When We’re Dancing, The Night Begins To Shine

Forgive me for a bit of rambling this week. There are so many things jumbled around in my brain that I just need to get out so that I can sort through them. Bear with me on this…

Last Saturday I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to continue working on Tango. There’s not a lot I need to remember from the actual lesson – the more interesting discussion came after we finished dancing. The one thing that I jotted down as a note is something Sir Steven wanted me to start doing during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. I was told that, in order to make the figure look more dramatic, I need to rotate my body just enough to keep Sparkledancer on the outside for the first two steps, but to make sure that I am not rotating my body as much as I possibly can.If I do that correctly, I can dramatically snap my body the rest of the way when I take the third step, making the figure look really sharp.

The big thing to watch out for when I do this (as I found out that day) is that I have to rotate my body quickly to make it look dramatic, but not too quickly. I weigh a lot more than Sparkledancer, and if she’s in close body contact with me as I rotate my body with any amount of force, I can end up just flinging her body around. While it’s kind of funny to me when that happens, I can’t really say that anyone else finds it super funny. So the trick is to rotate quickly, but to do it lightly. Reminds me of Lord Dormamu’s comments from last week, about moving with power, but softly – like a gentleman. I told you that was a quote to remember!

As we were finishing up getting all the signatures in order for our lesson, the topic of upcoming showcases came up. From what I gathered recently, the Electric Dance Hall was planning on holding their fall showcase sometime around mid-October, and the Fancy Dance Hall is planning their winter showcase for mid-December. A couple of people on the Fancy Dance Hall staff have now mentioned to either Sparkledancer or I that the two of us should put together an act for their showcase. In hearing that, I automatically thought that if I was going to do it, I should have an act that could be performed at both showcases, like my last showcase number.

But… when the showcase came up this past weekend, I found out that the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is putting on will be like their recent summer showcase. That means that, rather than just being a collection of student performances for friends and family members to come watch, this ‘showcase’ will be more like a musical. There will be a story to follow, and all dance numbers need to fit the story, and the whole night will be arranged in a specific order that follows a plot. Rehearsals will involve not only making sure that performers can dance through their routines successfully, but also to choreograph transitions between performances so that everything runs together smoothly.

Also, it will involve having to do some acting, since the dances will be ‘performed’ by characters from the story. There won’t be speaking parts, but there are definitely characters that need to be embodied and presented so that the crowd can tell who you are.

So… that’s daunting. The story that they are planning on doing for the showcase is Christmas themed, as you can guess. It’s a pretty well-known story, so I was able to go back through the notes on the plot and think of ideas. I had one that I thought was pretty good, that could be rather dramatic and elegant and even, dare I believe, funny, but I’m not entirely sure how Sir Steven felt about my idea. It would be a ballroom style dance showcase. That’s a big leap of faith for me to take. I’ve always thought that ballroom showcases got to be kind of boring from an audience’s perspective – they tend to be slow and really limit the amount of exciting things that you can put in.

That’s why I also told Sir Steven that if we were going to do this, somehow we would have to put lifts into the routine. I think that audiences really enjoy seeing dancers do lifts while dancing, and I spend too much time on strength training to not do any. Plus, Sparkledancer is pretty tiny, so it hasn’t been much of a workout to pick her up during all of the other showcase numbers we’ve performed together. Sir Steven told me that he would look into some ideas for ballroom lifts and get back to me.

I’m sure I will have more to say about this in the near future. After all, we are less than two months from the possible performance at the Electric Dance Hall’s showcase, and less than four months from the Fancy Dance Hall’s performance date. If we’re going to be in the show(s), we’ve got to start working on things soon!

Last Saturday was also the night for the monthly dance party that is put together by the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. Yay! Someone had wanted to do a vaguely Summer-themed dance party that night, and we brought someone in to teach a Bachata lesson prior to the dance. While I’m sure that something like Salsa would have been slightly more Summery than Bachata, the guests to the dance seemed to enjoy the Bachata, so everything worked out great.

I will confess to not being all that well versed in Bachata. Afflicted with long legs and white-boy hips, I don’t think I’m all that good at any Latin dances, especially those of the Club Latin variety. That said, what the instructor covered that night was fairly basic, and with all the years of training I’ve had in making sure I have a connection with my dance partner, I could get a lady through the figures with ease. I had more than one lady tell me that I was the only guy besides the instructor that they managed to get through the steps with successfully. I even had one lady tell me that I must dance Bachata all the time with how easy it was for her to dance with me. When I told her that I really never dance Bachata, she looked right into my eyes and said “Well, then you must be a natural.” Huh.

Because only a handful of people in the class that night confessed to being good at Bachata, the instructor started things off just covering the basics. There was the side-to-side basic figure, and then the forward-and-back basic figure, and then Spot Turns for the ladies during the side-to-side basic. When the instructor felt like everyone had those basic figures down, he gave everyone a pattern of figures that they could do that got progressively more advanced as it went on, until he ran out of time in the class..

The pattern started out with a normal side-to-side basic. Then we did the same basic figure with the ladies Spot Turns added. Once we finished that, we took a wide two hand hold and the men led the ladies to travel forward on a diagonal path while he traveled backward, taking four steps diagonally back from right to left, then rotating the lady to do another four steps from left to right. We did four of these traveling diagonals so that when we finished we were on the right side once more with the left foot free. Then he had us do some leg flicks, pointing the leg to the side for beat one, flicking it up behind our other leg on beat two, taking a step to the side on beat three, and finally slowly sliding the other foot in over beat four. We did four of these as well, to keep the musical phrasing.

As we neared the end of class, he showed the ladies how to do Swivels, These were exactly the same as what you have probably seen in International Rumba, where the lady is in front of the man stepping and turning from side to side. This was a challenging step for many of the ladies I danced with. At first the instructor wanted the ladies doing one Swivel for each beat of music, but after a few minutes of practice when he saw that many were struggling to keep that pace he backed down and said that if they wanted they could do one Swivel for every two beats of the music. A lot of the ladies I danced with still wanted to believe they could do the fast ones, so I would let them try, and then if they struggled I would stop and get them to try it again slowly to be successful.

By the time the class had finished, more guests had shown up for the party to participate in the open dance. The ratio of men to women was pretty even that night, so I wasn’t really needed for dancing. That was probably for the best too, since I had to leave early to take care of some stuff for work. Also, the DJ made sure to play a fair number of Bachata songs, and I probably would have had to fake my way through those if someone had asked me to dance during one…

Keeping things on the slower side this week, we ended up looking at Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday night. On an interesting note, a lady whom I have met several times before ended up joining us that evening. We’ll call her the Gatekeeper, and she’s an… interesting case. For a long time, I used to think that she was reluctant to learn anyone about dancing from anyone other than Lord Fabulous, but apparently the two of them had some kind of falling out recently. Since then, I’ve seen her at the Fancy Dance Hall taking a lesson with Sir Steven, and now she showed up to take Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class. I’m not sure if this will become a regular occurrence, or if she and Lord Fabulous will reconcile their differences shortly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As we usually do when new people who Lord Junior doesn’t know very well join us for class, the figures we looked at that night weren’t super intense. If Gatekeeper sticks around for a few weeks, I’m sure that will start to change, but for the first night there she could get through the figures pretty easily. Starting in Fan Position, we took the ladies into an Alemana, with the guy shifting to the left slightly so that the lady ends her last turning walk on the Lead’s right side. Collecting her with our right arm, we turned her in a Natural Opening Out action that we over-rotated as we closed so that it melded right into a Reverse Top. We went around for three measures, releasing the lady in the middle of the last measure so that she would end up back out in Fan Position. Just as class was ending, Lord Junior was having us move from that Fan Position into a Hockey Stick, but we didn’t get any farther that night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday was pretty fun, in my opinion. The class was rather small compared to the number of people who usually show up. I think that with so many schools starting up again this month, many of the normal attendees are either getting ready to go back themselves or getting everything ready for their kids to go back. At least, that’s my theory – I could be wrong.

We looked at Waltz this time around. There were a couple of figures that we looked at that I don’t remember ever seeing before, which is always exciting to me. First off, when we started class, Lord Junior asked all of us if any of us had ever seen a Left Whisk. When everyone said no, he decided that we would definitely be using that figure during class. As you can probably guess, a Left Whisk is basically the same as the basic Whisk, only you are crossing the opposite foot behind. While the normal Whisk is a figure you learn in early Bronze International Waltz, a Left Whisk is a Gold-level figure for some reason.

Our pattern that night was rather short, and it doesn’t travel all that far because of the spin and lunge that we do after the Left Whisk. We started out with a normal Natural Spin Turn and then transitioned into the Left Whisk. With my right foot crossed behind my left, our next figure was to unwind with a Standing Spin while the lady walked around me. This Standing Spin felt a lot like a Natural Twist Turn from Tango. Once the lady got all the way around us, we rotated her body so that she was perpendicular to ours and then did a Same Foot Lunge, with the man lunging to the right and the lady stepping backward on her right leg and leaning backward in an Oversway-like line. If you were in the right position, you would almost have the lady sitting down on your right thigh when she was leaning back.

To come out of the Same Foot Lunge, the guys would stand the lady back up and pivot her around without moving yet (that’s how she gets back to being on the opposite foot from us). Once she was pivoted back into normal dance position, the guys could collect and do an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position heading toward diagonal wall. Lord Junior was going to add on something else at the end to give us a better closing than ending right in the middle of an Open Telemark, but we had spent a lot of time working on the Standing Spin and Same Foot Lunge that night, so we had to leave it there so that we could get in several practice rounds before class ended.

Remember how last week I mentioned feeling like my schedule was overwhelming without actually having anything out of the ordinary on it? I guess feeling that way wasn’t good enough for me, so I somehow got talked into adding more things to my schedule. There’s the showcase that I mentioned earlier that I’m fairly certain I will start working on. Just before that, I had already agreed to compete at the end of September, so not only do I have to find time to learn and practice a showcase routine, but I still have to continue working on my competition routines at the same time!

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I had volunteered myself to be part of this committee that will be making dance-related decisions on a national level. Well going along with that, my local Royal Dance Court group will have our quarterly meeting next week to talk about what we have planned for the rest of this year, and to start discussing the dance parties and events we want to host next year. There is this debate going on about themes for our dance parties – a few of the members of the Royal Dance Court really like planning themes for these parties, with decorations and a playlist of music that matches the theme. Others (like me) don’t see many of the dance attendees dressing up for the themes, or mentioning anything about the decorations, so we feel like having a theme every month is overkill without participation. That should be a fun discussion…

On top of that, my Royal Dance Court group was asked to send representatives for an upcoming regional conference, where a bunch of different dance groups in our region are coming together to discuss our successes and challenges in getting people into ballroom dancing in our respective areas. As you can probably guess, I was asked by Prez if I would tag along with her to that regional meeting. I’m pretty sure that she asked Sparkledancer if she wanted to go as well, and that the ladies will be getting a hotel room together to reduce costs and whatnot. Being the only guy, I have to find my own accommodations. There was talk of reimbursements if I saved my receipts, but I hate doing expense reports, and I make stupid money compared to my living expenses, so I can just eat the cost.

Anyway… why did I agree to go to this meeting? For starters, there are rumors that some of the people in charge of the national organization that I had signed up to be on that committee for might have a representative there to talk with all of these regional clubs, so I figured getting in some face time is a good idea. Also, I’m fairly certain that Prez asked Sparkledancer and I if we wanted to go because she wants our Royal Dance Court to stand out because of our respective youth. There is supposed to be a dance party that night after all of the meetings in the afternoon, and if Prez shows up with the two of us who also happen to compete together, and she can get us to dance in front of everyone else at the party… I’m sure that will score her some bonus points, and I’m willing to do that for her.

I could be wrong about that, but with what I’ve learned about Prez over the years, she likes to have power and status over people, and I wouldn’t put it past her to use me to that end. But knowing how dance politics works, helping her earn status points can also help me out too. If I can get to know the leadership of all these dance clubs in my region, maybe I will be able to present my ideas about how I think things should be done to them, and have some small influence on the way the clubs are run. On top of that, if I want to use my committee position to help solve big problems at the national level, I want these people to know who I am, and trust me enough to tell me about issues they come across. After all, if no one tells you about an issue, how can you help solve the problem?

So now my calendar is actually getting full. What is it about me that seems to be drawn to do all of these things, even knowing that I would much rather just have a quiet weekend curled up in bed with my cat, doing nothing but staring out the window? I must be crazy.

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The Secret Of The Fox, Ancient Mystery

Last Saturday afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our regularly scheduled coaching session. We spent most of the time that day working on Foxtrot, with a bit of Tango thrown in at the end for a change of pace. I’m not going to lie – this lesson was particularly uncomfortable for me. Apparently my shoulders are just not bending the right way anymore, and the constant yanking of them to put them into different places is starting to get a bit painful. I’m not sure if I can rapidly increase the flexibility in my shoulders to avoid this. We may have to sit down and discuss that I have been enjoying the challenge of trying to build up the strength in my shoulders, so the sacrifice of some of my flexibility is just going to have be accounted for. If I can hold the position (uncomfortably) once you push my arms into place, that’s great and all, but if I cannot put my own arms into that position without help, then we’re going to have to work with what I can do. Sigh… anyway, things were good otherwise though. We continued working on improving our Three Step in International Foxtrot, and making sure that our quick movements in International Tango were very staccato, while the slow TheFox1movements were slightly more smooth. Near the beginning of our time, Lord Dormamu was running around the Endless Dance Hall, very excited to show everyone the pictures on his phone of his new studio that was finally completed. As he came over to show Sparkledancer and I (Sir Steven had already visited the place), he told each of us that we were more than welcome to come by and “join the family” there, as he put it. It is always intriguing to me to go to new dance studios, so when Sir Steven asked Sparkledancer and I if we would be interested in actually having our next session there to take a look at the place, I was excited about it, and she agreed. I’m not sure I would want to take lessons there all the time (it’s farther away from me than other dance halls), but getting a chance to go dance there before the grand opening party was just too good to pass up. So, that’s where I will get to be next week! Are you excited?

As a side note, there are only a couple of weeks left in this physical challenge I gave myself. Once over, I can change up my workouts again, and add back things like Yoga and agility training rather than just doing straight weightlifting if I want. That should help, though it will take some time. Also, getting my diet back to normal so that I am not just eating a very calculated, mostly protein diet with very little of anything else, is something I am really looking forward too. You really don’t know how much the carbohydrates you eat give you long-term energy throughout the day and also keep you feeling full until you all-but eliminate them from your diet…

Later in the evening, I went to help out at the dance party that my Royal Dance Court was putting on. We had chosen to do a Foxtrot-themed party this time around, and had convinced Lord Junior to come in and teach the lesson for us beforehand. When I got to the venue, those of us who had gotten there early spent some time putting out a few decorations and setting up a table with snacks on it for people to enjoy. I was surprised that some people who were not members of our Court also showed up super early, and then just sat around watching all of us TheFox2awkwardly while we worked. President Porpoise had shown up early as well, since he likes to come to these events to help out as a dance host, but he must have been super tired since he ended up laying down on a couch in the back of the room and taking a nap until it was time to get ready for the party. I’m surprised that he managed to sleep through all the preparations we were doing – the DJ was getting her equipment set up and tested by playing some songs fairly loud, and all of us were talking about things that needed to be done, and not being very quiet about it, but President Porpoise just slept through all of that. Just before we started the pre-party class was when the majority of the attendees showed up for some reason, so we had to hold the class up for a few minutes so we could get everyone checked in. The class didn’t cover any super-difficult material, and Lord Junior gave everyone plenty of time to practice at the end. He showed everyone the Quarter Turns, Three Step and Feather Finish figures. To have everyone practice, since there were so many people there, Lord Junior had the men line up in the back of the floor in three lines, and then had the women line up in one long line along the right-hand side. The women would then come out, three at a time, and go down the floor with the first guy in each line. When they got about halfway down, the next three women would go out with the next three guys, and so on and so forth. To keep the ladies moving (and avoid confusion), Sparkledancer positioned herself at the head of the line of ladies and directed them where to go. It reminded me of the time I got to direct traffic in the same way when we tried to do a mixer like this in the past. This strategy seems to work pretty well for a mixer dance, so long as someone’s directing people where to go. Left to their own devices, people start going about things chaotically, which causes people to run into each other while going down the floor. Madness!

The dance afterward had much less madness involved. I made sure to do my best and wander around and dance with people I found sitting out if I could. There were a lot of people who showed up to the party that night, so I’m not sure if I even got close to dancing with all of the ladies who were there, but it seemed like I got to go out with a lot of them. It was nice to see Ms. Possible at the party too. I hadn’t gotten to see her in quite a while. She asked me during the evening if I would be willing to go out and do a Waltz with her, since Lord Junior had just started to go through the Waltz basics with her and she wanted to practice. I managed to get through the whole song using International Waltz socially without accidentally switching over to American Waltz, so I was pretty proud of not messing that up. I also worked the crowd to try to convince people to come to our formal party in April. I think I got a few people interested, so hopefully they sign up to come party with us. During the announcements in the middle they also surprised someone with flowers for her birthday, which was nice. The DJ didn’t make everyone sing for her – since this was a dance party, she put on a song and let the birthday girl choose whomever she wanted to dance with and dance for a bit by herself before allowing people to slowly join the couple on the floor. It was a much more thematically appropriate way to celebrate a birthday than singing, don’t you think?

This week’s Latin Technique class focused on Rumba again, since there were two people who hadn’t really done more than a few Club Latin classes joining us. They were a nice couple I had never seen before – the guy was rather quiet, and the girl was over-enthusiastic, and had really long hair that would whip me whenever she spun around. The pattern we covered was still rather challenging (for the ladies, at least), even though neither of the new people had any Rumba experience. To warm up, Lord Junior started with us looking at Rumba basics, to kind of gauge where he could go with things. Once everyone was comfortable with the closed Rumba basic, we switched things up to start with an open basic where we did one rock step before turning the lady to the left into Shadow Position as guys brought their feet together. Then guys then did a back rock step while ladies do an in-place basic before doing they did a full 360° turn to the right. This was the first thing that night that caused some trouble. The new lady didn’t have real dance shoes, so to turn herself all the way around in the heels she was wearing, she had to put a lot of force into her turn, often throwing herself off-balance in the process. After watching this a few times, Prez went looking through the spare dance shoes that Lord Junior TheFox3keeps in the back, found a pair that seemed about the right size, and let her try them out to see if they would help. The first couple of times with the new shoes on, she still put a lot of energy into the turn which managed to turn her even further around than before since now her shoes were suede bottomed, but she was pleased with the results. Once the shoes were straightened away, we went back to our pattern and added on an Opening Out action in Shadow Position, with the guys stepping forward diagonally to the left and the ladies stepping backward diagonally to the right. After bringing the lady back in front of us, the guys released them so that the ladies could do a Three-Step Turn (or Alemana, depending on what you like to call it) while the men did a back Cucaracha, and then we come back together into normal dance frame to finish up, or start all over if we wanted. After class, Lord Junior spent some time showing the new people how the same figure could be used in Salsa, since they had said that Salsa was one of the styles they had done before we started. Turns out they didn’t actually know Salsa too well, so everyone spent some time closing out the night by just dancing some basic Salsa for fun, without trying to throw in any more advanced figures.

And then at Standard Technique class we worked on Waltz. Lord Junior decided that night that we would have a workout day with our Waltz, to really spend time working on calf and ankle strength and balance to help everyone not lower from the rise in each figure we did earlier than we were supposed to. This meant that sometimes as we were dancing the steps, he would have us stop and hold the rise at the end of the figure for an extra three or six count before we could lower and go on to the next step. Our pattern that night started with a Prep Step going into a Natural Turn. From there we went into a Natural Spin Turn, coming out using a turning Change Step that crossed our feet at the end. The Leads crossed our right foot behind our left, while the Followers crossed their left foot in front of their right, which made us ready to travel forward straight down the Line of Dance. We next did an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position travelling toward diagonal wall. The Promenade we went into Promenade curved to the left and used a Forward Lock just to make things more interesting. We finished things by using a right-side lunge, remaining in Promenade Position for a three count and then opening up into an Oversway line over the final three count. Mostly simple steps, but now imagine at any point you are told to stop while on your toes on the three count of a figure and stay there, without moving or shaking or dropping your heels, for another three beats before finally bringing your other leg through so that you could lower the heel. It was kind of a fun game in a way. Some people struggled with things more than others – one of the ladies in class, if she was dancing her steps on her own, wasn’t able to bring her feet together and keep herself up on her toes. She always had her feet spread in more of a horse stance to keep herself from falling over. It was an interesting thing to witness. At the end of the class we ran through the pattern to music just to get some repetitions in for practice. When everyone had gotten through the line to dance things a couple of times, the song had repeated again and was only about halfway done. TheFox4Lord Junior decided to finish the song by having everyone face the mirror, bring their feet together as much as possible, and then rise up onto their toes and just hold themselves there until the end. For the first minute everyone was OK, but as time wore on I started to hear the moans of everyone around me, and some people started to shake a little or drop their heels down and quickly pick them back up. I thought it was a lot of fun, so I was just wiggling in time with the music while holding myself up (I used to walk around more on my toes than on my whole foot, so standing like that for long periods doesn’t really bother me).

Well, it’s sort of a holiday weekend coming up. I don’t have to go to the office tomorrow (hooray), and I think there are some dance parties to choose from on both Friday and Saturday night. Should be fun. Plus, there’s the excitement of getting to go to that new studio on Saturday afternoon, which I’m looking forward to. What will it be like? I’ll tell you all about it next week!

Behind The Curtain, In The Pantomime

It seems like winter keeps coming back to haunt me. No, it hasn’t gotten cold again here in my part of the world, but that short cold spell we did have has left a lot of things behind to remind us that it happened well after the date that the temperature got back above freezing. Like all the rock salt that is spread around my neighborhood, for instance. Also, when I went out this past Saturday afternoon to meet up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal coaching session, we found that the Endless Dance Hall was super busy. Apparently the previous weekend there had been a showcase performance scheduled that didn’t happen because of the snow we received. They moved the performance back a week, but didn’t tell anyone who wasn’t in the performance (like us) that they moved things until the day of, when they took over the studio. ShowMustGoOn1When I got there, I found all kinds of people wandering around in some state of costume, and groups of kids running through their choreography, and there were risers set up with seats for an audience. There wasn’t much room on the floor to do anything. When Sir Steven got there and also saw what was going on, he stepped outside to make some phone calls to find out what the story was. When he came back, we talked about it and the three of us decided it was best to not be underfoot while everyone was getting ready for the show that evening, so we rescheduled things for Tuesday night. Sigh… why do you have to play me like that Winter? What did I ever do to you?

Saturday night I did get to go out for some dancing, and I got a lot more dancing in over the course of the evening than I expected. There was an open dance being held at the Prime Dance Hall – not hosted by them, just held at the location. I didn’t even see anyone who is on staff at the dance hall there that night, which is kind of weird. Anyway, this dance was put together as an offering for everyone by the person acting as the DJ that night and a guy I call President Porpoise (he’s someone who I see play dance host at a lot of events). They had put together this dance not only because nothing else was going on for that Saturday night, but also as a fundraiser for someone in the dance community who had gone through some recent medical turmoil. I didn’t recognize the name of the person they were talking about, but I’m horrible with names so that’s not really surprising. I might recognize them if I saw them though. The story they were telling made me sad, so before I left that night I emptied out all the cash I had in my wallet and left it as a donation to the cause. Seeing as how I had to reschedule my normal dance lesson earlier in the day, that was probably a lot of cash (minus what I had to use to get into the dance party), but I didn’t count it before I turned it in. As the dance party got underway, I’m not sure where everyone else was that night. Since this was the only open dance party in the area, I would have thought all the regulars I usually see would have been around, but we had a lot of women show up and not a lot of men. So I got quite a workout that night. The DJ did lots of things to help make sure all the men rotated through dancing with everyone since we were so outnumbered. At one point they had each guy stand up and grab two ladies, saying that one of the ShowMustGoOn2ladies would be their next Foxtrot partner and the other would be for Cha-Cha, but even with each guy standing on the floor with two ladies there were still some ladies that were standing along the side of the floor all alone, so we ended up doing the Foxtrot first, then a Salsa where all the ladies who had been off on the side got to have first pick of a dance partner, then the Cha-Cha next. One of the ladies asked me if I danced Salsa during that middle number, and I told her before we started that I didn’t usually do Salsa, but I could fake it. Normally the things that I do for Salsa is all figures that I learned for Mambo, just starting on beat one, so I can fake Salsa pretty well. She was surprised by that, and after the dance was done she told me that she wished she could fake dances she didn’t know like I could. That was funny to me. I also ended up doing a Tango that night with a lady who was at least a foot shorter than me, so I had to take tiny steps during that dance otherwise I would have left her behind. It’s been a while since I’ve danced a ballroom dance with someone where there’s been that much of a height difference.

We had a couple join us for Latin Technique class on Monday night who had driven in from quite a ways out of town. Lord Junior was talking to them before class started and asked them what brought them to the area, and the guy told him that they had just come in for class. I guess where they lived they had spent a lot of time learning Club Latin styles like Salsa and Bachata, but they wanted to try something new. Because they hadn’t really done any ballroom dancing before, we went through Rumba that night, which is what we seem to go through whenever new people are around. We started out warming up just doing the basic step for a while to get everyone comfortable with things if they hadn’t seen Rumba before. Our pattern for the night started with one full basic in closed dance frame, and then we led the ladies out into Fan Position. From there we started to do a Hockey Stick, but after the first four steps we changed things and led them to do a loose Spiral Turn to line up facing one another so that we could go into a New Yorker to the right. I was told that a ‘loose’ Spiral Turn is just a Spiral that doesn’t turn a full 360°, which I had never heard before, but it seems like an interesting tidbit of information, so that’s why I’m mentioning it here so that I can remember it later. I caught Merlot and Sparkledancer spending some time that night discussing how ladies use their outside arms in New Yorkers, and somehow they got to talking about how it works best to pretend like you are giving someone a high-five with your outside hand. I’m not entirely sure if they were being serious about that, since they kept laughing about it while moving their arms around. Class is so entertaining sometimes…

So Tuesday night I had my rescheduled coaching session with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. As was promised the last time we met to go over things, we worked on Foxtrot and Quickstep this time around. I will admit, I was not feeling very good about how things went that night. It seemed like I was getting picked on a lot for things going wrong. It probably wasn’t any more frequent than I normally get during these sessions, but I just wasn’t having much fun with things that night, so it was hard to laugh things off at the time. We went back to talking about how, during natural rotations in Quickstep, I am to help Sparkledancer extend her body away from mine by pressing forward slightly with my right hip. This is something I still struggle with. Part of the problem I was having that night was that we kept breaking away from each other right before I would do that, so as I attempted to push forward with my right hip, there was nothing there, so I had to push forward even more to make contact with her, and that kept throwing me off balance. It sounds like a simple thing to fix when I write it out here, but something about hindsight and 20s or something… you know. As we were working through the Foxtrot that night, a couple of people came into the Endless Dance Hall to talk with Indiana and one of her students who were working on things on the other side of the floor. They left after a brief conversation and then came back with a video camera. This camera had a really bright light attached to it, and it seemed like no matter where we went on the dance floor, that light was always shining straight at me, ShowMustGoOn3burning bright light spots into my vision. They were filming what Indiana and her student were doing on the dance floor for some news program or commercial or something, I’m not quite sure, but they always seemed to line up their shots so that we were also in the background. At one point we even went over to stand near the mirrors, which I thought would prevent them from pointing the light at me since it would reflect off the mirrors back at them… but I was wrong about that, they still did. In the end, things were good, and there are some parts I will have to go back and work on. Hopefully when we get together this coming Saturday to cover things it will be more fun. Maybe I’ll look up some new jokes to tell before I go, so that if things get to be too much work I can just randomly insert a joke to lighten the mood. Maybe I’ll even try to find dance jokes, so that the material is relevant. That seems time spent on a worthwhile investment.

This week in Standard Technique class we got to go back to the pattern of figures that I went through with Lord Junior back in the beginning of December. I was the only person in class that night who had seen this amalgamation before, so I kind of had one foot up on everyone else when going through things. To prevent you from having to go back and read through my old notes, the pattern is as follows: we started off with a Chasse from Promenade Position, and then into a Quick Open Reverse with a Reverse Pivot at the end (interesting note: the Quick Open Reverse is actually a Quickstep figure that has been adapted for Waltz). After the Reverse Pivot we are facing line of dance and we go into a Double Reverse Spin that also has a Reverse Pivot at the end, which puts us backing line of dance for the Leaders, and from there we ended by going into a Throwaway Oversway. It’s a cool set of figures, with a lot of stuff that will really challenge you if you want to do things right, so I would recommend this pattern to anyone. I will say though that it’s really hard to do this sequence by walking through things slowly. In order to get the correct amount of turn, especially with those Pivots, you need to have some momentum to work with. Lord Junior actually told us that night while we were stepping through things slowly that he didn’t expect us to make it all the way around at the speed we were using, so he didn’t mind if we had to use our other foot to sort-of paddle ourselves around the full amount of the turn. Once you get going at speed, especially with music playing, turning becomes less of a problem, it’s actually stopping the turn to keep from overturning that becomes hard. My big problem during class as I danced through things with people was ShowMustGoOn4that I kept forgetting about what my head was doing as we were doing all the turns, so there were times when it looked like I was looking at my dance partner. I didn’t feel like I was doing it at the time, and I’m fairly tall so I might have been looking over the lady’s head instead of at her which would explain why I didn’t notice it, but I got called out for that a couple of times during the evening. By the end of the night I managed to keep myself from making that mistake again, but I could only do that by concentrating on what my head was doing, so all the other things I should have been working on probably got left out in the process. I was having a lot of fun in class though, which helped make up for not having much fun the night before. Hooray!

Look at this, we’re already in February already! Can you feel the love starting to permeate the air as Valentine’s Day approaches? I can. That’s why I’m volunteering to help out again at another singles dance party this weekend. Yay me! I can be a good dance host sometimes, and there’s always the chance that there might be interesting single ladies my age who show up that I can talk to. But the event was billed for singles over 40, so probably not. There’s also an interesting workshop planned for Sunday which I think I might end up going to, just for fun. We’ll find out what happens when I tell the stories about it next week!

Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I keep jumping around on locations to meet up. This past weekend, a couple of hours before we were supposed to get together, we had to change venues and plan on meeting up at the Electric Dance Hall. I’m not sure why we keep switching things around like this, but that’s where we ended up. This weekend was nice because we got there and no one else was in the building yet, so we decided to spend some quality time working on Viennese Waltz. I really like Viennese Waltz, but it’s one of those styles I don’t actually get to practice much because of the amount of space that is required to work on things safely at tempo. I’ve mentioned in the past that if I try to practice things at home, I can get about one and a half rotations in before I’m about to hit a wall, unless I take super tiny steps. What’s the fun of taking super tiny steps though? We started by looking at the way we usually start dancing a Viennese Waltz. Ever since I first learned the style, the normal way to start has been to take my partner, and when the music starts we would do a hesitation step to my left for a three-count, then a hesitation step to my right for a three count while winding up, and then going into a Reverse Turn to start traveling down the floor. Sir Steven wants us to change that so that we can start by going into a Natural Turn instead. The starting sequence he has us going through is almost like a production compared to the two hesitations and wind up we had been doing. It involves several three-count steps, a curtsy from Sparkledancer while I sort-of bow, and then we finally come together and wind away from each other to my left so that we can start off moving on the right foot in a Natural Turn. The big things that we worked on when we actually got into running through Viennese Waltz was to first make sure that at least part of my feet were always connected to the floor. The second part was that once we got through the first two steps of each rotation, the third ‘step’ was to quickly slide the back foot in toward the front foot. Obviously the first thing we worked on helped with the second, since it is hard to slide your foot across the floor if you don’t keep your feet in contact with the floor. About halfway through working on Viennese Waltz, Lord Junior showed up to start cleaning some things around the dance hall before a lesson he was going to give at the top of the hour, and as he was wandering around cleaning he was making offhand comments about what we were doing, trying to get us to laugh and mess up. I guess you could call that ‘training under fire’ or something – it was rather amusing to see how much I could get through without breaking into laughter.
EverybodyHaveFunTonight1  And that right there is a perfect example of why I dance. No matter how seriously you take ballroom dancing, the thing is… unless you are getting paid to teach the craft to others, it is really a hobby, and it should be fun. I worry about people who take things so seriously that they lose sight of just how much fun (and slightly absurd) the world of ballroom dancing is. You can spend all your time worrying about how your technique looks, and what kind of impression you are going to give to a group of judges when you take to the floor, but once that short period of time at the competition is done, or you finish with the performance that you spent months learning the choreography for, the rush is over and you go home to take off your serious face, what are you left with? You learned all these things, collected all these medals or ribbons and you stick them all on a shelf where you can see them as you walk through your front room (that’s where all mine are sitting), and now they sit there, collecting dust (I hate dusting, so mine collect a lot of dust before I get around to cleaning them off). If you can’t afford to do a lot of competitions per year (most people I know compete Pro-Am, which is a lot more expensive than competing amateur), what are you really using this skill that you are leaning for? That’s why I like to spend so much time going out on weekends to social dances. It keeps things fun (which is the whole point of dancing in the first place), and it gives me a chance to utilize all the training that I spend so much time doing on a more regular basis than just the couple of times a year I decide to compete or perform. I think about dancing like I would about a classic car – if you spend a ton of money on a fancy classic car, but then only drive it around once every few months, what are you really getting out of the money you spent on the car? The problem with investing in dancing however is that you can’t easily pass your dance skills down to your kids or sell your skills to recoup some of the investment like you can with a classic car, so you have to actually use the skill in order to get something out of all the time and money spent learning.
EverybodyHaveFunTonight2  Now, I do know that I am a bit spoiled. I live in a place where ballroom dancing is kind of a big deal, and there are a large number of dance halls and ballroom-related dance clubs within a very short distance of where my house is (side note: there’s credible rumors of a another new dance hall opening nearby next month!). If you don’t live in an area like I do where ballroom dancing has made a name for itself, your opportunities for social dance parties may be few and far between. On top of that, I also happen to be male (at least, last I checked I still was), so I can go out to any social dance party and dance with any ladies who are free during a song without having to worry about not having a partner or someone using figures that I don’t know (since I’m leading, I usually don’t use figures I don’t know. Usually…). I’m not super extroverted (though you probably think I am based on all the adventures I tell you about), but I don’t mind going out and asking people to dance at the events I attend. Knowing what I know gives me a level of dance confidence that helps me do just that.

So while competing and performing showcase dances may give you a chance to win some medals or ribbons or make your name famous in the greater ballroom community, I would argue that if you are spending your time pursuing that goal without spending an equal amount of time just dancing socially, you are missing out on a huge part of the ballroom dancing experience. There are so many benefits you can get, so many people you can meet, and it’s a big way to help keep the fun in dancing. And if you’re not having fun and it’s always frustrating and tedious work, it’s a lot more like a job than anything else (except, you know, you are paying to do it, not getting paid). I don’t know about you, but I have enough hard work and frustration going on at my normal job to not have fun at the things I choose to do outside of work. If you’re in the area nearby me, you can always ask me where the next dance party is happening. There’s at least one dance hall in the area offering a social dance every Friday and Saturday night around here (often multiple competing dance parties), and there’s one option I know of that happens every Sunday afternoon if you still need more. And that’s not even taking into account all the Club Latin dances that go on that I generally don’t go to because of my white-boy hips. If you’re looking to move someplace for dancing, I could not say enough good things about living in the Dance Kingdom with me. Plus, then we could go out dancing together! How fun would that be?

That went off on a bit of a tangent, didn’t it… Since I’m not planning on writing a novel tonight, we’ll just skip everything else I did for the sake of brevity and jump right to talking about last night’s Standard Technique class.

When I was sitting around getting my shoes on for class, it seemed like lady after lady was showing up to join us in class. By the time we were ready to start, there were three guys (if you included Lord Junior) and eight women. I thought for sure that I was going to be working hard all night to keep up with all the partner switching that we would be doing… but it turned out that I didn’t actually dance much at all. We all decided to do Foxtrot that night, so Lord Junior thought we should start by looking at a Gold-level figure called the Fallaway Reverse Slip Pivot. His plan was by the end of class to have us start with a normal Feather, go into the Fallaway Reverse Slip Pivot, transition into a Double Reverse Spin (which is an adaptation of the Double Reverse Spin you’ve probably seen or done in Waltz), then come out of everything into a Three Step. Sounds super easy, right (I hope I didn’t break your sarcasm detector with that)? Some of the ladies really struggled with the turns. In the Fallaway Reverse Slip Pivot they had to do two pivots in a row during the figure, and then of course the Double Reverse Spin starts with a heel turn. That combination was hard for them to get through, so Lord Junior spent a lot of time with the group trying to get them through all the issues. The biggest problem he kept going through was that when they are the outside of the turn they really needed to drive themselves forward, or the turn would not have any power to make the rotation. Many of the women were used to letting the Leader get them through things, and we could have just pushed them around enough to make it work, but to make things look good (which is one of the things that most people want their dancing to do) the Followers couldn’t just have the Leader forcibly spin them. At one point, Lord Junior was going over some problems that Deja brought up so that the whole group could work on things, so I and the other guy who was there were relegated to leaning against the front counter so that we were out of the way. All we could do was watch – there wasn’t even enough open floor space to try our own steps out. That was how the class went for much of the night – there were short periods where the guys would dance with the girls, then long periods where I was just standing off to the side watching the ladies work on their figures. That was not what I was expecting to be doing when class started, that’s for sure! By the end most everyone seemed to have gotten the idea of things, so Lord Junior put on some Foxtrot songs and we just lined up like people do for Foxtrot mixers and ran through the pattern over and over again down the floor well past the time class should have ended.
EverybodyHaveFunTonight3   I used a lot of parenthetical phrases tonight, didn’t I? Well, I may have interesting news next week. I’m not for sure about things yet, but there’s a chance. Stay tuned – it could mean a lot of fun is ahead. Not just normal fun. No, I’m talking ‘dinosaurs in space’ levels of fun. Are you excited? I can’t wait to see what happens!