Madness Is The Gift That Has Been Given To Me

I feel like I did a lot of dance things this weekend, but not much actual dancing. And then I did not do much else the rest of this week, because I got sick. Poor, sad little me. 😦

Last Saturday was the day that my Royal Dance Court group holds our monthly dance party. This month we had decided to put together a big formal affair instead of our usual low-key social dances. I’m talking everyone getting dressed up, a full meal served beforehand, fancy decorations – the whole enchilada. Most of my day on Saturday was actually spent putting this event together, so I didn’t have any lessons that day. Because everyone was busy on Sunday with a different event (which I also went to), I didn’t have any lessons that day either. What? Crazy! But it’s true.

My Royal Dance Court group had actually rented out the Endless Dance Hall for our event, since that is the biggest dance venue in the area. We were all told to meet there around noon to get the place set up for the dance party that night. I spent most of the setup time doing manual labor, leaving the actual ‘decorating’ part to the ladies. As you can probably guess, my forte is lifting and carrying heavy objects, not arranging flower centerpieces and choosing which color tablecloths to put on each table. I could do those things if I absolutely had to, but the arrangement would be less ‘artistic’ and more ‘logical’ then I’m sure some people would have liked. What can I say, I understand things better if there is an order to them.
The hardest part of moving around all the tables and chairs was the fact that there were still dance instructors teaching at the Endless Dance Hall while we were trying to do this. I felt bad for them, since they were just trying to do their jobs and make some money, so I did my best to stay out of their way. I can’t say that all of the members of my Royal Dance Court group did the same, though. Luckily, we all managed to get through our work without too much trouble, and the arrangement of tables and chairs that we opted for left plenty of room on the dance floor in the middle for students running through ballroom routines. The instructors naturally migrated their students into the center and worked around the tables almost like we had choreographed the whole thing. If they had been singing along with music playing in the background, I might have thought I was in the middle of some kind of elaborate musical number!

The party itself went off without any hitches that I heard about. There was only one person that was not able to make it, but everyone else who bought a ticket showed up. I think there was even one extra person who showed up, but I can’t be sure. I saw her when she walked in about an hour into the dance party and stood by the check-in table. When I went over to go talk to her, she told me that some guy had already picked up her ticket and was holding it for her. I just so happened to know what table that guy was sitting at for some reason, so I pointed her in that direction and sent her on her way. Whether she had a real ticket or not I never found out, but dinner was already done at that point so having her there just to dance didn’t hurt anything, I figured.

Personally, I didn’t think that the dinner was super good. I know a lot of other people liked it, but I thought that it was kind of lacking. I had opted to have the pasta dish for my entrée, but they gave me the tiniest amount of pasta ever, so I felt sad. Luckily there were leftover dinner rolls after everyone ate, so there may have been one or two more of those in my belly by the end of the night. Also, I ate a cupcake. I can’t remember the last time I ate a cupcake. Or any other cake that wasn’t baked in a cup, for that matter. Huh… that sounds pretty sad when I write it out.

We had just under a hundred people who bought tickets to our formal that night, so there were a lot of people on the floor dancing. As I’ve delved further and further into the world of competitive dancing, I’ve started to have mixed feelings about going out social dancing like this (which you may have noticed, because I write about dance parties a lot less than I used to). On the one hand, going to social dances is the only real way I have to practice my floorcraft skills, which is an important thing to practice. I don’t think that I can give up social dancing completely for that particular reason.

But I also feel… stifled, for lack of a better word, when I am out trying to dance during a social. I’ve spent so much time learning how to move while I’m dancing – covering great distances with every step that I take is kind of how I roll now. Dancing with social dancers, especially people much older than me who take tiny steps while dancing, really limits how much I can travel. It feels… disappointing to dance small.

I might be able to avoid this problem if I decide to only dance Rhythm- or Latin-style dances during dance parties. The problem with that is, I’ve spent all this time over the past year-and-a-half studying nothing but International Standard, so I feel like I have forgotten a lot of the figures I used to know in all those other dance styles. That means that if I try to dance a Rhythm- or Latin-style dance, I end up repeating the same few figures that I do remember over and over again while wracking my brain trying to think of others. I worry that the lady I happen to be dancing with at the time is getting bored, and then the dance starts to be less fun. It’s a weird progression of ideas to go through in a short two-to-three minute period.

Anyway… Sunday afternoon the big event scheduled in the Dance Kingdom was a showcase performance over at the Electric Dance Hall. I actually went out to the Electric Dance Hall early in the day to meet up with Sparkledancer for some practice, since the studio was open. When I first showed up, there were only a couple of people around setting things up for the performances later, so we basically got the dance floor to ourselves for practicing, which was totally awesome. I even got control of the sound system, so I could put on whatever music I needed for the dance styles Sparkledancer and I were practicing, which made it even more productive. Woo hoo!

After about an hour-and-a-half though, others had shown up and were starting to rehearse for the show, so we lost most of the space. We ended up calling it quits shortly after that because I kept having to stop myself or change my routines to avoid running into people, so practice was becoming less productive. Plus, since all of these people were going to be performing later in the day, I thought that they should get the first crack at the space they needed, so I was always the one changing things to go around them. I couldn’t help it, I know what it’s like to perform, so I didn’t want to bother them.

I ran home to try to get a bunch of stuff done in the couple of hours between my practice and when the show was scheduled to start. I managed to get back to the Electric Dance Hall fifteen minutes after doors were scheduled to be opened, but that turned out to be super late. The parking lot was packed! On top of that, the parking lots nearby that weekend parties at the Electric Dance Hall usually overflow into were mostly packed as well! So many cars! When I finally managed to park and walk over to the building, it was standing-room only, and even then I had to fight for a place to stand where I could see what was going on. Even though that was mildly inconvenient to me, I am super happy that Lord Junior managed to get so many people to come out and watch the showcase.

Personally, I thought that this showcase went better than the last one that I attended. Last time it seemed like the whole show was pretty much just performances by Lord Scarry and some of his students. This time around, they had limited him to only eight different numbers out of the thirty-some that were on the schedule, so while he was on ‘stage’ for a lot of the event, other people got opportunities to perform as well, so the whole show seemed more… varied. I mean, I know that it’s hard to choreograph a routine, but each instructor has a certain preferred set of moves that you can pick out if you watch performances that they put together, so a lot of performances in one show all choreographed by the same instructor makes the performances start to bleed together.

The beginning of the show was where they had scheduled all of the Amateur couples to perform. There were four of them, I believe, and they were all relatively new to dancing, so it was one of those “AWW ADORBS INFANT DANCERZ” moments while watching them. Seriously, it reminds me that I was like that once when performing. Full of nervous energy, arms all akimbo because no matter how much I practiced with them they still didn’t want to work right while being watched, and seriously trying to smile for the audience to show them that I was having fun even though I wanted to grit my teeth the whole time in terror. That’s what it’s like for an amateur performer. I know that Pro/Am shares some of those insecurities, but you would think that at least the Professional-half of the partnership wouldn’t feel like that, right?

One performance that was particularly notable was a routine that was done by Sir Digler and one of his students. This lady was much older than all of the other performers that day, so the times that she was on the floor moving her arms and legs you could see that she was a bit shaky and couldn’t move very quickly. To work around that, she and Sir Digler had put lifts into the routine. So many lifts. It was almost as if every other move they did involved him picking her up off the ground. It was incredible.

What made it so incredible, if the information someone else told me isto be believed, was that this lady was like 90 years old. That’s right – Nine. Zero. And the lifts that they were doing weren’t just ones where he would pick her feet up off the ground slightly either. He did ones where he held her over one shoulder while she was in a plank position, or lifted her completely off the ground while she struck a pose, or twisting her around his body and ending with her sliding between his legs. The amount of core strength that this 90-year old woman must have had was incredible. I mean, I have that kind of core strength now, but imagine maintaining it for the next fifty-some years! Super awe-inspiring.
Excuse me for a minute… I suddenly feel the urge to do a hundred sit-ups for no reason.

Other than that one overly inspiring performance, everyone else did a good job as well. On top of the performances, the party was also set up to be a bit of a social dance. The acts were divided into two halves, and between the sets there was social dancing. Not many people actually came out to the floor and danced with me though, they were too busy in the back area demolishing the snack table. Seriously, I had been standing by the snack table while watching the first act, since that was a spot where I had a decent vantage point, and there was tons of food. When I got back to that spot to watch the second half, there was barely anything left on the table! Crazy! It looked like a gang of sharks had descended on the table after I had walked away!

After the performances were done there was supposed to be open dancing as well, but not much of that actually happened. I tried to do a couple of things with a few ladies, but there were so many people from the audience standing around on the dance floor talking with the performers or other friends that it made dancing kind of dangerous, so I gave up after a few songs. I have lots of body mass, and I worry about running into people and seriously hurting them, and then there would be ambulances, and police, and questions, and dirty looks… and I hate dirty looks. So I do my best to avoid situations that could be dangerous.

That’s really all I did this week. If I had to guess, I must have caught something being around all of those people on Sunday afternoon, because Monday through Wednesday this week I was feeling miserable, and ended up spending all of my non-work time either on my couch staring at a wall or in bed sleeping. I had taken all of this cold medication to make it through my days at the office in a semi-functional state, but cold medication always leaves me feeling a little loopy, so ended up suffering for it in the evenings. Sigh… being sick is dumb. Hopefully that is all past me now and next week can be more fruitful.

I think I even get Monday off of work, so I can use that time to get caught up on all the  things I didn’t do while I was sick. Like dance practice! Hooray for that!

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Enough To Make My System Blow

Let’s start this week off with a funny side note that’s sort-of dance related. I can tell you quite sincerely that this story was the thing that made me the happiest on Saturday…

I had just gotten to the Fancy Dance Hall. The studio is actually a part of a shopping complex, with a number of varied shops surrounding it. This weekend there was an event scheduled to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday, where the area between the fronts of all of the stores and the parking lot had been taken over for various Easter-related activities. There was an egg hunt planned, and a local radio station was going to be there, and someone was going to be dressed up like the Easter Bunny to take pictures with all of the kids. All of the stores in the shopping complex were going to have some of their staff involved to make it into a fun morning for kids of all ages.

…except the weather didn’t want to cooperate that day. The morning ended up being cold, cloudy and windy, and it was just plain gloomy looking outside. I was wearing a heavy sweatshirt so that when I parked my car and walked to the front door of the studio I wouldn’t be cold. Not too many people seemed to have shown up for the planned activities, because the parking lot had tons of open spaces for cars to park. I’ve had lessons scheduled before at other times when holiday-themed activities are planned, and usually you have to either get there super-early to find a parking place, or you are fighting with a bunch of people to grab one when someone else leaves.

As I was walking toward the front door of the studio, I could hear music playing loudly from the table set up by the radio station. They had just finished one song and were starting another, a slow and heavy rock song that holds a record for spending the most weeks on some chart or something. You may be able to guess what song it is if you’re smart about my normal clues, but if not I’m sure you’d know the song if you heard it. Anyway… as I finally got off the parking lot and set foot on the walkway that surrounds the stores, I looked off to my right toward where the radio station table was, and saw something pretty amazing.

In the midst of the overcast gloom of the day, there stood a guy wearing a white Easter Bunny suit, and his head was turned down to look toward the ground. In front of him was some young kid, lying on the concrete, doing the worm as the Easter Bunny watched.

I had to stop and watch for a bit as well. This was not something that I expected to see by any stretch of the imagination. As the song finally wound down, the kid stopped and picked himself up off the ground, and the Easter Bunny bent forward to give him a hug. If I had been closer, I would have given the kid a round of applause for being able to do the worm for so long on concrete. Truly an impressive sight to behold!

On to normal business now. Once I got inside the Fancy Dance Hall, things were a little more subdued. There was a class going on for a local youth dance group, and they were all running rounds of their competition routines. They kept that up for the entire time that I was having my lesson, barring a few breaks here or there so that the kids could catch their breath. Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I staked out a section of the floor to work in along the back wall of the studio, and we went back to work on Viennese Waltz that day.

We managed to stay away from working on the opening sequence of our Viennese Waltz routine that morning, thankfully. Unfortunately, that meant that the rest of what we did was just slow and methodical movements through the Natural and Reverse Turns. Not exactly the most exciting thing in the world to talk about, so I’ll spare you all the details. The hardest part of our session was trying to work around all of the kids running their rounds. I had managed to talk to the older ones while Sir Steven was working with Sparkledancer, letting them know that we were using a lane along the back wall. They managed to steer clear of us after that, which was nice.

Some of the younger kids kept darting into our lane though. I think they were just doing it to get our attention, because if I looked at them when they were in my way, they would get these huge smiles on their faces and then scamper out of the way as fast as they could. It reminded me of growing up with my younger siblings. When they wanted attention, they would sometimes knowingly do something they shouldn’t, and then laugh jovially about it and run away when they got caught. Kids… they are so silly sometimes!

Next up, Saturday night. There was one big event going on at the Electric Dance Hall that night, and with no other options open for dancing that was where I ended up. A bunch of people who I knew ended up being there as well, but unfortunately I didn’t actually spend a lot of time talking to them because I got side tracked talking with someone else that night. It was also raining really hard that night, starting just about the time that the party started, so a lot of people who were expected to come out to the event did not show up. One of those people happened to be the DJ that Lord Junior had asked to play the music that night, amusingly enough. After the class that he gave at the beginning, Lord Junior ended up having to run the music himself. Poor guy.

He told me later on that he contacted the DJ during the party to find out what happened, and the DJ told him that she just forgot about the party. How do you just forget something like that? I bet she won’t be getting any more paid gigs from Lord Junior after that stunt.

Originally I hadn’t planned on showing up for the class being offered before the dance party, but I got done with everything else I had planned to do earlier than expected, so I headed out and arrived about twenty minutes after the class had started. The place was packed with tons of people, but even with all the other people watching him intently for instruction, Lord Junior still stopped what he was doing when I walked in and told me to get my shoes on quick and jump into the class. I thought that they were desperate for men, but when Lord Junior finally had everyone find partners to try the step I saw that there were almost even numbers of men and women, so I’m not sure why he wanted me to join in so quickly.

The class was covering some simple American Rumba. The part that I got there to help out with had everyone doing half a basic box step, and then on the second half we led the ladies to do a Underarm Turn and pushed them out to our left side, almost like they were in Fan Position. Then we would bring them back across in another turn and push them out to our right side, and then one more turn back across pushing them back out to our left before turning them to be in front of us as we collected into the basic box step once more. Nothing too difficult if you’ve done a lot of American Rumba in the past, but there were a large number of newcomers in the class that night, so I ended up helping a number of ladies figure out their steps as I rotated through.

During the actual party I spent my time dancing, but in the middle of that I got a chance to have a chat with Silver for more than just a couple of minutes (which is what derailed me from talking to others). She was struggling with a bit of a crisis of identity that night, so it was good that I talked to her, but most of the credit for making her feel better about dance goes to Sparkledancer. See, there was a point in the middle of the dance party when I finally got a chance to dance with her for a Foxtrot. I figured that was a safe enough dance for us to do together, since that was the style that was used in the first Standard Technique class we were both in together.

Silver seemed a bit nervous as I walked out to the dance floor with her. Trying to assuage her fears, I asked her whether she wanted to go with American or International Foxtrot, promising that we could do whichever she was more comfortable with. She chose to go with International, so I started off with just some basic figures, trying my best to avoid anything with a Heel Turn since I knew she hadn’t done many of those. I think I managed to get through a Feather and Three Step heading toward diagonal wall in a wide arc, and then a Change of Direction to turn back toward diagonal center – nothing super fancy.

By the time we got halfway down the first long wall it was pretty clear that she was struggling, and then she asked me if we could transition to American Foxtrot instead. I made the switch, trying to stick with figures that I thought were on the Bronze syllabus (it’s been a long time since I’ve studied American Foxtrot, so I’m not entirely sure what the syllabus looks like anymore when I don’t have it in front of me). The American Foxtrot did not go much better than the International though, and there were a couple of times I had to stop and do the Swing Step (or Side-to-Side Sway, depending on what name you were given when you learned it) which allowed her to get back on the correct foot.

When the song finished and we exited the floor, she seemed upset and started talking about how she once felt so good about her dancing, because (her exact words) “I was teaching this at <insert franchise studio name> for God’s sake!” Now that she was out and dancing with people like me, it’s like everything she learned and was teaching to others was all wrong. She told me that she has been trying to learn the correct way to do the steps and techniques, but then she runs into people who were students at her former studio where she worked, and they want to dance with her doing things the old way, and it really throws her off trying to do things both ways.

Lucky for me, Sparkledancer had shown up at that point. I am a guy, so I am kind-of terrible at managing emotional situations with ladies, so I was super happy that Sparkledancer could step in and help Silver out. Sparkledancer actually told Silver about how she had met me at a franchise studio, back in the days when we had initially decided to compete together, so she totally understood Silver’s frustration because she had been through it herself.

She continued and told Silver that when Sparkledancer and I and many of our original ballroom dance friends outgrew the franchise studio model, we escaped into the bigger world of ballroom dancing, and we had to go through the same transition that Silver is going through now. A lot of the techniques we had learned that had been emphasized at the franchise we found out were just plain wrong, and people outside the franchise used a different syllabus than we had originally learned (which actually turned out to be nationally and internationally standardized syllabus, so it is the franchise studio’s syllabus that was incorrect), so Sparkledancer admitted to Silver that she felt like a terrible dancer for months as she tried to acclimate to the non-franchise way of dancing.

That right there seemed to be the magic connection that Silver had been missing. She was really glad that Sparkledancer had told her that story – to hear that it was possible to escape the franchise world and eventually dance the way that Sparkledancer dances now. It was great to see her come to that realization, even though I hadn’t really done much to help her get there. Good job Sparkledancer! Yay!

I talked it over with Sparkledancer later, and I think that the two of us are going to try to help Silver out. My thought is that Sparkledancer and I could help show Silver the world of ballroom dancing that she was missing when she was locked into the franchise way of doing things. That is, if she really wants to become part of this wider world, which I think she does. Lord Junior is helping her learn the proper figures and techniques to teach dancing outside of the franchise, so that’s already being covered. Sparkledancer and I can be her guide to the various dance halls in the Dance Kingdom, and introduce her to all sorts of other instructors or high-level coaches that we know if she wants to meet people. I like helping, so this will be a lot of fun!

I was tired on Monday night, so when I got to Latin Technique class and people started throwing around Cha-Cha as the style they wanted to do that night, I was unhappy. Lord Junior decided to put it up for a vote to see what everyone wanted, and he said that we couldn’t vote for Rumba (because that’s what we did in class last week) and we couldn’t choose Pasodoble. I sighed loudly, since Pasodoble is always the Latin style that I want to vote for, and Lord Junior took pity on me and said that we could do Pasodoble if everyone else wanted. Only Gatekeeper still wanted to do Cha-Cha after that option was available, so we ended up working on Pasodoble that night. Hooray for me!

One of the ladies in class that night had never done any Pasodoble before, so this ended up being a real treat for her (in my expert opinion, of course). Lord Junior spent a little time at the beginning of class showing her a few of the most basic steps, like the Sur Place and all of its moving variations. On top of that, he showed her the idea behind the shaping used in Pasodoble and why it was so important. This lady watched the whole time with wide eyes, and I couldn’t tell if she was impressed by the demonstration or terrified by what he was asking her to do. Obviously I’m going to assume she was impressed, and asking herself why she had waited so long to begin working on Pasodoble!.

We didn’t actually cover a whole lot of choreography that night, because the last figure that Lord Junior went over with us needed more work than he expected. The first figure that we did was the Open Telemark, which everyone got through with little trouble. After that we went into a normal Promenade, which gave us some work on both moving in Promenade and shaping in Promenade. Once Lord Junior was convinced that everyone could do the steps with minimal trouble, he upgraded our Promenade so that it had three Natural Pivots in it as we traveled down the line of dance. That definitely upped the challenge factor of the figure, but also made it much more exciting.

The final figure that we looked at was a Gold-level figure called ‘The Twists.’ We were told that if you watch any professionals doing a recent Pasodoble routine, you are more than likely going to see them do this figure at least once because it is so exciting. Basically, the guy is traveling down the floor, cutting in front of his partner every couple of steps while she does a Heel Turn, and then he hooks his right leg behind his left and untwists himself before doing it all again. The figure is aptly named, and feels a lot like doing a Twist Turn in Tango repeatedly.

I thought that my part was fairly straightforward, and I think I was getting through it successfully. A couple of the ladies were struggling to make the Heel Turns work properly, so it was hit-or-miss as to whether the figure worked correctly when I danced with a partner. Lord Junior admitted as we were running out of time that this figure was more difficult than he originally thought it would be, so he should have started class by going through it rather than waiting until the end. He promised us that next time we met up for Latin Technique we would do Pasodoble again and start with this figure. Class won’t happen next Monday because of the holiday this weekend, so we’ll have to wait until two Mondays from now to get it right.

Finally, on Wednesday night I went back out to the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class, and we worked on Viennese Waltz there as well. Viennese Waltz? Twice in one week? How did that even happen!

I mostly think that Lord Junior chooses to work on Viennese Waltz in this class so that he can watch the warm-up section of class where he asks us all to try doing Natural and Reverse Turns down the floor by ourselves. Getting the angle right, turning the right direction and using the right foot to start with are all things that I am pretty good at, since I have to lead and generally have to do those things already. The ladies in class, on the other hand… for the first couple of tries several of them just didn’t get things right. They would start on the wrong foot, or turn the wrong direction, or start and end at the wrong angle. A few times they would start turning and not stay on a straight line, heading right toward someone else on the floor! As much as I feel bad about laughing at that, it is kind of funny to watch.

Once the torture of the warm-up was over, we worked on adding in the two Gold-level figures to the mix: the Contra Check and the Natural Fleckerl. Lord Junior told us all about his theory of Fleckerls, and how he sees a lot of Pros nowadays leaving them out of their routines with students. You don’t technically need to do them to win no matter what level you are competing, but Lord Junior feels like you are missing out on a lot if you just do Reverse Turns, Natural Turns and Change Steps all the way through Gold when you are competing.

He did say that the lead to get into the Reverse Fleckerl was a bit sudden, and that’s where he usually runs into problems with his competitive students. You can start a Reverse Fleckerl at any time if you do Reverse Turns up to the point where the lady crosses her foot in front. Lord Junior said that he likes to warn his ladies verbally before doing a Reverse Fleckerl during a competition. The Natural Fleckerl is slightly easier to do, especially if you do a Contra Check beforehand. Then there is no question about what is happening even if Lord Junior gives no verbal warning, so there is less of a chance that the lady will be surprised when the rotation happens.

That is an interesting thought. Perhaps I’ll have to file that idea away for later when I manage to start competing at Gold-level with Viennese Waltz.

And that’s it! Man, I wrote a lot of things again this week. I am just terrible about keeping these posts short…

I think there are a few things going on this weekend, but I’m not sure how many people will be wandering around to dance with the holiday on Sunday. Easter was never really a holiday for traveling to see people when I was growing up, but I have heard several people mention that they will be doing just that this weekend. So maybe that is an invitation for me to just take it easy. I could probably use the break to do some other productive things that I have been putting off (like my taxes…). We’ll have to see what happens!

Capable Of All That’s Imagined And All Conceivable

I promise that I’m not trying to jump on the cliché bandwagon, but I wanted to start off going over my thoughts on all the changes that happened in 2017. A lot of things changed in my dance world over the last year, and one change in particular is notably poignant. For this, my first post of 2018, I thought I would step back and just reflect for a bit, so bear with me.

Once upon a time I strongly argued that even though I would compete from time to time, I was nothing more than an “advanced social dancer.” I always thought that if I was talking to other people at dance parties, especially newcomers, this made me sound less threatening. Well, in 2017 I officially turned a corner and became a true competitive dancer.

So what has that meant? Well for one, it means that I dance a lot more than I used to, but I social dance a lot less. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth. One of the advantages of having an amateur partner is that I can practice in between my lessons for minimal cost (the dance studio where I normally practice asks me to pay a nominal floor fee for every hour I practice). I know a lot of Pro/Am students don’t practice nearly as much as I do because it requires them to either pay for time with their teacher, or to practice alone, which is a hard thing to do for some dance styles.

Because of this, the people who I know in the dance community have drastically changed. I used to go out to dance parties quite a bit, so I knew a bunch of other dancers and could talk with them about various aspects of their lives. Nowadays my dance partner Sparkledancer and I have tried to schedule our practice time at the studios when there aren’t many classes or lessons going on, so we can work on the movement aspect of all of our routines. That means that the people I run into and talk with the most now are mostly dance instructors.

If I now consider myself a competitive dancer and no longer an advanced social dancer, that obviously means that I chose to compete during 2017. By the count that I can think of off the top of my head, I entered five different competitions last year. Two of those competitions only gave me scores or feedback from the judges, and the results of the other three were based on placements among all the competitors on the floor. One of those three my partner and I danced unopposed all day, so although I obviously placed really well in that event, I don’t consider the results to be very meaningful.

The two remaining competitions went surprisingly well, and that’s what makes me think that I have to call myself a true competitive dancer now. Giving up American Smooth and Rhythm and International Latin competitively and focusing only on International Standard means that all my practice time can really make those five dance styles better, and the results I’ve gotten so far have been… well, impressive. It shows me that all my hard work might have actually accomplished something.

However, I still have the mindset that I am only an advanced social dancer, which is why I said that the competitions went ‘surprisingly well.’ In the past, I used to agree to compete once or twice a year as a way to get some feedback on how much I have progressed in my dancing in the interim. I never expected to score super high. On top of that, in all the competitions I was in during my first couple of years dancing my amateur partner and I always danced our championship rounds against all Pro/Am couples, so in those events we were guaranteed last place. Every time.

As you can imagine, competing as an amateur male against a professional male isn’t really a fair comparison. Logically, I knew that Sparkledancer and I were competing against these Pro/Am couples because there were so few amateur couples competing, and none of the others were even willing to try dancing in a championship round. Knowing that, I probably shouldn’t have ever agreed to sign up for the championship rounds. But my dance partner and I did anyway, and the result of that choice early in my dance career got me used to always being in last place when competing.

Those experiences are what make it surprising to me now when I place at or near the top of the rankings, even though I know the nature of those old competitions are worlds apart from the ones that I compete in now. When I get the chance to dance against all other amateur pairs dancing the same level that I am dancing, there is no question that the results will be different from the results I got when I danced against Pro/Am pairs who were dancing at a higher level than me. But even knowing that logically, I am still surprised when I do well.

There’s also that humbling voice in the back of my head that asks me whether I have done so well in the last couple of competitions I was in because I’ve actually improved, or if I was just better than the other competitors in those competitions. I chose to take part in some competitions that were put together by the same organization, and though the venues were a few hours apart, many of the people who did compete took part in both competitions. So it’s hard to say I would do as well in future competitions unless I find a way to test myself against a new group of competitors.

The obvious way to do that would be to sign up to compete in an event that is even farther away, right? I didn’t do that during 2017. I wasn’t confident enough that I had improved in my abilities yet to make that kind of financial investment in competing. Also, while coming up with money to travel and dance is fairly easy for me to do (I make stupid money compared to my low cost of living), it’s not quite as easy for Sparkledancer. We have been talking about doing a competition that involves traveling farther into the wilds of the Dance Kingdom soon, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on it quite yet. That’s an adventure to look forward to in 2018!

I guess I should mention the catalyst for my change from an advanced social dancer into a competitive dancer, which is also another pretty major change that happened in 2017. Early in the year, Sparkledancer and I were made an offer that took us down this new path. Part of the terms for accepting this offer was that we accepted having a new dance coach to work with regularly.

The story that I have been told about what instigated this offer was that our normal instructor (Sir Steven) approached our new coach (Lord Dormamu) to ask him if he could help push my amateur partner and I to the next level as competitive dancers. Lord Dormamu watched us discreetly for a bit to evaluate the two of us, and he thought that we had a lot of potential, so he agreed with Sir Steven to work on molding the two of us into true competitive dancers.

Agreeing to work with Lord Dormamu is what really changed my mindset on my dance career. As you can imagine, having lessons with him is much more expensive than lessons with any other instructor I’ve ever worked with. Even though I am splitting the cost of these lessons with my amateur partner, it’s still expensive, so I realized that if I was going to be shelling out this kind of money for a coach about every other week, I needed to take everything he says seriously. And taking it serious meant that I would actually have to start practicing regularly and earnestly to get what he told me in our lessons into my muscle memory.

But there is a good reason that his time costs so much. This man is a world champion many times over, so he knows all the things! ALL. THE. THINGS! He retired from competing two years ago, and told me that since retiring his job is to train new couples to be world champions like him. On top of that, he is really good about explaining all of those things he knows to me in a manner that I can easily grasp, so I learn quite a bit from him. The results I’ve gotten in the competitions I’ve entered have validated that this arrangement seems to be working.

In 2017 Lord Dormamu tore apart my International Waltz and Foxtrot completely and put everything back together in a manner that more closely matches the way that high-level professionals dance those styles. We also began working through the Tango to go through the same process. Based on the comments about the future that Lord Dormamu has given me, by the time 2018 is over he will have finished up the Tango, and gone through the same process with my Quickstep and Viennese Waltz.

Looking ahead to the future, Lord Dormamu’s long-term expectations, as I have been told, is that throughout 2018 he will continue to hold Sparkledancer and I at the Bronze level until he is done with this rebuild. After he is finished, we should walk through Silver and Gold very quickly and easily, because all the techniques we are mastering now are the same techniques we will be using at those levels. He seems confident that we could do this, and based on the results I’ve had so far I am inclined to believe that it is possible. I hesitate to say that it is inevitable, but I certainly say that it’s possible!

The other rabbit-hole that I wandered even further down during 2017 was the world of dance politics. I know it seems like a strange thing to even talk about, since this is dancing and by all accounts should be apolitical, but there is a lot of very political work that goes on behind the scenes in the ballroom dance world. I find a lot of it interesting on a theoretical level, but there are some aspects of it that are kind of depressing, and really show that major portions of what goes on, especially in competitions, is based on who you know… and who you know is influenced in large part by how much money you are willing to spend.

Some parts of the dance politics landscape aren’t that bad. If you have been following my dance notes for a while, you will know that I was voted in to be a member of the Royal Dance Court over two years ago now. Last May the leader of the Royal Dance Court nominated me to become the Keeper Of Records for the group, a position which I accepted. Then in November I was elected to continue on for another two-year term on the Royal Dance Court, so I guess the people feel like I have been doing something right over the previous two years!

The Royal Dance Court is what I consider to be the good side of dance politics. We work together to put on fun dance events for members of the dance community. We recruit local dance instructors to come and teach group lessons to help dancers of all levels improve and learn new, fun things. Sometimes we have to deal with issues that come up, but most of the time the work is purely to put together the fun aspects of ballroom dancing – the dance parties that the majority of dancers love to attend.

Now the flip side – Lord Dormamu is the one that introduced me to, and will freely admit to having me play along with, the dark side of dance politics. During 2017, there were a couple of instances where Lord Dormamu wanted me to take a coaching session from visiting instructors. Visitors like these are often seen in the competitive dance community, acting as judges at various dance competitions throughout the world and then teaching coaching lessons at a nearby studio before they fly back home.

While it was interesting to talk to these visiting coaches and hear their comments on the way that I danced, there were many things that they recommended that I do that Lord Dormamu told me to just ignore. His reasoning for why I should ignore these recommendations was that these judges all learned to dance and became champions many decades ago, and the way that they learned to dance competitively is not the way that dancers that become world champions now are doing things anymore.

I asked my Lord Dormamu why then I would want to take these lessons with visiting coaches like this, if he was going to tell me to throw out much of what they recommended to me. That seemed to me like a major waste of my time and money. I could use that money to take more lessons with him and actually learn useful things, couldn’t I?

His answer was that this was all part of the dark side of dance politics that everyone knows about, but many people avoid talking openly about. If I go to a competition where one of these people is judging, and I’ve taken a coaching session from them, they are more likely to remember me and the lesson that we had together. If I am dancing well at the competition, they will think that their coaching had something to do with how well I dance, and will mark me better for it.

Or if I am basically tied for a placement in that judge’s mind with another couple on the floor, and I have taken a coaching session with the judge and the other couple did not, the judge is more likely to bump me higher because of that. They may see me for only a few seconds on a crowded dance floor that they are judging, but that will remind them of the hour or so that I spent with them, and that familiarity tends to mean something.

So Lord Dormamu was basically admitting that you can do better in competitions if the judges know you, and they will know you better if you spend the money to take coaching with them, even if the things that they recommend to you to improve your dancing are not useful. This dark side of dance politics is a game that he had to play while he was competing to become world champion over and over, and now it is a game that he told me that he will help me play. That knowledge leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Dance politics… something, something, dark side… know what I mean?

One last thing: I know that the subject matter of my writings on this site have shifted dramatically over the last year as well. This site has always been the place where I keep my dance notes on all the things that I need to remember. Because I have been taking things so much more seriously over the past year, I have had to document all the things that I need to remember from my lessons, which right now involve a lot of technical points.

That’s probably something that will continue in 2018 as well, so I hope that it hasn’t gotten too boring for you yet! I am male and I dance the Lead part, so most of the notes that I write down are for how to do that side of the figures or techniques. There aren’t a lot of male ballroom dancers out there, so I know my material is useful to a much smaller audience than notes from a Follower’s perspective.

Still, I hope that some of the information that I’ve been told, filtered through my written voice, can be useful to someone out there. And, as always, if you have any questions about any of the things that I mention, please ask! I’m not a dance instructor, but I dance A LOT, so I can probably help, or point you in the right direction if I don’t know.

It’s 2018! That’s crazy! Let’s all make this an awesome year for dancing, however you choose to dance. I hope to see you out on the floor somewhere. 🙂

Oh No, I Can’t Slow Down, I Can’t Hold Back

Early Saturday afternoon, I got to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for some coaching. Sir Steven had sent me a message earlier in the morning letting me know that he was sick and wouldn’t be in the studio, so this turned out to be my only lesson on Saturday.

The first thing that I did was talk with Lord Dormamu about our results from the competition on the 18th. If you remember, mentioned last week that I got a copy of my scores from all the individual judges, and it looked like one judge just scored us way off from where all the others did. To get some perspective on what I was seeing, I brought in my printout of the score sheet to show to Lord Dormamu and get his take on the matter.

Lord Dormamu flipped through the results for a minute, and then pointed to a different number than mine on the list and said that the person who had that number must be the outlier judge’s student. He made the case that outlier-judge had marked this other couple first, but every other judge had marked them either last or second-to-last, so it is entirely likely that he knew this couple well and could overlook their faults in a way that the other judges could not. That was an interesting way to look at the results.
Unfortunately, Lord Dormamu then told me that there really wasn’t a way to fix a situation like this. In smaller competitions like this one, there are no rules that say a judge can’t mark a student he/she has taught better than everyone else on the floor. There is also no rule that says he shouldn’t do something sinister like mark the best couples on the floor really low to try to eliminate the strongest competitors of any couples that had taken coaching from him. The scoring rank is all subjective based on the whims of the judge.

(Note: this is the major problem that you’ve probably heard the International Olympic Committee voice when talking about why they are still wary of allowing DanceSport in as an Olympic sport)

Lord Dormamu’s solution? He told me to get better overall. If I can improve enough so that I start getting first place in everything from all the other judges, then one judge marking me so different will get their score questioned by the organization running the competition. That is really the only good way to prevent this from happening to me in the future. Also, I have to get first place to make this effective. If I improve and get marked second place by all the other judges and last place by one, while it may still look abnormal to me, the organizers won’t question the decision nearly as much.

This is the crux of why I had been reluctant to really jump into competing seriously for many years. I was told something similar when I first started dancing back in the franchise world – that the scores I got for all the heats I danced were pretty relative and subjective, and finding out a reason why I was scored a certain way was next to impossible. Now that I’ve finally dived into this serious competitor pond, that same advice I was given years ago is still relevant, and it still makes me feel uneasy about being ‘judged’ on how I dance. What’s the point if there’s a chance that the judge can mark me poorly just because I’ve never taken a coaching lesson from them?

I have no good thoughts on how to fix it though. With ballroom dancing being a visual sport, and the need to have so many couples on the floor at once in order to A) keep the competition time to a minimum and B) evaluate the floorcraft of couples, implementing strict sets of criteria for each judge to evaluate each couple on becomes a daunting task for even seasoned judges. I guess I’ll have to live with this situation while I’m competing until someone or some group (or me) thinks of a more fair system to use for scoring these competitions.

Finished discussing the results, we turned back to the Tango. I got chastised by Lord Dormamu after our first run-through. He could tell that Sparkledancer and I hadn’t spent much time practicing the items that we had talked about during our last coaching session. I told him that once the competition had finished, I had dropped everything else on my practice list to focus on learning my showcase routine, but that wasn’t a good enough reason for not practicing what he told us to do in his mind.

Because of that, I spent a lot of time going over things that we had reviewed two weeks ago. There were only a couple of points that we talked about that were new this time around. The most painful one was the placement of my hip while I am in Promenade Position. I was trying to lead my partner to rotate to Promenade Position by rolling my right hip forward, which should theoretically turn my partner. Some coach that I can’t remember the name of told me to do that long ago, and I’ve done it ever since.

Lord Dormamu noticed because there was no space between my hip and my partner while we stood unmoving in Promenade Position. He told me to pull my hip back, so I stopped to ask him about how I was told to lead my partner to Promenade Position by rolling my hip. He watched as I demonstrated what I was told (Sparkledancer was nice enough to help), and then told me that while the lead through rolling forward was correct, I had been told to use the wrong part of my body to do it.

Now that I am dancing with much more advanced technique, I should be able to lead an experienced partner to Promenade Position solely through the slight roll of my body, and leave my hips out of the mix. Especially in the Tango, where I am trying to compress myself and I need to have my hips back, trying to lead by using my hips will cause real problems when I get to even more advanced figures than what is currently in my routine.

So from now on he said, when I am in normal dance position I need to have my hips back and my chest forward, and when I rotate to Promenade Position I need to emphasize pulling my right hip backward to maintain the space in that area. And let me tell you, trying to pull my right hip back as far back as Lord Dormamu wants is a fairly painful endeavor for me. My hips just don’t like bending like that!

…except when I shouldn’t keep my hip back, as I found out. There is a Right Lunge in the first corner of our routine, and in this particular lunge (and only that lunge – I asked just to make sure) I should be driving my right hip slightly forward to help Sparkledancer create the shape that she needs. Along with me leaning my upper body back a bit, this should help create the illusion of a massive amount of volume between the two of us, which is obviously more impressive. So right hip back, except in that corner where it is forward and then goes back again once I start moving. No problem, right?

We also spent some time looking over the Reverse Turn near the end. I had thought that I was doing better about taking the second half of the figure straight down the line of dance rather than curving myself toward the center of the floor to get out of my partner’s way, but Lord Dormamu thought that it looked like I was drifting toward the wall while I moved. To fix that issue, he gave me two suggestions. First, he said that I should think about aiming myself about 45° inward. Aiming more inward should help prevent me from drifting outward, in theory.

Second, he said that as I take the third step of the first half of the figure, I should be placing my left foot in line with my right one. I had been taking my leg straight back, which put my left foot on the outside. If I didn’t do this carefully and I end up with any space between my legs, that action would naturally pull me more toward the wall as I shift my weight onto that leg. If I crossed my left leg over slightly to line my feet up, that would prevent that portion of the outward drift from happening.

I got a change of pace on Monday night during Latin Technique class when someone suggested that we work on Jive, and things got a bit weird at the end… weird for me, but not for anyone else. I’ll get to that in a second though.

We began warming up by going through the basic steps really slowly, exaggerating the movements while moving so slow so that when we sped things up they would still happen as noticeably as possible. I remember back in the day, early on in my dance journey, when I used to think that Rhythm and Latin dances were really my forte. Now that I spend all my time working on ballroom dance styles, I personally think that I look like an awkward baby giraffe fumbling about when I try to dance Rhythm or Latin dances. Apparently other people think that I am pretty good at it, but I don’t feel that way.

Because we had one lady with us in class that night who had never danced Jive before, Lord Junior kept the actual choreography that we worked on fairly simple. I think the only figure that we did that was outside of the Bronze syllabus was the Miami Special, but that figure seems pretty simple to me since I’ve done variations of it in several different dance styles over the years.

What we ended up with started out with the partners already in Handshake Hold. From there we did one American Spin, catching the lady in Handshake Hold again at the end. We then went into the previously mentioned Miami Special. As the men came around the lady in that turn, we switched places so that when the arm slide was completed, the men were standing where the women started. For a little bit of fun, Lord Junior had us add in a Hip Bump here before having us continue on.

Once we finished up bumping hips, we did a Link to get back into dance position and then went into some Walks down the floor. We covered an eight-count with our walks – two triple-step movements, and four quick single steps. After the last Walk we skipped the rock step to go right into a basic movement with a Whip action, which is how we finished things off that night.

What was weird about this class was what I found out afterward. Sparkledancer and the Gatekeeper had been standing next to each other in class that night, chatting away when the guys were dancing with other ladies. As I was heading out to my car after class, Sparkledancer stopped me in the parking lot to tell me that the Gatekeeper had mentioned to her several times that she thought I was really good at leading in the Jive, and wanted to know if I had ever mentioned to Sparkledancer any interest in competing in International Latin at all.

Sparkledancer’s take on it was that the Gatekeeper was interested in asking me if I would compete with her, though she hadn’t come out and said that directly. I was a bit shocked by this, what with the whole looking like an awkward baby giraffe thing going on. Also, with my busy work schedule, and the amount of time I already spend practicing to compete with Sparkledancer, I don’t think I would have the time to bring my Latin Dancing up to a level worthy of competition. I guess if the Gatekeeper actually asks me about competing with her, I’ll have to think of a good way to decline politely.

I know… being in demand as an amateur dance partner is such a burden that a lot of people probably wish they would have. I shouldn’t complain. First-world problems, and all that jazz.

Tuesday night Sir Steven was feeling better, so Sparkledancer and I met up at the Fancy Dance Hall with him that night to work on our showcase. I’m happy to report that we have all of the important parts of the showcase mapped out now. Hooray! Now I just need to find enough matching free time in both Sparkledancer’s and my schedules so that she and I can practice the choreography until it is memorized. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Sir Steven spent the first few minutes of the evening talking about the ‘scene’ of the story that our dance number would be portraying. I didn’t realize before when he mentioned putting us in this scene how important to the storyline it actually was. Basically, the story centers around a character who is played by Sir Bread, a staff member of the Fancy Dance Hall. In this particular scene, he is recalling an event that happened when he was a young man, so what Sparkledancer and I are portraying is actually his flashback sequence.

Sir Steven already told me that when they discussed the story in their recent staff meeting, that someone pointed out just how much of a size difference there was between Sir Bread and I. He’s got to be at least six inches shorter than me, and he looks like… well, like a male dance instructor, which is a nice way of saying that he looks really scrawny when standing next to me.

I guess after they discussed the size difference between the two of us, they couldn’t figure out a way to fix the problem, so they decided to just make it obvious and crack a joke about it for the audience’s sake. Sir Bread will be discussing this flashback with another character in the next scene after Sparkledancer and I get done dancing, and that character is going to ask him why he remembers himself being so much taller in his youth. That should be good for a chuckle, I hope.
The parts that we didn’t go through that night were the pieces that are going to involve actual acting. Sparkledancer and I are supposed to enter the set during the previous dance number and mill about with the other people on stage, working our way toward our starting position. Then as the previous music fades and our song starts we would begin dancing. Our choreography now seems like it is twice as long with all the new material and changes to the existing material that Sir Steven gave us during our lesson, so I have quite a bit to try and memorize over the next couple of days.

At the end of the routine, I roll Sparkledancer out just slightly off-center of the middle of the room (to avoid being under the chandelier) so that we can do our fancy lift. I put her back on the ground, and the dancing is done. The next scene should start, and apparently Sparkledancer and I have to be on stage during part of that scene to do some more acting to finish up the flashback before we are finally allowed to make our way off the stage.

So that’s the actual plan! Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Well, what if I told you that the first blocking rehearsal with the full cast was going to be a week from tonight? How would you feel about it then? That’s the part that is making me a bit nervous. I think my entire weekend is going to be devoted to practicing Tango and making sure that I have this routine down. No time for fun for this guy…

The last non-practice thing I did this week was Standard Technique class yesterday. As we started class, Lord Junior said that he wanted to have us work on some Waltz, and do a Turning Lock. But since he normally has us look at the Gold-level figure (Turning Lock to the Right), this time he was going to go easy on us and have us do the Silver-level Turning Lock to the Left instead. That was so nice of him, don’t you think?

The configuration of figures we did was pretty easy to remember. Starting with some kind of starter step, you then go into a Natural Turn, followed by a Natural Spin Turn, and then add in the Turning Lock to the Left. Coming out of that, we did a Checked Natural Turn, which ends with a tiny Slip Pivot that would line you back up either facing line of dance or diagonal center, depending on where you feel comfortable starting a Double Reverse Spin..

Next up we did what was probably the most difficult figure of the night, which was a Double Reverse Overspin. This is an Open-level figure that is basically a Double Reverse Spin with an extra 180° pivot added on at the end. Turning so much over a three-count caused a lot of stumbling and bumbling the first few times through the turn with each partner as we got used to the spin. Obviously it’s slightly easier if you start this facing diagonal center, and slightly more difficult if starting line of dance, but both are possible. At the end, if we made it through successfully and maintained our balance, we would go right into a Throwaway Oversway to finish the progression in a fancy manner.

Do you ever feel like your weekends are already gone before they have even started? I’m feeling that way about this coming weekend. Let’s see… I promised to try to make it out to a dance party on Friday night, and I have a lesson on Saturday morning. There is a Waltz workshop that I was interested in attending happening on Saturday afternoon, but most of my free time on Saturday and Sunday will likely be filled with practicing my showcase routine and my Tango.

And that’s just this weekend! Next week feels crazy too! Aside from the classes I usually take on Monday and Wednesday, I have my initial blocking rehearsal for the showcase next Thursday night. I was also told that there might be a dance coach (whose name I actually recognized for once) coming in to teach at the Fancy Dance Hall on Wednesday night, and I might be able to get a coaching session with him. That could be interesting if it works out… but I would have to skip class for that.

So many things! I thought that December was going to be a quiet month with all the holiday stuff going on, but so far it looks like I will be totally wrong. If I don’t survive this month, someone should make sure to stop by my apartment and feed my cat for me. She would appreciate that.