I Speak To You Like The Chorus To The Verse

All of my lessons, and all of my practice time over the last two months have been focused on preparing for the competition that I went to this past weekend. And you know what? It was… underwhelming.

This particular competition did not have as many people sign up to participate as they have had in years past. On top of that, the majority of the people who did sign up were only dancing Newcomer or Bronze (or both). While that did give me a fair number of competitors to dance against in two of the four rounds that I signed up for, the other two rounds had no one in them. Not. A. One. This meant that for half of the events I danced in last Saturday, Sparkledancer and I were on the floor by ourselves. The organizers didn’t even have other events for different age groups or skill levels in International Standard that they could put on the floor at the same time to be more efficient.

The rounds where I did have other competitors to test myself against weren’t much of a test either. Most of the people who signed up for those two rounds primarily danced American Smooth, and no one had ever really told them the changes that they would have to make to the way they danced to do International Standard. Sparkledancer and I swept the field pretty handily because we had actually been practicing International Standard, so we knew what the judges would be looking for.

But… I kind of feel terrible about that. Like, winning in this way wasn’t really meaningful.

Other than that bitter taste from the results of the competition, the event was actually a lot of fun. I was able to get to the Dance Death Arena early enough so that I could run through my routines a couple of times on the floor there, and adjust (i.e. pull back) the length of my stride so that I would fill the floor from corner to corner in each routine. I happened to know two of the judges, so I got real feedback from them on how things looked while I was competing. One of the judges was Lord Dormamu, which was why Sparkledancer and I had signed up for the competition in the first place (because he told us we should). Another judge that was supposed to be there that day ended up getting sick, so the organizers called the Princess for help and she actually showed up to be a judge too.

I wasn’t super worried about how the results would turn out after meeting the competition. In fact, I may not have taken things as seriously as I probably should have. Case and point: during one of the events that Sparkledancer and I danced unopposed, a Waltz number, we spent the whole time talking about what kind of dessert foods would be good to eat at that moment. Apparently Sparkledancer doesn’t like cake batter. I think that cake batter is delicious, though it’s not something that I have sitting around in my house to eat like… ever. Luckily she agreed with me that cookie dough would have been pretty good, so we would have been able to find something to eat. Not exactly a normal thing to discuss in the middle of a dance competition, but that totally happened.

After we had finished dancing in our session and the awards for the International Standard rounds were handed out, Sparkledancer and I had both signed up to volunteer at the competition for a few hours to help. I changed out of my competition outfit and put on something slightly more comfortable, and then I ended up out at the front registration table. Unfortunately, because the rounds that were scheduled for that day were already half over, and not too many competitors had signed up overall, there wasn’t much for me to actually do while I was there. I answered a few questions, checked in a couple of competitors who showed up a little late to the party, and directed a lot of people to the restrooms. Super exciting work, right?

Just as Sparkledancer and I were finishing up our volunteer shift at the front desk, we could hear the emcee making announcements about some upcoming events that they were looking for more people to join in for. I guess they had scheduled two ‘fun’ rounds, which ended up being for Hustle and West Coast Swing, but they had very few people who had signed up for them. The emcee was telling everyone that they were still allowing people to join, so they should go sign up at the front desk if interested at all.

As we were counting down to those rounds, some of the braver young couples were trying to decide if they could do the dance styles. The hallway next to where the front desk was became a sort of impromptu practice ground for undecided competitors to see if they could hack it. There were a few boys who seemed to know how to Hustle, and they managed to pair off with a couple of ladies who knew the steps well enough to get by, so they all signed up for that round.

The West Coast Swing was a different matter entirely. After the Hustle kids left, some new kids took over the hallway and were trying to figure out if they could do West Coast Swing or not. One girl who told everyone that she knew West Coast Swing kind of took charge of the situation and was trying to explain the Sugar Push basic to a couple who were debating on signing up… but she was telling the guy the wrong steps, and they kept messing up. After watching this in my peripheral vision for about ten minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left the front desk and took over the situation.

I maaaaaaay have caused some trouble in doing so, however. See, I started trying to help out the guy who was trying to learn the West Coast Swing basic, pointing out the problems in his footwork and getting him to do it correctly. The girl who had been trying to teach the couple before found out I was there, and then she wanted me to show her how to do it too.Another couple of competitors stopped by to watch what we were doing, and soon they were trying to pick up the steps at the same time. Then the girl who had been trying to teach everyone before I showed up started asking questions about the female part. I tried to explain as best I could, but it had been a long time since I had learned that part of the steps, so I ended up flagging down Sparkledancer to have her come over and help.

As Sparkledancer and I were demonstrating the steps and explaining things to all of these interested ‘students’, we ended up drawing in so many people that we were blocking off the hallway. Eventually, someone on staff for the venue had to come and disperse everyone because they needed to keep the walkways clear for safety reasons. Oops… my bad.

In demonstrating to these competitors just how much they didn’t know about West Coast Swing though, I think I ended up discouraging some of them from entering the event that was going to happen. By the time that heat came up, the emcee made an announcement that only one couple had signed up to participate, so they were throwing open the floor to anyone that thought they could dance West Coast Swing, whether they had a competitor number or not. The emcee managed to goad the organizers of the competition into dancing, and then managed to convince the competition DJ and her husband to get on the floor as well.

Sparkledancer told me that we should do it too, seeing as how we had just scared away all the other kids. I was no longer wearing my competitor number and neither Sparkledancer nor were wearing dance shoes anymore, but I agreed. So, I stripped down to a t-shirt and took to the floor in my tennis shoes to try to dance. By the time I got on the floor, they were up to eight couples. We were told that they would do this in two rounds: in round one, each of the six judges would go tap one of the competitive couples who they wanted to see dance in the finals. Round two, all six judges would deliberate and assign each of us a placement.

Somehow Sparkledancer and I managed to make the finals. I didn’t actually do anything fancy, since I couldn’t turn myself all that well in tennis shoes, and Sparkledancer’s street shoes weren’t all that great either, but I guess that we managed to impress one of the judges enough with the few moves that we did do to get chosen to move on to the next level. Hooray!

You can probably guess how the final round went though. After dancing for about 90 seconds, the judges deliberated briefly and awarded first place to the competition organizer and his wife. No surprise there. Second place went to the DJ and her husband. Also no surprise there. But third place… third place went to Sparkledancer and I! What in the world…?

Of all the results that I got from this competition, that is probably the one that I am most proud of. One of the judges even gave me a third place ribbon so that I could commemorate this victory for all time. I’m going to put up a special hook just to hang this ribbon on my wall, so that anyone who comes to my house can see it and be amazed.

I’d like to dedicate that pseudo-victory to Joanna and Shawn. Deep down inside, I know that you two made it all possible. 🙂

Once the afternoon rounds finished up, there was a brief break to allow everyone to get dinner, and then other festivities were planned in the evening. First off, the organizers had convinced one of the judges to give a group class to all competitors who wanted to stay for the evening and any other dancers/spectators who wanted to pay a $10 entry fee, and then once that was done they were going to turn the DJ loose to spin some tunes so that everyone could just dance the night away for fun. I decided to stick around for both events.

A funny thing happened while I was waiting around for the class to start – I was hanging around along the side of the dance floor exchanging superficial pleasantries with other people who wandered by that I recognized, when suddenly Sparkledancer walked over toward me and turned her back to all the other people in the room. She proceeded to tell me about how she had just been in the bathroom, and there had been two girls in there with her who had been in the competition earlier that day. Apparently they had danced a few rounds in International Standard (two of those rounds against the two of us, as it happens), and both girls and their partners did not do super well.

During a break in the afternoon, both ladies decided to approach Lord Dormamu and ask him why it was that they had placed so poorly. As soon as Sparkledancer said that, I thought to myself, ‘Oh man, that probably did not go well for them.’ See, Lord Dormamu is a super nice guy, who is very charismatic and loves to joke around… unless you are talking dance with him. That is his passion, and if you are doing things wrong, he won’t hesitate to tell you about it.

These girls apparently called him an ass because he told both of them that their frame and posture needed work if they wanted to do better in International Standard. That answer didn’t sound so bad to me, because based on the work that I’ve done with Lord Dormamu, frame and posture always need work, since that is the foundation for everything else you do. Those girls had been told by whoever their regular dance instructor is that when competing in Bronze International Standard, the only thing that matters is their footwork and technique in dancing, and that frame isn’t a big deal.

When Sparkledancer said that, I had to stop and scratch my head a little. How could that instructor say that ‘footwork and technique’ are the only things that matter in Bronze Standard, but then say that frame doesn’t matter? The frame and posture are one of the most basic techniques, pretty much underlying everything. How in the world could this person make a distinction like that?

Both of the girls walked through the room at that point, and Sparkledancer pointed them out to me so that I would know who she was talking about. I didn’t remember dancing against them earlier in the day, but both had obviously changed out of their competition gear, so not recognizing them wasn’t too surprising.

Then the organizer of the competition took to the stage to make an announcement. They were waiting a few more minutes for people to finish up dinner and change back into their dance shoes, but the plan was to start the group class shortly. And, he was really excited to announce that the person that would be teaching the group class was… Lord Dormamu!

Suddenly the conversation that Sparkledancer told me became twice as hilarious.

I’ve never seen Lord Dormamu teach to a crowd before. Obviously with his level of success in the dance arena over the years, the man can take on students and be paid a ridiculous amount of money for his time in private lessons, so teaching group lessons is probably not something he does very often. This class that he gave was interesting, though it was all things that I have heard before in working privately with him. But based on my estimation of the average skill level of the competitors and social dancers that attended the class, the information that they received was worth its weight in gold.

I’m not just saying that because Lord Dormamu happens to be my coach either. I have been in group workshops like this that are taught by judges before. Judge Dread happens to give them all the time around where I live. In those other workshops I’ve seen, usually the judge-person goes over different patterns of figures, and throws in a little bit of technique on top of that for the more advanced students. Pretty standard fare I’m sure you’ve also experienced before.

Lord Dormamu gave something more like a lecture, where he laid out what it is that he sees as a couple of the most important points of dancing International Standard, and used a basic amalgamation of figures in Foxtrot as a demonstration tool for the points he was making. I happen to think that these sorts of discussions about dance philosophy are much more interesting than learning figures, but maybe that’s just me.

In the past I’ve mentioned what Lord Dormamu told me were the five major points that I need to be thinking about when I am competing: 1) posture/frame 2) connection 3) footwork 4) timing and 5) alignment. In this class he wanted to talk to everyone about just three of those point that he saw a lot of competitors doing incorrectly while he was judging (footwork, timing and connection), but he had to touch on the other two briefly in order for the information that he was conveying to truly make sense.

Being regular students of Lord Dormamu’s, Sparkledancer and I got dragged into the spotlight during class, though it was worse for her than it was for me. Obviously to truly give people an idea of what he was talking about, Lord Dormamu needed to do some dancing and demonstrate with a partner, so Sparkledancer got to play Dance Dummy for the majority of the class. This actually came back to haunt her during the social dance later, unfortunately. I was singled out a few times when Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the correct word to use in English. I’ve gotten pretty good at following his train of thought during my lessons with him, so when he couldn’t figure out the right word he would turn to me and see if I could help him finish his sentences.

What was the most fun for me though was watching the progression of facial expressions on the two ladies that Sparkledancer had pointed out to me before the class started. When Lord Dormamu first took the stage, there was a look that seemed more like anger or disgust. By the time that the class ended, the look they were giving him bordered on wonder, and they were laughing along with all of his jokes like everyone else in class. Maybe after getting a more thorough explanation of what he was looking for while judging they had changed their tune about his answer for why they placed so poorly during the International Standard rounds.

That just left the dance party on Saturday night to celebrate, and then I would finally get to go home. I got the impression early on that many of the competitors I saw at the dance party that night didn’t really go out social dancing very often, if at all. There’s a good chance that if the DJ hadn’t started playing songs right away as the group class ended, many of those people would have left the event, never to be seen again.

At the beginning of the party, the competitors refused to mingle all that much. I saw many of them only head out to the floor to dance with their competitive partners, or just hanging around the edge of the dance floor with their competitive ‘team’ members from their home studios. That worried me a little. I think the DJ saw this too though, because after the first couple of songs she made an announcement that she was going to play a Foxtrot and make it a mixer dance to help people meet other dancers that they didn’t know. This tactic really seemed to break the ice, and afterward the dance floor was filled with many more dancers and people were beginning to rotate through partners as I would have expected. Genius!

Earlier I mentioned that being used as Lord Dormamu’s dance dummy didn’t end up being a good thing for Sparkledancer. During the dance party, I had been wandering around the hall, just talking to people, going out to dance occasionally, and mostly trying to blend into the background just to observe. Sparkledancer came and found me at one point and told me that she was having a hard time getting other guys at the party to dance with her. When she would ask them, they would either refuse her, or while they were dancing they would be extremely tense and apologize profusely every time being tense caused them to mess up.

She was worried that being used to demonstrate so much in the class with Lord Dormamu made the guys at the party afraid of her, as if they thought she was better than them. That made me feel terrible for her, so I did my best to dance with her more through the rest of the evening. It’s so weird that guys will act like that. After all, if we had a female teaching the group class, and the female instructor had used me as a demonstration tool, I probably would have had more women seek me out for dances later in the evening. It’s funny that men seem to avoid dancing with women that they view as better than them, but women gravitate toward men that they think are better to dance with. What a weird way for our brains to be wired!

And that… was my weekend. I think I have rambled on long enough on just this topic, so I’ll leave things here for now. Until next week, keep on dancing!


There’s A Magic Running Through Your Soul

As you can probably imagine, last weekend I spent a lot of time running through all of my routines, because this coming Saturday I am competing. On top of actually competing at some point in the early afternoon, the organizers of the competition sent out a notice asking if anyone would be able to volunteer to help out. I guess many of the people in their normal pool of volunteers had other obligations they couldn’t get out of, so they were desperate. Being the nice guy that I am, I signed up for the shift that should be just after I get done actually dancing on Saturday. Showing up to volunteer with my number still pinned to my back will get me bonus points, right?

Anyway, I started off last Saturday morning by meeting up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven to run rounds. Sir Steven thought that things were looking pretty good for the competition, and didn’t have much in the way of notes for the two of us that day. The takeaway from him that day was to practice and fix just one thing in each dance style, rather than try to overwhelm us with a bunch of points when we are so close to performance.

In the Waltz, the point he wanted us to work on was continuing to have our knees moving forward as we were lowering into the next step. Obviously if you are moving backward the effect is slightly different, but I’m sure the point makes sense if you’ve done Waltz before. For the Foxtrot he told Sparkledancer to work on keeping herself off to the left more throughout the whole dance. During the Tango he could see that we had been working on bringing our feet together later during figures where we close them, but it is not consistent. He told us to keep practicing that action so that every time we close our feet we bring them together at the last moment before we start moving again. Finally, in the Quickstep he wanted me to work on extending my step further on the first step into the Natural Spin Turn, because apparently the step looks stunted when compared to all the other steps.

Once I finished up with Sir Steven, I had another session scheduled to work with Lord Dormamu. He told Sparkledancer and I that he was going to do the same thing that Sir Steven did – have us run through each of our routines that day so that he could give us an overall impression and correct any glaring issues before we head off to the competition. He ended up giving me more notes than Sir Steven did, but that’s not totally surprising. Lord Dormamu is more vociferous than Sir Steven, after all.

Again we started with the Waltz. Overall the Waltz was good, there were just a few items that Lord Dormamu wanted us to keep in mind as we danced in the competition. The first thing that he stopped me to change was how I was turning my head as I closed my feet on a Natural Turn. Remember how I mentioned that turning my head at that point was throwing me off? Well apparently it was because I was turning it too far. I had been told to turn so that I was looking over Sparkledancer’s head, but because she has been working on her positioning and is now further back and to the left, this means that I am turning my head a lot. Lord Dormamu told me to turn my head no more than to the point where my chin lines up with my sternum. That makes things a lot easier!

Besides that, we were cautioned to make sure that we change direction on the last step of each Chasse from Promenade Position that we do. I guess we sometimes allowed the final step of the chasse to continue traveling sideways, which would throw off the first step of any figure coming afterward. Finally, Lord Dormamu wasn’t entirely happy with the first step of the Hesitation Change. He thought that the first step looked really weak compared to the second step and the line we created on beat three, so he wanted me to practice lowering myself more after the preceding figure and extending my leg to put a more consistent amount of power into the first step to matches the next.

Next up we looked at Foxtrot. Foxtrot continues to be our strongest dance style, likely because that is the one we have spent the most time looking over with Lord Dormamu in the last year. There were only a couple of pointers that he had for us to keep in mind going into this weekend. First off, Sparkledancer was told to keep her head closed as we go through the Reverse Turns. Whether she should open her head or keep it closed during the figure changes almost every other time we see Lord Dormamu, but she made sure to confirm that he wants it closed and won’t change his mind before this event is over. Besides that, I was told to continue working on my lowering action through the ending steps of figures and maintaining that through the beginning of the next figure. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s not perfect yet, so I still have to focus on practicing.

Tango was where we spent the most time going over things that Lord Dormamu wanted us to clean up. Most of the items that he pointed out were for the figures in the second half of the first long wall, though he did also want Sparkledancer to keep working on pulling her frame wider. When we would get into frame to start dancing, he would come up behind her, hook his hands inside her elbows and pull outward to try to “help” with that.

The first thing that he mentioned was about the Natural Promenade Turn (or Promenade Pivot, depending on how you learned it). He was happy that we had managed to slow down the rotation during the turn to his liking, but he said that when we continued into the Closed Promenade afterward the first step was missing the slight foot flicking action that all our other Promenades had. He postulated that it was because we were rotating and never actually stopped before we went into that next step forward, so to fix the problem he wanted us to be sure to come to a complete stop in the rotation before going into that step. That definitely seemed to fix the issue.

The other issue was with the Right-side Lunge that was in the first corner. Lord Dormamu admitted to us that day that based on what the approved syllabus is now versus what it was all those years ago when he originally designed this routine, he personally would no longer consider this figure to be a part of the Bronze syllabus. So… yeah. That makes me worried about whether anyone else might come to that same conclusion and possibly invigilate us for having it in our routine. That thought is going to bother me now whenever I am out in a competition doing that move in front of a judge. Sigh…

When he saw us go through the figure the first time that day, he thought that we were off time as we hit the line, like we were rotating too slowly. I managed to tighten that up by rotating my third step more as I came around Sparkledancer, which meant that the step into the lunge had to travel less, speeding up the process so that everything hit sharply on time. Lord Dormamu also wanted me to put in a bit of an arc as I shaped Sparkledancer into the lunge. He told me I should (seriously, this was his exact comparison) think about swinging up and over like a lumberjack swings an axe when chopping wood.

This was already pretty funny because Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the English word for ‘lumberjack’ at first, so he was trying to describe the person doing the action to me so that I could come up with the word for him, but once I had figured out the word he was looking for Sparkledancer had to stop and ask if that made her the hatchet. Then all three of us devolved into a string of jokes for a few minutes that somehow ended up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer deciding that for this competition she should wear a red plaid flannel dress while I was told to show up wearing a ‘Canadian tuxedo’ (with apologies to any actual Canadians who might see this). I guess I should have started working on growing the requisite beard a while ago. My bad.

Finally, we finished by going through Quickstep briefly. Overall the Quickstep was good, since there isn’t much to the routine. I was told that I kept the timing of the steps correct and the alignment of the figures was by the book except for the places I needed to adjust to get around people, so if I could replicate that at the competition then we should be golden. The only real suggestion was for Sparkledancer. Lord Dormamu wanted her to try to quadruple the amount of volume she was creating in our frame during the Quickstep. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was joking or not when he asked her to do that much, so I’m making a note of it so that I can remind her to practice bending that much.

I want to go off on a slight tangent here, because I saw something on the way to a dance party on Saturday night that was… strange. Now I have to tell someone else, so I’m writing it here.

Before I headed off to help set up for the monthly party that my Royal Dance Court group hosted on Saturday night, I had stopped off to get a sandwich to eat. Once I had my food and took a seat at a table to eat it quickly, I looked out the window nearby and saw a group of teenage boys hanging around outside causing a ruckus. Normally this wouldn’t be of note, since it was a nice day out and I would expect teenage to be hanging around in public places trying to attract the attention of teenage girls (I did this myself in my youth, so I totally understood why they were there).

What struck me as odd was what one of the boys was wearing. Attached to his belt he had a holster, and in the holster were what I can only describe as three kunai. If you don’t know what those are, a kunai is the kind of knife that you have probably seen anime ninja characters using. It has a short, leaf-shaped blade and a handle that ends in a ring that you can tie things to. You’ll see them used as both melee weapons and for throwing. I have certainly seen these types of blades in cartoons many times when I was growing up, but I guess I didn’t know that people could actually buy knives like that in real life.

Why in the world did this teenager have knives like this, and why in the world was he carrying them around openly in what was more or less a public shopping area? I couldn’t figure out if he just had them as a prop to try to make himself look cooler, or if his hobby involved knife throwing. Maybe Kunai Guy (that’s what I started calling him in my head) was concerned about ninjas attacking him while he was trying to pick up girls. Maybe the sandwich shop I stopped at was in a much more dangerous part of town than I realized. After all, if there were roving gangs of ninjas lurking about there, I wouldn’t see them until it was too late, right? Sneaky ninjas…

So yeah. That totally happened on my way to a dance party. For reals.

Anyway, the party that my Royal Dance Court group and I had set up that night was going to be a lot of fun. We had gone out of our way to get a hold of the famous Judge Dread, internationally acclaimed ballroom coach and adjudicator, and convinced him to come teach a class on American Foxtrot for us before our dance party. Also, apparently Judge Dread knows who I am, and knows that Sparkledancer and I are working with Lord Dormamu. He stopped both of us to ask how our training was going, and he wanted to know what competitions we would be doing next. Turns out that, while he won’t be a judge at the competition this coming weekend, he will be a judge at the competition I was planning to do next month. No pressure there or anything, right?

We ended up with a lot of people coming out to attend Judge Dread’s class, which I sort of expected. What I didn’t expect was that when all of the men and women lined up to dance together, there was an even number of Leads and Follows. That meant that I didn’t have to jump into the class to fix the ratio, like I usually have to. I was kind of paying attention to what he was teaching from the sidelines, but not really. I was more intrigued by the game that Sparkledancer seemed to be playing with Bony, where she kept grabbing items off of the snack table and sneaking them over to where Bony was sitting by the front door to see how much she could get Bony to eat.

For those of you that are curious, Bony managed to finish about half a bowl of chocolate-covered pretzels before she asked Sparkledancer to stop dropping food on the desk.

On Tuesday night, rather than getting to go out and put in some practice time, I had to go out and meet up with my Royal Dance Court gang for our quarterly meeting. In all reality, I don’t feel like there was really a reason for me to be there, other than the fact that I am the Keeper of Records and I have to take all the notes. No one really brought up any business that night where I felt like I had any input, so I sat there quietly wishing that I was out practicing all of the stuff that I had been told to practice over the weekend. That’s the same way I feel sometimes when I get stuck in meetings at work, but at least I get paid to go to those meetings.

One of the points brought up that I did pay attention to was the fact that we have ‘officially’ sold out all of the seats for our upcoming formal party in May. There was a family that came to our dance party on Saturday night who thought that the formal sounded like a fun idea, so they bought up the last four seats. This means that all of the originally planned tables have been filled, and we have gotten enough money from ticket sales to cover all of the expenses for the evening.

Unofficially there is room in the venue to add one more table if anyone else wants to go, and we can do so without adding much in the way of cost. The caterer that we contracted with to provide dinner is already planning on bringing enough food to feed a hundred people, and right now we have sold ninety seats. Adding in another table wouldn’t change the food equation at all. I guess the ladies in the Royal Dance Court had decided to leave the extra table out unless absolutely necessary because there would be more space on the dance floor without those ten extra people dancing about.

Since we have sold all the tickets for this year’s formal, I guess that meant that it was time to start planning for next years formal, because the ladies who were at the meeting had already decided on and tentatively booked a date for next year with the Endless Dance Hall. All of the ladies seemed to be happy with the date that was selected, so I bet by the end of the week one of them will have called the Endless Dance Hall to solidify the reservation and send in the deposit. I just couldn’t believe that we were already working on an event that far in the future. Personally I would have preferred to wait until this year’s formal was over before starting to plan the next one, but what do I know. I’m just a boy.

That was really the most exciting part of the meeting on Tuesday that needs to be remembered. I did finally get some printouts of data from our past monthly dance parties that I can start inputting into a digital format to do some trend analysis and find ways to make our parties better, but that probably isn’t exciting to many other people. The eyes of all the older ladies that run the Royal Dance Court sort of glaze over when I talk about doing this kind of thing, so maybe it’s something that only I care about.

The last thing of note that I did this week was to go to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night to work on some Foxtrot with Lord Junior. This week we did some fun figures that I have seen before, but hadn’t gone through in a long time, so it was nice to have a refresher. I think only one other person who was in class that night might have also seen the figures before, so the progression would have seemed pretty new to everyone else.

We started with a prep step into a Feather and then went into a Gold-level figure called the Bounce Fallaway with Weave Ending. After practicing this figure several times, Lord Junior felt like everyone in class had it down so he upgraded our progression by swapping out the Weave Ending with an Open-level figure called a Tumble Turn with Feather Finish. The Tumble Turn portion was probably the hardest thing for everyone to pick up that night, and caused a real issue for the older lady who had joined us for class (more on that in a bit). Once Lord Junior had gotten everyone comfortable with the Tumble Turn, he had us change the last step of the Feather Finish into a checking action so that we could add on a Silver-level figure called a Top Spin to finish up.

Near the end of class, we had an incident where the other gentleman who had come for class that night was leading the older lady who tends to join us most weeks through the entire progression for practice. What we think happened was that she tried to cross her foot in front instead of behind during the Tumble Turn and ended up tripping her partner. He did the best that he could trying to stay up, but being an older gentleman himself he just didn’t have the strength or balance to hold both himself and the lady up, and they fell to the floor.

No one was hurt, but the older lady seemed to be really embarrassed from the fall, so she told Lord Junior that she thought that was enough for the night and took off before class was over. The rest of us spent the remaining minutes running through the progression. After we finished up, Lord Junior was standing in the middle of the floor looking troubled. He wandered over to where we were all sitting and changing our shoes and said that he felt really bad about what had happened, and he might need to have a conversation with this lady soon about her coming to the Standard Technique class.

See, while he was glad that this older lady came to class from time to time and he enjoyed working with her, she is old enough that she had real troubles moving, her sense of balance is out of sorts, and she struggles to remember the footwork for the figures we go over. That’s not his diagnosis, the lady freely admits to these problems even when dancing with me. I guess there have been weeks when Lord Junior had planned out earlier in the day to do some really hard stuff to challenge those of us who dance International Standard competitively, but when this lady shows up he throws out those harder figures and techniques in favor of steps that he knows she can get through.

Man… that sounds rough. I feel bad for him even having to consider having that conversation. Here’s hoping that she doesn’t take it the wrong way and give up dancing entirely. 😦

Yay, it’s competition weekend finally! I’ve gotten emails from the organizers of this particular competition saying that they have “compressed” the schedule this year. The unwritten implication of that statement seems to be that they had a lot fewer people sign up to compete than they were originally expecting. That’s too bad. The one nice thing about compressing the schedule though is that they took out all of Saturday morning in the compression, so now I don’t have to dance until early afternoon. Hooray for me! That gives me a chance to be much more awake before taking to the floor, which I am very happy about.

Also in that email they mentioned that they changed the plans for the evening session on Saturday. Rather than doing a bunch of weird events and all the championship rounds, they pushed those back to the afternoon session because they had time. Instead, they have set up a free group class from one of the adjudicators for all competitors plus a social dance for anyone wanting to dance the night away. The social dance is apparently open to all, not just people who were in the competition.

Normally going to a social dance wouldn’t be much in the way of news for me, but during this social dance they are holding some ‘extra’ rounds to add in some fun, and one of those actually sounds interesting. There will be two of these extra rounds the email mentioned – one is a Jack & Jill Swing, and one a random-pairing Waltz. I have never done a competition where I get paired with a random lady before, but I do consider myself to be pretty OK at the Waltz at this point in my life. I’m thinking about signing up for that event as a test of my ability to lead properly. I hope they let me participate!

Tune in next week to find out all about what kind of crazy stuff I get myself into this weekend!

If I Had One More Day I Could Be Better

There were so many things going on this past week! I’m probably going to leave a few things out to try to avoid making this super long. Let me try to arrange what I think is most important to remember into some sort of coherent framework…

Let’s begin with events from last Saturday. The first thing that I did in the morning was to head out to the Fancy Dance Hall to work with Sir Steven. There is not a whole lot here to make note of – we were mostly running rounds because of the competition coming up in a couple of weeks. I know that’s not the most interesting thing to talk about, so I’ll just move on to what I did next that was new and exciting.

After finishing with Sir Steven, I got a bit of a break to hunt down something for lunch and then I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall for the coaching session that was planned for that day between Lady Tella and Sparkledancer. In a surprise twist, it ended up that Sir Bread, who is Lady Tella’s professional competitive partner, was also hanging around at the Endless Dance Hall that afternoon, so Sparkledancer and I actually got input from the two of them that day. Double the fun! The majority of what we spent time on was exactly what I had originally planned on, which was Lady Tella talking with Sparkledancer about the position that she is working on twisting her body into. I was just there as a male body who was roughly Sparkledancer’s size.

That’s an important note right there. As I’ve mentioned in the past, both Sir Bread and Lady Tella are tiny compared to me. Sir Bread told me that day as he was showing me something that he is only 5’6”, and Lady Tella is shorter than him. Since the two of them look like typical dance instructors that you’ve probably seen (i.e. extremely thin from spending all day doing cardio training), I felt like a giant when I was next to either of them, since I am at least half-a-foot taller and much, much more muscular. When Lady Tella would get into frame with me to demonstrate something for Sparkledancer, I instinctively tried to hold on very gently because I was afraid of accidentally breaking her!

Luckily no one was crushed by me that day, and what Sparkledancer and Lady Tella were able to go over was extremely useful to her. Sparkledancer told me afterward that a lot of what Lady Tella said wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking – many of the points are things that Lord Junior, Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu had been telling her to do for forever. The difference here is that Lady Tella could actually bend herself properly in the manner that she was asking Sparkledancer to bend. If she told Sparkledancer to keep her core straight and bend her body backward from the ribs up, she would then show Sparkledancer how she did that, and get into frame with me to give her a rough picture of what it would look like.

The entire session was spent on Waltz, except for the last few minutes when Sir Bread threw out a challenge to see if we could go through our Foxtrot routine a couple of times while applying the pointers that he and Lady Tella had given us that afternoon. While we were going over things, the staff at the Endless Dance Hall was setting the venue up for some kind of event that was taking place in the evening. Because there was a lot of noise and movement going on around us, I was easily distracted, so I only caught about half of the things that Lady Tella was telling Sparkledancer. I know, I should have been paying more attention… but they weren’t talking to me, and sometimes my attention wanders.

But there were a couple of things that I was asked to do, and those I did pay attention to. Hooray for me! The only major note that I got from Lady Tella was about the Hesitation Change that is in one corner of the routine. She watched Sparkledancer and I go through the figure, and didn’t think that there was enough going on that separated the figure to make it seem like a deliberate hesitation, versus just pausing like someone was in my way. She told me that I could help Sparkledancer shape properly for the step by keeping my right leg bent to stay low, but driving out slightly to the right with my right hip. This very much changes the way that I have normally done this figure, so it feels very different to me now. I assume that means it looks very different as well.

Sir Bread interjected a bunch of pointers for me throughout this session, so I didn’t feel like I was just being used as a Dance Dummy the whole time. One point that he told me which was different from the rule I have been operating under for years was about my left arm. He personally thought that I was keeping my left arm too low. I told him that I had been told by several people over the years that I should be keeping my hand (and thus the lady’s hand) level with my partner’s eyes, which is why my forearm was down. He told me that he has always been told to keep his hand level with his own eyes.

According to him, if my partner keeps bending herself backward over my right hand further and further, keeping my left hand level with her eyes is going to make it drop lower and lower as Sparkledancer improves, which is no good. On top of that, as we progress further through the ranks, I will come across spots more frequently that are like the Hesitation Change we were looking at earlier, where Sparkledancer is trying to extend herself further create a particular line as we pause. Keeping my hand level with her eyes means that I will be adjusting my arm every time that she does something like that. By keeping my hand up higher and in a permanent spot  will help my partner maintain her own shapes better by working off my arm.

Another point where Sir Bread stopped me to talk about something was with my Natural Turn into the Natural Spin Turn. He thought that I should be shaping my whole body more as I went into the height of the Natural Turn, bending myself into more of an arc with my left hip out. This is something that I do during the Reverse Turns that are in the routine, but I guess it doesn’t look that way when I do the Natural Turns. Interestingly enough, when I put some emphasis into that shape, it made it much easier for me to remember to turn my head slightly and look over top of Sparkledancer like Sir Steven asked me to do. Maybe that is what I was missing the whole time.

Coming out of the Natural Turn and going into the Natural Spin Turn, Sir Bread thought that the first pivot looked like it was struggling. Sparkledancer and I never fail to turn enough, but Sir Bread thought that it looked like we were forcing the turn too much. His advice for me to fix that was to not let my heel come down on my left foot until it absolutely has to. To do this, on my first step backward onto my left foot, I have to try to stay on the ball of my foot the whole time. There is a point in the pivot where my heel will naturally kiss the ground before I am able to take the next step, but Sir Bread told me that the rotation will be much easier and there will be no mid-turn crash action if I always think about taking the step this way.

On Monday night I was excited to head back to Latin Technique class. Two weeks ago in Latin Technique class Lord Junior had worked with us on some Pasodoble. The last figure that he wanted to go over with us that night was The Twists, which is a Gold-level figure off of the syllabus. As I mentioned two weeks ago, the figure did not go super successfully, but since we had started working on it near the end of the class, Lord Junior didn’t have any time left to devote to correcting the issues that were popping up. He promised all of us who were there that after the Easter vacation, the next time we all met up for Latin Technique class he would do Pasodoble again, this time starting with The Twists so that he could help everyone through any troubles they ran into.

So that is exactly what we got to do this week. For me, the figure went fairly well. Other than having to run through the steps slowly for a couple of the ladies the first time I danced it with them, I was able to get through my steps and add in the proper shaping. Of course, I did have the opportunity to practice the figure a fair number of times two weeks ago and then again that night, since there were far more women than men. That might have had something to do with my success. Boys don’t get breaks! Also, I didn’t have to do any Heel Turns, unlike the ladies. For a couple of them, the Heel Turns were the part that they struggled with the most, especially as we tried to do it with music and increase the tempo more toward normal speed.

We started The Twists on beat one of an eight-count measure,  and ended them by holding in place while lowered down on our standing leg for beat four of the next measure. To come out, we did six beats of continuous syncopated Forward Lock Steps heading toward diagonal center, slowly rising ourselves up as we traveled to look even bigger by the time we finished. Not content to have us rest on our laurels after struggling through The Twists, Lord Junior decided to have us finish up that night by doing a set of continuous traveling Natural Pivots as well.

Switching up our arms so that we could hold on to our partner’s rib-cage with our right hand and keeping the left arm out as we turned, we did two slow Pivots and two or three faster ones, depending on what direction you were facing as you finished. Lord Junior didn’t expect us to force these to travel straight down the line of dance, so most of us ended up curving toward the center in the process. The trick was to come out so that both partners were facing forward, which is why sometimes you needed an extra pivot at the end to do that. At the end of the Pivots the guys would release their partner and we ended traveling in an Open Promenade Position, ready for whatever would come next.

With several competitions going on during April, Lord Dormamu has his weekends pretty much booked with out-of-town events. To make up for that, he was able to set aside some time on Tuesday night to work with Sparkledancer and I. He was especially interested that night to look over how Sparkledancer was doing after her coaching session with Lady Tella, and he thought the results were very pleasing. Based on what he saw, we were asked if we could schedule a few more sessions where Sparkledancer and Lady Tella could get together (with me as a Dance Dummy to help out) before our competition at the end of the month.

There are other things going on this month, so finding the time to do these sessions is going to be the hardest part. It’s entirely possible that we may have to drop coaching sessions with someone else to fit in more coaching sessions with Lady Tella. I mean, I wouldn’t feel terrible about doing that – if you’ve been reading my notes here for a while, you know that Sparkledancer and I have almost exclusively worked with male instructors up until this point, so I have gotten a lot of help to make my dancing better. The problem is, male instructors can talk with Sparkledancer about what she should be doing, but they generally won’t be able to show her what she should look like very well. You know, because they’re male and whatnot.

The few times we have scheduled coaching sessions with female instructors up until our last session with Lady Tella, the ladies that we worked with ended up spending most of the time pointing out things that I could improve rather than helping Sparkledancer. That’s been great for helping me, but I always felt bad about how those sessions turned out. Finally having a female coach focus on Sparkledancer the whole time was awesome, and Sparkledancer told me that the lesson was extremely useful. If Lord Dormamu recommends we do a few more sessions like that, then I will do my best to help her out if they need me to be there.

Aside from that, we also talked about the upcoming competition that we were planning to dance in at the end of the month. Guess what? Lord Dormamu was asked to be one of the adjudicators for that event! Now, not only is he focused on making sure that we are ready before stepping into the venue, but he is excited about being able to directly review the results of our work when we are under the pressure of competing. So, you know, that doesn’t add any more stress or anything. Not at all!

Moving on… we went back to Foxtrot again that night. The major point I took away from what we covered that night was that I need to be careful that I don’t lower myself too far while dancing the Foxtrot. One thing that apparently Sir Bread had noticed that he mentioned to Lord Dormamu was that sometimes he sees me doing this weird double bounce thing. It is especially noticeable coming out of whatever starter step I may use to get into a routine, but there are other points where Lord Dormamu saw me doing it too while he was watching me Tuesday night.

After he and I went through and tested a few things, he found that since I am trying to keep myself fairly low to the ground to begin with, if I do something that causes me to lower even further (like taking a really long step which extends both of my legs, thus lowering my center toward the floor), I end up having to raise myself up in order to move my back leg underneath me. Because my legs are fairly muscular, I can’t get around this – if I don’t come up, my leg just doesn’t fit. So the obvious fix for that is to make sure I am not doing anything that causes me to be so far down that I can’t get my leg underneath me without rising up.

The other thing he told me to think about while I practice to try to fix this is to think about the four beats in a measure of Foxtrot like a limbo bar, not a high jump bar. Normally what you would see if you were watching someone exaggerate the actions is that person taking a step on beat four and then, as if they were high jumping over beat four, coming down as they are carried toward beat one. Instead of that type of action, Lord Dormamu wants me to lower earlier as if I were going under the bar at beat four and then holding myself at that level as I travel through into the next beat one.

Obviously this would create a very strange way of dancing if I were to do it all the time, especially during a competition, but the point of this exercise was not to make a permanent change to the way I understand how to dance the Foxtrot. This exercise is only to be used to correct the problem that Lord Dormamu was seeing. Theoretically, once I no longer have this issue, we will slowly go through and relax this abnormal action until it is no longer needed. Kind of like taking medicine for a sickness, if that simile makes sense.

We also spent some time talking about the Change of Direction. I guess when I go through the figure I have this tendency to bring my feet together holding only the ball of my left foot on the ground. As we were talking about it, Lord Dormamu also mentioned that he sees me doing the same thing during the starter step in Foxtrot as well. What he wants me to do instead is bring my feet together with my left foot flat on the ground as I twist my upper body to create a right-side lead briefly.

While he watched Sparkledancer and I step through things, he told us that he wanted us to go back to practicing the figure with a pause in the midpoint. We are supposed to use that hesitation during practice to check that we are in the right position for the Change of Direction specifically, and also to reset our thinking before moving on to begin repeating the routine. So I’ll have to try to keep that in mind as well during practice.

Finally, I just want to do a brief recap of Standard Technique class last night. We also covered some Foxtrot in that class, but because we had a new face in class who hadn’t done much International Standard before, Lord Junior put something together for us that took some figures from American Foxtrot as well so that there would be some pieces that this new girl was familiar with.

Discussing the figures gets a bit confusing because of this amalgamation, so you’ll have to follow along carefully. In International Foxtrot, generally when you talk about a figure and use the word ‘Open’ before it, that means that the figure ends with you being in Promenade Position. In American Foxtrot, if you use the word ‘Open’ before a figure’s name they are usually referring to the figure having an ending where you pass your feet instead of closing them together (i.e. continuity ending). We used a lot of ‘Open’ figures in this progression, so I’ll try and point out which is which as I go through them for you.

With that in mind… we started off with a Simple Twinkle toward diagonal wall that ended in Promenade Position. Next up we did an American Open Left Turn, and then added on an International Open Impetus which ended with us heading toward diagonal center in Promenade Position. From here, Lord Junior had us do a syncopated Grapevine action, taking the first step as a slow, which meant that we had plenty of time while taking the step to really drive forward with a heel lead. This Grapevine action required both partners to cross their foot behind on the third step as they traveled.

Once through that first Grapevine we did another American Open Left Turn and then another syncopated Grapevine action. In this Grapevine, we essentially started out backward from what we did during the first one, and because of that we had to cross our feet in front on the third step. As we finished the second Grapevine, we did an International Open Telemark and Feather Ending, which would align us heading back toward diagonal center as we finished the progression.

Let’s just call it good right there. Maybe I can shorten this a bit when I read through it for editing before I post. Probably not though. Usually I end up making things longer as I edit them somehow. I have too many words…

Enough To Make My System Blow

Let’s start this week off with a funny side note that’s sort-of dance related. I can tell you quite sincerely that this story was the thing that made me the happiest on Saturday…

I had just gotten to the Fancy Dance Hall. The studio is actually a part of a shopping complex, with a number of varied shops surrounding it. This weekend there was an event scheduled to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday, where the area between the fronts of all of the stores and the parking lot had been taken over for various Easter-related activities. There was an egg hunt planned, and a local radio station was going to be there, and someone was going to be dressed up like the Easter Bunny to take pictures with all of the kids. All of the stores in the shopping complex were going to have some of their staff involved to make it into a fun morning for kids of all ages.

…except the weather didn’t want to cooperate that day. The morning ended up being cold, cloudy and windy, and it was just plain gloomy looking outside. I was wearing a heavy sweatshirt so that when I parked my car and walked to the front door of the studio I wouldn’t be cold. Not too many people seemed to have shown up for the planned activities, because the parking lot had tons of open spaces for cars to park. I’ve had lessons scheduled before at other times when holiday-themed activities are planned, and usually you have to either get there super-early to find a parking place, or you are fighting with a bunch of people to grab one when someone else leaves.

As I was walking toward the front door of the studio, I could hear music playing loudly from the table set up by the radio station. They had just finished one song and were starting another, a slow and heavy rock song that holds a record for spending the most weeks on some chart or something. You may be able to guess what song it is if you’re smart about my normal clues, but if not I’m sure you’d know the song if you heard it. Anyway… as I finally got off the parking lot and set foot on the walkway that surrounds the stores, I looked off to my right toward where the radio station table was, and saw something pretty amazing.

In the midst of the overcast gloom of the day, there stood a guy wearing a white Easter Bunny suit, and his head was turned down to look toward the ground. In front of him was some young kid, lying on the concrete, doing the worm as the Easter Bunny watched.

I had to stop and watch for a bit as well. This was not something that I expected to see by any stretch of the imagination. As the song finally wound down, the kid stopped and picked himself up off the ground, and the Easter Bunny bent forward to give him a hug. If I had been closer, I would have given the kid a round of applause for being able to do the worm for so long on concrete. Truly an impressive sight to behold!

On to normal business now. Once I got inside the Fancy Dance Hall, things were a little more subdued. There was a class going on for a local youth dance group, and they were all running rounds of their competition routines. They kept that up for the entire time that I was having my lesson, barring a few breaks here or there so that the kids could catch their breath. Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I staked out a section of the floor to work in along the back wall of the studio, and we went back to work on Viennese Waltz that day.

We managed to stay away from working on the opening sequence of our Viennese Waltz routine that morning, thankfully. Unfortunately, that meant that the rest of what we did was just slow and methodical movements through the Natural and Reverse Turns. Not exactly the most exciting thing in the world to talk about, so I’ll spare you all the details. The hardest part of our session was trying to work around all of the kids running their rounds. I had managed to talk to the older ones while Sir Steven was working with Sparkledancer, letting them know that we were using a lane along the back wall. They managed to steer clear of us after that, which was nice.

Some of the younger kids kept darting into our lane though. I think they were just doing it to get our attention, because if I looked at them when they were in my way, they would get these huge smiles on their faces and then scamper out of the way as fast as they could. It reminded me of growing up with my younger siblings. When they wanted attention, they would sometimes knowingly do something they shouldn’t, and then laugh jovially about it and run away when they got caught. Kids… they are so silly sometimes!

Next up, Saturday night. There was one big event going on at the Electric Dance Hall that night, and with no other options open for dancing that was where I ended up. A bunch of people who I knew ended up being there as well, but unfortunately I didn’t actually spend a lot of time talking to them because I got side tracked talking with someone else that night. It was also raining really hard that night, starting just about the time that the party started, so a lot of people who were expected to come out to the event did not show up. One of those people happened to be the DJ that Lord Junior had asked to play the music that night, amusingly enough. After the class that he gave at the beginning, Lord Junior ended up having to run the music himself. Poor guy.

He told me later on that he contacted the DJ during the party to find out what happened, and the DJ told him that she just forgot about the party. How do you just forget something like that? I bet she won’t be getting any more paid gigs from Lord Junior after that stunt.

Originally I hadn’t planned on showing up for the class being offered before the dance party, but I got done with everything else I had planned to do earlier than expected, so I headed out and arrived about twenty minutes after the class had started. The place was packed with tons of people, but even with all the other people watching him intently for instruction, Lord Junior still stopped what he was doing when I walked in and told me to get my shoes on quick and jump into the class. I thought that they were desperate for men, but when Lord Junior finally had everyone find partners to try the step I saw that there were almost even numbers of men and women, so I’m not sure why he wanted me to join in so quickly.

The class was covering some simple American Rumba. The part that I got there to help out with had everyone doing half a basic box step, and then on the second half we led the ladies to do a Underarm Turn and pushed them out to our left side, almost like they were in Fan Position. Then we would bring them back across in another turn and push them out to our right side, and then one more turn back across pushing them back out to our left before turning them to be in front of us as we collected into the basic box step once more. Nothing too difficult if you’ve done a lot of American Rumba in the past, but there were a large number of newcomers in the class that night, so I ended up helping a number of ladies figure out their steps as I rotated through.

During the actual party I spent my time dancing, but in the middle of that I got a chance to have a chat with Silver for more than just a couple of minutes (which is what derailed me from talking to others). She was struggling with a bit of a crisis of identity that night, so it was good that I talked to her, but most of the credit for making her feel better about dance goes to Sparkledancer. See, there was a point in the middle of the dance party when I finally got a chance to dance with her for a Foxtrot. I figured that was a safe enough dance for us to do together, since that was the style that was used in the first Standard Technique class we were both in together.

Silver seemed a bit nervous as I walked out to the dance floor with her. Trying to assuage her fears, I asked her whether she wanted to go with American or International Foxtrot, promising that we could do whichever she was more comfortable with. She chose to go with International, so I started off with just some basic figures, trying my best to avoid anything with a Heel Turn since I knew she hadn’t done many of those. I think I managed to get through a Feather and Three Step heading toward diagonal wall in a wide arc, and then a Change of Direction to turn back toward diagonal center – nothing super fancy.

By the time we got halfway down the first long wall it was pretty clear that she was struggling, and then she asked me if we could transition to American Foxtrot instead. I made the switch, trying to stick with figures that I thought were on the Bronze syllabus (it’s been a long time since I’ve studied American Foxtrot, so I’m not entirely sure what the syllabus looks like anymore when I don’t have it in front of me). The American Foxtrot did not go much better than the International though, and there were a couple of times I had to stop and do the Swing Step (or Side-to-Side Sway, depending on what name you were given when you learned it) which allowed her to get back on the correct foot.

When the song finished and we exited the floor, she seemed upset and started talking about how she once felt so good about her dancing, because (her exact words) “I was teaching this at <insert franchise studio name> for God’s sake!” Now that she was out and dancing with people like me, it’s like everything she learned and was teaching to others was all wrong. She told me that she has been trying to learn the correct way to do the steps and techniques, but then she runs into people who were students at her former studio where she worked, and they want to dance with her doing things the old way, and it really throws her off trying to do things both ways.

Lucky for me, Sparkledancer had shown up at that point. I am a guy, so I am kind-of terrible at managing emotional situations with ladies, so I was super happy that Sparkledancer could step in and help Silver out. Sparkledancer actually told Silver about how she had met me at a franchise studio, back in the days when we had initially decided to compete together, so she totally understood Silver’s frustration because she had been through it herself.

She continued and told Silver that when Sparkledancer and I and many of our original ballroom dance friends outgrew the franchise studio model, we escaped into the bigger world of ballroom dancing, and we had to go through the same transition that Silver is going through now. A lot of the techniques we had learned that had been emphasized at the franchise we found out were just plain wrong, and people outside the franchise used a different syllabus than we had originally learned (which actually turned out to be nationally and internationally standardized syllabus, so it is the franchise studio’s syllabus that was incorrect), so Sparkledancer admitted to Silver that she felt like a terrible dancer for months as she tried to acclimate to the non-franchise way of dancing.

That right there seemed to be the magic connection that Silver had been missing. She was really glad that Sparkledancer had told her that story – to hear that it was possible to escape the franchise world and eventually dance the way that Sparkledancer dances now. It was great to see her come to that realization, even though I hadn’t really done much to help her get there. Good job Sparkledancer! Yay!

I talked it over with Sparkledancer later, and I think that the two of us are going to try to help Silver out. My thought is that Sparkledancer and I could help show Silver the world of ballroom dancing that she was missing when she was locked into the franchise way of doing things. That is, if she really wants to become part of this wider world, which I think she does. Lord Junior is helping her learn the proper figures and techniques to teach dancing outside of the franchise, so that’s already being covered. Sparkledancer and I can be her guide to the various dance halls in the Dance Kingdom, and introduce her to all sorts of other instructors or high-level coaches that we know if she wants to meet people. I like helping, so this will be a lot of fun!

I was tired on Monday night, so when I got to Latin Technique class and people started throwing around Cha-Cha as the style they wanted to do that night, I was unhappy. Lord Junior decided to put it up for a vote to see what everyone wanted, and he said that we couldn’t vote for Rumba (because that’s what we did in class last week) and we couldn’t choose Pasodoble. I sighed loudly, since Pasodoble is always the Latin style that I want to vote for, and Lord Junior took pity on me and said that we could do Pasodoble if everyone else wanted. Only Gatekeeper still wanted to do Cha-Cha after that option was available, so we ended up working on Pasodoble that night. Hooray for me!

One of the ladies in class that night had never done any Pasodoble before, so this ended up being a real treat for her (in my expert opinion, of course). Lord Junior spent a little time at the beginning of class showing her a few of the most basic steps, like the Sur Place and all of its moving variations. On top of that, he showed her the idea behind the shaping used in Pasodoble and why it was so important. This lady watched the whole time with wide eyes, and I couldn’t tell if she was impressed by the demonstration or terrified by what he was asking her to do. Obviously I’m going to assume she was impressed, and asking herself why she had waited so long to begin working on Pasodoble!.

We didn’t actually cover a whole lot of choreography that night, because the last figure that Lord Junior went over with us needed more work than he expected. The first figure that we did was the Open Telemark, which everyone got through with little trouble. After that we went into a normal Promenade, which gave us some work on both moving in Promenade and shaping in Promenade. Once Lord Junior was convinced that everyone could do the steps with minimal trouble, he upgraded our Promenade so that it had three Natural Pivots in it as we traveled down the line of dance. That definitely upped the challenge factor of the figure, but also made it much more exciting.

The final figure that we looked at was a Gold-level figure called ‘The Twists.’ We were told that if you watch any professionals doing a recent Pasodoble routine, you are more than likely going to see them do this figure at least once because it is so exciting. Basically, the guy is traveling down the floor, cutting in front of his partner every couple of steps while she does a Heel Turn, and then he hooks his right leg behind his left and untwists himself before doing it all again. The figure is aptly named, and feels a lot like doing a Twist Turn in Tango repeatedly.

I thought that my part was fairly straightforward, and I think I was getting through it successfully. A couple of the ladies were struggling to make the Heel Turns work properly, so it was hit-or-miss as to whether the figure worked correctly when I danced with a partner. Lord Junior admitted as we were running out of time that this figure was more difficult than he originally thought it would be, so he should have started class by going through it rather than waiting until the end. He promised us that next time we met up for Latin Technique we would do Pasodoble again and start with this figure. Class won’t happen next Monday because of the holiday this weekend, so we’ll have to wait until two Mondays from now to get it right.

Finally, on Wednesday night I went back out to the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class, and we worked on Viennese Waltz there as well. Viennese Waltz? Twice in one week? How did that even happen!

I mostly think that Lord Junior chooses to work on Viennese Waltz in this class so that he can watch the warm-up section of class where he asks us all to try doing Natural and Reverse Turns down the floor by ourselves. Getting the angle right, turning the right direction and using the right foot to start with are all things that I am pretty good at, since I have to lead and generally have to do those things already. The ladies in class, on the other hand… for the first couple of tries several of them just didn’t get things right. They would start on the wrong foot, or turn the wrong direction, or start and end at the wrong angle. A few times they would start turning and not stay on a straight line, heading right toward someone else on the floor! As much as I feel bad about laughing at that, it is kind of funny to watch.

Once the torture of the warm-up was over, we worked on adding in the two Gold-level figures to the mix: the Contra Check and the Natural Fleckerl. Lord Junior told us all about his theory of Fleckerls, and how he sees a lot of Pros nowadays leaving them out of their routines with students. You don’t technically need to do them to win no matter what level you are competing, but Lord Junior feels like you are missing out on a lot if you just do Reverse Turns, Natural Turns and Change Steps all the way through Gold when you are competing.

He did say that the lead to get into the Reverse Fleckerl was a bit sudden, and that’s where he usually runs into problems with his competitive students. You can start a Reverse Fleckerl at any time if you do Reverse Turns up to the point where the lady crosses her foot in front. Lord Junior said that he likes to warn his ladies verbally before doing a Reverse Fleckerl during a competition. The Natural Fleckerl is slightly easier to do, especially if you do a Contra Check beforehand. Then there is no question about what is happening even if Lord Junior gives no verbal warning, so there is less of a chance that the lady will be surprised when the rotation happens.

That is an interesting thought. Perhaps I’ll have to file that idea away for later when I manage to start competing at Gold-level with Viennese Waltz.

And that’s it! Man, I wrote a lot of things again this week. I am just terrible about keeping these posts short…

I think there are a few things going on this weekend, but I’m not sure how many people will be wandering around to dance with the holiday on Sunday. Easter was never really a holiday for traveling to see people when I was growing up, but I have heard several people mention that they will be doing just that this weekend. So maybe that is an invitation for me to just take it easy. I could probably use the break to do some other productive things that I have been putting off (like my taxes…). We’ll have to see what happens!