When The Stars Make You Drool Just Like A Pasta Fazool

I had a pretty busy weekend full of dance activities. All of that coupled with the time change meant that I woke up Monday morning feeling even more exhausted than I did when I went to bed Sunday night. There’s a voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that I should just take a “sick day” from work some day soon and stay home to sleep all day. Will I do it? Not likely. But the siren song of that voice and its ideas are a very persuasive sound…

Where to even start? Let’s see… well, Friday night I went out to a social dance at the Electric Dance Hall. There were a couple of reasons that I headed out there. First off, I haven’t gone to many social dances of late. I spend a ton of time in dance studios for lessons and practice, but I seem to rarely go out and actually see people who I know anymore. Several friends had asked me if I was planning on going to this party, so I felt like I should be there. Also, a while back I had brought a big poster over to the Electric Dance Hall at Lord Dormamu’s request that advertised the big charity event that was happening on Saturday. Lord Dormamu needed that poster back before the event Saturday night, so I figured I could also pick it up while I was out at the social dance. I am so efficient sometimes!

HotDog was at the party that night. Sometimes I really don’t know what to do when he is around. He will come talk to me, and it’s fine as long as I just smile and nod along with whatever he is saying, but anytime I try to say something he has to make some sort of grand comeback to show that he is better than me… even if I am the only person within earshot. Maybe he is just desperate for attention? Sparkledancer has told me in the past that he likes to text her a lot during the day, heaping awkward compliments on her and fishing for her to do the same back to him. Is that what he is looking for from me as well? If he had my phone number, would I get those same kinds of text messages? That would be a little weird.

Saturday night was the big charity dance gala that Lord Dormamu had been putting together for the last few months. The show was taking place in a big theater in the downtown area of one of the Dance Kingdom’s big cities. In my youth I was much more apt to go and hang out in various downtown areas of big cities with friends, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped doing that. Especially now that I spend all my free time practicing for dance competitions, it is very rare for me to go anywhere other than a dance studio on a weekend. I was kind of amazed when I first got downtown for the event, because so many things had changed since the last time I had been downtown.

I volunteered to be helpful that night in my capacity as a member of the Royal Dance Court. Originally I had thought that I would be hanging out at the venue doing some sort of odd job, but it turns out that I got to do something that was slightly more interesting. See, Lord Dormamu, being the big name guy that he is, had gone directly to the King of the Dance Kingdom to ask for his blessing on this charity function. Lord Dormamu thought that if the King deemed the event worthy, then he could use that as a marketing ploy to get more people to buy tickets, and thus raise more money for the charity the event was giving to.

The King actually liked the idea of the event so much that he decided that not only would he give the event his blessings, but also that he would come and watch the show! How’s that for an endorsement? In addition to that, the King asked one of his Grand Viziers to attend the event with him. That gentleman ended up being my job for the night. The Grand Vizier lived in a far-off portion of the Dance Kingdom, so Lord Dormamu bought him a plane ticket to the city where the show was being held. His plane was to land at the airport exactly one hour before the show started, and it was my job to pick him up at the airport and haul ass to the theater downtown as fast as I could. I maaaaaaaay have broken a few minor traffic laws in that process…

Once I had safely deposited the Grand Vizier at the front door of the theater and then found a place to park my car, I managed to get into the theater myself. Lord Dormamu was in the lobby schmoozing with all of the people showing up, but he stopped to come say hello to me when I got there, thank me for getting my ‘cargo’ to the event, and told me that if I wanted I could go sit and help out at the donations table for the evening. With no reason not to do so, I wandered through the lobby to find the table, and guess who I found sitting there running things? None other than Sparkledancer! Now I knew that this was a good place for me to hang out, since at least I would have someone I knew there to talk to.

The show itself was great. Lord Dormamu seems to be friends with everyone in the world who is somehow connected to dancing (ballroom or otherwise), so he managed to talk to a bunch of high-level dancers who lived within an hour or so of the city the performance was in, and convinced them to perform for free to benefit the charity. We’re talking several current and former National Champions, World Champions, a pair of national champions from one of the franchise circuits (that was an unexpected sight), and many of the city’s ballroom studio owners and their professional partners – all coming together to put on a show!

There were video introductions before the first performance of each couple, and many of them remarked in those videos how they all compete against each other all the time in the highest echelons of dance competitions, but they all wanted to put aside those rivalries to help out for a bigger cause when asked. I got to watch most of the performances, since there wasn’t much reason for Sparkledancer and I to sit out in the lobby trying to collect donations while everyone was in the audience. Seeing all of these high-level dancers perform for without having to pay for a ticket made it even better for me. 😉

When the performances were over, I was back out in the lobby collecting donations. The end of the night seemed to be when most people wanted to donate – we got a handful of people during intermission, but the bulk of the donations came as people walked through the lobby to exit the theater. Sparkledancer and I hung around until all the audience members had left, and the Grand Vizier finally came out from talking with all the performers, and then the three of us left to head over to the after-party.

If you remember, back when I went to the meeting where Lord Dormamu introduced the concept for this show to a bunch of us, those of us who weren’t members of this charity’s foundation convinced him that it would be a good idea to hold the after-party in conjunction with the already-scheduled social dance that was going on that night. That social dance was being put on by the dance club that President Porpoise is in charge of, so as soon as I arrived I introduced the Grand Vizier to President Porpoise so that they could chat for a bit. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch that day, and it was already almost 10:00PM, I wandered off to find out if there were any good snacks left in the snack room.

I swear I ate my body weight in cheese and crackers, because that was pretty much all that was left. While I was pigging out, the King decided to give a short, impromptu speech on how happy he was that all of his subjects in the Dance Kingdom could come together to put on fabulous events like the gala he had just watched, and support charities that promote dancing in the process. While he was talking, one of the decorations for the party was making noise, and President Porpoise couldn’t figure out how to disable the sensor that triggered it. He ended up detaching the part of the decoration that contained the speaker and running into the snack room where I was standing with it, hoping that by taking the speaker farther away people wouldn’t hear it as much. That was pretty funny.

Sparkledancer came to join me at one point during the speech, and she decided to grab her own plate and feast on various cookies that were on the snack table. That was pretty much where we stayed the rest of the evening, at least until I had to leave to head home and do some work. Several people came to talk with us while we were in that back room, but neither of us did any real dancing that night. Only eating. If I do this sort of thing again, I will probably remember to try to eat some kind of dinner beforehand.

While the King departed to do kingly things shortly after the evening festivities concluded, Lord Dormamu had set up the plane ticket that he purchased for the Grand Vizier to all for a block of time on Sunday that the Grand Vizier could meet with students to give coaching. Somehow, after all the talk I had last week about thinking that I had so many different people giving me dance advice, I ended up taking one of those coaching sessions…

I know Lord Dormamu asked if I wanted to take the coaching mostly out of political motivations. After all, this gentleman is also a well-known adjudicator for many dance competitions, so the chances of me being judged by him in the future is high. It is better for me if he knows a little about who I am as a dancer, rather than just as a chauffeur, right? That’s what I kept telling myself as I agreed to do it. The only bad part about agreeing to the earliest morning session on Sunday was that when Lord Dormamu asked me about it on Friday, I didn’t realize Daylight Savings Time was also this past weekend. If I had known that before I agreed to do it, I probably would have at least asked if there was a later session I could go to instead.

Aside from being tired the whole time due to the time shift, having the coaching with this Grand Vizier was actually fascinating. We didn’t really work on our routines at all, surprisingly enough. What we spent the majority of the time discussing was how dancers should be using their feet. Obviously feet are pretty important for dancing, since that’s (for most people) the only part of your body that is actually on the dance floor!

This turned into one of those kinds of discussions that I like having with people who have achieved super-high levels of accomplishment in the dance world, where they don’t talk about just ‘how’ to do steps and technique, but rather they tell you all about the mechanics of the human body and how to use that to create the right movement.

Side note: I have found over the last year that coaches who are younger, who achieved National and International recognition for competing more recently, have studied dancing from more of an athletic perspective, and they understand (and can explain) much more about using the body to accomplish the dance. Older coaches who were champions eons ago just tell you to make your dancing look a certain way, but never really explain it much further than that. For me personally, knowing the mechanics really helps me accomplish what I am trying to do, much more than someone just telling me to do it a certain way, and if I can’t do it on the first couple of tries then I just need to try harder.

Grand Vizier guy explained that there are actually four separate feelings that the foot will experience when you are moving. These sensations all happen in greater or lesser proportions depending on the type of figure you are doing, but they are always in the same order. You can think about this the next time you are just walking down the hallway in your office one day. When you take a step you experience:

  1. Resistance – contrary to what you may think, the first thing that you experience when you take a step is resistance. Most people will lean forward slightly, allowing gravity to help them with the job of moving. This will create the feeling of resistance on the ball of your standing leg’s foot as it is pressed down into the floor.
  2. Release – once you have leaned forward enough to allow gravity to help push your spine forward, you should experience the initial resistance that you built up under the ball of your foot releasing.
  3. Control – as you are moving forward, your back leg does not come off the floor immediately. It will linger there on the floor behind you, helping to control your balance and direction.
  4. Push – when you finally shift your weight to your other leg, the standing leg should give you one last push to help you start the leaning function again, which will start creating the feeling of resistance on the next foot as you continue to walk forward.

We spent some time slowly going through these feelings using a small chunk of our Waltz routine for practice. The Grand Vizier told us that while this is a good concept to know and a good way to help us work on our footwork in places of the routine where we screw the footwork up, we shouldn’t let the idea get out of hand. He has known people who would walk through each figure of their routines figuring out exactly where the resistance, release, control and push is with every step, and how much emphasis to put with each of those feelings. He personally thinks that it going way too far. So, if you’ve never heard of this idea before either, take from it what you need as you practice.

The other interesting concept that he told me in that coaching session was about my frame. His view on getting the frame right was very different from anyone else I have worked with. He told me specifically that he has heard all sorts of instructors in the past tell their students to do all kinds of wonky things to try to get their topline to look right. Because I have large muscular shoulders, he said that he bet I’d been told to try to roll my shoulders back or pull them down quite a bit (which I have).

What he told me to think about was not my shoulders, but my spine. According to him, the human body is built to have everything in the correct place with the spine in the center connecting it all together. If I am about to get into frame with my partner, he wants me to take a minute and just adjust my spine to make sure it is straight and long from my tailbone to the place where it is attached to my skull. If I do that, he says that my shoulders should naturally be in the right place when I raise my arms. For students that he works with frequently, if he finds their shoulders sticking up when they are in frame, nine times out of ten he can fix it by having them straighten their spine completely rather than moving the shoulders around to adjust.

That’s definitely a different way to think about a problem I have. Likely I will have to spend some time in front of a mirror trying things out to see what works best, but maybe this will make a difference for me. We’ll have to see!

Finally, in Standard Technique class this week I worked on some Foxtrot, and we did a lot of different Feathers. A lot. I mean, I know there are a bunch of different figures that involve the Feather in International Foxtrot, but I don’t think I’ve ever done choreography that has contained so many before. If we had tried to add even one more, I might have just flown away!

Terrible joke, really. Give me a bit, I’ll try to think of a better one…

For those of you who are mildly interested, the choreography is as follows: starting with a prep step, we did a basic Feather, then an Open Telemark with a Feather Ending. That moved into a Three Step and then to a Gold-level figure called ‘Curved Feather to Back Feather’ which is basically those two Feathers stuck together, and then you do a Feather Finish to end it. To change things up a bit at the end, we added on an Open-level figure that was basically a Overspin from a syncopated Viennese Reverse Turn, finishing with a Change of Direction.

I’m going to preen a little, so I will say that the choreography went fairly well for me (see, that was a much more sophisticated feather joke! Good job me!). Some of the others in class were definitely struggling with certain figures. I know that the syncopated Viennese Waltz-style Reverse Turn threw off a lot of the ladies as we tried to get through and tack on the Reverse Pivot at the end.

There was one new lady in class that night who was struggling a lot with the figures. Watching her dance, I could see that she had some sort of background in ballroom dancing, but I had never seen her before. As we walked through the steps, there were a few times where I swear that it looked like she was going to cry because she kept fumbling up the footwork. I felt bad for her, so when I finally rotated through and had a chance to dance with her, I asked how things were going. She told me it wasn’t going too well, so I offered to step through what we had so far slowly in practice hold to help her get the footwork down.

After that initial walk-through, I was walking back with her to where we had started, and she started asking me weird questions. She asked me if these figures were in the normal syllabus for International Foxtrot. At this point, we had only gotten through the beginning up to the Three Step, so I told her that the figures were common Bronze and Silver figures from the syllabus I was familiar with. Then she told me that she had spent a lot of time learning International Foxtrot in the past, but none of these figures were familiar to her at all, so she wondered what the heck was going on. By that time, I had to rotate, so I didn’t get to continue that conversation any further at that point.

I finally got another chance to talk to her after class was finished, and I started by asking her where she had been taking classes before she showed up at the Electric Dance Hall. As it turns out, she hadn’t been ‘taking’ classes before, but rather she had been teaching ballroom at a franchise studio in the area! Where she had been working, apparently the syllabus that they used for International Standard was nothing like what we had been doing that night in class. In fact, she had never even seen a Heel Turn before! I had thought that was a basic concept that everyone who does International style starts working on pretty early.

Then she asked me if all of us in Standard Technique that night were also instructors. I feel kind of bad, but that question made me laugh out loud. When I managed to collect myself, I told her that no one but Lord Junior and herself had ever taught ballroom before – the rest of us were all just students who had been dancing for a long time, and most of us trained to dance competitively. That information really seemed to shock her. From the look on her face, I would guess that she never really dealt with advanced students at whatever franchise location she had been teaching at.

Lord Junior came over at that point and told her that he was going to go through Heel Turns for a bit so that she could see what they were. I took that as my cue to leave, but before I did I told her that she shouldn’t feel bad about how class went, and she should come back next week to do it again with us. Lord Junior smiled at me and told me that she would definitely be back, because he was working with her so that she could start teaching at the Electric Dance Hall soon. Surprise! So I guess we will all likely see her again in the future at some point.

Maybe she’ll even stick around long enough that I will have to come up with a name for her. It’s been quite a while since anyone new has done that. I wonder what kind of cool and/or funny name I can come up with…


Call On The Five, Keep Hope Alive

Would you look at that! Today marks five years that this site has existed!

Whoa, that’s a lot.

On this day back in 2013, I registered this site with the intention of telling some funny stories based on the things that I saw and did in the world of ballroom dancing. That intention didn’t last very long, and since then this site has morphed into the place where I collect all of my dance notes about the figures and techniques I need to remember as I continue learning. Hopefully some of the things that I write down are still funny though, and that’s what keeps all of you random people out in the wilds of the Internet coming back for more.

At this point, I think I can safely say that I’m not planning on giving up this site anytime soon. So looking ahead to the next year… who knows what sorts of things the next year will bring! All sorts of expectations that I had about last year were completely shattered somewhere along the way, so I’m not even going to try to predict what could possibly happen.

On one funny (and kind of sad) note: my little Lego figure, the one I use to represent myself, has certainly gotten worn down through the last five years. His feet don’t stick to the pegs very well anymore, and his arms are starting to wiggle a bit more loosely than I would like. Sometimes I have to retake pictures more than I would like because he falls over, or his arms start drooping. Maybe I’m going to have to retire him soon and track down another one of these minifigures that hasn’t been used so much to replace him with…
But, until that happens, we’ll both do our best to stay strong through the next year, so stick around! There are lots more adventures to come.

To Bring The Pieces Back Together, Rediscover Communication

Have you ever had someone mention something to you in passing that caused all sorts of things in your world to suddenly fall into place? I had one of those moments last weekend while I was working with Lord Dormamu. It was this great little moment where I finally could see things clearly… like when you can actually make out the picture on a puzzle you are putting together for the first time. There are also some unexpected repercussion questions that have come up since then, questions that I have been trying to think of answers for in my quiet time (what little quiet time I have). It’s weird how a simple, offhand comment can have such crazy effects, isn’t it?

So what exactly happened? This short story takes us back to Saturday afternoon. I had time set aside to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. A lot of the other people I knew were off participating in a big Pro/Am dance competition that was happening last weekend, but since most of Lord Dormamu’s students are more advanced, and therefore they dance their rounds in the evenings, he came back from the competition Saturday morning so that he could teach during the day, and was planning on heading back to the competition again that evening.

It was a productive lesson. We spent some time at first looking at our Waltz, which Lord Dormamu said was already looking much better after the tweaking we had done in our last coaching session. Then we moved on to look at Foxtrot. He told us that he wanted to spend some time going back to our discussions on the movement in Foxtrot, because looking at that concept again would help us would help fix many of the issues that we had been given notes on from the judges at our last competition, specifically the notes that said “Use your standing leg; Too steppie at times; Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow.”

He started off by having Sparkledancer and I dance our routine for him together a couple of times, and then he split us up and had us each dance the first long wall of the routine with him a few more times. When we finished with that, he told me that he noticed, as did one of his pupils who had been watching Sparkledancer and I in one of our lessons recently, that I had developed this weird ‘bounce’ in my steps when I dance Foxtrot, and I really needed to get rid of it because it disrupted the continuous flow of the dance.

That led him off on a tangent, talking again about his theory behind how Foxtrot is supposed to look. You may not know this about Lord Dormamu, but when he gets to lecturing like this in his lessons, he tends to start dancing around the room as he talks. During the time that he was dancing around the room and talking, he mentioned that I really needed to be working on straightening my legs as I move, then demonstrated it while smacking his back leg for emphasis.

That right there… well, it’s an understatement to say that it blew my mind. I stood there for several minutes, just staring at Lord Dormamu stupidly with my mouth open. Sparkledancer started laughing at me and told Lord Dormamu that she could actually see the light bulb turning on over my head.

I had to stop everything and ask about that. Yes, I had been told by a few people at this point that I needed to straighten my legs while moving, but I had assumed, and no one had corrected me on the assumption, that they were talking about straightening my front leg. I know I had asked about that fact several times during various lessons, telling whomever I was working with at the time that it felt weird to move around while trying to straighten that leg like that. Lord Dormamu then said that straightening my front leg was completely wrong. If I was competing, none of the judges would be watching my front leg, so if it never completely straightened before I transferred weight no one would care. This wasn’t Latin, after all.

The back leg is a different story though. If I am traveling forward, and I’m supposed to be driving from my standing leg, the only way a judge can tell that I am actually doing that is by watching what I am doing with my standing leg. The standing leg ends up being the one behind me if I am pushing myself forward. When I am driving correctly, the back leg should almost straighten completely if I am doing everything right. Lord Dormamu told me that this is normally a rather difficult concept for people to grasp. He has had lots of students he has trained who compete at the Professional level, and apparently this is something he has to teach them all the time because they don’t do it right.

That. Right there. That one note about exactly which leg to straighten. A simple comment. That was the piece to the puzzle I have been missing this whole time.

I’m not sure that Lord Dormamu even realizes, or could understand, how much that one piece of information really helps me out. My whole view on the important aspects that I should be thinking about while trying to move around the dance floor has shifted. Sure, so far in practice it has been a bit rough, and one of my big concerns about moving so much that I actually run off the floor space is now even greater, but everything seems so much easier now that I can focus on doing  something with my legs that makes sense mechanically.


*    *    *


And it makes me wonder… why has no one ever mentioned this fact to me before? If it was obviously an issue that I was having, why in the world didn’t someone stop me last month, or six months ago, or a year ago, and say “hey dude, you gotta work on straightening your back leg when you move, brah” (I guess they would have been surfers when they told me for some reason). After all, if I had known that this is what I would be judged on six months ago, then I could have spent all of the practice time that I went to during those months making sure that I was doing things right… or at least better. Now I’m just trying to incorporate this change into my dancing after the fact.

This whole train of thought lead me down a different path of thinking, one that has brought up all sorts of philosophical debates in my mind. The main one I keep wondering about is: have I let too many cooks into the kitchen to try to put together the soufflé that is my dancing? I mean, I regularly work with two different instructors, and take classes in dance technique for International Standard every week from a third. While I am taking lessons at various dance studios around town, there are often other instructors wandering around, and they have been known to stop (or be stopped by whatever instructor I am working with at the time) and offer their own advice on how I can ‘fix’ things. On top of that, there have been random coaching sessions from visiting experts thrown into the mix.

Each of these people looks at the things that I do slightly differently, and tries to explain how they think I should fix everything in a different way. Sometimes the things that one person says directly conflicts with things that another one of them has told me, in which case I am left confused. Some of these people are able to communicate with others who are training me to make sure that they are all working toward the same end goal. A few of these instructors really don’t like each other, so I can’t mention that one of them told me a new way to think about a technique I am working on without the risk of having to listen to a tirade about how that other instructor is dumb and not to be trusted.

So far, my excursions into the world of dance politics over the last few years have helped me navigate these situations. I generally regard myself as a friendly person, so I can get along with pretty much anyone, and no one faults me for being able to get along with and take lessons from people they don’t like. Either that, or they just don’t tell me that it’s a terrible idea to my face. It is one of the few perks of having a non-threatening personality like I do. I like to believe everyone likes me!

But what about the pieces of information I am missing, that I don’t even really realize that I am missing until someone tells me? Are there other facts that would be super helpful for me to know, like the fact about my legs I learned the last weekend? I certainly get a lot of information, sometimes enough information that I feel kind of overwhelmed at times, but is it really helpful to have all this information handed to me if it isn’t really fixing the problems I am told that I have? Just imagine how much better I would be by now if one of those many people who I have worked with over the last fifteen months had told me that while I am competing, the judges are looking at whether or not I am straightening my driving leg behind me as I move?

Maybe all these different people thought I wasn’t ready to receive this one missing piece of information. Maybe each one thought that someone else had already told me what I was supposed to be doing, and I was just terrible at doing it. Maybe someone did mention it, but not in a straightforward, easily understandable manner that my logical brain could latch onto like it was mentioned to me this weekend. Maybe I’m really just kind of stupid, and this was an obvious technique that everyone else already knows. I mean, it did make me feel kind of stupid once I found out. It really does seem obvious to me now. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.

So what should I be doing with myself? Is working with all of these different instructors and coaches actually helping me progress as fast as I possibly can, or is working with so many different people hindering my progression somehow? Do I really need the input from so many sources while I am working on competing through the syllabus levels? After all, there is a book that lays everything out for all of the closed syllabus figures. I have actually found and purchased a copy of this magic book that everyone kept referring to. Should I just rely on the book for information, since the facts that it holds shouldn’t change?

Is it too much to ask for someone to just tell me the information I need to know that I don’t actually know I need to know, so that my dancing will improve…?


Well… I seem to have gotten stuck in a tangent there. I’m not going to go back and change it though. Let’s just finish up with what happened yesterday night in Standard Technique class, to get a taste of something a little more on topic.

Now that the big competition that everyone in the world seemed to be preparing for is over, more people decided to come out to class last night. When Lord Junior was asking around to gauge what people wanted to work on in class, most of the people who didn’t show up last week wanted to do Waltz. Even though we had worked on Waltz last week, because so many people had skipped class Lord Junior conceded to their wishes and decided to do it again. That night he wanted to focus on some choreography that used the Turning Lock figures, since it has been a while since we had practiced them.

First off, we did two figures to get moving and build some momentum, a Natural Turn and then a normal Natural Spin Turn, one that ended with the guys backing toward diagonal center. Coming out of the Natural Spin Turn is what set us up to do the Turning Lock. The first one was the Silver-level figure that curves to the left, in case you were wondering what the difference between the two of them is. The end of the Turning Lock has us in Outside Partner position, so from there we went into another Natural Turn that started off in Outside Partner before closing with us backing line of dance.

In order to set ourselves up for the other version of the Turning Lock, we had to build up some rotation while staying on the line of dance, so we did an Overturned Natural Spin Turn that turned us a full 360°. Now we went into the Turning Lock to the Right. If done correctly, this figure should turn you so that both partners are moving toward diagonal center at the end in Promenade Position. To complete the choreography for the night, Lord Junior went back to what some of us had done in class last week and had us doing a Quick Open Reverse Turn, though this week we didn’t have to add on the extra Reverse Pivot at the end, which made it slightly easier to get through.

This weekend may or may not be busy for me. So far I have one lesson that I have to attend during the day on Saturday, but then on Saturday night there is that big charity fundraiser gala that Lord Dormamu is putting on. I think I might be volunteering to help out at that, but I have yet to get any information about where I should be or what time I should be there, so it was only a vague commitment that I was given. Maybe they won’t need me after all. I’m pretty certain that I’ll make it to the after party on Saturday night, to do some dancing with all the people who performed at or attended the show.

So that’s potentially what I’ll be up to this weekend. What about you? Do you have anything exciting going on? Are you going to go to the show and the party afterward to dance Saturday night away? I hope so. If you’re there, come say hi to me. I’m sure I’ll be wandering amidst the crowd somewhere.

I’m So Powerful, I Don’t Need Batteries To Play

Oh man, a second post this week? I must have all sorts of free time if I am able to write so much! Either that or I did something dance-related that I need to remember in the future. I’ll give you a little hint: it’s the latter.

Let’s start off chronologically though, since that works best for my brain when I have to review things later. The first thing I did that is worth remembering was my lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven on Saturday afternoon. We took our time together to work on continuing to try to improve our dancing based on the review notes that we got back from the judges the weekend prior. This week we focused exclusively on Foxtrot. The specific notes that Sir Steven wanted to have us work on were the two that read “Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow; Slows need to be fuller to show contrast from quicks.”

We went about this in a weird manner. I think, now that I have had a few days to digest what was going on, that I kind of understand what Sir Steven was trying to get Sparkledancer and I to do, but I was really confused by the method during our time together. Parts of it just felt wrong, and went counter to a lot of the techniques for moving in Foxtrot that I have been working on for so long, which may have been what brought on most of my confusion.

What we were doing saw us just using a simple Feather and Three Step combination while we took steps. Sir Steven wanted us to work on really driving as we took the first step, and then taking the last two steps of the figures with straight legs. Yup, you read that right, straight legs, like in a Latin dance. Obviously practicing the steps like this slowly will easily fix the issue of taking the steps with my knees bent, which makes it look like I never fully straighten my legs while moving, but how we were doing it also added significant rise to the figure, which is something I was told to never do. Remember in the past when I told you about Lord Dormamu’s theory of Foxtrot, described as a body of water? Yeah, adding ‘waves’ to my Foxtrot completely goes against that theory.

The whole lesson was spent pretty much like this, first using slow Feather and Three Step combinations, then moving up to slowly walking through our routine and applying the same action. Again, it felt weird to me, but Sir Steven thought that it helped by the time we were near completed for the day. As my luck would have it, as we were nearing the end of our lesson, the Princess arrived at the Fancy Dance Hall. She had a coaching session scheduled with a client at that location Saturday afternoon. While she was waiting for her client to arrive, Sir Steven asked her if she would want to watch Sparkledancer and I do our Foxtrot routine, to see if she could see improvements.

So we danced for her, then we had to stop and show her the notes from the judges that we were actually working on, then we had to dance for her again once she was on the same page. Her take on the proper approach in order to fix our issues was completely different from Sir Steven’s take. The Princess told me that I was basically off time when taking the slow steps in each figure, and that is what was causing all of the issues I was having. She had actually sat and watched a private coaching session with that world champion judge guy and a different male student of the Fancy Dance Hall where the judge tried to help the student fix the same problem she saw me doing.

To make the explanation easier, it turns out she had  grabbed a video of the world champion guy and this student dancing the same steps in Foxtrot side-by-side, and she forwarded the video to me so that I could have a copy to refer to. Watching the two men dance the same figures was enlightening. Though the music is playing and they start each figure on the same beat, it looks like the male student is off time compared to the world champion. On his slow steps in each figure, the judge always takes the weight onto his moving leg on beat two, whereas I (and the male student in the video) tend to transfer from leg to leg on beat one, so it looks like we are rushing even if the next two steps are on time.

The Princess told me that if I were to work on fixing my timing to look more like the world champion guy in the video, that would help fix my issues. For one, it would definitely improve the timing contrast between the slow and quick steps in each figure. But the best way to really make sure that I transfer weight later in each slow is to continue to stretch through my legs longer, which means that likely I will take bigger steps, fully extending my legs in the process, and since the legs are spread farther I will have to really pull my legs together, which will require flexing my knees, at the end of the slow step.

So… no problem, right? I should be able to fix that easily! Sigh… I just know that this is going to probably take me hours of repetition with each figure in my routine, likely danced with really slow music playing to force me to slow down and think about every single step. Sounds like soooo much fun. 😛

I finally managed to meet up with my coach Lord Dormamu this past Saturday as well. He’s been out either competing or running competitions the last several weekends in a row, so the last time I saw him was the first of last month, if I remember correctly. When we got together, we had a lot of things to talk about because of all the stuff that has happened over the prior three weeks.

The first thing that he wanted to sit and review with Sparkledancer and I were the feedback notes that we received from the judges, the same notes I had just shown to the Princess. In general, he seemed rather pleased with what he saw. There weren’t any notes that any of the judges had written that Lord Dormamu wasn’t already working on with us, and he was happy with the notes that we got about how we were fun to watch and had charisma. As Lord Dormamu put it, there is no way that he could teach either Sparkledancer or I to dance with charisma, that is something you either have or you don’t, so he was delighted that the judges thought we had it.

The next major thing we had to discuss was what Sparkledancer and I should be working toward next. It’s always nice to have something on the calendar to work toward, so we talked about what competitions that each of us knew were in the near future in the Dance Kingdom. We settled on one that is coming up around the end of April as our next event, and even talked about several that were coming up shortly after that which we should seriously consider. The one in April I’m feeling fairly good about, since it’s less than an hour away and it’s on a weekend, so there aren’t any conflicts to consider. Some of the others involve a bit more travel, so Sparkledancer and I will have to discuss those to see if we can both make it work with our work schedules.

Business out of the way, we started to look at dancing, and since we had the comments from the judges handy, Lord Dormamu had us start right at the top of the list with Waltz and the first two notes I wrote out last week (More rise and fall actions need developing; More lowering and rising). This was another one of those instances where Lord Dormamu thought of a different way to explain the mechanics of a certain dance technique to me so that I could understand how to apply the concept more easily.

Rising is the easy part, and he didn’t think that I needed to work on that at all this past weekend. It was actually the lowering action that I was doing when Sparkledancer and I demonstrated our Waltz for him that he thought needed the work. Over the years, I was taught by several people that when lowering, I should be bending my standing leg kind of like I was doing a single-leg squat (i.e. going straight down). Doing things in this manner does give the illusion of me lowering, but it also kills my movement in the process. If he were to let us advance to higher-level figures where we bring our feet together less often, this would become very problematic.

What he actually wants to see when I lower is my knees to come forward without moving my foot/feet, to the point where I would need to lift my heels off the ground. I got taken over to a wall to practice this action. Standing with my arms out in front of me on the wall, I was told to bring my knees forward and bend my elbows to alloy my body to move toward the wall. This is the feeling that lowering in the Waltz should give me every time I do it

When moving forward, this action will have me driving my body into my partner before even moving my feet. If I am going backward, the forward drive from my partner is a definite signal that I need to be preparing my leg backward to take the next step, because if I don’t then she just runs into me. And my body is fairly solid, so if I make my partner run into me, it’s probably going to hurt. Promenade Position is obviously a little different. If you rotate to Promenade Position properly by turning your nose and toes, the falling action will have both partners’ knees moving forward in the same direction.

We also talked briefly about two other points on the list (Beautiful closing action on the natural turn. More consistent with this; Closing action in natural turn could be more precise). When we danced through the routine for Lord Dormamu, he thought that our Natural Turns looked really good, but he wasn’t at the competition we did to see what the judges saw that day. He assumed they were talking about us closing our feet together with one foot being in front of the other, like you should see in Tango, but not in Waltz.

His advice to make our closing action on the Natural Turn (and any other place where we close our feet together) more precise was to not think about bringing our feet together, but just to think about bringing the toes of our feet together. For most people who aren’t pigeon toed, they can’t bring their toes together without the rest of their feet being together without a lot of difficulty. According to him, if that was really the issue the judges were referring to, focusing on just that small change should fix the precision issue pretty quickly.

Class on Monday night was pretty small, with only four of us showing up to attend Latin Technique. Even though that meant my vote counted for 25% of the total, I still got outvoted and we worked on Samba that night. Yay……………. Can you feel my excitement? Does it come through the screen like a slap in the face? Probably not. I’m too nice to slap you!

The big competition that Lord Junior and his students are preparing for is this coming weekend, so in class we were reviewing some figures that Veep uses in her Silver Samba routine with Lord Junior. The pattern itself was pretty simple footwork-wise: we started off by doing three Reverse Turns, but later in class Lord Junior cut that down to just one so that he could prevent us from traveling so far away from him. After the last (or only) Reverse Turn we did two Back Rocks, then a Plait, which is essentially the Samba equivalent of Chicken Walks you would see in various Swing dance styles. After the Plait we finished by bringing the lady across us to get back into dance position during one final Reverse Turn.

There were a couple of tricky points for me specifically during that lesson. First off, the Back Rocks. These aren’t like the rocking action you see in Tango, which is essentially what I tried to do the first time through the figure. There is about a quarter-turn of rotation in the course of the Back Rock, and a little slide action with the front foot when you shift your hips forward. So it’s actually like you step back with an 8th of a turn rotation and shift your hips back, slide your other foot forward and to the outside a little to do another 8th of a turn as you shift your hips forward, and then shift your hips back over the standing leg again to prepare for the next figure. I kept wanting to pick my front foot up instead of sliding it for some reason, which was bad.

Next up, the Plait. The first couple of times through the figure, when I would take that delayed action step backward onto the ball of my foot with my heel off the ground, I was letting my knees track in the direction that my toes were pointed, mostly because that was comfortable for me. Lord Junior stopped me and made me redo the step action and bring my knee inward while twisting my foot so that I could step on the inside edge with my toes till pointed outward. Yikes. Luckily we were near a mirror, so I could walk through it a few times while watching to see what I was doing.

Finally, there was Ms. Possible. Yes, she was one of the tricky parts for me that night. I have real trouble dancing with Ms. Possible for some reason, and apparently it is always my fault. I know I’m not a Latin competitor, so obviously I have trouble with techniques I don’t use all the time, but as soon as she hears that I am doing something wrong, like with my knees in the Plait, that ends up being the whole reason that she can never do the figure successfully with me. Even after I step through things enough to fix what I was doing wrong. Even after Lord Junior stops her to tell her that she is doing parts of the figures wrong. Even though I can switch partners and dance through the same choreography with Veep with no trouble at all. Nope, Ms. Possible still blames me, loud enough for everyone in the studio to hear.

I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Sparkledancer and I have directly competed against her and her amateur partner a few times at this point, and we always do better than the two of them. Maybe she is holding a grudge against me for that? I don’t know. I like to believe I am nice, so I don’t know why she would treat me like that. The other guy in class Monday night had trouble the same choreography with her as well, but she never blamed him for it like she was doing with me. Hmm… what can I do to make her my friend again? I’ll have to think about this for a bit.

Standard Technique class was also used by Lord Junior to give Veep some extra practice on a section of one of her routines. Hopefully all the extra practice he worked in for her will result in awesome scores this weekend when she competes! The routine they had been working on in their lesson that day was her Open Waltz routine, and there were a couple of fairly challenging figures back-to-back that she needed to perfect.

The two figures in question were variations on more basic figures that people who have done International Waltz before have likely gone through. We started the set with a basic Chasse from Promenade Position just to build up some momentum to carry us through the turns at the end. I believe the technical name of the next figure would be ‘Overspin from a Quick Open Reverse Turn.’ You take an Open Reverse Turn (which is a Reverse Turn where you pass your feet at the end), add in an extra syncopated step at the beginning because you are starting on the wrong foot when finishing the Chasse From Promenade Position, then add a Reverse Pivot at the end.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, if that was too easy for you, we connected onto the end of that a Overspin from a Double Reverse Spin. Take the Double Reverse Spin, which is arguably the most difficult figure in the Bronze syllabus for Waltz (and Quickstep), and then add on a Reverse Pivot to the end of that too. That’s why I mentioned using the Chasse from Promenade Position to create momentum – the Chasse and the first couple of steps of the Quick Open Reverse Turn are the only traveling that you get to do. Once you start the first Reverse Pivot, and then for the entire Overspin from a Double Reverse Spin, you will barely cover any ground.

The big trick to getting all the turns at the end to work properly is for the ladies to keep their bodies (especially their heads) out to the left. You may have heard that advice once or twice if you are a lady that dances International Standard often. With the head weight on the outside of the circle as we try to turn, it helps us get all the way around. If the lady straightens up and puts her head over her feet, then it becomes a struggle to get the turns to rotate as much as they need to. As you can guess, each of the Reverse Pivots we did was supposed to rotate 180° to set us up for the next figure, so killing the rotation would also hurt whatever figure we would go into afterward.

I think it’s going to be a quiet weekend around the rest of the Dance Kingdom since so many people will be congregating at the Dance Death Arena for this weekend’s Pro/Am competition extravaganza. I thought about offering my time to help out behind the scenes as a volunteer for the event, but then I realized that if everyone was gone, I could get in a bunch of practice without having to share floorspace. The last couple of weeks the dance floors where I normally practice have been filled with people taking extra lessons to get ready for this competition, so I have had to keep my own practice contained, or only work on small sections to avoid running into anyone.

If you are competing this weekend, good luck! I hope that you manage to kick some names and take some ass, or however that saying normally goes. I’ll give you a high-five for every heat that you win if you happen to be nearby. My arms are only so long, so I have a limited range of where my high fives can be received from, but I’ll make an effort!