Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair

For me, the dance parts of last weekend that are worth mentioning started with a party on Saturday night. As I mentioned, my Royal Dance Court group was hosting our monthly dance party that evening, and to start the night off we had asked the best Shag dancer that you’ll probably ever meet, Mr. Rubber-legs, to come by and teach a class to anyone interested. As usually happens when we advertise that we are going to have a Shag lesson, a lot of people were interested, so the dance floor was packed.

Before we get going, I invite you to take a moment with me to quietly get all of the ‘60s British spy jokes about Shag out of your system………… yeah, baby.

Moving on. Where was I… right. I’ve been to a few classes taught by Mr. Rubber-legs before when my Royal Dance Court gang has invited him to teach for us in the past. The class he does is interesting, but always starts off the same way. I know that he holds classes of his own for beginners and more advanced Shag dancers in another location during the week, so I think that he takes opportunities like the one my Royal Dance Court presented to him that night to introduce people to Shag and to his teaching style, let them watch how rubbery his legs get when he dances, and then invite them to come to his normal classes if they want to know more.

Most of the class involved Mr. Rubber-legs discussing the history of Shag and showing everyone how to do two figures, the basic footwork pattern and a lady’s Underarm Turn. For some reason, Mr. Rubber-legs wanted to teach the class with everyone lined up in a straight line down the middle of the room, which made for reeeeeeeally tight quarters for dancing as the class progressed. I saw one lady get elbowed in the face by the lady next to her at one point in the class, which gives you an idea of how tight the quarters were. There may have been other people bumping forcefully into each other that I didn’t see, and that wouldn’t surprise me.

Much like most dance parties that my Royal Dance Court gang puts together, we ended up with more women than men attending, so I had to jump into the class to try to help even out the ratio a little. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced Shag, so I had totally forgotten the positions of the feet in the basic pattern (it’s just different enough from East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing to require you to see it once or twice), but it was easy enough to pick back up once I saw Mr. Rubber-legs go through it again. The lady’s turn was pretty much the same as West Coast Swing, so I could do that one easily just by watching it once too.

Close to the end of the class time, once Mr. Rubber-legs was sure that everyone was able to do the two figures that he had started with correctly, he ramped up the speed and gave out information on a third, more complicated figure, and then a variation of that figure right at the end that he only showed people by doing it himself, because he didn’t have time to actually teach it to anyone. The third figure started off in Handshake Hold and involved bringing the lady into something like Sweetheart position, with the Lead’s right arm up over the lady’s right shoulder. You would start doing the footwork for a normal basic while in this position, and halfway through you roll the lady out in front of you. If you are really cool, you could have the lady do a double turn while you rolled her out, though some of the women I danced with said that spinning twice like that made them dizzy.

The variation involved the guy turning around after he rolled the lady out, so that she was now looking at his back. Mr. Rubber-legs called this a ‘Trail’ – you know, because the lady is trailing the guy. It wasn’t too hard of a position to turn into, and the footwork that he was doing was just the steps for the basic pattern as far as I could see, but I was on the far side of the room while he was demonstrating this variation to the class and like I said, he never explained it to us, so don’t quote me on the footwork if anyone asks when you try it for yourself. 😉

After class was over, the rest of the dance party was mostly uneventful. Mr. Rubber-legs stuck around for a little while to dance and talk with people, but left at some point before the night was half over. For the most part, I tried to stay behind the scenes taking care of things to make the party go smoothly, aside from going out a few times during the evening to dance some ballroom styles with Sparkledancer. Events like this are the closest thing to practicing floorcraft for a competition that we can do, so try to get out on the floor right after the song starts and dance one lap around before everyone else gets on the floor and things get crazy with all the social dancers doing different stuff.

(I mean different like the people who dance Argentine Tango during a Tango and don’t stay in the middle of the floor, or who were dancing Shag during a Foxtrot. They tend to make it dangerous to dance with my competitive partner and really move around the floor without having to stop all the time to avoid people)

There was one encounter in particular during this party that was pretty weird for me. I was in the back of the room, working on refilling the container of water for all the guests, when the DJ announced that an International Viennese Waltz was next. I didn’t think anything of it, since I was busy at the moment, and by the time I finished the song had already been going on for a bit and I didn’t want to find Sparkledancer and just jump in. Well, a lady that I had never seen before saw me standing on the side of the room and came over to ask if I wanted to try the Viennese Waltz with her.

Now Viennese Waltz, much like Quickstep, is not one of those dances that is a good idea for newcomers, and since I had never seen this lady before and she had asked me if I wanted to ‘try’ the Viennese Waltz with her, red flags went up in my mind. I had to ask her if she knew how to do International Viennese Waltz before I just took her out onto the floor with everyone else. She gave me a wishy-washy response and shrugged her shoulders, which did not make me feel any better about doing this.

I told her that this one was the faster version of Viennese Waltz and she wouldn’t get to open up and do fancy turns like they have in American Viennese Waltz. She seemed shocked by that, but still wouldn’t give me a straight answer as to whether she had even done Viennese Waltz before. Finally, when I saw that she was just going to be difficult and wasn’t going to leave me, I relented, even with all the voices in my head screaming that this was a bad idea. I waited for an opening on the floor and then took her out there, and prayed that things would be alright.

Lucky for me, the song only lasted about another ninety seconds, or about a loop and a half around the floor. When I walked her back to the side and then parted ways, she seemed happy enough, because she was all smiles. Sparkledancer caught me though as I was heading over to the other side of the room and told me that it looked like the woman was just running to keep up with me, because I was staying on time with the song and Sparkledancer said that my partner’s footsteps were not. That kind of made me feel bad. I didn’t feel my partner struggling to keep up, but she wasn’t that heavy of a woman, so was I really just inadvertently dragging her through everything? Sigh…

On Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella again for work. Even though these sessions are mainly meant for the girls to work on girl things, I feel like I work really hard while I’m there, because I always end up all sweaty and gross by the time we finish up, while both girls still look nice. I wonder why that is? That’s just a random observation I had during this session.

Anyway… we started off looking at the Tango again. The notes that I have from the Tango are pretty much all things that Lady Tella was telling Sparkledancer. Let’s see, she mentioned that in general she wanted to see Sparkledancer work on getting her position even more to the left around me – almost to the point that she would be on my right hip. During the Back Corte, she wanted Sparkledancer to work on creating even more volume (though I think that is going to be a constant request until her hair is dragging on the floor). She also said that anytime that we are in Promenade Position or doing a Reverse Turn that Sparkledancer should be pulling her left elbow outward to help keep her shoulder down.

When we got to looking at the Natural Promenade Turn (Promenade Pivot), Lady Tella made a comment that I thought was funny. She was trying to explain to Sparkledancer how she wanted her to slow down the turn of her head between positions, so she brought up a carnival game for comparison. Have you ever been to a carnival and seen the game where they have the clown heads in the middle that are slowly rotating with their mouths open, and you have to throw a ball into the mouth as it goes by? That’s what Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to rotate her head like. This comparison may have resulted in a few attempts where Sparkledancer was keeping her mouth open while turning her head, but since my own head is looking away from her during the figure, I cannot completely confirm or deny this.

Finally in the Tango we looked at the Right-side Lunge in the corner again, so that Lady Tella could see how our practice with the figure was coming along. She just wanted to have Sparkledancer make a few minor adjustments to the position that she was in while holding the lunge – chest forward more, head back more, keep hips more level, and be sure not to tilt. Minor adjustments, am I right?

At the end of our session, just to break things up a bit, Lady Tella had us switch over to look at the Quickstep a little so that she could see how that has been coming along with our practice as well. Overall the Quickstep was fairly strong, and there weren’t a lot of spots that Lady Tella felt like she had to point out for either of us to be aware of. She did mention that she wanted us to be aware of the amount of volume between us any time that we were rotating (which we do a lot more in the Quickstep than we do in Tango). Not really a major issue, just something to be aware of.

For me specifically, she said that during some of the rotations she was seeing me do a slight head tilt when I started turning. It wasn’t something that I did all the time, but sometimes she could see it. That was a frustrating thing to try to go over, because the times she did see it when we repeated a turning figure over and over again, I couldn’t feel any movement in any of my upper body, but she saw it. Also, according to her the movement is very slight, but it is enough that she can see something happening. So yeah, that’s something that I have to look at somehow. Joy.

Latin Technique class this week was sadly hilarious for me. I’m not sure what in the world was going on. Either my legs were too tired to work right, or my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but I was having trouble getting things right for most of the class. I would describe it as being… hilariously inept. Luckily I managed to pull it together by the end of class and get through without problems, but man it was rough getting there. Also I got made fun of a lot by Lord Junior, which made things so much better. I deserved it though. Everybody needs to have a bad dance day once in a while, right?

At the beginning we got to warm up a little by practicing different types of Latin dance turning movements on both legs. We started off by going through a basic Spot Turn, which is the normal type of turn you see in Rumba or Cha-Cha, and then we looked at a Switch Turn, which you can do in Rumba but most of the time you only see people doing in Cha-Cha. After that Lord Junior had us look at the turn that the ladies do in an Alemana. Guys don’t usually do a lot while ladies are going through an Alemana, so I got to try the lady’s footwork for this turn. I think I did pretty OK, if I do say so myself.

Lord Junior wanted to work with the class on Samba that night, so right from the get-go I knew this class wasn’t going to cover material that I liked. I don’t know why, but Samba just isn’t something I’m fond of. Lord Junior told us that recently he had been working with several of his competitive ladies on Solo Spot Voltas, and based on how that was going he wanted to give this class a chance to practice them as well. To begin this section, he gave us a basic combination of Volta movements to work on so that we could all make sure we got the Cuban Cross action correct.

We did four Voltas going straight to the side, four that continued in that direction but curved widely for half a circle, then four Spot Voltas that turned 180° each. By the time you finished, you were supposed to be on the other side of the dance floor (depending on how much you could travel) facing the opposite direction from where you started. Then we repeated all of those steps going the other way, to put us right back where we started. This part of class was easy enough, and I managed to get through all the figures just fine.

After that we paired off to do Solo Spot Voltas, and here is where things went downhill. To start, the Leader stood in front of his partner with our left hand flat against their right, and our feet in a Cuban Cross (left foot behind). We did four Solo Spot Voltas that also turned 180° each going to the left (Follow’s right) first. After the fourth, the Lead would bring up their right hand to stop their partner, then we would do another four going the other way. Sounds simple enough, right?

I think the thing that was throwing me off was the first action that you do. As you start turning for the first Spot Volta, your feet should just stay on the floor and you rotate. The next Volta action is where one foot has to move while the other stays planted on the floor as your pivot point. This worked great for the first four, but when you stop turning one way and change directions, if you forget to just leave your feet down and rotate, moving your legs throws everything off. All of us in class seemed to have trouble with this action at first, but it took me the longest to actually get it into my brain to do it correctly.

To finish out the class, Lord Junior gave us a simple progression to work on. He had us do the four and four Solo Spot Voltas in two directions, then two slow Voltas that traveled down the line of dance, and we finished with four Samba Locks. As we started this progression, I was still having trouble getting my feet to do the right actions with the Solo Spot Voltas, so I was flailing around a bit, which Lord Junior thought was funny.

Eventually he had us start doing the progression with music. I could do it correctly when the music was really slow, but when it sped up to like 85% my footwork just fell apart. Right before letting us go Lord Junior decided to amuse himself by having us do things to full speed. Suddenly, when the music was fast and I didn’t have time to think, I could do the footwork right every time. That made me feel kind of dumb, to be honest. I guess that I am just not a medium speed kind of person when it comes to Samba. Slow or fast only is what makes it work for me.

On Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class to look at some Waltz. Much like last week’s class on Tango, this week we also looked at a little bit of American Waltz and a little bit of International Waltz. Lord Junior is still working on studying for his certification tests for American Smooth, which is why he goes through these things with us. He admitted to all of us last night though that the studying is going slowly for him, because he cares so little for American Smooth it just doesn’t hold his interest. He did say that it is going better than his study of American Rhythm, which he cares for even less. Poor guy…

The first figure we looked at was from the American syllabus, called an Open Right Turn. It’s a misleading figure though, because it’s actually three different figures strung together and given an all new name. By the book the Open Right Turn is a Basic Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn, finishing with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending. Yeah, if you read that list it does sound a lot like Foxtrot, doesn’t it? Would you be surprised if I told you that you could also do this Open Right Turn in Foxtrot with a slight change in the timing and rise-and-fall? Because you can.

After we all seemed to have the figure down, Lord Junior changed it up to give us a second variation of the Open Right Turn. Pulling out the Open Impetus and Feather Ending, we replaced it with a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady to the outside, and finishing with a Développé. To close, the guys would step back onto their right leg and finish a normal box step while turning the ladies in front of us.

At the end of the Open Right Turn (whichever variation you so desire), we added on a couple more figures to keep the fun going. We did a Syncopated Fallaway next, which if you did the Open Right Turn variation and were still apart from your partner you would close back to dance position during. Following the Fallaway we did an Outside Spin from International Waltz, and to close we did a basic Natural Turn. The ending was a lot of fun, because you could get a lot of rotation going through the Outside Spin which would almost throw you through the Natural Turn. I thought that was the most exciting part.

That’s all the notes I have for this past week. As for this upcoming week, I think that most of it is going to be focused on practice. After all, the weekend after next I will be competing, so I have to make sure I’m ready. However… I heard of this class on West Coast Swing moves being offered this weekend, and I think I’m going to go to that. It’s been a long time since I’ve put any focus into West Coast Swing, and I do like that dance style a lot, so I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to pick up something new. That should be fun, right? Or at least different. We’ll see what happens!


If Everything Is Nothing, Then Are We Anything?

My dance weekend began by taking part in another meeting between Sparkledancer and Lady Tella. We spent the entire time that afternoon dancing Tango. As seems to happen quite a bit with these meetings, there wasn’t much in the way of notes that actually relate to me, but I did pay attention to some of the things that Lady Tella told Sparkledancer to focus on this time around. Some days I am not too poor to pay attention! Yay me!

The spot in the routine that Lady Tella wanted to work on the most with Sparkledancer was the Right Side Lunge that is in the first corner. Even though the figure is different and has some sway while we are in the line, Lady Tella told her to think about shaping it more like a Back Corte, and to sink into her hips more. The part that was the most difficult to get correct was the head movements. Going into the lunge, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to change her head earlier. Also, she said that I should be leading Sparkledancer’s head motion with a subtle flick of my body. If I’m not doing anything to lead it, apparently the head movement just looks cosmetic.

Coming out of the lunge, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to add back in the double head flick once more as we rotate into the Back Corte. I swear poor Sparkledancer’s head must be spinning (pun intended) from the amount of times people keep changing that on her. For a few weeks one coach or another will tell her to do it, then someone will come along and tell her to take it out, then it will go back in, then a month later it gets thrown out… hopefully this will be the last time someone voices an opinion on the matter and she gets to keep it in forever this time.

A few other notes that Lady Tella gave Sparkledancer were (in no particular order): during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside she needs to keep her hips back further; any time she has rotated to Promenade Position, she was told to stay in her back leg and keep her head outside of her hands; during the Natural Twist Turn she needs to make sure to fill the Lead’s right hand and not let it slide across her back; and overall while dancing Tango she needs to think about keeping her chest forward and her head back.

The one note that Lady Tella kept saying to me, and I’m not even sure why I was doing this that afternoon, was that I needed to keep my fingers closed together on my right hand. This is not something that I normally do, but I guess that afternoon I kept letting my fingers splay out when I was standing there in dance frame while the girls were talking. Maybe it was because I was just standing there a lot, trying to be a good dance dummy, so I wasn’t really concerned with what my hands were doing. Half the time my left hand was just out, and the lady I was in fame with (either Sparkledancer or Lady Tella) wasn’t even holding onto it, so my left hand was being useless too. Still, I wrote it down so that I would pay more attention to keeping the fingers of my right hand closed next time. Silly me…
Last Saturday night I ended up out with some friends at a dance party event being held at the City Dance Hall. This party was notable because the organizers of the party had convinced some Amateur couple who has recently won some sort of nationally-recognized championship in American Smooth to come out and teach a class in Waltz before the party. I didn’t recognize the names of the couple, but I thought that going to a lesson taught by an Amateur couple who was competing at that level could be interesting, so I agreed to meet up with people there.

Have I ever told you that I am terrible with names? Because I really am. I am much better at recognizing faces of people I’ve met before than I am at remembering their names. I bring this up because even though I didn’t recognize the names of the high-level Amateur couple that was going to teach that night, I recognized the two of them right away when I saw them. I’ve met them a few times before because they are actually another Amateur couple that my coach (Lord Dormamu) is training!

A few years ago this couple had been winning all kinds of competitions in American Smooth, so they decided that they wanted to add more work into their lives and picked up International Standard as well. They looked around for a coach for a while, and finally managed to hook up with Lord Dormamu because he’s one of the best, and they have been working with him ever since. I’ve talked to them many times before when they’ve been in town for lessons with him, and I spent quite a bit of time talking to them this Saturday night as well once I realized who they were. Maybe now I’ll be able to remember their names going forward…

The way that they taught their Waltz lesson was interesting. They had a basic idea that they wanted to give to everyone, but taught it in three parts. First they showed everyone the idea in its most basic form. During the middle of the class they upgraded some pieces of the idea to be more of an intermediate pattern. Finally at the end of class they evolved the intermediate choreography to an advanced state, trying to make it more of a challenge for anyone who has a dance power level over nine thousand.

Basic choreography started off facing line of dance and doing half of a Reverse Turn, then doing a Box with Right Underarm Turn for the second half, rotating 90° and closing in hand-to-hand position facing center. From here we traveled down the line of dance doing three Open Change Steps (or Running Steps, or Butterfly Steps, whatever you want to call them). At the end of the third Open Change Step we closed back into dance position then did another half of a Reverse Turn, using that to turn the corner and rotate to face toward diagonal center on the new line of dance.

There was really only one change given to upgrade the pattern to the intermediate version. The Open Change Steps that did most of the traveling in the pattern were replaced with a version that allowed both partners to do free spins while moving. I’m sure most of you have either seen or done this variation before – the Lead will give the lady a slight push and release her hand as you open up for the Open Change Step, so that the lady turns out to the left while the man turns out to the right. After the spin, you catch hands again and then collect like you would normally for an Open Change Step back into a hand-to-hand position with the man facing center.

The most advanced version made a number of changes. To start with, we did two out of the three free spin variation Open Change Steps. The last one was replaced with the man just doing three Running Steps forward while turning the lady clockwise, and then another portion was added on with the man doing three Running Steps forward again, this time turning the lady counterclockwise. After the turns, the man would catch both of the lady’s hands and do a checking action, leading her to do a Développé. We closed the Développé by bringing the lady back upright and doing half a Reverse Turn, then doing a Simple Twinkle which ended in Promenade Position and continued down the floor with Passing Twinkles ad infinitum, closing with half a Natural Turn whenever you wanted.

In most dance studios, this pattern will naturally need to curve as you move, because the dance floor will not be long enough to do everything in a straight line. If you play your cards right, and get the right partner, you can easily cover ¾ of the dance floor. And this couple teaching, well they were encouraging everyone to try their best to cover that much of the floor. Their words of encouragement were funny though. We were all told, and I quote: “To make it big and powerful, you have to be big and powerful doing it.” Really deep, helpful advice, right?

During the middle of the party after the lesson was over, the organizers had asked the two of them if they would perform a couple of numbers for the crowd, so they opted to do a Foxtrot and Tango. The Foxtrot ended up being really interesting, because after they finished the DJ came on the mic and told everyone that they had been asked specifically to dance that performance as Lead and Follow – with no routine or prior choreography. They had wanted to show all the members of this club that it was possible to dance in a really fancy manner at a really high level without having to memorize a routine beforehand, something that all of the people in the crowd could aspire to. I thought that was a pretty sly way for the organizers to try to motivate their members. Good on them.

I left the party shortly after the performances were over because I had things to do at home that night, but on my way out I stopped to talk to the two of them. Most people were wandering by and congratulating the pair on their performance and showering them with praise, but I just wanted to see how their training with Lord Dormamu was going, and find out what competitions that the two of them were planning on doing over the next couple of months. Sadly, they weren’t going to be at the competition I’m going to at the end of this month, and I’m not going to the one they’re doing in July, but they are considering going to the one in August that I am planning to do, so we could possibly see each other there. Hooray for that!
The two of them then mentioned that they are going to a non-competition dance event at the beginning of July that Lord Dormamu had mentioned to Sparkledancer and I. It’s a big coaching get together with a lot of big name people, that is happening in a town a few hours north of me. I had been mulling it over after Lord Dormamu mentioned it, and the information I could find on the event made it sound interesting, but also super expensive. This couple told me that they went last year, and they thought it was a lot of fun, so they were excited to go back. Well now I’m leaning toward going. It will be another dance adventure if it happens, right?

Speaking of other dance adventures… Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class doing some Rumba. This week the class had no special focus, we just went through some figures that Lord Junior hadn’t made any of his students work on in a while, so that these students could prove that they hadn’t forgotten the steps. I just got to go along with the ride on this one.

We started out by facing our partner in a one hand hold, with the guys pointing their right leg back and the ladies pointing their left leg forward. Stepping forward on a slow count to start, we did a forward checking action and then the men closed their feet and led the ladies to do a Curl. Next the men did a backward checking action and collected the lady into dance frame to go through a Reverse Top. After letting the top spin for three measures, we released the lady out into Fan Position.

Closing from Fan Position, we led the ladies to do an Alemana that ended with the lady on the man’s right side. You wanted to make sure not to bring the lady in too close to your body here, because we had them do a Spiral Turn next, so they needed to have a little free space to turn without smacking us. From there we walked them around us in a Rope Spin. Once she got all the way around so she was back in front of us, we would collect her back up with our right arm, rotate 90° to the right and go into two Opening Outs.
At the end of the second one, the men needed to slide their right foot around the lady so that we could get in front of her for the next figure. Releasing our partner as we came around, we did a Sliding Door action, with the men checking forward on the lady’s left side. Coming back, we did a Delayed Action with our left leg, pointing it behind us until the last second and then putting it down and taking another step to the right into a Right Side Lunge. Lord Junior made me try to do some sort of fancy arching movement with my arm while in this lunge, but I’m sure it looked more silly than fancy when I did it. We then stood up, collected our left leg to the right one, then stepped forward to catch the lady with our right arm one last time to go into an Opening Out action on our right side to finish.

Finally, I also got to do some Tango in Standard Technique class this week. To differentiate what we were doing in class from the Tango lesson I was a part of last Saturday, Lord Junior gave us a few figures from International Tango, and then added in some figures from American Tango to make things interesting for us. I’m pretty sure I have done all the pieces of the choreography that we used at some point in the past, just not put together with each other or in this order.
The pattern started with two different figures from the standard International Tango syllabus. The first was a Gold-level figure, the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot. The second was a basic Bronze-level figure, the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. We started out taking these heading toward diagonal center, then following the wall, coming out toward diagonal wall. That is, of course, until Lord Junior saw that some of us (i.e. me…) were covering a lot of ground with just these two figures.

Since there were people on the other end of the floor working with their instructor and he wanted to leave them some room and still add more figures, he told me to pull in my angles a lot. Rather than start the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot heading toward diagonal center, I was almost going straight center, and coming out after the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside heading almost right for the wall. Me and my long legs, always getting into trouble with floor space. Sigh…

Here is where we switched over to some American Tango figures. The guys took two steps on an angle and faked a third to keep our weight on our right leg while we turned the ladies to bring them to Shadow Position facing diagonal center. Next we did another Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside, only this time in Shadow Position. At the end of that figure, we rolled the ladies across our bodies out to our left to get into a side-by-side hold (I believe the position is called ‘Open Fan’ but I can’t swear to it, so YMMV if you want to use that name when discussing it with other dancers).

Leading the lady to rotate with our left hand, we faced one another (also called Fan Position, I believe, but don’t quote me on that), then we led the lady through an inside turn as we stepped forward to her outside. To finish everything we did a basic American-style three-step close action while bringing the lady back into closed dance position.

I think this coming weekend is going to be busy for me again. Besides lots of practice to get ready for the competition I’m doing in a couple of weeks, I should have a lesson with Lord Dormamu (if he ever gets back to me to confirm the time), I know there is a lesson with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella planned, and my Royal Dance Court gang is hosting a dance party on Saturday night. I’m expecting the party to be kind of busy, because we are bringing in someone to teach a Shag lesson. Providing lessons in these more esoteric dance styles tends to attract different people than I normally see, in addition to all the regular ballroom people who come to these parties, so the dance floor could be rather busy that night.

I hope that you have a lot of fun things on your dance calendar too. Are you taking your dad out dancing? I’m not. My parent’s live really far away, so even if I invited them, neither of them could come with me. Plus, you know, as a guy it would be weird going dancing with my dad. I still feel like he is the one in charge when he’s around, since he’s my dad and all, but I know more about dancing than him, so I don’t think I could let him be the Lead. Plus I’m really not a very good Follow…

From The Back To The Middle And Around Again

I did a lot of things last Saturday to make up for not having any actual dance lessons the Saturday prior. For some reason I decided that having a double lesson with Lord Dormamu first thing in the morning was a good idea, and then when that was done I was talked into going to a double lesson with Lady Tella as well. Not content with just having that much on my plate for the day, I also went to a dance party that night! I feel like I wasn’t actually home at all that day..

Because of all the things I had planned to do that day, I ended up waking up early on Saturday morning to meet with Lord Dormamu. We had arranged to get together at such an early time that the Endless Dance Hall was still locked when I showed up. So much for getting there a little before my lesson to warm up. As I sat in the parking lot waiting for someone to show up and let me in, I watched a bunch of people running along the sidewalk in front of the studio, many of them wearing weighted vests. I’m pretty sure that there is some kind of fitness studio near the Endless Dance Hall that was putting on this running… thing, that was going on, because these people would run by, then run back, then run by again, then run back again, over and over.

Both Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer showed up after I had been sitting there for ten minutes or so and I finally got to go inside. After a quicker than planned warm-up, we got started by looking over our Waltz routine. Overall Lord Dormamu was pleased with how well the Waltz looked after watching what was essentially a cold run-through. He felt better about how our rising action was looking, telling us that we had definitely managed to get rid of the ‘popping’ that we had been previously been doing, but now that we have fixed that problem he wanted to see us work on the lower half of our swing through the steps.

The way that he explained it to us was like this: imagine that your height is split into ten equal sections from the floor up to your head. When we took frame at the beginning of the routine, before we even started moving with the music, the height we were holding would be the neutral or resting point, which he said was a five. If we went through the first Natural Turn in the routine, the apex of the Natural Turn would be considered a seven. Our problem was that the lowering action he was seeing from across the room was only going down to a four, so there wasn’t enough of a change between the lowest point in the figure and the apex.

What he wanted us to start working on to fix this was not just lowering more into the figures. While that would make the height of the rise versus the fall look more dynamic, Sparkledancer and I are not exactly the same height, so we would run the risk of lowering different amounts. Lord Dormamu told me that this is one of those rare instances where I actually have to adjust the action in my body slightly to press downward against Sparkledancer from my midsection, allowing me to control how much she lowers.

If I am doing this correctly, the amount that we both lower will look equal. That will prevent what he sees couples doing sometimes when he is judging, where one partner is essentially sliding their body down the front of the other because they are lowering more than their partner is. By putting me in control of how far down we go, telling Sparkledancer how far she should lower by pressing her downward with my body, she will always stay connected to me at the same point. Therefore, no risk of sliding. Pus, I’m much heavier than Sparkledancer, so there’s very little chance that she could fight against me pressing down on her, meaning that I will always get my way.

Of course, this means that from now on, if we don’t lower enough it’s going to be all my fault. No pressure there, right?

After Waltz we spent a bit of time looking over the Foxtrot. There were a few specific points that I took away from this section to focus on during practice this week. The big positive note that I was told was that my leg action is looking smoother, so the work that I have been doing during practice has been paying off. However, overall I was told that I could be keeping it lower, so that is something to spend more time working on. Then there is the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish again, which I was told was looking like it popped up a lot during the times I was going through it. I may have been rushing the first step of the figure for some reason, because if I think about it and take it slower, the issue doesn’t happen.

We also spent a bit of time looking at the Natural Weave as well, though that wasn’t for me. Lord Dormamu wasn’t happy about how Sparkledancer’s positioning looked while we were going through the figure. He gave her a few pointers to try to help, but rather than spend a whole lot of time trying to fix her himself he asked her to spend some time working with Lady Tella specifically on that figure since we were going to see her later that day. Aside from that one figure in Foxtrot, he said that we should spend the rest of our time with her having her look at Sparkledancer in the Quickstep. Our Quickstep routine is relatively simple, and we usually score extremely well in that style, so having Sparkledancer look as best as possible should keep us on top he said.

After finishing up paperwork with Lord Dormamu, we got a half-hour break and then we met up with Lady Tella. For much of this lesson, just like last time the two of them got together, I was mostly used as a male body for Lady Tella to demonstrate with or for Sparkledancer to practice with. It is good for me to be there, since the changes that Lady Tella is working with Sparkledancer on implementing end up slightly changing our center of balance, so it is good for me to be able to feel that and get used to it as it is happening, but not a whole lot of information they discuss is actually directed toward me.

When we started, Sparkledancer explained to Lady Tella that Lord Dormamu specifically wanted her to look at the Natural Weave in the Foxtrot, and then once that was done to start looking at her overall shape in the Quickstep. Lady Tella wanted to start us off by watching us go through the entire Foxtrot routine so that she could see everything in context before we pulled out just one small section to look at. After the initial run-through, I walked through the figures in the section in question with Lady Tella in practice hold, telling her the name of each figure before stepping through it. Apparently knowing the names of the figures that are in your routine is a skill most people don’t have, because Lady Tella told me that she wouldn’t have known the names if I hadn’t told her.

The ladies spent quite a bit of time working through Sparkledancer’s body position in the Natural Weave, trying to get it to look better. There wasn’t actually much there for me to do, other than stand where I was told and lead one or the other of them through the figures when needed. The only real comment that I got was that Lady Tella preferred that I put slightly more emphasis on the right-side sway during the Weave-portion of the Natural Weave. Doing so, she told me, made the movement of Sparkledancer’s head seem more natural. If I didn’t emphasize the sway enough, she said that from the outside it looks like Sparkledancer is just moving her head because she was told to, not because she is being led to.

Once everyone was happy with the way that section of Foxtrot looked and felt, we switched over to Quickstep for a bit. The girls talked through all the points where Lady Tella saw that Sparkledancer was losing her position, and parts where she wanted her to emphasize her stretch outward even more as we traveled. A couple of places we spent a lot of time on were the two Natural Spin Turns in the routine, particularly the second one. In the first corner, we have that strange, not-quite-Bronze amalgamation that Lord Dormamu gave us of a Natural Spin Turn with a Slip Pivot that has never really felt in control. Lady Tella could see that during our initial run-through, so she worked with Sparkledancer to see if she could help.

While the two of them were discussing her part, I decided to focus on keeping my third step in line with the line of dance. When we were originally taught the figure, I was coming around Sparkledancer much more on that third step, more toward diagonal wall. That meant that the Slip Pivot would have to turn 90° to finish pointing diagonal center before going into a Double Reverse Spin. That much rotation in two different directions in such a short amount of time is what causes the feeling of being out-of-control. If I reduce the step I take to go toward line of dance, the Slip Pivot only has to turn 45°, which gives Sparkledancer much more time to prepare her leg to go backward into the Heel Turn for the Double Reverse Spin. I think it helps a lot, so I’m going to keep doing it unless I’m told otherwise.

To cap things off on Saturday, I went out that night to a party being hosted at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior had put together something fancy to celebrate the holiday weekend, and had booked a local jazz band to come play music throughout the evening. That sounded like a particularly fun and interesting event to attend, so I headed out there. This also happened to be the only dance party in the whole Dance Kingdom scheduled for that night, so this is where everyone else ended up for dancing, too.

There was some time set aside right at the beginning of the night where Lord Junior planned on teaching a beginner Foxtrot lesson while the band was getting their equipment setup. I hadn’t planned on participating, so I didn’t arrive until about ten minutes after the class started. Lord Junior had a whole bunch of people in the class though, with several more women than men, so as soon as I walked in the door he called me out in the middle of whatever he was teaching and told me to put my shoes on and jump in to help.

The figures that Lord Junior was showing everyone were just the absolute basics for American Foxtrot – just the Forward Basic and Left Rock Turn. As he explained, this was only supposed to be a short beginner class and he just wanted to give all the newcomers the ability to get around the floor during a song if they wanted to give it a try. Most of the second-half of class was spent with the men rotating through partners to allow everyone to practice what they learned. When I would change partners, if I came across any lady that I didn’t recognize I would take a second to introduce myself and ask them if they had ever done this before. I had quite a few women tell me that this was their first time ever dancing Foxtrot, so this party that Lord Junior had put together obviously attracted quite a few newcomers.

During the last few rotations that Lord Junior had the class go through with the music that he was playing from his sound system, the drummer and the bass player from the band started to play along with the song that Lord Junior had chosen. He took that as a signal from the band letting him know that they were ready to go, so he wrapped up the class and turned the night over to them.

I thought that the party was fun. I spent more time just listening to the band play than I did dancing, and I’m OK with that turn of events. Most of the dancing that I did was during the few breaks that the band got throughout the evening, where Lord Junior would plug his phone into the sound system and play some songs that he thought were fun, in dance styles that the band didn’t play much, like Quickstep, Viennese Waltz or West Coast Swing.

There was one lady that was at the party though that kind of made me uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that I danced with her once in the group class as we were rotating through partners, but then I felt like she was watching me the rest of the night. Maybe she wanted to dance with me, but I was always talking to other people who I knew. Maybe she thought I was funny looking. Maybe I had something on my shirt and she really just wanted to point it out to me. I don’t know. Sparkledancer also caught her watching me, and came over to tell me at one point during the party. Of course, her take on the situation was that the lady was looking at me with “hungry eyes” because I was a single male who had some moderate skill in dance. Weird.

Aside from avoiding “hungry eyes” lady that evening, I also spent some time talking with one older gentleman during the course of the party. He was telling me a fascinating tale about two other dancers who had come to the party that night. The lady in his story was someone who is well-known in the social dance community, having been part of it for many years and serving on the boards of various dance clubs in the area during that time. The gentleman in question is a relatively recent addition to the social dance scene here. He moved to the area from somewhere else, knowing a bit about dance when he arrived, but with so many instructors and classes in the area to work with this guy has really blossomed as a social dancer.

At some point in the last year these two people started dating, and now they go out to almost every dance party in the area together. The older gentleman I was talking to told me that many of the social dancers now refer to them as the ‘Ballroom Power Couple’ because they think these two are such good dancers. Older gentleman was quick to tell me that these two were not good in the same way that I am, since he has been around when Sparkledancer and I have been practicing so he’s seen how I can dance, but this ‘Ballroom Power Couple’ is good enough to impress all the social dancers they spend time around.

Maybe I’ll have to check in on these two as time goes on… you know, to see if all that power goes to their head. That could be interesting and amusing to keep notes about, right?

Here’s a funny thing that also happened this weekend…

Last Sunday afternoon I had gone out to the Electric Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer for our regular Sunday practice time. This particular Sunday afternoon, the studio was practically empty, I’m guessing because of the holiday weekend. The only people who I saw in the studio when I got there was Lord Junior and a young couple he was working with on what looked like a wedding dance, and then Sparkledancer who was sitting in a chair against the back wall putting on her shoes.

I waved hello to Lord Junior and then wandered over to put on my own dance shoes and stretch out a bit before we got started. When I stood up and looked back toward the front of the building, I caught sight of a tiny body running out toward the dance floor, yelling something to Lord Junior. It turns out that he had brought his young daughter, who I think isn’t even three years old yet, along with him that afternoon.

Since Lord Junior was teaching, he told his daughter that he was busy with the couple that he was teaching, then told her to go say hi to Sparkledancer and I instead. This excited the little girl immensely, so she turned to look over at where I was standing and stretching out my shoulders, then ran as fast as she could over to say hello. The conversation I had with her was amusing. First of all, she is super young, so her command of the English language was very basic. Secondly, she was really quiet, so even though she laughed loudly when excited, I had to lean over or crouch down near her to understand half the words coming out of her mouth.

What I learned in my conversation with this young lady is that she wants to be the Ballerina Princess. Not a Princess Ballerina – I asked to make sure I had that right, and apparently Ballerina Princess is correct, and Princess Ballerina is wrong. When Sparkledancer asked her if she knew how to dance, she told us that she really was taking ballet classes, then she showed us her best dance moves. I swear this child is already a better dancer than I am. Must be nice growing up with a parent who owns a dance studio, right?

Things got even funnier after that though. I’m not sure how it happened, but after talking about becoming the Ballerina Princess then she started talking about her dog at home… then she was telling me about the dog digging holes in the yard… then she got down on her hands and knees to show me how the dog dug holes so it could sniff worms, because apparently that’s what dogs do once the hole is dug. After that, she told me that she was a puppy, so she started crawling around the dance studio like a puppy, digging holes, sniffing worms and barking occasionally. When she came back around to Sparkledancer and I, she told us that we could play puppies with her, but since we were bigger she would be the baby puppy while Sparkledancer was the mommy puppy and I had to be the daddy puppy.

I’m not sure how we were able to be puppies and also somehow able to have her as a puppy, but I never questioned her on that. Funny. So yeah. That’s a true story that happened during dance practice this weekend.

Skipping ahead for brevity, on Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. When I got there that night the Ballerina Princess was back, and this time she had her older sister with her. Sister is only a year older, so both of these girls are tiny. Their mom (Lord Junior’s wife) was wandering around the studio talking to people, so the two girls were just running around being silly. When I sat down to change into my dance shoes, both of the girls ran over to talk. The older girl was telling all of us sitting in that area all about her ballet recital over the weekend, and how she danced all by herself on stage in front of everyone while her mom was in the back. Ballerina Princess was talking about… something, but she was talking so fast and so quietly that I didn’t catch any of it, so I just smiled and nodded.

Eventually the girls got tired of standing around talking and they started running around in circles. Being the accommodating adults that we are, Sparkledancer, Veep and I, who were all sitting along the back wall, would hold out our hands so that they could high-five us as they ran by. I’m kind of jealous of how much energy that these two small girls had stored up inside them, because they just kept running as fast as their tiny legs would carry them for ten minutes straight, laughing the whole time.

When it was time for them to leave with their mother, Lord Junior came over and crouched down in the middle of the floor and held up his hands for high-fives like Sparkledancer, Veep and I. However, this was all a trick, because as soon as the girls changed direction to run over and slap his hands, he grabbed them both up and picked them up off the ground to carry them out to the car. So tricky! That meant play time was over, and it was time for class to start.

We looked at some Foxtrot this week in class, with all figures in the progression we were given coming straight from the Bronze and Silver syllabus. Starting out heading toward diagonal center, we did a Feather and then added on an Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending. I know that sounds like four different figures, but it is actually the name of one figure in the Silver-level syllabus for International Foxtrot. Go ahead, look it up! See what I mean?

When we finished the Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending we were back traveling toward diagonal center once more. Here we added on a basic Three Step and then went into a Natural Telemark to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Natural Telemark before that night. It’s another figure from the Silver-level syllabus, and this one is all rotational so you don’t have to worry about traveling anywhere. There’s a spot in the middle where you take a small side-step as the lady is turning around you, and the trick I was told here was to lower even further into my legs briefly before coming up for the Feather Finish. That slight lowering should help stop the lady’s turn so that she can prepare to start moving in a new direction for the next steps.

That’s all I want to make notes about this week. There were other things that I did, but none of them are important or amusing enough for me to care to write down. Plus, this is already long enough as-is. I hope that your week of dancing has gone as well as mine. Until next time!

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!