It’s A Repeat Of A Story Told

So… there was this show on that someone told me I really needed to watch. I don’t watch much TV in general, but I relented and have seen a couple of the episodes of it. As you can imagine, since I’m mentioning here, the show was ThrowAwayYourTelevision1related to ballroom dancing. You may have also seen it, and know exactly what I’m talking about – the basic premise is that the cameras are following around these amateur dancers as they prepare for, and then take part in, ballroom dancing competitions in whatever Pro-Am categories they dance in (a lot of the people they were following in the episodes I watched seemed to be dancing International Latin, but there were a couple who danced in the ballroom-style categories as well). There were scenes of these people taking lessons, getting ready to perform, on-camera monologues where they talked about their thoughts on the scenes that had just been shown, montages of their performances during the competitions, and the show usually ended after we saw how they placed in the competition and they gave closing remarks describing how they felt about the results. Not exactly the most groundbreaking layout for a reality show, but it was a show that really showed how actual competitions worked, as opposed to the show that only displays showcase-style performances with only one couple on the floor at a time; you know, the show that most people will refer to when you tell them that you do ballroom dancing as a hobby.

Now it may just be me, but after seeing the few episodes of the show I watched, I didn’t think that the way these amateur competitors talked about their hobby really made the rest of us in this world look that good. Many people wanted to talk about how fierce they were, which, to me seems like a strange attitude to have while participating in a ballroom dancing competition. One lady compared herself to a type of dog to emphasize her ferocity out on the dance floor. All I could think was that she must go out on the floor and growl at other competitors who get too close to her, a thought which made me laugh to myself (if I don’t laugh at my own jokes, no one else will). A couple of the ladies made it sound like this was a hobby that really only caters to rich people (seriously, there are people who spend $60,000 to $70,000 a year on dance lessons?!?). And one of the biggest thing that struck me was that almost all of the people they were following around talked about being injured. Ballroom dancers must be incredibly fragile people if all the amateur dancers they could find who were interesting enough to film all had to deal with these serious injuries, or had to quit dancing for a few years because they hurt themselves that badly. That can’t really be representative of the whole dance population, can it?

Now, I understand that this was a reality show, and part of what they do is to seek out drama in order to make the show interesting enough for the average person to watch. I imagine certain parts of the show were scripted to make the people’s lives seem more complicated than they actually were, because people who don’t know about dancing might not follow what they are talking about otherwise. Still, I wonder if these people think about things the way I’m seeing them. I can certainly understand the parts where they talk about how their lives are so committed to the pursuit of this hobby. I have met people in my travels that are so focused on training for competitions, and they even really try to avoid dancing with anyone who is not a professional because of that. But in doing so, are these people missing out on (what I see as) one of the big aspects involved with partner dancing: the social interaction? While the dance styles themselves have been formalized and documented over the years, we still impart the knowledge of this art form to one another by sharing the things that we know when we dance together. Think about all the times that you have been at a social dance and you have tried to explain a figure to someone who didn’t know what you were doing, or those times when you were in a group class with other students and you helped show someone the figure everyone was working on in a different way because they were struggling with picking up on what the instructor was saying. Yes, there is a lot to be said about learning how to dance in a formalized setting, especially if you want to do competitions – professionally trained Dance Lords and Ladies know what the judges will be looking for, and will show you what you need to improve. But there is this vast body of knowledge and experience that I think one would really struggle to pick up without interacting with lots of people in the Dance Kingdom, professionals and non-professionals alike.

Anyway… that kind of went off on a tangent. Where was I going with this… oh yeah – the way I learn things seems far less refined than what was depicted on the show. Sir Steven tries to explain things to me in a way that makes the concept stick with me, often by describing it in a way that is rather absurd. Take some recent examples of concepts that we are working on – we’ve spent a lot of time recently working on Mambo, since it’s been a long time since I’ve really had to dance Mambo. As I’ve said before, one of the things I tend to try to avoid at social dances is doing Salsa and Mambo (and Merengue, and Bachata – all of the dances that are in that ‘Club Latin’ genre). So now that we’ve been putting together routines for the American Rhythm category, I’ve had to start actually spending time on Mambo again. One technique for Mambo that Sir Steven has really been pushing for me to do is to make sure that with almost every step that I take, my knees are really bent and I’m digging myself into the floor. One day, as we were working on putting some shine chases together for our routine, he told me that I should be dancing Mambo as though I had a bunch of children on my shoulders. These children, as he explained, are really short and don’t want to get stepped on, but they still want to participate during the Mambo, so they all had to climb up to sit on my shoulders during the song. Now their weight is pulling me down into the floor and causing my knees to buckle. That is what he told me I should imagine while I’m working on my routine, to make sure that my legs look right.

Of course, nothing really helps if I HAVE NO KNEES TO BEND!!!
Of course, nothing really helps if I HAVE NO KNEES TO BEND!!!

Another example (because it’s silly and I like to share) – the last couple of weeks he has also had Sparkledancer and I spend some time really working on just walking around together, to improve how we look during our American Smooth dances. This has involved really focusing to make sure that both of us are standing with excellent posture, and learning to connect with each other using the lower right-hand side of my abdomen against her. This really forces me to drive what she is doing using my body as opposed to my arms. The way this was presented to me was that he told me to pretend like Sparkledancer is a ghost – I should be walking, making sure to always drive where I’m going ThrowAwayYourTelevision3with that portion of my abdomen, and attempt to walk through her rather than with (or in some cases, around) her like I had been doing. She will be able to feel the direction I want her to go because I will essentially be pushing her to go in that direction, and it leaves the upper portion of my torso free to focus on how I need to shape my body. Obviously it’s a little weird to walk around that closely with someone, so it’s lucky that Sparkledancer and I are such good friends or it would get uncomfortable. It’s not the type of dance frame I would use during a social dance with ladies that I have just met. I don’t usually get that friendly with people until after I’ve talked with them a few times.

And that’s what strikes me as the obvious difference between what I saw of these people taking lessons and what happens during the time that I take lessons. I don’t want to say that the stuff that I do isn’t serious, but when I reflect on it (or go back and read things that I’ve written in the past), the things that I do don’t seem nearly as serious as the people in that show seem to imply that they are. I prefer to keep things much more lighthearted. If I had to classify my dancing, I would call it… serious enough. I do put a lot of work into dancing, and I try my best to keep improving while I’m young and athletic enough to actually keep improving. But I don’t think I would feel good about spending $60,000 to $70,000 a year on dance lessons. I don’t know if I can really fault the girl who said she did though, because if she only dances with her instructor, then she would have to pay for his time if she wants to practice. The nice thing about having a partnership with another amateur dancer is that if either of us wants to put in extra time practicing things that we just learned, we just have to coordinate our schedules and meet up somewhere to do that. It works really well if you also like to go out to random social dances around the Dance Kingdom – the party also gives you an excuse to practice together if you both happen to be there. In my case, since I’m the lead I could theoretically practice my routines with any lady who is able to follow what I’m doing, but I try not to do that too often. It makes me feel like I am using the lady for my own benefit without her getting anything out of the arrangement.

Then again, I also straddle the edge between being a social dancer and being a competitor. Lord Junior has told me before that I frustrate him sometimes because I like going to competitions, but I don’t like doing it all the time, and I could be so much better if I just threw out all my social dance habits and focused purely on learning proper technique for competitions for a while. I don’t know… what do you think? Did I really just spend too much time thinking about how my personal philosophy of dance compares to events in a reality show?

Probably. Let’s see what else is on…
ThrowAwayYourTelevision4

Follow The Day And Reach For The Sun

I rearranged my schedule this week so that I could go to the Thursday group classes instead of the normal Tuesday group class that I have been going to in order to work with Hot Tottie. I figured this would be the only real way I would get to learn from him, seeing as how his schedule is always booked otherwise. Plus, it falls on my normal recovery week in my workout schedule, so it makes it much easier to move things around on my calendar to do this.

Honestly, for me this felt like the best day to start taking the Thursday group class. Because next week there is a holiday on LightAndDay1Thursday, this was the last class of the month. They had been doing lower-level Foxtrot on Thursdays, so today I fell in with everyone as they reviewed everything that they had spent the rest of the month working on. I have been through this level Foxtrot class several times before over the last eighteen months, but recently they have been modifying the syllabus for each dance the Dance Kingdom teaches, so it was nice to quickly recap the entire level and see what was different in the syllabus all in one night rather than over the course of an entire month. Time just seemed to fly right by. I’ll be sticking with Thursdays for a while. After all, it is nice to change things up once and a while, just to keep life interesting.

My last Saturday coaching session with Lord Fabulous and Sparkledancer was interesting. We warmed up by going through the things we had been working on in Foxtrot again (lots of Foxtrot this week!), and then we started working on International Rumba. Now,LightAndDay2 this may not seem strange to anyone reading this, but it was the offhand comment that Lord Fabulous made about what we were doing with the Rumba that has stuck with me all this time. He worked with us on the figures that we had been learning in the group class he has been teaching on Friday night, showing us all the pieces of the figure we would be learning the rest of the month. There was nothing too difficult there – the steps were similar to something that I had learned in the past for American Rumba. Somewhere along the line though, he admitted that we were learning these steps so that we could (almost an exact quote) “perfect the steps, and serve as demonstration models for the rest of the class.” So coming up, I guess we will be the guinea pigs that everyone will watch as he teaches the steps.

Sadly, I also found out that the brilliant idea that I had been debating for a unique showcase dance wasn’t actually all that unique, so Sparkledancer and I decided not to go ahead with that plan. It was really exciting to think that you’re the only one who has a great idea – the only one brave enough to pick a lesser-used dance style; and then it is incredibly disappointing to find out that someone besides you came up with the same brilliant idea and signed up for it first. After discussing our options briefly, Sparkledancer and I are now toying with the idea of looking toward the upcoming Spring Fling competition in April, as the next event that we work with Lord Fabulous toward. It’s far enough out in the future that we have plenty of time to work on any number of routines that we want to add to our repertoire, but still close enough that I think it will drive home the pressure for us to continue getting together and practicing everything, knowing that we will be performing the routines in front of people. During our next coming coaching lesson this Saturday we will try to spend a few minutes at the beginning talking with Lord Fabulous about the idea, to start working out a plan for what dance styles we want to compete in, how many heats we want to sign up for, and to get him to start thinking about building the routines for us.

At our Friday night dance this week Lord Fabulous has told us that we are going to have some kind of potluck to celebrate the holiday that is a week from now. We have done these a few times in the past, and I always brought a simple pie of some kind in the past, because I am not very skilled at culinary adventures, and also because I figure that everyone likes pie. At the end of each of our past potlucks, it always seemed like I would be bringing the entire pie home with me, save for maybe one or two small slices that I would goad people into eating. From those past experiences, I have learned a couple of lessons: 1) Never make something that I could not bring home in its entirety and finish off before it goes bad, because there’s always the chance that I could be bringing it home in its entirety. 2) Always bring finger food. This is a dance party, and people will be dancing all night. They never really stop to do complicated tasks to eat food (such as cut a slice of pie and put it on a plate). So my brilliant idea is to make (or buy) some kind of finger food. That way if someone dances by the table where the foods are laid out, they could do a quick spot turn and grab a cookie or something as they twirl by without stopping the dancing fun.

Who brought the random fish?
Who are the weirdos who brought a random fish and a t-bone?

Can you picture it? Finger food is such a good idea, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to ever come to this realization, but it makes me feel like a genius now that I have this plan. I’ll let you know if it actually works or not.

Lifting Shadows Off A Dream Once Broken

Saturday night’s dance field trip was good, especially for the ladies from our studio. Really good. We went out to a large social dance event being held at a ballroom in town, much like we did right before the last competition I was in. We all met up at a place to have dinner that was within walking distance of the dance studio, and got there early enough to attend the class that they were giving before the event started. The class was basic Cha-Cha, reviewing a number of things I had learned previously and showing a few modifications I did not know of a few other steps. The guest instructors they brought in also did a performance for all of us, demonstrating their Cha-Cha technique before leaving for the night. Once they wrapped up, we danced.

As silly as it may sound to say that, seeing as how it was a social dance party and all, that’s what we all got up and did and that was what really seemed to help shake the dark cloud that had been looming around LiftingShadows1lately. Most of us there were former students of Sir Steven, and since his sudden departure, the ladies especially had been going through feelings that resembled, as one lady described to me, a ‘death in the family.’ That night as we danced no one was preparing for a competition, it was a new group of people that did not know us, on a new floor that only a small number of us had ever been on before. It really seemed to help center us all – to help remind us why it is that we all spend so much time doing this. We got out on the floor and laughed, danced, and basically sweat out all the negative energy that had taken hold. I felt really good about it, and it brought back the smiles to the faces of some of my friends that I hadn’t seen the week before leading up to this event. Sparkledancer and I even convinced Jack and Diane to go out with us to the floor during the two Viennese Waltz songs that were played that night – one for International and one for American style. The last time we did an event like this before competition, the two of them had pressured Sparkledancer and me to get out and practice our American Viennese Waltz routine. The two of them had been working on getting that dance style down the last few months, so we made sure to return the favor. That turned out to be a great way to get out and work up a sweat, as I’m sure you can imagine.

As we were collecting everyone who we came with and making our way out the door, a couple of people approached Jack, Diane and I to ask if we had ever thought about competing before. Apparently they had recently started a group for DanceSport competitors, and they had seen that we primarily knew American-style dancing. From what one of the people told us, that was something that not many people in their group could do (most of the people in their competition group all did International styles). I waved Sparkledancer over to talk with all of us, and we told them about our competition experience with each other, and they invited us to meet with them every Sunday. They had started getting together to work on competition preparation and held a potluck dinner afterward, and as a group they would sign up for various competitions together. The offer really seemed to excite Diane. She had been taking the loss of Sir Steven the hardest, and having someone else whom we had never met before come and complement everything she had learned and ask her to consider competing with them just solidified all the good feelings that we had been cultivating all night for her.

With the funk that the loss had brought to the Land of the Loft now mostly lifted, the big problem that I seem to face now is aimlessness. My former dance coach had some grand scheme in mind, a direction he was pushing me to go in, especially with my competitive dancing with Sparkledancer. Now, when he is no longer around to push down that unknown path, I really don’t know where I was heading. Sparkledancer and I discussed this in length over the weekend, since she feels the same way. One potential idea that we may do is to sign up to do the upcoming showcase together. If we have a performance to work toward, it would get us back into the groove of learning with a purpose, and force us to schedule time to practice together like we have done for every other performance we have had. I’m fairly certain we are in agreement on a song to use for a showcase, and a style of dance we want to do, so the hard parts are completed.

I also have some reservations about the number of people already signed up for showcase, and the numbers of routines each of those people are already doing. With so much already scheduled to go on that night, it may turn out to be a very long evening for everyone, especially the people who come just as spectators. The one factor that may open that issue up for me is that both Bony and Chanel have said that they are potentially going to drop some of the routines that they are doing because of Sir Steven’s departure. If they do, then I know there would be several open spots we could use. I will see what their plan is on Friday night.

Knowing that there is no goal to work toward, Tuesday night I met with Lord Fabulous and Sparkledancer for our first real coaching lesson he’s ever given us with an open mind. Both of us have worked with him LiftingShadows2or taken group classes with him a few times in the past, but this was the first time he has worked with the two of us together in our competitive pursuits. Based on a conversation that Lord Fabulous and Diane had after Sir Steven’s departure, he is looking at scrapping all the routines that we had and starting to build new ones from scratch, rather than upgrading the ones we had before with more advanced pieces, as was our original goal. He told me some remark about how it was like having one famous clothes designer design new items for another clothes line after the death of that clothes line’s namesake. I don’t know a whole lot about clothing, but I think I got the gist of what he was implying by that metaphor.

Having our lesson with him first kind of blew my whole idea of alternating between the three available Lords and Lady out of the water. I know he has watched the two of us work on things for a long time – sometimes literally sitting in a chair watching our past lessons. We are two of only a handful of people who have been members of the Land of the Loft longer than he has been, and he doesn’t really have any high level students of his own. When we had finished our lesson that focused mostly on Foxtrot, he started going on about how he really likes to alternate the lessons he gives to first focus on ballroom styles, and then go to Latin styles, and he told us if we were free Saturday after the classes we both usually show up for that he would put us down to work with him again. There wasn’t an offer to let us work with one of the other instructors, or a question as to whether we wanted to do a lesson on Saturday, it was something he added to his calendar and told us he couldn’t wait to do.

So, it seems like we have been claimed by a new instructor already. Decisions are easy when you don’t have to make them, right?

Pumpkins Grin In Their Despair…

Oh man, it’s Halloween. Did you hear something about a Halloween dance field trip going on last weekend? Because there was one! That seems like a good story to tell on a night like tonight, doesn’t it?

Because many of the people from the Land of the Loft had never actually attended an event held at the Great Dance Hall before, those few of us whom had been there AllHallowsEve1before invited everyone that was going to the party that night to meet us outside the building an hour before the party started. There was a place to eat within walking distance, so we decided that we could all go get dinner together, and then all go to the party together. So, clad in our costumes, we met up to eat, getting some laughs from the other people in the restaurant, and then made our way over to the party.

This year’s party theme invoked the haunted ghost towns of the Wild West. The Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were all dolled up as old-fashioned saloon girls, and the Lords were all cowboys. All the students were told to just come in costume, and it didn’t necessarily have to be a costume that matched the theme, but many people did. When everyone started arriving, they had cordoned us off in the downstairs ballroom of the Great Dance Hall so that they could finish preparing everything in the upstairs ballroom where they would soon present us with some kind of skit to get the party started. People had come bearing treats – various spooky looking desert and snack items, all to be entered into a contest to see who had brought the most holiday-themed food. As we all wandered about, mingling with people from the other lands within the Dance Kingdom, a hush fell over the crowd as the King came and stood in front of the door to the upstairs so that he could address his subjects.

The King talked with everyone for a while, giving everyone in attendance the rundown on the Halloween party. He started by asking everyone in attendance to raise their hands if they had attended each of the previous year’s parties (this being the 8th year that they had thrown one). There were many people present that had attended last year (myself included), and then the numbers dramatically decreased going back farther into the past. The farthest back we got was one couple who had attended the third annual party, but no one there had been members of the Dance Kingdom before that time. Then he went over the game that he had created, the game that they have played every year during the Halloween party (more on that later). When he was finished describing the rules, he had been informed that everything was ready upstairs. With that, he opened the door to everyone, instructed them to quietly head up and stand along the striped wall, and the festivities began…

The first year, when the Princess and the King talked of throwing a big Halloween party, the King had a brainstorm. He came up with a game based on Clue that incentivized everyone to dance together and have fun. The game he invented could AllHallowsEve2be modified to fit in with each year’s theme. This year there was a skit put on by all the Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom that told the story of the murder that everyone would be trying to solve. The sheriff (played by none other than Lord Fabulous) set the scene in a saloon, where the cowboys were trying to impress the saloon girls. One lady (played by the Princess) was being favored by two cowboys (played by Hot Tottie and Lord Bradley). During a tap dance number the two cowboys put on to impress the lady, a fight broke out amongst the gentlemen in the back playing cards. The fights spilled over into the tap dancing cowboys, and soon all the men were involved in the mix. During the fight all the lights went out, and when light was restored we found that the lady had been murdered. As the sheriff explained, it was up to all of us to figure out who was the murderer, where the deed had taken place, and what the weapon was that the killer had used.

As he talked, the saloon girls wandered through the crowd and handed out a card to each person, and the game began. The game was simple enough: your card identified one of the options for one of the three categories (person, place or thing). When you danced a song with a partner, you got to look at their card and they got to look at yours. Each of you could then cross that item off your list. If you danced with enough people, eventually you would cross off four out of the five items in each category and you would be left with the answer to the sheriff’s questions. Just like Clue, for those of you who have played that. First person to get the correct answer and report it to the King without cheating would receive a prize. With that, we danced!

Since they had put out tables for food in the downstairs ballroom, all the dancing remained upstairs, and with all the people who had shown up it was really warm up there. The only person whom I don’t think minded the heat was Sir Steven. I swear that man does not sweat. But we had a good time. There was a lot of Latin dances and very few ballroom-style dances, which I would also attribute to the amount of people on the floor. It was much safer to do dances that did not travel as much. The ballroom at the Great Dance Hall, while bigger than the one at the Land of the Loft, is smaller in size than the floors we would be on for a competition, so there wasn’t much to work with. I did do a particularly dangerous Waltz number with Sparkledancer during the evening, so I can testify to that. I will tell you that I did not win the Clue game they were playing – didn’t even come close. The group that I had come in with had taken up refuge at a table in the back by the windows, and with everyone so close by we were just having fun switching amongst ourselves and a few other random people who got too close and were pulled into our midst. I don’t think I even crossed off any of the items on the list I was given except the item on the card that I was personally handed.

In the middle of the evening they had a costume contest to pick out who was dressed the best out of everyone whom was there. Lord Bradley led everyone AllHallowsEve3around the room in a pseudo-conga line that marched in tempo to the music playing up at the front of the line, but moved really slowly at the end of the line. Other Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were spread around the room to be judges, and Lord Bradley wound everyone around all the people standing still for almost twenty minutes. Everyone in line was laughing pretty hard by the end, losing the ability to take the contest seriously. When the judges had reached their decision, everyone lined up along the striped wall once again and they announced the winners of all the contests. The costume contest was won by the Ski Bums from the Land of the Loft, who were both conveniently dressed as skiers for my picture!

…no, not really, they were dressed as something much more thematically appropriate to the party. But wouldn’t that have been convenient?

There was a second mixer game that was played in the evening that I put much more effort into participating in. The game went like this: the DJ played an East Coast Swing tune. After a while, the music would pause and Sir Steven would yell out one or more of three commands. Once command would make you freeze in place, the other forced you to change partners, and the third had the gentleman drop to one knee and the lady sat down on his other knee. The last couple on the floor to follow the command would be taken out of the game, until only one couple remained. Things started off pretty easily – the music would pause and one command would be shouted out. I stayed off to the side near some other people so it was easy to switch partners, and focused on just doing simple East Coast Swing steps so as not to miss anything. As more people were taken out of the game, Sir Steven started chaining the commands together two at a time so that you would have to do the first command and then the second. As we got down to the remaining few people, I hadn’t been eliminated yet, but then they started throwing in sets where all three commands were used. There were only two couples left on the floor, myself and Tall Steven plus two of the female students. We were pretty evenly matched for a couple of rounds, both of us managing to get everything done quick enough that no one could tell who was slower. In the end though, I ended up losing because I had the girl on the wrong side of my body when they paused the music and I couldn’t bring her to sit on my right knee fast enough and we just kind of tumbled for a few seconds too long.

After that was over, I needed to take a break to let the adrenaline flow out of my bloodstream, so I headed downstairs for a while. Almost all the attendees from the Land of the Loft, including Sir Steven and Lady Q, were all standing in a big circle AllHallowsEve4talking with the Princess. We had a nice long talk with her as she told various stories about things like how the King came up with the idea for the Halloween party and the themed game they played every year, how they really put some thought into the design of each of the lands in the Dance Kingdom so that each would have its own personality, and also about all the time and effort they put in when they bought the Great Dance Hall. The building is really old, so they remodeled a lot of it while saving some of the more historic pieces like the brick finish to the walls in the downstairs ballroom and the original flooring in the upstairs ballroom from a now-endangered type of tree that could not be replaced. You could hear her get a little choked up when she talked about how the Lords and Ladies (“the kids” as she called them) all signed their names beneath the floorboards before they laid them, and how hard it was for her to move from their old building into the Great Dance Hall. She said that on moving day she couldn’t bring herself to help, so she just sat in the middle of the dance floor in the old building and cried. The King told all the Lords and Ladies to just keep packing and moving things and just leave her there – he said he would be able to get another princess if she didn’t want to go with them.

When the talk wound down, it was getting pretty late. We all headed back upstairs to dance the last several songs of the night, and then the party was over. Everyone left meandered downstairs to collect their things, change their shoes, take a whole bunch of last-minute pictures and say goodbye to everyone. After a long night full of dancing, we all slowly stepped out into the cool October night, mostly to go home and collapse in bed. After all, there would only be a few days until we would all be back at the Land of the Loft to do more training!
AllHallowsEve5 Happy Halloween all! I hope you had a spooky night!