Tag Archives: American Rhythm

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!

We’re Sharing One Eternity, Living In Two Minds

And now we’ll take a break from our regularly scheduled program for a few words from the sponsor…

Has anyone you’ve ever talked to about ballroom dancing compared it to language during the discussion? I’ve had a couple of people I know make that comparison in talks with me recently, and I thought it was interesting the way those comparisons unintentionally happened at the same time, and they wove together in my mind with some things I had read online recently from several sources. So I thought I would talk about that train of thought I had for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.

So… social dancing seems to have been on people’s minds recently. Based on the content I find in most of the online sites about ballroom dancing that I read from the shadows, I get the impression that I’m one of the few people who goes out of my way to have lots of different experiences dancing, which includes a lot of social dancing. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has lots of places to go out social dancing every weekend while most other people don’t, or if it’s because I happen to find social dancing to be rather amusing, which the dancers who would rate themselves as being more on the competitive spectrum don’t. Maybe it’s some combination of both. I certainly don’t do it because I have some great need to be out among people – I could be quite happy staying at home and studying things in my career field to stay on top of stuff for my job I get paid for, or planning the next fitness challenge I want to throw at my body to see if I can do it. Those would certainly be more relaxing and far cheaper options for my weekends in any case.

I really do sit and read stuff on the computer, I just don't get to it very often...

I really do sit and read stuff on the computer, I just don’t get to it very often…

There is something about going out social dancing that really appeals to me, so much so that I actually joined an organization where I can help put on a bunch of social dances throughout the year for other people to enjoy as well. And it’s not just the fact that I am a male, so I have the ability to use social dances to practice whatever I want because I’m in control of what dances I do and what figures we use. After reading through a bunch of other people’s comments about why they don’t necessarily like going out social dancing as much as I do, I have been thinking a lot about why it is that I actually enjoy social dancing, enjoy it enough that I keep going back out there and doing it almost every weekend. What am I getting out of it? Based on some things that other people have said when I was listening, I think I’ve found one word that can sum up what I am getting out of the experience:

Conversation.

No, I’m not talking about the awkward small talk that is inevitably made when you are out dancing with a partner, especially a partner that you don’t know all that well. After all, when I open my mouth to speak, generally the only things that come out are stupidity, or bad wordplay, or less-than-funny jokes (much like when I write. Ba-dum ching!). What I mean is, as a dancer in this Lead-Follow relationship that we establish for the few minutes at a time during the night when we dance together, we are conversing with dance. Ballroom dancers will generally learn several languages in the course of their training. Perhaps we are speaking in the elegant language of a Waltz, or the rhythmic cadence of the language of a Cha-Cha, or the fierce and masculine language of a Pasodoble (I only wish that happened more frequently). These are all things that I have studied throughout the years, and they all have very different rules to follow to ensure that what you picture in your head is expressed clearly for the understanding of your partner.

My own amateur dance partner made an off-hand observation a few weeks back that I think is really fitting to help explain why so many high-level competitive dancers I’ve met in my travels don’t necessarily like social dancing all that much. I overheard her explain to someone else that your average social-only dancer has a lot of dance vocabulary. They go out to dance classes and pick up figures for various dance styles which they then incorporate into the dances they do during social parties, and anyone who attended that class with them will also know those new vocabulary words or phrases, so they are able to perform the steps successfully. When the pure social dancer tries to dance the same thing with someone who was not in that class with them, they run into problems, so they do what anyone who speaks a different language than you does when trying to get their point across: they either repeat the word or phrase over and over again until you pick it up, or they try to ‘teach’ it to you, which in dancing means that they are telling you what you are supposed to be doing, hopefully without making you feel stupid in the process.

High level competitive dancers have a different focus: grammar. Normally they don’t spend a lot of time learning new dance figures or combinations. They have their routines, and they generally stick with them until they move up into a different level or get bored and decide to alter the routine to spice up their lives (or their instructor changes things, if they dance Pro-Am). Instead, once they have the basic steps in the routine down, they spend all their time focusing on the technique to make the steps look good, which really does equate quite nicely to the grammar of a language if you think about it. Technique gives you the proper structure for your steps, much like grammar gives you the proper structure for your sentences. My dance partner said that she often has danced with social dancers that she can understand pretty well (like me, I hope), but she has also danced with social dancers that are really loose in their frames and incredibly hard to follow. Her words were something like ‘they have a large dance vocabulary, but terrible grammar, so they are really hard to understand.’

You may be asking yourself at this point ‘what is he trying to get at?’ Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: I really feel like social dancing and competitive dancing are the two sides of this coin that is ballroom dancing, and you can’t truly experience what this hobby is meant to be unless you do both. Much like you need both a good vocabulary and good grammar to communicate, and constant practice to make sure you are communicating well. You can spend all kinds of time (and tons of monies) learning high-level technique from world-renowned instructors and adjudicators, but no matter how good your grammar may be it doesn’t do you any good if you only know how to use it when you do the same figures in the same order that your routine is in, or you are only comfortable when dancing with one person. I’ve seen people who are really amazing when they dance with their instructors as they work on their competition routines, but their dances fall apart when they dance with anyone else because they didn’t realize how doing things in a routine order with an instructor caused them not to actually learn how to lead the figure properly for any other lady they danced with. That wouldn’t make you feel much like a master wordsmith, now would it?

Even masters of language sometimes need help

Even masters of language sometimes need help

Plus, unless you are independently wealthy, you probably aren’t able to go out and compete every weekend to really use what you’ve learned with any sort of frequency. I mean, if you are independently wealthy, great! I would love to dance with you! Send checks or money orders to P.O. Box 222… anyway, social dancing allows you to go out and practice your conversational skills for much less of a cost. However, if you spend all of your time only going to social dances and don’t work on picking up rudimentary technique for your dances, then you will have a much harder time dancing with random people who you meet at parties. I personally think that competing is a good way to force yourself to practice technique, making sure that you really know it and can apply it whenever you go out dancing.

I did say that I had more than one person make the comparison recently between ballroom dancing and language, I didn’t forget that. Just to show you how well the comparison works, you may or may not remember reading about a class I took recently where we spent the majority of the class switching roles – making the people who normally dance the Lead part dance as Followers and having the people who normally Follow try their hand at being Leaders. As the class was beginning and the instructor was talking about why he was going to have us go through this crazy exercise, he told everyone in class that he really noticed a significant improvement in his ability to be a Leader when he was able to “speak fluent Follow.” By taking a walk in his partner’s shoes early on in his teaching career (so to speak – he has much bigger feet than any woman I know), he began to feel what it is that they were feeling from him, and he could see why certain things he did caused the figures he led to succeed or fail.

Maybe this will help you understand why I think that ballroom dancing really is better when you do both social dancing and competition dancing. After all, social dancing is how these dances came into being in the first place, so you know that is an important part of the story, but competition-style dancing is all that people see on television which interests them to take up the hobby in the first place. We should all cheer for both sides! Anyway, those are some thoughts that I had that I thought I would share.

We now return to our regularly scheduled notes about dancing that I write to remember what it is that I did. Let’s see if I actually remember things that I did earlier this week – I got so caught up in writing down my language notes that I didn’t write down notes after I got home from class like I usually do. Hmm…

What do I actually remember doing? Well, I think I remember most of what happened Monday night at Latin Technique class. The first funny thing I remember came right at the beginning of class. As we were taking the floor and talking about doing something in Cha-Cha, Tanya Tiger said that she was super excited that there were currently the same number of men and women in class, so we all should be able to get a lot of work done. She then proceeded to bend down and knock on the wood floor, since she was worried about jinxing things with her comments. As Lord Junior was thinking about what to work on with us, we all started laughing as another lady rushed through the door just two minutes before the class was going to start. She looked over at all of us, since she initially thought we were laughing at her, but when we explained what Tanya had just done she started laughing too. Good times.

We were only sort-of laughing at her

We were only sort-of laughing at her

Lord Junior wanted to start with us working on the Reverse Top figure in Cha-Cha, since he had tried to do the figure with Veep during a dance over the weekend and it had failed miserably (she blushed a bit when he mentioned that). We started off with guys on their right leg, left leg pointed back, holding on with only the left hand (ladies were in the natural opposite position). We did a Forward Check on beat two to start, coming back with a Slip Chasse for the guys and a Forward Lock Step for the ladies, and then leading the lady to do a Curl before going into the Reverse Top. We went around and timed things to release the lady so that she ended up out in Fan Position at the end, hopefully going around enough to end facing 90° counter-clockwise from where we started.

Having gone through the Reverse Top like he wanted and still having lots of time left, we added things on. From there we did a Hockey Stick, putting in a Spiral Turn with a slight turn of the wrist in the middle to get the ladies to spin all the way around and face away from us for the second half. We did one normal Lock Step forward to complete the actual Hockey Stick, and then added two other locks forward in Guapacha timing (Guapacha is a fun word to say). As we did the Forward Check at the start of the next measure, we rotated the lady’s wrist slightly the other way to turn her back around to face us so that she could do a Lock Step toward us while we did a small (very small) chasse to the left to end up with our right hand on the lady’s shoulder, standing perpendicular to her, setting us up for something even more fun.

Next we did a syncopated Telemark (yes, it is a figure borrowed from International Standard dances) to turn around 180° before sliding our right hand down to take her left and lunging out to our left side while she collected her feet and did a standing line to her right, pointing her right arm to the sky. To make sure we worked both of the lady’s arms, we next rolled her in along our right arm, grabbing her right hand with our left when she was close enough, and then we let her do another standing line to her right, pointing her left arm to the sky this time (since we are holding the right hand). The men just shifted slightly to our left here, not actually lunging to the side this time since we were using the opposite arm and didn’t want to end up twisted in a funny way.

I’m pretty sure I remembered that all correctly… at least for my footwork. The Follower’s footwork is a bit fuzzier since I didn’t do any of it, but I think I highlighted the points that differed from what you should see in the syllabus guidelines for the steps if you look any of this stuff up (I’m sure tons of people look up figures when I talk about them. Tons!).

Wednesday night’s class is a bit easier for me to remember, since it was just yesterday. I got to spend some time working on American Smooth techniques again, since the class was pretty small and Lord Junior is still studying for his American Smooth certification exam. He said he would only do this for us for American Smooth. There is no chance that he would switch things in Latin Technique to look at American Rhythm dances. While he will end up taking the exam for Rhythm once he completes Smooth so that he has the complete set of four, he doesn’t care if he gets a super-high score on the Rhythm test like he did for when he took his Latin exam, so he has no plans to go through things with us to help him study (for some reason he thinks Rhythm is stupid). We looked at American Tango this week, because he had been studying over some things that he thought were pretty fun and wanted to show them to us.

Since the Silver-level ‘figures’ that he is learning are really just progressions of other figures you would learn in Bronze, he didn’t really have names for anything to give us, other than the individual component names. So we ended up with a progression that was supposedly like four ‘steps’, but could cover almost the whole dance floor in the process. We began in Promenade Position, taking two steps forward. On the second step the men would come around, cutting the lady off so that we could do some Promenade Pivots. We took four pivoting steps, releasing the lady after the last one. The men remained on our right leg while the ladies took one extra step backward to put us into a Same Foot Lunge, holding on only with the left hand to her right. We held that position for two beats, then took up her other hand in ours and rotated her around us 180°. The men only squared up to the ladies in this process, just shifting their weight between feet, ending on the right foot, but the women took three steps to put them back on the opposite foot from us.

As we stood there facing each other and holding both hands, the men crossed their left leg behind and pointed the right foot to the side, pushing slightly on her right arm to get her to mirror us and point her left foot at the end. Then we then did a normal Tango Close step moving backwards, rotating 90° counter-clockwise and returning to dance frame. If done correctly, you should be facing the wall at this point. We then moved ourselves toward the wall, rotating another 90° counter-clockwise again with a syncopated Chasse, turning to Promenade Position at the end. Lord Junior wanted to set this up as if we were turning into Promenade Position in the corner to start traveling down the next wall.

As our next Promenade traveled down the new wall, we took one slow step forward, then two quick steps where we squared up with our partner on the second to do what Lord Junior called a ‘Dumb Ronde’ (I’m pretty sure that’s what he called it) on the next slow beat, which was basically crossing our right foot behind our left and as the right foot hit the floor the left foot did a Ronde so both actions happened in the same beat of music, and the Ronde was dragged out to cover two beats. Moving on, we split apart on the right side from our partner taking one side step to the right, rotating and taking one forward step with the left, then turning again to do a right side Fan and holding for two beats before moving forward to collect our partner back into dance frame during the Tango close step. By the time we finished this set of figures, we were right back where we had started with the Promenade going down the new wall, so now we had to do something that traveled.

We started with a normal, basic Tango Walk for two steps forward. On the second step though, the leaders separated a bit from our partner so that there was some space between our bodies. Going into the close figure, we gave the ladies a Underarm Turn, stopping her halfway around so that we were in Shadow Position. In Outside Partner we took two slow steps forward, and then went into an Open Reverse Turn. That would put us a good distance down the floor if you have long legs (I do. Yay me!). At the end of the Open Reverse Turn we rolled the ladies across our bodies out to our left side while we did a check forward and then came back, putting us into Open Fan position. Going into the final close of the progression, we rotated the fan so the lady came toward us, using our right hand to stop her (kind of like a Tuck Turn) before giving her a Underarm Turn with the left hand, and then collecting back into dance frame with the Tango close steps and calling it good for the night. Whew!

Because I have long legs, one time when I rolled the lady out into Open Fan she almost smacked someone in the face!

Because I have long legs, one time when I rolled the lady out into Open Fan that night she almost smacked Lord Junior in the face!

I think this weekend is the first Christmas-themed dance party I am going to. It’s really early in the month, so I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it’s also really early in the month so I’m surprised it’s happening now. I guess I shouldn’t be, since technically it’s already the second weekend in December. I also have two coaching sessions scheduled this weekend – one with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven, and a second with Sparkledancer and the Princess (gulp). Yeah, she didn’t forget that she wanted to work on things with us, like I had hoped she would. So we’ll have to see how I do with that challenge. You know why I prefer to work with male instructors? Not just because they know my part better, so they can see what I’m doing wrong, but also because when they want to dance with me it’s a bit awkward for both of us, so it doesn’t happen that often. The Princess is the only person who’s ever told me to cuddle her on the dance floor, as she was trying to show me something. That was weird. Maybe something else weird will happen when I see her on Saturday. I’ll let you know about what happens next week!

Turn The Clock All The Way Back

When I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven on Saturday, I was in for a surprise. The prior weekend we had thrown out our American Tango routine to begin recreating something from the ground up, and this week we were told that the same would be happening with our Waltz, Foxtrot and even Viennese Waltz routines. Since we had started on the Tango already, we decided to continue looking at that one first. Continuing where we left off from the week prior, we added on two Viennese Crosses followed by a Reverse Turn that ends with a lunge for me and a Developé for Sparkledancer. After bringing her leg down, we went through this piece where we each hooked the lower half of our right leg around the other person’s right leg, followed by some Left Rock Steps before doing a normal close step to end things in the corner. That completed the first long wall, and we decided to leave things there for the day rather than try to cram too much information about the new routine into our brains all at once. That didn’t mean that was all the new information I had to try to cram though…

Sir Steven wanted to start looking at our American Foxtrot routine next. We managed to get through just a few steps before running into some issues. The story we were given was that Sir Steven had workshopped these routines one weekend with Lord Latin and Lord Dormamu to be standard versions of the Silver American Smooth routines for anyone at the Fancy Dance Hall to use. On that weekend, he and Lord Latin had been dancing the figures as Sir Steven came up with things (Sir Steven is the only one at the Fancy Dance Hall with any real experience in American Rhythm or Smooth), while Lord Dormamu had been writing down the figures and recording videos of what they were doing. Well, since Lord Dormamu really only does International Standard, when he wrote down the figures that Sir Steven and Lord Latin were dancing he wrote down what he thought the steps looked if they had been doing the BrandNewDay1International version of the dance if no one told him the actual name of the American-style figure. The notes on the routines don’t completely make sense (I took pictures of the notes too, so I could study them myself). We only got through the first couple of the Foxtrot figures before we ran into a part of the notes that Sir Steven couldn’t figure out what Lord Dormamu was trying to document, and since the videos were all on Lord Dormamu’s phone and he was somewhere halfway around the globe, we had to stop our Foxtrot there for the time being.

Waltz was the last thing that we looked at, and this one we managed to get through one long wall just like we had with the American Tango. In total that gave us quite a bit of new material to study before the next time we planned to all get together, so we gave the American Smooth routines a rest for the day. With only a few minutes left, Sir Steven wanted to have us run through four of the five International Standard routines (no Viennese Waltz). As we wrapped things up for the day and wrote some notes on what we had worked on, Sir Steven made a comment that he wanted to have us work with the Princess so that she could see us go through our International Standard routines, and give us some pointers from a high-level female’s point of view (the Princess has competed over several years in a few big name competitions overseas in International Standard, so it’s like her wheelhouse). She was going to be hanging out at the Fancy Dance Hall the next weekend, so we were able to conveniently sign ourselves up for a timeslot right after our normal session. So next weekend should be interesting… or terrifying. One of the two.

My Saturday night was spent out at the Cherished Dance Hall, and the whole night turned out to be a lot of fun. We started the evening off with a Samba lesson taught by the internationally famous Judge Dread, and while I’m not a huge fan of Samba, it was very enjoyable. Judge Dread specifically told everyone that they could go to any old Samba class anywhere around the Dance Kingdom and pick up common basic figures, so he wasn’t going to spend a lot of time rehashing any of those unless it was needed for what he had hoped to get through. There were a few people who admitted to having never done Samba before that looked a bit worried at that comment, but they stuck with the class anyway and it looked to me like they did just fine. Judge Dread’s mission was to show us some figures and variations for Samba that he considered useful in adding more fun to the dance.

We started off by looking at what we were told was the ‘other’ basic footwork in Samba – the version that looks more like a Waltz Change Step than just the step forward or back and bringing your feet together while doing your Rhythm Bounce. The term he used for these was ‘Closed Box Steps’ since we were bringing our feet together at the end. Judge Dread then showed us the ‘Open Box Steps’ that he wanted us to do, telling and showing everyone the footwork and then having all of us step through the footwork while chanting ‘Forward, side, back. Back, side, forward.’ We were told that by stepping and chanting, when we left the dance hall after the party there was a better chance that we would remember how to do this step, and maybe we would even wake up in the middle of the night chanting that mantra. We did the box steps two ways – the first had the boxes going in straight lines (two of the figures back to back had you covering an actual box on the floor), and the second way had us curving the figure as we went. Depending on the angle of the curve used, you could make these box steps look more like a circle as you traveled.

Then we looked at Whisks. They started out like normal, just to make sure everyone was on the same page, but then he said that Whisks are so much more fun if you do them while traveling. The first step of ours ended up going diagonally forward, like you would do for a Botafogo. The idea of using the traveling Whisks was to set us up for the figure we were going to do next. BrandNewDay2Since Samba travels around the room (as you all know), and in a social dance you should always plan on doing figures that stay in one place toward the middle of the room (as I hope you all also know), traveling Whisks allowed you to move out of the line of traffic. The figure we were given next that had us staying in one spot for a while were Cucarachas, which is not something I’ve ever seen done in Samba, but totally leadable. At the speed and timing we were doing things, they felt a lot like Cucarachas you would do in Salsa. We were also given some fancy hand and head movements to throw into the mix, just to make things even more interesting – as we stepped to the (my) left, we brought our hands on the (my) left side arching in a semicircle across the chest, down to the side while turning your head left, and bringing the hands and head back to their starting position as you brought your feet back together. When we stepped to the (my) right, we brought the left arm up, arching toward your head while turning the head to the right side, and then bringing everything back to neutral as the feet came together. We added these fancy Cucarachas into a pattern of things that people could use at the dance party.

The overall pattern was fairly simple. You start with four of the traveling Whisks, angling things so that you head toward the center from wherever you happened to start on the floor. Then you would do four of the Cucarachas. Next up we tacked on the box steps that we had started the evening with, using only the curved variety. We did two of the ‘Closed Box Steps’ followed by four of the ‘Open Box Steps’ and finishing up with another two of the ‘Closed Box Steps’ where you would curve yourself enough so that you were facing toward the wall, allowing figure you did next to move you away from the center and back into the line of dance. With a few minutes left in class, he added in one more minor variation and had everyone put a lot of hip action into the box steps, accentuating things so that you felt like your hip was the thing pulling you over as you took your step to the side.

The dance party afterward was super crazy, in a very fun way. There was no one playing DJ that night, but someone had set up the music in a unique fashion. Each song only played for about a minute and a half before it abruptly changed to the next. No one running the party called out what dance style everyone should be doing, so each Lead had to think quickly about what they wanted to do, or it was possible a third of the song would be over by the time you actually started dancing. The setup reminded me of running competition prep heats for practice in a way, except there was no definitive order to the song choice you could use to anticipate what would come next. Even though I thought this setup was a lot of fun, there was one downside. Switching partners was practically impossible unless you happened to be over near all the chairs where the ladies were sitting out when the last song ended. If you were dancing and ended up in the middle of the floor with everyone crowded around you, it made more sense just to stick with the partner you already had and dance the next song rather than try to fight your way through the crowd to deposit one lady safely and pick up another. I wasn’t the only person who noticed this as well – I watched a lot of men who would keep the same partner for song after song, and it wasn’t just the men who had come with a partner (those men don’t normally switch very often at parties anyway). Still, as a change of pace from all the dance parties I have gone to over the last several months, this was a very entertaining experience in my opinion.

I had a good time at Latin Technique class on Monday night. Probably not for the reasons you would expect though. At the start of the night, when Lord Junior asked what everyone wanted to work on for class, no one really jumped up to give a suggestion except Miss Possible, and she wanted to do Cha-Cha. Hearing that made a couple of the ladies who were sitting nearby groan, since they were teachers and that day had been their first day of having kids to teach (I can only imagine how exhausting that would be). Hearing the groans, Miss Possible acquiesced and asked if we could do Rumba instead, which made the other ladies happier. Little did they know that there was some difficult material on the horizon for them. One of them in fact just gave up halfway through class, stating that she was exhausted and couldn’t do the complicated turns. I thought it was funny to dance with someone who had essentially stopped trying every time I rotated through.

What made things so hard? Let’s look at the progression of figures. We started with a progression of steps that has become pretty familiar to me in Rumba and Cha-Cha: with the ladies already out in Fan Position, we went into a Hockey Stick, overturning the ladies with a subtle wrist rotation when going into the second half so that their turn was more like a Spiral Turn and they ended up facing away from the Lead as we stepped forward. During the rock step that happens at the end of the Hockey Stick, we rotated their wrist slightly again to get them facing us, and had them take their final step on a bit of an angle to put them on our right side. Sound familiar? The next steps are where we did things differently. On the beat right before they would take their next step, the men would lunge to their left while pressing slightly BrandNewDay3forward with their left arm, which rotated the ladies about an eighth of a turn so that their next steps would move them in a path across the front of our bodies. On that path they did a Spiral Turn followed by a Three Step Turn, and at the end they did a 180° pivot, pointing their left leg out to the side. All of that in just one measure of music. Can you see why we had one lady just give up?

The men had things easy by comparison. We just had to shift our weight from one leg to the other twice and then turned 90° to point our right leg out to the side at the same time the ladies pointed theirs. At the end though, just to make things hard on me (since I only saw Lord Junior do it once or twice as we went through the figures at the end of class), he had me release the ladies left hand and do a full 360° turn on the spot in one beat right before we would take the next step into whatever figure we wanted. Turning 360° is not all that difficult by itself, and turning fast is pretty easy if you have a partner to help you start the turn, but turning that much that fast when all you have to use is yourself is harder than it sounds. By the end of class, I was flicking off the floor with the big toe on my right foot just to make sure I could do things fast enough. That might have been cheating, but I don’t think anyone would know (except for anyone reading this, I guess. Shh… don’t tell!).

Unfortunately, we were back to having tons of ladies in class for Standard Technique class this week, and only two guys to dance with them. We made do as best as we could, but I still heard some grumbling from some of the women about how they couldn’t really work as hard on things without having a partner. Tango was the order of the night, and Lord Junior was BrandNewDay4interested in looking at a figure that he had been working on earlier in the evening with Veep – the Viennese Cross, which is essentially doing the Reverse Turn like you would see in Viennese Waltz, except much, much more staccato (you know, because it’s Tango). So we all lined up to start looking at the figure, with two rows of four women each, and Lord Junior and I in the middle between the two rows to do our side of the figure. Lucky for me, I had just recently gone over this figure with Sir Steven, since it had been put into my American Tango routine (see above), so I was able to get working on things right away.

We didn’t cover much other than the Viennese Crosses that night. There were four reverse turns, with the last one slowing down a bit on the last few steps so that we could bleed off the momentum. After ending we did a normal Progressive Link to get into Promenade Position, and then we did Promenade Walks with Taps down the floor for a few steps. These I’ve seen before, and you might have as well. Once in Promenade Position, you take one slow side step in Promenade Position, and then you take one quick step with the other foot, tap the floor with the big toe of the outside foot, drop that foot flat on the floor and then repeat for as long as you would like. I’m fairly certain that the last time we looked at Tango in this class we used this figure as well in whatever pattern we had done that night. The footwork is a lot of fun, but it would be hard to lead if the lady hadn’t seen the figure before, so I’m not sure how easy it would be to throw into social dancing with any pick-up partners.

Whew! I’ve been unusually verbose today. Do you think that there will be this much to talk about by next week? I guess we’ll have to find out!