Follow Me Into The Desert As Thirsty As You Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paso is… so… metal…!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dance, Dance, Dance To The Distortion

I promised myself I was going to try to keep tonight’s post shorter than things have been lately, so that’s what I’m shooting for. Especially since next weekend is going to be so full of dance stuff that I will likely make all sorts of notes about. Those, of course, will end up posted here. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start back at the beginning…

Last Saturday afternoon when I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekend session, Sir Steven had originally wanted to start off by looking at some new figures in Tango to use for the crazy idea I had for the Fancy Dance Hall’s summer showcase. However, Sparkledancer stopped us both short by saying that she has some work training event that she has to go to this summer, which happens to be the same weekend that the showcase is scheduled for. She can’t get out of that training, so she has to bow out of the performance. I don’t have a backup partner prepared for events like this, much less someone whom I know would trust me enough to let me pick her up and throw her around in a showcase, so I said that I would shelve the idea for another occasion in the future. With that, Sir Steven thought about things for a few minutes to figure out what we would do instead, and put us to work on something else.

We went back to focus on the swing and sway in various parts of our figures again. There were a few points that stick with me as things I need to keep more in my mind as we go forward, since they’ve sort-of fallen by the wayside as I’ve gotten all this other information that I was told to make my priority instead. One thing in particular was in Foxtrot: during the first Feather that I go through, I guess my second step on my left foot was starting to look too much like a forward step instead of a side step, especially when I am thinking about other things (like the proper swing of the figure) when I take the step. That’s something I really need to make sure not to do. I’ve done tons of Feather steps in Foxtrot without issue, so I shouldn’t start creating problems now!

We also spent some time focusing on the Natural Spin Turn in Waltz. This was one of those things that the Princess and I had looked at quite a bit during my coaching session with her while Sparkledancer was on vacation. I’m not sure why Sparkledancer and I hadn’t gone through any Natural Spin Turns together in the practice time we had put in after she got back, but apparently we hadn’t. Sparkledancer was surprised the first time that we went through the figure, since it felt noticeably different to her, so it threw her off a little. I had to stop and tell her about the things the Princess had told me to make sure I was doing to make sure we were on the same page before trying things again. Sir Steven as listening to me talk and nodding along, and at the end he smiled and said that Spin Turns were kind of the Princess’ thing, and she really liked to focus on working on them with people.

The Natural Spin Turns we did afterward were much better, as you can imagine. Sir Steven wanted us to really work on following through even more with the rotation in our upper body at the end of the spin, but to do so while making sure that we didn’t rotate our feet any farther (it is an Under-Turned Natural Spin Turn, after all). There were a few times where we didn’t control the rotation enough while trying to turn from our waists and upper body, which caused our feet to pivot further, so we ended up accidentally coming out of the Natural Spin Turn toward backing diagonal center instead of backing diagonal center against line of dance. On top of that, we had to make sure that we were balanced enough at the end of the rotation to really drive out into the Reverse Turn once we finish spinning. There were times that I came out of the turning and rotating and didn’t have enough of a hold to push out of my right leg with any force, so the last step of the Natural Spin Turn onto my left leg was kind of weak and puny. Sigh… yet another thing to add to my list to focus on during practice, right?

This past Monday night I did manage to get to Latin Technique class. I felt bad for missing class more often than not lately, so even though it was pouring down monstrously that night, I put on my galoshes and headed out to dance. I was one of the few that dared to make the trip that night – when I got to the Electric Dance Hall the only other people in the building besides Lord Junior were Veep and Sparkledancer, and no one else showed up after me. With an even number of men and women for a change, Lord Junior decided to work on a Samba figure with us that really requires both partners to get through successfully. Plus, Lord Junior said that since Sparkledancer and I really only compete in ballroom styles, this figure would still be good for us because some of the ideas you have to keep in mind while going through the steps translate, since the figure is exactly like a common ballroom dance step.

Truly monstrous outside!

The specific figure that Lord Junior wanted to look at was the Samba Roll, which are essentially the same footwork as a Reverse Turn in Viennese Waltz. We ended up doing them in Shadow Position that night, so I guess it would be more like American Viennese Waltz than International, if you want to be specific. Anyway… to get into the figure, we started out on one end of the floor with the ladies opened up out to our right and a bit in front of us, while we had our weight on our left leg with our right leg pointed to the side. The lady would then roll in across our arm toward us, starting on beat seven in the music and doing two turns, ending facing down the line of dance with their weight on the right foot. The Leads would just transfer our weight to our right leg while the lady rolled, helping to guide her with our arms so that she wouldn’t roll away from us, and pivoting 90° as she finished turning to get us into Shadow Position.

On beat one of the next measure we started the Samba Rolls. I’m sure you’ve seen these done before – essentially what you do is that, while move your feet like a Viennese Waltz Reverse Turn, you both lean forward (so the Lead is over the Follow’s back) on the first half of the turn, and then you roll backward (so the Follow is over the Lead’s chest) on the second half. It’s not a hard movement to do by yourself, but you really need to practice a few times with a partner to make sure the two of you are in sync during your movements or it ends up looking crazy. If you watch really high-level dancers do this move in videos and such, you’ll see that they lean waaaaaaaaay over each other as they turn, but if you are doing these with a partner during a normal dance and you really focus on doing the rotations with your core, you don’t have to lean over so far to make the figure look really impressive to anyone watching.

We practiced doing several full turns down the floor to make sure that everyone felt good with them, and then Lord Junior decided to cut the number of turns that we would actually do and give us a good way to get out of the figure and go into something else. The progression still began the same way, with the lady rolling across the Lead to go into the Samba Rolls. We did one and a half full revolutions of those, which should have you standing sort-of backing line of dance with your left foot crossed in front of your right. Then, straightening back up from the lean required for the Samba Rolls, we did essentially an Outside Change from Waltz to turn around and head down the line of dance with two Cruzados Walks and a Lock Step (still in Shadow Position). To finish things, we added on three Curved Runs, the first traveling forward, the second backward, and the third forward again. If curved correctly, the three of those should curve you right around a corner to head down the next wall.

Finally, on Wednesday night I ended up out at Standard Technique class. We looked at some Foxtrot that night, which worked out pretty well for me because it allowed me to focus on some things that Sir Steven had told me to focus on in Foxtrot the previous Saturday, like taking a side step during a Feather and the correct swing and shaping in my Feather and Three Step. The figures that we went over that night weren’t anything all that hard, at least for me, and I’m fairly certain everyone in class had done at least a version of the steps before in some dance. I say that because some of the ladies had trouble that night with the last figure that we did, which was a Natural Twist Turn. This figure is a pretty common Bronze-level figure in International Tango, which is why I would think most people would have done it before. However, in International Foxtrot it is a Gold-level figure – apparently this is because the steps during second beat are syncopated. Other than that, it should feel pretty much the same.

Our progression that night had us starting backing diagonal wall on one wall and going right into an Outside Spin, turning a corner in the process. We came out facing line of dance down the new wall and went right into a Feather and Three Step combo. This was the piece that really tied things in with what I was working on during my lesson the previous Saturday. While rotating through partners during class, I made sure to keep my frame nice and strong and to emphasize the swing and shaping through the Feather and Three Step. Some of the ladies in class responded nicely to what I was doing, while others allowed their right arm to bend out of position rather than turn their bodies with me. It certainly seemed like the ladies who are still not comfortable with being in direct body contact with me (they tend to maintain a three or four inch space between us) had a much harder time feeling the rotation I was doing through my body, so I imagine that is a big part of why their right arm ended up bending when I rotated myself.

After we finished up the Three Step we went right into the Natural Twist Turn. I had no problem with the steps for this figure, since all I had to do was take three steps and then twist around. Unfortunately, several of the ladies got caught on the wrong foot somehow many of the times that they went through their steps. I think some of the confusion came from one point where they weren’t supposed to actually take a step, but rather just transfer their weight between their feet without moving their feet. That seemed to be the most common point of confusion. Once we got past that, we came out of the Natural Twist Turn with the Hover Feather ending. The Natural Twist Turn is one of the few places you can naturally add on a Hover Feather because of the heel pull that you do, so Lord Junior decided to take advantage of that fact to have us work on the Hover Feather.

(Note: a Hover Feather really isn’t too complicated, it’s just a Feather Ending you do from a rise. Since we were already lowered down at the end of the Natural Twist Turn, we would have to add in the foot rise for the Hover Feather right before taking the first of the two steps)

I don’t know about you, but this weekend is going to be super busy for me with all the dance things going on that I’m supposed to attend. First off, Friday was the day picked to have a party to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the Electric Dance Hall. Then on Saturday I have to spend a bunch of time at the Endless Dance Hall to help put the place together for the formal dance party I am helping to host there that night. In between the setup and the dance party, I have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu scheduled at the Fancy Dance Hall. Then that night I have to make my way back to the Endless Dance Hall to actually attend the formal party.

With all of that stuff going on during the day on Saturday, I had to push my normal lesson with Sir Steven from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, because I didn’t think I would be able to fit that in otherwise. Also on Sunday, Lord Junior has some super-high-level coach coming in from somewhere to give a workshop late in the afternoon. The workshop this person is doing is covering some Latin dance style, so while I was invited to attend, if I get exhausted and fall asleep instead of going I probably won’t cry… but I’ll at least try to make it. Lord Junior has asked me several times this week if I’ll be there, so either he needs to make sure he has enough men, or he just really wants my company for some reason.

Those are all my weekend plans. I hope yours are even more exciting than mine!

So Can I Get A Handclap?

Man, this past week has been full of all sorts of twists. If there were any more, I’d almost swear I had my left hand on blue…

Since last time I posted my notes, the first thing I did was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven at the Fancy Dance Hall for my normal Saturday lesson. Except this week we didn’t meet up at the normal time. Apparently the Fancy Dance Hall had been rented out for the afternoon and evening by some group for a big West Coast Swing workshop and dance party extravaganza. In order to avoid being in the way when their event started, we had moved our lesson up to way-too-early o’clock on a Saturday morning so that we could be finished and gone before the event started. I’ve mentioned lots of times that I am the farthest thing from a morning person, so I can’t say that things really went perfectly for me that morning, even though I had consumed copious amounts of caffeine before arriving at the studio that day. Such is life…

I will admit honestly that what we worked on that morning is a bit fuzzy to me. I didn’t sleep all that well the night before, and with all the other things that happened that day the things I was supposed to remember from early that morning have eluded me. I know we started out by running through all of our routines except Viennese Waltz. I remember that when we finished up we looked at one corner of our Foxtrot routine again, and we worked on Tango a bit and I think also Viennese Waltz toward the end, but don’t quote me on that. Now that I’m sitting here at the end of the day trying to write everything down, I feel a bit stupid for not being able to remember exactly.

One thing I do remember (because it came up again later) was that as we were finishing up that day Sparkledancer told Sir Steven and I that she wasn’t going to be in town next weekend, so if I wanted to still come in for a lesson it would have to be on my own. Sir Steven asked me if I still wanted to do that, and I told him that I could go either way. He said that we could pencil something in, and he would ask around to see if any of the female instructors who teach at the Fancy Dance Hall would be interested in either filling in for Sparkledancer during my lesson with Sir Steven, or working on things with me on her own. I just agreed, and headed off to find a quick bite to eat (and some more caffeine) before the coaching session we were supposed to have that afternoon with one of the judges who was in town for the competition that Lord Dormamu was helping organize on Sunday.

The coaching session was something that Lord Dormamu, Sparkledancer and I had worked out via text message on Friday to find a time that worked out for everyone and to figure out what this would cost each of us. Since there was that event going on at the Fancy Dance Hall in the afternoon that had required us to move our lesson with Sir Steven to the morning, the staff at the Fancy Dance Hall had actually rented out the City Dance Hall for the afternoon so that all of their students could have coaching sessions and workshops with the judges before the competition. As I was heading over to the City Dance Hall, I couldn’t help but think that it was funny that the staff from one dance studio had rented out another dance studio to give lessons.

Just as I pulled my car into the parking lot at the City Dance Hall, I got a message from Lord Dormamu telling me that there had been a bunch of flight cancellations for one of the big airlines, and unfortunately one of those cancelled flights was the one that the judge/coach that I was scheduled to work with should have been on. So he wasn’t going to make it in time for our session. Instead, Lord Dormamu said that he would work with Sparkledancer and me instead, but he was going to be half an hour late since he had to deal with the fallout from the judge not being around on time before he got to us. Since I didn’t really want to sit by myself in the parking lot, I headed inside the City Dance Hall to wait until everyone was there.

Working with Lord Dormamu that afternoon was really good for my dance confidence levels. After Sparkledancer and I danced through our Waltz routine for him once, he told me that he could really see a difference in my posture and frame, so all the practice I was doing dancing by myself holding those cups must be paying off. I wasn’t told that I could stop doing that, but he did say that when I was dancing with Sparkledancer, I was now allowed to turn my head to face 45° to the left, and also start pulling my body to the left while she pulled her body to her left (though I am not pulling left anywhere near as dramatically as she is). Anytime I dance with Sparkledancer, this will now be my new ‘home’ position, and I should always come back to it until such a time as he tells me I need to change things again. So yay! He said I improved noticeably! Now I can move on to other things! Progress can be made!

But as much as I’d love to gloat about my own personal progress, there were still points that were given to me to work on. Lord Dormamu said that he didn’t like the way my upper body looked when I was moving backward. He said that sometimes it looked like I was leaning up chest forward as I moved backward, making it look like I was off balance. To help break that behavior, he wanted me to start leaning my upper body backward anytime I would be taking a step backward with bent knees. My knees have to be bent because that is the only way to counter-balance the weight of leaning my upper body backward. I couldn’t think of any times I’ve ever taken steps backward while my knees aren’t really bent (as if I were walking backward during the rise in the Waltz), so for now I am assuming that I will be leaning back slightly every time I take a step backward. That certainly makes it easier for me to practice.

Sparkledancer definitely got it worse than me that afternoon. Now that my posture and frame were less on Lord Dormamu’s radar, he could focus more on her and manipulate her posture and frame. He was trying to get her to pull her body even more to the left when she was in frame with me. Lord Dormamu at one point took Sparkledancer over to a chair and had her sit. He asked me to gently hold her waist in place on the chair so that she didn’t move anywhere while he pulled her upper body to the left, trying to get her spine into almost a 45° angle with her hips. Once he positioned her and let go so he could verify she could hold herself in that position, we helped her up gently so that I could take frame with her and we could dance for a while.

With things like this, it amazes me that anyone, especially me, does this for a hobby. The more I dance, the more it seems like the only way you know you are doing things right is if you are super uncomfortable. Why do we do this to ourselves?

As we were wrapping things up, Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and me that if we can remember the things that we had gone over that day and apply them during the competition that was going on the next day, then we should do fairly well. That stopped us in our tracks, since Sparkledancer and I hadn’t signed up to be in the competition. I told him that, and asked him if, since the competition was on the morrow, if we were too late to even consider signing up. Lord Dormamu just laughed and told me that since it was his competition, he could sign us up at the last minute if we wanted to take part. He told us to think about taking part during the morning for the heats in International Standard, and also later in the evening for the championship or scholarship rounds, and just let him know before the end of the day what we wanted to do so he could add Sparkledancer and me to the list, and he would see us early the next morning if we were going to run some of the heats.

Afterward, Sparkledancer and I stood in the parking lot for a while discussing what we should do. I still had something going on Sunday afternoon I wanted to be able to do, and the championship and scholarship rounds were scheduled to start super late in the evening on Sunday, so it seemed like our best option was to join in for just the heats in the morning. I sent Lord Dormamu a text telling him that we talked it over and would be good with doing two or three heats in each International Standard style in the morning, so whatever he thought was best he could put us down for and let us know the approximate cost at some point and we could get it paid for soon. Neither of us heard back from him that day, but he had already told us what time to show up the next morning, so I guess he just assumed we were all set.

With that, on Sunday morning I was once again awake much earlier than I would have wished so that I could be out at the Endless Dance Hall for the competition. I had not gotten a reply back from Lord Dormamu to the message I sent him Saturday afternoon, so as I walked through the door I had no idea what I was getting myself into that day (or how much it was going to cost me, for that matter). It turns out that I wasn’t the only person like that who was supposed to be competing that day. The lady at the check-in desk did not have a number or a heat sheet printed out for me, but told me I was the second person who had already shown up who had that problem. Lord Dormamu was wandering around getting things situated, so it was pretty easy to flag him down and get everything straightened out. He pulled a number out of the stack that wasn’t in use yet, handed it to me and told me to go ahead and start warming up while he put my number into the heats he wanted me to do.

As I was waiting for Lord Dormamu to finish up, I got roped into helping the Princess set out some noisemakers on all of the tables around the room. That basically means that I carried around a large box full of all the noise making props and followed her from table to table, while she just took what she wanted from the box and arranged things to her liking. I guess my strong arms are actually useful for some things in the dance world. By the time I had finished up with that and gotten back to the table where I had set my dance shoes, Lord Dormamu had delivered a note to the table with a bunch of handwritten numbers on it. That was all the information I got about the heats I was to be dancing in. The numbers told me I was dancing in three different five-dance sets spread throughout the morning. Unfortunately, I was also starting in heat one, so it was time to change gears and get ready to go!

With only a little time before the event was scheduled to start, I tracked down Sparkledancer and got to work warming up. Sparkledancer had recently found, fallen in love with and purchased a new competition dress that she had decided to debut that day, so it was important that we spend a bit of time getting used to dancing with her wearing that piece. The dress had a really unique design that made Sparkledancer stand out, so she was easy for me to find while scanning the room. Our initial practice was important for me because the bottom of her dress flared out a bit, and I wanted to make sure that hitting it with my lower legs as I took steps wasn’t weird. Everything felt good, and all too soon the DJ changed the music to signal that the opening remarks were going to begin, so Sparkledancer and I made our way toward the on-deck area to get ready to go.

In some ways, the competition went exactly as I expected. The first five-dance set of heats did not go as well as the two that we danced later in the morning. For the most part the dances were OK, but the Viennese Waltz left something to be desired, and the Foxtrot was a bit of a disaster for the first two walls. The Foxtrot was completely my fault though. In practice that morning, we had been running through each of our routines starting on the short wall, since that’s where we had room to work on things. When we began the first Foxtrot heat we were already in a corner to start on a short wall, so I figured we’d just go with that. Somehow by the end of that wall I had messed something up, so I was off for the beginning of the long wall, and I maaaaaaay have gone into an American Foxtrot Open Reverse Turn instead of an International Foxtrot Reverse Turn at one point (shhh… that’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone I did that). Still, I picked up enough from the first five dance set to make adjustments to all the routines for the next time through.

Even though the floor at the Endless Dance Hall is pretty huge, I was still finding myself compressed for space to fit all of the figures in during most of my routines. I took that as a good problem to have, since that meant Sparkledancer and I were really stretching our steps and pushing with our standing legs as we traveled. For the second and third five-dance sets I ended up cutting out some figures if I felt I was getting too close to the wall. Sparkledancer was awesome and able to follow me without me having to say anything to her when I did that, as well as the few times I had to break routine because of other couples on the floor getting in the way. See folks, that’s why I keep saying it’s important to go out social dancing: it really teaches you to properly navigate the floor and learn to adjust your steps on the fly to avoid other people. I hope someday they give out bonus points in competitions for floorcraft skills.

In a surprise twist, even though we only had three five-dance sets on our handwritten heat sheet, during one of the later five-dance sets that weren’t on my list the MC called out my name and number for the Viennese Waltz right in the middle of the set. I was a bit stunned, but they were looking right at where Sparkledancer and I were sitting, so I knew it was no mistake. Shaking off the surprise, I went out to dance. So in the end I did three full five-dance sets plus one random Viennese Waltz heat that morning.

Afterward, there was a short break as they transitioned from all the International Standard heats to American Smooth. Since I wasn’t doing anything else that day, I took the opportunity during break to change back into some street clothes and, after watching some dancing for a little while, I took off to go get some lunch with Sparkledancer to discuss how things went. If this competition is anything like the last one I did, I should get back my notes from the judges when I am at the Fancy Dance Hall for my normal lesson next weekend, so I can see what things the judges think I should focus on during practice to improve further. I feel pretty good about things though. For a competition I decided to join and then finished dancing all in less than twelve hours, it was a great experience.

Going back to something mentioned earlier, I got a text from Sir Steven the next afternoon. Apparently they had a short wrap-up meeting after the competition was over, and he had asked around with the female instructors there about working with me next Saturday. I guess the Princess actually told him she knew some things she wanted to work on with me based on what she saw me doing during the competition, so she volunteered to have a private lesson with me. Sir Steven wanted to make sure I was OK with that before putting it on the schedule officially. I’m a bit nervous to find out what she saw that would make her volunteer her limited and highly valued time to work with little old me exclusively, but I’m not stupid enough to turn down an offer like that from the Royalty. So I have something officially scheduled on Saturday now. We’ll have to see what she has to say about how I danced during the competition!

Back to more normal things… yesterday night I spent some time out at Standard Technique class working on Tango. Because Lord Junior is still studying for his upcoming advanced certification test in American Smooth, what we worked on that night involved some steps that would be American Tango, and finished up with a figure from International Tango. At the beginning of class it looked like we were going to have even numbers of Leads and Follows, but there were two ladies that showed up late that threw off the ratio. Not that I was complaining. Before class started, an older gentleman who was there for class was telling me all about his bad knees and ankles, and how he was going in for hernia surgery soon. I don’t know how I got roped into that conversation, but it was rather depressing. Luckily class was about to start when he began repeating himself, so I managed to get away before hearing the sad stories all over again.

What we ended up doing that night in class started out with both partners in Promenade Position. We took two steps in Promenade position before squaring up to our partner and taking a side step, then crossed our foot behind (the Lead’s right foot, Follow’s left) and did a Ronde with the other leg. You can lead the Follower to do this by sliding your hand down to their elbow as you take the side step and then use that hold and some rotation in your body to ‘push’ their right side backward. As you bring your foot down after the Ronde, we would take another side step in the opposite direction, release our partner’s left hand from our right, and turn to take a step forward, kind of like a Crossover Break, before rotating to face our partner again. As the Lead takes a step forward onto the right leg, we would bring the Follower back around in front of us and into closed dance frame once more.

After that whole section, which took much longer for many of the people in class to pick up than I expected, we took a page from the International Tango syllabus and did a Four Step. This would take you toward diagonal wall, but we did this as if we were in a corner, rotating slightly to finish up to come out in Promenade Position facing diagonal center on the new wall. The older fellow who told me all about his upcoming hernia surgery had trouble doing this figure in time with the music when we were doing things at full speed. He managed to finish things up a few beats behind where he should have, which wasn’t too bad, but the transitions between the figures and the speed of the steps in the Four Step were what kept getting him off time. I only got called out for having my head in the wrong place once during class, so I’m feeling pretty good about that overall. Yay me!

So what do you have on your dance plate for this weekend? I’ve only got a couple of things that I need to do. There is that lesson with the Princess on Saturday, and then on Saturday night I have a dance party hosted by my Royal Dance Court gang that I will be helping to organize. Oh yeah, I was supposed to put together a mini-speech about floorcraft to give before the social dance portion of the night. I wrote a few things down, but I never finished that up. Looks like I will be spending some time tomorrow night putting that together before I go to bed. Sigh… who needs rest anyway, right? It’s such an overrated luxury.

You’re Crazy And I’m Out Of My Mind

Last Saturday afternoon I headed out to meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our regularly scheduled lesson. After Sir Steven had Sparkledancer and I run through all of our International Standard routines except Viennese Waltz to warm up, we looked at a couple of specific things that day which were different from the things we had worked on the last couple of weeks.

First up, we went back to Foxtrot to walk around for a bit. In the last several months Sparkledancer and I have done a lot of practice walking back and forth from one side of a dance floor to the other in Foxtrot. This is the major way we’ve both practiced moving backwards and forwards. Oftentimes we’ve done this by traveling down the floor using repeating Three Step and Feather combinations. This time, Sir Steven wanted us to work on walking, but he wanted us to be up on our toes the whole time, to simulate the steps we would take while doing foot rise, like the steps in a Progressive Chasse or a Weave. This was because Sir Steven wanted the steps we would take during both the Basic Weave and Natural Weave in our routine to cover as much distance as the steps we take for other figures. We practiced moving forward and backward while having our heels off the ground, separately then together, adding this as another exercise to do during practice.

Next we switched over to Tango to work on something that ended up being amusing, at least to me. Sir Steven spent some time working with Sparkledancer on changing the position she gets her left arm into when in dance frame for Tango. Sir Steven wanted Sparkledancer to start wrapping her arm more around mine, hooking her thumb underneath my arm and pulling it upward to lock her arm in place. The problem was that she couldn’t hold the position very well – her hand kept slipping upward as she pulled her hand in that direction. Sir Steven tried to get into this position with her to see if he could figure out why this was happening, but she had no problem keeping her arm where it was supposed to be with him. The two of them struggled with things for a while, and eventually they gave up and Sir Steven told her to work on it during practice so that we didn’t spend all our time on one thing.

After our lesson was over and Sparkledancer and I were walking out of the studio toward our cars in the parking lot, Sparkledancer confided in me that she thinks the reason why she was having issues holding her hand in place while in frame with me and not with Sir Steven was because his arms are tiny compared to mine. It is harder for her to wrap her arm around mine and hook her thumb underneath to begin with, and because my arms are not squishy, her hand basically slides upward around my triceps as she pulls upward. On Sir Steven, she can wrap her arm around his arm easily because his arms are smaller. Also, because his arms are not as muscular as mine, as she hooks her thumb beneath his arm and pulls upward she can press into his arm and create a bit of a groove where her thumb can rest to stay in place.

Sigh… it seems like I just have all kinds of dance issues that I don’t think anyone else I’ve ever met has to worry about.

Saturday night I got to go out and do something different for a change – still dance related, but not involving the grind that dance practice has become for me lately. I got to go out and chaperone a local high school prom again. This is something that I volunteered to help Sparkledancer with several years ago, and the people in charge actually accepted me. I guess that since, unlike a lot of other volunteers they get, I have had to have lots of different background checks in my life because of things I’ve done for work in the past, they actually considered me to be fairly trustworthy. I’ve been asked if I would come back and help again every year since then, and I’ve agreed. It’s a nice bit of volunteer work, and usually I get to dance a little bit as the night goes on, so it’s right up my alley.

This year the prom was held at a different venue than they had used the last three years. The place was an actual event center, and the room they had rented out for the night was really big on the inside. The dance floor was smaller than I expected, but because they had decided to have other activities going on in the event hall to entertain the high school students this year, there was lots of space on the dance floor for everyone throughout the night. The kids all tended to cluster in the middle of the floor right in front of the DJ’s booth, leaving big empty spaces on the right and left sides of the floor. I was once again in charge of watching the dance floor for any ‘inappropriate dancing’, so I was standing in the corner on one side where I had lots of room to wiggle around as I watched the cluster of people in the middle. From what I saw, there was really only one incident on the dance floor all night that one of the chaperones had to stop because it looked lewd enough to make someone uncomfortable. I didn’t see it though, so I have no idea what happened.

I will say I wasn’t as big a fan of the DJ this year as I was of the people they brought in the last few years I have helped out at this event. Last year the DJ they had was more technologically advanced, and you could send a message from your phone to request songs (which I did several times that night, to entertain myself). The years before that the DJs played a lot more songs that I was able to dance to, so I moved around a lot while maintaining my vigil on the kids to make sure everyone was behaving. This year… well, the music wasn’t really the kind of music I could dance to. It was mostly music you would hear at a 21+ nightclub meant for drunken bumping and grinding… except that this was a high school prom, so (as far as I could tell) no one was drunk, and the kids were all too young to know how to grind properly. That’s probably why no one felt the need to stop the kids from “grinding” during the evening. The “grinding” they were doing mostly looked sad, not inappropriate.

Close to the end of the night, after many of the kids had left the venue to head off to their after-prom parties, the DJ finally started to play better music. My feet were hurting from standing in one place all night, so I was eager to move around a bit and get my blood flowing properly. Sparkledancer showed up at that point, relieved from whatever station she was chaperoning, and we danced together a bit on the now mostly-empty dance floor. We got to do a couple of Cha-Cha numbers, a Jive, and a Rumba – much to the amazement of the few kids still on the dance floor. They all kind of stopped whatever they were doing to watch us. The last song of the night that the DJ put on as the lights came up and the kids all went off to find their coats was a Foxtrot. It was a bit fast, so we opted to dance American Foxtrot. The few remaining volunteers and the DJ were the ones that stopped to watch us dance a couple of laps after the kids had all left, and as we left the floor after the song was over the DJ thanked us for helping to make the event “classier” than the rest of the evening had been. Yay!

On to more interesting topics… let’s talk about Latin Technique class this week. It was a small class for some reason. Only Ms. Possible, Bony and I had shown up. Lord Junior decided to have us spend some time working on speed and change-of-direction in class that day, and we used Cha-Cha to accomplish that. The change-of-direction part was easy enough, but it was leg day for me when I worked out earlier (never skip leg day!), so my legs were tired and I think my speed probably suffered a bit as a result. I managed to get through things with the music as we increased the tempo throughout the night from about 60% up to normal, but I’m sure the closer we got to full speed the sloppier my legs would have looked if you had been there to watch.

The pattern we used started out with a basic chasse to the right, but after a few rounds we stopped doing that and started out standing on our right leg with the left leg pointed off to the side instead. From either start that we used, we then went into a normal New Yorker to the right, following that up with a Ronde that turned into a Press Line before taking a step to the left. Once the left foot was on the ground, we did an actual Ronde Chasse, rotating our bodies slightly at the end so that the last step was not a side step, but rather a step forward with our bodies turned out slightly to face away from our partner. Here we abruptly changed direction, rotating 180° without moving our feet. The turn wasn’t so bad, but since we did not do a rock step or anything after turning to kill the momentum we had when dancing closer to full tempo, the next movement was harder to go into while maintaining your balance.

After flipping around, the guys had it easy. We were just going to take two steps forward and one to the side. The ladies would do a Three Step Turn while we did that, and we used the side step at the end to line up with them and regain their hand before going into the next figure. I had to be careful with this section. For some reason I kept wanting to do a Three Step Turn as well. The progression worked if I did that, since I was able to link up with the lady at the end without issues, but I really wasn’t supposed to be doing that. Apparently I just like making things harder for myself for no apparent reason. No one seemed to notice when I accidentally turned though, so let’s just keep that as our secret, OK?

To finish things out, we did New Yorker on the left side, and then shifted our weight between our legs and back to left rather than doing a chasse. Then we did two New Yorkers with Cuban Break timing, first to the left then to the right. We did a final New Yorker to the left that was held for a whole measure to give everyone a chance to breathe. After the hold, both partners turned away from each other to basically walk around in a half-circle (counter-clockwise for the Leads, clockwise for the Follows). We took two steps, and then did a Lock Step starting with the left leg, then two more steps and another Lock Step, this time starting with the right leg. If done correctly, both partners should have met back up in the middle a couple of feet down the floor from where you started out.

Finally, let’s talk about what I got to do yesterday night in Standard Technique class. This week, Lord Junior wanted to work on the Outside Spin some more, but since we had already gone through the figure in Waltz last week in class Lord Junior wanted to change things up a bit. He decided that we were going to look at the figure in Foxtrot this week, and he wanted to make sure we added on a Ronde when coming out of the Outside Spin because he had so much fun doing the Ronde figures in Latin Technique class on Monday. After dancing through things himself a few times before starting class to figure out what he should make the timing in the Ronde figure to make it challenging for us, we got to work.

To start things out a little more gently than rushing straight into the Outside Spin, we began by facing diagonal wall and doing a Hover Telemark (which is the same footwork as a Twinkle from American Foxtrot) and went into an Open Natural Turn. That set us up nicely for the Outside Spin, and gave us a bit of momentum to work with to make the pivots and spins easier for everyone. At the end of the Outside Spin the Leads would lunge forward on their right leg, heading toward diagonal center, and rotate their body to lead the Followers through the Ronde that was mentioned earlier. Doing a Ronde like that in International Foxtrot is much more difficult than doing one in American Foxtrot. In American style you can split apart from each other and round out your arms in order to emphasize the turn and make the movement easier. In International style you are supposed to stay in frame the whole time, which includes maintaining body contact. This limits your lead when trying to lead the figure from your core instead, since most people can turn their arms slightly farther than their torso.

The Ronde was meant to be very slow, covering almost a whole three beats in the music. At the end of beat three the Leads finally shifted our weight back to the left leg and on beat four we brought the right foot down behind the left to do a small pivot, lining us up to face against the line of dance. Now we needed to turn around, since the force of our last movement was causing us to travel backwards. Lord Junior decided to keep things easy and add on a simple Open Telemark. The Heel Turn that the ladies were asked to do for this particular Open Telemark was probably the easiest Heel Turn that any of them had ever done. We were given the option of coming out either heading straight down the line of dance (i.e. no turn at all) or heading toward diagonal center (i.e. 1/8th of a turn). Finally, we could finish the whole progression by closing the Promenade through a Feather Ending, but oftentimes the lady would just stop dancing as soon as we took our first step in Promenade Position after the Open Telemark, ending the progression a bit more abruptly.

I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to be doing this weekend. I had finally heard back from Lord Dormamu after class on Wednesday to say that he had set Sparkledancer and I up with coaching from some judge early Saturday afternoon, and that I should also be planning on some workshop for Saturday evening. The problem is that I had already been scheduled to take care of something for work mid-Saturday afternoon that I can’t get out of. Once I told Lord Dormamu that, he said that he would go back and discuss things with people, and let me know what Saturday looks like later. He never mentioned anything about whether or not I should plan on being in the competition he’s organizing on Sunday. I hope he lets me know soon – I had a friend ask me about something for Sunday, so if I’m going to dance I need to rearrange that as well. Sigh… I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens!