It’s Nothin’ Dangerous, I Feel No Pain

Last Saturday it seems like all the stars aligned and everything worked out perfectly in my morning so that I could go to a workshop taught by Judge Dread in the afternoon. Hooray for me! Part of me thought that going to the workshop would be a good idea because Judge Dread is a big-time judge that I see often enough at competitions I sign up for, so getting in some face time with him in a non-competition setting would be a good political move. Dance Politics, am I right? Things turned out even better than that though, because the workshop also turned out to be both a lot of fun and relevant to the material I usually practice.

Judge Dread wanted to work on Foxtrot that afternoon, and he told the class that while the pattern he had in mind was built using figures from the International side of Foxtrot, a good dancer could also apply the choreography in an American Foxtrot if they wanted. He wanted to ease everyone into the steps slowly, so we started off with a bit of basic choreography from the Bronze International Foxtrot syllabus, then those figures were upgraded piece by piece until we ended up with the actual choreography Judge Dread had in mind.

The starting point is pretty simple if you’ve done International Foxtrot before: a prep step into a Feather, then a Basic Weave, and finally a Change of Direction. Judge Dread pointed out to all of us that the Feather was a four-count figure, while the Basic Weave and the Change of Direction were both six-count figures, so the pattern should fill a full four bars of music. That’s all well and good, but what if we wanted to attach something different to the end of the choreography? Then the six-count Basic Weave would throw off our phrasing. To fix that issue, Judge Dread had us add in an extra two steps to the Basic Weave to make it an eight-count figure, so now the figure fits into the phrase.

Doing that however makes the Basic Weave look really long and boring, so rather than just stay in the position that we got into when we started the Basic Weave, Judge Dread told the ladies that we were going to have them shift across the man’s body for steps four and five to get into Outside Partner position on the man’s left side. Some of you may have heard this called ‘Wing Position’ before. Extending the steps and shifting the lady like that in the middle of the figure actually changes the Basic Weave into a figure called the Quick Open Reverse with Left Side Run, according to Judge Dread.

Now that we had fit this new figure to the musical phrase and made it more interesting to watch, we were ready to look at the Change of Direction at the end and make it into something more interesting as well. The pattern of steps that Judge Dread showed to us was something that he said a famous dancer (whose name I didn’t recognize) taught to him back in the early 1980s, and he still sees high-level competitive couples using it to this day. According to him, it especially comes in handy in competitions if you get stuck by people on the floor, because it’s an interesting pattern that stays in a relatively small area for a few bars of music. On top of that, this pattern can be done in ANY International Standard style. Yes, even Viennese Waltz works when you use a bit of Canter Timing.

Each section listed next covers one measure in the music; since we were working on Foxtrot that day, we were doing it with a four count. This configuration started out by facing diagonal wall and going into the first two steps from the Change of Direction, as you probably already guessed. After those steps, instead of stepping forward on the left foot to complete the Change of Direction, Judge Dread had the men step backward and lead the ladies to do an Outside Swivel. Once back in dance frame after the Outside Swivel we would lead the lady into a Contra check that ended with a Natural Pivot on the left leg that would flip us around 180°. That covers the first three bars of music.

The last part of the grouping was something that Judge Dread called a “Rudolph Ronde” with Slip Pivot. Essentially the men would finish the Natural Pivot and take a step forward onto their right leg. Leaving the left leg behind you, we would rotate our bodies to lead the lady to ronde her outside leg before shifting our weight back to our left foot and then slipping and pivoting on the right. Depending on how you rotate your body, supposedly you can indicate to the lady whether you want her to ronde with her outside foot on the floor or in the air, but I wasn’t able to figure out the way to do that during class. After the Slip Pivot you should be back facing diagonal center, and four bars of music will have gone by without you having traveled a whole lot. After that was done, Judge Dread just had us go into normal a Reverse Turn (International or American, depending on how comfortable the lady is with Heel Turns) to keep traveling down the floor.

That class wasn’t the only dance-related thing I did last Saturday either! I also went out to a dance party that night that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall just to get out and be social for a little while. I may have gotten scolded for going to the dance party to mostly talk to people by a lady while I was there… I had a hard time trying to explain to her that I spend so much time on the dance floor lately while I practice my competition stuff, but don’t get much opportunity to talk to people. Apparently that wasn’t a good reason for her. It wasn’t like I was hurting anything though, since the ratio of men to women was almost even that night. If the ratio had been lopsided, I would have been on the floor more, I promise!

The party advertised a lesson beforehand on Bolero. It’s a style that I don’t really do too often, and I never picked up a whole lot of figures for it, so I thought that the lesson would probably be interesting. As it turned out, the instructor that had come in to teach the class only managed to cover figures that I already knew for Bolero. Plus, the guy teaching wasn’t very interesting to listen to. I don’t know what it was about the guy’s voice, but he seemed to drone on and on and I just couldn’t get engaged in what he was saying. So I ended up being a little bored while in the lesson. I maaaaaay have roped Sparkledancer into playing a game of ‘Quick Draw’ with me using finger guns while we were standing across the room from one another. I lost a lot, because my arms move slower. You know, from all the muscle. That’s where the real gun show is at. 😉

A large chunk of time at the beginning of the lesson was spent with the instructor describing the Bolero and how to do the basic steps for the dance. He only taught the class how to do the basic without rotation, though he demonstrated later in class how the Leader could rotate the basic if desired. After getting through the basic movements, he next showed everyone how to do the Cross Over Break (i.e. a New Yorker, depending on what syllabus you look at). We were told to link the two figures together by doing the front half of the basic movement followed by three Cross Over Breaks in a row. Once done with those, he showed the class how to do a Lady’s Underarm Turn on the man’s left side.

Rather than link back into dance frame after the turn, the instructor had the men take the lady’s left hand in their right with the arms wide. In this position we did Outside Breaks Forward, two of them normally and then a third that ended with the man stepping to the side without rotating his body. This wound him up to the right, allowing him to lead the lady to do Swivels in front of him for two measures. At the end of the swivels the man would pull the lady back toward him slightly as he went into the back half of the basic to close back into dance position to finish.

The Swivels were the figure that a lot of the other men in class had the hardest time with. Several of them stopped the instructor to ask how it was that they were supposed to lead the ladies to do them, and they didn’t seem to understand when he explained to them how they needed to leave their arms engaged and rotate their bodies to signal to the ladies to move. Having done this figure before lots of times in a couple of dance styles, it seemed so intuitive to me how the movement was supposed to work, so I had a hard time understanding how those guys couldn’t just feel the lead they were supposed to do when they tried the movement. I can’t remember if I had that much trouble getting it back in the day all those years ago when I originally learned how to do it myself. Maybe I did? I don’t know.

After the lesson was over, the party began. I admit to not being a huge fan of the DJ that was working the music that night. The DJ seemed to like playing Latin-style songs almost exclusively, with only a smattering of ballroom-style or swing-style numbers mixed in. If you like dancing Latin numbers more, I guess that wouldn’t bother you too much, but I prefer a more balanced mix of the three classes. I think it helps mix things up over the course of the party, which gets different people out on the dance floor as the class of song changes. But, to each their own, I guess.

Also, the DJ liked to go out and dance to a lot of the Latin-style songs, which is fine, but more often than not she would totally forget to watch what the music was doing while she was out on the floor. I’m not sure why she didn’t set up multiple songs to play on some kind of mixed playlist that she had chosen. Most music programs will let you queue songs like that. There were a couple of times when she would forget about what the music was doing, then the song would end and her computer would move on to another song of the same dance style before she managed to run back to abruptly change the song to something else in a different dance style. That was weird.

But the weirdest thing that happened during the dance party was that the DJ tried to play a Pasodoble for people to dance socially. At first, people were looking around, not quite sure what to do. Many of the social dancers had never even seen Pasodoble before, let alone learned any steps for the style. After a few bars of the song, two dance instructors who happened to be at the party convinced a couple of their students to go out and give it a try. It didn’t go super well, since Pasodoble is usually choreographed and isn’t done lead-and-follow, but when the DJ cut the song short and everyone cheered for them for giving it a shot. Hooray for them!

This past Monday night when I got to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class, I was sitting along the back wall with some of the others waiting for class to start. The ladies near me were talking about how tired they all were, and they were trying to figure out what they wanted to go over in class that night. They made a pact that they were all going to vote for Rumba, because even though what we’d likely cover in class might not be easy, at least it would be slower. Lord Junior wasn’t opposed to the idea, so that’s what we ended up doing. He decided that we should go through some exercises that emphasized Latin Walks, since he said that everyone can always work on making those better. Some of these exercises were done alone, some with a partner, and some were done first alone and then a partner was added in later.

We started out with just going over some single steps forward as Lord Junior discussed where we should be settling over the leg in order to initiate the movement, and how we should all think about the lines the legs create in each stage of the steps. After that, we spent time chaining steps together. First we did three four-count measures going forward (half starting on the right leg, half on the left). Next we did steps going forward that would rotate to steps going to the side. We only did two four-count measures of these steps so that we could have one measure starting out in each direction (forward-side-forward, side-forward-side). Like before, half of these were done starting on the right foot, and the other half starting with the left.

The next thing that Lord Junior wanted us to try ended up being kind of hilarious. His intention was for us to do Hand-to-Hands, but after replacing your weight to go back forward you were supposed to do a Spiral Turn that ended facing where your partner would be and then take a step to the side before rotating 90° to go into another Hand-to-Hand. You know how if you put your weight on one leg with the other behind you, you should only be able to rotate in one direction to do a Spiral Turn? Well… that didn’t seem to be the case in this class. For some reason, all of us (including me) at one point or another tried to rotate the wrong way, which just messed up everything after that.

After spending a few minutes laughing really hard at us, Lord Junior thought that we might be able to get through the turns properly if we worked with a partner, so the guys were paired with one of the girls and we tried things again. This is where I got messed up, because suddenly I was on the other leg and it threw me off for some reason. I think I had to go through two partners before I managed to work out my issues and get it down 100%. By that point though, everyone in class was so fired up that anytime one of us messed up and tried to turn the wrong way, it would set everyone else off laughing (including Lord Junior), so messing up didn’t feel so bad. Yes, we really were the ‘advanced’ class that night!

There was one final exercise that Lord Junior wanted us to try out that night. The idea was to start facing one wall, take a step backward and do a 180° pivot that went into a Three-Step Turn and came out as if we were a lady going into Fan Position. After going through this a couple of times, he decided to pair us off again so that we could work in partners. I spent a minute going through the step on my own using the opposite leg so that it wouldn’t throw me off this time when I had a partner with me.

When we ended while with a partner, we were essentially in Hand-to-Hand position. After watching us work through things with a partner a few times, Lord Junior had the brilliant idea of going from the ending back into the Hand-to-Hand with Spiral Turn action that we had done so spectacularly earlier. Yay…? The issue with trying to turn the wrong way during the Spiral came back with a vengeance, and it was still just as funny for everyone the second time around. Who says that technique-focused classes are boring? Not me, that’s for sure!

Finally, last night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior told us that we were going to work on some Tango, in honor of one of his students who was in class with us that night who would be moving away at the end of the week. Tango is her favorite dance style, so it was a fitting final dance for her, and we were all happy to oblige.

What Lord Junior failed to mention before class started was that the pattern that he was going to have us do was going to be super hard. Stupid hard, even. Normally I don’t have much problem picking up choreography, since there are so many women in class and I get to repeat the steps a lot more than they do, but this class it took me quite a while to feel even semi-confident with what my feet were supposed to be doing, so I didn’t switch over part way through to focus on other techniques. I’m not sure why that was. During most of the class my brain was struggling to just keep the steps straight, but now that I am home and sitting here on the couch writing this I can picture the figures perfectly. I bet if I had enough space in this room, and my cat was willing to dance with me, that I could get through it perfectly! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…

We started off with our partner facing down the line of dance in Promenade Position. To set up for the first difficult figure Lord Junior wanted to do, we did a basic Promenade with the man closing and a Natural Pivot attached at the end to turn us back around so that we were facing down the line of dance again, this time in closed dance position. Easy enough. The first difficult figure that we did was a Gold-level figure called The Chase, but we did it using the alternate ending to the figure where you come out with a Chasse to the Right and end with a Whisk that rotates you 90° to the right and puts you back into Promenade Position. This would normally be used to turn you around a corner.

The next figure confused a lot of people because it is a lot like the previous one, so doing both back-to-back was what made this choreography particularly hard that night. We did two Fallaway Whisks in a row. Because we had allowed the outside foot to come forward after the previous Whisk, to start the figure we had to take one slow step forward on the outside leg before the first Fallaway Whisk, which starts with the inside leg. If you get through the first Fallaway Whisk correctly, rather than let the outside leg come forward after the Whisk part at the end you would just push off that leg after it crossed behind to start the second Fallaway Whisk right away. Most people in the class that night weren’t good enough to keep both of these Fallaway Whisks going in a straight line, so we would curve them as needed – sometimes almost going in a complete circle. After the second Fallaway Whisk we finished the pattern by adding on a basic Closed Promenade at the end.

Now that I’ve finished writing all of this, I have to go find some band aids. My cat was not too happy about me trying to use her as a dance partner, so I got slightly scratched. Still worth it. Until next week!

Advertisements

So We Gon’ Dance Until We Drop

Another week in the books. The most interesting thing that I did this past weekend was participate in a pseudo-competition that was being put on by the Fancy Dance Hall. There would be heats, and some well-known judges, and after the event was over there would be written notes from the judges about things that they noticed you doing while you danced. Exciting, right?

Sparkledancer and I signed up for this event, because feedback that we can actually make sense of is something that we can use to help us improve. Before we signed up, we discussed what we should do with Lord Dormamu. He thought that this would be a good chance for us to work on our stamina, so the recommendation was to do a ridiculous number of heats. Seeing as how I dance amateur, and it is very rare that I actually get to dance heats at a competition, working on stamina wasn’t really even a concern for me. But he’s the world-class coach, so I wasn’t going to argue with him. Besides, the Fancy Dance Hall was offering a pretty cheap rate for amateurs to dance per heat, so splitting the cost with Sparkledancer wasn’t all that expensive.

I had originally signed up to dance twenty individual heats (four each of each of the five International Standard styles) plus one five-dance challenge round. There was a bit of a mix-up when they put together the schedule for the day though, so a lot of people got signed up to dance more heats than they paid for, which was a pretty good deal. I think in the end I ended up dancing something like thirty individual heats plus the five-dance challenge round.

Sparkledancer and I were on the floor a lot more than most other students that morning, and even more than a majority of the instructors. The only person I know for sure who was on the floor more than us was Lord Latin. When a group of his students booked their heats, apparently the schedule had to be built around how often he would be on the floor. For the entire morning session when I was there, which covered all the heats in International Standard and American Smooth, there were only two Viennese Waltz heats that Lord Latin did not dance. That guy was the real champion of the day.

A lot of people who I knew from the area were taking part in this event, so it ended up being really fun there. Lord Junior had three of his students sign up to dance heats that day. They were interested in getting feedback from the judges that they could review because they had all signed up to go to a big Pro/Am competition that is happening in a couple of weeks. Sir Digler was there with two of his students, one of those being Points, a lady that used to dance a lot but then disappeared for a long time, and now apparently has resurfaced as a competitor. Surprise! The Princess was there as well, and she had a couple of men whom she was dancing some heats with during the morning session.

One of the judges for the event was also dancing that morning in a few heats, weirdly enough. This guy is apparently another one of those multi-multi-multi-time world champion ballroom dancers, much like Lord Dormamu. When he was asked by the people at the Fancy Dance Hall if he would come judge this competition for them, he thought it sounded like fun, and then asked if he could bring one of his students with him to dance in some of the rounds! No one expected that as his response, but they weren’t about to say no if it meant he would be there, so there was a block of dances near the end of the morning set aside where he wasn’t judging so he and his student could dance.

Speaking of Lord Dormamu… he was not there that day. Back when we first talked about doing this event months ago, it sounded like he would be dancing there with a few of his Pro/Am ladies, but it turns out that he was asked to go help run a bigger competition out-of-town, and then give coaching to competitors from that event the next day. So that’s where he ended up instead.

My first heat was heat three, so I started out in the designated ‘on-deck’ area of the studio watching while waiting my turn. The first thing that I noticed when watching the first couple of heats that morning was that there seemed to be very little energy in the room. This was late in the morning, so it wasn’t like everyone there hadn’t had plenty of time to be up and about to wake themselves up, so I wondered what it was that was making everyone so subdued. It was then that I remembered that when I did this same competition the year before, Lord Dormamu was the one that was engaging everyone who wasn’t on the dance floor during the competition. This year, the DJ was trying to do the same, but it wasn’t working nearly as well.

After Sparkledancer and I finished our first few heats and had a bit of a break, I told her that we needed to step up and help liven up the crowd. So we started to perform rather than just dance. When we would go out to dance a heat, after picking a corner to start in we would talk to the people sitting in chairs nearby as the music started, or to other competitors who decided to start dancing near us. Sometimes I made comments to people as I danced past them, just to get them to smile or laugh. In one heat I had a whole conversation with Sparkledancer fairly loudly, where we talked about how she was a classy lady who danced, and since I was dancing with her, what that would make me. We managed to decide that the most appropriate word would be ‘debonair’ before the heat ended, but it was a tough choice between that and ‘suave’ let me tell you.

And performing like that actually worked! After a few rounds where people watched the two of us dancing seriously but acting silly, the whole atmosphere in the room changed. The audience, and other competitors waiting between their heats, started to actually cheer on the dancers on the floor, and even started to play along with Sparkledancer and I as we interacted with them. Suddenly it seemed like everyone was actually having fun, which I think made many people dance much better. That made me happy.

Near the end of the morning, the student who had come to dance at this event with the judge stopped to talk to me while I was hanging out in the on-deck area. She was an older lady who could have easily passed for my grandmother, if my grandmother ever wore a fancy yellow ball gown. She wanted to tell me that she thought that Sparkledancer and I looked like we were having so much fun while we were out on the dance floor. In fact, apparently when she found out that she was going to be dancing some of the same heats as we were that morning, at first she was nervous because she didn’t think she could compete with us for attention.

I tried to tell her that she really didn’t have to worry about competing with me, since I am just an amateur, and her instructor and dance partner has been one of the highest rated dancers in the world. She laughed at that, and then said that after being on the floor with Sparkledancer and I, she was inspired to try even harder at dancing, and also to have fun at the same time.

That bit of feedback right there from some lady I had only met that morning means more to me than any of the written notes that I will eventually get from the judges. 🙂

When the competition broke for lunch after the American Smooth rounds, I had to head back home to take care of some things in the afternoon. But that competition wasn’t the only dancing that I ended up doing that day. Sparkledancer sent me a note late in the afternoon saying that Prez had asked her to go to the dance party that night at the Endless Dance Hall to make some announcements for our Royal Dance Court group. Since I am also on the Royal Dance Court, she was drafting me to help her out. Plus, I assumed that we could get in some practice if I was there with her, which is always a good thing.

The dance club that had put together this event had called up the illustrious Judge Dread to come teach a lesson in Bolero for them before the open dance started. I was interested in hearing Judge Dread teach, because he has such a different perspective on things. The man is an internationally acclaimed ballroom adjudicator, so hearing him talk about the different dance styles is fun. However, I didn’t end up getting to participate in the class. Somehow, through some sort of wizardry that I don’t understand fully, the dance club ended up with more men than women showing up for the class! Unbelievable!

I know I could have muscled my way into a spot in the line if I wanted to, but being a member of the Royal Dance Court, I thought that might be considered bad form. Also, there were people in the class that had never danced Bolero before, so Judge Dread spent quite a bit of time covering just the basic steps. I thought that it would be better for people who had never done Bolero before to practice those steps rather than me, so that was another reason why I stepped off to the side.

Things got a bit more ridiculous at the party after the lesson. The first thing that Sparkledancer and I had to do was track down the leader of this ballroom club, who happens to be the famous President Porpoise, to talk with him about making the announcements that Prez requested. Turns out that he had already planned on making announcements about the same items before we even got there, so Prez really didn’t need to send Sparkledancer on this mission. Huzzah! That meant that our Royal Dance Court duties were done for the night, and we could do whatever we wanted with the rest of our time.

So I ended up socializing for much of the night. I don’t go out to too many dance parties anymore now that I am training to be a serious competitor (super serious), so I don’t really get to see people as much as I used to. Since I was at this party, and I had already danced quite a bit earlier in the day, I took the time to try to at least say hello to a bunch of people while I was at the party.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t dance at all. In fact, Sparkledancer and I did dance together for every ballroom dance that was played that night until I left, save for one where some other guy grabbed her for a Tango before I could find her. Being kind of burnt out on working on our routines, Sparkledancer suggested at the beginning of the night that we spend the night practicing our posture, frame, footwork and floorcraft, but dance whatever figures that we wanted, or even switch to American style if we wanted to do something completely different.

During the first Foxtrot of the night, I tried to do American style, but it just felt weird since all I do is International anymore. Somewhere around the floor I was doing some Passing Twinkles, and after closing Sparkledancer back to the point where we connected the right side of our bodies, I never brought up my left hand to offer it to her. Rather than stop dancing, I proceeded to continue to move around the floor just holding her with my right hand behind her shoulder, and switched to mostly doing International-style Foxtrot steps instead of American.

That actually turned out to be a lot more fun by comparison, and it was a good way to practice our connection. When the song ended and I walked with Sparkledancer back to the side of the dance floor, she told me that when the next ballroom-style dance came on, she would come find me again, and we should try that one using only one arm as well. A few songs later a Waltz came on, and we did the same thing, using a variety of International Waltz steps and only one arm to get around the floor.

Because it was so much fun, we ended up doing that the rest of the night whenever we danced together. The only exception we made was for the one Viennese Waltz and one Quickstep that came on before I left for the night – those we figured would be safer if we used both arms to maintain a good frame. People gave us some strange looks as we passed by them when we danced with our arms hanging down at the side, but I was having too much fun to care. So… I guess you could count that as practice for the night, in a way. I’m certainly going to.

Returning to a bit of quiet normalcy, I headed out to Latin Technique class on Monday night. As a treat, when I got there Lord Junior announced to everyone that we would get to work on Pasodoble that night. Hooray! That’s my favorite!

As I mentioned, Lord Junior and a few of his students are preparing to head off to a large Pro/Am competition coming up soon, and one of the ladies who was in class on Monday night and also danced in the competition that I was in on Saturday was working on perfecting her Pasodoble routine, so Lord Junior opted to use the Latin Technique class to give her some more practice. All of the figures that we were given to work on that night were from the Bronze syllabus, so if you’ve ever done any Pasodoble before you’ve probably seen these at least once.

We started out with a Separation. Then we did another Separation, only this time we brought the ladies back to us on our right side so that we could follow it with the Fallaway Ending to Separation (yes, that’s the real name of the figure). This ending to the Separation allowed us to turn a corner so that the next figures would all head down a new wall.

There were three figures used to close out our little progression for the night. The first was an Open Telemark. We underturned this slightly so that we ended facing the wall rather than facing down the line of dance. That set us up so that we could go into a Promenade and Counter Promenade. Lord Junior gave the guys a choice whether they wanted to do the Bronze-version of the figure where the Counter Promenade heads toward center, or the Silver-level version where the Counter Promenade goes diagonal center (way more advanced, right?). To complete the progression and to line us up facing the wall again, he had us add on a Grand Circle.

In Standard Technique class this week, Lord Junior once again had us working on a section from one of his competitive student’s routines so that she could get some extra practice with the figures before the upcoming competition that she and Lord Junior would be doing together. The dance was Quickstep, and the choreography that we looked at actually ended up being broken into two pieces because there was so much of it. In the first part of class, we looked at one section and linked it to the second section, but when we started to run short of time Lord Junior had us drop the first section entirely so that we could focus on improving the second section.

Part one had us starting off with a prep step into a Forward Lock. From there we added on a non-syllabus figure called a Hairpin, which looks a lot like a Curved Three Step from Foxtrot, and at the end of the Hairpin we attached a Heel Pull, which should rotate you so that you end up backing line of dance. Then we did those two figures again, though to attach them you have to take out the first slow step of the Hairpin. After the second one you should be facing line of dance going down the new wall (obviously you would do these figures in a corner if that is the intended rotation).

This set us up to take one step forward on our left leg and then go into a Rumba Cross, but like I said earlier, as class wore on and Lord Junior wanted to save time we ended up dropping all of those prior figures and started directly with the Rumba Cross instead. We did two Rumba Crosses in a row, with one step on the left leg in between to link them. Assuming you were able to do the pivot on the last step of the Rumba Cross correctly and get a full 180° turn, and you pushed with your standing leg enough to really drive through the first step and float through the others, you could easily cover the entire short wall with just those two Rumba Crosses.

Lord Junior had us add on a Natural Turn and an Open Impetus to turn the corner and line up moving diagonal center down the new wall, and we finished by doing one Step Hop into a Promenade Chasse in Pepperpot timing and then four running steps to end. These were actually four steps where you were ‘running’ on the balls of your feet, and not a Four Quick Run, which is a completely different figure though it sounds like it should be the same. I was confused as well when Lord Junior first told us we were doing the four running steps, but once I saw it I understood that it wasn’t the figure I was thinking of at all.

Holy cow, we are already halfway through February! Where does the time go? It feels like the year just started a little while ago, but we’re actually well into the year already. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try my best to have a fairly quiet weekend this week. I’m actually hoping to disappear for a while and go out to see a movie (you can probably guess which one). Will I be able to pull off my plan? Or will dancing pop up and insist that I go hang out with it instead? I’m sure I’ll tell you all about how things go next week!

Laughing All The Way

When I got together with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven this past Saturday afternoon, we started off looking at things that were on a completely different track than usual. Sir Steven wanted to begin by looking at Foxtrot. We still haven’t gotten around to looking at what our American Foxtrot routine should be; we just looked at some figures in Foxtrot. Specifically, we began by jinglebells1doing repeating Three Step and Feathers down the length of the floor. After a few repetitions with me traveling forward, Sir Steven asked us to do them with me going backward. This is what Sir Steven wanted us to look at (he called it a Reverse Wave, if you want to look it up). Sir Steven said that we should start trying to incorporate this figure when we dance Foxtrot together socially, because he wants to put a number of things that travel backward into our routine, so we need to feel comfortable maneuvering backward with other people on the floor. It was easy to do that afternoon, since we had the whole place to ourselves, but moving backward can be scary when there are other dancers around that you can’t see as you face the other direction.

Next we spent a few minutes looking at our American Waltz routine to review the changes we had made last weekend. That wasn’t very exciting. Then we decided to look at our Tango. We had pretty much already scrapped everything but the first long wall of the routine up to this point because Sir Steven didn’t like it, and that afternoon he decided to changing portions of that wall as well. Where we focused that day was on a piece that Sparkledancer does: we had just done an Open Reverse Turn, ending with me lunged forward on my right leg and her in outside partner. Sparkledancer was supposed to flick her right leg backward around mine and then kick it forward before putting it on the floor to do some rock steps with me. Sir Steven didn’t think her kick was exciting enough, so the two of them worked on the kick while I held my lunge. She was supposed to make it look more dramatic, almost like a snap kick. Sir Steven made some noise at one point while they he was kicking to add emphasis, which I thought was funny, so Sparkledancer asked me if I could help make inspirational noises for her when she kicked. Being the obliging type, the next time we went through the step and she kicked I said “Keeyah!” really loud, like we were in a cheesy martial arts movie. Both of them stopped what they were doing and started laughing really hard. That was totally the right call on my part.

Before we finished up that day, Sir Steven wanted to switch gears and we briefly look at our Quickstep routine. I guess since it had been so long since we had done any changes to any of our International Standard routines, they were feeling a bit jealous, so Sir Steven walked us through a variation of the first long wall in that routine that he wanted to have us start incorporating in from time to time. It wasn’t meant to be a total replacement for the first long wall, just a variation that we could use when the routine repeats to keep things fresh as we go around. The first long wall would normally travel in a pretty straight path down the line of dance, so this variation will have us moving back and forth from the wall to the center as we travel.

Later on that evening, I got to help put on a dance party with the other members of the Royal Dance Court chapter I am a part of. Our little group had known about the big formal Christmas party that many of us attended the weekend before, so to differentiate ourselves from that event we had intentionally scheduled our party this past weekend to be just the opposite, encouraging everyone to dress in their tackiest holiday attire and come out for some relaxing fun. We were also celebrating the birthday of our chapter that night, so all members got to come to the party for free! Being so close to the holidays, I was worried that a lot of people would be out of town for the weekend and we’d have a small turnout, but we had a ton of people show up to dance that night. I guess the allure of free dancing is too much for people to pass up.

Before the party started, we had arranged for Lord Junior to come out and teach a class on American Rumba to everyone. Weirdly enough, I did not participate in the class that night. While the class was going on, we had a lot more men than women in attendance. A few people jinglebells2trickled in during the class as well, but that only made the ratio worse, with even more men than women. I ended up directing several of the ladies who are members of the Royal Dance Court with me to go out to the floor to even up the ratio (which is what I usually have to do during these classes). From what I could see of the steps they were doing from where I was, it didn’t appear to be all that complicated – it looked a lot like a figure I learned quite a while ago in fact, but after the class was over Sparkledancer came to talk to me and told me that a lot of the men were struggling with the steps, so she ended up backleading a lot just to get through things.

The party afterward was tons of fun. More people kept coming in as the class was wrapping up, so we ended up with tons of people out on the floor! And there were still several more men than women! That doesn’t happen very often at parties I usually attend. I ended up standing behind the counter for the first half of the party to watch the door and sign in any people that showed up, giving the ladies who are members of the Royal Dance Court a chance to do some work during the dance party out on the floor like I usually do. It’s only fair that occasionally they have to spend all night dancing and entertaining the guests, right? That is what I have to do most months. I still got to dance quite a bit, so don’t feel bad for me. Not that I would think that many ladies would feel bad for me having to sit out at all anyway…

To celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our little club, all the members of the Royal Dance Court chipped in to get free cake and champagne for all the people who showed up that night. I think we might have overdone it a bit though. There were several bottles of champagne left over at the end of the night, and I know there were a few people who had a lot more to drink than I would normally feel comfortable with. We also ended up having a lot more cake than we really needed as well. One lady really felt like we needed homemade cake, and she wasn’t sure what flavor would be the best, so she made three cakes, each in a nine-by-thirteen pan. By the end of the night, two cakes had been half eaten and one hadn’t even been cut into pieces. We probably could have gotten by with two cakes half the size rather than three giant ones, if you ask me. Rumor has it someone took the cakes home to put in their freezer with the idea of bringing them back out at our dance party next month. I’m really, really going to have to try and talk them out of doing that…

There were only a few of us who showed up for Latin Technique class on Monday night. Lord Junior was working on some Tango with Deja when I got to the studio, and when asked if she was going to stick around she initially said that she had some things to get home and take care of. Sparkledancer was the only other person there, sitting along the side of the room watching the two of them. Lord Junior said it might be just the two of us, so we could pick whatever we wanted. Sparkledancer made a joke about wanting to do Bolero, since Lord Junior doesn’t like Bolero for some reason. He replied that he would just go through International Rumba figures using Bolero technique if that’s what she really wanted to do. The two of them looked at me, and I just shrugged and said that they both knew what my vote would be (I love me some Pasodoble!). Both Sparkledancer and Lord Junior seemed to be OK with that idea, and when Deja heard us talking about doing Pasodoble she decided to stick around as well. Then tiny Tanya Tiger showed up at the last minute, doubling the size of the class from what I initially thought it would be, so that was fun. Yay for my great ideas!

Well… it was sort-of a great idea, as we found out. As excited as Deja was to do Pasodoble, she had never done any before, so she had trouble through the class figuring out her footwork. And even though Tanya is one of Lord Junior’s better competitive students, they haven’t done any Pasodoble together yet either. From the sounds of things, that might have been partially because of the height difference between them (she is under five feet tall, and he is several inches taller than my six foot frame), which would make it hard for them to do the iconic Pasodoble shapes really well. Also, Lord Junior picked a particularly difficult figure for us to work on in class that night, which was even harder for the ladies with no Pasodoble background to get through the first several times we tried it out.

We looked at a Gold-level figure which is aptly named ‘The Twists.’ Basically it’s a traveling figure that takes you down the floor, with the men doing three Twist Turns around the lady, and the lady doing three Heel Turns around the guy (yes, there apparently are Heel Turns in Pasodoble). When done correctly you get the effect that the turns are happening back-to-back, not at the same time. It will look like the man comes around the lady, turning to face the opposite direction, and then the lady moves and turns, then the man comes around again and turns, then the lady, and so on and so forth. It’s a neat effect, but hard to pull off if you aren’t coordinated with your partner. The syllabus version of the figure has you doing three twists and then a side step to collect, covering a twelve counts in the process. While turning, you are to constantly be shaping your upper body toward the center of the room (assuming that you view the direction you are traveling as ‘line of dance’). The shaping transitions are quick, so it took me a few tries to get them down.

Not being satisfied to just end the figure in the manner that the book recommends, we decided to add on one extra piece to give us the extra four beats needed to get two full eight-counts out of our pattern. We did three syncopated Lock Steps Forward, which ended up traveling toward the center of the room since our previous figure ended with us facing that way. The Lock Steps were super quick, and at the end we did a quick transition into Promenade Position, complete with all the big arm motions, to set us up for something else. As we practiced, we always ended up taking the first step forward in Promenade Position on the next beat one to help stop our momentum from the quick movements in the previous steps. The pattern felt pretty good when we were running things at about 80% of normal tempo, but it was a real challenge to keep things looking good when done at full speed. I thought it was a lot of fun though, so all around I was glad that everyone went along with my idea that night.

There were quite a few more people who showed up for Standard Technique class on Wednesday by comparison. We looked at some International Waltz that night, only covering a handful of figures that sounded easy when they were being explained to the class in the jinglebells3beginning, but one of the figures gave most people more trouble than I would have thought when we tried to dance it. The first step was easy enough, a Fallaway Reverse Slip Pivot – something most of you have likely seen before, either in International Waltz or Foxtrot. Next we did a normal Double Reverse Spin – also easy enough. Coming out of that was the troublesome figure: an Overturned Double Reverse Spin. It’s basically a normal Double Reverse Spin, but on the last half of the last beat you add on a Reverse Pivot to turn you another 180°. This seemed to cause all kinds of issues when we tried to dance it with a partner, and for some people it even caused issues when we tried dancing through the figures without a partner. To finish out the progression we added on an Oversway at the end. Not a Throwaway Oversway, but just a normal Oversway.

The biggest problem I had with the Overturned Double Reverse Spin was that with several of my partners, they would let their right arms collapse. When that happened, the right half of their bodies would invariably collapse toward me, pulling their heads back in toward their center. For some reason last night more than any other night I was having trouble getting the turn to go all the way around when the lady didn’t keep her head out to the left, which helps stabilize the turns we do. Three of the five women were letting that happen more often than not, so we would then have to kind of fake the last bit of the turn to make sure we got around enough to go into the Oversway. The two women that kept their frames up strong helped the progression flow really well, and we were able to get through things easily and everything felt really good.

Well, the holidays are officially upon us. That means that this weekend will be pretty quiet. The only option for dancing that I have heard of is a party tomorrow night at the Fancy Dance Hall. I think the class I normally attend on Monday is also cancelled, so that will be a bit sad. Next weekend should be better. There are several New Year’s Eve dance parties in the area to choose from to help finish out 2016 and bring in 2017 with. But we have to get through one holiday first before we can start talking about the other, so I’ll have more on those later.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very merry and dance filled Christmas!

Feel The Fire Burning Bright In The Night

For a change of pace this past week, I spent my time at a completely different location for StrikeOfTheNinja1dancing than where I am usually found. This is not the first time I’ve gone out to this particular studio, but it’s been two years since the last time I was there based on my recollection, so it was definitely time for a return trip (That reminds me, I haven’t gotten out to the Star Dance Hall in a long time. I should find a time to go back there as well…). Looking through my list of names, I don’t see that I have already christened this particular studio with a name, or if I did, I didn’t write it down. So let’s refer to this place as the High Five Dance Hall.

Probably the most random thing that I ended up doing at the High Five Dance Hall was going to a class that covered Nightclub Two Step. I was looking through the list of classes that were offered during the week, and this one seemed like the most fun one that I could get to, based on the times that classes were offered and the distance I had to drive to get there. I have heard people discuss the various “Nightclub” style dances before, but I have never looked into learning any of them myself until this recent brief introduction. They offered two classes at the same time, one for Nightclub Two Step beginners and one for intermediate students. I will admit to going online and watching several videos on the basics of the dance style before heading out to the studio, because I was pretty sure that I could pick up the basic footwork pretty quickly and handle myself in the intermediate class, but when I got to the class I still ended up jumping into the beginner class anyway. Not exactly sure why I decided against moving up a level at the last-minute, but I did. That decision was probably for the best though. The intermediate class was huge, and it appeared as though they only covered one pattern during the hour. The beginner class I was a part of was small, and we got through a whole lot of different figures in our hour. The instructor actually mentioned that he was surprised at how fast we were picking things up, and the last couple of figures I think weren’t on his original plan for the evening, since he had to stop and think about how to do the footwork a couple of times.

The instructor began class talking about Nightclub Two Step the same way I often hear people talking about West Coast Swing. He stressed that Nightclub Two Step was a super-versatile dance style that could be used for almost any kind of music, but it works best with slower songs. He may have even referred to them as “more romantic” songs to try to get a laugh. A couple of the people in class were really young (early teens or younger, but I’m only guesstimating), so they didn’t really get the joke. We started the evening by covering the basic step in open hand hold, which was the same footwork I had looked up online before coming to class, except we were hand-to-hand rather than in a closed hold that looks similar to a Latin-style closed hold, just not as strong. Once we had gone through the basic footwork with StrikeOfTheNinja2every partner, we moved on to turns. We did both the Inside and Outside Underarm Turns for the ladies without pause, and then since we had no problems with those we added on the man’s right and left side turns as well. Coming out of that, we were shown how to get into Closed Position and then we looked at the Opening Out figure on both the right and left sides, which again looked a lot like an Opening Out you would see in something like Rumba, except not as strong. Once we finished those, the instructor seemed surprised by how much time we had left in class, so he showed us the Traveling Crosses to the Right. He only had us turn 90° in the figure, but as the name implies it’s a lot like a Cross-Body Lead like you would see in other Latin dance styles, so you could use it to turn a full 180° if you wanted I bet. We looked at the Traveling Cross on its own, and then later also with adding in a turn for the ladies as you did the little three-step to the right.

Overall, it was a fun change of pace to look at a dance style I’ve never seen before. I’m not sure when I would ever use this new knowledge, since A) I only know the figures I’ve listed above, B) the music choice and tempo makes me want to dance Bolero or International Rumba instead, and C) I don’t know if many people where I normally dance know the style, so finding a partner could be challenging. Still, it could be a useful skill at some point in the future, right?

Saturday night I went out to a social dance at the High Five Dance Hall as well, just to see what their social scene was like. It was a good thing that I managed to convince Sparkledancer to come with me to the dance party, because it ended up that there were more men than women at the dance. It wasn’t a huge delta, there were only a couple more men than women, but still… that never really happens at dance parties that I attend. This studio focuses on social dancing as opposed to training students for competitions, so the style of dancing that we saw most of the people dancing was a lot looser than we are used to seeing, even though the dances were familiar. It’s not really sloppier per se, just… different. No really strong frames, no worry about proper alignment, just people out having fun. So as you can imagine, when I did dance with Sparkledancer, we looked really different from everyone else on the floor. That difference StrikeOfTheNinja3attracted attention. There were several instructors that made a point to come talk to us to ask us about where we learned things and where we could normally be found dancing. If they saw me in the Nightclub Two Step class earlier in the week, they were also confused by my apparent skill level and had to ask why I was in a beginner class when here I obviously wasn’t a beginner-level dancer. One instructor was super excited when he was talking to Sparkledancer and she mentioned that she knew Viennese Waltz – apparently that isn’t something that they did at this studio very often, much to his chagrin, so he was going to make sure that one was put on for us (and for him and a student of his whom he was teaching the style to). There were a couple of songs played that night where I saw that most people were dancing Nightclub Two Step, but I opted to dance other styles I knew better during those songs rather than try out the things I had just learned. It was a really fun night!

The one other thing that I did at the High Five Dance Hall while I was in the area was set up some floor time to work with Sparkledancer on our showcase routine. The routine is meant to cover the floor, so it doesn’t fit so well in the little space I have for practicing in my own apartment or space that we can find in hers. We can sort-of practice outside, but a lot of the turns are hard to do on grass and impossible to do on asphalt. So, since Sparkledancer was going to meet me out at the High Five Dance Hall anyway, we just called ahead and asked them if we could pay for some floor space for about an hour to practice while we were in the area. There were a couple of private lessons going on at the same time as we were there, but they were sticking to the outside edge of the floor, so Sparkledancer and I just kept to the middle area to work through everything of ours. Let me tell you, it was really good practicing with an actual wood floor where I could stretch my legs for a change, and the cost for the hour of floor space was a lot cheaper at the High Five Dance Hall than it would have been if we had tried getting space at the other few places I know of where I’ve seen the rates posted. We ran through things quite a bit to make sure that we had everything down and could do the routine repeatedly without screwing anything up. Going though things so much leads me to believe that there are a couple of counts missing. I say that because the second Lindy Hop section doesn’t start quite at the same time as the second chorus, so either we’ve messed something up based on what we were practicing using the videos we made of the choreography, or Sir Steven counted something differently when he put the choreography together than we put on video. So we’ll have to make sure to look at it with him this weekend to re-review things. Just when I thought I had everything committed to memory, it turns out I may have to change it again. Go figure…

So, after the excursion this past week to a different location, this coming week the plan is to handle things more like normal. One exciting note that I will mention to anyone who is interested is that there is a dance party being held at the Endless Dance Hall on Saturday night, where admission is free but the hosts are selling off dances with local dance instructors throughout the evening to raise money for some kind of charity. Free admission probably means that there will be a big turnout for the party. Are you going to come along? I hope to see you there!