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. 🙂

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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.

If We’re Dancing All Alone Or In A Crowded Room

Last Saturday morning I headed out to the Fancy Dance Hall for my scheduled coaching session with the Princess. I must say, by the time I finished up with that lesson, I was not feeling very good about how I danced at all. It wasn’t even like we really covered anything all that different from things I had heard from other people before or anything, she just wanted to emphasize different techniques that morning than the techniques that I have been focusing on in my other coaching sessions of late.

So what things did the Princess really want me to work on with her that day? The biggest thing was she wanted me to really use my body connection with my partner to drive my steps. She also wanted the lead to be coming mostly from my hips, just like Lord Dormamu had told me. I got to go through the semi-uncomfortable demonstration again where I had my hands put on the front of the Princess’ hips and had to hold them there while she went through some figures in Waltz. It was less uncomfortable for me this time around than it was when Lord Dormamu made me put my hands on his hips while he danced – I’m not sure if it was because I had already had to go through this weird exercise with a dance coach once already or if it was because she was female, and thus the threat of my hands accidentally slipping was less awkward to me (luckily I have gotten good at keeping my hands in one place).
  She also told me several times I needed to bring my left side more toward her when we got into dance position. I guess this is something that I am going to need to worry about with any partner I dance with. When I open my arms to allow the lady to walk toward me and get into dance frame, I keep my body in a neutral position with no rotation in my hips. I guess I was assuming that my partner would get into frame with me in the correct place without me having to rotate at my hips to adjust at all… but apparently that is the wrong assumption. So that’s something to keep on my list to look at adjusting before I even start dancing now.

There were several points that I also got called out for my head being in the wrong place. I know, this is a constant struggle for me, and even when I feel like my head is leaning slightly to the left I guess from the outside it sometimes looks like it is leaning slightly to the right. The Princess had this tendency to use her pointer finger to push against my head when it was in the wrong place to make me fix it. Several instructors I have worked with have done this before, but unlike those coaches the Princess has long fingernails that felt rather sharp as they were digging into the side of my neck. That wasn’t really the most pleasant thing to experience, especially when she decided to poke me like that when we were in the middle of dancing.

So yeah, there was nothing really earth-shattering from that lesson. We spent half the time working on Waltz and half on Foxtrot. The Princess was nice enough to tell me at the end that I have noticeably improved, but I still need to work on keeping things consistent and to fix some of these minor things to take it up to the next level. I don’t know why the constant starting and stopping to go back and fix things made me so unhappy with my dancing that day, but it did. I ended up leaving and heading off to go work out and burn off some of that negativity so that I could be in a better frame of mind before I went out to host a dance party later that night.

As I mentioned at the end of my post last week, I was out and about hosting another monthly dance party this past Saturday night with the rest of the gang from the Royal Dance Court. Well, I say “the rest of the gang” but really it was only about half of the group. Being a holiday weekend, many of the members of the Royal Dance Court were out of the area visiting with family. I had expected that we would see the same thing with all the dancers who would otherwise attend our party, leaving us with just a small crowd that night. As it turns out, since all of the other dance parties that would have otherwise happened that night were cancelled or rescheduled due to the holiday, ours was the only ballroom dancing event in the whole Dance Kingdom last Saturday night, so we had quite a large turnout instead. Hooray!

To begin the night’s festivities, we had invited a local instructor to come by and teach a class on American Cha-Cha for anyone interested. From what I was told, this instructor regularly teaches classes and lessons at the City Dance Hall, but I don’t remember ever seeing him there in all the times I’ve been to that location. That could be because I don’t often pay attention to the other male dancers when I am there since there are usually a lot more ladies than men, so my attention is needed elsewhere. He was a fun instructor though, and English was clearly not his first language, so some of the phrasing he used when explaining things was unintentionally funny. When class started, we initially had the same number of men and women, so I was hanging out along the edge of the floor keeping an eye on things.

A couple of ladies showed up about ten minutes into the class, so I ended up joining in at that point to help keep things as close to an even ratio as possible. I ended up in the front row next to the instructor because all the other men chose to stand in two rows behind him; I’m guessing so that they could watch what he was doing during class. Since I hadn’t seen anything new to me in the ten minutes I was standing along the side, I figured I could be right in front as well so that people could watch me too if needed. The pattern that was taught that night wasn’t that difficult in my mind, but there were a couple of parts that surprised the ladies that I danced with in class. Several ladies told me that the other men besides me and the instructor guy next to me were doing things differently – which was kind of a scary thing to hear from the ladies, since the progression we went through ended up being rather long. None of the men complained that they didn’t understand the figures we had gone through, so the instructor guy just kept adding on more until we ran out of time for the class.

We started out with what I consider a normal starter step for any Cha-Cha: a side step to the left on beat one followed by a backward rock step. After that we did a normal chasse to the right followed by a Crossover Break (or, in International Cha-Cha, a New Yorker). From there we did a figure that I had learned long ago as a ‘Snap’ but I’m not sure if that’s its real name – coming out of the Crossover Break, we rotate back to face our partner, but instead of doing a chasse to the left we stop her by putting up our right hand and then turn to do another Crossover Break to the right. This second Crossover Break led to the first piece that many of the ladies I danced with struggled to get through frequently: In the middle of the Crossover Break, you needed to pivot on your front foot (left foot for the Leads, right for the Follows) to go into another basic chasse to the right. This is an easy transition to lead, because if the guy has a good connection with his partner and rotates at the right time, the lady has no choice but to turn. From what I gather though, many of the men weren’t doing this correctly.

After the second chasse to the right, we went through the second figure of the evening that the ladies I danced with didn’t really understand until I went through things with them. This one actually surprised me though. All we were supposed to be doing was a basic Solo Turn to the right (a Solo Turn is where both the man and the woman turn at the same time – also called a Walk Around Turn). Many of the women I danced with just kind of stood there and watched me awkwardly when I turned, even though I was pushing against their left arm to try to get them to turn with me. Once I stopped to talk them through what should be happening, and let them see the instructor guy next to me leading the lady through the same figure, they seemed to catch on. Several of them told me that the men they danced with in the rotation prior to me weren’t doing anything like what I was trying to lead them through, which is why what I was doing was confusing them. I don’t know what to make of that figure causing so many problems though. I had thought that was a fairly common step that pretty much everyone knew.
  Coming out of the Solo Turns, rather than go back into normal dance frame we went into a wide two-hand hold so that at the end of the chasse we could do Cuban Breaks – one set to the left and then one set to the right. As we finished the Cuban Breaks and shifted our weight back to the left leg (right leg for the ladies), the men did a rock step backwards while leading the ladies through a normal Spot Turn. This led into our final chasse to the right of the evening, after which the instructor checked the clock and saw that there was still a bunch of time left, and asked everyone if they wanted to keep going. Most of the class agreed enthusiastically, so he added on two final figures. The first was a Fifth-Position Break on the right hand side, which set us up for the final figure. The final figure was essentially the Promenade Walks from East Coast Swing, modified to fit to Cha-Cha timing. I’m fairly certain this figure isn’t on the Cha-Cha syllabus anywhere (at least, not anywhere I can find), but if you’ve done Promenade Walks in East Coast Swing before you can easily do them in Cha-Cha as well.

Once the class was over was my big moment to step into the spotlight for a minute. As I mentioned a while back, there had been a few complaints from some gentleman who attended our social dances about dance hosts doing ‘fancy’ moves on an increasingly crowded dance floor. In order to combat these issues, I had been elected to start giving out a few pointers on floorcraft before our dances began, to help improve the floorcraft of our attendees, and thus improve the dance floor safety of our parties. I said I would write up a whole speech and present it here for you all to see, but I never got around to that. Instead, since I have become accustomed to talking to random people at these sorts of events, I decided to just wing it. After a brief introduction of myself and an overview of why I was giving this speech, I laid out three random floorcraft points from a list I had made prior to that evening:

  1. When we are dancing ballroom dances, there should be two different tracks. An outer track for those who take larger steps and move ‘faster’, and an inner track for those who take smaller steps and move ‘slower’. This leaves the center of the floor for people not moving or dancing a completely different dance style.
  2. To tie things back to the lesson, I reminded everyone that when doing New Yorkers or Crossover Breaks on a crowded dance floor, they shouldn’t not fling their arms out fully extended. Instead they should keep their arms at their side with their hands on their hips. I did make a joke about ladies dancing near a certain individual being allowed to throw their arms out to smack that person, which got a laugh.
  3. The biggest point I emphasized that night was that people who didn’t know Viennese Waltz or Quickstep should not be on the floor during a Viennese Waltz or Quickstep. I pointed out that a social dance, especially one on a floor the size that we had to use, was not a place to learn either of those dances. After my speech was over, the DJ also reiterated this point.

I closed my short speech with the three points about floorcraft that I had learned from Judge Dread, that the Lead’s job is to keep his Follower safe, keep her comfortable, and keep her entertained. These three points have stuck with me over the two years since I took that class, so I thought it would be a good line to close with. If I really do end up giving a speech like this every month before our Royal Dance Court dances, I think I will close with this line every time.
  For the first part of the dance, I mostly hung out in the back of the room to watch what was going on. There were a pretty even number of men and women at the party, so I didn’t want to get in the way of everyone else having fun. I did have one lady stop by during one of the first Cha-Cha numbers to ask me if I could show her the pattern that everyone had gone over during the class. She had missed part of it, and wanted to make sure she knew what was going on in case some gentleman tried to lead her through this new progression. I took her over to a mostly empty corner of the dance floor to step through it slowly with her, and she seemed to understand once we finished.

The most unexpected part of the dance happened early on in the night, right after the first Foxtrot number was played. I had been standing in the back during that Foxtrot, as I mentioned, just watching people, and making friendly conversation with the few people who came within range of me. After the dance was over and the DJ changed over to a different song and dance style, an older gentleman made his way off of the dance floor and over to where I was standing. My spider-senses started tingling immediately as I noticed his approach – this gentleman was the guy whom had made the complaint that led to me giving the short speech on floorcraft in the first place. I put on my best welcoming smile and braced myself for whatever might happen.

When he was close to me, he reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and pulled slightly so that I would lean down so he could speak in my ear. He told me that next time I should make a point to emphasize that the instructors that show up as dance hosts should watch out as well. Apparently one of the dance hosts that a group of ladies had hired to dance with that night had done what he called a “fancy move” on the dance floor, and he was near the guy when it happened, and it caused him to have to change his steps to avoid what was going on. I bit my tongue to not say too much in response to that, instead just nodding and agreeing until this gentleman was satisfied and wandered off. I really wanted to tell him that I was less worried about what those few instructors serving as dance hosts for the evening were doing than I was with the other social dancers who I see doing all sorts of crazy things on the dance floor, but I didn’t think that the middle of a dance party was a good place to get into that kind of dance philosophy discussion.

Sigh… I’m sure that this will come up again at our next Royal Dance Court meeting.

I missed out on Latin Technique class this past Monday because of things going on at work, but I did manage to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. We ended up working on Quickstep that night, focusing quite a bit on footwork that required you to be up on your toes for long periods of time. Without knowing that we were going to be doing this during class, I had unfortunately worked my legs really hard during my normal workout before class, so my calves were kind of unhappy before we even started dancing. I managed to grit my teeth and get through things, but I was happy when class was over and I got to go home and rest my legs for the night.

We began class warming up with chasse-like steps down the long wall. All of the steps were meant to be done while up on our toes, and we did several variations of timing, with a few runs that had some twists to keep things interesting. We began with normal Quickstep Progressive Chasse timing, then switched to chasses in Pepperpot timing, then did a few where it was Pepperpot timing with a 180° rotation on a slow step between the chasses, and to finish things off we changed over to Lock Steps in Pepperpot timing. The Lock Steps and the Pepperpot timing were good to end the warmup with because we used those in the actual progression we worked on for the rest of class.

Our progression was pretty basic overall. We started with a Natural Turn into a Natural Spin Turn, ending with a V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn was used as the first step of the V6 to make sure everything flowed together properly. We used the Lock Steps that you have in the V6 to work on the timing and footwork we had started in the warm-up. First we were doing the V6 with Lock Steps that had normal timing, and then we changed things so that the first Lock Step was normal and the second used Pepperpot timing, and finally we did both Lock Steps with Pepperpot timing. At the end of class when we were running through the figure for practice, we kept switching up which timing we were using just to keep everyone on their toes (ha ha! Unintentional humor…).
  I know there are several dance parties going on this weekend, but as of right now I’m feeling like kind of a stick in the mud, so I don’t know how much effort I will put into going to any of them. Staying home and curling up with my cat sounds like a grand idea. We’ll have to see what happens. I’ll let you know all about what I end up doing next week.

Laughing All The Way

When I got together with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven this past Saturday afternoon, we started off looking at things that were on a completely different track than usual. Sir Steven wanted to begin by looking at Foxtrot. We still haven’t gotten around to looking at what our American Foxtrot routine should be; we just looked at some figures in Foxtrot. Specifically, we began by jinglebells1doing repeating Three Step and Feathers down the length of the floor. After a few repetitions with me traveling forward, Sir Steven asked us to do them with me going backward. This is what Sir Steven wanted us to look at (he called it a Reverse Wave, if you want to look it up). Sir Steven said that we should start trying to incorporate this figure when we dance Foxtrot together socially, because he wants to put a number of things that travel backward into our routine, so we need to feel comfortable maneuvering backward with other people on the floor. It was easy to do that afternoon, since we had the whole place to ourselves, but moving backward can be scary when there are other dancers around that you can’t see as you face the other direction.

Next we spent a few minutes looking at our American Waltz routine to review the changes we had made last weekend. That wasn’t very exciting. Then we decided to look at our Tango. We had pretty much already scrapped everything but the first long wall of the routine up to this point because Sir Steven didn’t like it, and that afternoon he decided to changing portions of that wall as well. Where we focused that day was on a piece that Sparkledancer does: we had just done an Open Reverse Turn, ending with me lunged forward on my right leg and her in outside partner. Sparkledancer was supposed to flick her right leg backward around mine and then kick it forward before putting it on the floor to do some rock steps with me. Sir Steven didn’t think her kick was exciting enough, so the two of them worked on the kick while I held my lunge. She was supposed to make it look more dramatic, almost like a snap kick. Sir Steven made some noise at one point while they he was kicking to add emphasis, which I thought was funny, so Sparkledancer asked me if I could help make inspirational noises for her when she kicked. Being the obliging type, the next time we went through the step and she kicked I said “Keeyah!” really loud, like we were in a cheesy martial arts movie. Both of them stopped what they were doing and started laughing really hard. That was totally the right call on my part.

Before we finished up that day, Sir Steven wanted to switch gears and we briefly look at our Quickstep routine. I guess since it had been so long since we had done any changes to any of our International Standard routines, they were feeling a bit jealous, so Sir Steven walked us through a variation of the first long wall in that routine that he wanted to have us start incorporating in from time to time. It wasn’t meant to be a total replacement for the first long wall, just a variation that we could use when the routine repeats to keep things fresh as we go around. The first long wall would normally travel in a pretty straight path down the line of dance, so this variation will have us moving back and forth from the wall to the center as we travel.

Later on that evening, I got to help put on a dance party with the other members of the Royal Dance Court chapter I am a part of. Our little group had known about the big formal Christmas party that many of us attended the weekend before, so to differentiate ourselves from that event we had intentionally scheduled our party this past weekend to be just the opposite, encouraging everyone to dress in their tackiest holiday attire and come out for some relaxing fun. We were also celebrating the birthday of our chapter that night, so all members got to come to the party for free! Being so close to the holidays, I was worried that a lot of people would be out of town for the weekend and we’d have a small turnout, but we had a ton of people show up to dance that night. I guess the allure of free dancing is too much for people to pass up.

Before the party started, we had arranged for Lord Junior to come out and teach a class on American Rumba to everyone. Weirdly enough, I did not participate in the class that night. While the class was going on, we had a lot more men than women in attendance. A few people jinglebells2trickled in during the class as well, but that only made the ratio worse, with even more men than women. I ended up directing several of the ladies who are members of the Royal Dance Court with me to go out to the floor to even up the ratio (which is what I usually have to do during these classes). From what I could see of the steps they were doing from where I was, it didn’t appear to be all that complicated – it looked a lot like a figure I learned quite a while ago in fact, but after the class was over Sparkledancer came to talk to me and told me that a lot of the men were struggling with the steps, so she ended up backleading a lot just to get through things.

The party afterward was tons of fun. More people kept coming in as the class was wrapping up, so we ended up with tons of people out on the floor! And there were still several more men than women! That doesn’t happen very often at parties I usually attend. I ended up standing behind the counter for the first half of the party to watch the door and sign in any people that showed up, giving the ladies who are members of the Royal Dance Court a chance to do some work during the dance party out on the floor like I usually do. It’s only fair that occasionally they have to spend all night dancing and entertaining the guests, right? That is what I have to do most months. I still got to dance quite a bit, so don’t feel bad for me. Not that I would think that many ladies would feel bad for me having to sit out at all anyway…

To celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our little club, all the members of the Royal Dance Court chipped in to get free cake and champagne for all the people who showed up that night. I think we might have overdone it a bit though. There were several bottles of champagne left over at the end of the night, and I know there were a few people who had a lot more to drink than I would normally feel comfortable with. We also ended up having a lot more cake than we really needed as well. One lady really felt like we needed homemade cake, and she wasn’t sure what flavor would be the best, so she made three cakes, each in a nine-by-thirteen pan. By the end of the night, two cakes had been half eaten and one hadn’t even been cut into pieces. We probably could have gotten by with two cakes half the size rather than three giant ones, if you ask me. Rumor has it someone took the cakes home to put in their freezer with the idea of bringing them back out at our dance party next month. I’m really, really going to have to try and talk them out of doing that…

There were only a few of us who showed up for Latin Technique class on Monday night. Lord Junior was working on some Tango with Deja when I got to the studio, and when asked if she was going to stick around she initially said that she had some things to get home and take care of. Sparkledancer was the only other person there, sitting along the side of the room watching the two of them. Lord Junior said it might be just the two of us, so we could pick whatever we wanted. Sparkledancer made a joke about wanting to do Bolero, since Lord Junior doesn’t like Bolero for some reason. He replied that he would just go through International Rumba figures using Bolero technique if that’s what she really wanted to do. The two of them looked at me, and I just shrugged and said that they both knew what my vote would be (I love me some Pasodoble!). Both Sparkledancer and Lord Junior seemed to be OK with that idea, and when Deja heard us talking about doing Pasodoble she decided to stick around as well. Then tiny Tanya Tiger showed up at the last minute, doubling the size of the class from what I initially thought it would be, so that was fun. Yay for my great ideas!

Well… it was sort-of a great idea, as we found out. As excited as Deja was to do Pasodoble, she had never done any before, so she had trouble through the class figuring out her footwork. And even though Tanya is one of Lord Junior’s better competitive students, they haven’t done any Pasodoble together yet either. From the sounds of things, that might have been partially because of the height difference between them (she is under five feet tall, and he is several inches taller than my six foot frame), which would make it hard for them to do the iconic Pasodoble shapes really well. Also, Lord Junior picked a particularly difficult figure for us to work on in class that night, which was even harder for the ladies with no Pasodoble background to get through the first several times we tried it out.

We looked at a Gold-level figure which is aptly named ‘The Twists.’ Basically it’s a traveling figure that takes you down the floor, with the men doing three Twist Turns around the lady, and the lady doing three Heel Turns around the guy (yes, there apparently are Heel Turns in Pasodoble). When done correctly you get the effect that the turns are happening back-to-back, not at the same time. It will look like the man comes around the lady, turning to face the opposite direction, and then the lady moves and turns, then the man comes around again and turns, then the lady, and so on and so forth. It’s a neat effect, but hard to pull off if you aren’t coordinated with your partner. The syllabus version of the figure has you doing three twists and then a side step to collect, covering a twelve counts in the process. While turning, you are to constantly be shaping your upper body toward the center of the room (assuming that you view the direction you are traveling as ‘line of dance’). The shaping transitions are quick, so it took me a few tries to get them down.

Not being satisfied to just end the figure in the manner that the book recommends, we decided to add on one extra piece to give us the extra four beats needed to get two full eight-counts out of our pattern. We did three syncopated Lock Steps Forward, which ended up traveling toward the center of the room since our previous figure ended with us facing that way. The Lock Steps were super quick, and at the end we did a quick transition into Promenade Position, complete with all the big arm motions, to set us up for something else. As we practiced, we always ended up taking the first step forward in Promenade Position on the next beat one to help stop our momentum from the quick movements in the previous steps. The pattern felt pretty good when we were running things at about 80% of normal tempo, but it was a real challenge to keep things looking good when done at full speed. I thought it was a lot of fun though, so all around I was glad that everyone went along with my idea that night.

There were quite a few more people who showed up for Standard Technique class on Wednesday by comparison. We looked at some International Waltz that night, only covering a handful of figures that sounded easy when they were being explained to the class in the jinglebells3beginning, but one of the figures gave most people more trouble than I would have thought when we tried to dance it. The first step was easy enough, a Fallaway Reverse Slip Pivot – something most of you have likely seen before, either in International Waltz or Foxtrot. Next we did a normal Double Reverse Spin – also easy enough. Coming out of that was the troublesome figure: an Overturned Double Reverse Spin. It’s basically a normal Double Reverse Spin, but on the last half of the last beat you add on a Reverse Pivot to turn you another 180°. This seemed to cause all kinds of issues when we tried to dance it with a partner, and for some people it even caused issues when we tried dancing through the figures without a partner. To finish out the progression we added on an Oversway at the end. Not a Throwaway Oversway, but just a normal Oversway.

The biggest problem I had with the Overturned Double Reverse Spin was that with several of my partners, they would let their right arms collapse. When that happened, the right half of their bodies would invariably collapse toward me, pulling their heads back in toward their center. For some reason last night more than any other night I was having trouble getting the turn to go all the way around when the lady didn’t keep her head out to the left, which helps stabilize the turns we do. Three of the five women were letting that happen more often than not, so we would then have to kind of fake the last bit of the turn to make sure we got around enough to go into the Oversway. The two women that kept their frames up strong helped the progression flow really well, and we were able to get through things easily and everything felt really good.

Well, the holidays are officially upon us. That means that this weekend will be pretty quiet. The only option for dancing that I have heard of is a party tomorrow night at the Fancy Dance Hall. I think the class I normally attend on Monday is also cancelled, so that will be a bit sad. Next weekend should be better. There are several New Year’s Eve dance parties in the area to choose from to help finish out 2016 and bring in 2017 with. But we have to get through one holiday first before we can start talking about the other, so I’ll have more on those later.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very merry and dance filled Christmas!