Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1

It’s funny – remember last week, when I asked whether anyone would be interested in some pointers on fitness-type things for dance? Well, on Saturday evening as I was finishing my normal workout, I got a text message from a dance instructor at a studio where I go to practice a lot. He wanted to know if I would come out to the studio on Sunday afternoon to take a Pilates class with him. The studio was being rented out for an hour that afternoon to do a special ‘Pilates for Dancers’ class, and I think he wanted to make sure he wasn’t the only guy there.

Since I’m always up for any kind of physical challenge, of course I went! That felt like a sign to me that I needed to go through with writing all of these notes down for all of you. Before I start though, let me get some disclaimers out of the way before we talk about anything specific…


DISCLAIMER #1: Most likely I don’t know you, so I don’t know anything about your strengths/weaknesses/injuries/preferences. Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. For example, you wouldn’t try to do push-ups if you were born with no arms, right?

If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple. I also keep these same rules in mind while I am dancing, because they are just as meaningful in that context:

  1. Safety – please, please, please make sure to keep yourself and those around you safe when working out.
  2. Form – much like dancing, form and technique is super important while exercising. A few repetitions with perfect form will help you get results faster than a bunch of repetitions with crappy form.
  3. Fun – you just have to have fun! If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it! I don’t mean that every exercise you do is going to be fun. The workouts I do when I decide to push my limits and increase the size of the weights I use are always kind of terrible… but overall I still find the physical exertion to be fun, and the results I’ve gotten make it even more enjoyable!

DISCLAIMER #3: Yes, I am going to talk a lot about lifting weights. If you and I were to ever talk about fitness in person, I would always strongly recommend lifting weights, even for women. Cardio-type exercises alone are not enough to create the type of body that people usually describe to me that they want when they say they want to be “in shape.” Resistance training needs to be used in conjunction.

This disclaimer will emphasize this point right not – if you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless you have a major hormonal imbalance, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies, which is what helps men build muscle faster. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add pounds of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. It’s just not going to happen, end of story.

I could send you article after article about this if you don’t believe me. If you are starting to work out and you are putting on weight, the most likely reason is not that you are building a bunch of muscle. Period. End of story. To build a bunch of muscle you have to be lifting a lot of heavy weights, eating a lot more calories than you need to the point that eating is making you almost uncomfortably full, and taking the right supplements to encourage muscle growth. Are you planning on doing all that? I doubt it.

So if you want to add in a couple of days of weight training each week and you find yourself gaining weight after two or three weeks, we would need to go back and check your diet, because most likely that is the culprit. Usually we’d find that you are eating more than you think because you are suddenly hungrier with the increase in activity. That is why it is SUPER IMPORTANT to set a nutrition plan with at least a base calorie goal and macronutrient spread before you start any exercise regimen, and then STICK. TO. IT. Snacking on top of your meal plan is what causes the weight gain for most people.

Sounds so simple, right? We’ll talk more about eating later, I promise.


OK, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about exercise ideas that are, in my personal experience, most helpful for dancers. I’ll break this down by body sections to keep the groupings logical. Let’s start off by talking about what, in my opinion, are the most important body parts for dancing.

LEGS

Who really likes to work their legs? Not a lot of people. But since you are a dancer, you know that almost every action that you do starts with the legs. They are the engine of all your dance movements, which is why I believe that having strong legs is so important for a dancer. Think of strong legs like driving down the highway, riding around in a muscle car with a throaty V8. Having weak legs is more like riding down the street on top of your robotic vacuum cleaner. Which one would you prefer?

I cannot recommend enough spending at least one day a week on an all-around leg improvement workout. There are so many benefits to doing so. But for this post, let’s keep things simple and look at the two different categories of leg exercises you need for dancing: leg strength, and leg speed/agility.

Leg Strength: This is, simply put, how strong your legs are, which will definitely help you push off that standing leg as you move yourself around. Part of strength training should also be muscle endurance training, which will help your legs perform at a high level for longer periods of time. Don’t you want to do 50 heats at a competition without feeling wasted afterward instead of 20 ? How about 100 heats, or maybe more?

Leg Speed & Agility: This is how fast you can move your legs with precision. Really important for those faster tempo dances like Cha-Cha or Quickstep. It’s one thing to be able to move your legs fast, but you also need to be able to do it while placing the leg exactly where you want instead of just looking like your legs are flailing wildly.

Let’s get a bit more specific, starting with leg strength.

Note:
I like to keep it old-school when weightlifting. All the resistance exercises I will talk about going forward can be done using basic weights (barbels or dumbbells) and other simple pieces of equipment (a solid chair, weight bench, etc.) that should be easy to find. No complicated fitness contraptions will be required!

Calf Raises
Ladies, if you compete in Latin dances and wear the short dresses (like I often see at competitions), you should really want to have strong calves. Not only will they look nice when you do a press line, but strong calves will help you stand forward on your toes better in heels.

This is a simple exercise – take two dumbbells and hold one in each hand while resting them on your shoulders. Depending on the type of dumbbell and the weight of it, you might consider putting a towel down on your shoulders to protect your skin. With the weights secure, raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

We want to do three sets like this: first set with your toes pointed straight forward, second set with the toes turned out, and the third set with the toes turned in toward each other.


I guess I should quickly mention what a ‘Set’ would be for you. The general rule of thumb I like to use is as follows…

-To build muscle, you want to use as heavy weight as you can to complete 8 to 10 reps. You should start to feel the burn around number repetition number 6.

-To tone muscle and build endurance, you want to use lighter weights and do 15 reps. The weights can’t be super light, because you still want to feel the burn, but this time the burn should come around the 12th repetition.


Single-Leg Calf Raise
This exercise will help you work on balance as well as strength. If your balance isn’t that great right now, do this exercise near a wall so that you can put a hand up to steady yourself as needed. Don’t keep your hand on the wall the entire time though, or else you really aren’t going to do as much to build the strength in the ankle that would help improve your balance.

These are similar to the normal Calf Raises, but we are going to be standing on one foot. This time, take a single dumbbell and hold it in the arm that corresponds with the leg that you are standing on. Use lighter weights here if you need to because of the balance component. Put all of your weight on one leg and hook your other foot behind the ankle of the standing leg. Keep the arm with the weight hanging at your side with the weight in line with your body. Raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

Because we are standing on one leg, you only do these with the toes pointed forward. Make sure to do this with both legs! You don’t want to be lopsided, after all. 🙂

Forward & Backward Lunges
If you do any of the ballroom dances in American Smooth or International Standard, you should know that to properly travel you have to be able to accept the weight into your moving leg as you shift from one standing leg to another on a traveling step (‘traveling step’ being defined as a step where you are driving yourself forward/backward in a figure, as opposed to rotational steps or non-traveling steps in a figure). I have found that an exercise that really helps me work on transferring weight and accepting the weight into my new leg is by doing Forward and Backward Lunges.

From a standing position with your feet underneath you about shoulder width apart, take one weight in each hand and hold them at your side. To do a Forward Lunge, step forward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower the body until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your front leg backward to the starting position.

To do a Backward Lunge, step backward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs in the same manner. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your back leg forward back into the starting position.

Speed & Agility
There are a couple of different kinds of workouts that I enjoy using to help improve my own speed and agility. One recommendation I have is looking into Plyometrics, a.k.a. ‘Jump Training’ – literally doing exercises where you are jumping off the ground. This is a higher-impact type of workout, so make sure that you feel comfortable with that before you try it out, and only do the workouts somewhere where you have a padded floor. A gym with concrete floors would be a terrible life choice.

Plyometrics will really help you develop that explosive power in your legs that you need to move quickly, and learning to jump with targets will help you improve the precision in your movements. If you decide to give it a try based on my advice, I bet you will thank me when you are hopping around like a pro during your Quickstep routine!

If a high-impact workout like Plyometrics seems like a bit too much for you, the other recommendation that I have that can help improve the speed and agility of your legs is taking up some form of martial arts. This is something that I will probably reference quite a few times, because there is so much about training for martial arts that can really benefit you as a dancer. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time working toward gaining a black belt to get the benefits – any type of martial arts program that involves kick actions can help you build leg speed.

I am not an affiliate with any program, nor am I trying to sell you on anything, but since I am being specific about exercises that I like to do in this post… I used to live near a place that offered BodyCombat classes. I love BodyCombat. Seriously. Imagine doing various martial arts moves in time to awesome music – that’s what BodyCombat is. As a dancer, that sort of workout might be right up your alley. It’s certainly up mine. 😉

If there’s a place near you that offers live classes, drop in once and see if you like it. If you don’t have a place near you but you have an empty room in your house (with a well padded floor for jump kicks), the online classes they offer are also fun. Make sure you have good speakers on your computer though, because it’s so much more fun when you pump up the jams!

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Enough about the legs. Let’s move on to what I think is the next most important area of your body as a dancer. It’s probably not the one that you’re thinking, but I’ll cover that one in a bit.

BACK

Yeah, I’m going to pull the back muscles out specifically rather than group them in with the core muscles like other people do.

There is so much that having strong muscles in your back does to help you as a competitive dancer. Strengthening the muscles in your mid-back helps you stand taller, and all dancers know how important posture is when dancing competitively. I was always taught that any arm motions that I might do when dancing are supposed to originate from the muscles in my back, specifically the rear deltoids (‘delts’) and the latissimus dorsi (‘lats’). For example, when I dance competitively I always find myself keeping my frame wide by pulling my lats out to the sides.

Aside from the benefits to your dancing, strengthening the muscles in your back can help protect your spine better, allowing you to avoid back injuries. Back muscles are super important!

Reverse Flys
This is a really great exercise for strengthening your rear delts. The rear delts are a small muscle group, so when you do Reverse Flys you don’t need a lot of weight. There are two ways to do rear flys – one gives you the option to brace your upper body against something, which will allow you to use slightly heavier weights. But even braced, 20lbs is going to seem super heavy for most people, so be sure to choose the right weight and stay safe!

Standing Reverse Flys are done by setting your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your back flat and bending at the waist, pushing your glutes out behind you. You want to bend so that your upper body is at slightly more than a 45° angle, but not so much that your back is parallel to the floor – that’s too much.

Let the arms dangle down toward the floor with the elbows slightly bent and a weight in each hand. Bring the arms up until your elbows are in a straight line with one-another, pause for one second, then lower them back down. Be sure to lower the weights slowly and with control, otherwise you risk slamming the weights into each other at the bottom with your fingers stuck in between. Ouch!

If you have a weight bench available to you, you can raise the bench up until it is in the medium position and rest your chest against the bench while you perform the movement. As I said, this will help you brace your body, and can help you try the exercise with slightly heavier weights, but make sure you still stay safe!

Cobra/Superman
A simple pair of exercises that are really good for strengthening the muscles in your lower back. The only difference between the two is whether you leave your legs on the ground or not.

Start out lying on the floor on your stomach with your legs together. For Cobra you can place your hands flat on the floor next to your head; Superman obviously has to have the arms held straight out in front of you. Inhale and raise your upper body off the floor to do Cobra, and raise both the upper body and lower body off the floor as you inhale to do Superman. Make sure that you keep looking down at the floor while you do this to avoid any strain in the neck. Pause for a second when you’ve raised up as high as you can go, then exhale as you bring yourself back down to your starting position.

For a simple variation to help build more strength while doing Cobra, you can take a light weight (a barbel plate works great for this) and rest your forehead against it. Hold the weight against your forehead as you inhale and raise your upper body off the floor. This will increase the resistance that your lower back muscles have to lift while doing the exercise.

Overhand Pull-Ups
You’re probably all going to hate me for recommending these, but this is another super simple exercise that helps strengthen the muscles in the mid back. While doing Chin-Ups is also helpful, a lot of people tend to incorporate a lot of bicep work when they do Chin-Ups – we want to focus on the back muscles here, so I recommend making sure that you are wrapping your hands over the top of the bar before pulling yourself up.

The trick to Pull-Ups is to make sure that you are pulling from the muscles that run underneath your shoulders and in the middle of the back. If you are feeling a lot of the pull from anywhere else, you are probably doing the action wrong. Keep your hands on the bar at about shoulder width to start with if you don’t really do Pull-Ups right now. As you get stronger, you can try widening your grip to challenge yourself, or bringing your hands closer together if you want an even harder challenge!

If you are not strong enough to do a Pull-Up right now, bring over a chair to the bar and put your feet up on it. Taking the weight of your legs out of the mix will make the Pull-Up easier. Over time you can graduate to using only one leg, and then to doing one or two with no legs on the chair and the rest using the chair, and finally to not using the chair at all. As always, modify to be successful rather than avoid something you think is too hard!

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SHOULDERS AND ARMS

We’re going to attach these two muscle groups together (Ha! See what I did there?).

The shoulders and arms are used quite a bit while dancing. Are you holding some kind of frame with your partner? The shoulders and arms are involved there! Are you competing in American Smooth or Rhythm or International Latin, and while in an open position with your partner and you don’t want to have your free arm hanging down like a limp noodle? The shoulders and arms are involved here too!

One big complaint that I hear from instructors I know who compete in Pro/Am is that, after dancing a bunch of rounds, their partner starts to get tired and struggles to keep their frame up. As their partner begins to droop, they tend to put a lot more weight on their Pro, which can put the Pro under a lot of physical stress. These Pros work at keeping their own strength and stamina up to help alleviate this problem, but wouldn’t it be better if their Amateur took away some of this burden by improving their own strength and stamina to keep their frame up stronger for longer?

Upright Rows
If you don’t know by now, I personally compete in International Standard, so keeping my own frame up is critical when I am out on the floor in front of the judges. If you compete in American Smooth, especially in the Closed Syllabus levels, there are requirements for how much of your routine has to be in closed dance frame as well. For the ballroom-style dances in Smooth or Standard, I find that Upright Rows are the perfect activity to train me to keep my elbows up while under pressure.

These can be done using either a barbel or with dumbbells. A barbel can help keep your elbows level as you lift, but if you have wrist issues a dumbbell will allow you to rotate your wrist more freely with the weight to stay comfortable.

Standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent to protect your back, hold the weights down in front of you with your arms fully extended. Draw the weights up the front of your body, bending your elbows and pulling them back in the process. Pause at the top for a second when the bar/weights are under your chin, and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.

Lateral Raises
Here’s another exercise that helps you strengthen the muscles involved with bringing your arms up. This movement focuses more on the muscle at the side of the shoulders.

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Grab a pair of dumbbells (you want lighter weights here) and hold them at your sides. Bend the elbows slightly – locking the elbows during this exercise can be painful. Raise the weights up to your sides until the arms are in line with your shoulders. Pause for a second at the top and then lower the weights back down slowly.

Tricep Extensions
The triceps are the muscles at the back of your arms. A lot of people spend tons of time working on the biceps in the front of the arms, but the tricep muscles are actually underneath more of the surface area of the arm than the biceps, so why wouldn’t you want to work on improving the triceps as well?

These are also the muscles that you use to pull your lower arm out when you extend your arms straight, so strengthening them will help you with that action. Don’t you want to have amazingly toned upper arms when you throw your arms out for Crossover Breaks or New Yorkers while dancing the Rumba or Cha-Cha?

Like with the Upright Rows you can do these with either a barbel or with dumbbells. This exercise is done lying down, either on the floor or on a bench. Start off by taking the weights in hand and holding your arms up straight away from the floor. Keep your elbows in – if your elbows start to drift away from your chest, either fight to keep them in or use lighter weights.

Bend your elbows to lower the weights down. If using a barbel, you would be lowering the bar toward your forehead; if using dumbbells you are lowering the weights to either side of your head. Make sure to control the weights on the way down! Pause for a second at the bottom, then slowly extend the arms back to the starting position.

I shouldn’t really have to say this, but please don’t crush your face while doing this exercise…

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Man, I feel like I’ve gone on forever, and there is so much more that I could say! So many more exercises that I could recommend in each section! But, unfortunately, I am not trying to design an entire workout routine here, I’m just offering up some notable exercises that I like to do which help pinpoint muscles used in dance.

Because this is already super long… how about I cut this in half and we’ll go over part two next week? Stay with me, and next week I will go over exercises to help dancers with their core, we’ll talk a bit about balance work, and finally I’ll spend some time talking about eating to help fuel these sorts of workouts.

Check out part two of this topic in next week’s post!

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Know When To Listen, Know What To Listen For

I did actually manage to drag myself out of the house last Saturday night and go to a dance party. Blankets were calling my name really hard when I got done working out that afternoon, and I was super tempted to just give in to that siren song and curl up in a big pile with them… but I didn’t! It’s a good thing that I went too, because I found out some kind of hilarious information, and it was so much better that I got to hear it all first hand rather than have to try to piece the stories together later.

A couple of people who don’t come around in the dance world very often anymore made appearances at the dance party this weekend, which is what generated all the humor. The first person to show up that I hadn’t seen in a really, really long time was HotDog. He looked… well, like he had seen better days. He didn’t talk about it much, but I the story I got from Points (who was the second person that I hadn’t seen in a long time that also showed up at the party) was that he had made some questionable choices in life recently, so things have not been going super well for him because of that.

The timeline on all this is pretty vague, since HotDog won’t give anyone the full story or will give each person who asks a slightly different story, but the general details are: about three months or so back HotDog either quit his job, or was fired from it (I heard from one person that he was also blacklisted by the employer… who knows what that means). Because of the job loss he also got kicked out of his apartment – or left his apartment by choice, no one knows for sure which – because he didn’t have money to pay the next month’s rent. The part of the story that we know for sure picks up when he called Points out of the blue one day around that time, and she could give us an actual account of what happened next.

While Points was out-of-town on a business trip, she got the call from HotDog. There was obviously something going on, but HotDog wouldn’t tell Points all of the details over the phone. Worried about his well-being, she told him that he could go crash at her house while she was out-of-town, and when she got back she would try to be a shoulder he could lean on as he tried to put his life back together. He stayed at her place for two days by himself, and then Points returned home and he stayed for one more day while she was there before she ended up telling him that he had to find a new place to stay because he was being a pretty terrible house guest.

During that short time, according to Points, he just went through and devoured everything in her house that was edible. Because she travels a lot for work, she normally keeps a lot of frozen food in stock so that she has things to eat that won’t spoil while she is traveling. HotDog ate most of what she had in her freezers – food that would have lasted her for months, just gone in the course of three days. Strangely enough, I guess he also spent the whole time sleeping on the couch rather than in the guest bedroom. Also, Points said that he destroyed the toilet in the guest bathroom in a pretty gross way. It was kind of funny to hear, but I won’t elaborate further to save you the gross details.

After three days of staying there, HotDog just up and left. He had met some random girl who lived in the city on a dating app, and this girl offered to take him in, so he just packed up what little he had and went to go live with a complete stranger. If that doesn’t sound sketchy enough, rather than going out to get a new job, he told all of us at the dance party that he was spending his free time (which, since he’s unemployed, is all the time) working on his ‘dream job’ – making a “million dollars or less” (yes, he really said that) by posting videos of himself online. How’s that going for him? Well… so far, since he created his channel two months ago, he has posted a grand total of three videos.

I guess that making videos to post online is hard, time-consuming work?

I get the impression that this girl who HotDog met on a dating app that he is now living with isn’t a romantic interest for him even though they met on a dating app. That night at the party there were a couple of ladies who showed up together. They were both recent arrivals from out-of-state who had moved in a few months ago. Back where they came from they had spent a lot of time doing some sort of line dancing, but since there isn’t a lot of line dancing-specific events in my neck of the woods, they both decided to give partner dancing a try, which is how they ended up at the party that night.

One of the girls was younger and more attractive than the other, and HotDog definitely took an interest in her early on in the evening. He spent a lot of time near her during the Salsa lesson that was taught before the party, and then once the party started he would often go to where the two ladies were sitting together and grab that same girl for chunks of dances – not just one song, but four or five in a row. He was doing his best to try to show her all the basics for all the different styles of dance that he knew, and only seemed to release her back to her seat when the DJ put on a song for a dance style that he didn’t know.

His actions were bordering on the creepy side, so during one of those chunks of songs when HotDog had the lady out on the floor I went to go talk to her friend briefly. I let her know that HotDog is usually pretty harmless, but if her friend needed a way to escape from him that they could just flag me down and I could step in discreetly and pull HotDog off to the side to chat. The friend laughed about that and thanked me, saying that so far her friend didn’t seem distressed, but the two of them were also having a lot of wine so that might also be keeping her relaxed about the situation.

Funny enough, while I was talking to the friend, Sparkledancer came over to tell her that she noticed that HotDog was spending a lot of time with the one girl, and said that if he was being a creep that she could just flag me down and ask me for help. We both laughed because I had just made that offer before Sparkledancer got there.

We didn’t actually have to worry too much though. HotDog didn’t stay at the party that night for very long, and it was after he left that Points told some of us the story of HotDog staying at her house. It was probably for the best that I heard that story after he had left. I’m not sure if I could have looked at him the same way after I heard about that whole ordeal.

Don’t get me wrong – it was good to see that he was still alive and kicking. He did promise that he wouldn’t disappear for so long again, saying that he would definitely try to come to the same party next month. We’ll have to check back in on him then to see how he’s doing. Who knows? Maybe he will have achieved Internet fame and fortune by that time. I’ll be sure to let you know if that happens!

Moving on… let’s talk about Latin Technique class on Monday night. Lord Junior is still working on preparing for a competition that he is going to with a bunch of his Pro/Am students in February, so in class that night we spent time focusing on figures from multiple dance styles that his students needed to work on. We did the same thing last week, pulling one figure from each of three different dance styles rather than focusing on one style for the whole class. Lord Junior told us as class got underway that night that he had so much fun doing class that way last week that he wanted to do it all over again!

We started off by looking at Samba. Last week we looked at Botafogos, and this week we looked at Samba Locks. This is a different figure in the Gold syllabus for Samba than the Cruzados Walks & Locks – the Samba Locks are distinguished by having straight legs versus the Cruzados Walks & Locks where the knees have flex in them the entire time. This figure we worked through on our own heading down the length of the floor for a while, then paired up with someone in class doing two-Lock sets that would move alternately away from and then toward our partner. I was only sort-of successful with these Samba Locks – I could get my hips to kind of make the right movements on the left side, but the right side was just a disaster that did not look good at all.

Next up we moved on to Cha-Cha, and this week we focused on Cuban Breaks, doing a set of them to the right and then shifting over and doing a set to the left. At the end Lord Junior threw in a Spiral Turn and Forward Lock Step. His reasoning was that we hadn’t worked on Spiral Turns in class in quite a while, so he was going to give us one for extra practice. Maybe it’s because there was a lot less rotational hip movement during this set of figures, but I felt pretty confident and comfortable while going through the Cuban Breaks, and my Spiral Turn into the Forward Lock at the end was spot on. Even when we did this to music and up to tempo I still felt good about everything. Hooray for me!

To close out the class, Lord Junior decided to have us work on a more difficult figure, one that he said that you almost never see anyone doing. It is actually a variation of the ending of the Aida called the Double Spot Turn. The ending variation is still a part of the Silver syllabus for International Rumba, but the variation is much more difficult to do properly, so most of the time you will just see dancers doing the normal ending that involves rocking in place before squaring up with your partner.

Calling the ending a “Double Spot Turn” was misleading – I expected it to be something like a double spin that you can lead in various Swing dances, where you do twice the amount of turn in the same amount of time. This was actually doing twice the amount of turn in twice the amount of time. That didn’t really make the thing any easier, but I just wanted to point that out. Over two measures, you are basically doing two Solo Spot Turns next to your partner. Starting in Aida position, the first measure you step and turn, then step and turn, then step and hold. Over the second measure you turn and step, then turn and step, then turn to face your partner and step to the side together to finish. Being over two measures of music does make the move slower, but turning like this is still really fast when done at tempo.

One last thing, then I’m done for the week. Yesterday night I actually got to go to Standard Technique class. I was supposed to have a lesson with Lord Dormamu, but he had to reschedule. Rather than stay home and take the night off, I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall for class. It turned out to be an entertaining choice for a couple of reasons. I thought the material that we covered in class was fun – we looked at some figures from the Waltz, a bit of a mixture between American Waltz and International Waltz.

On top of that, there was a couple that showed up at the studio just before class started. They were from out of state, visiting friends for the weekend, and had decided to do some dancing while they were here. They had seen advertisements for the other group class that goes on Wednesday nights at the Electric Dance Hall – there is some well-known lady who teaches classes for a few hours each Wednesday on a couple of different varieties of Swing dances. The lady from this out-of-town couple was really getting into the class that they were in, but the guy was more interested in the Waltz that we were doing. I saw him watching us from across the room a lot, sometimes forgetting that he was supposed to be participating in the class that he paid to be in until his partner poked him to get his attention back.

I thought that was funny to see. Men who dance have been doing fascinating things lately, haven’t they?

As for what the choreography that we actually ended up with in class looked like, it was pretty short when all was said and done. We started out facing diagonal wall and did a basic Open Twinkle, coming out heading toward diagonal center in Promenade Position. Next we went into a Quick Open Reverse from Promenade Position, and coming out of that we went into a Tumble Turn. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I had ever done a Tumble Turn in Waltz – I know that I’ve done it in Foxtrot a few times, but I can’t remember ever doing it in Waltz before.

After the Slip Pivot that ends the Tumble Turn, we split apart with our partner. The Leads would take one step backward and then one step to the side and hold while we led the Follow through a Underarm Turn out to our left side. The turn was overturned so that she would end in Side-By-Side position with us, and we held like that for a full measure allowing the Follow to stretch away from us and create a fancy-looking line for dramatic effect. Because we were running out of time in class when we hit this point, Lord Junior switched up what he wanted to have us do and instead we finished by doing two Grapevine movements in Side-By-Side position traveling down the line of dance.

That’s all I have for this week. As I said, my lesson with Lord Dormamu had to be rescheduled for this weekend, so I might have interesting things to say about that next time. I don’t know if I will be going out to do anything else besides practice this weekend. There are a couple of things that are going on, but I have some work I need to take care of at home which I have been procrastinating on. Maybe I should actually put some time into doing that…

Also, I have been reading the things other people have been writing about all the new exercising that they have been doing since we hit 2019, and it’s gotten me thinking about all the different things that I have put into my workouts and diet over the years to support dancing. You know, like different strength training sets I use to build up muscle groups that help me move while I dance, or balance training, or the calorie calculations that I use, etc.. I have been mulling over writing some of that down and sharing it with all of you dancers lurking here… but I’m not sure if anyone else would find that kind of information helpful.

What do you think? Would anyone out there want to see that? 🙂

I Give You He Who Suffers The Truth

This week’s stories of ballroom dancing that I have for you are actually going to be about the adventures of a different guy…

Remember that guy that I mentioned, the one whom Sparkledancer met on New Year’s Eve and she has continued to talk to ever since? He finally managed to meet up with her to go to some dance events outside of his home franchise studio! Sparkledancer has been telling me over the last couple of weeks that the guy was a bit strange, so she wanted me to be around at these dance events that she was going to, to help share the experience. Because I’m a sucker who is prone to being helpful, I agreed to go. These stories I am going to tell this week from the position of an observer.

My understanding of the situation surrounding this gentleman, whom I’m going to call Seedling, is as follows: he has been a member of a pseudo-franchise studio for the last two years. During that time he has had three different instructors. While he seems (at least, from what I can glean from talking with him) to enjoy the social aspects of the franchise studio, there are a couple of points that he is dissatisfied with. For one, the cost is too high for his tastes. For another, he believes that he is so much better than most of the other people at his studio, including his current instructor. Third, he was frustrated that his instructor had been holding him back in Bronze. She kept telling him that she wanted to make sure that his technique was good before promoting him, but he thought that he was doing great and was more than ready to move up.

Sparkledancer wanted to help him out, because she’s nice like that, so she asked Seedling what his dance goals were. That was where the story that Sparkledancer was relaying to me gets a bit harder to follow. First she was telling me that he said that all he wanted to do was be an awesome dancer. That is a pretty common goal, but the biggest things that help with that are time, patience and practice, so there wasn’t much Sparkledancer could do for him. Then he came back and said that he wanted to become a competitive dancer like her – but he wanted to do it by learning and competing in all the figures up through Gold, and worrying about learning the technique only after he finished doing that. Sparkledancer tried to caution him that going that route was possible, but to compete without mastering the techniques means placing badly in competitions, so he had to be ready to accept that.

That plan didn’t sound right to him, so then he told her that his goal was to be a super awesome dancer that was basically an instructor, and all the ladies would be able to recognize his skill and he could give “semi-private lessons” (his exact words) on the dance floor during parties. That really irked Sparkledancer, because she is really against men at social dances who think that they should be teaching women how they think they should dance during a party. So she told him off about that goal. Seedling backed away pretty quickly, coming  back with the idea that he wanted to become a Dance Host that women would hire to dance with at social dances instead.

When Sparkledancer told him that the majority of the Dance Hosts that are in the area are dance instructors from various studios, Seedling told her that he could totally be an instructor. After all, he reasoned, he wears all black when he goes out dancing already (yes, he actually said that to her), and he already helps other students in the Bronze I classes at his studio with their steps when they are having trouble. To that Sparkledancer responded that if he actually wanted to become an instructor, he should start off by talking to some of the instructors in the area to get some advice. After that, he would need to go back to his Bronze I classes and start learning the Follower’s part, because an instructor needs to know both sides. If he can master that, she told him that he then needs to make a name for himself so he can attract students.

Given that information, he decided to change his goal yet again. This time, he said that he was going to become a super high level competitor and make a name for himself by winning some big-name competitions. For some reason, he chose International Latin to be his thing. If he did that, he reasoned, then the ladies would come knock his door down to ask him to be their instructor. Bringing it back around, Sparkledancer told him that if he really wanted to do that, then he would need to start working on the technique immediately because that is really the only way he is going to win any competition, especially the bigger well-known competitions.

So this conversation had been going around in circles between Sparkledancer and Seedling for the last two weeks. I have gotten texts from Sparkledancer while at work where she has sent me snippets of things that he has said because she was having a hard time believing that he would think that way about whatever subject he was currently going on about. I think it’s kind of funny, since I haven’t had to deal with it firsthand.

At the end of last week, when the conversation between the two of them came back around again to how he wanted to become super good, but he was already better than his instructor since she only started dancing six months ago, yet he didn’t want to leave his franchise studio because he loved the people there, Sparkledancer finally threw down the gauntlet: she told him that he could go out to a few things that were happening in the Dance Kingdom that weekend and see what the dancing world outside of his franchise had to offer. Then, armed with that knowledge, he could make up his mind about whether it would be better for him to stay and be happy where he is, or leave and be happy on the outside. Seedling agreed to her challenge, so the great test began!

This was a particularly good weekend to go out and experience things for a franchise dancer – Saturday afternoon, Judge Dread (the internationally known ballroom adjudicator) was in town giving workshops. After that, on Saturday night there was going to be a social dance out at the City Dance Hall. Before the dance party there would be a lesson in East Coast Swing given by an instructor who has racked up a number of national dance titles in her competitive career. Finally, Sparkledancer told him that he should make an appearance at Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night, since Seedling had decided that he wanted to dance International Latin competitively. That class would give him a glimpse into what the world of competitive technique for Latin looked like so he could see what he was in for by taking that path.

And so, Seedlings quest began!

The first stop on this tour of the outside world for Seedling was the Endless Dance Hall for workshops with Judge Dread. I only stayed for the first one because I had things to take care of back home, but Seedling stuck around for both – the first being in the Waltz, and the second in Cha-Cha. The Waltz concepts that Judge Dread went over would work for either American or International Waltz, but from what I heard the Cha-Cha choreography was purely from the American Rhythm side of the house.

There were two concepts that Judge Dread wanted to have everyone think about during his Waltz workshop – figures that progressed a lot down the floor, and figures that stayed in place. To give everyone an example of the first kind of figures, Judge Dread had us all do an Open Progressive Twinkle followed by an Open Natural Turn. The Open Progressive Twinkle was done at a very wide angle so that it started heading toward diagonal wall and continued almost straight in that direction. If the Open Natural Turn was done using the expected angle, you would finish the two figures heading toward backing line of dance.

To prepare us for a set of figures that would stay in one place, Judge Dread changed the Open Progressive Twinkle that we were currently doing so that it turned us 90° to come out diagonal center, and then he told us that we were going to move the Open Natural Turn to the end of the progression. In its original place we instead did the first three steps from a Weave From Promenade Position. After those steps we did a basic Reverse Turn which brought us to a complete stop with our feet together, setting us up for the first non-traveling figure – a basic Right Lunge. Coming out of that, he had us do a Spanish Drag, which is a picture line that you normally see in the Tango, but it works just as well in the Waltz.

The Spanish Drag was only held for one beat, allowing us to use the third beat of that measure for a Slip Pivot to turn us to face against line of dance. That positioned us for a Back Twinkle to change directions, and we began to travel again down the line of dance using the Open Natural Turn that Judge Dread had moved. Once we had all those figures down and everyone in class had run through the choreography as-is multiple times, Judge Dread told us that all the steps that we were doing were even in timing, so normally a dancer would try to mix things up by adding in figures that had syncopated steps to keep the choreography exciting.

With that in mind, Judge Dread showed everyone the footwork for the Grapevine as seen in Waltz. We put one of these in between the first Open Progressive Twinkle and the opening to the Weave from Promenade Position, and two of them in a row after the Back Twinkle near the end before the Open Natural Turn that finished the choreography. The whole progression was pretty long as you can see, but it flows very nicely from one piece to the next so it is easy to remember once you step through it a time or two.

Next up on Seedlings tour was the dance party held at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. There we were given another long progression by the instructor that the group hosting the party had asked to come teach. This instructor was someone who I had met before, but I’d never had a chance to take a class or a lesson from her until that point. I must say, I thought she was pretty funny. There was a method to what she was trying to show the class, but she kept jumping around from point to point, often coming back to figures that she had explained before to tell us all something that she had forgotten when she first talked about the steps. The fact that I could follow her train of thought either means that I was paying attention really well, or I am actually pretty scatterbrained and so jumping around between topics makes sense to me (the jury’s still out on which of those facts is true).

Because we had a couple of people in the class that had never seen East Coast Swing before, the instructor started off by showing them how to do the basic. This was actually the part that threw me off the most – I came from one of those schools where they taught you to start off with the rock step for the basics in Swing dances like East Coast Swing of Jive. This instructor started with the triple steps instead. Even when I was thinking about what to do, my body still tried to wind up to take that rock step right at the beginning, and that messed me up more times than I would like to admit during her class. Please don’t think less of me for admitting that to all of you…

Once all the newcomers were comfortable with the basic, she began going through the progression she wanted to show everyone. The whole thing started with one normal basic, then added on a basic that rotated 90° counterclockwise. Once facing the new wall, she had us go into a regular Cuddle. After we came out of that so that the partners were standing across from each other again, she had us go into a more advanced variation of the Cuddle. The variation started out the same way, but once the Follower was wrapped up the Lead would take four steps going forward clockwise around the center point. On the third step the Lead would release the Follower’s left hand and move his right hand down to rest on her right hip, so by the end both partners were in a side-by-side position facing opposite walls.

The Lead’s hand on the Follower’s hip allowed him to give her a nudge to lead her to start the next part of the progression. We did three triple-steps in a row heading toward the Lead’s right. After each triple-step, the Lead would rotate their body 180° to face the opposite wall. Keeping pressure on the Follower’s right arm would get her to flip to face the other direction at the same time. So the progression was a triple-step, 180° to the right, triple-step, 180° turn to the left, and then one last triple-step and 180° turn to the right.

After the third triple step the Lead would bring their left hand up to lead the Follower through a Tuck Turn while he did two steps in place, which kept the Lead on time to do a triple-step with the Follower after the turn was finished. From here the instructor had us do another basic with a Link to get back into dance frame, and to give everyone a chance to take a breath before the next figure, which turned out to be a Lindy Whip. Coming out of that she had us go into Back Walks And Points (I’m pretty sure that’s the actual name of the figure), and we finished everything with one final basic.

The dance party after the class turned out to be an interesting test for Seedling… but we’ll get to that in a bit. Right now, let’s go over the final class that he went to outside of his normal studio this past week, which was Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night.

During class, Lord Junior wanted to have us all work on the opening section from the Closed Silver routine for Cha-Cha that he uses with his competitive students. The opening section isn’t very long, but Lord Junior designed it to showcase a lot of quick movements in an attempt to try to wow the judges right at the start. It opens with both partners facing each other and going into a set of Cucarachas to the right, leading into four in-place chasses. After the fourth, we stepped backward on a diagonal to open up away from our partner while still holding on with the left hand – Leads going off to their right, Followers to their left. This was supposed to give us some space to do Cuban Breaks without kicking each other, but I have really long legs so sometimes if my partner didn’t step very big there still wasn’t quite enough space for me.

After a set of those with the left leg, we would pivot to turn around 180° so that we could do a set with the right leg as well. Finishing those we rotated to square up with our partner again briefly, then launched right into a set of four syncopated New Yorkers. Coming out of the last one we did one normal tempo New Yorker on the right side (which seemed awfully slow by comparison), which finished with a basic chasse to the left. That was all the figures that Lord Junior wanted us to do, so the rest of class was spent trying to perfect the movements so that everyone could do them at full tempo.

So after several days of romping through the world of dance outside of his franchise world, how do you imagine that Seedling felt about his future dance journey? Well, if the conversation that he had about his dance goals with Sparkledancer gave you any indication about his train of thought, you might be guessing that he would be unable to make up his mind about his future now that he has more information – and you would be correct. Seriously, I heard all about his discussions with Sparkledancer after each of these outings, and the guy was all over the place!

For instance, after Latin Technique class was over, I went home and was sitting on the couch looking at some things for work when my phone beeped at me. It was Sparkledancer, forwarding me a message that Seedling sent her after she asked him what he thought of the class. He said: “Yeah it was really good. I mean my instructor said it before but the WAY he said it made sense a lot faster. It was a slower class figure wise but a lot of technique in exchange.”

…I guess he missed the part where the class was called Latin Technique?

Anyway, on top of that Seedling was convinced that he was way better than all of the other women in class, telling Sparkledancer that he wasn’t sure why the girls were in the advanced class when they were struggling to keep up with him. He had the same issue with all the ladies that he danced with at the social dance on Saturday night, telling Sparkledancer that he thought he was so much better than all the women because he knew so many more figures than they did and the women were struggling to understand what he was leading.

…I know what you’re thinking, because it was the same thought that I immediately had too: if ALL the women are struggling to follow you, then likely the problem is not that the women are too low of a level compared to you. The common denominator in that situation is staring at you in the mirror.

Now that Seedling has been to two social dances in the world outside of his franchise studio, he says that it is exactly the same as the social dancing at his franchise studio – meaning that the majority of the women he is going to meet there are going to be outside of his age range for dating. With that information, he seems to be leaning toward wanting to be a competitive dancer. The conversations that Sparkledancer told me about are back to going round and round, because it seems like he wants to dance competitively, but going down that path doesn’t solve his original problem of dancing being more expensive than he can afford comfortably. It actually makes that problem worse.

From the sound of it, he doesn’t like the fact that the franchise studio he is currently a member of won’t cut him a break and let him take private lessons without paying for the group class package on top of that. But he doesn’t want to look at dancing with other instructors outside of his studio where he wouldn’t have to pay for group classes if he didn’t want to. I wonder if it’s because he actually likes this instructor that he has. Even though I have heard him say that he is a better dancer than her, so he isn’t sure that she can teach him a whole lot, secretly I suspect that because she is young and pretty, pays attention to him and praises him for everything that he is doing with a constant stream of high-fives and saying ‘Good Job’ instead of offering any criticism, he doesn’t want to leave her.

The young and pretty thing I know for a fact is something he likes – seriously, he was very eager to show me a picture of how pretty this girl was over the weekend for some reason. I didn’t even ask, he just started pulling up her pictures on some social media site on his phone right in front of me. It was a little creepy.

Overall, I think that Seedling’s weekend of adventure through the Dance Kingdom probably won’t change anything for him. I get the impression that he is set in his ways, even if he isn’t content with those ways. Change is hard. It’s daunting to look at a new path and convince yourself to take it knowing that you basically have to start over at almost the beginning to actually further your progress. I should know, I went through it before – both when I walked away from the franchise studio where I started out and had to adjust to dancing on the outside, and then again when I started to compete seriously under Lord Dormamu’s tutelage and he made me reset and go all the way back to the beginning in International Standard to rebuild my fundamentals into what they are now.

I don’t know when the next time I will see or hear about Seedling again will be. I suspect that this isn’t the last time he will show his face. I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens!

But Oh, How I Changed And Oh, How I’ve Grown

**I feel like I’ve had this song in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it. It may be my current favorite song.**

Here we are! It’s 2019 already! Would you look at that. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school, dreading the thought of deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had the chance, I would totally go back in time and tell my young self that nothing I was worrying about at that time would matter, because somehow 20-ish years later I will be spending most of my free time training to be a competitive dancer. The look on my young face would be priceless I bet.

How did you end up ringing in the new year? I did it the same way that I’ve done it the last few years of my life – out on the dance floor! I spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Dance Hall having fun with a bunch of people, dancing the previous year away. It’s one way to make sure that I get to start the year off on the right foot!

(Actually, the left foot, since, you know, that’s how I usually have to start…)

I like the way that Lord Junior runs his New Year’s Eve parties. It’s basically the kind of party that he would hold at his house for all his friends – if his house were a big dance hall. He had cut off a section of the dance floor in the back by moving up a line of chairs. In the segregated area he set up a bunch of tables for various games that people could play if they needed to give their legs a rest throughout the evening. Which was good, because he was planning on letting people dance all night long! Of all the dance parties I saw on the calendar for New Year’s Eve in my area, Lord Junior’s was the one that was open the longest – he started the night off at 8:00PM with a basic dance lesson for all the newbies, and the party was slated to go until ‘?’. I left the studio pretty late, shortly after 1:00AM I think, and there were still a fair number of people hanging out and having fun at that time.

There were a bunch of faces that I didn’t recognize at the party that night. Many of them were brand new to dancing and out looking for a different way to party on New Year’s Eve. As I said, at the beginning of the evening Lord Junior offered a dance lesson for everyone, and spent the hour covering really basic American Rumba and American Foxtrot. He promised all the newcomers that the DJ would play a fair number of these throughout the evening so that they could all get out on the floor and mess around with the steps he was showing them.

Somehow the class ended up with more men than women, so I opted to sit out so that others could take my place. Lord Junior convinced his wife (who was hanging around in the back of the studio) to come join the class, which made the number of men and women even. I wasn’t too sad about sitting out, believe it or not. See, I had stuck to my normal workout schedule just before I came to the party that day. I’ve switched back to doing heavy weight training after taking a couple of months off to let my body recover, and it was leg day that day, so I was definitely feeling my legs protest by that time. Having an hour during the class where I could just sit down and give my legs a chance to rest before dancing was actually really nice for me.

Once the class was over, everyone was released to have fun for the rest of the night. I think I spent much of the time that night alternating between dancing with people I knew and helping out newcomers with dances they didn’t know. Later on in the evening, Lord Junior roped me into going over to play one of the games with him that needed more people. He was super excited about playing the game (I think he had a bit of the champagne by that time), so of course I couldn’t let him down! That was a lot of fun.

At some point in the evening after the class finished up, I was looking out over the dance floor, and I was surprised to see that a familiar face that I hadn’t seen in a really long time had shown up. It was Young Dave! Yeah, that guy! That takes me all the way back to my days dancing at a franchise studio! I’m not entirely sure what brought him out to the party that night. Quite a while ago he disappeared from the dance world as the franchise studio gobbled him up with plans to turn him into a dance instructor. I heard later that those plans didn’t work out so well for him, and then he injured himself and basically gave up dance entirely. But I guess he’s back! Maybe this is a good sign – I assigned him one of the funniest Lego figures back in the day, and I was sad when he stopped showing up so I didn’t get to use that figure in pictures anymore.

While I’m on the subject of young dudes who came to the New Year’s Eve party, I think that Sparkledancer might have made a new friend that night. She had come to the party, but I didn’t see her for much of the night as she was bouncing around, dancing with her husband and talking to various people who wanted her attention. There was this one guy that I had never met before that kept going over to talk to her. I was introduced to him at one point by Sparkledancer – I think she did it so that he would talk to me for a while so she could run off and get a break. I don’t think he came to the party with anyone… or even knew anyone at the party before he showed up. That might explain why he latched on to Sparkledancer to talk to all night. She’s kind to strays like that. After all, she has kept talking to me for all these years. 🙂

Funny enough, I got a couple of texts from Sparkledancer the next day about this same guy. At some point during the night, she had exchanged phone numbers with him. From what I could gather from her story, he was a franchise studio student who was looking to branch out into the wider ballroom community. Partly that seems to be due to the high costs of the franchise studio which he didn’t want to pay any more, but also because it sounds like his old instructor left his studio, and this guy thinks that he knows more than the new girl who the franchise paired him with. So Sparkledancer offered to help be his guide to the wider ballroom community, and got his contact information for that reason.

She texted me on New Year’s Day to tell me that he was sending her a lot of messages to talk about dance and where he was hoping to go in the dance world. He has been dancing for two years now, and has had three different instructors at the franchise studio. He says that he wants to get into competitive dancing, but the franchise studio he is at doesn’t offer many competitions throughout the year and he isn’t sure if his franchise instructor would go to outside competitions with him. But he also told Sparkledancer that he doesn’t really want to work to be a competitor in the normal way. He wants to start going through and learn the figures so he can compete in Bronze, Silver and Gold, but he doesn’t want to worry about learning the technique until he finishes getting through all that. Huh.

But competing, much like taking lessons at his franchise studio, is also an expensive option, so he was asking her all about the cost benefits of having an Amateur partner for competing instead of trying to do Pro/Am, like she and I are doing. The creepy thing that Sparkledancer was telling me that I guess the guy was mentioning over and over is that he seems determined to find a dance partner and then also make that girl his life partner, so he wouldn’t stop asking Sparkledancer where he could go to meet all the young ballroom girls. I think she told me that he said he was 26 or 28, so he is looking for a girl who is between 20 and 24 who is also single.

To that end, it appears that he had developed a weird interest in Lord Junior’s current intern at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior has this girl who I think is in her mid-twenties that he has been training so that she could become a dance instructor someday. She helps out at the studio with running the front desk and cleaning in return for free lessons from Lord Junior toward that end. The new guy met her at the New Year’s Eve party, and I guess she made a big impression on him. Probably because she was dressed to party in tight leggings and a crop top. Intern girl is funny sometimes – she’ll dress like that, which seems to imply that she wants attention, but if you spend any time talking to her you would find out that she is super shy and tends to avoid attention. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, new guy asked Sparkledancer several times about Intern girl, trying to pass off his inquiries as questions about what level she is and whether the two of them were the same so that they could start training together. That would be one thing, but Sparkledancer was texting me and saying that he was throwing out leading phrases to try to get Sparkledancer to give him personal information about Intern girl. That… sounded kind of creepy to me. Funny, but creepy.

(Also, as an update, I saw Intern girl tonight when I was at the studio practicing. She said that the guy had found her on some social media site, and had sent her a couple of messages. I guess it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that he was using to find out information – he also went right to the source! Intern girl, as you might guess, thought it was strange that a dude that she met only once was asking her all kinds of things, so she just deleted the messages he sent.)

So that was the fun dance related stuff that brought my previous year to a close and ushered in the new one. Good times all around!

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Now that the year is all over, I sit here staring at this page, trying to look back over the last year I had in dancing to think about where it’s taken me. Let’s see…

2018 saw me really embrace the competitive side of dancing and all but walk away from social dancing in that pursuit. Throughout 2017, when I first decided to start seriously competing, I tried to maintain the same level of social dancing that I had been doing up until that point. It got to be a lot, and the social dancing wasn’t really helping me remove all of those bad habits that the social dancing had caused me to develop in the first place. Throughout the past year the amount of time that I went out was cut back more and more, and by the end of the year I got down to only going out to dance parties maybe once or twice a month. That’s probably pretty apparent if I were to flip back through my notes and compare the types of things that I have been talking about lately with what I was talking about at this time the year before.

That doesn’t mean that I have been dancing any less though. If anything, the sheer amount of time that I spend at a dance studio per week has increased dramatically because I am out trying to get in more practice time. That is one of the downsides of dancing Amateur that most people who dance Pro/Am don’t even consider – I have to practice a lot to ensure that I can do everything correctly without even thinking about it, because I don’t have a Professional who could cover for any mistakes I might make.

Note: I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing. My coach admitted to me earlier this year that there are times that he hates competing in Pro/Am competitions. He is a retired World Champion (the real kind, where he won titles in major International competitions, not just the kind from the competition circuit in this country where they call their winners ‘World Champion’ for some weird reason even if all the competitors dancing are from the same state). His Pro/Am students are paying him for his expertise as a retired World Champion. If his students get tired during a competition, or do their techniques incorrectly, he has compensated for them so that those ladies will still win their competition. He told me that doing that sort of thing – leading and adjusting his student’s actions with his frame so that they always look good and always win their rounds – is really hard on his body. So yes, a Professional admitted to me that he will go out of his way to cover for mistakes his students might make.

I’m not saying that Pros have to do that for all students, just that (as an Amateur) I don’t even have that possibility. If my partner or I screw up, we both are getting judged for what we do, so there isn’t someone in our partnership who could cover it up… anyway, this is getting way off from the point that I was trying to make. Let’s circle back around again…

Also, in order to keep up with the high pace of improvement and change that my coach desires of my partner and I, practicing so much to make sure that any changes we make in our coaching sessions becomes muscle memory is not really optional for me. I must have things down before the next time I see him, so that I don’t let him down and so that we can continue moving forward. So I practice a lot now – much more than I did throughout 2017. I have actually been thinking about moving so that I am closer to one of the dance studios that I practice at in 2019 because I spend so much time practicing. Getting rid of the drive time would be great! Then I could spend all that extra time doing more practice, right? Right!? Sigh…

But the results of all the work over the last year have been better than I expected. I went to a lot more competitions than I thought I would when the year started (I think I did seven or eight of them – but don’t quote me on that). I placed a lot higher than I was expecting to in most of them. There were even a couple of competitions that I did where my coach was one of the judges, so aside from getting back placements I was also able to get back direct feedback on what I needed to improve while competing from him, which is super helpful. We’ll see if all the hard work in 2018 pays dividends for the competitions that I do in 2019.

I also worked with my coach to play the dance politics game from a very different side throughout last year. For example, one competition that I was told to go to earlier in the year I didn’t actually dance against anyone, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the event. The organizers of the competition are important judges in the circuit, so I was told to make a showing there to help create some name recognition for myself with them. On top of that, there were several coaching sessions that I took with visitors who also judge competitions, for the same name-recognition reason. This side of dance politics is kind of an expensive game to play, and I don’t really like it all that much. But my coach thinks that it is important, and he hasn’t steered me wrong about anything yet, so I will keep following his recommendations. I’m sure there will be more political games for me in the year to come.

Based on how last year went, I have been wondering if I like being a true competitive dancer more than what I was doing before that, where I was mostly a social dancer who would get talked into competing occasionally. I’m not entirely sure. There are aspects of being a competitor that I like, but there are also a lot of pieces that are frustrating. Maybe I will spend some time in the future writing specifically about the trade-offs and detriments I see now that I am spending all my time focusing on competing instead of focusing on having fun as a dancer. That might be interesting. I’ll make a note about that so that I don’t forget.

Anyway… enough about that. 2018 was good in reflection, and I am looking forward to seeing where the adventures take me in 2019. There’s the potential for lots of crazy things if I end up doing all the things that my coach has been trying to talk me into doing. Bigger competitions, overseas competitions, training camps, meeting more people. He even talked about taking Sparkledancer and I to go to some dance event in his home country, and while we were there he would take all his students to his parent’s house so that we could experience his mother’s traditional cooking. I don’t know if I will end up doing all that next year, because theoretically I will only be competing in Silver at that point and it seems like a bit much, but there is potential so I’m not going to flat-out say no. We’ll have to see what happens!

Are you ready? I am! One more deep breath, and then let’s take off into 2019!

I’m super excited because tomorrow is my first ‘off’ day since changing out my workout schedule at the beginning of the week. The schedule I chose to take up is a five-on, one-off mix, which means I’m still technically working out six days a week, except for that one magical week down the road where the stars all align and then I will have an off day on the first day of the week, then five days of workouts, then a second off day on the very last day of the week! Calendar craziness!

My plan for tomorrow is that I’m going to use the time I normally reserve for my workouts to just stretch for a while. Since I made such a dramatic shift in the types of exercise blocks I am doing, my body is telling me that it’s a little unhappy – but in that good way, where your muscles are just complaining because you had been doing the same thing for several weeks and they had adapted to doing that, and now you are forcing them to work hard and adapt to something completely new. It’s the kind of pain that I love, because it tells me that I am working hard. Even so, a nice, quiet hour of stretching everything just sounds magical to me, so I am looking forward to it.

I imagine that there might be some people out there that are feeling the same way as I am – or maybe worse than I am – if they decided that regular exercise was their chosen resolution for the year. Obviously this feeling of soreness is something that I am used to, since I do this to myself fairly regularly to help avoid getting stuck at plateaus in my fitness. Exercise isn’t a resolution for me obviously, it’s just part of my normal lifestyle.

For people who didn’t really exercise very often and may now be trying to exercise frequently, I would guess that they are much worse for the wear than I am. You don’t necessarily want to follow my plan of action – I prefer to use stretching to alleviate any soreness I cause myself. I tend to stay away from drugs, even common pain relievers, unless I have no other recourse but to take them. So your mileage may vary.

To anyone out there trying their best to improve their fitness in 2019, I want to say that I am proud of you for making that choice. I hope that you not only reach, but then surpass any goals that you have set for yourself. And I believe that you can do that as long as you stick with it. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that the first week is always the hardest. Don’t run away from the pain and soreness that you have right now – embrace that feeling, because it means that your body is changing! And wasn’t that what you were going for in the first place?

Let’s do awesome things this year. Whatever it takes!