From Where I Stand I See

I’m going to start off this week with an update for you on something I mentioned last week: over the weekend I managed to convince Sparkledancer to bring her competition shoes with her to one of our practice sessions so that she could test them out. Turns out that the shoe that the girl stepped in at the competition did get stretched out pretty badly, and nothing Sparkledancer tried that day as we practiced managed to make the shoe feel stable again. After testing it for about an hour, she told me that she might feel comfortable using them occasionally for practice, but to put them away again and try to rely on the shoes to function well during a competition would be a bad idea.
So, after a lot of arguing and a brief and hilarious scuffle, I managed to steal one of her shoes and look at the size printed on the inside. I went ahead and ordered her a new pair. Despite what she will tell anyone else, I personally feel like it was my fault that I didn’t get us away from those other kids on the floor, so I will take responsibility for that other girl sticking her heel into Sparkledancer’s shoe and damaging it. Plus, I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get paid enough to afford to do random things like this, so it’s really no skin off my back.

One thing that I did learn is that the shoes Sparkledancer uses are stupid expensive. Holy cow, those are the most expensive pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my whole life! I thought I paid a lot when I got my own super-fancy shoes that I use for practice (and the second pair I have in my closet that I only use for competitions), but those shoes seem cheap by comparison. Do you think that it’s because there are so many more female ballroom dancers than men, so men’s shoes are just less expensive because of the disparity in demand? That would be an interesting peek into the economics of ballroom dancing.

Anyway, once the new shoes show up the problem will be corrected. I still feel bad that anything happened in the first place, but being able to fix the problem eases my guilt quite a bit.

Enough about shoes, let’s talk about dancing. This past weekend, aside from practicing, I managed to get myself out of the house on Friday night to head out to the Endless Dance Hall for their party. It was the biggest party scheduled in the Dance Kingdom – many other dance studios cancelled their own Friday night parties so that they could join the fun out at the Endless Dance Hall. Why would they decide to do something crazy like that? Well, they all knew that they just couldn’t compete with the Endless Dance Hall. For one thing, it does have the biggest dance floor available anywhere within a few hours drive. For another, they had hired the best ballroom DJ to come play the music that evening, and that always draws in a fair number of people.

But the real coup de grâce was the fact that they made their party free to everyone who showed up.

Yeah, free parties do tend to attract people more than parties that you have to pay for. Especially parties that also have a dance lesson being offered (for free, of course) and prizes up for raffle (also free). What’s not to love? So it totally makes sense that all the other studios in the surrounding area cancelled their Friday night parties and encouraged their students to go over to the Endless Dance Hall. Heck, I even saw some of the instructors from other studios in the area at the party that night, weirdly enough. There’s no question in my mind that it was the place to be! That’s why I went!

I didn’t get there early enough to take part in the lesson. I mean, I’m sure I could have jumped in right at the end to help out since there did seem to be a few more ladies than men on the floor, but as I stood watching what was going on for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The lesson was on Cha-Cha, I did get that much, but there were a lot of people I had never seen before in the lesson, and most of them appeared to be lost on what to do, so trying to glean the steps that were being taught from them wasn’t working for me. The instructor had a microphone, but with the noise from the crowd going on I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. So, I just stayed on the sidelines and watched instead.

But I didn’t have to stay on the sidelines long! Soon the lesson finished and everyone in class was released to do what they wanted. I spent my time that evening between dancing and talking with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a while. I don’t know if my number was ever called in the raffle – I ended up giving my ticket to the Dance Robots. The prizes looked nice, but I didn’t really need anything, and those two always make me happy when I see them.

I danced a lot that night, and because of that I didn’t manage to hit up the snack room until way late in the evening – like half-an-hour before the party ended late. As my luck would have it, a lot of the good snacks were already gone, which made me kind of sad. I don’t know why it is that I don’t feel hungry until so late at night. I mean, I do have a tendency to make sure to eat dinner before I go to parties like this, which probably has a lot to do with it. Do other people just not do that? Is that why they always plow through all the snacks before I feel like having something? Just a weird thought I had that night…

Monday night in Latin Technique class we continued with the trend that we started last week of working on simple figures to help the new ladies that joined class improve their basics. This makes two weeks now for these new ladies. I wonder if they’ll stick around long enough for me to give them names? I’ve had this terrible luck lately where when someone does something notable enough that I decide to break down and come up with a name for them, they disappear almost immediately afterward. That’s why lately I’ve really only come up with names for the notable dance instructors I meet rather than the students, because instructors are less likely to disappear (though it still happens). Fingers crossed that these ladies in Latin Technique will prove to be interesting and hang around for a while.

This week’s class was all about Cha-Cha. Mostly slow Cha-Cha. I’m pretty sure that Lord Junior said that he had lowered the tempo of the songs he had us practice to down to 65% for much of the class, which felt really slow to me. The figures that we worked on we did end up dancing with partners, but the material was all designed so that the partners were just mirror images of each other. That allowed some of the ladies to pair off with each other. There were six ladies in class that night, and just Lord Junior and I trying to work the crowd would have left a lot of people standing around waiting if he hadn’t designed things so that they could work together.

The pattern that we were doing was short and simple, at least in my opinion. I’ll go through this from the Lead’s perspective – so if you want to do the Follower’s part just mirror what I say. We started out facing our partner and doing a basic chasse action to the right. At the end we went into a basic New Yorker on the right side. Coming out of that, rather than squaring up with our partner again we instead did a 180° pivot and went into a Three-Step Turn heading to the left, letting go of our partner as we started to turn.
At the end of the Three-Step Turn we squared up with our partner again and went into a basic New Yorker on the left side. Coming out of that we went into another 180° pivot to do a Three-Step Turn heading back to the right. At the end of the turn we would reconnect with our right hand, facing our partner with our weight on the right leg, ready to move into something else. That’s where the pattern ended for the night. As I said, pretty basic and simple if you’re comfortable with the basics of Cha-Cha.

To amuse himself, as the newcomers in class got more comfortable with the figures, Lord Junior started to increase the challenge factor. First off, he had us start using our arms. I never think that using my arms looks good (which is part of the reason I have stuck with Standard for so long), but I managed to get through. Next, as you can imagine, he started to speed up the music, first by 5% intervals, then 10%. We did actually make it up to full speed that night by the end, which surprised me. The ladies who hadn’t done much Cha-Cha before were struggling to keep up when the song was at tempo, but they were laughing about it and having a good time, so it didn’t seem like it was traumatic for them. Hopefully that means that they’ll be back for more next week!

Instead of going to Standard Technique class on Wednesday, I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu to finally discuss what he saw while judging us at the competition we were in a couple of weekends ago. The session was enlightening, as you might have expected, and definitely gave me a number of points that I will need to work on in preparation for the next competition I decide to do. Incidentally, that topic came up briefly as well during the lesson, and it looks like the best option for our next competition will be in January at another event that Lord Dormamu is also going to be judging. That sounds really convenient, don’t you think?

After a brief discussion at the beginning of the lesson about what Lord Dormamu saw from us while we were on the floor competing, it was clear to me that I am not one of those magical individuals that does better dancing in a competition than I do during practice. I honestly didn’t think that I was, but this confirms it for sure. There were things that he saw me do that I didn’t think that I was doing, and techniques that I thought I was doing a lot of that he said were barely noticeable. I guess I need to start recording myself more often when I practice if I want to see these things with my own eyes.

One of the most interesting notes that Lord Dormamu said that no instructor has ever told me before was about the incident with Sparkledancer’s shoe. We obviously had to tell him that story about the shoe incident, and how things looked funny while Sparkledancer was trying to get her shoe back on as we danced. He said that in a situation like that, we should have just stopped, separated briefly so that Sparkledancer could put her shoe back on, then come back together and continued. According to him, no judge would mark us lower for doing something like that if it was required to stay safe. Good to know for the future.

Lord Dormamu also noted a similar take on dancing through a contested field. I guess there were points that he saw me moving where I was weaving through the other competitors on the floor. The way he interpreted it was that I was doing it in order to keep moving through my routine and not show any downtime in my dancing. This can be a good thing to do sometimes he said, but there were points where he noticed that moving between other dancers affected the way that I held my frame, or the volume that Sparkledancer was trying to create. If people are too close together, volume is something that obviously contracts if you try to squeeze through people.

I was told that when the floor is crowded with competitors, it can actually be more impressive to a judge if I just stop and hold in place, even if I end up holding for long periods of time while waiting patiently for the floor in front of me to clear up and become safe to continue dancing. Doing this allows me to show that I am calm, confident, and in control of the situation way more distinctly than forcing my way through a crowd ever could. This is especially true while we remain in the closed syllabus rounds, where many of the other competitors will be nervous and fidgety, especially if they are not used to navigating a crowded dance floor. Being calm and poised will set me apart from all the others in the eyes of the judging panel that is comparing all the competitors to each other.
With those overall notes out of the way, we looked at our Waltz and Foxtrot routines that night. The first comment that I got after dancing through both of them the first time was that none of the issues that he saw us doing while dancing in the competition were present now. So, I guess that means that I somehow have to find a way to compete more to figure out how to keep the way I dance in competition and the way I dance in practice the same. Sounds so easy, right? Sigh…

The overall takeaway in the Waltz that Lord Dormamu gave me was that I needed to work on lowering more. He thought that the lowering action was not enough during the competition while I danced the Waltz. To fix this, he wants me to work on lowering even more during practice. That way, when I naturally lower less during a competition, it will still look low enough. You know, overdoing it under control to make it look normal if I ease off. The joke that Lord Dormamu told me was that he wanted me to work on destroying my knees by lowering so much in practice.

I happen to like my knees, so I probably won’t go that far… but I can see what he is trying to imply with that joke.

As for Foxtrot, I was told that there were points during the competition where he could see me pushing off my legs to move. While in some ways this is good, because it shows that I am clearly using my legs to drive through the steps, it is bad when it happens in such a way that it can be seen clearly by someone watching. For example, if I am driving through the step and I give it one last push as I switch from one leg to the other, that action might make me (and then Sparkledancer, because I’m heavier than her) bobble a bit during the transition between legs. Trained eyes pick up on little movements like that!

We went back to talking about the overall vision for Foxtrot – ideally, the dance will flow smoothly from start to finish. Little bobbles that are noticeable will detract from this look that we are trying to achieve. Lord Dormamu said that he wants me to think of the dance as if there were a wire strung along the floor over my route while dancing, keeping everything smooth and level. The only change in elevation should be kept to the sides of the frame as we sway through the steps, while the center of our frame remains smooth and level the whole time (I know it’s not physically possible to do that while swaying properly, but that’s the idea to shoot for).

During the lesson we walked through a lot of the pieces of both routines to make sure that we understood what the end goal was, but a lot of this is going to come down to practice between Sparkledancer and I – repeating everything endlessly to make sure that moving in this nature is a fundamental part of who we are. I know it doesn’t sound super exciting, but that’s how we continue to do well while competing and keep on improving overall at the same time. There are talks about us going to some kind of championship dance competition during 2019, and Lord Dormamu obviously expects us to win, so getting these points that he saw in our last competition straightened out is imperative if we are going to meet that goal he has laid out for us.

Those are my dance notes for this week. I think that it’s going to be a rather quiet weekend in my world. As probably many of you are aware, there’s a big competition going on this weekend in another area of the Dance Kingdom. Like, really big. I won’t be there, since they don’t offer much for amateurs to do at this competition, but I know quite a few people who are going. Lord Dormamu, as you might expect, is going to dance with a handful of his Pro/Am ladies. Lord Junior is also going to compete with what sounds like a whole contingent of his students. That should be some crazy road trip for them!

To everyone competing in that event this weekend, good luck! More than that, have fun! A wise man once said that if you’re not having fun, then it’s really not worth it. Aside from having fun, I hope that any of you reading this who might be dancing blow all of your competition away… unless you are competing against one of my friends, then I hope that you come in second. I mean, that’s only fair for me to hope, right? No hard feelings. 🙂

Advertisements

But I’m Not Convinced By Your Costume

I didn’t actually get out last Friday night. Silly work! But that’s OK, because I did get to go out on Saturday night, and I had a grand old time. My costume was amazing if I do say so myself, and came together splendidly to make everything I did on Saturday more entertaining throughout the night. Of course it also made everything much warmer anytime I was moving around, so I had to take parts of it off and let my body cool down when I got too warm. That’s OK though, because it was still totally worth it to me. If you weren’t there to see me in costume, then you really missed out.

On Saturday night the party that I chose to go to was out at the Electric Dance Hall. We got to start off the evening with a short lesson taught by Lady Lovelylocks that went over some American Rumba. There was a large contingent of newcomers in the class, so the entirety of the pattern she taught was pretty short and none of the figures were really all that complicated. All the ladies that I danced with seemed to do everything well for the most part. There were a few that had jumped into the class late who were a bit behind the others when I rotated through, but I managed to help them get to the end with only minor issues.

As for the pattern itself (in case you want to try it), we started off with a full basic without rotation. After that we did another half of a basic with an additional step to the Lead’s right afterward to get us in position for a Cross Over Break on the right side. Coming back from that we went into two Solo Spot Turns for both the Leader and the Follower, first on the left side then on the right side. As the Lead steps across back to the left, he’ll takes his partner’s right hand and go into an Aida, a figure from the Silver International Rumba syllabus. Lady Lovelylocks had us do a simplified version, just using the Aida as three steps backward with little to no focus on technique.

At the end of the Aida we opened up slightly more to get to a kind of back-toward-back (yes, exactly that) position with our partner. Here we did a measure of Cuban Rocks, pivoting to face one another just after the end of the last one, and then to finish the Lead just did a rock step backward while leading the Follower through a Underarm Turn. As I said, it wasn’t too difficult to get through, and I’m sure any more experienced dancers reading this can picture the whole thing in their mind without even having to stand up and try it. Fun stuff!

The lesson didn’t really end, but rather just melted into the dance party. There were a few of the newcomers who were having trouble with the figures, so Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping them as class time was winding down. The DJ had put on some songs that were Halloween-themed which kind-of worked as American Rumba songs – I mean, if you ignored the feeling that the rhythm section gave you and just counted the straight timing of the music, or sometimes you could kind of get the feeling if you put your finger in one ear and only listened to the notes that would have been marked in the treble clef, or something like that. People started off trying to practice the progression of figures, but when Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping others and stopped making everyone switch partners every couple of minutes, people ended up just pairing off and doing whatever they wanted.

After the third song, Lady Lovelylocks managed to pull herself away from helping people long enough to thank everyone for coming out and officially kick off the party, giving the DJ free rein to change to other styles of music. This particular DJ was brought in to play at the party not by Lord Junior, but by a generous donation from a member of the dance community. I’m not sure what the instructions were that the DJ was given for the party, but her music choices were… not very varied. There was SO. MUCH. CHA-CHA. It became a running joke between a few of us at the dance, trying to guess whether the next song would be another Cha-Cha or something different for a change. There were really a lot. I gave up trying to dance any of them after a while because I felt like I had gone through my whole repertoire of Cha-Cha figures and I was running out of ways to keep the dances interesting.

I went back and forth with wearing my complete costume and dancing without parts of it throughout the party. I know I should have just left the pieces off once I took them off, but I was so excited about wearing it that I kept going back and putting everything back on once I felt my body temperature regulate again. Inevitably I would have to take the pieces off once more after two or three dances, but those two or three dances made me super happy. Sigh… I am such a kid at heart sometimes. If the neighborhood where I lived believed in Trick-or-Treating, I would have stayed home all night on Halloween, gotten dressed up in my awesome costume, and handed out candy until the wee hours of the morning. I would have even bought awesome candy for everyone who showed up. Full bars! Crazy! But alas, ‘twas not to be…

One of the dances that I did that night was the only Quickstep number that was played. Sparkledancer came and found me (since she’s really the only person I am comfortable dancing Quickstep with). The interesting part was that the song was rather upbeat, and it attracted a group of ladies out onto the floor. They weren’t on the floor dancing Quickstep, rather they were all standing in a big circle and just wiggling around for fun. Their circle took up a lot of room, going from the wall all the way past the middle of the floor on one of the long walls. On top of that, there were so many ladies and they were standing so close together in the circle that you couldn’t cut through in between them either.
Every time I went down that long wall I had to abruptly change direction and go around the outside of their circle. Of course, since they were past the middle of the room, I had to hesitate a bit to make sure that there was no one coming down the opposite way on the other long wall. I’m pretty sure that this was more of a problem for me than for anyone else dancing the Quickstep, since Sparkledancer and I can move a lot more than your average social dancer can when we dance together. I must have done five or six laps around the room by the time the song was cut off, going around the group every time. It was kind of nutty!

Monday night, as you might have guessed, I was out at Latin Technique class. Since we had done Rumba and Cha-Cha in class over the last two of weeks, this week we looked at Samba. Much like the last two classes, the material that we covered in this class was also related to notes that Lord Junior had gotten from a visiting coach that he and some of his Pro/Am ladies had worked with when the coach was in town several weekends ago.

One of the ladies who joined us for class that night had only briefly touched on Samba in her dance training so far, so Lord Junior wanted to start off with something simple to get us warmed up a little before diving into anything harder. The warm-up ended up being work on Volta actions. We did them very slowly, which is considerably harder than trying to do them fast. First we did them heading to the right, then going to the left, then with a bit of curve to them as if we were traveling in a large circle. When we managed to get through the sets, we sped them up a bit to work on them at a faster pace. We never quite reached full speed, but this was just a warm-up exercise so that wasn’t the end goal.

After finishing the warm-up, Lord Junior had us look at a section from his Open Samba routine that started out with Voltas, just to give us some continuity of mind. We started out facing the wall in Shadow Position with our partner, going into four Rhythm Bounces to get moving. Next we did four Voltas that took us in a semi-tight circle for 270°, setting us up to face a new wall as if we just went around the corner. Here, to change up the dynamics of the movement a bit, we did a couple of faster syncopated steps. Our feet were already situated in a Cuban Cross as our bodies were turned slightly to face diagonal wall, so on the next two steps we switched our feet into the opposite side Cuban Cross while rotating our body 90° to face backing diagonal wall.

Coming out of the twist was where the Leads and Follows separated from Shadow Position and started to do different steps. The Lead would untwist and take a step forward like a Cruzados Walk. The Follower went through a Four Step Turn, ending by pivoting their whole body around to face the Lead once more a few feet us. Here we went into a single Promenade Run, with the Lead just taking three steps forward to begin with while the Follower took a small step backward then turned to step to the side before stepping forward with the Lead. After the Promenade Run, the Lead would cut in front of the Follower quickly to go into three Natural Pivots – trying their best to take all of them down the line of dance if possible – before releasing the Follower to repeat the same single Promenade Run action we did before the pivots. That was where we ended things for the evening since we ran out of time to cover more.

Latin Technique was the only group class I went to this week. Since Wednesday was Halloween, Lord Junior decided that spending time with his young kids was going to be more fun than having class with the rest of us. I like to think that I am pretty fun to hang around with, so I’m going to pretend like Lord Junior totally missed out! Instead of class, I ended up going out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice. We’re down to the last couple of days before our next competition, so I figured it was a good idea. Unfortunately, that meant I had to leave my costume at home. Even though my costume doesn’t impede all of my movement, it does lessen it slightly, so I thought that practicing in it would be a bad idea. Sigh… I just miss out on all the fun.

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that I am competing this weekend? I can’t remember if I did before or not (and I’m too tired to go back and read my previous notes to see if I did). This competition should be exciting for me for a couple of reasons. First off, if the list of events I saw online is to be believed, I won’t be dancing unopposed at this competition. Hooray! Secondly, Lord Dormamu is one of the judges. Hoor… that’s actually scary. I don’t know why it makes me nervous dancing somewhere where he is judging but dancing against other competitors actually makes me happy. You would think my reactions would be the opposite!

I did get together with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for one last look at everything tonight before I head off to compete this weekend. All of our dances seem to be on track right now to do very well in this weekend’s event. Some things that we talked about which are points for us to start thinking about, but not necessarily points we will need to have down for this weekend, are:

  • In Quickstep, we want to start moving toward making all of the quick steps much sharper. This means that we are almost delaying the start of the steps a bit – extending the slow step beforehand as long as possible to get a much more staccato movement in the quicks
  • In addition to that, any place that we are adding in additional sway in the Quickstep he wants the transition going into and coming out of the sway to be faster, almost like snapping into place. This was something that worried me a bit, since I feel like I am whipping Sparkledancer around a little, but she told me that the movement doesn’t hurt her, so at this point I’m the only one worried about doing it. I’ll get over that with a little practice (I hope)
  • In the Foxtrot we are going to start talking about blurring the lines between the quick and slow steps in the figures to even them out, making the dance flow more and look much more legato. Exactly the opposite of what we are doing in the Quickstep – more like dancing a Waltz to a song in 4/4

But that’s about it! I’m heading out tomorrow night to drive out toward the city where the competition is being held. Some people I know are getting up early to drive out on Saturday before the event starts, but since I am not a morning person I am just going to get there on Friday night and stay in a hotel nearby. To me, the cost of the room is a small price to pay for not having to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning. I’ll let you know how everything goes next week!

Cyclops Woman Got One Eye In Her Head

All sorts of non-dance stuff went crazy this past week. I feel like it knocked me a little out of my gourd. I’m hoping that all the issues get squashed soon. I don’t like the feeling of being out on the vine like this.

…did these pumpkin jokes do it for you?

Moving on. Let’s get right into it and talk about Latin Technique first! Much like last week, this week in class was all about Lord Junior working on some of the new choreography that was put into Veep’s Latin routines to help her (and him too!) memorize everything. The two of them are planning on competing at an event early next month to debut these new routines, so Lord Junior wants to be sure that they get as much practice with the new sections in as possible so they don’t forget anything. This week we looked at the new opening section to Veep’s Cha-Cha routine.

The routine starts off with both partners facing each other in a one-handed hold, the Lead having his weight on the left leg and the Follower on the right. Once the music starts, you do a rock step backward and go into a Forward Lock. When you get to the end of the Lock Step and do another rock step going forward, the Lead would take the Follower’s other hand, then go into a Slip Chasse. However, instead of bringing your feet together at the end of the Slip Chasse, you would twist 90° clockwise and take a step to the side. While doing that, the lady would be doing a Forward Lock, but as the Lead rotates he would let go with his left hand while continuing to hang on with the right, which leads the lady to finish in a side-by-side position with the Lead.

After this, the rest of the opening is pretty much all the work of the Follower while the Lead gets off easy. Over the next measure in the music, the Follower would compress into the Lead’s right side momentarily before pushing off and striking a line with their right arm up in the air. Next the Follower would do a Three-Step Turn, rolling in across the Lead’s right arm. He would curl his body slightly around to let her through, then do an in-place chasse action that turned our bodies 180° while the lady does another Three-Step Turn to roll out across the right arm again. You’ve probably done one of these roll-in, roll-out moves before in a number of other dance styles, so it should be pretty easy to picture the idea. We did two in a row to get the lady back to the place she was when she started.

On the next measure of music the Follower would repeat the compression action into the line that she did before the first roll-in, and then we would roll her in again. This time however, the lady would take an extra syncopated step as she passed in front of the Lead’s body before she started to roll out. The Lead would let go of her completely as she rolled out, staying in place and not rotating this time, while the Follower would go into a New Yorker. As the Follower hit the line for the New Yorker, the Lead would reach across with his right arm to grasp the Follower’s left forearm, basically to keep her from flying away from us if she went into the New Yorker with a lot of power.

At the end, the Lead would pull the lady back onto her right leg and give her a little spin so that she could do one last Three-Step Turn. The Lead would do a basic chasse moving to the right at the same time, and we should end up facing one another with the Lead’s weight on the right leg and the Follower’s weight on the left, ready to continue the routine. That’s where we stopped things that evening, since the next section of the routine was actually made up of pieces that Veep already knew.

The most interesting conversation I had this week in regards to dance happened on Tuesday night. This may be a lengthy discussion, so sit back and enjoy if the matter interests you.

As you might have guessed, on Tuesday night I had a lesson with my coach Lord Dormamu. The lesson part itself covered Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango, and we talked about a lot of the finer, nitpicky points that are needed to keep moving those styles forward toward the next levels. It was all fascinating stuff that I could spend this entire post talking about if I wanted to, but the thing that really set my mind into a tizzy actually came about because of a question that I asked him right at the end of our lesson that was completely unrelated to anything that we had talked about during the whole lesson prior.

Right at the end of the lesson, as we were sitting down to ‘do the paperwork’ so to speak, Lord Dormamu was telling Sparkledancer and I that next time we got together we would look at our Quickstep routine primarily, since we didn’t get to it that night. The mention of Quickstep made me think of Standard Technique class the week before, where Lord Junior had shown me a full Natural Turn in Quickstep that has a second half to the figure I had never seen. So I asked Lord Dormamu about it, and whether or not I would ever use the full version of the figure for anything. He told me that I would in the future, but not yet. It was one of those ‘only when you’re ready, young grasshopper’ moments.

But then I mentioned that Lord Junior had said that no one ever does the second half of the figure, and I wanted to know if he himself had ever used it before in his days as a competitor. That led him off on a wild tangent for the next fifteen minutes where he went off on the way Pro/Am is done in this country, and how much the traditional rules are overlooked for the sake of making students feel like they are progressing faster than they actually should, all in the name of having them continue to spend money on taking lessons and going to competitions instead of putting in the hard work of actually learning to do the dances properly.

Apparently, according to Lord Dormamu, it is a rare thing in the US for instructors to work with their students on Closed Gold, especially in International Standard and International Latin where the syllabus figures are so clearly defined. He says that most instructors feel that the figures and techniques required are “too difficult” for their student because they push the student through Bronze and Silver so fast, so what a lot of instructors will do is to move their students from Closed Silver all the way up to Open Silver, bypassing Closed Gold and Open Bronze completely. This allows them to put off having to teach the student the figures and techniques from Closed Gold for at least another year, if they ever actually decide to go back to it at all.

Supposedly this is done to help the student think that they are ‘moving up’ in the competition world while avoiding the things that would potentially frustrate them, for fear that the student might quit out of frustration if they tried to make them do the work. Lord Dormamu told me that this practice of having students skip levels got to be so commonplace that some large competitions in the Pro/Am arena had stopped even offering Closed Gold rounds entirely decades ago, because instructors stopped signing up for them.

The effect of this, Lord Dormamu thinks, is that you have a weakening of the skills of both the Professionals and the Amateurs in the US because the Professionals would rather put off doing the hard stuff until later to keep making money. Not only are the students not being pushed to learn the material, but if an instructor has no students working on the material then they themselves may not be practicing and keeping their skills up in that material, so doing this can cause the instructor to get rusty. A big problem that he sees though is that a lot of the “really cool” figures in the Open-level world use pieces from the Closed Gold syllabus. He specifically mentioned things like the Hover Corte, Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot and the Bounce Fallaway as examples.

Not studying these figures and their associated techniques in Closed Gold means that the student will oftentimes see those techniques for the first time when they get their higher Open-level routines at the Open-Beyond-Gold levels. If the student didn’t learn the techniques, and the instructor let him/herself get rusty because they have few high-level students who ever reach that level, then the Pro/Am couple is suddenly at a huge disadvantage during a competition. All it takes is for a couple of students to enter the events who have mastered the techniques in Closed Gold, and suddenly the rest of the competitors who were allowed to skip up into the Open-level rounds are marked poorly in comparison. Lord Dormamu told me that when he is judging events, his eyes can pick out the differences in people who have mastered the concepts and those that were just moved up into the Open category and weren’t really ready to do so quite yet.

Since Lord Dormamu is not originally from this country, he was raised in a different competitive landscape. When he was on his competition journey to becoming a world champion, his coaches made him compete in Closed Bronze, Closed Silver and Closed Gold, and train hard enough to do well in his events, before he was even allowed to toy with the idea of moving away from the syllabus into the Open-level world. That is the way he is training all of his students as well, whether they be part of an Amateur duo (like me) or one of his Pro/Am ladies. He refuses to allow any of us to start working on Open-level routines until we manage to complete Closed Gold to his satisfaction.

To that end, Lord Dormamu told me that he actually had to push for the organizers of one of the biggest Pro/Am competitions in the country to add Closed Gold to their list of offered events, all because he had a student who moved up to compete at that level. After hounding the organizers for a long time, they finally relented and added the rounds for him. The events ended up being small, with only seven couples signing up, but I guess it was the first time in almost forty years that they had even run Closed Gold rounds at that particular competition.

(His student obviously swept first place across the board in the Closed Gold at that competition…)

Now, to pull this rant of Lord Dormamu’s back to show why it intrigued me so much… both Sparkledancer and I get asked a lot why we are still competing in Bronze events, even though we no longer look like the average Bronze-level dancers. People are curious what the reasoning is that we remain behind even though many of the other people that we have been in competitions against have already moved up to the next level. When I try to explain to them that our coach is holding us at our current level until he is sure that our fundamentals are rock solid, I get either wary agreement or replies that I could do so well in the higher levels, so there is no reason to hang out in Bronze any longer.

I guess that it is hard for people to accept that we would purposefully pay our coach to hold us down. Outside of the franchise studio environment, there really is no ‘graduation’ ceremony that one has to accomplish before they can move up to the next level. As Amateurs, Sparkledancer and I could sign up to dance in whatever events we wanted. If we wanted to jump from Closed Bronze International Standard straight to the highest Championship levels in American Rhythm, no one would question us when we signed up. They might question us when we got off the floor at the competition after watching us dance terribly, but that’s a different matter entirely. So because there is no set point to confirm a competitor is ready, a lot of people just decide to jump up to the next level after they get bored dancing at the lower level, whether they have actually mastered the material at that level or not.

There is one couple in particular that comes to mind. I have competed against them a number of times, and talked with them about other competitions that they have done that I didn’t sign up for. The female from this Amateur pair loves to talk about all the first place ribbons/stickers/medals they have won when she is telling everyone about their results. What she doesn’t mention is that they mostly dance unopposed because they are in that weird limbo age category where there are so few competitors. When they do get on the floor with other couples, they don’t do nearly as well. And then, I think that she secretly doesn’t like me, because all the times they have competed directly against Sparkledancer and I, we have always crushed them when the results come in.

The two of them decided to move up to dance Silver this month. It wasn’t a recommendation from their coach, they just decided on their own that they no longer wanted to dance the simple stuff in Bronze, and there is nothing holding them back. So this month they have been working on adding the new figures from the Silver syllabus into their routines in hopes of being ready to compete again in December of January. That example I think illustrates what Lord Dormamu is talking about – people decide for themselves that they want to move on because of boredom, and the coach that trains them doesn’t stop them because he wants to keep the money for their lessons coming in.

Is there a good fix for this? I don’t know. The franchise studio system seems to have things worked out pretty well, where students have to ‘graduate’ from one level to another. However, that kind of system would be nearly impossible to implement in the world outside of the franchises where every studio uses a disparate system for tracking their students’ progress. The bigger dance organizations have ‘point systems’ to help track progress and prevent more experienced dancers from sandbagging the competition, but tracking the points is done primarily through the honor system rather than through some centralized electronic system, so I know people who have fudged their numbers so they can compete at whatever proficiency levels they want because they like to win.

As for me, I guess I am content just following Lord Dormamu’s master plan, rather than moving up at whatever pace I could get away with. Sure, sometimes it makes things a bit boring for me, but if I go back through my notes I can see the long-term progress that training in this way has allowed me to make. Plus, the progress plan he has me on is tracking really well to the proficiency point plan of the organizations that I do the most competitions in. By the time I reach the maximum number of proficiency points I could carry, Lord Dormamu has said that he plans to move me up because I will be ready anyway. Knowing that the end is in sight keeps me content with where I am currently.

Also, as I’m sure you guessed, I was told that night that I will have to go through Closed Gold. He told me to look forward to it, because he thinks it will be fun for all of us. 😉

One last quick story, then I’m done, I swear… we had a special treat this week in Standard Technique class, a treat that hopefully lasts longer than one week. There was a random guy wandering around in the studio when I got there for class. I didn’t think anything of it at first because I assumed that he was there for the Hustle class that is usually taught on Wednesdays on the other side of the Electric Dance Hall. But as Lord Junior came over to start Standard Technique class up, the gentleman followed him. The surprising thing was, it was actually a guy that I knew! Someone that I had even picked out a name and a Lego Figure for in the past! How convenient is that? Let’s all welcome back The Professor to the scene!

It took me a bit of searching to find what I wrote about the last time I saw him, but for those that don’t remember this guy, he is a highly sought after dance fitness teacher in my area of the Dance Kingdom. According to Lord Junior, The Professor recently decided that he wanted to take that next step and start working on becoming a ballroom dance instructor, so he went to Lord Junior to ask for assistance. Being the nice guy that he is, Lord Junior said that he would help train him… but rather than start out simply, he decided to throw him to the wolves and have him join us in Standard Technique class.

Now what we ended up doing in class was really simple as far as the figures are concerned. We looked at Waltz, and went through a Natural Turn, an Open Impetus, a Chasse from Promenade Position, and then a Quick Open Reverse Turn to finish things off. All fairly simple figures that most of the people in class had seen before – except for the new guy. The more experienced dancers in International Standard were told to focus on other technical aspects in the dance since the figures were simple, namely the footwork, posture, frame, timing and alignment. Those points sound familiar, right?

The Professor was told to just stay alive for his first night out on the floor with us, and I think he managed to do just that. Sparkledancer told me after class that his frame was really loose, and both she and Veep were backleading him through the figures when they danced with him, but otherwise he did OK. I could tell that he was thinking really hard about what he was trying to do though, even if I didn’t dance with him. All the other times that I’ve ever seen The Professor he has been very bubbly and extroverted, but throughout the class that night he was rather subdued and looked very thoughtful, watching both Lord Junior and I closely when we were going through his steps.

I hope that this first class didn’t scare him away. It would be nice to have another guy who shows up regularly to help out in Standard Technique. Also, I secretly hope that Lord Junior tells him to start coming to Latin Technique on Mondays as well. I wonder how long the study period is for someone to become a ballroom instructor? Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll be working with us in class for the next several months or more. That would be awesome!

It’s finally here! The big weekend in October! The one where everyone throws dance parties and we’re allowed to wear costumes! It’s my favorite. I don’t know if you caught on to that at all. This year I know for sure that I will be going to the party out at the Electric Dance Hall on Saturday night. There are a couple of options for Friday night that I have heard of, so assuming that I can get out of work early enough to make it to a dance party, I will try to choose the most fun one of those to go out to as well.

Also, I’m super excited about my costume. It started out as a joke that I made with a friend of mine, but then I decided to make it a reality. No one at any of the dances I potentially go to will know the story behind my costume, but luckily it will still be funny when they see me in it even without knowing the joke. It’s just that hilarious.

Where will you be going to dance for Halloween this year? Are you planning on being anywhere that I’ll be? I mean, you won’t know if I’m actually there, since I’ll be in costume, but if you do know that it’s me maybe we could high-five or something. I hope to see you out on the dance floor!

Here Comes The Moon Again

I spent my weekend away from home, attending an event at the Grand Dance Hall. I still find it hard to believe that this was my sixth year going to this annual party of theirs. Even after that many years, I still found it to be entertaining, and because of that I already reserved my spot to go again next year. After all, having enough people guarantee that they will go again is the best way to ensure that the Grand Dance Hall continues to hold the event for years to come, and I wanted to help with that. Yay!

My weekend plans started out on Friday night with me climbing into my little boat and rowing my way out to the mysterious island that the Grand Dance Hall is built on. It’s always a fun trip, and a great workout for my shoulders. The event has activities planned the entire evening on Friday and most of the whole day on Saturday, so I would be hard pressed to find time to find a gym and get in a real workout. Because of that, it’s important to get those reps in any way that you can. Trust me, huge shoulders are worth the effort.

I managed to get there in time to check in and change out of my sweaty rowing clothes into something nicer so that I could go to the pre-dinner reception that they held Friday afternoon in the main ballroom. The staff at the Grand Dance Hall had laid out a table full of fancy looking cheeses, crackers and fruit arrangements, and they had a four piece band playing some songs for anyone that wanted to dance while mingling. After an hour and a half of chatting and dancing with people, everyone took a break to head down to the dining hall and have dinner together.

After dinner was done, the real dance party started. If you remember what I wrote when I went to this party last year, or the year before that, or the year befo… anyway, the Grand Dance Hall always brings in a full orchestra to play the music for the dance parties on Friday and Saturday nights. That always makes the parties stand out compared to all the other dance parties I might happen to go to throughout the rest of the year. Have you ever gotten to dance with an orchestra playing in the background before? You really should try it sometime if you haven’t yet.

While the orchestra playing the music is normally one of the highlights of this event, this year it seems like they had a real novice put together their set list for Friday night. There was a real lack of variety and contrast in what they chose to play. For example, at one point in the night the conductor told the crowd they were going to play a Waltz number, then they played three Foxtrot numbers in a row, and when they finished those they did another Waltz number. While Foxtrot is one of my favorite dance styles, doing three in a row with nothing different in between is even a little too much for me. On top of that, there was just something off about the tempos of the songs that they chose to play. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it Friday night, but a lot of the songs and dance styles didn’t seem correct to me.

The real meat of the event though was on Saturday, when the Grand Dance Hall offered all attendees three ninety-minute workshops to attend. They had two different rooms open for workshops – one room offering instruction for beginners in the dance styles chosen for this year, and one for the more intermediate/advanced students. I was in the latter room all day, since I felt pretty comfortable in all three styles that they had chosen to teach this year. This year the dance styles chosen for the three workshops was Foxtrot, Rumba and East Coast Swing.

First up was the Foxtrot. The progression itself that the instructors chose to show the class wasn’t something that I would call difficult – it was really long, but the figures themselves were all just variations of things I’ve seen before – but then again I am not a good case study for what people would consider difficult in classes like this. The pattern started out simply enough, with a Progressive Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn where you released the lady, followed by a Progressive Chasse to the Right with a lady’s Underarm Turn. After that we went back into dance frame with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending, which put us into the corner as if we had just traveled all the way down the long wall.

To actually turn the corner we did another Progressive Twinkle that did a quarter of turn, coming out toward diagonal center on the new wall. Then there were two Passing Twinkles where we switched hands to lead the lady with the right hand in kind of a hooking action, collecting her back into frame afterward for a Feather Finish. Once back in dance frame we did a Contra Check in the other corner of the short wall, then another lady’s Underarm Turn, finishing by returning to dance frame facing diagonal wall on the next long wall where you could repeat the whole thing if you wanted.

The second half of the pattern I was able to work through just by watching the video of the demonstration the instructors did that I took before the class started. In class, the instructors never actually got beyond teaching people the first long wall. The Open Natural Turn where the guy would let go of his partner followed by a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady threw a lot of the people in class for a loop. The two people teaching the class were walking around trying to help everyone through the steps when they allowed people to go give the figures a try with their normal partners, but there were tons of people in class and only two instructors, so a lot of people were left struggling while they waited.

A fair number of people ended up coming over to where Sparkledancer and I were screwing around with the figures in one of the corners of the room to ask the two of us if we could help them. That ended up being what the two of us spent most of our time doing during the workshop, since we got through the steps with no trouble at all. The big issue that both of us kept seeing during this first section that people were struggling with which fixed most of the problems was that the ladies would do the turn in place while the men did the Progressive Chasse. That ended up putting the partners too far away from each other to collect back into dance frame comfortably when they went into the Open Impetus.

And then there was the Open Impetus itself, which also was a source of trouble. Asking the gentlemen to do a Heel Turn was probably reeeeeeeaaaalllllly ambitious for a class like this. Most of the guys that I saw going through the pattern later on had given up trying to do a Heel Turn entirely, and were just faking their way through the turn by taking three steps while turning instead. It was kind of funny to watch.

After a short break we started in on the Rumba. Much like the last class, the things the instructors put in the pattern weren’t any figures I hadn’t done variations of before, but the pattern was really long. This one started out with the partners standing apart and facing one another before going into a Sliding Door. When we got back to the point where we were standing facing one another again, the Leads would cross their wrists and take the lady’s hands in their matching hand (right to right, left to left), then unwind her while doing a second Sliding Door action. At the end of that, we would lead the lady through a Spiral Turn and get her into Shadow Position with us, sliding our hands up slightly to take hold of her wrists.

In Shadow Position the men would stand with their feet apart and do Cuban Rocks while leading the lady to do Swivels back and forth in front of them. We would do two measures of this, and on the last beat of the second measure the men would lunge away from the lady onto their right leg while leading the lady to head off to the left facing away from us. Using a subtle movement of the lady’s right arm we would have her do a Ronde while turning to face us, then we would hook her back in while we collected our feet to get her back into dance frame on our right side, setting us up to go into three Opening Outs.

On the last Opening Out the Lead would end by shifting his weight back over his left leg to get us out of Shadow Position. We would hold like that while leading the lady to do a slow four-count Underarm Turn, then another Ronde over the next three count, stepping through on the last beat in the measure. Here they wanted the men to lead the ladies to do one more Swivel step, then another Underarm Turn, and finally a Free Spin (lots of turning for the ladies). When all that is over, we would slowly collect our feet over the next measure in the music and then we were done.

This class got slightly farther through the planned progression than the last class. The instructors taught the class everything up through the Opening Outs before they ran out of time. A lot of time was given so that everyone could practice the various pieces that were taught, and because people were having trouble and the instructors could only go around and offer assistance so quickly, the ninety minutes scheduled for the class flew by without us getting to the whole thing, much like during the Foxtrot workshop.

I was not one of those having trouble with the pieces of the progression, but my time also flew by as well. Because people had seen Sparkledancer and I helping out during the Foxtrot class, even more people came to ask the two of us questions when they ran into problems. One lady in particular seemed rather fond of sticking near me, and when I wasn’t in the middle of helping someone else she would ask if I could go through the progression with her over and over again so that she could make sure that she had her parts down. Her normal partner (husband? Boyfriend? Friend? I couldn’t figure that out) had skipped out on the Rumba lesson, so she was trying to get through the figures all by herself until Sparkledancer and I had taken her under our wings.

When the ninety minutes allocated to the Rumba class were up, we all got a short break to give us a chance to head off and find some lunch if we wanted. Once everyone had gathered back in the main ballroom, the instructors started in on the final workshop for the day in East Coast Swing. This workshop, like the previous two, was designed around a progression of figures that was much longer than the instructors actually managed to accomplish in the time allotted. They demonstrated the entirety of what they had hoped to get through at the beginning, and I managed to record it this time, so I was able to transcribe it in order to write it down here for all of you to read. Hooray for all of you!

It starts out with a Underarm Turn for the ladies with the men switching hands halfway through to get their partner into Handshake Hold. Next there is another Underarm Turn for the ladies, and at the end the men do a slight turn for themselves to bring their right arm over their head and release the ladies into an Arm Slide so we could get back into normal Open Dance Hold. Here the partners would lean forward toward each other and do a subtle shimmying action, then lean away from each other and do another shimmying action, just for fun. After that we would lead the lady into a set of four Chicken Walks to travel a bit down the floor.

Once we are done traveling both partners would do two Kick-Ball-Changes, with the men doing the kicks with their left leg and the ladies doing the kick with their right. Next the Lead would have the Follow do a Free Spin, catching them with the right hand to put us back into Handshake Hold. Here we would do another Underarm Turn with the Arm Slide to get back into normal hold again. To finish things off we would lead our partner into two Hip Bumps, another Underarm Turn where we changed hands back into Handshake Hold, and we would wind our partner up and lead them into an American Spin to finish it all off. Nothing too challenging, right?

At least… that’s the way I saw the pattern once I watched it. This class managed to get slightly farther through the pattern with the instructors than during the last two workshops, but they still did not manage to teach the class all the figures up through the end. The instructors were only able to teach the pattern up until the second Arm Slide action right before the Hip Bumps before they ran out of time and had to call it quits for the day. Still, based on the issues that people came to me to ask about, getting that far was pretty impressive.

Surprisingly, the part that seemed to be giving couples the hardest time was the first two Underarm Turns with the Arm Slide action. Both Sparkledancer and I had many people asking us about how to get through that portion of the pattern, and there were at least four couples just in the corner I was hanging out in that I had to step through the pieces slowly to help them get through it successfully. Of all the breaks that the instructors gave during class for people to try out the steps with their normal partner, the break that they gave for the first section with the Underarm Turns and Arm Slide went on the longest.

I don’t know why, but for all the people having issues that I helped with the steps, the problem was that after they got through changing hands to get into Handshake Hold, they totally forgot that there was another triple-step action that needed to be done with the other foot. All the people I helped were rushing through the steps chaotically and missing that triple-step, which obviously then threw off everything afterward. Once I got people to slow down and listen to the music in the background and keep to its much slower tempo, that tended to help them get through everything without messing up.

Later on Saturday evening there was another pre-dinner reception, full of more mingling and some light dancing to get everyone ready for the meal. After spending the day in the workshops together, people were feeling much more chummy with each other, so there was quite a bit more conversation going on at this reception than there was at the Friday night reception. It may have also helped that there were staff members wandering around offering various adult-type beverages for sale, but that’s just a feeling I get. I don’t drink at all, so I don’t really know how much a difference it makes for other people who do when they socialize.

But I also saw the most amazing sight of the whole weekend at this pre-dinner reception. The quartet playing the music decided to do a Polka number. Normally when Polka numbers come on, not a lot of people in my area take to the dance floor, but the audience really gets into the music anyway. During this particular Polka number, a group of four people took to the floor together and started dancing as one group! It was kind of amazing – they were in a frame that was very box like, with two in the front and two in the back, all facing forward and holding hands.

This group must have practiced dancing in this configuration before, because their steps were all very synchronized and they kept switching places with each other as they traveled around the floor. I think each person ended up in every corner of the box at least once. Loop after loop around the floor they went as one group, like the four horsemen of the Polkocalypse (ha ha! I’m funny). Near the end, as the quartet reached the last coda of the song, the single group of four split into two groups of two and they chased each other around the floor until the song ended. That was probably the coolest dance thing I have seen in a long time. Maybe someday I can find enough dance friends who know Polka and they can teach me how to dance like that. 🙂

After the reception all of the guests were treated to one final fabulous dinner, and then we were able to dance the night away with the orchestra once more. This time around, the leader of the orchestra actually made a comment early on in the night about how they were going to try to mix up the variety of songs better this time around. I wonder if someone said something to them the night before? In any case, the arrangement of music was much more diverse on Saturday night, which made things even more fun than they were on Friday.

I did see something that I thought was strange on Saturday night, something that I made a note to myself about so that I could look it up later. There were a couple of Cha-Cha numbers played that night. Since Cha-Cha is not one of my favorite dances, I spent the time during those songs just hanging around in the back of the room and watching. I noticed that during the Cha-Cha songs there were a fair amount of couples that were dancing off time. I thought it was just a quirk of those couples at first – you know, maybe the Lead wasn’t hearing the beat in the music correctly or something – but then I saw that the couple that had taught the beginner workshops earlier in the day were also dancing off time. That’s when I realized that even though all of these couples were dancing off time, they were dancing in sync with each other.

OK, so that was weird. The song ended and I didn’t think too much of it until the next time a Cha-Cha came on. From my perch in the back of the room where I was observing, I noticed the same strange thing with the timing happening all over again to a different song. As I contemplated this, I saw one of the instructors from the beginner workshops standing near a group of people a few tables in front of me. I could make out some of what he was saying to the group, and he describing to them how to do the Cha-Cha. What surprised me was that he clearly told them to do the break on beats one and two in the music, and the chasse over the ‘three & four’ afterward. This made things all the more confusing, so I decided to take a moment and ask the Internets what was going on.

Did you know that outside of the world of ballroom dancing they do Cha-Cha, and they do it by doing the break on one and two and the chasse on the ‘three & four?’ I had no idea! Apparently this is a more common thing in Latin nightclubs, where the social dancing is something taught in different ways than how I learned the Cha-Cha. Now when I watched these couples dance the Cha-Cha in different timing, it still looked weird to me, but at least I understood why. Weird.

Anyway, that’s the report from my trip last weekend. Sorry that it ended up being so long, but there was a lot to talk about! I did other things that were dance related this week, but I’ll just leave those out to keep this from going on forever.