Blind Labors The Blind And I Am Unwilling To Uncover My Eyes

Last Saturday many of the Professionals that work in the Dance Kingdom were off at some competition, so there was relatively little going on. All of the people I normally work with on Saturdays were there, so I had only one item on my schedule. Of course, that one thing was still enough to make me nervous, since I was planning to spend some time working with the Princess. As I mentioned last week, she was one of the judges for the last competition I participated in, and she offered to go over her thoughts on how Sparkledancer and I did with us. As it turned out, I didn’t need to be so nervous about meeting with her, since what she spent the majority of the time talking about was Sparkledancer. That didn’t mean that I got off scot-free that afternoon, just that most of the notes I made for our session don’t directly relate to me.

The Princess wanted to talk about our Waltz and Foxtrot, but since the ideas that she wanted to relay to us were the same for both dance styles we spent the entire time working on Waltz that day. She wanted to start us off just by getting us into frame for a few minutes so that she could talk about how we looked. There was praise for Sparkledancer on the changes that she has been making while working with Lady Tella – the Princess clearly sees that Sparkledancer is on the right track to be awesome. She recommended that when we take frame, Sparkledancer needs to get comfortable taking the position right away. I believe she described it as being “specific and deliberate” when we come together. Right now, since we have been making changes there are a few moments of minor adjustments being made before we begin.

She also wanted to see Sparkledancer be less centered on my body and even more offset to my right to start with, almost wrapping around my right hip. But not actually wrapping around my right hip, since she said that Sparkledancer’s right hip should be closing to me. To help with this, the Princess told me that I need to watch my own right elbow and make sure that it is coming forward in front of my body as I put my right arm around my partner. During the competition she said that it looked like my right elbow was in line with my chest, which tends to pull Sparkledancer toward me and kill the volume we are trying to create. If I had to guess why I was doing that, I think that I was trying so hard to pull my elbows apart and expand my chest to create more of a presence that it was moving my right arm into the wrong place in the process. Whoops.

Now that we were in a position that was to the Princess’ liking, we began moving while applying those notes. She started by just having me walk through the first couple of opening steps. I guess during the competition, there were a couple of times in some of the heats where she saw me ‘stutter’ (as she called it), and she wanted to see if I would do it again while she was specifically watching for it. Of course, at that point I didn’t, probably  because I was so worried about doing it again and embarrassing myself that I focused specifically on not doing anything weird, so she couldn’t help me figure out why I did it during the competition and fix it. Ah well, maybe next time…

Going into the Natural Turn next, she wanted to see me stay down lower through the first step of the figure and into the second step, only starting to rise as I actually take the second step. On top of that, she wanted to see Sparkledancer keep her chest more towards me and the upper part of her left shoulder out as we reach the highest rise in the Natural Turn. This should help create a better shape for that momentary hold we do before we begin to lower for the next figure.

Next up we have the Underturned Natural Spin Turn. During this figure, she told Sparkledancer to initiate the turn by keeping her right shoulder down and pulling her left elbow up and around. On top of that, the Princess told me to make the shaping more distinct by bringing my right side up further as we go through the turn, then to neutralize as we come out and swap into a left side sway as we go into the next Reverse Turn. The shaping was kind of there in the competition, but I need to work at it more to make sure that it looks like I am actually doing the sway on purpose.

From there, we talked about the Double Reverse Spin a little. The Princess recommended that Sparkledancer maintain the left position longer, and to make sure that her right hip doesn’t open away from me throughout the figure. That led us right into the Progressive Chasse to the Right, where Sparkledancer was asked to pull her left elbow further to the left, and also create more volume. While we are traveling straight down the line of dance in a Waltz, having more volume is even more important than it is during rotational figures, since the judges who are standing behind our line of travel can really evaluate how the volume looks.

The last two figures that we managed to get through was the Outside Change and the Chasse from Promenade Position. During the Outside Change, the Princess asked Sparkledancer to hold her position longer before the transition into Promenade Position. This was especially for the position of her head. Once she arrived in Promenade Position, Sparkledancer was told to maintain her pull to the left and slide her foot out, allowing her left foot to cross under her body before she closes back to normal dance frame.

As you can see, most of the notes that we talked about that day were for Sparkledancer, so hopefully they are helpful to other ladies out there. One point that I did take a few extra minutes after our lesson was over to ask the Princess about was the placement of my right hand. I noticed that whenever the Princess got into dance frame with me, she always slid herself up my right arm so that my fingertips were almost crossing over her spine to her right side. I didn’t know if this was because my arm was in a different position with her than it usually is with Sparkledancer (the Princess is several inches shorter) or if I was actually holding Sparkledancer wrong, so I thought I should just ask while she was standing next to me.

Turns out that I was doing it wrong, as you probably guessed. I was placing my hand on the back of Sparkledancer’s shoulder, which was forcing me to try to control her with the hand itself. If I allowed it to come around Sparkledancer more so that Sparkledancer’s actually pulling herself left into my wrist/forearm instead, then the control point becomes the lower half of my arm rather than my hand. Taking all of the extra joints out of the equation will (in theory) make maneuvering my partner easier. It will take a bit to get used to the different feeling on my arm until I am able to do that easily, but with time hopefully that turns out to be the case for me.

Last Sunday afternoon I had a lesson scheduled with Lord Dormamu, but he ended up having to stay at the competition he was at on Saturday for an extra day, so he wasn’t able to make it. Rather than leave Sparkledancer and I with extra time to practice, Lord Dormamu had talked to Lady Tella and convinced her to work with us (i.e. mostly with Sparkledancer) that afternoon instead.

While this was a nice thing for him to arrange for us, it was kind of a mean thing to ask Lady Tella to do. See, she had been competing on Saturday at the same competition that Lord Dormamu was attending. When she and her professional partner Lord Bread finished up at the competition, they had to drive all the way back home from the competition so that she could be here for our lesson. From what she told us, she had only gotten home around 05:00 that morning, then crashed for a few hours before getting up to come to the Endless Dance Hall and work with Sparkledancer and I. Poor girl!

The first thing that we talked about with Lady Tella was working with the Princess the day before so that she had a basic idea about what the Princess and Sparkledancer discussed. After that, much of the time was spent with Lady Tella and Sparkledancer working on her position as we moved around, mostly in Waltz but we switched over to a little Foxtrot near the end. I got even fewer notes for myself from what was talked about in this lesson than I got from the Princess. It’s all good though. Dancing International Standard requires two people, so I’m happy to let Sparkledancer be the focus of the attention for a change.

There was one interesting point that Lady Tella asked of me that I am trying to figure out how to work into what I do. At several specific points during the Waltz routine she started asking me to allow the figure to ‘breathe’ much like she has been asking of Sparkledancer. Obviously I can’t shape in nearly the same way that Sparkledancer can, or else I might break our connection and cause us to get into trouble, but she wanted to see me expand up and back just a little more to try to make a visible difference.

The two points where she really wanted me to do this noticeably during what we were working on last Sunday were during the two chasse figures along the long wall (Progressive Chasse to Right and the Chasse from Promenade Position), and the Hesitation Change in the first corner. During those figures she also wanted to see Sparkledancer try to open up more away from me, so having me also open slightly at the same time should give the illusion of us having much more volume during those moments. I’m sure there are other places that we will come across where the recommendation will be for Sparkledancer to try to create more volume, so I should watch for those points and see if it is also an appropriate spot for me to try to do the same. If there is a 1:1 correlation, then I can start adding my own action in without being asked.

And that was all the dancing I did this past weekend! Hooray to me for mixing things up a little! The next dance related thing that I got into was Latin Technique class on Monday night. Only a few of us managed to gather out at the Electric Dance Hall for class that night. Supposedly there was some big event that was happening in the area on Wednesday that several people who normally attend Latin Technique were out preparing for. I guess I didn’t get the memo on that.

But for those of us who were still dedicated, we got to work on some Samba that night. For a bit of warm-up, Lord Junior was just going to have us dance through the Samba Line Dance that is popular in this part of the Dance Kingdom, but one of the ladies in class told him that she had never done the Samba Line Dance before, so the first twenty minutes of class turned into a crash course on how to do the line dance, and then how to do a few variations on the normal figures of the line dance to make yourself look cooler than everyone else near you.

The normal version of the line dance that I learned long ago has you doing four repetitions of a bunch of figures. You start out with four of the Basic Movements, then go into four Whisks, then four Traveling Bota Fogos Forward, and then finally four curved Voltas to the right that allow you to change which direction you are facing, finishing with four Voltas to the left that do not curve. Once you finish the last Voltas and are facing the new wall, you start all over from the top. I’m sure you’ve probably seen all of these figures somewhere if you’ve ever done Samba before, so you could use this information to give things a try!

Once we finished up working on the Samba Line Dance, Lord Junior wanted to have us go through another figure that the high-level Latin coach he had come to the Electric Dance Hall a couple of weekends ago spent quite a bit of time working through with him: the Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs. One of the points that the coach gave to Lord Junior which he found very interesting was the way she preferred to hold her arm while in this figure. The big problem that a lot of people run into is trying to keep their body twisted enough so that their back leg still has the foot turned out when they land during the Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs. If you don’t get it right, you end up with your foot in the wrong position, which will get you marked down during a competition.

The coach recommended to Lord Junior that he change the way he held his arm so that it was out in front of him rather than opened up to the side. Holding your arm in this manner helps to counter balance you so that turning out your foot in the back is less awkward. This subtle change really does make a difference, as long as you remember to actually hold your arm forward instead of opening it out to your side. I will admit to forgetting to make the change a few times as we practiced the figures that night.

As for the actual figures that we did, Lord Junior had us start off with the guys standing on their left leg, right leg pointed behind them, and the ladies right in front of them holding our left hand with their weight on the right leg and the left one pointed forward. From there we went right into the Promenade and Counter Promenade runs, with the guys taking three steps forward to start while the ladies turned to open up out to our right side. We did two more rounds where first the guys crossed over, then the ladies, ending up with the guys on the left side once again. Next we did a Ronde Whisk, which is basically exactly like it sounds. As you take a side step to start the Whisk, you then rotate slightly and do a Ronde with your free leg until it crosses behind the other and then do the Samba bounce action.

We rotated ourselves 180 in the process of doing the Ronde Whisk, so now we were facing against line of dance. Next we led the lady to do a Three-Step Turn across our bodies as we shifted weight between our legs. Catching her arm left arm as she went by, we got her to strike a line to the right at the end as we lunged out to our left. After that we led her to do another Three-Step Turn back toward us while we just shifted weight again, finishing in Shadow Position. That’s where we stopped for the night since we ran out of time, but Lord Junior said he probably would have had us do some kind of Samba Roll action from there if we had had more time.

Next up, Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. The class ended up being about Waltz again, because Lord Junior had seen a video of a figure that he had never done before for Waltz that he wanted to try out with some students to see how it went. That figure happened to be the Chasse Roll to Left, which is an Open-level figure for those of you who may be interested in fitting it into your own body of knowledge. Lord Junior told us that he has used the Chasse Roll to Right lots of times in routines with his students, but he had just never considered seeing if a Left version existed before until he stumbled upon it this week.

Before we got into that though, Lord Junior had us all back doing the warm-up exercise that we had done last week, where you do box steps over a nine count. I don’t know why people think that this exercise is overly difficult. Sure, it will put pressure on your inner thigh muscles if you are pulling your legs together properly, but it’s not that bad. I don’t think so, at least. The balance component shouldn’t really be an issue either because of how slow we were moving, but surprisingly others in class were complaining about that too.

Driving home after class, I started thinking about exercises that people could do to improve on the things they complain about that I seem to find simple. Maybe I should start toying with the idea of putting together a three-month workout regimen designed for ballroom dancers – something to help dancers get in shape for these sorts of exercises. I wonder if I could hand it over to some Professionals to have their students do and report back on the results. Hmm… something to think about if I find some extra time. I have nothing but free time, right? It should be no problem for me to sit down and design and document something like that!

Anyway… once we were all warmed up, we were given a short progression of figures to work on. To get things rolling, we started off with a prep step into a Natural Turn, and then added on a basic Natural Spin Turn. Coming out of the Natural Spin Turn set us up for the figure that Lord Junior wanted to work on with us, the Chasse Roll to Left, which looks a lot like a Curved Chasse to the Left with a Slip Pivot at the end if you look it up for yourselves. Once we finished the Slip Pivot, we led the ladies into a Oversway.

One of the ladies asked a question about the Oversway, which got us talking about that for a few minutes. Many of us had done a Throwaway Oversway before, but here was just the Oversway without any of the Throwaway. I had to ask whether that meant that you could do just the Throwaway without any of the Oversway as well. Lord Junior had to stop and think about my question for a minute, and pretended to dance through it a few times. He told me that you could probably do it, and that it was likely some super-high level Professional couple probably has at some point, but he thinks it feels weird to do just the Throwaway without the Oversway so he personally wouldn’t recommend trying it.

To come out of the Oversway we went back to the warm-up exercise that we had done and slowly dragged our left foot to our right (or right to left for the ladies) over two beats while rising up and rotating into Promenade Position, taking our first side step in Promenade Position on beat three. From there, to show us the differences in the two figures, he also had us do a Chasse Roll to Right with a Oversway attached at the end. This figure confused me with its name a little, because the footwork we did for the Lead part was more like a Curved Lock instead of a Chasse, but the Follow’s part looked more like a Progressive Chasse to Right, so I guess that’s what makes it work.

Getting out of this Oversway involved taking a small step to the side with your left foot and rising up for two beats and then dropping the right foot behind you for a Slip Pivot on the third, and from there we went into a basic Progressive Chasse to Right to finish. You want to be careful when you take the side step as you close. If you come around the lady too much, she may think that you are doing a Corte-like action and rotate her body improperly, which could cause all sorts of fun problems. I may know this because I may have accidentally done it… maybe. I’m not admitting that it was entirely my fault, but I may have messed it up once or twice. May. In May. 😉

That’s all I have got for this week. This coming weekend I am not entirely sure what I will be getting into quite yet. There is a big party being thrown by my Royal Dance Court group on Saturday, so much of my day had to be reserved for setting up for that event. I personally don’t think that the setup will take super long, so I may have tons of free time once it is finished. But because I reserved the afternoon for this, everything else I do on Saturdays got bumped, and I mistakenly never rescheduled those items. So… we’ll have to see what happens! Maybe I will have a ton of extra practice time! There’s a lot of stuff I should be working on perfecting, so it’s not like that is a terrible idea. I’ll let you know next week how things go!

Then again, if nothing else comes up, I could always spend that extra time drawing up plans for my dance workout program, right?

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We Only Stay In Orbit For A Moment Of Time

Since I posted last week, there has been lots of stuff going on! I’m kind of excited that next weekend I don’t have nearly as many things scheduled. So far. That’s not to say I won’t go out and do something that I haven’t scheduled, but as of the moment that I’m writing this, next weekend looks relatively clear. Yay!

I started off last Saturday meeting up at the Fancy Dance Hall with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. Sir Steven had come out to watch us compete the weekend prior, so he had lots of things to say about that. As we were standing in the middle of the dance floor and talking, the Princess happened to show up and parade through the studio regally. She stopped just as she was about to pass the three of us to tell Sparkledancer and I that since she had been asked at the last minute to be a judge at the competition we just did, she was glad that she happened to run into us. We got compliments on how well we did that day, but she wanted to ask why it was that we had been talking during some of our rounds while we were dancing…

Trying to tell her that it was just meant to be funny to help us calm our nerves while we were performing solo wasn’t a good excuse for the Princess, as you can imagine. She did say that she had actual dance notes that she noticed while she was judging that she wanted to tell us about, but she felt bad interrupting Sir Steven. Since she offered to go over what her ‘judge’ notes with us, we set up a time to meet with her next weekend to get her perspective. That should be interesting to hear. Plus, who is crazy enough to turn down an offer like that from the Princess? Not me, that’s for sure!

After that, Sir Steven went over some points with us that he had noticed from where he was watching from the sidelines during the competition. Some of the things he saw we had already picked out to work on ourselves during practice, so he only had us briefly touch on those items. One point that he wanted to pick on was my head in the Waltz. I had been turning it when I closed for my Natural Turns, but not enough for his liking. He wanted me to look all the way over, basically so that I was looking over Sparkledancer’s left shoulder. That’s… a lot of turn. I have gotten to the point where I can turn my head so that my chin lines up with my sternum and then get it back into place without throwing me off, but turning it more than that just makes me feel unstable. I don’t know why. Maybe practice will help.

We also spent some time looking at Quickstep. There was a point during the Quickstep in the competition where Sir Steven caught Sparkledancer doing a heel step at the end of a Backward Lock that he wanted to be sure that she knew about. On top of that, he mentioned that he still thought that I needed to work on traveling more on my second step of the Natural Spin Turn. I have some questions about whether doing this is a good idea or not, since A) my Quickstep already travels more distance than available floor space in most situations, and B) the Natural Spin Turn is a figure with a lot of rotation, so normally I’d say it isn’t supposed to travel a lot. It will take some practice to figure out what works best to make the energy throughout the figure look consistent without traveling too much more and running myself further off the floor.

Also on Saturday, I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to do some work with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella. There really wasn’t much information specifically for me in this session, mostly it was the girls talking about girl things and using me as a warm body to practice with. I do have some notes on what Lady Tella told Sparkledancer though. I figure that if they are written down, it will be easier for one of the two of us to remember her words of wisdom. For me, ‘remembering’ usually means ‘reading through it again later’ when I forget, but it’s totally like the same thing.

During this session with Lady Tella, we started out by looking at Foxtrot. Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to make sure that during the Foxtrot she is reaching even further left and keeping her chest turned up. In the Feather she told her to avoid letting her right shoulder rise up. Next, during the Reverse Turn she told her to delay the head opening a bit and let her body come around first. She wanted to see her keep her body shifted to the left with shoulders down and to take her weight into a bent knee when we went through the Change of Direction. Finally, in the Three Step she said that Sparkledancer should ‘breathe’ and not stay so flat. I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, but Sparkledancer seemed to understand, so I’m just noting it here because that’s what I heard.

Once we got done looking at Foxtrot, we switched over to look at Tango for a little while. The ladies spent some time discussing what Lady Tella prefers in the Tango hold and how to adjust that for Sparkledancer’s different body size. Have I mentioned that Lady Tella is tiny? Super tiny? I have trouble dancing with her because I’m afraid to extend my legs. I feel like I’m going to knee her right in the naughty bits accidentally if I do so. So obviously there are some differences between what Lady Tella does while she dances with me versus what she recommends that Sparkledancer should do.

One point that I remember her mentioning about Tango was that she wanted to see Sparkledancer connect against me higher up on her ribs while shifting her rib cage to the left more. Lady Tella also asked me some questions about how I usually hold my right arm around Sparkledancer’s back. She said that she prefers her partner to hold his hand up higher than I do, but ultimately if Sparkledancer felt comfortable with where I was placing my hand, that was what was most important.

While we were dancing, Lady Tella told Sparkledancer that she wanted to see her open up more (i.e. create more volume) while we were in Promenade Position. What she was seeing was OK, but could have been better if there was more. I think that’s always going to be the case though. Will there ever actually be enough volume? The only other thing we really spent time looking at was the Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. She said that while we were dancing through the figure, we were losing connection to each other just a bit. She actually told me that it was possible that my steps were too big at that point, so I should try shorting them a bit to not pull away from Sparkledancer as I moved.

One thing that I did that day which I noticed because this session wasn’t about me, was that I managed to cover the entire floor of the Endless Dance Hall, corner to corner to corner, while dancing the Foxtrot. I would have managed to get to the fourth corner where I started, but they keep the stereo equipment and some other things on the floor in that corner, so I had to stop before I ran into something expensive. I may have pulled off this feat before, but since I wasn’t being given much instruction that afternoon I could pay more attention to how I was dancing, so I really noticed how far I traveled.

That’s the actual path, as best as I can draw…

I know that it doesn’t sound super impressive to dance from corner to corner, but consider this: the dance floor at the Endless Dance Hall is well over 7,000 square feet. Yeah. That changes the equation slightly, doesn’t it? Yup, I did that. Sparkledancer too. Hopefully she didn’t feel like I was dragging her around the whole time, since my legs are slightly longer than hers.

Late Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for some coaching. As you can probably imagine, the first thing that we sat and talked about was how the competition went. Being one of the judges in the competition, Lord Dormamu had his own take on how the competition went, but he wanted to hear ours as well. What he said was that based on what he knew that Sparkledancer and I were capable of when he watches us in our lessons, the way we danced when we were out on the competition floor was not the best that we could do. That was partially expected – Lord Dormamu only knows one person who actually dances better when competing and under pressure than he does when he is taking lessons, and that’s not me.

What Sparkledancer and I will have to work on is decreasing the amount of disparity between how we dance in a competitive situation versus how we dance during our lessons. So if we consider that how we dance in our lessons is our 100% baseline, we don’t want to be dancing at 70% when we compete. We want to learn to dance 90-95% at minimum, or maintain 100% optimally.

A big part of fixing this issue is going to involve just competing more frequently. If this becomes a ‘normal’ thing for us to do, then there will be less nerves and adrenaline coursing through our systems when we compete. That’s going to take time though. We talked about trying to do some kind of event once a month through the rest of the year, but there are some months where there really aren’t any convenient competitions that we could do, so even without considering the expenses related to competing and traveling all over the place that will be a nearly impossible thing to schedule. Maybe there’s another way, but I haven’t thought of one yet, so this is what we’ll be attempting for the time being.

Aside from that, Lord Dormamu thought that we were still moving in the right direction that will allow us to do well. The overall recommendation for Sparkledancer was to set up some more sessions to work with Lady Tella on her positioning and shape, because he can really see a difference with just the few sessions that the two of them have already had. For me, I need to continue to work on mastering the transitioning when using my legs, where I move from pushing with my back leg to pulling with my front as I travel. These two skills are well beyond Bronze techniques and will take time for the two of us to get down, but if we can master them now it will prove to be invaluable as we move up the ranks.

With the discussions out of the way, it was time for dancing. We started off by looking at a bit of Waltz. A lot of what we were doing made Lord Dormamu happy, but there were places throughout the dance where he thought that Sparkledancer and I were rising too much too quickly. He told us to spend some time this week practicing by doing a bit of a strange exercise: dance through the Waltz and take out all of the leg rise, using only foot rise where we would otherwise be going up.

This is a strange feeling. I have gone through this a few times since this lesson, and while it definitely keeps me from popping up too high through the whole routine, it also causes me to bang my knees against Sparkledancer’s in a few spots. Hopefully by the time I see Lord Dormamu next, practicing this way will have corrected the actions that he was unhappy with so that I can go back to dancing Waltz normally.

Next up, Foxtrot. It’s official – I am able to move enough during my Foxtrot to cover the entire floor of the Endless Dance Hall from corner to corner. I had considered, when I managed it on Saturday while Sparkledancer was working with Lady Tella, that it might have been just a fluke, but I did it again on Sunday with Lord Dormamu so obviously it wasn’t. Yay?

As impressive as the feat sounds, dancing like that actually caused some issues on the short wall for Lord Dormamu. He could tell that I had risen up at the end of the Three Step on the short wall, and I did not lower down again until after the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish in the corner. What I told him was that I had risen up to pull my steps short, because that Three Step took us extremely close to the chairs that line the wall that we were moving toward, and I didn’t want to put Sparkledancer into one of them. When we danced through the short wall again starting further away from the wall, all the issues he saw with me rising up went away.

We stopped to talk about this a bit, because I keep running into this problem. It wasn’t enough to just change the angles on the figures that comprise the short wall, since the origin of the issue is the fact that I am so close to the wall when I turn the corner on the last figure of the long wall. What we ended up doing was going through the entire long wall of the routine and adjusting the angles on most of those figures slightly. This would allow me to continue traveling as much as I am able to, but still end further away from the wall on the short side.

This helped a lot. However, I ran into a different issue when I danced around the room again with Sparkledancer. See, I didn’t begin the routine further away from the short wall in the corner I started, so by the time I got ¾ of the way around the room I was back hugging the wall again and had to pull my steps for the second short wall. Sigh… I need to remember that there are always going to be four walls. If I remember to start away from the wall in whatever corner I start in, then adjust all the angles of the figures on the long wall, I should be able to dance the routine mostly in the middle of the room away from all the walls.

That’s the new path, with crappy arrows added since the paths cross at points.

Unfortunately, this does mean that my figures on all sides will travel further into the center of the room, which on smaller floors means that I could very well be cutting into traffic that is moving the opposite direction on the other side of the room. I just don’t think there is a way I can win here without throwing out these routines and starting over from scratch. Lord Dormamu has told me that when he recreates my routines after he moves us up into Silver he will be taking this into account, but am I going to be able to wait that long?

Let’s spend a little bit of time talking about Latin Technique class this week. It feels like forever since I’ve mentioned it!

During this week’s class Lord Junior had us look at some Rumba. Much like last week’s class (that I never talked about… oops), this week we spent some more time discussing concepts that Lord Junior had picked up from the fancy high-level female coach that they had come in a couple of weeks ago to work with his competitive Latin students. I know she was someone pretty well known, but I only know her first name, and it’s a fairly common name, so I don’t know exactly how to find out any of her background. I’m absolutely no help sometimes…

That night Lord Junior had us doing a progression that was only a couple of figures long to have us focus on techniques. The pattern started out with us doing half a basic on our right side, then leading the ladies out into Fan Position. From there we took the ladies through an Alemana, ending with them out on our right side. This allowed us to link on a couple of Opening Out actions. The ladies were told to do these with a delay before they closed from the Opening Out and cut across our bodies into the next one, and along with that there was some kind of weird double arm action. I was told to also try to do two actions with my arm to match the ladies’ double arm motions, but that made me feel like I was flailing my arm around, so I maaaaay have abandoned that after a few tries.

As for the techniques that the coach talked about which Lord Junior wanted to demonstrate, we started off with the positioning in the legs as they moved. He stopped and had us do some Time Steps to demonstrate this best. In the Time Step, you’ve got the weight on one leg, the heels of your feet more-or-less together, and one knee out in front of you. The object when in this position is to pull the hip of your standing leg backward as you drive the knee of your bent leg forward, trying to create as much space as possible between your legs where light could shine through. This position needs to become your default anytime you pass through this action, like during normal Rumba Walks, or in our pattern as the ladies closed from Fan Position and stepped forward.

We also talked about the connection between the partners as the ladies closed from Fan Position. The coach Lord Junior had worked with described the feeling as a ‘Pull, Push, Pull’ feeling if you are doing it correctly. While out in Fan Position, as the lady is pulling back her right hip and closing her legs you should create a ‘Pull’ on the connection between partners. As the lady shifts her weight between legs, the roll to have the opposite hip backward should cause her to ‘Push’ against the connection. When the ladies finally are about to move, the roll back on the hip that sends the other leg forward should create another ‘Pull’ on the connection. All that change, all in just a few moments of movement if everything is working properly.

That just leaves Standard Technique class to talk about, then I’m done. Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall to work on some Waltz with Lord Junior. I thought class was fun, but I’m sure some of the ladies did not enjoy it as much as I did. Part of that was because there were six of them, and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. A third guy was there before class began, but then something came up and he had to leave. That meant no breaks for me that night!

With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Lord Junior started class off by telling us we were going to go through one of his favorite warm-up exercises – Waltz box steps over a count of nine. He said that he was making us do this to help us practice controlling our rise during the Waltz. Based on what Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I to practice to work on controlling how much we rise, I wondered to myself if the two of them had talked this week.

The exercise itself is fairly simple, but requires a lot of balance and leg strength to do well. Doing a non-rotating box step, take the first two steps in normal time, but the step to the side and the rise while you drag your legs together happen over seven beats, making each half box a nine count. You should be able to feel this a lot in your inner thigh muscles if you are pulling your legs in slowly and correctly. Once your feet connect, do the second half of the box and repeat. Halfway through the warm-up time, we switched to box steps that rotated the other direction.

Once we were all warmed up, we did a short and simple progression that required a lot of control of the rise and fall to pull of well, with some modified timing to change which step the rise was done on. On top of that, there were places where you could add in some fancy head rotations if you wanted to make the movements look more dynamic. I always get thrown off by moving my head the first few times I try it, so it took me a few rounds to get that action to even look passable, and I can’t say that I ever got it to look good.

What we did was to start out facing diagonal wall and, using whatever kind of preparation step you’d like,  go into a Natural Turn. We did a full 90° rotation on this Natural Turn, ending with the guys backing line of dance because the next figure that we did was an Overturned Natural Spin Turn which also ended with the guys backing line of dance. That little extra turn on the Natural Turn makes it easier to get around that much on the Natural Spin Turn. The only other figure that we added was two Turning Locks to Right, back-to-back. Because we were doing two, the first one ended with a Natural Pivot to put us back facing backing line of dance for the second, but we ended the second one by the book, going into Promenade Position heading toward diagonal center.

That was my week! So much fun, right? I’m hoping that this coming weekend stays slightly quieter. I changed up my workouts this week, which also means I changed up my diet, so my body is feeling slightly more trashed than usual (it usually does the first week I rotate to a different workout configuration). I kind of want to find some quiet time to just stay home and stretch out for a while. Will I manage to do that, or will other crazy dance adventures come up that will take away my free time? We’ll have to wait and see!

I Speak To You Like The Chorus To The Verse

All of my lessons, and all of my practice time over the last two months have been focused on preparing for the competition that I went to this past weekend. And you know what? It was… underwhelming.

This particular competition did not have as many people sign up to participate as they have had in years past. On top of that, the majority of the people who did sign up were only dancing Newcomer or Bronze (or both). While that did give me a fair number of competitors to dance against in two of the four rounds that I signed up for, the other two rounds had no one in them. Not. A. One. This meant that for half of the events I danced in last Saturday, Sparkledancer and I were on the floor by ourselves. The organizers didn’t even have other events for different age groups or skill levels in International Standard that they could put on the floor at the same time to be more efficient.

The rounds where I did have other competitors to test myself against weren’t much of a test either. Most of the people who signed up for those two rounds primarily danced American Smooth, and no one had ever really told them the changes that they would have to make to the way they danced to do International Standard. Sparkledancer and I swept the field pretty handily because we had actually been practicing International Standard, so we knew what the judges would be looking for.

But… I kind of feel terrible about that. Like, winning in this way wasn’t really meaningful.

Other than that bitter taste from the results of the competition, the event was actually a lot of fun. I was able to get to the Dance Death Arena early enough so that I could run through my routines a couple of times on the floor there, and adjust (i.e. pull back) the length of my stride so that I would fill the floor from corner to corner in each routine. I happened to know two of the judges, so I got real feedback from them on how things looked while I was competing. One of the judges was Lord Dormamu, which was why Sparkledancer and I had signed up for the competition in the first place (because he told us we should). Another judge that was supposed to be there that day ended up getting sick, so the organizers called the Princess for help and she actually showed up to be a judge too.

I wasn’t super worried about how the results would turn out after meeting the competition. In fact, I may not have taken things as seriously as I probably should have. Case and point: during one of the events that Sparkledancer and I danced unopposed, a Waltz number, we spent the whole time talking about what kind of dessert foods would be good to eat at that moment. Apparently Sparkledancer doesn’t like cake batter. I think that cake batter is delicious, though it’s not something that I have sitting around in my house to eat like… ever. Luckily she agreed with me that cookie dough would have been pretty good, so we would have been able to find something to eat. Not exactly a normal thing to discuss in the middle of a dance competition, but that totally happened.

After we had finished dancing in our session and the awards for the International Standard rounds were handed out, Sparkledancer and I had both signed up to volunteer at the competition for a few hours to help. I changed out of my competition outfit and put on something slightly more comfortable, and then I ended up out at the front registration table. Unfortunately, because the rounds that were scheduled for that day were already half over, and not too many competitors had signed up overall, there wasn’t much for me to actually do while I was there. I answered a few questions, checked in a couple of competitors who showed up a little late to the party, and directed a lot of people to the restrooms. Super exciting work, right?

Just as Sparkledancer and I were finishing up our volunteer shift at the front desk, we could hear the emcee making announcements about some upcoming events that they were looking for more people to join in for. I guess they had scheduled two ‘fun’ rounds, which ended up being for Hustle and West Coast Swing, but they had very few people who had signed up for them. The emcee was telling everyone that they were still allowing people to join, so they should go sign up at the front desk if interested at all.

As we were counting down to those rounds, some of the braver young couples were trying to decide if they could do the dance styles. The hallway next to where the front desk was became a sort of impromptu practice ground for undecided competitors to see if they could hack it. There were a few boys who seemed to know how to Hustle, and they managed to pair off with a couple of ladies who knew the steps well enough to get by, so they all signed up for that round.

The West Coast Swing was a different matter entirely. After the Hustle kids left, some new kids took over the hallway and were trying to figure out if they could do West Coast Swing or not. One girl who told everyone that she knew West Coast Swing kind of took charge of the situation and was trying to explain the Sugar Push basic to a couple who were debating on signing up… but she was telling the guy the wrong steps, and they kept messing up. After watching this in my peripheral vision for about ten minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left the front desk and took over the situation.

I maaaaaaay have caused some trouble in doing so, however. See, I started trying to help out the guy who was trying to learn the West Coast Swing basic, pointing out the problems in his footwork and getting him to do it correctly. The girl who had been trying to teach the couple before found out I was there, and then she wanted me to show her how to do it too.Another couple of competitors stopped by to watch what we were doing, and soon they were trying to pick up the steps at the same time. Then the girl who had been trying to teach everyone before I showed up started asking questions about the female part. I tried to explain as best I could, but it had been a long time since I had learned that part of the steps, so I ended up flagging down Sparkledancer to have her come over and help.

As Sparkledancer and I were demonstrating the steps and explaining things to all of these interested ‘students’, we ended up drawing in so many people that we were blocking off the hallway. Eventually, someone on staff for the venue had to come and disperse everyone because they needed to keep the walkways clear for safety reasons. Oops… my bad.

In demonstrating to these competitors just how much they didn’t know about West Coast Swing though, I think I ended up discouraging some of them from entering the event that was going to happen. By the time that heat came up, the emcee made an announcement that only one couple had signed up to participate, so they were throwing open the floor to anyone that thought they could dance West Coast Swing, whether they had a competitor number or not. The emcee managed to goad the organizers of the competition into dancing, and then managed to convince the competition DJ and her husband to get on the floor as well.

Sparkledancer told me that we should do it too, seeing as how we had just scared away all the other kids. I was no longer wearing my competitor number and neither Sparkledancer nor were wearing dance shoes anymore, but I agreed. So, I stripped down to a t-shirt and took to the floor in my tennis shoes to try to dance. By the time I got on the floor, they were up to eight couples. We were told that they would do this in two rounds: in round one, each of the six judges would go tap one of the competitive couples who they wanted to see dance in the finals. Round two, all six judges would deliberate and assign each of us a placement.

Somehow Sparkledancer and I managed to make the finals. I didn’t actually do anything fancy, since I couldn’t turn myself all that well in tennis shoes, and Sparkledancer’s street shoes weren’t all that great either, but I guess that we managed to impress one of the judges enough with the few moves that we did do to get chosen to move on to the next level. Hooray!

You can probably guess how the final round went though. After dancing for about 90 seconds, the judges deliberated briefly and awarded first place to the competition organizer and his wife. No surprise there. Second place went to the DJ and her husband. Also no surprise there. But third place… third place went to Sparkledancer and I! What in the world…?

Of all the results that I got from this competition, that is probably the one that I am most proud of. One of the judges even gave me a third place ribbon so that I could commemorate this victory for all time. I’m going to put up a special hook just to hang this ribbon on my wall, so that anyone who comes to my house can see it and be amazed.

I’d like to dedicate that pseudo-victory to Joanna and Shawn. Deep down inside, I know that you two made it all possible. 🙂

Once the afternoon rounds finished up, there was a brief break to allow everyone to get dinner, and then other festivities were planned in the evening. First off, the organizers had convinced one of the judges to give a group class to all competitors who wanted to stay for the evening and any other dancers/spectators who wanted to pay a $10 entry fee, and then once that was done they were going to turn the DJ loose to spin some tunes so that everyone could just dance the night away for fun. I decided to stick around for both events.

A funny thing happened while I was waiting around for the class to start – I was hanging around along the side of the dance floor exchanging superficial pleasantries with other people who wandered by that I recognized, when suddenly Sparkledancer walked over toward me and turned her back to all the other people in the room. She proceeded to tell me about how she had just been in the bathroom, and there had been two girls in there with her who had been in the competition earlier that day. Apparently they had danced a few rounds in International Standard (two of those rounds against the two of us, as it happens), and both girls and their partners did not do super well.

During a break in the afternoon, both ladies decided to approach Lord Dormamu and ask him why it was that they had placed so poorly. As soon as Sparkledancer said that, I thought to myself, ‘Oh man, that probably did not go well for them.’ See, Lord Dormamu is a super nice guy, who is very charismatic and loves to joke around… unless you are talking dance with him. That is his passion, and if you are doing things wrong, he won’t hesitate to tell you about it.

These girls apparently called him an ass because he told both of them that their frame and posture needed work if they wanted to do better in International Standard. That answer didn’t sound so bad to me, because based on the work that I’ve done with Lord Dormamu, frame and posture always need work, since that is the foundation for everything else you do. Those girls had been told by whoever their regular dance instructor is that when competing in Bronze International Standard, the only thing that matters is their footwork and technique in dancing, and that frame isn’t a big deal.

When Sparkledancer said that, I had to stop and scratch my head a little. How could that instructor say that ‘footwork and technique’ are the only things that matter in Bronze Standard, but then say that frame doesn’t matter? The frame and posture are one of the most basic techniques, pretty much underlying everything. How in the world could this person make a distinction like that?

Both of the girls walked through the room at that point, and Sparkledancer pointed them out to me so that I would know who she was talking about. I didn’t remember dancing against them earlier in the day, but both had obviously changed out of their competition gear, so not recognizing them wasn’t too surprising.

Then the organizer of the competition took to the stage to make an announcement. They were waiting a few more minutes for people to finish up dinner and change back into their dance shoes, but the plan was to start the group class shortly. And, he was really excited to announce that the person that would be teaching the group class was… Lord Dormamu!

Suddenly the conversation that Sparkledancer told me became twice as hilarious.

I’ve never seen Lord Dormamu teach to a crowd before. Obviously with his level of success in the dance arena over the years, the man can take on students and be paid a ridiculous amount of money for his time in private lessons, so teaching group lessons is probably not something he does very often. This class that he gave was interesting, though it was all things that I have heard before in working privately with him. But based on my estimation of the average skill level of the competitors and social dancers that attended the class, the information that they received was worth its weight in gold.

I’m not just saying that because Lord Dormamu happens to be my coach either. I have been in group workshops like this that are taught by judges before. Judge Dread happens to give them all the time around where I live. In those other workshops I’ve seen, usually the judge-person goes over different patterns of figures, and throws in a little bit of technique on top of that for the more advanced students. Pretty standard fare I’m sure you’ve also experienced before.

Lord Dormamu gave something more like a lecture, where he laid out what it is that he sees as a couple of the most important points of dancing International Standard, and used a basic amalgamation of figures in Foxtrot as a demonstration tool for the points he was making. I happen to think that these sorts of discussions about dance philosophy are much more interesting than learning figures, but maybe that’s just me.

In the past I’ve mentioned what Lord Dormamu told me were the five major points that I need to be thinking about when I am competing: 1) posture/frame 2) connection 3) footwork 4) timing and 5) alignment. In this class he wanted to talk to everyone about just three of those point that he saw a lot of competitors doing incorrectly while he was judging (footwork, timing and connection), but he had to touch on the other two briefly in order for the information that he was conveying to truly make sense.

Being regular students of Lord Dormamu’s, Sparkledancer and I got dragged into the spotlight during class, though it was worse for her than it was for me. Obviously to truly give people an idea of what he was talking about, Lord Dormamu needed to do some dancing and demonstrate with a partner, so Sparkledancer got to play Dance Dummy for the majority of the class. This actually came back to haunt her during the social dance later, unfortunately. I was singled out a few times when Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the correct word to use in English. I’ve gotten pretty good at following his train of thought during my lessons with him, so when he couldn’t figure out the right word he would turn to me and see if I could help him finish his sentences.

What was the most fun for me though was watching the progression of facial expressions on the two ladies that Sparkledancer had pointed out to me before the class started. When Lord Dormamu first took the stage, there was a look that seemed more like anger or disgust. By the time that the class ended, the look they were giving him bordered on wonder, and they were laughing along with all of his jokes like everyone else in class. Maybe after getting a more thorough explanation of what he was looking for while judging they had changed their tune about his answer for why they placed so poorly during the International Standard rounds.

That just left the dance party on Saturday night to celebrate, and then I would finally get to go home. I got the impression early on that many of the competitors I saw at the dance party that night didn’t really go out social dancing very often, if at all. There’s a good chance that if the DJ hadn’t started playing songs right away as the group class ended, many of those people would have left the event, never to be seen again.

At the beginning of the party, the competitors refused to mingle all that much. I saw many of them only head out to the floor to dance with their competitive partners, or just hanging around the edge of the dance floor with their competitive ‘team’ members from their home studios. That worried me a little. I think the DJ saw this too though, because after the first couple of songs she made an announcement that she was going to play a Foxtrot and make it a mixer dance to help people meet other dancers that they didn’t know. This tactic really seemed to break the ice, and afterward the dance floor was filled with many more dancers and people were beginning to rotate through partners as I would have expected. Genius!

Earlier I mentioned that being used as Lord Dormamu’s dance dummy didn’t end up being a good thing for Sparkledancer. During the dance party, I had been wandering around the hall, just talking to people, going out to dance occasionally, and mostly trying to blend into the background just to observe. Sparkledancer came and found me at one point and told me that she was having a hard time getting other guys at the party to dance with her. When she would ask them, they would either refuse her, or while they were dancing they would be extremely tense and apologize profusely every time being tense caused them to mess up.

She was worried that being used to demonstrate so much in the class with Lord Dormamu made the guys at the party afraid of her, as if they thought she was better than them. That made me feel terrible for her, so I did my best to dance with her more through the rest of the evening. It’s so weird that guys will act like that. After all, if we had a female teaching the group class, and the female instructor had used me as a demonstration tool, I probably would have had more women seek me out for dances later in the evening. It’s funny that men seem to avoid dancing with women that they view as better than them, but women gravitate toward men that they think are better to dance with. What a weird way for our brains to be wired!

And that… was my weekend. I think I have rambled on long enough on just this topic, so I’ll leave things here for now. Until next week, keep on dancing!

There’s A Magic Running Through Your Soul

As you can probably imagine, last weekend I spent a lot of time running through all of my routines, because this coming Saturday I am competing. On top of actually competing at some point in the early afternoon, the organizers of the competition sent out a notice asking if anyone would be able to volunteer to help out. I guess many of the people in their normal pool of volunteers had other obligations they couldn’t get out of, so they were desperate. Being the nice guy that I am, I signed up for the shift that should be just after I get done actually dancing on Saturday. Showing up to volunteer with my number still pinned to my back will get me bonus points, right?

Anyway, I started off last Saturday morning by meeting up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven to run rounds. Sir Steven thought that things were looking pretty good for the competition, and didn’t have much in the way of notes for the two of us that day. The takeaway from him that day was to practice and fix just one thing in each dance style, rather than try to overwhelm us with a bunch of points when we are so close to performance.

In the Waltz, the point he wanted us to work on was continuing to have our knees moving forward as we were lowering into the next step. Obviously if you are moving backward the effect is slightly different, but I’m sure the point makes sense if you’ve done Waltz before. For the Foxtrot he told Sparkledancer to work on keeping herself off to the left more throughout the whole dance. During the Tango he could see that we had been working on bringing our feet together later during figures where we close them, but it is not consistent. He told us to keep practicing that action so that every time we close our feet we bring them together at the last moment before we start moving again. Finally, in the Quickstep he wanted me to work on extending my step further on the first step into the Natural Spin Turn, because apparently the step looks stunted when compared to all the other steps.

Once I finished up with Sir Steven, I had another session scheduled to work with Lord Dormamu. He told Sparkledancer and I that he was going to do the same thing that Sir Steven did – have us run through each of our routines that day so that he could give us an overall impression and correct any glaring issues before we head off to the competition. He ended up giving me more notes than Sir Steven did, but that’s not totally surprising. Lord Dormamu is more vociferous than Sir Steven, after all.

Again we started with the Waltz. Overall the Waltz was good, there were just a few items that Lord Dormamu wanted us to keep in mind as we danced in the competition. The first thing that he stopped me to change was how I was turning my head as I closed my feet on a Natural Turn. Remember how I mentioned that turning my head at that point was throwing me off? Well apparently it was because I was turning it too far. I had been told to turn so that I was looking over Sparkledancer’s head, but because she has been working on her positioning and is now further back and to the left, this means that I am turning my head a lot. Lord Dormamu told me to turn my head no more than to the point where my chin lines up with my sternum. That makes things a lot easier!

Besides that, we were cautioned to make sure that we change direction on the last step of each Chasse from Promenade Position that we do. I guess we sometimes allowed the final step of the chasse to continue traveling sideways, which would throw off the first step of any figure coming afterward. Finally, Lord Dormamu wasn’t entirely happy with the first step of the Hesitation Change. He thought that the first step looked really weak compared to the second step and the line we created on beat three, so he wanted me to practice lowering myself more after the preceding figure and extending my leg to put a more consistent amount of power into the first step to matches the next.

Next up we looked at Foxtrot. Foxtrot continues to be our strongest dance style, likely because that is the one we have spent the most time looking over with Lord Dormamu in the last year. There were only a couple of pointers that he had for us to keep in mind going into this weekend. First off, Sparkledancer was told to keep her head closed as we go through the Reverse Turns. Whether she should open her head or keep it closed during the figure changes almost every other time we see Lord Dormamu, but she made sure to confirm that he wants it closed and won’t change his mind before this event is over. Besides that, I was told to continue working on my lowering action through the ending steps of figures and maintaining that through the beginning of the next figure. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s not perfect yet, so I still have to focus on practicing.

Tango was where we spent the most time going over things that Lord Dormamu wanted us to clean up. Most of the items that he pointed out were for the figures in the second half of the first long wall, though he did also want Sparkledancer to keep working on pulling her frame wider. When we would get into frame to start dancing, he would come up behind her, hook his hands inside her elbows and pull outward to try to “help” with that.

The first thing that he mentioned was about the Natural Promenade Turn (or Promenade Pivot, depending on how you learned it). He was happy that we had managed to slow down the rotation during the turn to his liking, but he said that when we continued into the Closed Promenade afterward the first step was missing the slight foot flicking action that all our other Promenades had. He postulated that it was because we were rotating and never actually stopped before we went into that next step forward, so to fix the problem he wanted us to be sure to come to a complete stop in the rotation before going into that step. That definitely seemed to fix the issue.

The other issue was with the Right-side Lunge that was in the first corner. Lord Dormamu admitted to us that day that based on what the approved syllabus is now versus what it was all those years ago when he originally designed this routine, he personally would no longer consider this figure to be a part of the Bronze syllabus. So… yeah. That makes me worried about whether anyone else might come to that same conclusion and possibly invigilate us for having it in our routine. That thought is going to bother me now whenever I am out in a competition doing that move in front of a judge. Sigh…

When he saw us go through the figure the first time that day, he thought that we were off time as we hit the line, like we were rotating too slowly. I managed to tighten that up by rotating my third step more as I came around Sparkledancer, which meant that the step into the lunge had to travel less, speeding up the process so that everything hit sharply on time. Lord Dormamu also wanted me to put in a bit of an arc as I shaped Sparkledancer into the lunge. He told me I should (seriously, this was his exact comparison) think about swinging up and over like a lumberjack swings an axe when chopping wood.

This was already pretty funny because Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the English word for ‘lumberjack’ at first, so he was trying to describe the person doing the action to me so that I could come up with the word for him, but once I had figured out the word he was looking for Sparkledancer had to stop and ask if that made her the hatchet. Then all three of us devolved into a string of jokes for a few minutes that somehow ended up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer deciding that for this competition she should wear a red plaid flannel dress while I was told to show up wearing a ‘Canadian tuxedo’ (with apologies to any actual Canadians who might see this). I guess I should have started working on growing the requisite beard a while ago. My bad.

Finally, we finished by going through Quickstep briefly. Overall the Quickstep was good, since there isn’t much to the routine. I was told that I kept the timing of the steps correct and the alignment of the figures was by the book except for the places I needed to adjust to get around people, so if I could replicate that at the competition then we should be golden. The only real suggestion was for Sparkledancer. Lord Dormamu wanted her to try to quadruple the amount of volume she was creating in our frame during the Quickstep. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was joking or not when he asked her to do that much, so I’m making a note of it so that I can remind her to practice bending that much.

I want to go off on a slight tangent here, because I saw something on the way to a dance party on Saturday night that was… strange. Now I have to tell someone else, so I’m writing it here.

Before I headed off to help set up for the monthly party that my Royal Dance Court group hosted on Saturday night, I had stopped off to get a sandwich to eat. Once I had my food and took a seat at a table to eat it quickly, I looked out the window nearby and saw a group of teenage boys hanging around outside causing a ruckus. Normally this wouldn’t be of note, since it was a nice day out and I would expect teenage to be hanging around in public places trying to attract the attention of teenage girls (I did this myself in my youth, so I totally understood why they were there).

What struck me as odd was what one of the boys was wearing. Attached to his belt he had a holster, and in the holster were what I can only describe as three kunai. If you don’t know what those are, a kunai is the kind of knife that you have probably seen anime ninja characters using. It has a short, leaf-shaped blade and a handle that ends in a ring that you can tie things to. You’ll see them used as both melee weapons and for throwing. I have certainly seen these types of blades in cartoons many times when I was growing up, but I guess I didn’t know that people could actually buy knives like that in real life.

Why in the world did this teenager have knives like this, and why in the world was he carrying them around openly in what was more or less a public shopping area? I couldn’t figure out if he just had them as a prop to try to make himself look cooler, or if his hobby involved knife throwing. Maybe Kunai Guy (that’s what I started calling him in my head) was concerned about ninjas attacking him while he was trying to pick up girls. Maybe the sandwich shop I stopped at was in a much more dangerous part of town than I realized. After all, if there were roving gangs of ninjas lurking about there, I wouldn’t see them until it was too late, right? Sneaky ninjas…

So yeah. That totally happened on my way to a dance party. For reals.

Anyway, the party that my Royal Dance Court group and I had set up that night was going to be a lot of fun. We had gone out of our way to get a hold of the famous Judge Dread, internationally acclaimed ballroom coach and adjudicator, and convinced him to come teach a class on American Foxtrot for us before our dance party. Also, apparently Judge Dread knows who I am, and knows that Sparkledancer and I are working with Lord Dormamu. He stopped both of us to ask how our training was going, and he wanted to know what competitions we would be doing next. Turns out that, while he won’t be a judge at the competition this coming weekend, he will be a judge at the competition I was planning to do next month. No pressure there or anything, right?

We ended up with a lot of people coming out to attend Judge Dread’s class, which I sort of expected. What I didn’t expect was that when all of the men and women lined up to dance together, there was an even number of Leads and Follows. That meant that I didn’t have to jump into the class to fix the ratio, like I usually have to. I was kind of paying attention to what he was teaching from the sidelines, but not really. I was more intrigued by the game that Sparkledancer seemed to be playing with Bony, where she kept grabbing items off of the snack table and sneaking them over to where Bony was sitting by the front door to see how much she could get Bony to eat.

For those of you that are curious, Bony managed to finish about half a bowl of chocolate-covered pretzels before she asked Sparkledancer to stop dropping food on the desk.

On Tuesday night, rather than getting to go out and put in some practice time, I had to go out and meet up with my Royal Dance Court gang for our quarterly meeting. In all reality, I don’t feel like there was really a reason for me to be there, other than the fact that I am the Keeper of Records and I have to take all the notes. No one really brought up any business that night where I felt like I had any input, so I sat there quietly wishing that I was out practicing all of the stuff that I had been told to practice over the weekend. That’s the same way I feel sometimes when I get stuck in meetings at work, but at least I get paid to go to those meetings.

One of the points brought up that I did pay attention to was the fact that we have ‘officially’ sold out all of the seats for our upcoming formal party in May. There was a family that came to our dance party on Saturday night who thought that the formal sounded like a fun idea, so they bought up the last four seats. This means that all of the originally planned tables have been filled, and we have gotten enough money from ticket sales to cover all of the expenses for the evening.

Unofficially there is room in the venue to add one more table if anyone else wants to go, and we can do so without adding much in the way of cost. The caterer that we contracted with to provide dinner is already planning on bringing enough food to feed a hundred people, and right now we have sold ninety seats. Adding in another table wouldn’t change the food equation at all. I guess the ladies in the Royal Dance Court had decided to leave the extra table out unless absolutely necessary because there would be more space on the dance floor without those ten extra people dancing about.

Since we have sold all the tickets for this year’s formal, I guess that meant that it was time to start planning for next years formal, because the ladies who were at the meeting had already decided on and tentatively booked a date for next year with the Endless Dance Hall. All of the ladies seemed to be happy with the date that was selected, so I bet by the end of the week one of them will have called the Endless Dance Hall to solidify the reservation and send in the deposit. I just couldn’t believe that we were already working on an event that far in the future. Personally I would have preferred to wait until this year’s formal was over before starting to plan the next one, but what do I know. I’m just a boy.

That was really the most exciting part of the meeting on Tuesday that needs to be remembered. I did finally get some printouts of data from our past monthly dance parties that I can start inputting into a digital format to do some trend analysis and find ways to make our parties better, but that probably isn’t exciting to many other people. The eyes of all the older ladies that run the Royal Dance Court sort of glaze over when I talk about doing this kind of thing, so maybe it’s something that only I care about.

The last thing of note that I did this week was to go to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night to work on some Foxtrot with Lord Junior. This week we did some fun figures that I have seen before, but hadn’t gone through in a long time, so it was nice to have a refresher. I think only one other person who was in class that night might have also seen the figures before, so the progression would have seemed pretty new to everyone else.

We started with a prep step into a Feather and then went into a Gold-level figure called the Bounce Fallaway with Weave Ending. After practicing this figure several times, Lord Junior felt like everyone in class had it down so he upgraded our progression by swapping out the Weave Ending with an Open-level figure called a Tumble Turn with Feather Finish. The Tumble Turn portion was probably the hardest thing for everyone to pick up that night, and caused a real issue for the older lady who had joined us for class (more on that in a bit). Once Lord Junior had gotten everyone comfortable with the Tumble Turn, he had us change the last step of the Feather Finish into a checking action so that we could add on a Silver-level figure called a Top Spin to finish up.

Near the end of class, we had an incident where the other gentleman who had come for class that night was leading the older lady who tends to join us most weeks through the entire progression for practice. What we think happened was that she tried to cross her foot in front instead of behind during the Tumble Turn and ended up tripping her partner. He did the best that he could trying to stay up, but being an older gentleman himself he just didn’t have the strength or balance to hold both himself and the lady up, and they fell to the floor.

No one was hurt, but the older lady seemed to be really embarrassed from the fall, so she told Lord Junior that she thought that was enough for the night and took off before class was over. The rest of us spent the remaining minutes running through the progression. After we finished up, Lord Junior was standing in the middle of the floor looking troubled. He wandered over to where we were all sitting and changing our shoes and said that he felt really bad about what had happened, and he might need to have a conversation with this lady soon about her coming to the Standard Technique class.

See, while he was glad that this older lady came to class from time to time and he enjoyed working with her, she is old enough that she had real troubles moving, her sense of balance is out of sorts, and she struggles to remember the footwork for the figures we go over. That’s not his diagnosis, the lady freely admits to these problems even when dancing with me. I guess there have been weeks when Lord Junior had planned out earlier in the day to do some really hard stuff to challenge those of us who dance International Standard competitively, but when this lady shows up he throws out those harder figures and techniques in favor of steps that he knows she can get through.

Man… that sounds rough. I feel bad for him even having to consider having that conversation. Here’s hoping that she doesn’t take it the wrong way and give up dancing entirely. 😦

Yay, it’s competition weekend finally! I’ve gotten emails from the organizers of this particular competition saying that they have “compressed” the schedule this year. The unwritten implication of that statement seems to be that they had a lot fewer people sign up to compete than they were originally expecting. That’s too bad. The one nice thing about compressing the schedule though is that they took out all of Saturday morning in the compression, so now I don’t have to dance until early afternoon. Hooray for me! That gives me a chance to be much more awake before taking to the floor, which I am very happy about.

Also in that email they mentioned that they changed the plans for the evening session on Saturday. Rather than doing a bunch of weird events and all the championship rounds, they pushed those back to the afternoon session because they had time. Instead, they have set up a free group class from one of the adjudicators for all competitors plus a social dance for anyone wanting to dance the night away. The social dance is apparently open to all, not just people who were in the competition.

Normally going to a social dance wouldn’t be much in the way of news for me, but during this social dance they are holding some ‘extra’ rounds to add in some fun, and one of those actually sounds interesting. There will be two of these extra rounds the email mentioned – one is a Jack & Jill Swing, and one a random-pairing Waltz. I have never done a competition where I get paired with a random lady before, but I do consider myself to be pretty OK at the Waltz at this point in my life. I’m thinking about signing up for that event as a test of my ability to lead properly. I hope they let me participate!

Tune in next week to find out all about what kind of crazy stuff I get myself into this weekend!