Capable Of All That’s Imagined And All Conceivable

I promise that I’m not trying to jump on the cliché bandwagon, but I wanted to start off going over my thoughts on all the changes that happened in 2017. A lot of things changed in my dance world over the last year, and one change in particular is notably poignant. For this, my first post of 2018, I thought I would step back and just reflect for a bit, so bear with me.

Once upon a time I strongly argued that even though I would compete from time to time, I was nothing more than an “advanced social dancer.” I always thought that if I was talking to other people at dance parties, especially newcomers, this made me sound less threatening. Well, in 2017 I officially turned a corner and became a true competitive dancer.

So what has that meant? Well for one, it means that I dance a lot more than I used to, but I social dance a lot less. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth. One of the advantages of having an amateur partner is that I can practice in between my lessons for minimal cost (the dance studio where I normally practice asks me to pay a nominal floor fee for every hour I practice). I know a lot of Pro/Am students don’t practice nearly as much as I do because it requires them to either pay for time with their teacher, or to practice alone, which is a hard thing to do for some dance styles.

Because of this, the people who I know in the dance community have drastically changed. I used to go out to dance parties quite a bit, so I knew a bunch of other dancers and could talk with them about various aspects of their lives. Nowadays my dance partner Sparkledancer and I have tried to schedule our practice time at the studios when there aren’t many classes or lessons going on, so we can work on the movement aspect of all of our routines. That means that the people I run into and talk with the most now are mostly dance instructors.

If I now consider myself a competitive dancer and no longer an advanced social dancer, that obviously means that I chose to compete during 2017. By the count that I can think of off the top of my head, I entered five different competitions last year. Two of those competitions only gave me scores or feedback from the judges, and the results of the other three were based on placements among all the competitors on the floor. One of those three my partner and I danced unopposed all day, so although I obviously placed really well in that event, I don’t consider the results to be very meaningful.

The two remaining competitions went surprisingly well, and that’s what makes me think that I have to call myself a true competitive dancer now. Giving up American Smooth and Rhythm and International Latin competitively and focusing only on International Standard means that all my practice time can really make those five dance styles better, and the results I’ve gotten so far have been… well, impressive. It shows me that all my hard work might have actually accomplished something.

However, I still have the mindset that I am only an advanced social dancer, which is why I said that the competitions went ‘surprisingly well.’ In the past, I used to agree to compete once or twice a year as a way to get some feedback on how much I have progressed in my dancing in the interim. I never expected to score super high. On top of that, in all the competitions I was in during my first couple of years dancing my amateur partner and I always danced our championship rounds against all Pro/Am couples, so in those events we were guaranteed last place. Every time.

As you can imagine, competing as an amateur male against a professional male isn’t really a fair comparison. Logically, I knew that Sparkledancer and I were competing against these Pro/Am couples because there were so few amateur couples competing, and none of the others were even willing to try dancing in a championship round. Knowing that, I probably shouldn’t have ever agreed to sign up for the championship rounds. But my dance partner and I did anyway, and the result of that choice early in my dance career got me used to always being in last place when competing.

Those experiences are what make it surprising to me now when I place at or near the top of the rankings, even though I know the nature of those old competitions are worlds apart from the ones that I compete in now. When I get the chance to dance against all other amateur pairs dancing the same level that I am dancing, there is no question that the results will be different from the results I got when I danced against Pro/Am pairs who were dancing at a higher level than me. But even knowing that logically, I am still surprised when I do well.

There’s also that humbling voice in the back of my head that asks me whether I have done so well in the last couple of competitions I was in because I’ve actually improved, or if I was just better than the other competitors in those competitions. I chose to take part in some competitions that were put together by the same organization, and though the venues were a few hours apart, many of the people who did compete took part in both competitions. So it’s hard to say I would do as well in future competitions unless I find a way to test myself against a new group of competitors.

The obvious way to do that would be to sign up to compete in an event that is even farther away, right? I didn’t do that during 2017. I wasn’t confident enough that I had improved in my abilities yet to make that kind of financial investment in competing. Also, while coming up with money to travel and dance is fairly easy for me to do (I make stupid money compared to my low cost of living), it’s not quite as easy for Sparkledancer. We have been talking about doing a competition that involves traveling farther into the wilds of the Dance Kingdom soon, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on it quite yet. That’s an adventure to look forward to in 2018!

I guess I should mention the catalyst for my change from an advanced social dancer into a competitive dancer, which is also another pretty major change that happened in 2017. Early in the year, Sparkledancer and I were made an offer that took us down this new path. Part of the terms for accepting this offer was that we accepted having a new dance coach to work with regularly.

The story that I have been told about what instigated this offer was that our normal instructor (Sir Steven) approached our new coach (Lord Dormamu) to ask him if he could help push my amateur partner and I to the next level as competitive dancers. Lord Dormamu watched us discreetly for a bit to evaluate the two of us, and he thought that we had a lot of potential, so he agreed with Sir Steven to work on molding the two of us into true competitive dancers.

Agreeing to work with Lord Dormamu is what really changed my mindset on my dance career. As you can imagine, having lessons with him is much more expensive than lessons with any other instructor I’ve ever worked with. Even though I am splitting the cost of these lessons with my amateur partner, it’s still expensive, so I realized that if I was going to be shelling out this kind of money for a coach about every other week, I needed to take everything he says seriously. And taking it serious meant that I would actually have to start practicing regularly and earnestly to get what he told me in our lessons into my muscle memory.

But there is a good reason that his time costs so much. This man is a world champion many times over, so he knows all the things! ALL. THE. THINGS! He retired from competing two years ago, and told me that since retiring his job is to train new couples to be world champions like him. On top of that, he is really good about explaining all of those things he knows to me in a manner that I can easily grasp, so I learn quite a bit from him. The results I’ve gotten in the competitions I’ve entered have validated that this arrangement seems to be working.

In 2017 Lord Dormamu tore apart my International Waltz and Foxtrot completely and put everything back together in a manner that more closely matches the way that high-level professionals dance those styles. We also began working through the Tango to go through the same process. Based on the comments about the future that Lord Dormamu has given me, by the time 2018 is over he will have finished up the Tango, and gone through the same process with my Quickstep and Viennese Waltz.

Looking ahead to the future, Lord Dormamu’s long-term expectations, as I have been told, is that throughout 2018 he will continue to hold Sparkledancer and I at the Bronze level until he is done with this rebuild. After he is finished, we should walk through Silver and Gold very quickly and easily, because all the techniques we are mastering now are the same techniques we will be using at those levels. He seems confident that we could do this, and based on the results I’ve had so far I am inclined to believe that it is possible. I hesitate to say that it is inevitable, but I certainly say that it’s possible!

The other rabbit-hole that I wandered even further down during 2017 was the world of dance politics. I know it seems like a strange thing to even talk about, since this is dancing and by all accounts should be apolitical, but there is a lot of very political work that goes on behind the scenes in the ballroom dance world. I find a lot of it interesting on a theoretical level, but there are some aspects of it that are kind of depressing, and really show that major portions of what goes on, especially in competitions, is based on who you know… and who you know is influenced in large part by how much money you are willing to spend.

Some parts of the dance politics landscape aren’t that bad. If you have been following my dance notes for a while, you will know that I was voted in to be a member of the Royal Dance Court over two years ago now. Last May the leader of the Royal Dance Court nominated me to become the Keeper Of Records for the group, a position which I accepted. Then in November I was elected to continue on for another two-year term on the Royal Dance Court, so I guess the people feel like I have been doing something right over the previous two years!

The Royal Dance Court is what I consider to be the good side of dance politics. We work together to put on fun dance events for members of the dance community. We recruit local dance instructors to come and teach group lessons to help dancers of all levels improve and learn new, fun things. Sometimes we have to deal with issues that come up, but most of the time the work is purely to put together the fun aspects of ballroom dancing – the dance parties that the majority of dancers love to attend.

Now the flip side – Lord Dormamu is the one that introduced me to, and will freely admit to having me play along with, the dark side of dance politics. During 2017, there were a couple of instances where Lord Dormamu wanted me to take a coaching session from visiting instructors. Visitors like these are often seen in the competitive dance community, acting as judges at various dance competitions throughout the world and then teaching coaching lessons at a nearby studio before they fly back home.

While it was interesting to talk to these visiting coaches and hear their comments on the way that I danced, there were many things that they recommended that I do that Lord Dormamu told me to just ignore. His reasoning for why I should ignore these recommendations was that these judges all learned to dance and became champions many decades ago, and the way that they learned to dance competitively is not the way that dancers that become world champions now are doing things anymore.

I asked my Lord Dormamu why then I would want to take these lessons with visiting coaches like this, if he was going to tell me to throw out much of what they recommended to me. That seemed to me like a major waste of my time and money. I could use that money to take more lessons with him and actually learn useful things, couldn’t I?

His answer was that this was all part of the dark side of dance politics that everyone knows about, but many people avoid talking openly about. If I go to a competition where one of these people is judging, and I’ve taken a coaching session from them, they are more likely to remember me and the lesson that we had together. If I am dancing well at the competition, they will think that their coaching had something to do with how well I dance, and will mark me better for it.

Or if I am basically tied for a placement in that judge’s mind with another couple on the floor, and I have taken a coaching session with the judge and the other couple did not, the judge is more likely to bump me higher because of that. They may see me for only a few seconds on a crowded dance floor that they are judging, but that will remind them of the hour or so that I spent with them, and that familiarity tends to mean something.

So Lord Dormamu was basically admitting that you can do better in competitions if the judges know you, and they will know you better if you spend the money to take coaching with them, even if the things that they recommend to you to improve your dancing are not useful. This dark side of dance politics is a game that he had to play while he was competing to become world champion over and over, and now it is a game that he told me that he will help me play. That knowledge leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Dance politics… something, something, dark side… know what I mean?

One last thing: I know that the subject matter of my writings on this site have shifted dramatically over the last year as well. This site has always been the place where I keep my dance notes on all the things that I need to remember. Because I have been taking things so much more seriously over the past year, I have had to document all the things that I need to remember from my lessons, which right now involve a lot of technical points.

That’s probably something that will continue in 2018 as well, so I hope that it hasn’t gotten too boring for you yet! I am male and I dance the Lead part, so most of the notes that I write down are for how to do that side of the figures or techniques. There aren’t a lot of male ballroom dancers out there, so I know my material is useful to a much smaller audience than notes from a Follower’s perspective.

Still, I hope that some of the information that I’ve been told, filtered through my written voice, can be useful to someone out there. And, as always, if you have any questions about any of the things that I mention, please ask! I’m not a dance instructor, but I dance A LOT, so I can probably help, or point you in the right direction if I don’t know.

It’s 2018! That’s crazy! Let’s all make this an awesome year for dancing, however you choose to dance. I hope to see you out on the floor somewhere. 🙂

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You Put Your Arms Around Me And I’m Home

I had thought that my life would relax a little as the holidays drew closer. It seems like I was totally wrong in that assumption…

When I got together with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer on Saturday morning, everything seemed to have finally fallen into place. Sparkledancer and I had been given the entire choreography for our showcase less than a week beforehand, and had only managed to meet up for an hour on the Thursday evening beforehand to run through the sequence to try to memorize everything, but we managed to get it all down. It helped that I had gotten a video of Sparkledancer and Sir Steven dancing through the routine from start to finish the night we got the routine. I watched that over and over again, which helped me know which figures I needed to lead in the right order. Hooray!

I also think that I have my costume done. To keep things rather simple and inexpensive, large chunks of what I am wearing are items that I already had at home. For instance, I am just planning on wearing a pair of my dance practice pants during the performance. The look I was told to go for was semi-formal, but I need to have full range of motion for my legs to be able to squat down far enough so that Sparkledancer can hop up on my shoulder. Normal dress slack have the right look, but are too stiff for me to bend down like that. My dance practice slacks do flex in that manner, so they are a great choice.

Also, I actually saw the Artistic Director at the Fancy Dance Hall this weekend! We didn’t really get a chance to talk much though… she came walking through right at the end as we were finishing up our lesson. Sir Steven had her stop to take a look at what the lift which ends our performance, to help her figure out how to cut the music and give us enough time to draw the lift out dramatically. I wanted to ask her about all kinds of things related to the acting pieces that I’m going to have to do, but I was told that those questions would be answered during the blocking rehearsal that was scheduled for Thursday night.

So much for getting any time to practice that part of the show…

All that remains now is to continue practicing the routine to make sure it is comfortable and hits the few marks on the floor that I have. The performances are a little over a week away now. I am feeling pretty good about how things are going, but I’ll admit that I still feel no attachment to this performance. I guess that it’s good that I’ll be portraying a specific character, rather than trying to play myself while dancing. Having to give up all my ideas for this performance really disconnected me from the dance, and I don’t think anything is going to change in that regard between now and the first performance date.

I also managed to make it out to the Waltz workshop that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall on Saturday afternoon. This workshop was being put on by Lady Lovelylocks, who is Lord Junior’s professional partner. Lord Junior was also there milling about in the back of the studio, practicing some choreography from the looks of things. He jumped in near the end of the workshop when we started dancing with partners. There were quite a bit more women than men, so it was nice of him to help even out the ratio a little bit.

It felt like we spent most of the workshop on just stretching. Lady Lovelylocks wanted us to all get warmed up and work on using all the various parts of our bodies isometrically, so she showed us all sorts of different stretches to help with that. First we did all the stretches slowly, so that everyone could learn what they were supposed to do. Next she put them into a pattern so that we could all do them in the same order with some rhythm. Finally, we did the pattern with some Waltz music playing. That sequence lasted for multiple songs.

When we were finally all super warm, Lady Lovelylocks got down to business and had us focus on our rise and fall. To do this, we started with normal rotating box steps on our own. The points we were given to work on while doing these box steps were to make sure that we kept things slow and use all of the music, and to make sure that we didn’t come crashing down from our rise on beat three. I had somehow gotten stuck in the middle of the floor with people all around me that took tiny steps, so I felt like my box steps didn’t move a whole lot while I was practicing them.

There was only a little choreography used at the end of class that we danced with a partner. We looked at some Open Natural and Open Reverse Turns in Shadow Position, and the Change Step to switch between the two. I think I’ve mentioned this before at some point, but the Change Steps that you do while in Shadow Position are actually just three steps forward or backward.

These are not like a Three Step in Foxtrot, however. Lord Junior yelled at me from across the room because he saw me at one point doing my footwork like a Foxtrot Three Step. I didn’t even realize that I had done it until he said something, so it was totally my fault. Slightly embarrassing! The footwork should be like a normal Waltz Change Step, so make sure not to do a heel lead on the second step, or else you’ll get yelled at like I did…

The remainder of the class was spent switching through partners and dancing through these figures. We started off in Shadow Position already and did two Open Reverse Turns, then a Change Step followed by two Open Natural Turns, and we could finish with another Change Step if we had the room before we hit the wall. As the ladies were asked to rotate through the guys to practice, I seemed to be forgotten quite a bit. I was in the front of the room, because I didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone while I was traveling down the floor. When we all lined up on one end of the room and the ladies paired off with a guy, I was constantly having to wave my arms at them to have a lady come dance with me. Were they afraid of me or something?

Last Monday night at Latin Technique class I got to work on Rumba. We started off the class by warming up using Lord Junior’s new favorite Rumba exercise that involves doing Three Step Turns from side-to-side. Once we had gone through that enough times to make him happy, he had us do some work looking at basic Rumba walks. We used four types of Rumba Walks to start with, which were: the Forward Walk, the Checked Walk (which is what everyone does when they do the basic Rumba movement), the Turning Walk (which has you take a step forward and then turn 180° without moving your feet), and finally the Backward Walk.

Lord Junior wanted to build us a sequence of figures that night that focused on all of these walking movements, plus the Delayed Walk, which is basically just a normal walk but with some different (i.e. ‘delayed’) timing. We started things off facing our partner with our weight on the left leg and our right leg pointed back, ladies on their right leg with the left pointed forward. Our starter step was a step forward on beat four. Next we did a delayed Check forward, holding the check until just before the next beat four, when the ladies then would step toward us while the men just switched their weight to the right leg and pointed the left behind them.

Next we wanted to get the ladies out to Fan Position, so the men would lunge off to the left while twisting their upper bodies to press forward with the left arm, which would lead the ladies to collect and turn 90° clockwise, and then the men did a chasse to the right as the ladies did a Turning Walk to get into Fan Position. To give the ladies even more practice with their Turning Walks, we next led the ladies to do an Alemana. The men would shift slightly to the left as the ladies did this so that we could close with the ladies on our right side.

The last thing that we did was to lead the ladies through Opening Outs. Making things more difficult, Lord Junior asked the ladies to do these using the Delayed Walk action, where after doing the rock step backward, they would point their leg forward without moving until the absolute last second, and then step and turn to go into an Opening Out on the other side.

This was probably the most difficult thing we did that night. As a guy, you had to be careful not to push the lady forward too much after letting her open out. It had to be a balance of pushing enough so she came forward to get on her leg and point her other toe, but not enough to actually step forward through both legs. We did two Opening Outs with this delayed action, and then a third where we brought the lady forward as normal and then led her into a Spiral Turn before sending her back out into Fan Position.

The last thing that I want to talk about this week was the coaching that I got signed up for last night. Lord Dormamu had a good friend of his, who much like Lord Dormamu is also a world-famous International Standard coach that many of you have probably heard of, in town on Wednesday. They were meeting up to discuss some business propositions about putting together a new competition in the Dance Kingdom. I’m sure this means that Lord Dormamu will tell me that I’m going to be competing in this event when they get it all up and running.

Since there was some extra time in the schedule between and after their business discussions, this gentleman offered to hold some coaching sessions for any students that were interested, and Lord Dormamu signed Sparkledancer and I up. Because I had things going on at work yesterday, I could only get to the Fancy Dance Hall late in the evening, so I ended up getting the coach’s last time slot of the day. In a way this worked out very nicely because there was no rush for us to complete our session so that he could move on to other students after us. Our lesson went waaaaay over the time it should have as we looked over all sorts of material together.

Once Lord Dormamu introduced us, he asked that we spend our time having the coach look over our Waltz and Foxtrot. With those marching orders, we got started, though we didn’t stick to the script we were given for the entire session. The lesson basically went like this: the coach had us dance through our routines once for him with music, and when we finished up we would talk about what he saw us doing through his adjudicator eyes. Throughout the night we were given specific notes about each dance style we completed, and by the end of the session I also had several overall takeaways that covered all dance styles universally that he wanted me to think about.

Let me start with the notes on the individual dance styles. Though we were told by Lord Dormamu to work on Waltz and Foxtrot, apparently our Foxtrot was pretty good so we didn’t spend much time going over it, and had time left over to look at Tango as well. Sparkledancer chose to start with the Waltz, so that’s what we received notes on first.

There were really only a couple of things specific to the Waltz that he picked on, and some of these may just be his particular preferences when he judges competitions. These were his notes:

  • He wanted to see us doing more distinct rise and fall during the Progressive Chasses throughout the routine. As we tried it out, I thought that it felt overdone, but he said that it looked better from where he was standing.
  • Next up, he thought that I was taking far too small of a step going into the Double Reverse Spins. I asked him about how I’d always been told to take small steps with early quick rise to lead a Double Reverse Spin, and he said that by the book that’s what I should do, but it looked like I wasn’t traveling anywhere on my first step when I did that.
  • The final thing he wanted to talk about was when going into the Whisk, it didn’t look to him like I was taking a complete step onto my left foot before rising up and taking a step to the side and slightly back onto my right foot. To make sure it looked the way it should, he wanted me to take the first step and have all of my weight over my left leg (almost to the point where I could stand on one foot) before moving to my right leg.

Foxtrot was definitely where I felt the strongest that night, and there were only a couple of items that he said looked out-of-place in his eyes (the last one is definitely a personal preference of his, since I have been specifically told by Lord Dormamu to do it differently):

  • I was told to put more emphasis on moving slower during the slow steps. He wanted me to really extend my legs and push myself as far as possible during those two beats before putting my foot down and going into the quick steps. It wasn’t that I was rushing when I danced it as he watched, he said, but I wasn’t using my timing to its full potential.
  • There were a few points, like on the first Feather in the routine, where he said that it seemed like I was rotating too much and Sparkledancer was ending up beside me rather than in front of me. He wanted me to lessen the rotation through my body to avoid that, and instead change the placement of where my steps were going to help keep her in front. If I feel like she is ending up beside me on my right instead of in front of me, I need to take my step slightly more to the left to compensate.
  • During the Weaves that we do, he wanted me to add shaping through the progression. On the Natural Weave for instance, Lord Dormamu has always told me that I would be shaping with the left side through the Natural Turn, then level out through the actual Weave, and then shape to the left again through the Feather Finish. The coach wanted me to shape to the right through the Weave to emphasize the difference in those steps. This I think may just be a personal preference thing, so I’ll run this item by Lord Dormamu before I work on adding it into my practice.

With some time left, the coach wanted to keep going and switch over to the Tango. Before we got started, Sparkledancer and I warned him that our Tango was still a work in progress, and it was what we considered the weakest of our dances. After we finished dancing through the routine once, he stopped us and said that he thought our Tango actually looked fairly good, which was nice to hear. There were a few points that we managed to talk about that he suggested we change:

  • He thought that we were too low in our Tango frame, which he said explained why we always had to air close our feet because our partner’s knee was between our own. I was told to bring my legs together and stand with Sparkledancer in front of me, with her legs also together. We then bent at the knees until we met resistance from each other’s legs. That was as far down he said we should be while dancing.
  • The coach specifically mentioned leading my partner to roll into Promenade Position through rolling my right hip forward slightly. This goes directly against what Lord Dormamu said last time we got together when he told me to stop doing exactly that. What…??? This is definitely something that I am going to have to discuss with Lord Dormamu.
  • We spent a bit of time looking at the Right Lunge in the corner. He wanted me to adjust the rotation in my upper body so that as my legs are lunging toward diagonal wall, my upper body is pointing more line of dance, and thus is pushing Sparkledancer to shape out more line of dance with her upper body as well.
  • Much like with the Foxtrot steps, he wanted me to make sure to slow down when bringing my feet together at the end of a figure. Usually the close happens over two beats in the music, but I am closing my feet immediately and then just hanging out. He prefers that I hang out with my legs still in their previous position and my body split-weight between them, and then close my feet at the end of the two beats.

There were some additional comments he made about our overall dancing as competitors that he’d like to see us work on. One note he told each of us was based on our positioning when dancing together. He told me that I needed to watch my right elbow, to make sure that I was not pulling it back too far. I was told to think about when dancing with a partner that there is essentially one-and-a-half people for my arms to get around. There’s the front half of my body, and then my partner’s body. To ensure that my right arm is capable of covering this distance, my arm needs to be bent enough so that my elbow is out in front of the front half of my body. I had never heard it described like that before, and I thought that was an interesting way of looking at things.

Sparkledancer was told that her upper body needs to lean on an angle more to the left. She has been working a lot lately on bending herself back to create more volume, but not as much on leaning herself to the left side at the same time. Leaning in this direction essentially presses her left lat muscle into my right hand as we stand in frame. This will probably be something that we will have to focus specifically on during practice, to move while having her lean to the left while bending backward instead of just one direction at a time.

The last thing that we talked about last night went off on a weird tangent that I had never heard anyone talk about before. It came up while we were looking at the Right Lunge in the Tango. At one point he wanted me to lead him through the figure. When I got into frame with him, he said that I was not holding him tightly enough with my right hand. Afterward, when I got back into frame with Sparkledancer, he said that I was also not holding her tightly enough as well. What gives?

He told us a story about how he once had a coach work with him back when he was competing. This coach wanted to have him demonstrate a figure with her, so she asked him to lead her through it and got into frame with her with a considerable gap between their bodies. This made him uncomfortable, as he had been told over and over again that the lead should come through his body, so having to lead her through the figure without body contact felt wrong to him. Then she asked him: why should it be a problem?

This coach explained to him that we need to use our arms to lead our partners properly, even in International Standard. They are an important tool that should be used to communicate with our partner. People who dance American Smooth have to lead like this all the time, because many of their figures obviously break body contact. Why should people who dance International Standard handicap themselves by trying to only lead with the body, she asked him. The trick is to learn to lead with your arms correctly, so that you can do it without your partner complaining that it feels like you are pushing and pulling her all over the place.

His suggestion for me was to get into the habit of having a more firm hold on any partner that I danced with. This would allow them to clearly feel what my right arm is doing around their back, and take away any confusion that could arise from the leads with my body. While I should be leading my partner to turn to Promenade Position through a roll of the hip, for instance, I should also be pulling back slightly with my right arm to make the implication for her to turn to Promenade Position unmistakable.

Learning to lead like this will be challenging after being told for so long to lead solely through my body. Even the coach admitted that it took him quite a while to learn how to lead certain figures after his coach told him to start using his arms. He said that as he started to lead like this, whenever he had a partner complain that they felt like he was pulling or pushing them with his arms, he would take that as a sign that he was doing it wrong and then have to reevaluate what his arms were doing and try again.

That was quite an interesting concept to end the night with, and I have been thinking about it on and off ever since. I’m not sure what exactly I would have to change to use my arms more in this manner, but it might be helpful that I started out dancing doing only American Smooth, so maybe some of that training will be useful here? I guess I’ll have to talk it over with Sparkledancer the next time we meet up to practice to see what she thinks too. After all, this will probably affect her more than it affects me.

It’s been a long night. I had the blocking rehearsal for the showcase performance tonight, to get everything mapped out before dress rehearsal next Thursday. I haven’t really had time to process that yet, so maybe I will talk about it next time. I have another super busy week ahead of me with all sorts of dance-related activities, so I’m going to leave it here for now, take a deep breath, and get some rest before jumping into it. I hope your week is just as fun!

Banging On A Kettledrum Won’t Make You Notice Me

I know you’re probably mostly interested this week in hearing about the competition that I just finished, so I promise that I’ll talk about that first…

Last Saturday was a busy day for me. I spent most of the day out at the Dance Death Arena to compete. This was another one of those competitions where, as an amateur, once I paid the entry fee I could register to dance in as many different rounds as I wanted. I signed up to take part in the same rounds that I had done during the last competition I had gone to the Dance Death Arena for back in the beginning of October. That meant I would be doing four different two-dance rounds that day.

Also just like the last competition that I did at the Dance Death Arena, two of the rounds that I danced in had practically no competition, and the other two were super contested. This time around, Sparkledancer and I had only one person dancing against us in the low turnout rounds. With only two couples registered and a big floor, they put in dancers from a couple of other categories to make better use of the space (and the judge’s time).

The other two rounds I did though… those were nuts. When the rounds finally showed up on the board listing the numbers of all the competitors, I think there were twenty-four couples listed in one, and twenty in the other. Because the rounds were so big, they had been divided up into Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals, and then the Quarter-Final round also had to be split in half to give the judges a chance to see and evaluate everyone properly.

One thing that they offered at this competition that I had not seen before, was the ability for people to sign up to dance in a category without a registered partner. There were a number of people registered that had a partner listing of “TBA” and it took me a bit to figure out what that was all about. These individuals weren’t allowed to dance solo, since no solo proficiency rounds were offered during this competition, but anyone who wanted to compete could find a partner just before taking the floor and dance if they wanted to.

President Porpoise was actually at this competition offering his services throughout the day for any ladies that needed a last-minute partner. Being the experienced dance host that he is, he thought it would be a nice way to volunteer to help out at the competition. The last competition I saw him volunteering at, he was stuck at a table checking people in. This job seemed to suit him much better. He’s such a presidential guy… this is why everyone votes for him.

Let’s get this out of the way before I get any farther – I did very well at the competition, even better than I did at the last competition I did at the Dance Death Arena. They gave out ribbons at this competition for everyone that was sixth place or above, so I got four ribbons to take home as a souvenir. Good job me!

I mention the ribbons because they are kind of funny… I noticed the day after the competition that half the ribbons that I received had the name of a completely different competition printed on the front of them. When I saw that, I took a picture and sent it over to Sparkledancer to show her. Turns out that three of the four ribbons she took home had the name of this other competition too! I can’t find any information online about this other competition, so I wonder if these are just recycled ribbons from an old competition that no longer exists? That struck me as funny for some reason.

There are a couple of interesting points of note I want to mention about this competition so I can reflect on them later. First off, a serious note about my scores: I managed to see the breakdown of how I scored with each judge. For the most part, all the judges rated Sparkledancer and I the same as the place that we got at the end of the day, which explains why we took home ribbons with those place numbers when we left. However, there was one judge that rated us last in every round we danced, which is a huge discrepancy when compared with all the other scores we got.

Since finding that out, I’ve been wracking my brain to try to figure out why this judge would do that. Did the judge just not like the way that I looked? Did I offend him in some way early on in the day, and thus he always rated me last? Was there something technical about my dancing that he thought I was doing wrong compared to everyone else?  It’s too bad I didn’t get a chance to ask the judge (if they would have allowed me to do that). I would have loved to know the reason why his marks were so different from all the other judges’ marks.

Funny note now: in between every few adult rounds they would do a round of junior dancers, which is always fun to watch. Many of these kids are barely half my height, and they are already way better than me at dancing. It makes me wish that I had started out at that age…

Anyway, I was in line waiting for one of my heats to begin when they had these little kids out doing a four dance International Latin final. They started out with a Cha-Cha, then did a Samba. Next up, the emcee announced that all of these young dancers would do “the dance of friendship.” When the DJ put on a Rumba, the whole crowd started to laugh. Apparently when you are that young, judges don’t expect to see any romance in your Rumba. Too funny. I’m going to start referring to Rumba as the dance of friendship whenever it comes up in conversation to see if anyone notices.

After driving back home, unpacking all my stuff from my car and sitting down momentarily to take a few deep breaths, I left the house again to head out to a dance party. My Royal Dance Court group was putting on an event that night, and though I was tired out from driving all over the place all day, I knew that I would be needed for a short while at this party.

I got to the venue a few minutes after the lesson we had planned had started. The big reason that I thought it would be good for me to be there was that my Royal Dance Court group had planned on bringing in someone to teach a lesson on American Viennese Waltz. Knowing that not many people feel comfortable with Viennese Waltz at first because they think it is so fast, I thought it would be prudent for me to jump into the lesson to help guide any ladies who were struggling through the footwork.

As I walked through the door and took a moment to assess the situation, I was pulled into a different problem that had nothing to do with the group class that was going on. The DJ was having trouble getting the equipment that they had brought in hooked up into the existing sound system at the venue. Apparently the DJ had played at this venue before and had no trouble, but that was because a specific cable had been plugged into the back of the sound system control box that would easily plug everything into the DJ’s setup. That cable as nowhere to be found.

Being male, and having plugged in enough stereo equipment in my youth to know a thing or two, I went over to see if I could help. I had already arrived late, I figured that if I could get the DJ to tell me what kind of cable was missing, I could run out and pick one up if needed. The problem with that plan was that the DJ couldn’t give me a good description of what the end of the cable looked like, so I had to wedge myself behind the stereo cabinet and look at all the inputs myself.

While back there, I found one cable lying along the floor that wasn’t plugged into anything. I moved it out of the way to avoid accidentally stepping on the cord and breaking it while I looked at the inputs. When I did that, the DJ reached down and picked it up. There was some sort of adapter on both ends of this cable, and when those were pulled off, it turned out to be the type input plug that was needed.

Once I was told that was what everyone had been looking for, I helped get the cable plugged into the back of the stereo system, since I was already wedged back there anyway. When the DJ plugged in the other end, we were able to test everything and verify that we were getting sound from the speakers. First crisis of the night averted! Hooray!

After extracting myself from behind the cabinet, I finally managed to get my dance shoes on. I surveyed the group class again. Sparkledancer had been watching the class while I was helping out with the sound system, and she pointed out to me that there were several ladies that didn’t have partners in the back corner of the room that were struggling with getting their footwork right.

The instructor was just going through the basic Reverse and Natural Turns at the moment, so I jumped in and worked with a couple of the ladies in practice frame to help them get their steps down. Prez told me later that she thought that I had the patience of a saint for working through the figures slowly with those ladies who were struggling.

Most of the lesson centered around just doing Reverse and Natural Turns and Change Steps, since those figures are pretty much a requirement for getting around the room. In the last ten minutes, the instructor went over a figure that would actually be considered American Viennese Waltz. After a half Reverse Turn, we would then do a Cross Body Lead with Underarm Turn, releasing the lady to open up into Side-by-Side Fan Position.

Next he had everyone do that classic move where you bring the lady back toward you so that you can meet up in the middle palm-to-palm – or you could rub noses, or kiss (if you were really good friends) – before opening back up to Side-by-Side Fan again. In place of the standard ending, the instructor had us do something more like Tango Swivels, where we would turn to face each other and point the right leg (left leg for the ladies) to the side, then step forward, collect the lady back into frame and point the left leg (right leg for ladies) to the side, and then we could start up with the Reverse Turns again.

This last piece seems fairly simple if you’ve done any American Viennese Waltz before… based on my description, you may be able to picture exactly what it looks like in your head. They are fairly common movements. However, when we were all given the last part of class to practice, I found even more ladies that were struggling to figure out what their footwork should be. I did my best to try to help out as many as I could, but I didn’t manage to get to all of them before class was over unfortunately.

The DJ didn’t play many more Viennese Waltz songs than normal than night – maybe one or two extra over the two or three you would hear at an average party – so there wasn’t really much opportunity for people to practice what they learned. One of the first songs that the DJ did play was a super slow Viennese Waltz, which everyone got out on the floor to do, but the later songs that were more normal tempo didn’t see as many participants. Ah well, hopefully this class took some of the fear out of the dance style for these people.

Sunday afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekend lesson. With the competition over, it is time to buckle down and get super-serious about the showcase performance coming up. After all, it is less than a month away to opening night!

Before we even started to go over the choreography, Sir Steven had to talk with us about the show. It turns out that one of the instructors from the Fancy Dance Hall had some kind of project at their day job that had to be scheduled for the performance weekend, so he wasn’t going to be able to dance in the production! The other male instructors were going to take over dancing the routines that had been prepared with his female students, but there were a few holes in the storyline of the show where this instructor was going to be performing with one of the females on staff.

That was where Sparkledancer and I would come in. The Artistic Director of the show had asked Sir Steven if we could move our performance to fill in one of those holes in the plot. They had a different act that could easily take over the spot where we were going to be originally plus the next plot point, so one number could be eliminated. However, there was a pivotal moment in the story that was still missing which our number could be used for without changing too much of the choreography.

This would mean that other things about the act would have to change though… our costumes, for one, are going to have to be  completely different. I had only gotten two pieces for mine so far, so that wouldn’t be too hard for me to accommodate. The portrayal is the other thing though. Sparkledancer and I had talked about doing this number to work on portraying an emotion during our dancing. Since I am generally a happy and comedic person, we had wanted to try dancing something somber and sad.

Taking our routine and moving it to this new slot means that it is no longer going to portray a sad part of the story. In fact, the part that it fits now would be mostly happy, with a bittersweet ending. Still… I said that moving the routine would be fine, and Sparkledancer agreed as well, so for now that’s the new, new plan. One of these days I hope to actually get to talk to the Artistic Director, but we haven’t both been at the Fancy Dance Hall at the same time in quite a while, so that just hasn’t happened.

By the time we finished our lesson that day, Sir Steven had mapped out what he said would be the first half of the routine. There is a bit of an intro that still needs to be put together, but that piece will involve knowing where one of the set pieces will be placed, and no one has marked that spot on the dance floor yet. Combined with the section that uses that ‘Horse and Cart’ figure and the ending with the big lift, I’m not sure how much of the choreography we still have left to learn.

Sparkledancer and I actually timed out what we have already during our practice session earlier this week, and from that clock it feels like we still have a lot more that needs to be added. The big piece that Sir Steven gave us that he said comprised ‘the first half’ of the routine is barely 42 seconds when danced to the tempo of the song. That seems… short.

The ‘Horse and Cart’ piece doesn’t seem to be safely workable to the song’s tempo, with the number of steps we were given and the way Sparkledancer was told to stretch her arms… it feels too frantic, and trying to move my feet so fast involves me taking tiny steps. However, if we manage to use the figure as I was told it should be, that only adds another eight seconds. Unless we are looking for our routine to be only a minute and-a-half, it feels like we need quite a bit more.

We’ll talk about it with Sir Steven come Saturday and see what his vision for the rest of the choreography looks like…

Because of the holiday this week, the group class that I normally go to on Wednesday night was cancelled, so the last thing that I did this week was go out to Monday night’s Latin Technique class. As class was getting started, Lord Junior gave us all the option to do either Samba or Cha-Cha, and I was the most vocal in my choice of doing Cha-Cha, so that’s what we did. Before I went to class, I had gone to work out and done mostly plyometric exercises, so while neither Samba or Cha-Cha sounded particularly ideal to me, Cha-Cha seemed like the least-worst choice to me.

We warmed up by practicing Lock Steps slowly. After some explanation about the specific things that Lord Junior wanted each of us to focus on (for me it was making sure to put my heels down at the right time), we did sets of three going forward and backward on our own. Next we partnered up and did the same thing, with the men traveling backward for the first set of three and forward for the second, and the women doing the opposite.

After Lord Junior felt like we had warmed up sufficiently with Lock Steps, he wanted to have us all go through an exercise that he had been doing with a student of his right before class started. This exercise had us doing Three-Step Turns to the right and then back to the left on our own. This was a figure he wanted to use in the choreography we would do during class, so he wanted to make sure everyone could do it well before we started on that.

The final bit of choreography mostly consisted of adding together our Lock Step practice with the Three-Step Turn. With both partners facing each other and our weight on the right leg (ladies on their left), we did one Hand To Hand and then did three Lock Steps with both partners traveling forward. At the end of those three we changed sides and did another Hand To Hand. Coming back we only did two Lock Steps traveling forward and then squared up with our partner to do a basic chasse to the right (ladies to the left).

At the end of the chasse we did a New Yorker to the man’s right side, then pivoted back 180° to go right into a Three-Step Turn. At the end we would catch hands with our partner, do a New Yorker to the man’s left side, pivot around again and finish with another Three-Step Turn. The goal was to make sure at the end that we finished up being solid and balanced and on time with the music.

Most of the class was spent rotating partners and just practicing this simple choreography with the music. However, the first time that Lord Junior rotated through the ladies to dance with Bony, something funny happened… I was dancing, so I didn’t see what actually happened, but suddenly from the other side of the room I hear Bony yell out “Turn!” Lord Junior starts laughing then and says really loudly “Bony! You’re supposed to actually turn there, not just yell ‘Turn!’”

That made the whole class break out into laughter for a little while. Lord Junior ended up telling us all that we needed to go through that round again with the same partners so that he could see if his partner could turn correctly on her second try. Good times.

Look at me, posting things on a holiday! I must be really dedicated to this, or something. I hope that everyone manages to get out dancing this weekend to burn off all those extra calories. I know that I’ll be out somewhere this weekend. There is at least one dance party I know about going on, and I think I have some dance lessons scheduled, and for sure I’ll be getting in some practice time. The dancing never ends!

I Cry Out For Magic, See It Dancing In The Light

Most of what I did this week involved practice. I won’t bore you with practice stories, since they are boring, but it was something that I had to put in time for. After all, I am competing again next weekend, and this time around it looks like there will actually be other people on the floor with me. Hooray…?!? I mean, that does mean that whatever results that I get will be earned, but it also means that I will actually have to earn my results.

On top of that, so many people who I know seem super interested in knowing how well I do at this competition. That makes it feel like there is a lot more pressure to do well than there was when I used to just compete for fun years ago. I have a few people who have already asked me to send them a text message with my results as soon as I get them the day of the competition (Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven were the first two to ask for that, obviously), and others who will want to see or hear  some sort of update from me before the day is out.

Here’s hoping that I will have good news for them come this Saturday…

Flashing back to last Saturday, my day started out meeting up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for coaching, and we spent our time continuing to work on the Tango. I’m actually starting to believe that Tango could improve from being my worst dance to actually being passable on a competitive stage. Granted, there is still a lot of work to do, but I’m starting to feel hopeful.

There were a couple of interesting points that Lord Dormamu told me about while we worked on Tango that morning. First of all, the issue of our frame never came up during our lesson. I specifically asked him about how it looked as we were finishing up our paperwork when we were all done, and he said that it had looked good the whole time, so he hadn’t needed to comment on the frame at all. Yay! I guess the strange comparison to an accordion actually works for me, because that’s all I was thinking about whenever I got into frame.

One thing that we did spend a bit of time discussing was moving in Promenade Position. Lord Dormamu wanted us to drive into Promenade Position much more like an attack than what we had been doing. During the Progressive Link, he made sure that Sparkledancer was coming around me more so that she was offset from me, with our front legs bent inward so that our knees were almost touching. As we compressed into the back leg to begin the drive forward, he wanted our front knees to open out, turning the foot at the same time so that we could power forward.

I stopped to ask about that foot turn. Up until this point, I had heard the official description of the footwork as being a “side-step in Promenade Position” and was taught to take the step with the foot slightly turned inward. He told me that I should never drive forward with my feet like that. According to Lord Dormamu, I can only create real power while moving if I am moving my legs forward or backward, and my toes should always point in the direction (or backing the direction) that my leg is moving. If I am trying to move to the side, I cannot create true power.

Side steps are fine if you are doing something like a box step in Waltz, since the initial step is either forward or backward and then the side step carries through on the momentum. If I want power on my initial step in Promenade Position, I have to rotate my hips and feet to drive myself forward.. The body remains turned toward my partner, so it gives the illusion that I am moving sideways, but my feet are not.

I had never thought about it like that before… once again, this shows why he was a world champion. He knows all the things!

The next big thing we looked at was the Promenade Pivot. Lord Dormamu thought that we looked like we were working way too hard to get around in our pivoting action. He had us go back and step through the figure slowly, and told me to make sure to come around Sparkledancer a lot on my third step. Once again, I had to stop here and ask questions. Several weeks before when Sparkledancer and I had that coaching session with the Princess and she looked at our Tango, she specifically told me to take my first three steps of the figure in a straight line, so that’s what I had been doing since that night.

Lord Dormamu stopped to think about that for a moment, and then told me he wasn’t sure what her train of thought was when she told me that. If I didn’t rotate my third step around Sparkledancer, then I was putting the onus of the turn completely on her. She has to put a lot more force into rotating me than I have to put into rotating her, which is likely why it looks like the pivot is out of control. When I come around, it simplifies everything, and we can pivot under control and stop easily facing the right angle, so I should always be doing it like that.

There was one other big overarching comment that Lord Dormamu made, having to do with rainbows. Apparently on some of the figures it appears as though I am ‘arcing’ over from one leg to another, like a rainbow. He referred to the action as “body flight” and told me that I shouldn’t have that while dancing Tango. In Waltz or Foxtrot, there should be controlled body flight created by the rise and fall of the figures, but Tango does not have that feature. He told me to work on keeping my shoulder line level as much as possible to eliminate the rainbows from here on out.

Once we finished up our lesson with Lord Dormamu, Sparkledancer and I had a bit of a break before our early afternoon lesson with Sir Steven. When we got together, the three of us continued to work on our showcase routine. Sir Steven didn’t give us the completed choreography that day like I thought he would, so I still don’t have that to work on. But we did put together two large chunks of the routine, and I know where on the ‘stage’ that those pieces should execute, so I can at least put those pieces into context now, which is more than I was able to do before.

The one major thing that I had Sir Steven look at for me was the lift that Sparkledancer and I had been working out on our own. Up until that point, while we were working out how to do all the pieces of the lift she and I had been practicing at either her house or my house with some sort of cushioned platform on the floor nearby, in case something went terribly wrong and dropping her was the only way to get out of the lift safely. That really only happened once, when she did something unexpected and her left arm got stuck under my right arm, and I had to drop her because if I had tried to pull her into the proper hold I would have likely dislocated her shoulder.

While I felt safer learning the initial points of the lift with that cushion nearby, the side effect is that I don’t have a mirror in front of me where I can see what is going on. This makes it difficult for me to see what is going wrong when things aren’t working the way that I would like. That’s why I wanted to go through the lift a couple of times with Sir Steven watching that afternoon, so that he could walk around me during a part that I was unsure about and tell me how things looked.

Doing it at the studio that day also allowed me to have a mirror in front of me, so I could see from one side and Sir Steven could see the other side at the same time. Amazing! Unfortunately, the downside of practicing a move like that at a busy dance studio is that lots of people will stop everything that they are doing to gawk when they see me basically shoulder press a human being over my head.

Lord Latin was giving a lesson to one of his female students, and they both stopped what they were doing the first couple of times I did this to openly stare at me. There were some kids that were waiting for a children’s group class to start that were pretty amazed as well. I’m not going to lie – from what I could see in the mirror, it looks pretty cool for me to be holding Sparkledancer up like that. I’d probably have stopped what I was doing to watch as well, had I not been the one doing it…

I think we figured out a way to possibly help with the issue I was having, but it is going to involve Sparkledancer bending herself like a snake as she curls around from laying across my shoulders to ending up in my arms in front of my chest. Spinning around should help her get there, since the momentum of the rotation should help her curl around from back to front. So far, most of our practice of this lift has been done without moving around too much. The end result should be that I am rotating counter-clockwise during most of the lift, but we’re not there quite yet.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to really work on this movement again until after the competition this weekend is over, since I feel like my practice time this week was better spent trying to nail down my Tango so that I can do well this weekend. Oh well…

For a change of pace in Latin Technique class this week, Lord Junior wanted to do something simple in Rumba, but have us all focus on our arm motions. Yay… since all the competition stuff I do now is in a never-broken dance frame, arm motions are not something I spend a lot of time working on, so this class just felt awkward to me. Maybe this is a sign that I need to start doing more dances that involve my arms?

Does this mean that I’ll have to look into picking up American Smooth competitively once more?

Anyway… most of the class time was spent with Lord Junior talking with the ladies about what to do with their arms. That is to be expected, since there was only one of me and a lot more ladies to worry about. His comment to me was to move my arms while I moved my body, and make it look masculine while I did so. That was the extent of my instruction on arms that night.

Because the focus was on the arm motions, there were only a few figures strung together for this class. The figures that the ladies were given allowed them to do some variations with their arms for further practice. We started out with the ladies already out in Fan Position, having them close and going right into a Hockey Stick. This involved just normal inward and outward motions with the free arm as you walked. At the end of the Hockey Stick, the guys would check forward while rotating the lady’s wrist slightly to have her go into that Switchback figure that Lord Junior likes, turning to face away from us and putting their left arm up over their head and their left leg pointed backward.

Coming out of that was another quick rotation and then a few steps backward in the direction we had come from. The ladies were given some sort of fancy over-the-head movement to bring their arm down as they rotated. We ended things at that, allowing us to go back and practice everything quite a bit, and also allowing Lord Junior to make fun of me for how awkward my arm movements were.

I didn’t do as bad as Bony did though. The first few times we went into the Hockey Stick and she was moving her arm while walking, it looked like she was trying to backhand someone. That certainly caught Lord Junior’s attention, and he had to make a point to tell all the ladies that wasn’t really a good arm motion for a Rumba. That became a running joke for the rest of the class that night – do something wrong, and you’d get backhanded by Bony’s ‘arm motions.’

For Wednesday night’s Standard Technique class, Sparkledancer somehow managed to convince everyone else in attendance that we should work on Tango for the evening, so that she and I could get what would essentially be monitored practice in while we were there. I was all for it, since practice is really the only way I’m going to get any better with the Tango!

Lord Junior knows that Sparkledancer and I are going to compete this weekend, so he wanted to have a few figures that were basic steps we could use to practice, and also some Open-level challenging steps to push us a bit. According to him, all of these figures are things that are leadable in a social setting, assuming the lady I am dancing with has a basic understanding of International Tango. Sometimes I question when he makes claims like that… the Natural Pivots we did that night, for instance, just seem dangerous to try with a random partner.

We started the pattern off facing diagonal wall and doing two basic Tango Curved Walks, and went right into an Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. To mess with the timing a bit, in the middle of the Open Reverse Turn Lord Junior had us add in two extra quick steps backwards before completing the figure. I’ll admit, half the time I did the figure that night, I totally forgot to put in those two extra steps!

Coming out of that, we went into a Progressive Link and then added in what I thought was the most challenging figure of the evening: the Fallaway Whisk from Promenade Position. When I first saw Lord Junior doing the step, for some reason I thought he was rotating as he crossed his foot behind, so I ended up doing the step just like a Twist Turn a few times before I managed to figure out what was going on. We did two of these right in a row, which we ended up putting into a corner of the room based on how much rotation was created before we came out.

I was told that, with practice, I could have made them travel more down the line of dance, but trying to get them to turn that much on my first night was not going to happen. Since we had now shifted to travel down a different wall, Lord Junior decided to keep up the rotation that we had started and add in three Natural Pivots that continued down that wall. As we came out of the third one, we had to immediately stop our rotation and bring our feet together, facing either wall or diagonal wall. Right at the end, we added on another Progressive Link to possibly go into something more, but by then we had run out of time in class.

So it’s on to the competition this weekend. Hooray! Once more, I will be journeying to the Dance Death Arena to test myself against other worthy adversaries. How will I do this time? That’s the big question that everyone seems excited to find out.  Tune in next week and I’ll let you know how things went!