Yes, There Are Two Paths You Can Go By

Last week after a class I attended was over, I got pulled into a conversation with one of the ladies who had been in class with me. The conversation started out awkwardly, with her lauding praise on me for how good of a Lead I was. Luckily the topic soon shifted to her asking me how I had improved so much, because she wanted to work on getting better at her own dancing. I told her about the things that I was currently learning in my coaching sessions, about using the technique-based group classes I attend during the week to help refine what I know, and I also told her that much of my recent improvements were completely due to setting up regular sessions to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice. After hearing my tidbits of wisdom, she sighed and said that she wished she could find an amateur partner like me.
  That last wish of hers is something I’d like to take a moment to comment upon, since I hear it quite often. I’ve met a lot of ladies who dance Pro/Am over the years, and several have asked me if I was interested in switching partners to dance with them instead, or if I knew any single men that they could dance with, or they want to lament to me about how they think it must be so much better to dance Amateur rather than Pro/Am. I have also read lots of postings online about women who want to switch from dancing Pro/Am to dancing Amateur with a male student. I’ve also had ladies tell me all about how they dream of meeting the perfect dance partner to compete with, falling in love, and (as one girl put it once upon a time) Tangoing down the aisle together on their wedding day.

I don’t think that many of these ladies who dream about this sort of dance partnership actually know what they would be getting themselves into. Dancing Amateur competitively, which is something I’ve done for years, has its good and bad points, much like dancing Pro/Am does (which is something I’ve also done, though it’s been a while). So before you sign up somewhere looking for an amateur male to dance with, let me tell you about some things that I have learned and seen over the years I’ve been doing this. I believe that once people have information about the Amateur path in ballroom dancing, they can make an informed decision about whether dancing Amateur instead of Pro/Am is right for them.

Two notes before I begin: A) this is totally from a male perspective (since I’m, you know, a guy) and B) several of these points assume that you and your amateur partner are roughly the same ‘level’ of dancer, since that seems to be what many ladies I know who are looking for an amateur partner are looking for. That said…

  1. In your lessons together, ladies won’t usually get much attention

This is the biggest thing which many of these ladies that tell me all about their desires to compete Amateur don’t seem to realize. If you are dancing with an amateur male who is roughly the same level of dancer as you, much of your lessons/coaching with instructors will end up focusing on improving what he is doing. Oftentimes it will feel like you are just being used as a dance prop in your lessons together. If you think about it, you shouldn’t be too surprised by this. If you are good at Following, and you already are capable of getting into a strong dance frame, all you really need to know is your basic footwork for the figures that are in use.

One of the instructors that I have taken lessons from over the years explained things to me like this: he and his professional partner practiced together all the time early in their careers, but they never seemed to do much better when they would compete. It wasn’t until he went off to get some intense coaching on his leading skills that both he and his partner started to get better marks, even though she didn’t go off and get any extra coaching herself. Because everything she was doing was working off of what he was doing, he was the one holding their partnership back. The better he danced, the better she was able to use his dancing to execute her shapes and steps, so the better they scored together in competitions.

So if you have been dancing Pro/Am for a while and are used to spending an hour or so in each lesson getting picked on for everything you do wrong to make you improve, you have to prepare yourself to not be the primary focus anymore, because how well he does will have the biggest impact on how well you both dance together.

  1. Dancing as an amateur couple allows the Lead to regularly work with male instructors

This is the biggest reason why I like dancing with an amateur partner myself. Alone, I would need to have a female instructor to dance with, and she would be my primary teacher unless I was willing to pay for her time and the male instructors time. Studying under male instructors regularly really helps me to learn all kinds of things from people who have primarily danced and competed doing my part of the figures, so they know all kinds of tricks to help me out. I know this information doesn’t really mean much to ladies looking to find an amateur male partner to dance with, but I personally see this as a positive point.

I work with the greatest Leaders you can imagine, obviously
  1. You will advance at a much slower rate

This one should be obvious, but I feel like I need to point it out anyway: there are now two of you who are learning to be better at the same time, so unless you start taking twice as many lessons together (which would totally negate point number four), you will advance as a dancer at a slower rate than you would if you stick with Pro/Am, since in Pro/Am half of your partnership (the Pro) already knows what he/she should be doing. If they don’t know that, you probably shouldn’t be paying them to teach you…

Also, if you switch from dancing Pro/Am to Amateur, you will probably have to spend some time with your new partner going back to basic/Bronze steps in practice until you get comfortable dancing with each other. If you have spent a lot of time dancing socially over the years, learning to adjust to a new partner won’t be so much trouble for you, so you should be able to get comfortable quicker. However, if you have only ever danced with a single person who was a higher level instructor, or even a small team of instructors, you will find that there is a big difference dancing with an amateur, so there will definitely be an adjustment period before you can perform at your peak together.

  1. Amateur does, generally, cost less, but limits some options available

It’s great only having to pay half the cost for the lessons you take and the competitions and dance events you sign up for. I’m pretty sure all of you who might read this are aware that ballroom dancing can be an expensive endeavor, so having someone else who will shoulder half the financial burden is awesome. Who wouldn’t like that?

However, there are some things that the community makes available to people competing Pro/Am that don’t show up much for people competing Amateur. Do you prefer to go to competitions and dance heats, running each of your routines several times in the course of the day and getting feedback/placements for each one? Don’t expect to get that option often when you compete in Amateur. Sure, some local studio-based competitions will allow amateur couples to sign up for multiple heats in an event, but in bigger competitions run by national organizations the option for amateurs to dance heats is usually nonexistent. Unless you sign up to dance in multiple levels or multiple age categories, expect to go out, dance once (or twice if there are enough competitors for semi-final and final rounds), and be done. And hope to all the gods above past, present and future, that your first round of the day isn’t Viennese Waltz at butt-crack-o’clock in the morning, because you won’t get another shot…

  1. You have to be motivated to practice

This may seem like an obvious point whether you are dancing Amateur or Pro/Am, but one of the points that comes up when people talk to me about how they want to dance with an amateur partner is that it will save them money because then they don’t have to pay a professional to dance with them when they want to practice. This may be true, but then again if you are not scheduling a time with and paying someone to dance with you, there is less pressure on you to stop everything else you are doing and go meet up for practice. I’ve experienced this myself – the siren song of my pillow is strong some days, so I know how hard it is to find the motivation to get out of bed on a Sunday before lunchtime just to go practice dance.

  1. Expecting to have romance with your amateur partner is often a bad idea…

This nugget of wisdom is actually from an off-hand comment I got from a high-level dance coach I worked with. He and I had gotten off on a tangent about some recent single’s event that I had attended, and that led him to talk about his previous professional dance partner. He told me that they had a fairly typical story – while training to be champions, they spent almost all of their free time together. One thing led to another and, as you can imagine, the close physical contact they had been working on to perfect their dance frame became close physical contact they worked on in bed sans clothes. They started dating, and even moved in together to save money while they continued their training.

Things were good for a while until they both started to get more into the professional coaching side of their careers rather than focusing solely on competing. This changed things so that they didn’t spend their entire balance of free time practicing dance together, so they tried to use their extra free time to… you know… date. They began to realize that even though they were incredibly compatible as dancers, they were not incredibly compatible as people when they weren’t dancing. Rather than wait until things got too ugly and they couldn’t stand to be near each other anymore, they decided to see other people and maintain a cordial friendship. Since that time they have both also moved on to new professional partners to dance with as well, since their interests in competing have also diverged.

As much as ladies I talk to want to believe the fairy tale that they can find an amateur partner to dance and compete with and then fall in love, you can’t base a romantic relationship solely on dance and expect it to work for ever and ever. What would happen if one of those ladies came to find out that while she only likes to eat waffles for breakfast on the weekends, he will only eat pancakes? So much incompatibility!

  1. …but friendship and trust are essential to a good dance partnership

There’s a reason why you see so many older couples who have been married for a long time take up dancing after their kids are out of the house and do very well dancing and competing together. They are already friends, and they trust each other (at least, I have to assume that they do, since they got married in the first place). If you have a hard time trusting people, then dancing with a partner who you aren’t paying to tell you what to do becomes very difficult.

Trust is essential. Think about it – training together as two amateurs, especially when you are practicing without an instructor hovering nearby to help, requires you to be comfortable with things like:

  • close body contact
  • getting sweaty and gross around someone during intense practice sessions
  • communicating with your partner when things don’t feel right
  • understanding when to move on to something else before frustration causes anger
  • learning not to fight about dance-related issues
  • asking your partner to help you out if needed
  • if neither partner is sure about a figure or technique, seeking out help from a professional

You don’t want to be that amateur couple that constantly gets caught up in “dance fights” instead of practicing. I’ve never seen any amateur couples over the years go through a “dance fight” that had positive results when it was resolved! Have you?

(I guess the overall theme of points 6 and 7 can be summed up as: taking on an amateur partner and falling in love with them doesn’t seem to work out as well as finding someone you love and then taking up ballroom dancing together. Your mileage may vary, of course.)

  1. You won’t have a professional dancing with you to fall back on

This is a major sticking point that most people don’t even think about until it is brought up. If you are competing as a Pro/Am partnership now, only half of your couple is scored during a competition. The Pro can also give you reminders about things you need to fix in mid-dance if need be, because the Pro knows your part of the figures. Until you start dancing at a high-enough level where you and your amateur partner are learning each-other’s half of your figures, there is really a limited amount of items your partner can remind you of when you dance together, even when not under the pressure of a competition.

  1. Finding a worthwhile amateur male partner is going to be difficult

Male leads are hard to come by, as any female dancer can tell you. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a dance class, a social dance, or a competition, there just don’t seem to be enough of us to fill the demand. That is the biggest problem many ladies I’ve talked to have when they set out looking for a guy to compete in Amateur with. I’ve looked at postings online for people searching for amateur partners in my area – the number of ladies who have posted ads is huge compared to the number of men!

There’s another underlying problem I’ve noticed though, and this one is what gives guys like me a bad reputation, even if we do our best to try to overcome the stigma: I’ve met many unattached males during my years in the dance community – males who only like to go out social dancing, males who are only interested in competing, and those that will do both. Because unattached males are hard to come by, when they come into a dance studio to take lessons, it seems like a lot of ladies fawn over them to try to get them to stick around. This behavior can go to their heads, and I’ve seen many a young man turn into essentially a diva (would that be a divo?). Suddenly he is sure that he is better than everyone else, and needs to go out of his way to prove his dominance.

As an example, I knew one young man who, after a few months of lessons, had gotten such a big ego about his perceived skills that he would go out of his way to point out all the things he thought ladies who had been dancing for years were doing wrong during a social dance. The ladies would just smile and nod at his comments, but would then go and complain about it to each other when he wasn’t in earshot because they didn’t want to scare him away!

Rumors also have it that sometimes these men can also get… skeevy. Expecting… favors, in return for their help as dance partners. You know what I mean. I’ve never met a guy who has admitted to such things, but the rumors are out there that it happens in the ballroom world. Crazy.

Anyway… that’s probably enough on this subject. I have been making these notes in my head since I had that conversation last week, so I thought I should write them down. Hopefully they are helpful to others who are considering making the switch from Pro/Am to Amateur. Having done competitions over the years with both a professional partner and an amateur partner, I can honestly say that one is not necessarily better than the other – they are just different tracks on the same path. Do whichever one is the most fun for you, because ultimately that’s what it should be about!

Did someone order a last-minute ‘corny’ joke?

These are my personal thoughts, and have not been evaluated by the administration to determine fitness for human consumption. Should you take this advice and notice discomfort in the appendix or swelling of the hands and feet, please seek medical attention immediately as these reactions may be life threatening. Always consult an expert before beginning this or any other regimen.

Feel free to ask me any questions!

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Everyone’s Watching To See What You Will Do

Friday night I went and hung out at the Electric Dance Hall, as I am wont to do of late. They were having their biweekly dance party that I was interested in attending, but I got there earlier to sit in on the International Cha-Cha class that they were holding right before the dance. It was Cha-Cha, so I wasn’t overly excited to go to class, but I need to work on convincing myself that it’s OK to get over this loathing of the dance style, so I went anyway. The class was small – only three ladies, myself and Lord Junior. It was nice in a way because everything that Lord Junior mentioned about the male part had something specific to do with me and what I was doing wrong, but it was also a taste of what was ahead in the night when the dance party would start. We focused primarily on the basic techniques of the figures we were working on. The figures weren’t difficult by themselves, most of it was just a New Yorker to a triple chasse, another New Yorker to another triple chasse followed by solo WorkingForTheWeekend1turns. There was a lot of emphasis on what steps or movements we should each be taking in between each of the beats in the music. Normally these movements are extremely fast, so they get lost in the speed of the dance, but we were told that if we could distinctly make these movements in between each of the major movements on beat, it would impress any judge that might be watching us at a competition. Near the end, just for fun we tacked on a fancier spiral turn right after the solo turns, but that turn fell apart as we tried to dance up to tempo with a normal Cha-Cha song.

Class wound down, and Sparkledancer and I remained out on the dance floor to work on the techniques and figures we had just put together. The other ladies wandered off with Lord Junior, eager to follow his advice about grabbing a glass of wine before the dance started. Still others began to filter in from outside and put on their dance shoes to join us. For a good half an hour or so, Sparkledancer and I stayed together, trying to practice things we hadn’t gotten around to during the week. Most of the people at the dance that night were female though, and there were only a handful of other male dancers, so the women without partners were all sitting on the couches in the back watching Sparkledancer and I practice. It was rather quiet in the studio, even with the music playing, and I could feel their eyes on us as we worked through our routines. Finally, we decided that we really needed to help liven up the party, so we made plans to practice another time and then split up to pull the newcomers out on the floor. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being stared at while I dance, but it is much easier for me to entertain people up close, so I had to dance with everyone I could and get them to laugh and talk, otherwise they would have remained sitting in the back being quiet all night (or so I told myself). I took opportunities to take breaks from dancing when there were line dances playing – the few men that were there besides me sat out during those as well, so I figured the women could all dance together without me getting in the way. There was one women at the dance who really surprised me. I took her out to the floor early on as I was trying to get the party started, just dancing a simple East Coast Swing with her since I didn’t know anything about what she knew and most of the ladies there I was told were still working through newcomer-level classes. Later on, she came and asked me to dance a couple of dance styles that I was surprised that she knew – one International Rumba song she asked me if I knew Bolero, and another slow swing song she asked if I knew West Coast Swing. Lucky for her, I happened to know both, which made me feel pretty cool.

Since we really hadn’t gotten much of a chance to get together at a Dance Halls and work on our routines most of the last week, this past weekend Sparkledancer and I met again for lunch near a retail village that has a mixed-use commons area between the streets. It was really warm out that afternoon, but we took to the green beneath the trees and spent a long time running our completed Foxtrot, Samba and Waltz routines to really get them committed to memory. We had lots of people stop and watch (or smirk), but since there was no art fair this time we were mostly left to ourselves to work without any creepers hiding behind the bushes. The passersby that seemed most interested in what we were doing were a group of young girls. Their WorkingForTheWeekend2mother had parked along the side of the road near where we were practicing, and the three girls were rolling down and hanging out of the windows of the car watching us intently. After some time, when their mother finally got off the phone, they all disembarked to head off to whatever shop they were going to. I could tell that they wanted so desperately to come talk to us, but whether they were too shy or their mother told them not to, they never did. So we just kept on going, working on looping the routines all the way through a few times to confirm that we could (as best we could in tennis shoes on uneven ground, of course). Hopefully all the people passing by feel like they got a good show out of our antics.

Monday night I was back at the Pasodoble class. This week we started from the top of the music, with a set of Spanish Lines that have the men and women mirroring each other standing some distance apart. This opening figure allows us to do quite a bit of free movement, compared to how things started in my last routine. We don’t actually come together until fourteen beats into the song. We had a few chasses in the choreography that we were working on, and at one point I made the mistake of trying to curl my left arm over my head while doing the chasse to the right. This is how I had done it in my last routine, so it was something I did without even thinking, but Lord Junior stopped me and made fun of me for doing that. Apparently I had forgotten that the arms are supposed to be making shapes based on holding a cape, and if I were to curl my arm holding the cape over my head and chasse to the right, I would be walking right into the path of where I was trying to make the bull run. I had never really thought about the arm placement as something to help me avoid being gored, but I’ll sure never forget that now. Lord Junior was telling us that this has become his favorite class to teach, because while we manage to get a lot done, we still sometimes screw up, and every time we manage to screw up hilariously. I hope he’ll consider keeping the class on the schedule for next month as well so that we can continue to work on things.

Recently, it seems that Lord Junior and Sir Steven spent some time talking, and Pasodoble came up. Lord Junior told Sir Steven all about the choreography that he has been working on in class with us. During our coaching session this week, Sir Steven had Sparkledancer and I walk through the figures from the class so that he could see how we did them. The first time through, I completely blanked on what I was supposed to be doing. Sure, we had just gone through everything the night before, but I didn’t realize there WorkingForTheWeekend3was going to be a quiz, so I hadn’t yet committed things to long-term memory. After that, running through things got better. Sir Steven seemed to approve of the initial choreography that we had been working on, and said that we could use that as a starting point for our Pasodoble routine with only a few modifications down the line. That means that we now have everything up to the first timing change done (assuming I can remember the figures going forward, that is). It was a Latin kind of night, so on top of the Pasodoble we ran through the Samba and modified some of the choreography to make the ending flow better, we went through the Rumba and cleaned up a few of the movements, and spent a great deal of time on the beginning stages of what will be our new Cha-Cha routine. If we had looked at Jive as well, we would have covered everything!

After we wrapped things up that night, we sat and talked for a while about the plans for our next competition. Sir Steven said he was looking to have us ready to go for something in September. We’re going to work hard on getting WorkingForTheWeekend4all our routines choreographed quickly, then start refining them before actually taking them out to be judged. The plan right now is still to stick with the American Smooth and International Latin categories unless something crazy happens (we’re certainly not going to do all 21 dance styles again, no matter what). So far, with the work that we did that night, we have Foxtrot, Waltz, Samba and Rumba finished, and we have started working on the Cha-Cha and Pasodoble. That puts us about halfway through getting the choreography together. He also said that the nice thing about waiting until at least September is that it would give him a chance to confirm with some event organizers that there will be other non-Pro-Am pairs dancing in the events. After the weirdness that happened at the last competition, he wants to give us a chance to dance against some other Amateur couples to see how we can do. This also keeps me from having to get over my fear of competing with a Dance Lady. I know it’s a stupid fear, but I enjoy dancing with someone who only knows as much as I do, where I don’t have to feel totally stupid when I mess things up. After all, I mess up all the time, so it’s better not to feel totally stupid when it happens, right?

Maybe someday I’ll compete with a Professional again. Maybe, but doubtful. Who knows what the future holds…

It’s Got A Beat That You Can Dance To

(Picking up where I left off on 5/1/2014)

Once we all got back from lunch, we began the American Rhythm and International Latin heats. I hadn’t anticipated the lunch break to cause me to lose focus, but just like in the morning, the first few heats I danced in the afternoon were not that great. For instance, the first Pasodoble heat was pretty bad. I got cut off by someone else on the floor, causing me to break routine in order to avoid running into someone, and then I was trying my best to do lead-and-follow Pasodoble until the first break in the song when we could get back into our Spanish line and pause, allowing me to get back on track. I learned from that first Pasodoble heat that I would need to either start more offset from everyone else to avoid having this problem again, or I would need to use the fact that I am quite a bit bigger than the other dancers to intimidate them into breaking routine to avoid me instead of me avoiding them. During the American Rhythm routines I was a lot more flexible with the routine order. I knew the structure of figures that we had originally set up when choreographing the dances, but Sparkledancer and I have both spent a lot more time working on American Rhythm than anything else, so breaking routine and just allowing me to lead whatever I felt like was easy for us to do. After the first few mishap heats, I got back into the groove so things did improve considerably going forward.

The Samba routines I am actually particularly proud of… but probably not for the reason you would first guess. Some of you might be familiar with the running promenade figure that exists in Samba (it also exists, as I’ve been told, in East Coast Swing). When our routine was put together, we had one of the long walls that is essentially just that figure from one corner to the other. I’ve never been too fond of the figure, so it is probably what I spent the least amount of time working on during all the Samba work that I’ve done. Sure, mechanically Sparkledancer and I could pull it off, and during rehearsals we got through it without anyone giving us any negative feedback, but it never really felt good. During the competition, in our first Samba heat we were last in line to take to the floor. All the other dancing pairs had staked out a spot at the beginning corner of one of the two long walls, as most dancers are wont to do. Since things looked a little crowded, I pulled Sparkledancer over to the closest corner that started a short wall instead, just to give us Rhythm1some space between the other competitors. I started our routine with the figures that composed our final short wall, so that when I got to the next corner we would start from what we learned as the beginning of the routine. The nice thing about starting in that corner was that not only did I have a fair amount of space to myself, since I was essentially one wall behind everyone else, but the heat ended before I got to the second long wall where we had the running promenades! The first Samba heat this was totally by accident, but every other Samba heat (including the Samba in the 5-dance Latin championship) I also started in this same corner, and there was only one heat where they ran the song slightly longer so that we got about halfway through the second long wall doing the running promenades. I was really happy with that.

Going in to the afternoon, the thing that I was most anticipating was the West Coast Swing. There were two rounds that I could see on the heat sheet I was given in the morning. Sparkledancer and I had discussed a plan for our West Coast Swing, knowing that we were likely going to be the only ones dancing in those heats much like last year. We had planned to make our last West Coast Swing heat different than any of the preceding ones. Luckily, there were only two, so our plan would make both unique enough so that people could notice. For the first heat, when we got to the floor we took a second to wave and make some flourishes to the crowd before starting the dance. The first run through I kept the figures pretty basic. The most complicated move that I threw Rhythm2in was this running left-hand pivot thing (I don’t really know the actual names of West Coast Swing figures). When we finished, I spun Sparkledancer out and we bowed to the crowd before walking off the floor. I didn’t see it, but people in the audience told me that while we were walking off Miracle Whip had frantically drawn a large ‘10’ on a sheet of paper and was holding it up for us. Slightly less than 20 heats later was our second shot. This time as we walked out, I kept Sparkledancer close to my right side. When we got to the middle of the floor, I spun her out and we waved meekly at the audience. As the music started, we both pulled out a pair of sunglasses: mine had been tucked beneath my cummerbund on my right side, and Sparkledancer had tucked hers into her dress on the left, and we slowly put them on and then smiled at the audience. Everyone went nuts when we did that, as I had hoped for. We started dancing, and after the first two turns I threw in the most complicated figure that we knew, something that Sir Steven had once called the “Sailor Shuffle” though I don’t know if that’s actually the name. It’s a long and dramatic figure, and I had timed it just right so that we were facing the audience when we opened up. As the song wrapped up, I spun Sparkledancer out dramatically once more and we took an extended bow before sauntering off the floor slowly, giving high-fives to the audience members we passed closely by.

At the end of the afternoon we had the Latin and Rhythm championship rounds. We were going to be in two of those. As I’m sure I mentioned, we had originally signed up to be in the 5-dance Latin round because I thought it would be fun, but Lord Fabulous had also placed us in the 3-dance Rhythm round unexpectedly (we did get a couple of days advanced notice, but it was still unexpected). So of the four championship rounds in the afternoon, we were in the first and last. Because we didn’t originally plan on signing up for it, we hadn’t put as much time into our American Rhythm dances as we had everything else, so I had told Sparkledancer that there was a good chance we would just go out there and have fun using the version of the routines that we had used earlier in the day (that didn’t necessarily match the version of the routines we had had choreographed for us). Once we wrapped that round up, the 5-dance Rhythm took to the floor. Jack and Diane had opted to be in that round, so Sparkledancer and I took a spot Rhythm3near the floor where we could watch and cheer along with everyone else from our little group. As they made their way off, the 3-dance Latin started up. This round was smaller, with only two couples taking part, because everyone else had signed up for the 5-dance Latin. We were one of six couples participating, and we were the only pair of amateurs facing off against all male instructors with their female students. This was my last real dance of the day, so I really gave it all I had left. By the time we had finished up, the shirt I had on underneath my Latin dance outfit was sticking to my body because of all the sweat, and I had this big goofy grin on my face that wouldn’t go away. I had one person in the audience later tell me that I looked really out of place during the Pasodoble final, since it’s a very serious dance, and I was smiling and laughing the whole while.

With that over, it was finally time to wind down. Everyone parted ways for a while so that we could all get cleaned up and we promised that those of us attending the after-party would meet up for dinner. The others got done cleaning up first (I actually went to take a shower, I felt so gross), and they couldn’t find the place they originally wanted to get dinner, so we ended up somewhere that I could get pancakes. I was quite happy about that. Maybe I’ll look into having pancakes after all future competitions because of how good they were. Once dinner was done, we all met back at the Great Dance Hall. The evening party was pretty laid back, and I didn’t end up doing a whole lot of dancing during it, opting instead to spend time talking to people. I did get pulled into a crazy Merengue line dance where we had difficulty. Everyone started out joining hands in a big circle, but as more and more people started coming in from all sides, people started to jump in wherever they wanted. I had the hand of this shorter lady, and the group made the move to go underneath our arms. Keeping time marching with the music, the people on the other side of me kept twisting and moving me around, while people kept going underneath my other arm. Once things settled down a little bit, I started to notice that the steady stream of people going beneath my arm wasn’t tapering off like it should, and my shoulder was starting to protest. When I watched Tall Steven go beneath my arm for the third time, I knew something was terribly amiss. I followed the line of people holding his hands all the way around, and found that there were actually two sets of people – one circle of people that were going beneath my arm on one side and through the arms of the people two down from me, and then the line of people I was holding on to who were actually a line, and not joined in a circle. I shouted to the people that we were messed up, and the line I was a part of started moving again to see if we could break the circle and link with them to form just one big circle, but then the song ended. We all had a laugh and I walked off to the side of the floor to stretch out my shoulder a bit.

Later on, they pushed everyone back to the edge so that the Princess and Hot Tottie could do a performance number. They did a dance to a popular song from a recent animated movie about a queen with ice powers (I’m sure you can guess which movie and song I’m talking about). Hot Tottie really showed off the power he has in his haunches, because the boy leaped several times and did the splits in the air, with at least four feet between the floor and where his legs were. There was also this funny moment when he was supposed to catch the Princess as she ran a jumped into his arms, but he didn’t catch her properly so he strained a bit to keep from dropping her. Finally, after the performance wrapped up came the moment we had all been waiting for: the results of the championship rounds. This is where the night took an awkward turn… the first set they announced the results for that I was in was the 4-dance Smooth. The Princess took a moment to hush the crowd, and then said some really unexpected things. She gave this speech about how they had actually run two different competitions, one for the Pro-Am couples, and one for the Amateurs. This wasn’t, as she said, to rate us differently or to pity us, but to acknowledge that there was a lot more Rhythm4that went into getting out on the floor without an instructor to rely on, and showcase our bravery. After they went through the ranking of all the Pro-Am couples, they had them all walk off the floor and then called Sparkledancer and I out. So in essence, we got first place. Or last place. Or both. It was awkward to be singled out like that, since all the other competitions we have been in we had always been ranked against everyone else. We knew going into it that most likely the Pro-Am couples would place higher than us, but we hadn’t expected this.

After getting over the initial shock, it went further downhill as she moved on to the 5-dance Standard championship. Announcing the rating for that, the first couple she called up in 6th place was… Jack and Diane. The only other amateur couple that participated in any of the championship rounds besides me and Sparkledancer. She went all the way through announcing all six places, they took a picture, and then they had them leave the floor. She moved on to the next announcement for the 3-dance Rhythm, called Sparkledancer and I out separately again, and then someone mentioned something to her and she went back and called up Jack and Diane, saying that they didn’t actually get last place, but first place in the Amateur competition for that championship. Once they took a new picture with just the two of them, they came back and stood over where Sparkledancer and I were. They got called separately for the 5-dance Rhythm round without any mix-up like before, and then they did the 5-dance Latin rankings. All six couples who were on the floor for that (including us) lined up as she announced the Pro-Am order. When the winner was announced, the crowd started cheering wildly for the girl who won, and then they totally forgot about Sparkledancer and I standing there, and someone put on a song and everyone started dancing again.

Having gotten through the announcements, Jack, Diane, Sparkledancer and I just stood there speechless for a while. Once the Heartbreak Kid and Bony came and found us, we all decided to go out and get ice cream. It had been a long day, and the ending was pretty weird, so we made a graceful exit to go get a treat.