All Around, Things To Tantalize My Brain

For this week I’ll probably limit what I talk about here to what happened over the weekend, since there is so much information to cover from just Friday and Saturday…

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the famous ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza that is held annually at the Grand Dance Hall. They make a point of bringing in some fabulous dinners to serve to the attendees, hold formal dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights with a live orchestra providing the music, and offer some pretty fun workshops for both beginner and advanced students during the day on Saturday. This year marked my fifth time attending the October-weekend festivities, because I happen to find it so entertaining.

I made the hour+ drive out to the Grand Dance Hall mid-afternoon Friday, hoping to get there with a little extra time before the welcome reception started so that I could find a place to change into my formal attire. I’ve made the long drive while wearing a suit the first few years and it is super-uncomfortable, so I just don’t do it anymore. Once I had found a quiet corner to change into my formal attire and stowed my street clothes back in my car, I met up with the small group of people I knew by the dance floor to begin the evening’s events.

The main dance hall was opened up an hour before dinner would be served to allow everyone to come in, mingle a bit, eat some snacks that were set out at the back of the room, and even partake of a few adult beverages from the cash bar if that was your thing. A quartet of musicians was playing some dance tunes during the reception, giving everyone a chance to take to the dance floor and begin warming up their legs before the bigger dance party that would start after dinner, when the rest of the orchestra would join the quartet.

Not recognizing too many people at the reception, I stuck with the ladies that I did know when I went out to dance. The times that I went out to dance with Sparkledancer were apparently very noticeable to others in attendance. Near the end, just before the group I was in began wandering off to get some dinner, people started to approach either Sparkledancer or I and ask us if we were dance instructors, or if we were in fact THE dance instructors who would be teaching the workshops the next day. That was a bit strange.

One gentleman approached me and told me that I made him look bad by looking so good. I laughed and apologized to him for that, thinking he was just joking around. He then got quite serious and asked if I would be attending the workshops the next day. When I told him that I would be there, he asked me if I would be able to help him out if he got stuck on anything during the classes. I was really surprised by that question. Of course I told him I would do the best that I could, but it still surprised me that someone would go out of their way to ask me in advance for assistance with dance figures. I’ve never had that happen before.
Dinner was a delight, as always. The food that they bring in for the event always seems really extravagant compared to what I normally eat. I even had a fancy dessert, which is the part of any meal that I rarely (if ever) partake of. Around nine o’clock, the orchestra began to play and we all made our way back out to the dance floor to dance for a few more hours and burn off all those calories that we had consumed. Hooray!

Making my way back to the Grand Dance Hall early on Saturday morning to attend the first workshop being offered, I got to work on Tango for a while. These workshops that they hold are to give people new choreography to work on, rather than to focus on technique. This is a nice change of pace for me from what the lessons I normally attend focus on, so I was having fun.

The choreography we learned was fairly easy to put together if you’d seen all the figures individually before, and because we never broke frame you could theoretically use this when dancing both International or American Tango. I see it as more of an American Tango progression though, but that’s just my take on the matter.

We began facing diagonal wall and did two basic curved Walk steps. Next we attached a 180° pivot to the left and went into a Back Corte. Coming up from that, we did another 180° pivot to left and led the lady to do an Outside Fan, ending with a three-step-close like you see in American Tango. Next we did a Reverse Turn, closing our feet at the end, and then a Contra Check. At the end of the Contra Check we went into a Cobra Fan (another figure from the American Tango syllabus). When we close lady from the second Outside fan portion of that figure, we did two 180° pivots turning to the right this time, finishing with another three-step-close from American Tango to put you facing diagonal wall once more.

Next up of the three workshops offered that day was a Cha-Cha lesson. Everyone in attendance got a brief ten minute break after finishing up the Tango to prepare, and then we got to work immediately. Much like the Tango, the choreography wasn’t all that hard to remember if you had seen all of the individual figures before. Based on how everything was put together, I would guess that you could also do this pattern in Rumba with some minor variations.

The instructor had us begin by doing a full basic, mostly to get everyone’s mind out of Tango and into Cha-Cha. At the end of the basic as you chasse’d back to the left, the Lead would drop the lady’s arm down  to waist level. This set you up to push the lady backward into a diagonal Lock Step as we would do a chasse back to the right. With the lady moved away from us, we then did a Slip Chasse as we brought her back forward, which would make her do another Lock Step. Once we were back together, we led her into a Underarm Turn on left side, then a pair of Cross-Over Breaks, one right, one left, and then a set of Cuban Breaks on the right side.

Finished with the Cuban Breaks, we went into Solo Spot Turns on the left side. one last Cross-Over Break on the right, and in place of the next chasse both the Lead and Follow did a Three-Step Turn to the left. At the end of all that spinning, we linked hands to do two steps backward and then a backward Lock Step, ending in Aida position. To finish the whole progression, both partners turned to face each other, did a Stationary Chasse, and then we led the lady through a Cross Body Lead, releasing her at the end to lead her into one final Spot Turn on the left side.

We broke for an hour at that point so that everyone could grab lunch. When we all got back together, it was time for the last workshop of the day, which covered East Coast Swing. In this amalgamation we once more started out with a full basic movement to help everyone change mental gears, then transitioned into a Continuous Tuck-In with a full turn at the end. As the lady is turning, the Lead should back away so that she completes the turn out away from you, ending up in the position she would take to begin the Sliding Doors figure.

The next figure is kind of like the Sliding Doors, but not. You would bring your partner in front of you as normal, but stop her with your right hand when she gets directly in front of your body. Here you would lean from side to side, first to the left, then right, then repeat, while the lady leans in the opposite direction (right then left x2). This creates what the instructor described as a ‘Peek-A-Boo’ effect. If you know your partner pretty well, you can place your opposite hand on her waist as you lean – this is not a requirement on the first three leans, but on the fourth one you will need to place your left hand on your partner to signal the finish.

Using your left hand, you will lead the lady to turn to the left and roll away from you while you do a full basic movement. She can either do a half-turn, or one-and-a-half turns, depending on how much she likes spinning. After the next rock step you will take both of your partner’s hands in your own and lead her to step forward as you do, getting really close to each other and there hold for a beat. Then each of you will take a step back and hold there as well for a beat. To finish everything up, you do two Sailor Shuffles (right then left), lead the lady through a Underarm Turn, both partners go through Solo Turns, and then you can catch her hand once more to go into whatever you want next.

That all seems pretty normal for workshops at the Grand Dance Hall, right? So what was different about this year, to make my fifth time coming to this event special? Well, I’m not sure what I was doing differently, but it seemed like this year a whole bunch of people really wanted to approach me and ask for my help on how to do all the figures that the instructors were going over that day. I felt like I must have had some sort of neon sign hanging over my head that read “HELPFUL!” or something, drawing people over to ask me things when the instructors were busy with other people..

Remember that gentleman that I met at the reception who asked me if I would be willing to help if he got stuck? He actually got stuck, so I definitely had him approach me early on in the Tango class. What he forgot to mention at the reception was that he had come to the weekend’s events with a whole group of dancers from his home dance studio, and apparently he had told all of them about both Sparkledancer and I. So on top of him coming and asking me for help, other men from his group also asked me for help when they got stuck, and I could see women from that same group collecting around Sparkledancer on the other side of the room to ask her for help too.

When the instructors wanted the men and women to practice the figures together during class, Sparkledancer and I ended up frequently getting shepherded together so that the whole gang could stand around and watch as we demonstrated how the pieces worked with a partner. When these people felt confident enough to try things out with a partner from their group, they would ask either Sparkledancer or I to watch them to validate they got everything right, or if they got stuck they asked us to step through the trouble spots with them until they got things right.
On top of that, being the center of attention of these ten people in one corner of the dance floor started to attract the attention of others in the workshops, and soon we had even more people who would stop either one of us for assistance too! One older gentleman even came and found me during the morning and said that he took a lot longer to process the figures than most people, so he asked my permission to record me walking through the steps so that he could use the video to learn at his own pace.

I agreed to his request, of course. Not wanting to be in some stranger’s video all on my own though, I made Sparkledancer be in the video with me. That allowed him to see how the steps were done with a partner.  To be even more helpful, I also talked through what I was doing as I did the steps – I thought having some kind of audio cues could help keep confusion to a minimum when he watched the video in the future. He thanked me profusely when we finished.

With so many people talking to me all through the classes, I ended up cutting out of the East Coast Swing lesson a bit early to go find a secluded spot to collect my thoughts. It had been kind of an overload to talk to so many people, and while helping people is always thoroughly enjoyable, I needed a little bit of quiet time to reset afterward.

Once the workshops were over and done with on Saturday, the main dance hall was closed off so that the staff could prepare the room for that night’s final reception before dinner, and prepare for the dance party afterward. However, there was a smaller room closer to the front of the building that was opened up as a practice hall for anyone who wanted to use the few free hours that afternoon for practice. I was only too eager to get some extra practice in, so I wandered around until I found Sparkledancer and convinced her to come with me.

The dance floor in this practice room was much smaller than I had hoped for, so Sparkledancer and I ended up just running through pieces of our Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot routines for about 45 minutes until the floor really limited what we wanted to practice. I noticed that the back wall of the room had a mirror attached to it that hung about chest height for me over a carpeted section of the room. Limited on space to dance big steps, I suggested to Sparkledancer that we spend a little time working on something that was a bit more stationary instead: the lift for our upcoming showcase routine.

The last section of the lift I already felt pretty good about, so we just ran through that a couple of times and called that good. This time around I wanted to work on making sure we mastered the first section, because that would be where I get her off the ground as the whole thing starts. Basically, without going into too much detail, I end up crouching down as low as I can go with my feet still under me, then I help Sparkledancer hop up onto my right shoulder and stand up again with her sitting there facing behind me. The mirror on the wall was actually really helpful for this, because as I stood I could see how she was sitting without having to turn my head, using that view to help me figure things out.
There were a couple of important notes that we worked out while going through this section. Getting Sparkledancer up like that was the easy part – as I’ve said, she’s pretty light, and I’m positioned in such a way when we start that I can use both my legs to lift myself and her, so that’s no problem. The first note is that I needed to make sure that she hops up onto my shoulder so that her right hip ends up right where my shoulder starts to curve up to my neck. If she’s seated too far over to the right, she’s liable to start sliding off the rounded end of my shoulder and down my right arm as I begin to stand.

The second big thing we found out was that Sparkledancer really needed to remain engaged in her core the whole time while up off the ground. For the second part of the lift, I need to be able to move around with her up there, and then I start to manipulate her position with my arms. If she is loose and wiggling around, trying that becomes difficult. Funny, but difficult. Keeping her core in place to keep her solid and steady fixes that issue.

Finally, there’s the arms. When I stand up, I have my right arm bent at a 90° angle so my hand is behind her back, and my left hand is holding her right hand to keep her stable as I stand up. Once up, I must be able to let go and start moving my hands to their new positions for the next section, so I can’t rely on just holding Sparkledancer in place. Once I reposition my hands under her right arm and left leg for the next section, my arms become useful again, but there is that brief moment where I do actually have to move them and can’t hold on that can be a bit scary. As we tried things out, the first few times either I or Sparkledancer were holding on too tight to move my arms at all, which caused all sorts of problems.

We ended up stopping there for the day, promising to work on the middle section later. That part will involve a lot of rotation of her body and lifting on my part, but she ends up behind my head, so I wanted to keep things safe. For that piece we will have to do our initial tests somewhere where I can have a big cushion available for Sparkledancer to drop into if something goes really awry. I don’t expect anything to be terrible, but just like I mentioned before, safety is always rule #1 when doing lifts, especially during the learning phase.

Plus, I think word had gotten out that Sparkledancer and I were practicing this overly athletic dance move, and people kept poking their heads in to see what we were up to. Fellow dancers spying on us was unnerving enough, but when members of the staff started doing it I thought it might be best to call it quits for the day. I didn’t want anyone who worked for the Grand Dance Hall to start having conniptions about me letting a girl sit on my shoulder as I walked around the room…

Saturday night’s reception was a lot like Friday night’s, though many of the attendees broke out attire for the evening that was even more formal than what was worn the night before. The same four piece band provided the music during the reception, though their tempos seemed to run a bit looser in their interpretations of the songs than what they had performed the night before. It was an entertaining time, and I got to eat a plate of super fancy cheese slices on top of that!

The dance party that night after dinner was the big one – the last chance to pull out all the stops and leave everything out on the dance floor. The set list that the orchestra had picked out for the evening did leave a lot to be desired, but that’s just my own take on things. To me it felt like they only played Waltz, Foxtrot, East Coast Swing and Cha-Cha songs that night. There were a couple of other styles interspersed in occasionally, but those were very rare. I think during the few hours they played they did only one Rumba, I know they only did one Tango, and there were no Viennese Waltz numbers at all. There was one song that I heard as a familiar Quickstep tune, but a bunch of dancers took the floor early on and started to dance Swing instead, and many were all in the line of dance instead of in the middle, so Quickstep would have been super dangerous.
Overall this year was another really good time, and I snagged a flyer on the way out that night that contained the sign-up sheet for next year’s event. I’ve already mailed in my form along with the down payment to reserve my spot, so I’ll for sure be back next October to party at the Grand Dance Hall once again. Do you all want to come along with me? We could make it into an even bigger party! Just let me know and I can send you a link to all the information you’ll need to reserve your spot too!

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I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

I didn’t do much this week. I started to feel kind of like crap on Sunday night, and since there was too much I needed to do at work to stay home and get better, I would suffer through taking medication to make me functional in the office during the day, and then go home and crash. After three days like that, I’m feeling mostly better, thankfully. I did sleep funny last night, so I’ve had this throbbing pain on the right side of my neck all day. Once I get this post all taken care of, I’ll probably go lay on the foam roller for a while to see if I can get some relief in my muscles. Cross your fingers for me!

Last Saturday I had a coaching session scheduled with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and we spent the whole time looking at Quickstep. Quickstep is one of those dances that I don’t entirely feel good about yet. I don’t feel as bad about Quickstep as I do about Tango though, which even Sir Steven admitted was still our weakest dance style, though we have improved greatly over the last month.

The big problem I have with Quickstep is the fact that it’s hard to practice well, much like Viennese Waltz. When Sparkledancer and I go out to practice during the week, we usually end up practicing in locations where  either A) the floor is smaller, so it is hard to really practice the movement of more than one figure at a time, or B) the floor is big enough, but there are a lot of other people using it, and none of them are doing the same dance style, so practicing Quickstep or Viennese Waltz up to tempo becomes dangerous.

For the most part, things felt pretty good while working on Quickstep that day. Our movement was really good, since Lord Dormamu has been focusing on movement with us. We spent time working on keeping our bodies rotated correctly during the Progressive Chasses that make up the majority of the long wall. Sir Steven told me that my part is easy, since I can pretty much keep my body rotated with a left-side lead after we finish up the Natural Spin Turn at the beginning up until we end with the Hesitation in the far corner. I love it when things seem easy! I’m sure that note will change later, but for now it’s simple to keep in mind!

After cleaning up some minor aspects and letting us run through all of the figures slowly for most of the hour, Sir Steven wanted us to run through the whole thing without stopping. Another instructor giving a lesson across the room was using the music at the time, so I just tapped out a tempo for Sparkledancer using my fingers on her shoulder so we could stay in sync. Just before he let us start dancing, Sir Steven went over to the couch where a different instructor for the Fancy Dance Hall named Sir Bread was sitting and asked him to watch what we were doing as well. That put the pressure on!

Once we finished the first long wall, Sparkledancer and I walked back to the middle of the room where Sir Steven and the other instructor were standing. When I raised my eyebrows in query to get some feedback, Sir Bread laughed and said that he asked Sir Steven after we started dancing why we were moving so fast and why there was no rise-and-fall, because apparently he thought we had been doing Waltz. It wasn’t until we got about halfway through that he realized that we were actually doing Quickstep, and then he felt stupid. We all had a good laugh at his expense, and then Sir Steven asked us to go do it again now that everyone was on the same page.

After the second run-through, Sir Bread commented specifically that our movement was looking really impressive. I may have done a little happy dance upon hearing that. Yay me! He saw a few points where it looked to him like we were rising up too much in the middle of a Progressive Chasse, so he told us to be aware of that. There were also a few points that he mentioned that we might have been breaking body contact, but those he wasn’t entirely sure about because he wasn’t close enough to see for sure, so the just told Sparkledancer and I to keep an eye on that during practice to make sure it isn’t happening.

I did manage to go out to one dance party on Saturday night, so my weekend wasn’t completely ruined by the hurricane passing through the area. Actually, it didn’t seem like we got any rain or wind until Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure why everyone was so freaked out about the storm where I live! Crazy people…

The dance party was supposed to be a semi-formal affair, but I went out to a different event before I made it to the party, so I was just dressed casually. When I got to the dance hall, I saw that Sparkledancer was there too, and she was up at the front talking to the DJ. I went to go put my dance shoes on and wandered over to where they were to say hello.

I found out that the two of them were having a fascinating discussion! Apparently, they both had joined a national ballroom dance-related organization, kind of like I did several weeks ago! They are in a completely different national organization than I am, so we probably won’t ever do anything together, but it was fun to talk dance politics with the two of them. As it turns out, neither Sparkledancer nor the DJ talked to each other before they joined this organization, but somehow the two of them ended up being placed on the same committee, so they would get to work together. How random is that?

Both Sparkledancer and the DJ mentioned that they had the same reservations about the national groups that they were a part of that I did about mine – the organization seems to be run by a bunch of old people who are really out-of-touch with the way that things are run nowadays. From what they told me, their national organization also has its priorities all out of whack, since they view the social dancers and the competitive dancers as two distinct groups of people, yet the membership dues that they collect from the social dancers are primarily funneled into the coffers for competitions that they host across the country instead of being put back into the social dance community.

That news obviously opens up a whole discussion can of worms that I’m not sure I want to process in writing at the moment. I’ll table that for another time.

We only got to talk for about ten minutes before the DJ had to start announcements for the party, but it was fun. They told me all about their group, and how their committee was going to focus on ideas directly related to outreach and communication with dancers. I told them all about the group that I joined, and how I would be working behind the scenes, making decisions that would shape tools and platforms that would be used by dancers across the country.

Even though the two of them are working for a different group with a different focus than I am, I think the three of us should continue to have these conversations and learn from each other as we move forward. After all, the more allies I have in my fight to shape the world of ballroom dancing in the U.S. into a more modern, unified world, the stronger my position will be, right?

Look at how political I sound! Man, I could run to be the President of Ballroom Dance someday if I keep this up! Do you think people would vote for me? Would you vote for me?

Anyway… Right before the dance party, there was a dance lesson that covered American Tango. When the instructor asked how many people in attendance had never done American Tango before, there were several hands that went up, so he decided to start things off from the beginning. Since the class actually had more men than women in it (which is unusual in my world), I decided to go sit out and just watch. Sparkledancer also came over to sit with me, because she was more interested in people watching than a beginners class in American Tango.

The instructor showed everyone the basic steps first, followed by the Reverse Turn. To practice the figures, he had everyone dance around the room rather than in straight lines up and down the floor. Most of the class had done some American Tango before, so some of the men were throwing in other crazy figures to show off, but there was one couple in particular that caught my eye. They were an older couple, and they had both raised their hands when the instructor asked who had never danced Tango before. They were struggling.

After the instructor split everyone up again and showed them how to do a basic Promenade into Fan, he had the class start practicing by dancing around the room again. This time, that new couple passed close to where I was sitting. I stood up and stopped them to ask how things were going, and the lady told me with a look of panic in her eyes that they were already so lost on the Reverse Turn, and then the Promenade thing also confused them, that they were thinking of just sitting out like I was doing. I offered to take them over into the nearby corner out of the line of dance and work with them to help them get the steps down correctly. I even offered to have Sparkledancer help me so that we could cover steps twice as fast.

I spent some time stepping through the guys part with the husband while Sparkledancer went through the lady’s part with the wife. Then Sparkledancer and I switched so that I could dance through the figure with the wife while she back-led the husband through his steps. He was still struggling a bit, so we switched back and I had him chant through the steps while we did them together to help him remember (forward-side-back, back-side-close). That seemed to finally help him get his footwork down.

After about ten minutes, we got them to the point where they were successful. Hooray! Sparkledancer mentioned one last note to the two of them that, if all else fails, they could just do the basic figure in a big circle all the way around the room if they wanted, rather than try anything they thought was too fancy. The new lady was really relieved to hear that, and said that they might try that out that night.

The two of them then rejoined the last part of class feeling much better, now with smiles on their faces. I lost sight of the pair during the party after the class, so I’m not sure how much dancing they did beyond the American Tango. However, I had to leave early that night to go take care of some things for work, and I caught sight of the lady and her husband on the far side of the dance floor on my way out. When I caught the wife’s eye and waved goodbye, the lady said something to her husband and then jogged over to where I was.

As she approached, she took hold of my forearm and I leaned in so that I could hear her over the music. She wanted to thank me for helping the two of them earlier. She said it was the highlight of her evening, especially after she had seen Sparkledancer and I dance together for one of the songs during the party (we were just screwing around with one of our routines, to work on dancing and using floorcraft at the same time). The lady told me that it was really nice that such high-level dancers would spend all that time during a class just helping her and her husband get a couple of figure right. Aww… that gave me warm fuzzies.

One final note: I happened to get something this week that I was expecting, but was surprised that it arrived so soon. Now I am officially the proud owner of some new clothes for my next dance competition. Yay… really, it’s probably not all that exciting to anyone besides me.

This outfit is a lot different from what I have worn in the past for competitions. I used to wear a three-piece suit that I own, the kind that most guys wear to church or job interviews. It was something that I already had in the closet, it worked for what I needed, and since I was competing so rarely I didn’t give it much thought before. Because I decided to change my dance focus this year and add more competitions to my schedule, it made sense to get some clothes that were specifically made for ballroom dancing. Seems logical, right?

The “dress shirt” that came with the set is interesting. It’s another one of those weird shirts that buttons up between your legs, which is always a fun thing to put on. I know that this feature helps keep the shirt from coming untucked while you move, but it just feels… weird. The material that the shirt is made out of is also this elastic-style fabric. The shirt is cut to be rather tight, so having the material stretched over my shoulders and arms just makes me look pretty muscular.

If that wasn’t enough, I decided to go with the coat-vest option rather than just a vest or a coat. This piece looks like someone took a long jacket from a tuxedo and then cut off the arms, so it’s not only perfect for a dance competition, but you can also wear it to any formal weightlifting events you attend at the local gym. Obviously you wouldn’t wear a shirt under the cut-off jacket to any formal gym parties, because you want to show off that you are super ripped AND super classy.

The pants that came as part of the outfit are pretty much the same as the practice pants that I wear all the time, except these have the shiny satin stripe that goes up the side of my legs. It’s a good thing that there is that noticeable difference too, that way I don’t accidentally get the two pairs of pants mixed up. My practice pants are not in bad shape, but they do get beat up and washed frequently, so if you are looking at them up close you can tell they are not in competition shape.

Overall, I think this look should help me with some things. For one thing, with the “dress shirt” being so tight and the cut-off jacket showing off my shoulders, you can see that my shoulders are fairly muscular. Especially if I were to stand next to your average dancer. I’m hoping that will help a judge to see that I am not sticking my trapezius muscles up when I am in frame… they are just that big. I think it looks fairly obvious in this new outfit, so we’ll have to see if a judge can see it as well.

Maybe I should bring my new clothes out to the Fancy Dance Hall sometime and have Lord Dormamu take a look. I know that he judges a lot of ballroom competitions, so maybe he can tell me if this getup helps him see that my shoulders are really just this size when they are rolled down. After all, these three articles of clothing were stupid expensive. Stupid. Expensive. If I don’t get positive feedback on them, is it even worth all the stupid money spent on them?

Sigh… expensive clothes are stupid. If I didn’t have to dress professionally for work, and I didn’t have to dress all fancy for ballroom dancing, I would probably only buy simple clothes that I would wear until they fell apart at the seams.

I’m not sure what’s going on this weekend yet. I do have lessons with both Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven lined up that I have to attend. Supposedly the Endless Dance Hall is having a free dance party on Friday night to celebrate the anniversary of their opening, so that might be fun (free parties are always fun, right?). My Royal Dance Court group is holding our monthly dance this Saturday, but I have a work thing I can’t get out of that I need to meet with some people and accomplish first, so I don’t know how late I will show up to that event, if I can make it at all.

A Break In This Routine

This past week, I tried to fit in a couple of different activities to break up the routine of doing the same things over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun with the training (for the most part) and the practicing constantly (again, for the most part), but I have to try to keep this hobby as fun as possible in order to justify the stupid amounts of money I spend on it. Sometimes you just have to go out and do things that are out of the ordinary to keep life interesting, right?

First of all, last Thursday I posted all my dance notes early so that I could go out to a West Coast Swing class that was being held. This class was at a dance studio, but it wasn’t a ballroom dance studio, which is why I had never heard of the place before. I saw their calendar on the wall when I got to the studio, and they didn’t seem to have any classes on traditional ballroom styles listed, and as I waited for the West Coast Swing class to begin there was a class in Balboa finishing up out on the dance floor. I had never seen anyone dancing Balboa before, but it looked vaguely interesting. I’m not sure where I would ever use the dance style during my normal travels, but maybe I should make myself a note to learn the basics of Balboa next summer just for fun. Maybe.

It was a good class to attend for me. I learned a figure in West Coast Swing that I think I might have seen once before, but I can’t be entirely sure so I’m going to say it was new. The instructor was also a pretty goofy guy, so the class was definitely amusing. He started the class off by having everyone warm up first by walking up and down the length of the dance floor, and then had the men and women pair off to dance through the Sugar Push basic several times with each partner.

At one point during the warmup he was saying that we could start doing some fancier moves with our partner if we wanted, but for some reason he got stuck on doing what he called the ‘Sunshine’ move instead of just adding in some simple turns. This ‘Sunshine’ move is basically bringing your hands up before doing the last triple step in the Sugar Push basic and drawing them in an arc over your head – like making a rainbow with both hands. That became a running joke for the rest of class – we were told many times during class that if we messed up our steps that the ‘Sunshine’ move was an appropriate substitute for the actual figures we were supposed to be doing.

So what did we actually cover? Well, starting from handshake hold, the men lead the lady into a Left Side Pass, but at the end we rotated her so that she ends up in something that resembled Shadow Position with our arms going over her shoulders to take both of her hands. In this position, we led her through four Sailor Shuffles going from left to right. At the end of the last Sailor Shuffle we would lead the lady through a Underarm Turn while spinning ourselves around, bringing her right arm up and over our shoulder as we turned and letting it slide down our arm to our left hand to get back to dance position. It wasn’t anything overly difficult, but it is something I didn’t know, so that adds one more West Coast Swing move to my repertoire. Hooray!

On Friday night, I headed out early to make the long trip from my house out to the High Five Dance Hall. It had been about a year since the last time I headed out there, so I figured it was about time to make another pilgrimage. After all, as a member of the Royal Dance Court, I feel like I should visit all these places on a semi-regular basis. The flyer that I had seen told me that they were planning on having a lesson on American Tango before an open dance party. Since getting to the studio is such a time commitment for me, I made sure to get out there with enough time to attend both.

Let me mention something about the High Five Dance Hall before I get into what happened at the lesson: the High Five Dance Hall is a social dance studio. As far as I can tell, they have one instructor who rents floor space who teaches students to dance competitively, but all the other instructors just teach their students to dance socially. Going back to metaphor that I used before which compared dancing to language, the instructors teach their students a lot of dance vocabulary, but only the minimum amount of dance grammar they need so that their students can be understood by partners in their classes.

With that being said, let’s talk about what happened during the American Tango lesson I attended. The progression that was covered was relatively simple, but pretty long. We started with two normal Tango Walk steps forward, and then the men would do a forward check and release the lady out into Fan. From there the men would do another check going backward while rotating the lady to come into Shadow Position.

In Shadow Position, we did another two Tango Walk steps forward, then alternating Forward Rocks before releasing the lady while turning her to the right as the men did the three-step ending of the Closed Basic (a.k.a. the “Tango close”), and we got back into dance frame with both partners doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic. With some time left over in class the instructor had us add a Link going into a Promenade Basic with the lady closing, finishing by doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic twice in a row (like the ending of an Argentine Walk).

That all seems pretty straightforward, like something that you might learn at any other ballroom dance studio you would go to, right? Let’s talk about the things that the instructor mentioned that seemed out-of-the-ordinary to me. First off, let’s mention the Link. The instructor was teaching this step using the footwork of the Progressive Link figure from International Tango. This figure really isn’t specified on the American Tango syllabus from what I remember, but since it exists in International Tango it is fair game in American style. However, the instructor kept calling it an “Argentine Link” for some reason. I did a quick search online after the class, and I couldn’t find anything that used that figure name, so I wonder where the instructor got that name from?

Also, as you can imagine, most of the people in class were uncomfortable dancing in close contact, so what we ended up with when doing the link was the ladies being in front of the men instead of behind them in Promenade Position. The instructor caught some people like this, and told the men that they could fix that issue by pulling their right elbow backward, which would pull the lady behind them as they rotated to Promenade Position. I’m sure that many of you who studied competitive dance technique cringed slightly when reading that, but again this is a dance studio that teaches social dancing – having the men use their arms to adjust the lady will get the job done so that the next step works. I just found that to be an interesting thing that the instructor specifically recommended.

The open dance party that started after the lesson was over was… an experience. I had totally forgotten about how their parties ran since it has been a year since the last time I attended one. Their social dances have more of an open format than other parties I usually go to closer to where I live. They had someone on staff sit and run the music that night, playing a bunch of contemporary songs that you’d hear on the radio, and then people just danced whatever they wanted. No one told the attendees what dance style to do, and a lot of the songs they played seemed to have a really fast tempo for the dance styles people chose to use during the song, so to me it seemed a bit chaotic.

I would step off of the floor every couple of songs to stand near the people I came to the studio with and just watch what was going on. Oftentimes I would see a lot of people doing some sort of Two Step, either Nightclub or Country for the most part. Either version of Two Step is not something that comes up during the ballroom socials I normally attend. Other people would be doing West Coast Swing, and occasionally you would see Hustle as well. There were a few songs played that I identified as Cha-Cha, but it didn’t seem like many others picked that up, so I was one of the few people doing that on the floor. Quite often there was also some sort of line dance going on in the middle of the room at the same time, so there was a big section of the floor that was set aside for that purpose.

The person playing DJ also did not play many songs where you could dance any ballroom styles. There was one Viennese Waltz song played, and one song that most everyone did Quickstep during, but other than that there were only two or three songs played that were a Waltz, and a couple of Tango numbers, and just a few Foxtrot songs as well. During a song where people were dancing a lot of faster Swing styles, there were two couples who were out dancing the Foxtrot and traveling extremely fast. They were careening around the room with very little regard to the other couples dancing, weaving through everyone to do what looked like the fanciest figures that they knew. There were a few moments where I held my breath while watching them do that as they got really close to other dancers.

Overall, it was a fun night out doing something completely different. I spent quite a bit of time talking to and getting to know the other attendees of the party whom I had never met before. There were a few people whom I knew from seeing them around the Dance Kingdom, but most of the people who attended the party lived closer to the High Five Dance Hall so they don’t really come around to other events I attend. I will have to make a note in my calendar to try to get back out there again next year, and make this at least an annual occurrence.

I got to do even more Tango in Standard Technique class this week. Lord Junior wanted to work on one figure from International Tango with us, but also wanted to throw in some items from American Tango just to give us all something fun to do. I thought it was fun at least; I’m not entirely sure if everyone else felt the same way. There was this one lady in class who was really struggling with the concept of Shadow Position and it was pretty funny… well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with what we covered.

The figure that Lord Junior wanted to go over with us that night was the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, a Gold-level figure in International Tango (the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot is also a Gold-level figure in International Waltz and Foxtrot as well, in case you’re wondering where you’ve heard of it before). At the end of the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, the men would just release the ladies by doing a quick checking action, allowing the lady to roll out into Fan. When she hit the line created by Fan, both partners would do a fast Brush Tap, just to add in a little extra fancy Tango styling.

From Fan position the men would start to slowly walk around the lady, which automatically leads her to go underneath our left arm. After we walked in a complete 180° arc, we would turn the ladies with our left arm so that she spins across our bodies to end up in Shadow Position with both partners facing diagonal center. From there we did an Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position, ending on the last step facing diagonal wall with a right-side lead. We could then use our left arm again to turn the lady, having her take three steps against the line of dance to get into Promenade Position with us. The men would just take two steps and fake so that we were back on the correct foot to continue. Because we were running out of time in class, we just took one step forward in Promenade Position and ended there for the night.

So the funniest part of all of that was what I alluded to earlier. There was an older lady in class who really seemed to struggle with the idea of being in Shadow Position, even after both Lord Junior and I spent extra time trying to help her through it. When I tried to dance through the Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position with her the first few times, after every step she tried to turn around and get back into dance frame with me. Every step! I told her that she needed to keep her left arm stretched out and her back to me and just let me direct her with my hands.

I think her problem was that she kept letting her left shoulder collapse, which rotated her arm toward her body, and that caused her to start turning to face me. By the end of class I think we got that all worked out, but it was just funny to me that she seemed surprised when she would start turning to face me, so she would try to adjust her arms to get back into dance frame. Then I would stop, tell her she needed to keep her back to me again, and she would jump to fix it and smile. But the next step we would go through it all again! Luckily she did the same thing with Lord Junior, and I watched him walk through it slowly with her as well, so it wasn’t just something wrong in my lead that was causing the issue.

Let’s see, what do I have going on this coming week? Well, there’s a dance party going on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I think I’ll go to. Sparkledancer is out of town until Sunday, so we moved our lesson with Sir Steven to then so that she could be there, and then we had to move our lesson with Lord Dormamu to Monday since he wasn’t going to be around on Sunday. I guess that means that Latin Technique class will be missed on Monday. Ah well, that’s what happens when people take vacations. Until next week, keep dancing!

Only You Have That Magic Technique

Let’s start with this past Saturday, because that’s when the interesting stuff started. I had two lessons scheduled for that afternoon – first one with Sir Steven, and then one with Lord Dormamu. This seems to be becoming a habit for me, because I’ve met with both instructors over the last couple of weeks, and I’ll be meeting with them both again next Saturday as well. At this rate my wallet is probably going to start cursing my name soon because of how empty its stomach is all of the time. Poor guy…

 With Sir Steven we worked on Waltz and Quickstep. There were only a few points I wrote down to remember from each of those. First off, the Waltz: Sir Steven thought that we were rising too much when he watched our starter step. He wanted us to stay at the same level the whole time, only rotating the body as we move side-to-side before lowering as normal to travel forward. There would be no rising until we get into the Natural Turn that follows. The next note I wrote down for Sparkledancer (because she’s the only person who actually knows me that reads and cares about my dance notes): Sir Steven wanted her to keep an eye on what she was doing in the Double Reverse Spins, to make sure that she takes a big step when she is traveling across my body before crossing her feet, and to make sure to take it slower on her last two steps.

We spent more time on Quickstep than Waltz that day. The big thing that Sir Steven pointed out to us was that we needed to watch our timing. It’s not that we were dancing the steps off beat, but we were dancing them very smoothly, like a Waltz. He wanted us to really emphasize the quick steps in each figure, more like a Tango than a Waltz or Foxtrot. We looked at our Natural Spin Turn again, and he was glad that we were coming out in the right direction this week, but now he wants us to travel more during the figure. Finally he briefly talked with us about our sway. He wanted us to only put sway into rotating figures like our Natural Spin Turn or Double Reverse Spin. During the chasses that would travel in a straight line, he wanted us to make sure to stay level the whole time, although he wanted us to be level and also stay even lower than we were.

After finishing up with Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I didn’t actually have to wait long for our lesson with Lord Dormamu. His student who was scheduled to meet with him before my lesson ended up canceling at the last minute. I had just managed to walk over to a place, hoping to grab a bite to eat when I got the call from Lord Dormamu letting me know that we had the option to move our lesson up. Having some extra time that afternoon sounded awesome to me, so I ignored the grumbling in my stomach and rushed back to the Fancy Dance Hall as fast as my legs would carry me.

Sparkledancer was already there talking with Lord Dormamu when I got back. I quickly changed into my dance shoes and headed over to join them. As soon as I was within range, Lord Dormamu said that he wanted to start that day by looking at something in our Waltz routine briefly, something he had noticed while we were working with Sir Steven. He had us back up away from the edge of the floor and do the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change, Chasse from Promenade Position and finally the Natural Turn that would be in the corner. After going through that whole progression, it turns out that it was really the Natural Turn that he wanted to comment on.

What Lord Dormamu had noticed were two things that were both caused by the same issue: first of all, the Natural Turn was rotating too much for his liking. When he saw us dancing with Sir Steven, and then again when he had us try the shorter combination of figures for him, we tended to end the Natural Turn with me facing backing line of dance. He wanted to make sure that we ended the Natural Turn rotating 45° less, or with me facing diagonal wall against line of dance. Secondly, he told me that a wise teacher he had in his youth had told him that there should be a brief pause at the height of the rise on a Natural Turn, where absolutely all movement stops for a “beautiful moment” before you begin to lower and go into the next step. Because we were rotating too much in our Natural Turn, we didn’t have that pause at all, so he wanted to make sure that we added that in.

The cause for this issue was pretty simple for him to point out – I am a very solid piece of meat, so I am much, much heavier than Sparkledancer. When we build up momentum through the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change and Chasse from Promenade Position and then I take the outside of the rotation in the Natural Turn, the weight of my body just keeps me going, and Sparkledancer’s weight is on my right side which just adds on to what I’m doing. This means that it’s all on me to really keep my own body mass under control so that the Natural Turn stops when I hit the right amount of turn and pauses momentarily before moving on.

Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was at that moment: what about the Reverse Turn? Should I have the same pause? Am I unintentionally over-rotating there as well? I asked Lord Dormamu that very thing. He said that yes, I should have the same brief pause in a Reverse Turn, but I am already managing to put that in where he wants so we didn’t need to go back and look at that figure. Because I am rotating the other direction in a Reverse Turn and essentially trying to turn through Sparkledancer’s body, the momentum is unable to continue turning me unchecked like it does in a Natural Turn, so it isn’t an issue for me. Yay! I managed to dodge one bullet.

Finishing that, we moved on to Foxtrot. We first looked at our movement, since that has been the focus for Foxtrot over the last few weeks. Apparently that day our movement was rising too much for his liking, so to fix that he wanted us to stay down lower and keep ourselves traveling fairly evenly the whole time. He gave us a demonstration using his belt buckle as the focal point, to show us how he could travel all over the place in Foxtrot and his belt buckle stayed pretty much the same distance from the floor the entire time. Does that mean that I am going to have to start wearing belts with obnoxious buckles when I practice? I’m going to try doing it without first, and we’ll have to go from there.

Next we looked at a completely different topic, which was the sway that he wanted us to start adding into the Foxtrot while we danced. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I ended up discussing sway in two different dances in one day…

 Before we started dancing, Lord Dormamu gave us a brief lecture on the idea of sway so that we would understand the big picture of what he wanted us to work on. What he said was that first off, our sway basically makes our shoulder line work like a teeter-totter around the central focal point under our head. If we raise the right side, then like a teeter-totter the left side should go down by an equal amount, and vice-versa. Obviously this over-simplifies the idea because there’s a whole thing about not ‘breaking’ your side while doing this, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

The next idea he wanted to stress was that the sway that we do needs to be “harmonic” throughout the course of the routine. What that means is basically if we were to dance two figures in a row, like a simple Feather and a Three Step for instance, we would sway with the left side forward and up on the Feather, and the right side forward and up on the Three Step. To achieve the harmonic balance that is needed, the amount that your left side goes up when you would sway during a Feather needs to be the same amount that the right side goes up during the sway of the Three Step.

Sounds easy enough to do, right? Well, here’s the last (and arguable the most difficult) idea that Lord Dormamu told us – the sway should always be initiated naturally based on the footwork of the figure. If you are just swaying because someone told you to, then the movement looks unnatural and forced. Sway should happen in a figure whenever you go up on your toes, and it should level out when you lower down to your whole foot. For a Feather, this means that you are neutral for the first step, but as you take the second step with your left foot and roll up onto the ball of your foot, that movement should naturally make the left side of your body rise up. As you take the third step with your right foot and roll down from the ball of your foot to using your whole foot your left side should come down and level out once more. You can follow through with the movement to accentuate the sway, but you should always make it look natural, never forced.

As I digested the information, I asked if our routine had been specifically choreographed so that each figure changes from left side sway to right side sway. Initially Lord Dormamu said yes, but then he paused and started slowly looking along the edge of the room. I could see his eyes twitching as if he were watching an invisible couple dancing through the routine. Finally he looked back at me and said the answer was yes, but there was an exception he had to tell us about for the two Weaves that we had in the routine. A Weave, because it is a series of steps where you are up on the ball of your feet for more than one step, should have no sway at all. He used the Natural Weave to demonstrate this, showing how there was a left-side sway as you go through the Natural Turn at the beginning, but then the sway levels out until you get to the Feather Finish at the end of the figure and have to add in the left-side sway once more.

Whew… so that was my crazy ‘Theory of Dance’ discussion from this weekend. We spent the last few minutes of our session practicing this idea. Now that I’m putting a lot of thought into how I’m swaying, it seems way more difficult than it used to be, so it’s definitely going to require some practice on my part. I have to say that these discussions with Lord Dormamu are the most fascinating part of taking lessons from him. I feel that one thing for an instructor to just tell you to do all these things while dancing, but I personally like that Lord Dormamu actually takes the time to explain to me the theory behind how and why these techniques are the way that they are. I find it really helpful.

And now something completely different:

Saturday night I headed out to the City Dance Hall because I was asked to go to an open dance party being held there. I was told that there was going to be an American Viennese Waltz lesson before the party. These sorts of pre-party lessons involving the more complex dance styles like Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, West Coast Swing, etc. usually go one of two ways, either A) the material they cover is super simple, to encourage all people who might not know the dance style to dance, or B) the instructor is looking to have fun, and covers something completely out-of-the-ordinary to entertain both themselves and the crowd. I’m easily excited about the potential to learn something new in Viennese Waltz, so I got to the City Dance Hall early enough to join in.

This lesson ended up being option A, unfortunately. The instructor only covered three different figures, but probably not the three you are thinking of. The first thing that he showed everyone was the Reverse Turn, allowing people to travel down the line of dance. To turn corners, he showed the people basically how to do a Throw Out to get the lady into Open Fan, two Sliding Door-like movements in Cantor timing (though he didn’t talk about Cantor timing, he just told people to pass each other over three beats), and then when you got back to your original Open Fan position he had them do a Underarm Turn in Cantor Time which would rotate you the 90° needed to go down the next wall. He gave this combination some fancy French name, but I’m not going to try to spell what that was.

Before starting down the new wall, he had people do four Hesitation steps (forward, backward, left, right) to allow everyone to get back in frame before moving on. Then it was back to the Reverse Turns to begin traveling again. He didn’t have them look at the Natural Turn or Change Steps at all, so this was really meant to give everyone a way to do simple circuits around the room. The class started out pretty full of people, but by the end of the class a number of the older folks and a few beginner students had dropped out to take chairs along the side and just watch. That tends to happen a lot in Viennese Waltz classes like these, so I wasn’t too surprised by that.

After the class finished, I felt like most of what I did the rest of the night was talk rather than dance. Ms. Possible came to the party that night, and she brought her drama-filled life along with her, and was not really enjoying herself no matter how many jokes I tried to tell her. You see, Ms. Possible recently decided to try switching from dancing Pro/Am to Amateur with a gentleman that she met at a dance party. He was interested in her as more than a dance partner though. She mostly rebuffed his amorous advances, but didn’t turn him down completely. Well, things came to a head a few days ago when Ms. Possible found out that he had finally moved on and found a girlfriend. Both this guy and his new girlfriend were also at the party that night.

I guess the phrase ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ applies here. Ms. Possible and this gentleman still danced together at the party, and they still plan to compete together from what I could ascertain, but she does not seem to be happy that he has found someone. Especially considering that the new girl also dances. Is she afraid that the girlfriend will eventually take her place as his amateur competitive partner? Does she now realize that she secretly harbors romantic feelings for this gentleman? Is Ms. Possible just a bit crazy? No one can really say for sure. The gentleman in question apparently told her that she was breaking his heart whenever they danced together by leading him on, and he finally decided not to wait around for her anymore. I don’t blame him.

So that night rather than dancing I spent a lot of time listening to the discussions that people were having about this situation, and I also tried to make sure Ms. Possible was doing OK. She ended up coming to tell everyone I was standing near that she was leaving about half-an-hour into the party. I don’t know if there is anything more I could have done. Sigh… dance drama. Remember when I mentioned that expecting to have a romantic relationship with your dance partner was often a bad idea? This is a perfect example of that.

Skipping ahead a bit in the pursuit of brevity… Wednesday night I co-opted Standard Technique class because I wanted to use the class to work on sway in Foxtrot. Lord Junior had been thinking of having everyone work on some Viennese Waltz that night, but because he and I were talking about the things that I had gone over at the end of my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday and it was on my mind, I asked if we could spend the time working on that concept. I’m going to count that as practice time too, since technically I was practicing things that Lord Dormamu had asked me to work on. It totally counts, right?

Lord Junior picked out three simple figures for us to use for practicing our sway, and we did them ‘by the book’ using the documented steps and sway as written in that fancy book that Lord Junior has lying on the front desk. One of these days I’m going to find out the name of that book, since I’ve looked things up in it a few times when I had questions about a step, and Lord Junior refers to how steps are done using that book all the time. Maybe I’ll even buy a copy of this book for myself someday! Then I could constantly quote passages from the book on this site! Wouldn’t that be fun?

OK, probably not fun. Informative? Educational? Annoying? Maybe one of those would be a better description.

 The first two figures that we used were the same two figures that Lord Dormamu used when demonstrating this concept to me on Saturday – a Feather and a Three Step. The sway is fairly easy for people to see and grasp in these two steps because you are essentially just walking forward in a straight line, so there is no rotation to think about at the same time. We did use a prep step at the beginning before going into the Feather, and that extra step seemed to really throw off the older gentleman who had joined us in class that night. I caught what he was doing out of the corner of my eye a few times. He was having a hard time just getting through the steps for those two figures, so he had abandoned trying to do the sway altogether.

The final step that we added was a Natural Turn, but we did this one exactly as written in the book. I have to specifically state that, because in the book the Natural Turn essentially has two sections: the first half covers the Heel Turn that the ladies do. This turn is actually a 180°, starting with the guys facing the line of dance, and ending with them backing line of dance. The second half, which Lord Junior says that no one does in the real world, involves the gentlemen taking three slow steps. The first one goes straight back down the line of dance, the second is a Heel Pull, which is essentially a fancy way for a guy to rotate, and the third step is forward heading in the new direction you turned. In our case we were using the Heel Pull to rotate around a corner, so we were turning about 135° to end facing diagonal wall on the new wall.

For the most part, the class was a good practice for me on this whole ‘harmonic balance’ sway concept. Lord Junior said after class that while he was watching I appeared to sway evenly from my left side to my right side as I changed through the figures (or in the case of the Natural Turn, halfway through the figure). Some of the ladies in class were a lot easier to practice sway with than others. For example, Bony was in class that night, and she probably almost a foot shorter than me, so I was limited in how much I could sway while dancing with her due to height difference. Sparkledancer and I are closer in height and we practice together all the time, so I was able to sway much better with her.

It was nice to have a directed practice session like that and get feedback on what I was doing. Maybe I’ll have to start asking about covering other concepts Lord Dormamu asks me to practice during Standard Technique class. It could be super helpful!