But Oh, How I Changed And Oh, How I’ve Grown

**I feel like I’ve had this song in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it. It may be my current favorite song.**

Here we are! It’s 2019 already! Would you look at that. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school, dreading the thought of deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had the chance, I would totally go back in time and tell my young self that nothing I was worrying about at that time would matter, because somehow 20-ish years later I will be spending most of my free time training to be a competitive dancer. The look on my young face would be priceless I bet.

How did you end up ringing in the new year? I did it the same way that I’ve done it the last few years of my life – out on the dance floor! I spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Dance Hall having fun with a bunch of people, dancing the previous year away. It’s one way to make sure that I get to start the year off on the right foot!

(Actually, the left foot, since, you know, that’s how I usually have to start…)

I like the way that Lord Junior runs his New Year’s Eve parties. It’s basically the kind of party that he would hold at his house for all his friends – if his house were a big dance hall. He had cut off a section of the dance floor in the back by moving up a line of chairs. In the segregated area he set up a bunch of tables for various games that people could play if they needed to give their legs a rest throughout the evening. Which was good, because he was planning on letting people dance all night long! Of all the dance parties I saw on the calendar for New Year’s Eve in my area, Lord Junior’s was the one that was open the longest – he started the night off at 8:00PM with a basic dance lesson for all the newbies, and the party was slated to go until ‘?’. I left the studio pretty late, shortly after 1:00AM I think, and there were still a fair number of people hanging out and having fun at that time.

There were a bunch of faces that I didn’t recognize at the party that night. Many of them were brand new to dancing and out looking for a different way to party on New Year’s Eve. As I said, at the beginning of the evening Lord Junior offered a dance lesson for everyone, and spent the hour covering really basic American Rumba and American Foxtrot. He promised all the newcomers that the DJ would play a fair number of these throughout the evening so that they could all get out on the floor and mess around with the steps he was showing them.

Somehow the class ended up with more men than women, so I opted to sit out so that others could take my place. Lord Junior convinced his wife (who was hanging around in the back of the studio) to come join the class, which made the number of men and women even. I wasn’t too sad about sitting out, believe it or not. See, I had stuck to my normal workout schedule just before I came to the party that day. I’ve switched back to doing heavy weight training after taking a couple of months off to let my body recover, and it was leg day that day, so I was definitely feeling my legs protest by that time. Having an hour during the class where I could just sit down and give my legs a chance to rest before dancing was actually really nice for me.

Once the class was over, everyone was released to have fun for the rest of the night. I think I spent much of the time that night alternating between dancing with people I knew and helping out newcomers with dances they didn’t know. Later on in the evening, Lord Junior roped me into going over to play one of the games with him that needed more people. He was super excited about playing the game (I think he had a bit of the champagne by that time), so of course I couldn’t let him down! That was a lot of fun.

At some point in the evening after the class finished up, I was looking out over the dance floor, and I was surprised to see that a familiar face that I hadn’t seen in a really long time had shown up. It was Young Dave! Yeah, that guy! That takes me all the way back to my days dancing at a franchise studio! I’m not entirely sure what brought him out to the party that night. Quite a while ago he disappeared from the dance world as the franchise studio gobbled him up with plans to turn him into a dance instructor. I heard later that those plans didn’t work out so well for him, and then he injured himself and basically gave up dance entirely. But I guess he’s back! Maybe this is a good sign – I assigned him one of the funniest Lego figures back in the day, and I was sad when he stopped showing up so I didn’t get to use that figure in pictures anymore.

While I’m on the subject of young dudes who came to the New Year’s Eve party, I think that Sparkledancer might have made a new friend that night. She had come to the party, but I didn’t see her for much of the night as she was bouncing around, dancing with her husband and talking to various people who wanted her attention. There was this one guy that I had never met before that kept going over to talk to her. I was introduced to him at one point by Sparkledancer – I think she did it so that he would talk to me for a while so she could run off and get a break. I don’t think he came to the party with anyone… or even knew anyone at the party before he showed up. That might explain why he latched on to Sparkledancer to talk to all night. She’s kind to strays like that. After all, she has kept talking to me for all these years. 🙂

Funny enough, I got a couple of texts from Sparkledancer the next day about this same guy. At some point during the night, she had exchanged phone numbers with him. From what I could gather from her story, he was a franchise studio student who was looking to branch out into the wider ballroom community. Partly that seems to be due to the high costs of the franchise studio which he didn’t want to pay any more, but also because it sounds like his old instructor left his studio, and this guy thinks that he knows more than the new girl who the franchise paired him with. So Sparkledancer offered to help be his guide to the wider ballroom community, and got his contact information for that reason.

She texted me on New Year’s Day to tell me that he was sending her a lot of messages to talk about dance and where he was hoping to go in the dance world. He has been dancing for two years now, and has had three different instructors at the franchise studio. He says that he wants to get into competitive dancing, but the franchise studio he is at doesn’t offer many competitions throughout the year and he isn’t sure if his franchise instructor would go to outside competitions with him. But he also told Sparkledancer that he doesn’t really want to work to be a competitor in the normal way. He wants to start going through and learn the figures so he can compete in Bronze, Silver and Gold, but he doesn’t want to worry about learning the technique until he finishes getting through all that. Huh.

But competing, much like taking lessons at his franchise studio, is also an expensive option, so he was asking her all about the cost benefits of having an Amateur partner for competing instead of trying to do Pro/Am, like she and I are doing. The creepy thing that Sparkledancer was telling me that I guess the guy was mentioning over and over is that he seems determined to find a dance partner and then also make that girl his life partner, so he wouldn’t stop asking Sparkledancer where he could go to meet all the young ballroom girls. I think she told me that he said he was 26 or 28, so he is looking for a girl who is between 20 and 24 who is also single.

To that end, it appears that he had developed a weird interest in Lord Junior’s current intern at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior has this girl who I think is in her mid-twenties that he has been training so that she could become a dance instructor someday. She helps out at the studio with running the front desk and cleaning in return for free lessons from Lord Junior toward that end. The new guy met her at the New Year’s Eve party, and I guess she made a big impression on him. Probably because she was dressed to party in tight leggings and a crop top. Intern girl is funny sometimes – she’ll dress like that, which seems to imply that she wants attention, but if you spend any time talking to her you would find out that she is super shy and tends to avoid attention. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, new guy asked Sparkledancer several times about Intern girl, trying to pass off his inquiries as questions about what level she is and whether the two of them were the same so that they could start training together. That would be one thing, but Sparkledancer was texting me and saying that he was throwing out leading phrases to try to get Sparkledancer to give him personal information about Intern girl. That… sounded kind of creepy to me. Funny, but creepy.

(Also, as an update, I saw Intern girl tonight when I was at the studio practicing. She said that the guy had found her on some social media site, and had sent her a couple of messages. I guess it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that he was using to find out information – he also went right to the source! Intern girl, as you might guess, thought it was strange that a dude that she met only once was asking her all kinds of things, so she just deleted the messages he sent.)

So that was the fun dance related stuff that brought my previous year to a close and ushered in the new one. Good times all around!

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Now that the year is all over, I sit here staring at this page, trying to look back over the last year I had in dancing to think about where it’s taken me. Let’s see…

2018 saw me really embrace the competitive side of dancing and all but walk away from social dancing in that pursuit. Throughout 2017, when I first decided to start seriously competing, I tried to maintain the same level of social dancing that I had been doing up until that point. It got to be a lot, and the social dancing wasn’t really helping me remove all of those bad habits that the social dancing had caused me to develop in the first place. Throughout the past year the amount of time that I went out was cut back more and more, and by the end of the year I got down to only going out to dance parties maybe once or twice a month. That’s probably pretty apparent if I were to flip back through my notes and compare the types of things that I have been talking about lately with what I was talking about at this time the year before.

That doesn’t mean that I have been dancing any less though. If anything, the sheer amount of time that I spend at a dance studio per week has increased dramatically because I am out trying to get in more practice time. That is one of the downsides of dancing Amateur that most people who dance Pro/Am don’t even consider – I have to practice a lot to ensure that I can do everything correctly without even thinking about it, because I don’t have a Professional who could cover for any mistakes I might make.

Note: I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing. My coach admitted to me earlier this year that there are times that he hates competing in Pro/Am competitions. He is a retired World Champion (the real kind, where he won titles in major International competitions, not just the kind from the competition circuit in this country where they call their winners ‘World Champion’ for some weird reason even if all the competitors dancing are from the same state). His Pro/Am students are paying him for his expertise as a retired World Champion. If his students get tired during a competition, or do their techniques incorrectly, he has compensated for them so that those ladies will still win their competition. He told me that doing that sort of thing – leading and adjusting his student’s actions with his frame so that they always look good and always win their rounds – is really hard on his body. So yes, a Professional admitted to me that he will go out of his way to cover for mistakes his students might make.

I’m not saying that Pros have to do that for all students, just that (as an Amateur) I don’t even have that possibility. If my partner or I screw up, we both are getting judged for what we do, so there isn’t someone in our partnership who could cover it up… anyway, this is getting way off from the point that I was trying to make. Let’s circle back around again…

Also, in order to keep up with the high pace of improvement and change that my coach desires of my partner and I, practicing so much to make sure that any changes we make in our coaching sessions becomes muscle memory is not really optional for me. I must have things down before the next time I see him, so that I don’t let him down and so that we can continue moving forward. So I practice a lot now – much more than I did throughout 2017. I have actually been thinking about moving so that I am closer to one of the dance studios that I practice at in 2019 because I spend so much time practicing. Getting rid of the drive time would be great! Then I could spend all that extra time doing more practice, right? Right!? Sigh…

But the results of all the work over the last year have been better than I expected. I went to a lot more competitions than I thought I would when the year started (I think I did seven or eight of them – but don’t quote me on that). I placed a lot higher than I was expecting to in most of them. There were even a couple of competitions that I did where my coach was one of the judges, so aside from getting back placements I was also able to get back direct feedback on what I needed to improve while competing from him, which is super helpful. We’ll see if all the hard work in 2018 pays dividends for the competitions that I do in 2019.

I also worked with my coach to play the dance politics game from a very different side throughout last year. For example, one competition that I was told to go to earlier in the year I didn’t actually dance against anyone, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the event. The organizers of the competition are important judges in the circuit, so I was told to make a showing there to help create some name recognition for myself with them. On top of that, there were several coaching sessions that I took with visitors who also judge competitions, for the same name-recognition reason. This side of dance politics is kind of an expensive game to play, and I don’t really like it all that much. But my coach thinks that it is important, and he hasn’t steered me wrong about anything yet, so I will keep following his recommendations. I’m sure there will be more political games for me in the year to come.

Based on how last year went, I have been wondering if I like being a true competitive dancer more than what I was doing before that, where I was mostly a social dancer who would get talked into competing occasionally. I’m not entirely sure. There are aspects of being a competitor that I like, but there are also a lot of pieces that are frustrating. Maybe I will spend some time in the future writing specifically about the trade-offs and detriments I see now that I am spending all my time focusing on competing instead of focusing on having fun as a dancer. That might be interesting. I’ll make a note about that so that I don’t forget.

Anyway… enough about that. 2018 was good in reflection, and I am looking forward to seeing where the adventures take me in 2019. There’s the potential for lots of crazy things if I end up doing all the things that my coach has been trying to talk me into doing. Bigger competitions, overseas competitions, training camps, meeting more people. He even talked about taking Sparkledancer and I to go to some dance event in his home country, and while we were there he would take all his students to his parent’s house so that we could experience his mother’s traditional cooking. I don’t know if I will end up doing all that next year, because theoretically I will only be competing in Silver at that point and it seems like a bit much, but there is potential so I’m not going to flat-out say no. We’ll have to see what happens!

Are you ready? I am! One more deep breath, and then let’s take off into 2019!

I’m super excited because tomorrow is my first ‘off’ day since changing out my workout schedule at the beginning of the week. The schedule I chose to take up is a five-on, one-off mix, which means I’m still technically working out six days a week, except for that one magical week down the road where the stars all align and then I will have an off day on the first day of the week, then five days of workouts, then a second off day on the very last day of the week! Calendar craziness!

My plan for tomorrow is that I’m going to use the time I normally reserve for my workouts to just stretch for a while. Since I made such a dramatic shift in the types of exercise blocks I am doing, my body is telling me that it’s a little unhappy – but in that good way, where your muscles are just complaining because you had been doing the same thing for several weeks and they had adapted to doing that, and now you are forcing them to work hard and adapt to something completely new. It’s the kind of pain that I love, because it tells me that I am working hard. Even so, a nice, quiet hour of stretching everything just sounds magical to me, so I am looking forward to it.

I imagine that there might be some people out there that are feeling the same way as I am – or maybe worse than I am – if they decided that regular exercise was their chosen resolution for the year. Obviously this feeling of soreness is something that I am used to, since I do this to myself fairly regularly to help avoid getting stuck at plateaus in my fitness. Exercise isn’t a resolution for me obviously, it’s just part of my normal lifestyle.

For people who didn’t really exercise very often and may now be trying to exercise frequently, I would guess that they are much worse for the wear than I am. You don’t necessarily want to follow my plan of action – I prefer to use stretching to alleviate any soreness I cause myself. I tend to stay away from drugs, even common pain relievers, unless I have no other recourse but to take them. So your mileage may vary.

To anyone out there trying their best to improve their fitness in 2019, I want to say that I am proud of you for making that choice. I hope that you not only reach, but then surpass any goals that you have set for yourself. And I believe that you can do that as long as you stick with it. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that the first week is always the hardest. Don’t run away from the pain and soreness that you have right now – embrace that feeling, because it means that your body is changing! And wasn’t that what you were going for in the first place?

Let’s do awesome things this year. Whatever it takes!

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But I’m Not Convinced By Your Costume

I didn’t actually get out last Friday night. Silly work! But that’s OK, because I did get to go out on Saturday night, and I had a grand old time. My costume was amazing if I do say so myself, and came together splendidly to make everything I did on Saturday more entertaining throughout the night. Of course it also made everything much warmer anytime I was moving around, so I had to take parts of it off and let my body cool down when I got too warm. That’s OK though, because it was still totally worth it to me. If you weren’t there to see me in costume, then you really missed out.

On Saturday night the party that I chose to go to was out at the Electric Dance Hall. We got to start off the evening with a short lesson taught by Lady Lovelylocks that went over some American Rumba. There was a large contingent of newcomers in the class, so the entirety of the pattern she taught was pretty short and none of the figures were really all that complicated. All the ladies that I danced with seemed to do everything well for the most part. There were a few that had jumped into the class late who were a bit behind the others when I rotated through, but I managed to help them get to the end with only minor issues.

As for the pattern itself (in case you want to try it), we started off with a full basic without rotation. After that we did another half of a basic with an additional step to the Lead’s right afterward to get us in position for a Cross Over Break on the right side. Coming back from that we went into two Solo Spot Turns for both the Leader and the Follower, first on the left side then on the right side. As the Lead steps across back to the left, he’ll takes his partner’s right hand and go into an Aida, a figure from the Silver International Rumba syllabus. Lady Lovelylocks had us do a simplified version, just using the Aida as three steps backward with little to no focus on technique.

At the end of the Aida we opened up slightly more to get to a kind of back-toward-back (yes, exactly that) position with our partner. Here we did a measure of Cuban Rocks, pivoting to face one another just after the end of the last one, and then to finish the Lead just did a rock step backward while leading the Follower through a Underarm Turn. As I said, it wasn’t too difficult to get through, and I’m sure any more experienced dancers reading this can picture the whole thing in their mind without even having to stand up and try it. Fun stuff!

The lesson didn’t really end, but rather just melted into the dance party. There were a few of the newcomers who were having trouble with the figures, so Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping them as class time was winding down. The DJ had put on some songs that were Halloween-themed which kind-of worked as American Rumba songs – I mean, if you ignored the feeling that the rhythm section gave you and just counted the straight timing of the music, or sometimes you could kind of get the feeling if you put your finger in one ear and only listened to the notes that would have been marked in the treble clef, or something like that. People started off trying to practice the progression of figures, but when Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping others and stopped making everyone switch partners every couple of minutes, people ended up just pairing off and doing whatever they wanted.

After the third song, Lady Lovelylocks managed to pull herself away from helping people long enough to thank everyone for coming out and officially kick off the party, giving the DJ free rein to change to other styles of music. This particular DJ was brought in to play at the party not by Lord Junior, but by a generous donation from a member of the dance community. I’m not sure what the instructions were that the DJ was given for the party, but her music choices were… not very varied. There was SO. MUCH. CHA-CHA. It became a running joke between a few of us at the dance, trying to guess whether the next song would be another Cha-Cha or something different for a change. There were really a lot. I gave up trying to dance any of them after a while because I felt like I had gone through my whole repertoire of Cha-Cha figures and I was running out of ways to keep the dances interesting.

I went back and forth with wearing my complete costume and dancing without parts of it throughout the party. I know I should have just left the pieces off once I took them off, but I was so excited about wearing it that I kept going back and putting everything back on once I felt my body temperature regulate again. Inevitably I would have to take the pieces off once more after two or three dances, but those two or three dances made me super happy. Sigh… I am such a kid at heart sometimes. If the neighborhood where I lived believed in Trick-or-Treating, I would have stayed home all night on Halloween, gotten dressed up in my awesome costume, and handed out candy until the wee hours of the morning. I would have even bought awesome candy for everyone who showed up. Full bars! Crazy! But alas, ‘twas not to be…

One of the dances that I did that night was the only Quickstep number that was played. Sparkledancer came and found me (since she’s really the only person I am comfortable dancing Quickstep with). The interesting part was that the song was rather upbeat, and it attracted a group of ladies out onto the floor. They weren’t on the floor dancing Quickstep, rather they were all standing in a big circle and just wiggling around for fun. Their circle took up a lot of room, going from the wall all the way past the middle of the floor on one of the long walls. On top of that, there were so many ladies and they were standing so close together in the circle that you couldn’t cut through in between them either.
Every time I went down that long wall I had to abruptly change direction and go around the outside of their circle. Of course, since they were past the middle of the room, I had to hesitate a bit to make sure that there was no one coming down the opposite way on the other long wall. I’m pretty sure that this was more of a problem for me than for anyone else dancing the Quickstep, since Sparkledancer and I can move a lot more than your average social dancer can when we dance together. I must have done five or six laps around the room by the time the song was cut off, going around the group every time. It was kind of nutty!

Monday night, as you might have guessed, I was out at Latin Technique class. Since we had done Rumba and Cha-Cha in class over the last two of weeks, this week we looked at Samba. Much like the last two classes, the material that we covered in this class was also related to notes that Lord Junior had gotten from a visiting coach that he and some of his Pro/Am ladies had worked with when the coach was in town several weekends ago.

One of the ladies who joined us for class that night had only briefly touched on Samba in her dance training so far, so Lord Junior wanted to start off with something simple to get us warmed up a little before diving into anything harder. The warm-up ended up being work on Volta actions. We did them very slowly, which is considerably harder than trying to do them fast. First we did them heading to the right, then going to the left, then with a bit of curve to them as if we were traveling in a large circle. When we managed to get through the sets, we sped them up a bit to work on them at a faster pace. We never quite reached full speed, but this was just a warm-up exercise so that wasn’t the end goal.

After finishing the warm-up, Lord Junior had us look at a section from his Open Samba routine that started out with Voltas, just to give us some continuity of mind. We started out facing the wall in Shadow Position with our partner, going into four Rhythm Bounces to get moving. Next we did four Voltas that took us in a semi-tight circle for 270°, setting us up to face a new wall as if we just went around the corner. Here, to change up the dynamics of the movement a bit, we did a couple of faster syncopated steps. Our feet were already situated in a Cuban Cross as our bodies were turned slightly to face diagonal wall, so on the next two steps we switched our feet into the opposite side Cuban Cross while rotating our body 90° to face backing diagonal wall.

Coming out of the twist was where the Leads and Follows separated from Shadow Position and started to do different steps. The Lead would untwist and take a step forward like a Cruzados Walk. The Follower went through a Four Step Turn, ending by pivoting their whole body around to face the Lead once more a few feet us. Here we went into a single Promenade Run, with the Lead just taking three steps forward to begin with while the Follower took a small step backward then turned to step to the side before stepping forward with the Lead. After the Promenade Run, the Lead would cut in front of the Follower quickly to go into three Natural Pivots – trying their best to take all of them down the line of dance if possible – before releasing the Follower to repeat the same single Promenade Run action we did before the pivots. That was where we ended things for the evening since we ran out of time to cover more.

Latin Technique was the only group class I went to this week. Since Wednesday was Halloween, Lord Junior decided that spending time with his young kids was going to be more fun than having class with the rest of us. I like to think that I am pretty fun to hang around with, so I’m going to pretend like Lord Junior totally missed out! Instead of class, I ended up going out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice. We’re down to the last couple of days before our next competition, so I figured it was a good idea. Unfortunately, that meant I had to leave my costume at home. Even though my costume doesn’t impede all of my movement, it does lessen it slightly, so I thought that practicing in it would be a bad idea. Sigh… I just miss out on all the fun.

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that I am competing this weekend? I can’t remember if I did before or not (and I’m too tired to go back and read my previous notes to see if I did). This competition should be exciting for me for a couple of reasons. First off, if the list of events I saw online is to be believed, I won’t be dancing unopposed at this competition. Hooray! Secondly, Lord Dormamu is one of the judges. Hoor… that’s actually scary. I don’t know why it makes me nervous dancing somewhere where he is judging but dancing against other competitors actually makes me happy. You would think my reactions would be the opposite!

I did get together with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for one last look at everything tonight before I head off to compete this weekend. All of our dances seem to be on track right now to do very well in this weekend’s event. Some things that we talked about which are points for us to start thinking about, but not necessarily points we will need to have down for this weekend, are:

  • In Quickstep, we want to start moving toward making all of the quick steps much sharper. This means that we are almost delaying the start of the steps a bit – extending the slow step beforehand as long as possible to get a much more staccato movement in the quicks
  • In addition to that, any place that we are adding in additional sway in the Quickstep he wants the transition going into and coming out of the sway to be faster, almost like snapping into place. This was something that worried me a bit, since I feel like I am whipping Sparkledancer around a little, but she told me that the movement doesn’t hurt her, so at this point I’m the only one worried about doing it. I’ll get over that with a little practice (I hope)
  • In the Foxtrot we are going to start talking about blurring the lines between the quick and slow steps in the figures to even them out, making the dance flow more and look much more legato. Exactly the opposite of what we are doing in the Quickstep – more like dancing a Waltz to a song in 4/4

But that’s about it! I’m heading out tomorrow night to drive out toward the city where the competition is being held. Some people I know are getting up early to drive out on Saturday before the event starts, but since I am not a morning person I am just going to get there on Friday night and stay in a hotel nearby. To me, the cost of the room is a small price to pay for not having to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning. I’ll let you know how everything goes next week!

Life’s True Intent Needs Patience

Oh man, so many things! Do you have weeks like that, where there is too much packed into a measly seven days, and you have trouble trying to keep track of all the important things that you saw and did? That has been happening to me a lot more in the last year or so. I’ve been starting to wonder over the last couple of weeks whether I’m getting a little burnt out with everything or not. Have I considered stopping yet? Well, maybe a little. But I don’t want to avoid doing things that could be fun and then regret it later, so I keep going.

I’ll try and keep this brief, with just the highlights that are worth remembering. What to talk about first? Well, last Friday night I met up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu so that we could go over everything before the competition that I was in this past weekend. It was a good review, and I was sad that the lesson had to end early because another group class had started up that ended up attracting so many people that they used almost the entire floor. So we set up a time to get together again in a few days after the competition to review the results and continue going over points that needed work. I won’t go into much more detail about this lesson so that I can move on to talk about more interesting notes.

Obviously the most important thing that I did this weekend was going to that competition. Well… I guess ‘important’ is relative – I ended up dancing unopposed, so while it is always a good thing to have experience getting on the floor in front of the judges, the results that I got back from the event are only mildly meaningful. I personally don’t like dancing unopposed. I like it even less when they put you on the floor all by yourself if you are unopposed. Lucky for me, at this competition they put some older age group on the floor with us at the same time, so at least I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb.

So why did I even go to this competition? Well, Sparkledancer and I were told that sometimes the important part of going to a competition is participating in the political game. We were sent to this event specifically to put in some face time with the competition organizers. Both of the organizers of this competition are also sanctioned adjudicators, so the idea is that if we support them by going to their competitions and make a point of talking to them, then if they see us dancing at a competition they are judging then they will have a better initial impression of us before they even see our legs start moving. Dance politics is not exactly a field that I want to participate in, but Lord Dormamu really recommended that we do this, so I just went along with it.

After arriving at the venue and tracking down Sparkledancer, the two of us didn’t have to do much searching to find the organizers. They were right near the registration desk, so we got to sign in and pick up our packets for the competition and also say hello to the organizers all in one trip. I love convenience! I made a point to tell them that Lord Dormamu said hello, because he told me to and also because then the organizers would know that we were there representing him at the event. They were nice enough people to talk to, and were really excited to mention that they were working on putting together a new competition next year, one that is at a place even farther away from my home than this one was. I guess that means I have to look into going to that event next year as well, right? Sigh…

Since I got to the event early Saturday afternoon and the rounds that Sparkledancer and I were in weren’t until first thing on Sunday morning, once we got done talking to the competition organizers we had some time to kill, so she and I decided to go looking around for a late lunch. The food they were offering at the venue was really expensive, so I pulled out my handy-dandy phone to look for something cheaper within walking distance. We found a sandwich shop that was only a half-mile away, so we agreed to go out for a walk to get sandwiches.

Now, this competition was in a part of the Dance Kingdom that I had never been to before. Based on the information I can find, supposedly I was in a pretty big city, but man… there was no one around. During the fifteen minute walk I took to get to the sandwich shop, I didn’t see any other people walking around, and there were almost no cars on any of the roads within my viewing radius. I saw sparrows eating food out of the middle of the road I was walking along – that’s how few cars were going down that street. It was a bizarre experience for a Saturday afternoon, nothing like what I would see walking around in the big city where I am from. Where were all the people on that Saturday?

Then, much to my surprise, this sandwich shop that we walked to was actually in a public dining area in a children’s hospital, so that was kind of a depressing meal to eat, as I’m sure you could imagine. Unfortunately, once we discovered this, we tried to find another place to get food, but the next closest place was another half mile from the competition venue in the complete opposite direction (so a mile from where we were standing at that moment). I don’t have any kids, so I think that this was the longest amount of time I’d ever spent in a children’s hospital in my life. I tried watching the people walk around while I was eating for a little while, but that just made me sad, especially when they were wheeling the patients around in the hall nearby. When I gave up on that, I spent the rest of lunch eating and talking with Sparkledancer while looking down at the table. The sandwich was good though, and I even picked up another one to take back with me so I could eat it for dinner that evening.

I went down to the dance floor in the evening on Saturday to watch some of the high-level competitors dance in their rounds. I managed to get there before the session started so I could claim myself a seat, and I saw Sparkledancer off on the side talking with a couple of people, so I headed over to say hello. The people that she was talking to were a couple of youth competitors that we see around all the time when they take lessons from various coaches. They are both teenagers now, but they have been dancing for many, many years, so they make me look terrible by comparison. The mother of one of the teens was there too. She’s a nice lady when she talks to me, but she is incredibly hard on her child. I get that she just wants her child to do really well, but sometimes I wonder if the mother is more into the dancing and competing than the child actually is.

Anyway, I was talking with all of these people for a while up until the two teens had to go out onto the floor to try to warm up before their rounds. I stayed in that spot once they left, just chatting with Sparkledancer about the people who were out on the dance floor. After a minute or so, a woman who was sitting behind me leaned forward and asked me if one of those two teens was my child. That… really made me feel old. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t old enough to have a kid that age, but then I did some math and I realized that it was entirely possible that I could have if I had actually had a kid in my late teens. Boy, I should pay more attention to how old I’m getting…

The high-level rounds were interesting to watch for a couple of reasons. For one, the two kids I knew did super well against their challengers, so it was nice to be there to see that. But the thing that stuck with me the most was actually what I noticed while watching the older senior-age competitors dancing. These were all competitors who would have been ten to twenty (or more) years older than me, and I managed to stick around for the rounds in both American Rhythm and International Standard. Watching them dance was rather enlightening, I must say.

It struck me right away during the American Rhythm rounds I saw first. Looking from couple to couple, they all looked… almost robotic. Obviously these couples were the best-of-the-best, dancing at the top of the proficiency ladders, and I’m sure they train and practice at least as much as I do (probably more). But I was watching them, and I couldn’t see any connection between the person dancing and the movements they were doing, if that makes sense.

It looked like their bodies were just moving because these were the routines that they had practiced for so long, over and over again. The movements were as big as the body could make it while maintaining control, the smile, if it was there, was plastered on the face but not touching the eyes, the eyes were looking off toward the crowd but focused on nothing… it just seemed so ‘off’ to me as I was watching. It was actually distracting me away from watching the technical aspects of their dancing. Instead, I found myself drawn to watching a guy who was standing off to the side of the dance floor across the room from me.

I found out later that the guy I was more interested in watching was a dance instructor who was there to compete in some of the Pro/Am events with his students. During these high-level rounds that evening, he was standing off to the side, just wiggling and grooving along with the music that was playing. At one point during the East Coast Swing number, I swear I saw him humping the air with a silly look on his face. That guy didn’t look robotic at all while he danced, and it was quite obvious that he was mentally connected to what he was doing, and he was quite clearly having fun while doing it. That helped me to realize what looked so ‘off’ about the competitors on the floor – none of them looked like they were having any fun!

Once I figured out what looked wrong about it, I started to ask myself if I looked like that when I danced through any of my routines, and I got worried. I don’t think that I would be fun to watch, either for a judge or for someone in an audience, if I was just going through the motions. I want to be connected to what I am doing, to actually enjoy it, and to be able to do it in such a way that people can get that feeling from me when they watch what I am doing. If I stop enjoying what I am doing, if it no longer is fun and I am just going through the motions because that’s what’s expected of me, then what’s the point? In essence, I do not want to be a robot.

…although, being a cyborg could be cool. I would want to have a cool fake arm that has super strength, and would also have a device that could pop out of the forearm and launch freshly baked cookies at people. You know, the kind that are only like half-baked, so they are super soft and gooey in the middle? I would be super popular at parties if my arm could do that. 😉

Anyway… that was my interesting observation from Saturday night. Sunday morning I actually got to dance. The schedule that they set up for Sunday was a bit weird to me. They had heats for Amateurs in International Standard, but mixed into those were heats for Pro/Am International Latin for some reason. I’m not sure why they built the schedule that way. That’s the first time I’ve ever been to a competition with a schedule like that.

My heats went fine, for the most part. The dance floor at the venue was tiny compared to other competitions I’ve been to, so I had to pull my steps a lot to avoid running off the floor. That caused Sparkledancer and I to bump legs a few times unexpectedly during the first few events. I think I’m going to have to figure out a way to start practicing how to dance on small floors, because this seems to happen from time to time. When I am used to dancing on a floor the size of the Endless Dance Hall, it is hard to adjust to dancing on something that isn’t even half that big. By teaching me how to move so much when I dance, Lord Dormamu has inadvertently made my life difficult at times.

During the first dance of our first event, one of the other ladies on the dance floor lost part of her hair! I’m not sure how, but she had some kind of fake hair piece that was attached to her head fall off on the far side of the floor, in the middle of the line of dance. I saw it when I got close and thought it was funny, so I mentioned it to Sparkledancer. Dancing around it wasn’t an issue for me, but other competitors kept looking at it a bit nervously. When the music kept going with no end in sight, finally one of the judges ran down to the end of the floor to pick it up and move it to a table that was off to the side for safety. That was a pretty amusing moment.

One other interesting thing from the competition came from the Pro/Am International Latin rounds that also took place that morning. One of the students in particular stood out over all the others. There was a much, much older lady – she looked older than my grandmother at first glance – who was dancing Latin. She wasn’t just dancing the three-dance rounds, not even the four-dancerounds… no, this lady went for it all, doing the five-dance Latin events. It was amazing to hear the crowd respond while watching her do Jive and Pasodoble like a champion.

After my events were over, Sparkledancer and I were standing off to the side and watching the other rounds while waiting for the awards presentation to begin. This lady happened to come by, so we ended up getting to talk to her for a few minutes. As it turned out, she really was older than my grandmother! She confessed to the two of us that she was almost ninety years old already! And get this – she hadn’t even started to dance until she was eighty – incredible!

Apparently she really only dances Latin as well. She knows other styles that she will dance socially with people, she told us, but when she decided to compete, she really liked the strict rules and techniques that Latin has in it. The way her instructor showed her the American Rhythm styles didn’t offer her that kind of challenge, so she decided against it, even though most people in the area she lives dance only American styles.

Talking to her was super cool. It makes me think that when I get a little older like her, maybe I can still be dancing. You know, because I’m so old, based on that lady asking me if I had a teenage child…

Tuesday night I ended up back out at the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu to work on things. That night we ended up focusing solely on Tango. There were a few important notes that I wrote down afterward that I will have to start adding in when I practice. Probably the craziest thing that came up that night is that somehow, even though I have only practiced Tango enough in recent weeks to keep it fresh, I seem to have suddenly become able to move enough during the figures to overrun the length of the dance floor in the Endless Dance Hall. That’s… a real problem.

I mean, sure it’s pretty impressive, and it’s a huge change over how I was moving back when I decided to go down this serious competitor track, but it’s a serious problem because no competition floors I have danced on are anywhere near as big as the floor at the Endless Dance Hall, and if I am now traveling more than the length of that huge floor, I am creating issues for myself. I mean, I had just been at a competition with a tiny floor, and having to rapidly adjust and pull my steps in short caused me to bump legs with my partner. It’s a real issue! Lord Dormamu just thinks that it is funny, and tells me not to worry about it. I am worrying about it though. Sigh… me and my strong legs.

Anyway… I was told that night to try to alter where I am holding my left arm a bit. Lord Dormamu wants me to push my forearm on my left arm farther out away from my body in order to help Sparkledancer hold her frame wider and more round on top. She will also be rotating herself slightly farther around my right side to improve the look as well. It feels a bit weird, because there were times I felt like I was literally pulling Sparkledancer to the left with my left arm (she is really light, so pulling her around is really easy for me if I’m not careful). This is probably going to be a major focus in practice this coming weekend to help me get used to the way that feels.

I was also told that when I am holding myself on one leg while my other leg is resting on the ground, that I should roll my resting foot up onto the toe instead of letting it sit on the ball of the foot. Like if I am in Promenade Position before moving for example, and my weight is all the way over my right leg and my left foot is out to the side and slightly in front of me. He thinks that having my foot up more on my toe gives me a better looking leg line for that brief moment I hold the position before moving.

One last change I need to remember: during any Twist Turn I do from this point forward, he also wants me to start doing a flick with my head as I settle onto my right leg after the twist is over. Apparently our Twist Turn was starting to look pretty good, so Lord Dormamu wanted to give me something to spice it up even more. I’m not sure how turning my head from side to side really fast makes anything spicy, but I didn’t question him. I just need to remember to start doing it.

Finally, I went to Standard Technique class last night and had a lot of fun. When I showed up, Lord Junior stopped me at the door and asked me what dance style I needed to work on the most based on the results from the competition this weekend. I told him that since I was uncontested, I didn’t really get any results, but Waltz has been the style that I have been focusing on in practice a lot lately. He told me that he would go over Waltz for me then, and put together some figures from the Silver-level syllabus to help me get more practice with them, since he assumes that Lord Dormamu will let me move up to competing in Silver in the near future. Yay! A whole class focused on practice for me!

Lately we have been starting class while on one of the short walls, which means that a lot of the choreography Lord Junior gives us lately in class ends up turning the corner somewhere in the middle. This class was no exception. We started out facing down the short wall on one end of the studio, and he had us do a Progressive Chasse to the Right going into a Back Lock, traversing the whole short wall. In the corner we did an Outside Spin that went into a Natural Turn to change walls. From there we did a Natural Spin Turn and then went into a Turning Lock, closing the whole thing up with another Natural Turn.

I know, that seems like a pretty short combination of figures compared to what we’ve done in previous weeks, but this week there were a lot of ladies in class, and many of them really struggled to make the Outside Spin work. That meant that Lord Junior had to spend a lot of extra time going over what to do and what not to do to try to help them get through the figure successfully. The biggest issue that more than one of the ladies did was failing to close their feet together as they spun, which made it difficult for either Lord Junior or I to step around them on the second step of the figure. Most everyone managed to figure out the issues by the end of class, so that was good.

This ran really long, so that’s all I’m just going to wrap things up here. There should be a lot less traveling this weekend, so that should make life a bit calmer for me. There is a dance party on Saturday night that I will be attending, plus I will probably end up hanging out in one studio or another on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons to put in some extra practice time. Being at a competition last weekend meant that I had to skip doing real practice because there wasn’t enough room for me, so I’m sure I’ll be making it up over the course of this weekend somehow. We’ll see what happens when I tell you all about it next week!

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!