With The Slightest Little Effort Of My Ghostlike Charms

Last Saturday was the first time since the last competition that everyone’s schedules matched up, and Sparkledancer and I were able to meet up with Lord Dormamu for coaching. The first thing that he said to us as we got started that morning was that he was pleased with the results we got at the beginning of the month, but doing as well as we did doesn’t mean that we’ll do that well during the next competition, so we still have a lot of work to do. Our next competition happens to be on November 4th, by the way, so we have a very short amount of time to cram in a lot of work to start ironing out our weak points.

The big thing that Lord Dormamu wanted to start working on with us that day was Tango, which is something both Sparkledancer and I have been hoping to have him look over thoroughly for quite a while. Before we started in on Tango however, he wanted to have us go through our Waltz for him once so that he could point out a few things that he saw during the last competition that we need to clean up.

What he was unhappy with in our Waltz were our Double Reverse Spins specifically, but the problem with those were caused by the way that Sparkledancer was doing her Heel Turns in general. After he had Sparkledancer and I go through the Double Reverse Spin a few times, he took her aside and the two of them worked on Heel Turns without me.

Sparkledancer told me later that day that Lord Dormamu took all the issues and trouble that she has had doing Heel Turns over the last few years that she has been dancing International Standard, and fixed them in less than five minutes. All the issues! For the rest of that day, and again when she and I were practicing together on Sunday afternoon, Sparkledancer was telling me how much easier Heel Turns seemed now that he showed her what she had been doing wrong.

I guess that really goes to show you why Lord Dormamu was a multi-multi-multi-<etc, etc><etc., etc.=””>-time world champion. He knows all the things. All. The. Things.</etc.,>

We didn’t spend too much more time on the Waltz once Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu made their breakthrough. He told us that it would be a better use of our time to move on to Tango, and for us to practice the Double Reverse Spin and the other Heel Turns that Sparkledancer does in all of our routines later, during our normal practice time.

Obviously the first thing that he had to fix in our Tango was our dance frame. What Sparkledancer and I got into was basically the same frame as we use for all of our other dances, except my arms were held level with my shoulders, and our knees were bent more to put us closer to the ground. Lord Dormamu told us that we were actually too connected through the body for Tango. He made both of us roll our hips back so we were only connected at our ribs, and everything else was free. There was some additional maneuvering done to Sparkledancer to try to increase her volume, but that is really a constant adjustment for her nowadays. Our arms were in a good place already, so we at least had that going for us.

After we started dancing the first Back Corte, Lord Dormamu stopped us immediately. He saw the head flick that we had in the figure (something that Sir Steven had told us to put in way back in the day) and told us to throw it out. Much like what we had done with all the head movements in Waltz and Foxtrot when Lord Dormamu initially started looking at those dance styles, he wanted us to work on making the dance as clean as possible before we added in any styling movements. Let me say, it is a relief to not worry about moving my head for now, but I have also done that head flick for so long that I don’t always remember to take it out!

We made a pretty good start on the Tango. Overall we didn’t get very far into the routine – we only got through the first four figures – but it feels good to actually put the kind of work into Tango that we put into our Foxtrot. Lord Dormamu had me adjust the angles that a couple of these figures began or ended on so that we were facing what he said was the right direction, and to go through all the steps without either losing the position our bodies were in when we started, or rising up at all. We ran out of time that day, but Lord Dormamu promised that he would be looking at Tango again next time we got together.

Once Sparkledancer and I finished up with Lord Dormamu, we immediately had a lesson with Sir Steven to jump into. This lesson wasn’t quite so technical, so that was a nice break. We started out talking about how Sparkledancer and I have been coming on getting the lift down. I told Sir Steven all about where we were at, and how the sections that we were practicing weren’t quite comfortable enough yet to be done in a place where there wasn’t a cushion on the floor. I’m feeling OK about everything, but I personally want to make sure that I’m feeling way more than OK about things before we move from practicing the lift over a pile of pillows and blankets to practicing it over a dance floor. Safety first, right?

So we started looking other figures that Sir Steven wants to have us use in the showcase routine: Open Natural Turns. These are a fairly simple figure that I’ve done before, but because the showcase will end up using more colorful choreography that requires Sparkledancer and I to break frame, I had to take a moment to switch my brain over to American Smooth mode to get them right.

We spent a lot of time that day working on what Sparkledancer and I should be doing with our arms while we go through these figures. Arm motions are not something I worry about in International Standard, so the first few times I tried to gracefully roll my arms around they just looked awkward. After we worked out the arms, we looked at what the head should be doing next. Sir Steven wanted us to have some sway in our upper body as we moved, and the head should always be looking toward the side of your body that is sloping downward.

With those techniques out of the way, what we ended up with by the time we finished were: three Open Natural Turns where both Sparkledancer and I extend our left arms outward and link to each other using our right, one Open Natural Turn for me as I turn Sparkledancer so that she ends up in Shadow Position, four more Open Natural Turns in Shadow Position, and one more Open Natural for me as I spin Sparkledancer back around to end in Promenade Position.

That’s as far as we got that day with the choreography. There are still questions up in the air about what our showcase will look like and what song we will use, since there has been no confirmation from the Artistic Director of the show on what she thinks of our ideas. Supposedly she will be stopping by at some point to talk with Sparkledancer and I about the plan, but I have been given no date on that conversation yet. Hooray for flying blind! Good thing the performance isn’t until mid-December, right?

Later in the evening I was back out dancing again as my Royal Dance Court group hosted our monthly social dance party. We had planned something interesting and different this time around to mix things up a little and have some fun. One of the members of the Royal Dance Court was super excited about all of the Oktoberfest parties that he was planning to attend this month, and he thought it would be a lot of fun if we held a Oktoberfest dance party in celebration. The rest of us thought that sounded like a lot of fun, and after some thought someone else threw out the idea that there really is no better dance style to learn at a Oktoberfest party than… the Polka!

Because there are always more women than men at our dance parties, I was helping out during the class before our party to even up the ratio a bit. This was my first time ever dancing the Polka before, so I had to actually pay attention during the class to figure out what I needed to do. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a class where I had no idea how to do any of the figures being taught, even the basic step, so I thought that it was strangely fun.

Most of what we went through during that class were just variations on the basic figure for the Polka. The instructor showed everyone what he called the “Forward Basic,” the ‘Promenade Basic” and the “Curving Basic” to get around the room. He had everyone practice these figures for quite a while, because there were quite a few people who didn’t seem to get them after the first couple of tries.I think he would have had more luck if he had had the class switch partners a few times, which would have also let several more ladies have a chance to practice, but that’s just my take on how things went.

Near the end of class we were given one more, slightly more interesting figure to look at. This figure had no real name, but started out in the Promenade Basic, and during the second half having both partners open up to side-by-side position facing against line of dance. The man then turns the lady clockwise with his left hand, switching hands as she comes around, and then turning ourselves back to face the line of dance and grasping her right hand with his as the turn ends so that we are in a cross-hand hold with the left hand on top.

From this position, you can continue down the line of dance in a semblance of the Promenade Basic, or lead her through a turn counterclockwise and retake her hand over her shoulder so that you are traveling in something like Shadow Position with a double hand hold. After going down the line of dance for as long as you’d like in this position, you can use your right forearm to initiate another turn, getting her to spin counterclockwise again in front of you and from there you could link back up into the normal Forward Basic figure.

We didn’t go over any of the fancy jumping or hopping figures that you’ve probably seen before when people do Polka, but these steps we did cover exponentially increase the number of Polka figures that I know. Maybe next time I hear a Polka song being played, I will actually be able to go out onto the floor and participate. Yay me!

One other funny note about the dance party… one of the guests who came to the dance party actually showed up in an authentic German costume. Apparently he had taken a trip to Germany earlier in the month and had picked up the outfit there, knowing that we would be having this dance party a few weeks later. He had the whole get-up – the hat with feather, the overalls that were only slightly longer than shorts, the tunic shirt underneath… and what looked like a knife strapped to his ankle. That accessory threw me off a bit the first time I saw it.

Sparkledancer actually danced with this gentleman during the evening. Being curious, she asked about the knife. Apparently it was very real, and “authentic” as he was proud to tell her. This is the first time I have ever known anyone to bring a weapon to a dance party. I’ve seen people who were choreographing a showcase routine in the past that involved dancing with swords, but never anyone just casually dancing with a blade on them for no real reason. So that was a new experience for me. Way to commit to the costume, dude!

Onto a completely different topic now… one that actually made me kind of angry and sad at the same time. This is highly dance related, and comments like this should make everyone in the dance community feel something… rage? Sadness? I don’t know.. Let me tell you what happened.

So Sunday afternoon I went out to the Electric Dance Hall to watch the showcase performance that they were holding. Having been a performer in showcases past (and currently preparing to perform in a showcase in the near future), I know how important it is to go out and view the routines that your dance acquaintances have been working hard on, and show them lots of love in the process.

I had seen the lineup for this showcase earlier in the week, and I was a bit surprised by what I had read. Out of around thirty scheduled performances, there were only two that were unique, and the rest were evenly split between Lord Junior performing with some of his female students, and Lord Scarry performing with some of his. I know having a pair of amateur dancers performing is a rarity around the Dance Kingdom, but usually there are at least one or two acts put on by amateurs. Not this time, for some reason.

Anyway… here’s what got me all riled up: during the second act, as Lord Scarry took the stage with one of his students to perform, the DJ for the night was having trouble getting their song to work. As several people ran over to try to get the music straightened out, Lord Fabulous tried to entertain the crowd by asking Lord Scarry’s student questions about herself to pass the time. A spotlight interview, of sorts – I’m sure you can picture it in your mind. Most of the questions were pretty benign, but the last question was for her to tell everyone about when she started dancing.

As the girl was talking, Lord Fabulous interjected that this particular student had actually started dancing many years ago with her husband, but then (as Lord Fabulous put it rather proudly) she “kicked him out because he was holding her back.” The crowd of students that had come to perform with Lord Scarry and this students friends who were in the crowd all laughed and cheered at what I assume was supposed to be a joke, but I was shocked at hearing that bit of trivia proclaimed so happily.

See, I don’t know if any of you ladies have noticed, but men are in short supply in the ballroom dancing world. I certainly notice, because I go to group classes and oftentimes find myself being outnumbered by ladies all of the time. When the ratio is this lopsided, why would anyone be happy, or make light of the fact that we once had a brethren male dancer in this fight who is no longer with us because his wife thought he was holding back her progress?

This is not the first time that I have heard of this phenomenon happening either. Back in the day, shortly after I started my dance journey at the Land of the Loft, I remember Lord Fabulous performing a routine at one Friday night dance party with one of his female students. When Lord Fabulous introduced this student to everyone else in the dance hall, he told us that this lady had also started dancing with her husband once upon a time, but ended up dropping him as a dance partner ( the lady told us all she “voted him off the island”) so that she could continue dancing without him holding her back, because he was the weak link. Hearing Lord Fabulous make a similar joke again this weekend reminded me of that incident.

Why would anyone want to joke about this? Why would anyone be proud of this? That’s what really gets me riled up. With the obvious lack of men who dance in the Dance Kingdom, you would think that everyone would try their best to help keep these men dancing. You would think these two ladies in particular would really want their husbands to continue dancing with them, rather than having to go out to dance parties and hope that other men in attendance would want to take them out on the floor, right? How many of the other ladies at the party would be jealous (super jealous) that these two women have their husbands dancing with them all night long?

I realize that training a man to ballroom dance is harder in the beginning than training a lady to dance (that may be controversial, but I feel that it is true). You have to teach the guy all the footwork, then how to lead the figures, then help him figure out how to mix up the figures to keep things entertaining for his partner, then help him get experience in floorcraft so that he can keep his partner safe. And that’s all assuming that he already has a good grasp of hearing the timing of the music. If he has no musical background, you’d also have to train him to hear and follow the beat in the song playing, which is something I see new male dancers struggle with all the time when I watch social dances.

A lot of men drop out of the ballroom world on their own due to the frustration of feeling like a beginner, especially when they compare the way they are dancing to what the male dance instructors are able to do. I know that it made me feel like a terrible dancer back when I started. But from the sound of things, this student performing (and the one I remembered from the past) actively discouraged their husbands from dancing. That just seems so… wrong to me. For shame!

Grr… I could probably go on for a long time about how stupid that is, but I think you get my point. I’ll stop now.

Anyway… this weekend marks my favorite time of the year for dancing: Halloween! There are a whole slew of Halloween dance parties planned that I know about in the Dance Kingdom, but for some reason they are all happening on Saturday night. You would think that one of them would have chosen to do theirs on Friday night so that they didn’t have to fight for attendees, but no… they didn’t.

Which one am I going to? It’s a toss-up right now. I like the one at the Electric Dance Hall, because that’s the closest one to where I live, but the Fancy Dance Hall is hosting some kind of themed mystery event that also sounds like fun. So I’ll definitely be at one of those two. Hopefully whichever party I go to will have good Halloween candy for me to partake of as well. That’s the best part, right?

Happy Halloween everyone! Dance the night away with me, and enjoy this classic:

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All Around, Things To Tantalize My Brain

For this week I’ll probably limit what I talk about here to what happened over the weekend, since there is so much information to cover from just Friday and Saturday…

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the famous ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza that is held annually at the Grand Dance Hall. They make a point of bringing in some fabulous dinners to serve to the attendees, hold formal dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights with a live orchestra providing the music, and offer some pretty fun workshops for both beginner and advanced students during the day on Saturday. This year marked my fifth time attending the October-weekend festivities, because I happen to find it so entertaining.

I made the hour+ drive out to the Grand Dance Hall mid-afternoon Friday, hoping to get there with a little extra time before the welcome reception started so that I could find a place to change into my formal attire. I’ve made the long drive while wearing a suit the first few years and it is super-uncomfortable, so I just don’t do it anymore. Once I had found a quiet corner to change into my formal attire and stowed my street clothes back in my car, I met up with the small group of people I knew by the dance floor to begin the evening’s events.

The main dance hall was opened up an hour before dinner would be served to allow everyone to come in, mingle a bit, eat some snacks that were set out at the back of the room, and even partake of a few adult beverages from the cash bar if that was your thing. A quartet of musicians was playing some dance tunes during the reception, giving everyone a chance to take to the dance floor and begin warming up their legs before the bigger dance party that would start after dinner, when the rest of the orchestra would join the quartet.

Not recognizing too many people at the reception, I stuck with the ladies that I did know when I went out to dance. The times that I went out to dance with Sparkledancer were apparently very noticeable to others in attendance. Near the end, just before the group I was in began wandering off to get some dinner, people started to approach either Sparkledancer or I and ask us if we were dance instructors, or if we were in fact THE dance instructors who would be teaching the workshops the next day. That was a bit strange.

One gentleman approached me and told me that I made him look bad by looking so good. I laughed and apologized to him for that, thinking he was just joking around. He then got quite serious and asked if I would be attending the workshops the next day. When I told him that I would be there, he asked me if I would be able to help him out if he got stuck on anything during the classes. I was really surprised by that question. Of course I told him I would do the best that I could, but it still surprised me that someone would go out of their way to ask me in advance for assistance with dance figures. I’ve never had that happen before.
Dinner was a delight, as always. The food that they bring in for the event always seems really extravagant compared to what I normally eat. I even had a fancy dessert, which is the part of any meal that I rarely (if ever) partake of. Around nine o’clock, the orchestra began to play and we all made our way back out to the dance floor to dance for a few more hours and burn off all those calories that we had consumed. Hooray!

Making my way back to the Grand Dance Hall early on Saturday morning to attend the first workshop being offered, I got to work on Tango for a while. These workshops that they hold are to give people new choreography to work on, rather than to focus on technique. This is a nice change of pace for me from what the lessons I normally attend focus on, so I was having fun.

The choreography we learned was fairly easy to put together if you’d seen all the figures individually before, and because we never broke frame you could theoretically use this when dancing both International or American Tango. I see it as more of an American Tango progression though, but that’s just my take on the matter.

We began facing diagonal wall and did two basic curved Walk steps. Next we attached a 180° pivot to the left and went into a Back Corte. Coming up from that, we did another 180° pivot to left and led the lady to do an Outside Fan, ending with a three-step-close like you see in American Tango. Next we did a Reverse Turn, closing our feet at the end, and then a Contra Check. At the end of the Contra Check we went into a Cobra Fan (another figure from the American Tango syllabus). When we close lady from the second Outside fan portion of that figure, we did two 180° pivots turning to the right this time, finishing with another three-step-close from American Tango to put you facing diagonal wall once more.

Next up of the three workshops offered that day was a Cha-Cha lesson. Everyone in attendance got a brief ten minute break after finishing up the Tango to prepare, and then we got to work immediately. Much like the Tango, the choreography wasn’t all that hard to remember if you had seen all of the individual figures before. Based on how everything was put together, I would guess that you could also do this pattern in Rumba with some minor variations.

The instructor had us begin by doing a full basic, mostly to get everyone’s mind out of Tango and into Cha-Cha. At the end of the basic as you chasse’d back to the left, the Lead would drop the lady’s arm down  to waist level. This set you up to push the lady backward into a diagonal Lock Step as we would do a chasse back to the right. With the lady moved away from us, we then did a Slip Chasse as we brought her back forward, which would make her do another Lock Step. Once we were back together, we led her into a Underarm Turn on left side, then a pair of Cross-Over Breaks, one right, one left, and then a set of Cuban Breaks on the right side.

Finished with the Cuban Breaks, we went into Solo Spot Turns on the left side. one last Cross-Over Break on the right, and in place of the next chasse both the Lead and Follow did a Three-Step Turn to the left. At the end of all that spinning, we linked hands to do two steps backward and then a backward Lock Step, ending in Aida position. To finish the whole progression, both partners turned to face each other, did a Stationary Chasse, and then we led the lady through a Cross Body Lead, releasing her at the end to lead her into one final Spot Turn on the left side.

We broke for an hour at that point so that everyone could grab lunch. When we all got back together, it was time for the last workshop of the day, which covered East Coast Swing. In this amalgamation we once more started out with a full basic movement to help everyone change mental gears, then transitioned into a Continuous Tuck-In with a full turn at the end. As the lady is turning, the Lead should back away so that she completes the turn out away from you, ending up in the position she would take to begin the Sliding Doors figure.

The next figure is kind of like the Sliding Doors, but not. You would bring your partner in front of you as normal, but stop her with your right hand when she gets directly in front of your body. Here you would lean from side to side, first to the left, then right, then repeat, while the lady leans in the opposite direction (right then left x2). This creates what the instructor described as a ‘Peek-A-Boo’ effect. If you know your partner pretty well, you can place your opposite hand on her waist as you lean – this is not a requirement on the first three leans, but on the fourth one you will need to place your left hand on your partner to signal the finish.

Using your left hand, you will lead the lady to turn to the left and roll away from you while you do a full basic movement. She can either do a half-turn, or one-and-a-half turns, depending on how much she likes spinning. After the next rock step you will take both of your partner’s hands in your own and lead her to step forward as you do, getting really close to each other and there hold for a beat. Then each of you will take a step back and hold there as well for a beat. To finish everything up, you do two Sailor Shuffles (right then left), lead the lady through a Underarm Turn, both partners go through Solo Turns, and then you can catch her hand once more to go into whatever you want next.

That all seems pretty normal for workshops at the Grand Dance Hall, right? So what was different about this year, to make my fifth time coming to this event special? Well, I’m not sure what I was doing differently, but it seemed like this year a whole bunch of people really wanted to approach me and ask for my help on how to do all the figures that the instructors were going over that day. I felt like I must have had some sort of neon sign hanging over my head that read “HELPFUL!” or something, drawing people over to ask me things when the instructors were busy with other people..

Remember that gentleman that I met at the reception who asked me if I would be willing to help if he got stuck? He actually got stuck, so I definitely had him approach me early on in the Tango class. What he forgot to mention at the reception was that he had come to the weekend’s events with a whole group of dancers from his home dance studio, and apparently he had told all of them about both Sparkledancer and I. So on top of him coming and asking me for help, other men from his group also asked me for help when they got stuck, and I could see women from that same group collecting around Sparkledancer on the other side of the room to ask her for help too.

When the instructors wanted the men and women to practice the figures together during class, Sparkledancer and I ended up frequently getting shepherded together so that the whole gang could stand around and watch as we demonstrated how the pieces worked with a partner. When these people felt confident enough to try things out with a partner from their group, they would ask either Sparkledancer or I to watch them to validate they got everything right, or if they got stuck they asked us to step through the trouble spots with them until they got things right.
On top of that, being the center of attention of these ten people in one corner of the dance floor started to attract the attention of others in the workshops, and soon we had even more people who would stop either one of us for assistance too! One older gentleman even came and found me during the morning and said that he took a lot longer to process the figures than most people, so he asked my permission to record me walking through the steps so that he could use the video to learn at his own pace.

I agreed to his request, of course. Not wanting to be in some stranger’s video all on my own though, I made Sparkledancer be in the video with me. That allowed him to see how the steps were done with a partner.  To be even more helpful, I also talked through what I was doing as I did the steps – I thought having some kind of audio cues could help keep confusion to a minimum when he watched the video in the future. He thanked me profusely when we finished.

With so many people talking to me all through the classes, I ended up cutting out of the East Coast Swing lesson a bit early to go find a secluded spot to collect my thoughts. It had been kind of an overload to talk to so many people, and while helping people is always thoroughly enjoyable, I needed a little bit of quiet time to reset afterward.

Once the workshops were over and done with on Saturday, the main dance hall was closed off so that the staff could prepare the room for that night’s final reception before dinner, and prepare for the dance party afterward. However, there was a smaller room closer to the front of the building that was opened up as a practice hall for anyone who wanted to use the few free hours that afternoon for practice. I was only too eager to get some extra practice in, so I wandered around until I found Sparkledancer and convinced her to come with me.

The dance floor in this practice room was much smaller than I had hoped for, so Sparkledancer and I ended up just running through pieces of our Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot routines for about 45 minutes until the floor really limited what we wanted to practice. I noticed that the back wall of the room had a mirror attached to it that hung about chest height for me over a carpeted section of the room. Limited on space to dance big steps, I suggested to Sparkledancer that we spend a little time working on something that was a bit more stationary instead: the lift for our upcoming showcase routine.

The last section of the lift I already felt pretty good about, so we just ran through that a couple of times and called that good. This time around I wanted to work on making sure we mastered the first section, because that would be where I get her off the ground as the whole thing starts. Basically, without going into too much detail, I end up crouching down as low as I can go with my feet still under me, then I help Sparkledancer hop up onto my right shoulder and stand up again with her sitting there facing behind me. The mirror on the wall was actually really helpful for this, because as I stood I could see how she was sitting without having to turn my head, using that view to help me figure things out.
There were a couple of important notes that we worked out while going through this section. Getting Sparkledancer up like that was the easy part – as I’ve said, she’s pretty light, and I’m positioned in such a way when we start that I can use both my legs to lift myself and her, so that’s no problem. The first note is that I needed to make sure that she hops up onto my shoulder so that her right hip ends up right where my shoulder starts to curve up to my neck. If she’s seated too far over to the right, she’s liable to start sliding off the rounded end of my shoulder and down my right arm as I begin to stand.

The second big thing we found out was that Sparkledancer really needed to remain engaged in her core the whole time while up off the ground. For the second part of the lift, I need to be able to move around with her up there, and then I start to manipulate her position with my arms. If she is loose and wiggling around, trying that becomes difficult. Funny, but difficult. Keeping her core in place to keep her solid and steady fixes that issue.

Finally, there’s the arms. When I stand up, I have my right arm bent at a 90° angle so my hand is behind her back, and my left hand is holding her right hand to keep her stable as I stand up. Once up, I must be able to let go and start moving my hands to their new positions for the next section, so I can’t rely on just holding Sparkledancer in place. Once I reposition my hands under her right arm and left leg for the next section, my arms become useful again, but there is that brief moment where I do actually have to move them and can’t hold on that can be a bit scary. As we tried things out, the first few times either I or Sparkledancer were holding on too tight to move my arms at all, which caused all sorts of problems.

We ended up stopping there for the day, promising to work on the middle section later. That part will involve a lot of rotation of her body and lifting on my part, but she ends up behind my head, so I wanted to keep things safe. For that piece we will have to do our initial tests somewhere where I can have a big cushion available for Sparkledancer to drop into if something goes really awry. I don’t expect anything to be terrible, but just like I mentioned before, safety is always rule #1 when doing lifts, especially during the learning phase.

Plus, I think word had gotten out that Sparkledancer and I were practicing this overly athletic dance move, and people kept poking their heads in to see what we were up to. Fellow dancers spying on us was unnerving enough, but when members of the staff started doing it I thought it might be best to call it quits for the day. I didn’t want anyone who worked for the Grand Dance Hall to start having conniptions about me letting a girl sit on my shoulder as I walked around the room…

Saturday night’s reception was a lot like Friday night’s, though many of the attendees broke out attire for the evening that was even more formal than what was worn the night before. The same four piece band provided the music during the reception, though their tempos seemed to run a bit looser in their interpretations of the songs than what they had performed the night before. It was an entertaining time, and I got to eat a plate of super fancy cheese slices on top of that!

The dance party that night after dinner was the big one – the last chance to pull out all the stops and leave everything out on the dance floor. The set list that the orchestra had picked out for the evening did leave a lot to be desired, but that’s just my own take on things. To me it felt like they only played Waltz, Foxtrot, East Coast Swing and Cha-Cha songs that night. There were a couple of other styles interspersed in occasionally, but those were very rare. I think during the few hours they played they did only one Rumba, I know they only did one Tango, and there were no Viennese Waltz numbers at all. There was one song that I heard as a familiar Quickstep tune, but a bunch of dancers took the floor early on and started to dance Swing instead, and many were all in the line of dance instead of in the middle, so Quickstep would have been super dangerous.
Overall this year was another really good time, and I snagged a flyer on the way out that night that contained the sign-up sheet for next year’s event. I’ve already mailed in my form along with the down payment to reserve my spot, so I’ll for sure be back next October to party at the Grand Dance Hall once again. Do you all want to come along with me? We could make it into an even bigger party! Just let me know and I can send you a link to all the information you’ll need to reserve your spot too!

I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

I didn’t do much this week. I started to feel kind of like crap on Sunday night, and since there was too much I needed to do at work to stay home and get better, I would suffer through taking medication to make me functional in the office during the day, and then go home and crash. After three days like that, I’m feeling mostly better, thankfully. I did sleep funny last night, so I’ve had this throbbing pain on the right side of my neck all day. Once I get this post all taken care of, I’ll probably go lay on the foam roller for a while to see if I can get some relief in my muscles. Cross your fingers for me!

Last Saturday I had a coaching session scheduled with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and we spent the whole time looking at Quickstep. Quickstep is one of those dances that I don’t entirely feel good about yet. I don’t feel as bad about Quickstep as I do about Tango though, which even Sir Steven admitted was still our weakest dance style, though we have improved greatly over the last month.

The big problem I have with Quickstep is the fact that it’s hard to practice well, much like Viennese Waltz. When Sparkledancer and I go out to practice during the week, we usually end up practicing in locations where  either A) the floor is smaller, so it is hard to really practice the movement of more than one figure at a time, or B) the floor is big enough, but there are a lot of other people using it, and none of them are doing the same dance style, so practicing Quickstep or Viennese Waltz up to tempo becomes dangerous.

For the most part, things felt pretty good while working on Quickstep that day. Our movement was really good, since Lord Dormamu has been focusing on movement with us. We spent time working on keeping our bodies rotated correctly during the Progressive Chasses that make up the majority of the long wall. Sir Steven told me that my part is easy, since I can pretty much keep my body rotated with a left-side lead after we finish up the Natural Spin Turn at the beginning up until we end with the Hesitation in the far corner. I love it when things seem easy! I’m sure that note will change later, but for now it’s simple to keep in mind!

After cleaning up some minor aspects and letting us run through all of the figures slowly for most of the hour, Sir Steven wanted us to run through the whole thing without stopping. Another instructor giving a lesson across the room was using the music at the time, so I just tapped out a tempo for Sparkledancer using my fingers on her shoulder so we could stay in sync. Just before he let us start dancing, Sir Steven went over to the couch where a different instructor for the Fancy Dance Hall named Sir Bread was sitting and asked him to watch what we were doing as well. That put the pressure on!

Once we finished the first long wall, Sparkledancer and I walked back to the middle of the room where Sir Steven and the other instructor were standing. When I raised my eyebrows in query to get some feedback, Sir Bread laughed and said that he asked Sir Steven after we started dancing why we were moving so fast and why there was no rise-and-fall, because apparently he thought we had been doing Waltz. It wasn’t until we got about halfway through that he realized that we were actually doing Quickstep, and then he felt stupid. We all had a good laugh at his expense, and then Sir Steven asked us to go do it again now that everyone was on the same page.

After the second run-through, Sir Bread commented specifically that our movement was looking really impressive. I may have done a little happy dance upon hearing that. Yay me! He saw a few points where it looked to him like we were rising up too much in the middle of a Progressive Chasse, so he told us to be aware of that. There were also a few points that he mentioned that we might have been breaking body contact, but those he wasn’t entirely sure about because he wasn’t close enough to see for sure, so the just told Sparkledancer and I to keep an eye on that during practice to make sure it isn’t happening.

I did manage to go out to one dance party on Saturday night, so my weekend wasn’t completely ruined by the hurricane passing through the area. Actually, it didn’t seem like we got any rain or wind until Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure why everyone was so freaked out about the storm where I live! Crazy people…

The dance party was supposed to be a semi-formal affair, but I went out to a different event before I made it to the party, so I was just dressed casually. When I got to the dance hall, I saw that Sparkledancer was there too, and she was up at the front talking to the DJ. I went to go put my dance shoes on and wandered over to where they were to say hello.

I found out that the two of them were having a fascinating discussion! Apparently, they both had joined a national ballroom dance-related organization, kind of like I did several weeks ago! They are in a completely different national organization than I am, so we probably won’t ever do anything together, but it was fun to talk dance politics with the two of them. As it turns out, neither Sparkledancer nor the DJ talked to each other before they joined this organization, but somehow the two of them ended up being placed on the same committee, so they would get to work together. How random is that?

Both Sparkledancer and the DJ mentioned that they had the same reservations about the national groups that they were a part of that I did about mine – the organization seems to be run by a bunch of old people who are really out-of-touch with the way that things are run nowadays. From what they told me, their national organization also has its priorities all out of whack, since they view the social dancers and the competitive dancers as two distinct groups of people, yet the membership dues that they collect from the social dancers are primarily funneled into the coffers for competitions that they host across the country instead of being put back into the social dance community.

That news obviously opens up a whole discussion can of worms that I’m not sure I want to process in writing at the moment. I’ll table that for another time.

We only got to talk for about ten minutes before the DJ had to start announcements for the party, but it was fun. They told me all about their group, and how their committee was going to focus on ideas directly related to outreach and communication with dancers. I told them all about the group that I joined, and how I would be working behind the scenes, making decisions that would shape tools and platforms that would be used by dancers across the country.

Even though the two of them are working for a different group with a different focus than I am, I think the three of us should continue to have these conversations and learn from each other as we move forward. After all, the more allies I have in my fight to shape the world of ballroom dancing in the U.S. into a more modern, unified world, the stronger my position will be, right?

Look at how political I sound! Man, I could run to be the President of Ballroom Dance someday if I keep this up! Do you think people would vote for me? Would you vote for me?

Anyway… Right before the dance party, there was a dance lesson that covered American Tango. When the instructor asked how many people in attendance had never done American Tango before, there were several hands that went up, so he decided to start things off from the beginning. Since the class actually had more men than women in it (which is unusual in my world), I decided to go sit out and just watch. Sparkledancer also came over to sit with me, because she was more interested in people watching than a beginners class in American Tango.

The instructor showed everyone the basic steps first, followed by the Reverse Turn. To practice the figures, he had everyone dance around the room rather than in straight lines up and down the floor. Most of the class had done some American Tango before, so some of the men were throwing in other crazy figures to show off, but there was one couple in particular that caught my eye. They were an older couple, and they had both raised their hands when the instructor asked who had never danced Tango before. They were struggling.

After the instructor split everyone up again and showed them how to do a basic Promenade into Fan, he had the class start practicing by dancing around the room again. This time, that new couple passed close to where I was sitting. I stood up and stopped them to ask how things were going, and the lady told me with a look of panic in her eyes that they were already so lost on the Reverse Turn, and then the Promenade thing also confused them, that they were thinking of just sitting out like I was doing. I offered to take them over into the nearby corner out of the line of dance and work with them to help them get the steps down correctly. I even offered to have Sparkledancer help me so that we could cover steps twice as fast.

I spent some time stepping through the guys part with the husband while Sparkledancer went through the lady’s part with the wife. Then Sparkledancer and I switched so that I could dance through the figure with the wife while she back-led the husband through his steps. He was still struggling a bit, so we switched back and I had him chant through the steps while we did them together to help him remember (forward-side-back, back-side-close). That seemed to finally help him get his footwork down.

After about ten minutes, we got them to the point where they were successful. Hooray! Sparkledancer mentioned one last note to the two of them that, if all else fails, they could just do the basic figure in a big circle all the way around the room if they wanted, rather than try anything they thought was too fancy. The new lady was really relieved to hear that, and said that they might try that out that night.

The two of them then rejoined the last part of class feeling much better, now with smiles on their faces. I lost sight of the pair during the party after the class, so I’m not sure how much dancing they did beyond the American Tango. However, I had to leave early that night to go take care of some things for work, and I caught sight of the lady and her husband on the far side of the dance floor on my way out. When I caught the wife’s eye and waved goodbye, the lady said something to her husband and then jogged over to where I was.

As she approached, she took hold of my forearm and I leaned in so that I could hear her over the music. She wanted to thank me for helping the two of them earlier. She said it was the highlight of her evening, especially after she had seen Sparkledancer and I dance together for one of the songs during the party (we were just screwing around with one of our routines, to work on dancing and using floorcraft at the same time). The lady told me that it was really nice that such high-level dancers would spend all that time during a class just helping her and her husband get a couple of figure right. Aww… that gave me warm fuzzies.

One final note: I happened to get something this week that I was expecting, but was surprised that it arrived so soon. Now I am officially the proud owner of some new clothes for my next dance competition. Yay… really, it’s probably not all that exciting to anyone besides me.

This outfit is a lot different from what I have worn in the past for competitions. I used to wear a three-piece suit that I own, the kind that most guys wear to church or job interviews. It was something that I already had in the closet, it worked for what I needed, and since I was competing so rarely I didn’t give it much thought before. Because I decided to change my dance focus this year and add more competitions to my schedule, it made sense to get some clothes that were specifically made for ballroom dancing. Seems logical, right?

The “dress shirt” that came with the set is interesting. It’s another one of those weird shirts that buttons up between your legs, which is always a fun thing to put on. I know that this feature helps keep the shirt from coming untucked while you move, but it just feels… weird. The material that the shirt is made out of is also this elastic-style fabric. The shirt is cut to be rather tight, so having the material stretched over my shoulders and arms just makes me look pretty muscular.

If that wasn’t enough, I decided to go with the coat-vest option rather than just a vest or a coat. This piece looks like someone took a long jacket from a tuxedo and then cut off the arms, so it’s not only perfect for a dance competition, but you can also wear it to any formal weightlifting events you attend at the local gym. Obviously you wouldn’t wear a shirt under the cut-off jacket to any formal gym parties, because you want to show off that you are super ripped AND super classy.

The pants that came as part of the outfit are pretty much the same as the practice pants that I wear all the time, except these have the shiny satin stripe that goes up the side of my legs. It’s a good thing that there is that noticeable difference too, that way I don’t accidentally get the two pairs of pants mixed up. My practice pants are not in bad shape, but they do get beat up and washed frequently, so if you are looking at them up close you can tell they are not in competition shape.

Overall, I think this look should help me with some things. For one thing, with the “dress shirt” being so tight and the cut-off jacket showing off my shoulders, you can see that my shoulders are fairly muscular. Especially if I were to stand next to your average dancer. I’m hoping that will help a judge to see that I am not sticking my trapezius muscles up when I am in frame… they are just that big. I think it looks fairly obvious in this new outfit, so we’ll have to see if a judge can see it as well.

Maybe I should bring my new clothes out to the Fancy Dance Hall sometime and have Lord Dormamu take a look. I know that he judges a lot of ballroom competitions, so maybe he can tell me if this getup helps him see that my shoulders are really just this size when they are rolled down. After all, these three articles of clothing were stupid expensive. Stupid. Expensive. If I don’t get positive feedback on them, is it even worth all the stupid money spent on them?

Sigh… expensive clothes are stupid. If I didn’t have to dress professionally for work, and I didn’t have to dress all fancy for ballroom dancing, I would probably only buy simple clothes that I would wear until they fell apart at the seams.

I’m not sure what’s going on this weekend yet. I do have lessons with both Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven lined up that I have to attend. Supposedly the Endless Dance Hall is having a free dance party on Friday night to celebrate the anniversary of their opening, so that might be fun (free parties are always fun, right?). My Royal Dance Court group is holding our monthly dance this Saturday, but I have a work thing I can’t get out of that I need to meet with some people and accomplish first, so I don’t know how late I will show up to that event, if I can make it at all.

A Break In This Routine

This past week, I tried to fit in a couple of different activities to break up the routine of doing the same things over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun with the training (for the most part) and the practicing constantly (again, for the most part), but I have to try to keep this hobby as fun as possible in order to justify the stupid amounts of money I spend on it. Sometimes you just have to go out and do things that are out of the ordinary to keep life interesting, right?

First of all, last Thursday I posted all my dance notes early so that I could go out to a West Coast Swing class that was being held. This class was at a dance studio, but it wasn’t a ballroom dance studio, which is why I had never heard of the place before. I saw their calendar on the wall when I got to the studio, and they didn’t seem to have any classes on traditional ballroom styles listed, and as I waited for the West Coast Swing class to begin there was a class in Balboa finishing up out on the dance floor. I had never seen anyone dancing Balboa before, but it looked vaguely interesting. I’m not sure where I would ever use the dance style during my normal travels, but maybe I should make myself a note to learn the basics of Balboa next summer just for fun. Maybe.

It was a good class to attend for me. I learned a figure in West Coast Swing that I think I might have seen once before, but I can’t be entirely sure so I’m going to say it was new. The instructor was also a pretty goofy guy, so the class was definitely amusing. He started the class off by having everyone warm up first by walking up and down the length of the dance floor, and then had the men and women pair off to dance through the Sugar Push basic several times with each partner.

At one point during the warmup he was saying that we could start doing some fancier moves with our partner if we wanted, but for some reason he got stuck on doing what he called the ‘Sunshine’ move instead of just adding in some simple turns. This ‘Sunshine’ move is basically bringing your hands up before doing the last triple step in the Sugar Push basic and drawing them in an arc over your head – like making a rainbow with both hands. That became a running joke for the rest of class – we were told many times during class that if we messed up our steps that the ‘Sunshine’ move was an appropriate substitute for the actual figures we were supposed to be doing.

So what did we actually cover? Well, starting from handshake hold, the men lead the lady into a Left Side Pass, but at the end we rotated her so that she ends up in something that resembled Shadow Position with our arms going over her shoulders to take both of her hands. In this position, we led her through four Sailor Shuffles going from left to right. At the end of the last Sailor Shuffle we would lead the lady through a Underarm Turn while spinning ourselves around, bringing her right arm up and over our shoulder as we turned and letting it slide down our arm to our left hand to get back to dance position. It wasn’t anything overly difficult, but it is something I didn’t know, so that adds one more West Coast Swing move to my repertoire. Hooray!

On Friday night, I headed out early to make the long trip from my house out to the High Five Dance Hall. It had been about a year since the last time I headed out there, so I figured it was about time to make another pilgrimage. After all, as a member of the Royal Dance Court, I feel like I should visit all these places on a semi-regular basis. The flyer that I had seen told me that they were planning on having a lesson on American Tango before an open dance party. Since getting to the studio is such a time commitment for me, I made sure to get out there with enough time to attend both.

Let me mention something about the High Five Dance Hall before I get into what happened at the lesson: the High Five Dance Hall is a social dance studio. As far as I can tell, they have one instructor who rents floor space who teaches students to dance competitively, but all the other instructors just teach their students to dance socially. Going back to metaphor that I used before which compared dancing to language, the instructors teach their students a lot of dance vocabulary, but only the minimum amount of dance grammar they need so that their students can be understood by partners in their classes.

With that being said, let’s talk about what happened during the American Tango lesson I attended. The progression that was covered was relatively simple, but pretty long. We started with two normal Tango Walk steps forward, and then the men would do a forward check and release the lady out into Fan. From there the men would do another check going backward while rotating the lady to come into Shadow Position.

In Shadow Position, we did another two Tango Walk steps forward, then alternating Forward Rocks before releasing the lady while turning her to the right as the men did the three-step ending of the Closed Basic (a.k.a. the “Tango close”), and we got back into dance frame with both partners doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic. With some time left over in class the instructor had us add a Link going into a Promenade Basic with the lady closing, finishing by doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic twice in a row (like the ending of an Argentine Walk).

That all seems pretty straightforward, like something that you might learn at any other ballroom dance studio you would go to, right? Let’s talk about the things that the instructor mentioned that seemed out-of-the-ordinary to me. First off, let’s mention the Link. The instructor was teaching this step using the footwork of the Progressive Link figure from International Tango. This figure really isn’t specified on the American Tango syllabus from what I remember, but since it exists in International Tango it is fair game in American style. However, the instructor kept calling it an “Argentine Link” for some reason. I did a quick search online after the class, and I couldn’t find anything that used that figure name, so I wonder where the instructor got that name from?

Also, as you can imagine, most of the people in class were uncomfortable dancing in close contact, so what we ended up with when doing the link was the ladies being in front of the men instead of behind them in Promenade Position. The instructor caught some people like this, and told the men that they could fix that issue by pulling their right elbow backward, which would pull the lady behind them as they rotated to Promenade Position. I’m sure that many of you who studied competitive dance technique cringed slightly when reading that, but again this is a dance studio that teaches social dancing – having the men use their arms to adjust the lady will get the job done so that the next step works. I just found that to be an interesting thing that the instructor specifically recommended.

The open dance party that started after the lesson was over was… an experience. I had totally forgotten about how their parties ran since it has been a year since the last time I attended one. Their social dances have more of an open format than other parties I usually go to closer to where I live. They had someone on staff sit and run the music that night, playing a bunch of contemporary songs that you’d hear on the radio, and then people just danced whatever they wanted. No one told the attendees what dance style to do, and a lot of the songs they played seemed to have a really fast tempo for the dance styles people chose to use during the song, so to me it seemed a bit chaotic.

I would step off of the floor every couple of songs to stand near the people I came to the studio with and just watch what was going on. Oftentimes I would see a lot of people doing some sort of Two Step, either Nightclub or Country for the most part. Either version of Two Step is not something that comes up during the ballroom socials I normally attend. Other people would be doing West Coast Swing, and occasionally you would see Hustle as well. There were a few songs played that I identified as Cha-Cha, but it didn’t seem like many others picked that up, so I was one of the few people doing that on the floor. Quite often there was also some sort of line dance going on in the middle of the room at the same time, so there was a big section of the floor that was set aside for that purpose.

The person playing DJ also did not play many songs where you could dance any ballroom styles. There was one Viennese Waltz song played, and one song that most everyone did Quickstep during, but other than that there were only two or three songs played that were a Waltz, and a couple of Tango numbers, and just a few Foxtrot songs as well. During a song where people were dancing a lot of faster Swing styles, there were two couples who were out dancing the Foxtrot and traveling extremely fast. They were careening around the room with very little regard to the other couples dancing, weaving through everyone to do what looked like the fanciest figures that they knew. There were a few moments where I held my breath while watching them do that as they got really close to other dancers.

Overall, it was a fun night out doing something completely different. I spent quite a bit of time talking to and getting to know the other attendees of the party whom I had never met before. There were a few people whom I knew from seeing them around the Dance Kingdom, but most of the people who attended the party lived closer to the High Five Dance Hall so they don’t really come around to other events I attend. I will have to make a note in my calendar to try to get back out there again next year, and make this at least an annual occurrence.

I got to do even more Tango in Standard Technique class this week. Lord Junior wanted to work on one figure from International Tango with us, but also wanted to throw in some items from American Tango just to give us all something fun to do. I thought it was fun at least; I’m not entirely sure if everyone else felt the same way. There was this one lady in class who was really struggling with the concept of Shadow Position and it was pretty funny… well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with what we covered.

The figure that Lord Junior wanted to go over with us that night was the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, a Gold-level figure in International Tango (the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot is also a Gold-level figure in International Waltz and Foxtrot as well, in case you’re wondering where you’ve heard of it before). At the end of the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, the men would just release the ladies by doing a quick checking action, allowing the lady to roll out into Fan. When she hit the line created by Fan, both partners would do a fast Brush Tap, just to add in a little extra fancy Tango styling.

From Fan position the men would start to slowly walk around the lady, which automatically leads her to go underneath our left arm. After we walked in a complete 180° arc, we would turn the ladies with our left arm so that she spins across our bodies to end up in Shadow Position with both partners facing diagonal center. From there we did an Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position, ending on the last step facing diagonal wall with a right-side lead. We could then use our left arm again to turn the lady, having her take three steps against the line of dance to get into Promenade Position with us. The men would just take two steps and fake so that we were back on the correct foot to continue. Because we were running out of time in class, we just took one step forward in Promenade Position and ended there for the night.

So the funniest part of all of that was what I alluded to earlier. There was an older lady in class who really seemed to struggle with the idea of being in Shadow Position, even after both Lord Junior and I spent extra time trying to help her through it. When I tried to dance through the Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position with her the first few times, after every step she tried to turn around and get back into dance frame with me. Every step! I told her that she needed to keep her left arm stretched out and her back to me and just let me direct her with my hands.

I think her problem was that she kept letting her left shoulder collapse, which rotated her arm toward her body, and that caused her to start turning to face me. By the end of class I think we got that all worked out, but it was just funny to me that she seemed surprised when she would start turning to face me, so she would try to adjust her arms to get back into dance frame. Then I would stop, tell her she needed to keep her back to me again, and she would jump to fix it and smile. But the next step we would go through it all again! Luckily she did the same thing with Lord Junior, and I watched him walk through it slowly with her as well, so it wasn’t just something wrong in my lead that was causing the issue.

Let’s see, what do I have going on this coming week? Well, there’s a dance party going on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I think I’ll go to. Sparkledancer is out of town until Sunday, so we moved our lesson with Sir Steven to then so that she could be there, and then we had to move our lesson with Lord Dormamu to Monday since he wasn’t going to be around on Sunday. I guess that means that Latin Technique class will be missed on Monday. Ah well, that’s what happens when people take vacations. Until next week, keep dancing!