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!

Come On Now, Follow My Lead

For a little bit of a change of pace this week, let’s reflect on a bit of dance drama that is going on in the Dance Kingdom at the moment. I am not a part of it, but I have been hearing a lot about it from a growing number of people. Plus, it’s on my mind at the moment, so I want to talk about the problem. This isn’t necessarily a brand new problem we’ve been having – parts of this drama have come up during a couple of different quarterly meetings I’ve been to for my Royal Dance Court group, so the issue has been going on for at least six months. I personally did not see it as being a big problem initially, certainly not an issue worthy of discussion at multiple different meetings, but since the issue now seems to be spreading into conversations with even some non-Royal Dance Court members, I don’t feel so bad spending a little time writing about what’s been going on.

It all starts with one elderly gentleman, whom for this exercise I’ll refer to as Mr. Grouchy-Face. Now, Mr. Grouchy-Face likes to dance, and when he goes to dance parties he is an unattached male, so he’s the kind of person that all of us in the dance community like to have around. Followers like him because usually there aren’t enough guys at any dance party, so having one more guy around who doesn’t bring a dance partner with him increases their chances of getting to dance. Other Leads like him because having another Lead around means that occasionally they might get to have a break during a song to go get some water or snacks, or even (gasp!) say hi to their friends.

This guy…

But Mr. Grouchy-Face is not like other dance Leads in that way. Mr. Grouchy-Face does not rejoice in the arrival of all other dance Leads at the parties he goes to (and occasionally at parties he doesn’t even attend). Mr. Grouchy-Face seems to have something major against a specific subset of Leads, and he likes to make sure everyone knows about his feelings regarding these gentlemen. It used to be that he would occasionally make off-hand comments during dances about these Leads at parties, but lately it seems he has taken to writing up long-winded ranting posts complaining about these men online. These rants of his are things that I have seen because lately they’ve gotten copied and emailed around when others take offense to his messages. Mr. Grouchy–Face goes back and deletes his writings after a day or so, so the only record we really have are these copied versions that are passed around… but if you wait until another dance party comes along, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see another message on the same theme be posted by this gentleman.

See, what we have going on in the Dance Kingdom is this process where sometimes a couple of ladies in the community will get together and, to make sure they have a dance partner during a dance party they want to attend, they hire a male dance instructor for the evening. These instructors essentially act like Dance Hosts, like you would see on a dance cruise. From what I’ve been told about the process, there are a handful of younger male dance instructors in the Dance Kingdom that are willing to give up their Friday or Saturday evenings to make some extra money, and if you split that fee amongst two or three ladies it doesn’t cost a whole lot. If the dance instructor has two ladies, each lady gets to dance every other dance, if there are three, they get to dance every third dance, etc. etc..

The return that the ladies get for the price is incredible. I have been to many parties where male instructors have been hired out in this manner, and these guys really get a workout during those evenings. They dance pretty much every song, and I’ve seen times where the only rest they take is during line dances or mixer dances, and during the break in the middle where the host of the party gives a few announcements. These Dance Hosts rival only the Dance Robots for how much time they spend on the dance floor during your average party!

Mr. Grouchy-Face does not like this practice. Not even a little bit.

The first time I heard about Mr. Grouchy-Face’s issue, it was described to me during a Royal Dance Court meeting as a patron of some of our dances being concerned about the hired dance instructors coming in and doing all kinds of “fancy moves” all over the dance floor, which Mr. Grouchy-Face said was a safety issue. When I heard that, I think I just stared at the person relaying the story, blinking slowly. That concern about a ‘safety issue’ is what brought about the speech I gave about floorcraft at the beginning of our dance party last month (note: I didn’t give a repeat speech this month because we had a much smaller crowd this past weekend, as I feared we would).

And that’s the point that brings Mr. Grouchy-Face back into the light this week… this past weekend I did help host another monthly dance party with my Royal Dance Court crew. There weren’t a ton of people who came by – it was a fair amount, but nothing like the crowds of the months prior. Mr. Grouchy-Face was not one of those that came out that night to dance with us. His name was not on the sign-in sheet, and I did not see him out on the floor, so I know for a fact that he wasn’t there. Yet even though he had no first-hand knowledge of the party, he chose to complain about what he thought happened that night. The next day someone showed me a copy of another long-winded rant that he had composed all about things that ‘happened’ at our dance party.

The Internets are serious business!

Living in this modern world like we do, a couple of the attendees at our dance party had taken a number of pictures of the event and posted them online. Mr. Grouchy-Face looked through all those pictures and decided to write up something all about how the party looked like a lot of fun and he wished he had gone, but it was probably better that he didn’t because it appeared, based on his personal count, that 85% of the pictures taken of the party were centered on these hired Dance Hosts. When I read through this message that was forwarded to me, I thought someone was pulling my leg! There was only one instructor that I saw who came to the party that night because he was hired as a Dance Host! One!

Now, to be fair, there were a couple of other instructors that were there at various points throughout the night – we (the Royal Dance Court) had hired an instructor to come in before the party and teach an American Waltz lesson, and he had stayed for the party afterward to dance with ladies and possibly drum up new business for himself. Lord Junior had been in the area that night, so he had stopped by to say hi to people he knew, and he ended up staying for an hour or so to dance a little… but no one paid him to be there, and the Royal Dance Court member running the check-in desk let him in for free since he has helped us out with a lot of things in the past. And finally there was a guy who came to the party that I am pretty sure teaches lessons at the Endless Dance Hall, but I can’t swear to that, so maybe he was counted as an instructor. This gentleman actually paid the cover charge to get into the party, and spent the evening dancing with ladies socially without causing much of a fuss, so I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

I had to actually get out my computer after doing that mental checklist of the dance instructors at the party so that I could look at the pictures that Mr. Grouchy-Face was talking about. As I flipped through them and took count for myself, there were nowhere near 85% of the photos being centered on the dance instructors (and that was counting the few instructors who were there that weren’t hired as Dance Hosts for the evening). I then went through and took another count of the photos where you could see one of those individuals in the background of the pictures. The venue we use isn’t super huge, so if you take a picture that isn’t facing the wall you can get a large portion of the dance floor in the shot. Counting that way you might be able to make an argument for 50% of the pictures having a dance instructor in them, but that is still a far cry from 85%.

But the part that really confuses me the most? I think it comes down to this statement that he made:

“The [Royal Dance Court] feels so strongly about hosting as the norm for “social ballroom dancing” that some of their [Court] members don’t even show up and participate in the club’s own group lessons. It’s the same [Court] members who arrive with a dance host only after the lesson and rarely dance with their own club’s members. When these [Court] members manage to dance with someone other than a pro (their “host”), it takes a “real” man away from everybody else. Essentially, the [Court members] ensure that they dance every dance—even when it leaves other (member) ladies sitting out.”

(Note: this is a direct copy from the statement Mr. Grumpy-Face wrote that I was forwarded. The italicized words in brackets change the names he typed to protect the innocent)

This is what throws me for a loop – if Mr. Grumpy-Face is so concerned about ladies sitting out during these dance parties, don’t you think he would be excited to see these instructors acting as Dance Hosts out on the dance floor? If the Dance Hosts take care of a couple of the ladies throughout the night, that frees him up to take care of other ladies who are “sitting out” so that more people can dance during each song! I mean, I don’t see it as being any different from what the Dance Robots do. They are not married, but they always come to dance parties together, and they very rarely dance with anyone else during the evenings. If the female Dance Robot decides to join in during a mixer dance while the male Dance Robot goes off to eat snacks (or cause trouble, which he thinks is funny), you could make the same argument that the female Dance Robot is taking a “real” man away from the other ladies attending the party too, couldn’t you? If that’s true, then you could say the same about the handful of older married couples we see coming to the dance parties who don’t often switch partners during the evening too!

I don’t think this concern for ladies sitting out is the whole reason that Mr. Grumpy-Face dislikes the Dance Hosts so much. I think a lot of it has to do with some dance jealousy. Take a look at this statement he made in an earlier rant he wrote about another event:

“’Hosting’ was going on last night, so it looks like this was about a 7:1 opportunity for the ladies to dance with someone better than the ‘members’.”

What am I even reading here…?

That’s what I personally think the real heart of his problem is. Dance jealousy. It’s fairly obvious that these dance instructors that are hired to dance with ladies know more than the amateur male dancers at the parties. After all, they are dance instructors! If they didn’t know more than the amateur male dancers, then they probably shouldn’t be teaching, right? But rather than watch these instructors dance at the parties and get inspired by what he sees, and then go out and learn how to dance better himself, Mr. Grumpy-Face chooses to complain about their presence at the dance parties instead. Because obviously complaining online takes much less work than going out and practicing his own dancing so that he can become better… which is something that he could totally do, since he is retired and thus has lots of time during the day he could devote to dance practice!

Another weird thing that Mr. Grumpy-Face has made comments about that he doesn’t like is an upcoming fundraiser dance that is being held in the Dance Kingdom this summer. To raise money for one of the children’s ballroom clubs, there is this adult ballroom club in the area that is holding a fundraiser dance party. They talked a whole bunch of local dance instructors in the Dance Kingdom into donating a few hours of their time that night, and people are allowed to “purchase” a dance with those instructors during the party, with all the money for those dances being donated to the children’s ballroom club. It’s a neat idea, and I’ve been to a party like this in the past, and everyone who was there seemed to really enjoy themselves and the event raised a sizable amount of money for the cause. Who wouldn’t like that?

Mr. Grumpy-Face saw the announcements posted for this upcoming charitable dance party, and he is not a fan. He thinks that a better idea would be to have the group of people who is putting together this dance be the ones whom people will donate money to dance with. I’m not sure how he thinks that will differentiate this event from a normal social dance that these people attend where other attendees can dance with them for free. You would think that he could see that, logically, more people would be interested in attending a dance party to dance and socialize with these local professionals, many of which do not often attend social dances, versus donating money to dance and socialize with the party’s organizers, whom I see all the time at various social dances around the Dance Kingdom and could dance with at any of those events. Especially since several female dance instructors have signed up to donate their time for the fundraiser, which you almost never see happen because there is usually a glut of female attendees at social dances. So that night even Mr. Grumpy-Face could hire a dance host to dance with if he wanted to!

Sigh… OK, I think I’ve got that out of my system. I apologize for showing you a part of the seedy underside of the Dance Kingdom. Being elected as a member of the Royal Dance Court exposes me to these things. This issue has started to take on a life of its own lately, so I thought I could use this as a way to get my incredulous thoughts off my chest so that I can remain calm and collected during the future discussions about this issue that I’m sure will come up. You can bet that there will be more to the story the next time I get together with my Royal Dance Court group, even if I see them informally.

Thanks for sticking with me through this. Until next time – keep on dancing!

Follow Me Into The Desert As Thirsty As You Are

After meeting up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer last Saturday afternoon to work on things, I was feeling pretty good about dance life. We had started out by discussing the things that Sparkledancer and I had worked on the previous weekend with Lord Dormamu so that Sir Steven would be on the same page with what we were told to do. Since a lot of what we discussed centered on the work we did on Foxtrot, that’s where Sir Steven had us start that afternoon.

I’m happy to say that Sir Steven said that he could see improvement in our Foxtrot over what he had seen the last time we had gotten together, so the practice time that Sparkledancer and I had put in working on the items that Lord Dormamu gave us for homework must have been paying off. Now even though Lord Dormamu had specifically told us while we were working on Foxtrot to just ignore everything else and focus on only the points he gave us, Sir Steven still told us that we should still be adding in some of the shaping and swing that he had been working on having us do. We don’t have to put a bunch of emphasis on shaping and swing, but Sir Steven didn’t want us to forget about it entirely despite what Lord Dormamu told us. So that’s something else I’ll have to keep in mind now during practice.

To switch things up when we finished up with Foxtrot, Sir Steven had us look at Viennese Waltz for a while. The big takeaway from this session was to fix a habit of mine with Change Steps, and there’s a bit of a story behind this habit: see, there are really only two people I will willingly dance a Viennese Waltz with outside of a group class situation. I’ve been asked by lots of people at social dances over the years, but most ladies asking I don’t know anything about how much they have worked on Viennese Waltz, so I beg out of the dance and wander off usually. As you can imagine, one of the two people I will dance Viennese Waltz with is Sparkledancer, since she’s been around for most of the formal training sessions I’ve had in the dance style.

In the beginning, as I was learning and working on building confidence in the dance, Sparkledancer and I had a hard time with Change Steps. For some reason whenever I did one, she couldn’t follow me. This led to me at first telling her when I was going to do one, which was a hard thing for her to miss. As I started to get better at Viennese Waltz, I worked to make sure that when I did a Change Step I really over-emphasized the side step portion of the figure, so that there was no mistaking what I was trying to lead her through. While that tactic also worked, that sort-of became a bad habit for me, and when I am not really thinking much about what I am doing, you can still see me do a Change Step with the energy going off to the side rather than continuing down the line of dance.

Sir Steven decided that now I really need to work on getting rid of that habit, because it’s just wrong for the level I am trying to work at now. I’m supposed to work on practicing Viennese Waltz turns, either Natural Turns or Reverse Turns, my choice, then put in a Change Step that moves down the line of dance without going off to the side at all, and then add a couple of the opposite turn from whatever I started with after the Change Step. This is a simple bit of homework to try to undo my bad habit. So, now that’s on my list. I’m starting to have more homework to work on than I have practice time each week!

I did make it out to a dance party at the City Dance Hall this past Saturday night. The advertisement for the party said that they would be having an American Foxtrot lesson before the party, given by some instructor whom I had never heard of before. This gentleman went through things in a bit of a strange way, using some variations on common figures that I can only describe as ‘overly simplistic’ when compared to the way I’ve seen things done everywhere else I’ve been. None of the figures or progressions covered that night really connected to each other, either. They were more like general knowledge figures or progressions to be used at any time, starting with simple figures at the beginning and ending with a more difficult progression of figures as class wrapped up.

To start with he covered the Forward Basic heading straight down the floor. When people told him that they had all danced Foxtrot at least a little in the past, he quickly moved on to show everyone a Simple Twinkle. To be honest with you, I know this version of the Twinkle is on the syllabus and everything, but I have never seen anyone use it in practice before. The Simple Twinkle is the version that covers two measures of music, where you take a step forward and then a side step to the right, turning to Promenade Position as you bring your feet together. During the second measure you take a side step in Promenade Position, then a side step to the left as you square up with your partner and bring your feet together. Do any of you know anyone who uses this version of the Twinkle rather than the version that is only four beats that uses continuity movement? I certainly don’t!

Next up we looked at two-figure combination. It involved doing the first half of the Simple Twinkle, then a basic Grapevine, finishing with the second half of the Simple Twinkle. The Grapevine that he walked through for everyone also felt fairly simplistic compared to what people have shown all the other times I’ve seen a Grapevine done, really emphasizing the side steps of the figure as it went on. Once everyone seemed to have mastered the Grapevine combination, the instructor showed everyone the first of two more advanced progressions he had for us that night.

This progression started off with a rotating Left Box Turn with the Lead traveling down the line of dance. After that, the Lead would do another rotating Left Box Turn while turning the lady through a natural turn, making sure to grab her left arm as she rotated so that when finished you would be in Sweetheart Position. The Lead would then take three steps forward (not a Three Step, just three slow steps forward) while turning the lady in a reverse turn to unwind her, stopping her as she finished the turn so that she ended in Promenade Position with you. The instructor had us finish by closing from Promenade Position using the second half of the Simple Twinkle just like he had used to finish the Grapevine earlier.

The final progression also started out with a rotating Left Box Turn with the Lead heading down the line of dance. Rather than turning around right away, this time the instructor had us stay facing this direction for a bit and take three slow steps traveling backwards down the line of dance. After that the Lead did a second rotating Left Box Turn while the Follower was led through a reverse turn, ending in Promenade Position before closing with the second half of the Simple Twinkle again. The two progressions, if you noticed, begin and end the same way, with only a few figures in the middle being different. If you can pick up and get through one, you could easily do both.

I tried my best to dance every ballroom-style dance that night with Sparkledancer… when I could find her amongst the crowd, that is. That way the party was kind of like practice time, right? There were a fair number of people at the party that night though, so sometimes I had a hard time finding myself during the party, let alone a specific partner to dance with when a song came on. I made do as best I could. There was one lady that I met that night who was sitting against the back wall by herself. I had asked her to dance for one song, and during the dance I was making small talk, asking if she had ever danced that dance style before. She said that she had once upon a time, but it had been many years before. Being the nice (and charming!!!) guy that I am, I told her that it couldn’t have been that many years ago because there was no way she could be that old. Then she laughs at me and tells me her exact age. I honestly was not expecting a lady to confess to me how old she was, so that kind of tripped me up in my banter for a few seconds. Ladies really seem to like to throw these random curveballs at me to keep me on my toes…

Class on Monday night was probably the most fun thing that I got to do all week. There were six ladies who showed up for Latin Technique class that night, and as usual I was the only guy besides Lord Junior. As we were all gathering on the dance floor to get started, no one really had any strong feelings about what to go through that night, so Lord Junior said he would put it up for a vote. I just laughed at that, and said that everyone already knows what my vote is for (what other Latin dance do you want to dance so late at night?). Several of the ladies shook their heads and said that they agreed with me, so in the end I got enough votes to win, and we went over some Pasodoble that night.

Paso is… so… metal…!

We were originally going to start with a Promenade and Counter Promenade, and Lord Junior even went so far as to step through the Lead’s half of the step. As he began to step through the Follower’s part of the figure to show the ladies, he changed his mind and decided that we were going to start with a Twist Turn instead. The Twist Turn in Pasodoble is essentially the same as the Twist Turn from Tango, except the Tango figure does not start with an Appel, as you can imagine. We started the Twist Turn with the Lead facing the wall and ended by facing down the line of dance.

Next up we went through an Open Telemark. To make the turn a bit easier, we used the Appel at the beginning to rotate about an eighth of a turn so that the next step began facing diagonal center. When we finished the Open Telemark we were back to facing wall again after we closed the Promenade. There was a figure I believe was called an Ecart next, or a Fallaway Whisk. The figure was basically like a Whisk that you would see in International Waltz, where you cross your outside foot behind the other to turn you into Promenade Position. Over the next four-count in the music, we traveled down the line of dance, rotating the Follower around us on the second step so that we finished with the Follower facing wall and the Lead facing center.

That set us up to do a variation of the Coup de Pique to finish things off. A normal Coup de Pique has you twist and point your right foot forward once before taking a step backward down the line of dance on your left and then doing a chasse-like movement to continue traveling in that direction. The variation we did (and apparently the way Lord Junior prefers to do the figure every time) had us twist and point our right foot through, then twist and take a step backward down the line of dance with our left, and then do another twist and point with our right foot and finishing by twisting and stepping back on the left. This variation still has you ending the whole figure with your left foot free, which is the wrong foot to start the majority of Pasodoble figures with. There are a few that do require you to start with your other leg, but since we had been having so much fun in class we ran out of time to add anything else to the progression so we finished up there for the night.

Two nights ago I had a meeting to attend for my Royal Dance Court group to discuss upcoming events that we have been planning, as well as various other items in dance politics that have been floating around recently. You might be interested to know that as of that meeting, I am now the official Keeper Of Records for the Royal Dance Court. I guess the old Keeper Of Records wanted to give up the responsibilities of the position, probably to spend more time writing or something. I did not volunteer for the position, I was just told that I was going to do it, and I didn’t have any good reason not to at the time, so the nomination carried. I started my tenure on the Royal Dance Court by bringing my laptop to the meetings so that I can take notes. A couple of people started copying me after they saw me doing it, but I think that might be why I was nominated to be the Keeper Of Records. Little do they know that I mostly brought my laptop to take notes that I can share on this site! Now I will also be sharing the notes with any people interested in the business of the Royal Dance Court. So… yay? Is this the next step to me seizing the power at the top of the Royal Dance Court? We’ll have to see!

As far as interesting things that were discussed… well, if you aren’t a member of the Royal Dance Court with me, there probably isn’t much. We spent a fair amount of time discussing the formal party that we hosted, and how our financial intakes from ticket sales compared with our expenses. An idea has already been proposed, and it looks like accepted, for the theme of the formal we will host next year, so there was initial talk underway about purchasing decorations for that party. There was some talk about the dance cruise we are looking to host in a few months, like the one I went on a year-and-a-half ago, and the initial cost projections that we’ve received for that. As you can see, much of the discussion was kind of boring overall, so I won’t waste much space here on any of that.

One of the other interesting items that were discussed was when we were all told that a couple of the Royal Viziers who consult the King have resigned for various reasons. Being a member of the Royal Dance Court, I had received emails about these positions earlier in the day where they were looking for applicants to submit resumes for consideration if you are interested in moving up in the world. I toyed with the idea for a few minutes when I saw the email in the afternoon, but I dismissed it since the amount of time they were looking for people to commit would interfere with my actual job, and the position doesn’t pay nearly as well. So for the time being, if we have issues that need to move up the chain from our Royal Dance Court, we don’t know who we can contact right now. It’s usually frowned upon to call up the King directly (that’s how beheadings happen, if history has taught me anything), so we’ll have to solve any potential problems ourselves until new Royal Viziers can be brought in.

And finally there was Standard Technique class this week. No one had any specific things they wanted to work on when class started, much like Monday’s class, so Lord Junior went with the idea that he had gotten earlier in the day for class: having us work on the Double Reverse Spin and Double Natural Spin in Foxtrot. I’m sure that statement set off all sorts of red flags in your mind, since the Double Reverse Spin is a syllabus figure only in Waltz and Quickstep, and the Double Natural Spin is not on the syllabus for any dance style! But these figures do work in Foxtrot without any weird changes needed. Because you can do the Double Reverse Spin in Quickstep, you can easily make it work in a Foxtrot (it’s just slower), and a Double Natural Spin is a figure that is just the natural opposite* of a Double Reverse Spin, so you can use it in any dance style where a Double Reverse Spin works.

(Note: there is one difference between the two when done in Foxtrot… more on that in a minute)

The progression used wasn’t that difficult per se, but it does travel the floor quite a bit, so make sure you give yourself plenty of space before you start. We began with a normal opening for many Foxtrot routines I’ve seen in my lifetime – facing diagonal center, take a prep step and go into a Feather. Next came the Double Reverse Spin, done with the same timing you have in a Quickstep Double Reverse Spin, but since this is Foxtrot you have to add on a Feather Ending at the end. That has you coming out heading toward diagonal wall. Then we did a Three Step, and finally we finished with the Double Natural Spin. The Double Natural Spin has to end with a full Feather instead of just a Feather Ending like the Double Reverse Spin has. Because you are on the opposite foot when you start, you also finish on the opposite foot, so you must have one additional step to make the ending work. Turning the Feather Ending into a full Feather step just makes sense in that situation.

Most of the ladies had some trouble with the Double Natural Spin when Lord Junior was going through their part with them and they were dancing the steps by themselves. I watched as several of them turned themselves the wrong way a few times, and then had to stop and think about things because suddenly they were trying to cross the wrong foot in front. It was an amusing problem to watch from the sidelines, but that issue cleared itself right up when they danced with a partner. There were a few other notable issues that I ran into while dancing with people that night:

  • Veep constantly rotated her Double Natural Spin too much
  • Bony seemed to like taking tiny steps even after she was asked to reach further by both myself and Lord Junior, so I kept kicking her feet accidentally when I tried to move
  • there was one older lady who had joined us for class that didn’t like crossing her foot in front of the other in either the Double Reverse Spin or Double Natural Spin, so she would end up on the wrong foot for the next step

In the end, it ended up being a rather amusing night. Lord Junior had so much fun that he told us all that we should look forward to next week’s class, when he’ll make us do the same two spins in the Waltz, and hope that we all can get through them without the same issues. So that’s something to look forward to. Hooray!

This weekend I have the monthly party that my Royal Dance Court group hosts to help put on. I think we are having some sort of Waltz theme this month, but I am terrible at remembering things like that, so don’t quote me on it. Hopefully it will be fun, and lots of people will turn out to attend. For some reason I have this weird feeling that we are going to end up with a small turnout, and I can’t place why. I hope I’m wrong about that. Do you want to come to the party for me to make sure that there are a lot of people there? Please?