require showing up every week of the month to keep up in the class, she thought it would be great for him. So his instructor contacted Lord Junior to let him know the guy’s story, and now we have a new friend who will be joining us whenever possible. Hooray for new friends in class!

This week when class started, all of us who were regulars to the class didn’t have anything specific that we wanted to look at, so Lord Junior decided that it would be a good week to look at the Reverse Wave in Foxtrot. I was on board with that idea, since I had been told that being able to do the Reverse Wave well was a critical part of anything I wanted to do in Foxtrot from now on.

The progression that Lord Junior put together for us in class ended up being only a handful of figures. Our new friend in class had really only ever done American Foxtrot up until recently, so a lot of the simple things that the rest of us knew already had to be explained to him, which took a bit of extra time. We only ended up getting through a Feather into a Closed Telemark, coming out of that with another Feather and then attaching the Reverse Wave, finishing up with an Open Impetus. We would have done more, but time ran out.

That’s all I’ve got this week. There may be some crazy things on the schedule for this weekend. Nothing is confirmed yet, but I have the times blocked off in my calendar just in case. Assuming the thing I am being asked to go to ends up hitting at least three LOLs out of a five LOL scale, then I will tell you all about it. We’ll see what happens… it could be weird!

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