Step Up To The Streets

Last weekend… oh boy, it was exhausting. Both of the dance field trips that I had talked about last week actually happened, and they were both a lot of exhausting fun.

A few weeks back during our normal Friday night post-dance ice cream run, Amazon was talking about how she had found a place hosting a Stop Light Party. She sounded pretty excited about it, and that was enough to make the rest of us excited about going. We started gathering people and making plans, even letting Sir Steven and Lord Fabulous know that we would be leaving Friday night after the group class but before the social dance to go to this event. Originally we had planned on having a group of ten of us, but in the end four of them bailed on us (including Amazon, the progenitor of this idea). So it was just me, Sparkledancer, Jack and Diane and the Ski Bums that went. While making plans to go, we all decided to wear yellow to the Stop Light Party, since it amused us and also made it sort-of clear that we weren’t really there looking for any dates.

Arriving at the bar where the event was being held, we took to the dance floor before anyone else really joined. Going out in Charlotte in the past, I’ve found that usually the night life doesn’t pick up until after 11:00PM anyway, so being on a fairly empty dance floor wasn’t really a surprise. We spent the evening on the floor, playing around with a mixture of Cha-Cha and Rumba, East and West Coast Swing and Hustle. Speaking of Hustle, the Ski Bums are Hustle masters. In talking with StepUp1them, I found out that they had learned how to dance Hustle back when they were younger, so they certainly made the rest of us look amateur while we did it. They have only been learning to dance with us for a couple of months now, so they are pretty new to everything else that the other four of us were doing on the dance floor, but they made up for it with sheer enthusiasm.

As the night progressed and the other denizens of the bar had imbibed enough liquid courage, the dance floor filled up quite a bit. That made it much harder to clear room to dance how we were accustomed to dancing. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when we started to run out of room, I couldn’t switch out of ballroom mode. There’s something about having danced for so long in such a refined manner that doesn’t allow me to dance like everyone else on the floor, like there isn’t an Off switch for that sort of dancing anymore. So the more the party picked up, the more all six of us started to get confined in the crowd, and eventually we decided to call it a night when we just couldn’t move around very much. Plus, we had promised Lady Q that we wouldn’t miss her Pilates class in the morning even if we were staying out late to attend this event, so there was some pressure to go home and get some sleep so we could all get up early the next day.

Saturday night Diane had invited a number of us to go with her to a “Salsa In The Streets” party that was happening on a street corner in downtown Charlotte. This time, Amazon actually decided to come along with us, meeting up with us at the corner and even bringing along the Heartbreak Kid, one of Lady Q’s male students. When I StepUp2arrived at the location, I saw that Jack and Diane had already arrived and, rather unexpectedly, Flexy was already there with them. This event was being put on by a local Salsa dancing club, mostly so that they could hand out fliers and invite people to join them. We chatted off near one of the buildings behind them for a bit, then we all went down and started dancing on the sidewalk with them. One of the members of the club came up to talk with us (and give us fliers), but she said that it was pretty obvious that we had learned ballroom-style Salsa dancing. I’ll admit, after watching the people they brought with them dance for a while, I couldn’t tell if there was any real difference between ballroom-style and whatever style they had learned – a lot of the moves that I saw them do I either knew how to do or had seen someone at the Dance Kingdom doing at one point. There could be a stylistic difference, but I guess I don’t know enough about Salsa to really tell what that was.

Most of the dancing that I did with people that night was just things I had learned in Mambo classes starting on the downbeat instead of the backbeat. I remember in the past, Sir Steven had told one of our group classes that Salsa was essentially ‘sloppy mambo’ because of the timing difference. With that in mind, I felt pretty comfortable dancing with everyone else there, aside from the sidewalk being difficult to dance on. The corner that we occupied wasn’t entirely flat, and wasn’t smooth by any stretch of the imagination. Trying to turn in sneakers on concrete and bricks was challenging, much like the times I have gone out to practice smooth-dance routines on the street. It really makes me appreciate the way the dance shoes that I have work on a wooden floor, even though at this point my shoes have been well worn and are starting to fall apart.

Dance field trips like these really help me keep things fun. With all the practice and all the intensity put into learning competition routines, and all the time spent at the Land of the Loft in classes learning, it’s nice to take a break and go do things that embody the whole reason I started on this journey in the first place: having fun. Sure, a lot of the time it is fun to me to be learning more and more complicated things, and it’s a lot of fun to be elegant and impress the ladies with mad dance skills that I’ve picked up, but sometimes… sometimes it’s really nice to take all that proper form and technique, and shove it aside just to be a bit crazy and laugh about what’s going on for an evening. It also helps reinforce the fact that even though I’m not a very good dancer when compared to other people who study in the Dance Kingdom, I look like a really good dancer when out amongst the population at large. That boost of self-confidence helps put me back in the right frame of mind to start buckling down and work on competition stuff again.

Speaking of competition – we are less than two months left to the competition now. At this point it looks like I will be doing 35 heats divided amongst 10 dance styles with my dance partner, and then another 35 heats with completely different routines in I-don’t-know-how-many styles with Lady Q, and one championship round with my dance partner again. When discussing these new routines with Sir Steven, he promised me that he would teach these different, secondary routines to both me and Sparkledancer, so that we could work on them together during our normal practice meetings, even though we won’t be performing them together when the competition comes around. That makes me feel slightly better about things, since then I wouldn’t have to try and fit extra lesson time in with Lady Q to practice with her in order to learn them properly. This feels like a pretty intense way to jump into the world of actual competitions for dancing. I hope I can step up to the challenge successfully.

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It’s The Terror Of Knowing What This World Is About

Flashback to Wednesday night: we had just finished up Foxtrot class, and my dance partner and I were practicing some of the techniques from class. Others were in the back, chit-chatting, waiting for their private lessons to start. Sir Steven was going to be giving a lesson to Amazon, and Yessie was waiting for Lord Fabulous to finish up with the people he was working with to begin a lesson with her. My dance partner and I finished up and had gone over, sat down, and began changing our shoes, talking about our preferences for American Smooth Foxtrot as opposed to International Standard. As Sir Steven came over to grab Amazon to get started, Lord Fabulous turned from his lesson to yell out something unintelligible about telling about the competition. He paused for a moment, then said “Oh yeah” and came over to where my dance partner and I were sitting.

Sir Steven laid out this plan they had decided upon. Apparently they are going to have the two of us compete in some of the lower level heats Terror1during the competition, but we are going to do it separately. Sir Steven is going to compete with Sparkledancer, and I will be paired with Lady Q. When we asked him why, he said that we would be doing it to work on for and technique, and they wouldn’t be charging either of us anything to do it since this was their decision. Since Amazon was standing there with him ready to get started, he said that we would talk about it more the next time the three of us meet on Saturday for our lesson together, leaving us standing there in shock and confusion.

During my drive home, I started feel like I was suddenly under a lot of pressure. What is the reason for having the two of us compete separately? Is it really to have us work on the simpler version of the form and technique for things? Is it because they need more people to compete in the lower level heats than signed up? Believe it or not, I will admit to being scared of dancing with Lady Q. She knows a lot more than I do about what should or shouldn’t be happening. It’s one thing to be in a group class where no one really knows all the steps very well, and to dance with random people. It’s another thing to dance with someone who knows if you screw up and (since I’m the lead) make her look bad. I’m terrified enough when I dance with my dance partner, afraid that I’m going to make her mess up by messing up the lead, thereby making her look bad. That would make me feel horrible. I don’t really have to dance with Sir Steven during the lessons I take with him, as you can imagine, so I don’t really have much practice dancing with one of the noble class of the Dance Kingdom. Plus, how am I going to keep multiple routines for the same dance straight, especially since it is not as easy to schedule time to practice with Lady Q? Or, worse, what if they want me to freestyle it? That would be fine for things in the Rhythm category, but anything in the Smooth category… my skill level in floorcraft is not yet very high. It’s gotten better since the last time I spoke about it, but it’s still one of those things I would consider a weak point. I made the same point to Sparkledancer when we spoke about this turn of events, and told her that she shouldn’t worry so much about it. She gets to compete with Sir Steven, and he will know the routine inside and out (since he put it together), so he will be able to lead her through everything. If I forget things, I’m going to look silly.

These are the things I think about when I sit around.
These are the things I think about when I sit around.

The one thing I didn’t think of until just now is that it is possible that they could do this for West Coast Swing heats. Since I know, from all of the lands in the Dance Kingdom, that we are among the few who have taken a liking to West Coast Swing, and are among the even smaller set who compete with that style, splitting the two of us up to compete during some of those heats means there will be twice as many people on the floor as if they left us to compete with each other. Maybe that has something to do with it. I’d really rather not repeat the experience we had of being the only people on the floor for heats in that style last time…

I suppose this is not an unprecedented move. During the Spring Fling, one of the other non-Pro-Am couples actually did a few heats individually, each paired with a Lord of Lady. I thought it was strange at the time, but if this is standard operating procedure for non-Pro-Am couples, then I will remember to expect it if my dance partner and I ever decide to do another competition after the one in September.

No matter what happens, I suppose my focus should be on the routines I am learning with my dance partner. After all, anything I do with Lady Q, unless I totally destroy the lead during the routine she should know the female part that goes along with it. Last weekend when my dance partner and I worked with Sir Steven, we went back and reviewed our Bolero routine. I happen to like Bolero. It’s another one of those styles, like West Coast Swing, that not many people really put much effort into learning at the Land of the Loft. My dance partner and I enjoy it. Whenever we practice together, generally there is one of two songs on: Ricky Martin’s Casi Un Bolero (which should be obvious, since it’s in the title) or As The World Falls Down by David Bowie (yes, the one from the Labyrinth). Those songs are drilled into my mind as being shining examples of what the Bolero should sound like. It’s kind of like how the Mambo will forever be associated in my head with anything by Lou Bega. Luckily for us, there won’t be much in the way of changes to our Bolero routine that we used during the Spring Fling – we will be expanding on it, but the majority of it we already have down and in order. So that is one less routine I have to worry about studying so hard. We seem to be flying through the stuff in the rhythm category. Once everything is down and memorized, then I can work on actually making them look presentable. Hooray! It’s so exciting!

This weekend, there is a possibility that there may be two dance field trips that I have agreed to go on. We’ll see what happens! Stay tuned, and I’ll share some stories if I survive them.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Last weekend Sir Steven really got into showing us our American Rhythm routines. We worked on Rumba, Cha-Cha, Mambo and West Coast Swing. They aren’t all complete yet, but they should be soon. So far, what we have put together doesn’t in any way resemble the routines that I learned for our last competition, which seemed kind of daunting because that meant that there was all new stuff that I would have to cram into my brain. But then, after going over things a few times during the week already with my dance partner before various classes I was attending, I realized… rhythm dances are just so much easier for me to remember than all the stuff we learned for the American Standard section. I don’t really know why. It’s not that I don’t like the smooth dances. In theory, they are all really cool and it looks really impressive to do one of them, travelling around the room (without hitting anyone) and being all fancy. In practice though, I struggle with them. Even just remembering the order in which the steps were put together, sometimes I just have to stop and think about it – much harder than I’ve ever had to do with any of the rhythm dances.

Luckily, the level we are competing at for this competition lines up with some of the group classes that are being offered this month, which gives me an opportunity to practice some of the steps that have worked their way into our routines. Wednesday nights we are doing Foxtrot, and so far the last two weeks we have really done nothing more than repeated drilling of the feather ending and reverse steps (in both International and American style, just to make life more confusing). It seems like such a simple concept, but for some reason I always tend to miss the feather ending in one place or another when practicing the Foxtrot routine we are using for the competition. I don’t know why, it just keeps eluding me. When I step through the routine in my head, I can picture it; I know it’s there. When I step through it with my feet however… it doesn’t always make it to the floor.

That’s what practice is for though, right? Training me to fix my idiotic missteps? Believe it or not, I do practice things. Like the ‘running man’ move that is a major part of the routine Lady Q is teaching us in the fitness class. I was so proud of myself for figuring out how to do it more efficiently after spending some time practicing (it involves a lot of hopping on the balls of your feet, in case you want to try it). Last Friday night, during the mixer dance we were doing near the end of the night, I was in line behind Sir Steven and I was being silly and doing it. He then proceeds to show me that he is a master of said running man move – not only being able to do it in such a way that makes my rendition look shameful, but also being able to do it while travelling forward or backward and looking like a boss the whole time. Suddenly it was as if my feeling of pride was an empty beer can that had just been crushed against the forehead of a frat boy during Rush week. Shameful.

Better1 In other news, Young Dave was allowed to join us in our intermediate Rumba class last Friday. It was a move that had been on the horizon for some time now, since he spends a large amount of time at the studio just hanging out. Some of the ladies in class have told me that he wasn’t ready yet, that he still needs to get his body under control, but there isn’t really a way for him to practice with anyone without either being in one of the group classes or scheduling some time with Lady Q. That is one of the nice things about having an agreement with your competition partner like I have – we plan on being at the studio (or other agreed upon locations) at the same time so that we can work on things together, since it is very hard to practice steps properly when you are by yourself. For instance, I could be in a room practicing how to turn a lady in Rumba by myself, and it would be all well and good, but without someone for my hand to press against while doing it I would have no idea if I am being too wimpy, or spinning my arms crooked, or pressing hard enough to dislocate her shoulder. So giving him the opportunity to dance with a partner more should help him get better.

The biggest complaint though is that he can’t keep time. That’s something that isn’t easy to fix. The married couple that is usually in classes with me, Jack and Diane, have the same issue – Jack can’t really can’t keep time with the music. However, Diane is really good at it, and when they dance together she is able to compensate for what he can’t do. They make a good team. I’m not sure how to train someone on how to hear the rhythm in the music better though. That was one of those questions Bony posed to me one day after a class we had taken – did I know any way that she could learn to hear the rhythm? It’s something that I’ve always (as far as I can remember) been able to do, and growing up I had some musical training that reinforced that skill. But there’s the key word – the training reinforced the skill. If a person has a hard time hearing it to begin with, is there any sort of training that will help that skill develop in the first place? Are some people just innately able to hear musical rhythm and others are not? Sir Steven has talked with me in the past about how, at times, he has had to take some of the lessons he has given to couples and just have the people clap along with the music to help them hear the beats where they would take a step. But is that enough to learn a skill like that?

In Young Dave’s case, he tends to rush. His father, Hips McGee, who is also a member of the Dance Kingdom, has stated sort-of jokingly that Young Dave tends to view everything he does in dance as a competition. He enjoys being the first to finish; he enjoys being selected to demonstrate; during the Cardio Latin class he takes, when Lady Q says that everyone needs to “move big” Young Dave has to almost run in to everyone while doing things. Partly I would chalk it up to age. He is still in high school, and being impressive (especially to the ladies in the studio) is very important to people in that age bracket. I should know, I was that age once upon a time. So, he will be joining our Friday night classes, bringing along all the associated swagger of an 18-year-old male, and I will probably just step back and laugh as the ladies in class with us grimace a little. I don’t have to dance with him, you see, so I’m allowed to find it amusing.

To wrap up, and to show you just how much I’ve been practicing during Foxtrot class this month, here’s rendition of me doing a feather ending. See how good I am?

No birds are harmed when I practice this, I swear.
No birds are harmed when I practice this, I swear.

Every Day I’m Shuffling

Lady Q had asked several times for more people to come and join her Tuesday night dance fitness class. It’s part cardio workout, part Shuffle1learn-the-choreography-from-a-music-video. So, being easily talked into things, I am now staying after the normal Tuesday night group class to take part in Lady Q’s class. The theory going around amongst the other people she’s asked to stay is that she was getting tired of fending off Young Dave’s wandering eyes. For a long time, it was only Young Dave and Bony that were partaking in the class on Tuesdays. With more people in class, there would be others for her to pay attention to, lessening the time that she spends entertaining him.

This means that I am now essentially working out seven days a week instead of six. If you were to count the normal group classes/lessons that I have been taking part in, it looks more like working out seven days a week, with four of those days being doubles (which is the normal resistance/agility training I do, plus a second cardio workout in the form of dancing). So lately I have been exhausted. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m not getting enough sleep to keep up with this active lifestyle, or that I’m not eating enough calories some days. Maybe it’s both.

Because of this, some mornings when my alarm goes off, it is a struggle to build up the desire to get up. I am naturally a night person, so mornings are already not on my “Favorite Things” list. It seems like I get out of bed and shuffle around, getting to work, getting to my office, getting through the day. It usually isn’t until about one o’clock when I finally feel like all my muscles have finally woken up and they’re ready to go.

But the dance fitness class so far has been amusing. Right now Lady Q is teaching everyone the choreography from the music video for LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem (you probably guessed that). I think I have the basics down, but I don’t think I can do it up to the normal tempo of the song. Maybe in a few more weeks I will get it down and then I can start seeing if I can look cool while doing it, instead of looking all jerky, like a push puppet (one of those toys where the animal collapses if you push the button under its base).

With our ballroom routines completed, the big question that my dance partner and I had was whether or not we would be able to stretch the routine to cover the length of the floor in the large competition space we will be using come September. Meeting my dance partner on a dead-end street, we took a tape measure and some sidewalk chalk to measure out to lengths that I think are about correct: 70 feet for the long wall, and 45 feet for the short wall. With those in place, we did the best we could to see if our stride could get us from one corner to the next with those marks as the boundaries. It was a little awkward, as you can imagine – it’s really hard to rotate properly using tennis shoes on asphalt. Our Waltz and Foxtrot routines were good. Viennese Waltz we didn’t even attempt out of fear of getting road rash from falling while spinning. The Tango routine, however… there was just no way to make it stretch more than 45 feet for the long wall portion. Even when I attempted it by throwing out technique and stretching my legs to an uncomfortable degree, I couldn’t get much more than 50 feet. The way it was setup, there was a definite corner that Sir Steven built into the routine, so after going out to a fan, we turn into shadow position and start off at a ninety degree angle from where we were. There was no way to rotate it to make it just curve naturally without looking awkward (trust me, we tried).

Shuffle2So, last Saturday I went back to Sir Steven with those results. He stepped through the routine, and we changed things. It’s not complete yet, but the long wall now works to make it all the way from one end to the other using 70 foot walls. Once he reconfigures the short wall, we should be good to go. I’m really glad we decided to try this out now, rather than assume we could stretch the routine out and then find out the week of competition that it wouldn’t be possible unless I grew six foot legs.

That just goes to show how much dance has taken over my life. I’m sure many other people feel that way. I mean, it’s gotten to a point where I don’t think I know how to dance without using something that I’ve learned from ballroom dancing. Case and point: I went out on another dance field trip recently. With everyone else on the floor dancing in a “club sexy” manner, I would listen to the songs and think to myself ‘Ok, this could be a Cha-Cha…’ and that’s what I would do. Lucky for me, the last few times I have gone out dancing there has been people from the dance studio with me, so if I wanted to dance a modified Cha-Cha to some club song, they would know what I was doing and be able to follow along. I have no idea what I would do if I was suddenly put in a situation where I had to dance with someone who didn’t know those sorts of steps. Would I be able to lead them through something? Or would I somehow be able to remember how it is that normal people dance, and switch over to doing that? Can I ever switch back, or have I burned ballroom dance technique into my brain so deeply that it would be impossible to revert back now?

These are deep questions. There’s a part of me that says that reverting back to dancing in a manner that lack the poise and talent that ballroom demands would be stupid. I like it when people come up and talk about how cool it is to watch what we do when we dance. It’s something that not a lot of people can do, so why wouldn’t I always do it? There’s another part of me that says that there are some times when you don’t want to stand out so much. Also, there are some times in life when one will have to dance with someone who doesn’t know the steps you know. For those times, it will be important to be able to revert to something simple that anyone could do. So I should make sure I can do that. I really don’t know if there is a good answer to these questions.

What do you all think? When you are all out dancing at a club with non-ballroom people, how do you dance?