Prepare The Laser-Beam

During this past week, I ended up going to work with my dance coach Lord Dormamu twice in a short span of time. He will be leaving to go run around the country doing things, so if I didn’t take the opportunity to see him now I would have had to wait two weeks before seeing him again. I think he said that he was going to go give coaching lessons for a couple of days in two different major cities, go to a big competition to compete with a couple of his Pro/Am students, and also go be a judge at another big competition. All of that with no time to come home and rest in between! Sometimes I think that guy is crazy for flying around the country so much, but he seems to enjoy it.

Let’s start off by talking about the first session I had with him that was last Saturday afternoon. That day we started out by looking at the Waltz again, but this time we did manage to move on and look at a second dance style rather than getting stuck on Waltz the whole time, which was a nice change of pace. I know that our Waltz is coming along quite nicely, but sometimes you just need some variety in your life, right? For me, that variety ended up being Tango.

The main point that we spent a lot of time talking about for the Waltz that afternoon was balance. Lord Dormamu could see the effects of all of the practice that Sparkledancer and I have been doing in our Waltz going really slow, but in his eyes it looked like something was off about the first step in a number of the figures. He told us that it was as if the second and third step were solid and grounded and had substance to them, but the first steps seemed to move too fast, almost like it was floating across the floor. What he told us was that we needed to make sure that all three steps had the same look of substance to them, as if they were balanced.

I thought about it for a minute, and then I asked Lord Dormamu if what he was seeing was happening on the first step of every single figure, or if it was just happening on the first steps of figures that came after previous figures where I had held the second beat longer than the music and thus was moving faster through the third beat and the first beat of the next measure to compensate. He told me that could have been part of the problem so he would keep an eye out for that next time, but even if I was moving faster through some of the steps, I should still be able to do them in a manner that makes all steps look connected to the floor.

So can you guess what his recommendation to fix this was? Yup, it was more practice doing the steps stupidly slow. The only difference would be that now we would want to be thinking the whole time about having the same effort for all three steps of each figure to help promote that look of balance. Or four steps I suppose, in the case of chasses. Yeah, can you feel my excitement? It’s not really there. I think I’m going to develop repetitive stress injuries in my ankles from doing all of this super slow movement all the time.

The second point that came up while we were talking about the Waltz, but is really something that applies across the board for me, was my back. Last time we had gotten together, Lord Dormamu had asked me to start working on pulling the upper half of my body away from Sparkledancer while we were in frame. Remember how he compared the look he wanted us to show to a funnel? As you might guess, I have been working on this, but I still can’t bow my back as much as he wants me to, so he was pushing me to do more. I guess I am going to have to find some way to work on that safely. I used to be able to get into Wheel pose in Yoga, but I don’t think I can anymore. Hmm…
Before we finished with the Waltz we took a minute so that Lord Dormamu could review my progress with the changes he asked me to make with the Whisk. Overall the figure looks much more like he wanted – all the steps I am taking progress nicely in the same direction, giving the figure continuity from start to finish. One subtle adjustment he asked me to add to what I was doing was to rotate my upper body more as I transition into Promenade Position on the third step. I felt like I was rotating myself a lot already, but he wants me to twist up to the limit of my flexibility. That’s easy enough to figure out – twist until I can’t. Sounds so simple!

With that we got to move on to the Tango for the remainder of our session. After going through the routine once, there were a couple of overall points Lord Dormamu wanted to make about how we danced. First off, much to my chagrin, like in the Waltz earlier I was told to bow my back further when in frame for Tango. Secondly, he told both Sparkledancer and I that it looked like we were sliding a lot while we danced through the routine, and it was breaking the sharp and staccato look that Tango is known for.

His diagnosis was that he thought that we were trying to move too big through the steps, like we normally do in a Waltz or Foxtrot, and because of that there were places that we would literally slide across the floor because of the momentum that we would build up as we moved. There were a few spots where the sliding was more noticeable than others. For example, at the end of the first Natural Promenade Turn we go into another Closed Promenade. That Closed Promenade starts moving toward diagonal center and we close facing diagonal wall. As we closed the Promenade on our run-through, even after we closed our bodies and I was facing diagonal wall we still moved toward diagonal center somewhat before we came to a halt.

To that end, Lord Dormamu told me something that some famous coach he had worked with when he was young had told him about Tango (I didn’t recognize the guy’s name, but Sparkledancer did). He said that he was taught that his steps should be no wider than his shoulders. After saying that, he made a joke that obviously I would still be taking bigger steps than him if I did that because my shoulders are much wider than his are, and then punched me in the shoulder a few times while laughing.

Sometimes I think that Lord Dormamu likes to hit me because he is amazed at how solid I am. He really does hit me a lot just for fun. You can ask Sparkledancer – even she has mentioned to me before that she thinks Lord Dormamu likes to hit me a lot!

Anyway… we walked through the routine again keeping that in mind. It did help make all of our steps sharper, and surprisingly we didn’t really cut out any distance in our movement by taking steps of that size. I had thought that for sure we would, but we ended up in the same spot along the back of the floor when we finished the first long wall. Weird.

Next up he wanted to have us work on making our rotational movements, like when we would close from Promenade back into normal dance frame, sharper as well. That was another action that Lord Dormamu said sometimes he saw us gliding along the floor as we did. We went back to the figures that we talked about earlier to work on this, with the Closed Promenade after the Natural Promenade Turn. He told me that I needed to think about not traveling at all when I closed the Closed Promenade, almost like I was locked between two points as I squared up to Sparkledancer.

For some reason, when he had me try it out dancing with her, a picture of a door closing popped into my head. So that’s what I tried to do – I planted my right foot and let the left side of my body ‘close’ to Sparkledancer at the end of the Closed Promenade. Lord Dormamu came over and told me that it looked perfect, so whatever I did I should always repeat that action. I was surprised that it worked so well, so I told him about the thought that popped into my head. He grinned at me and said that a door closing was a perfect analogy, and he was going to remember that for the future. Hooray for me! Sometimes I can be super smart!

One item that he mentioned for Sparkledancer that I made a note about was that he wanted her to work on pulling herself even more around me when we are in Promenade Position. If she does so, it will really increase the distance between our heads when you look at our position either from the side or from straight on. That way, no matter what side of us a judge happens to be standing on, the amount of volume will appear to be super impressive.

One last thing that I thought was funny – at one point in our lesson, Lord Dormamu suddenly thought about laser tag, weirdly enough, so he was telling Sparkledancer and I about how much fun he remembers having the last time he went and played. That’s something I haven’t gone out and done, or even thought about, in probably… like fifteen years. Lord Dormamu then decided that going out and playing laser tag in the near future would be a lot of fun. There is a guy that he knows who also teaches dance at the Endless Dance Hall, a high-level Latin competitor that I’ve met a few times, who Lord Dormamu said he was going to talk into playing laser tag too, and then he told both Sparkledancer and I that if he was going to go, the two of us should come as well.

So… there’s a chance in the near future that I could go out and play laser tag with my dance coach. When I try to picture this happening in my head, it seems so surreal that I think it would be hilarious. That’s the crazy thing about the stuff that happens on my dance adventures – I can’t even make up stuff that’s half as funny as the stuff that actually happens. Laser tag, of all things! What in the world even brought that up in the first place?

When I went in for my second coaching session with Lord Dormamu on Wednesday night, I happened to run into the Latin instructor that Lord Dormamu said he would be inviting to play laser tag. I spent a few minutes talking to him because I thought it was funny that his name came up the last time I was at the Endless Dance Hall, and then he appeared the next time I went there. I wonder if that trick would work with anyone that I talked about at the Endless Dance Hall, or if I would specifically have to talk about a dancer in order for that person to show up. Hmm… I’ll have to try to do some science next time I am at that studio to answer that question.

Lord Dormamu hadn’t told the guy about how he was going to play laser tag at some point in the future, so that was news to him. I did hear all about how the two of them have been spending a lot of time together lately because he was helping Lord Dormamu rip apart rooms in his house and re-finish them. It started with his office, where they tore the whole thing apart down to the studs and joists, then put it all back together with new wiring, a new floor, new walls and a new ceiling. He showed me the pictures – it is a nice looking office now.

The two of them were so happy with the results that they decided to do the attic in Lord Dormamu’s house next, and then they have plans to tear apart the back wall of his house this summer to attach a whole new patio that will connect the back of the house to the edge of the pool. Just for fun, apparently. I know so much more about the design of Lord Dormamu’s house now than I could have ever imagined that I would. Who ever said that you only learn about dance when you’re at a dance studio?

Our lesson with Lord Dormamu that night focused on more of the same as the one we had on Saturday, with time spent on Waltz and Tango. I had only managed to find time to go out and practice with Sparkledancer twice between the two lessons, so the points we had worked on during the lesson on Saturday were still works in progress to me.

One item that was different that we spent time talking about at the beginning of the lesson was our upcoming competition calendar for the next couple of months. Originally, we had been planning on doing a medium-sized competition at the end of this month, then a smaller competition in March and a large competition in April. Sparkledancer had been looking over the entries for the event in January though, and based on what she could see it looked like all the people signed up for that competition were the exact same people that we had danced against when we had done the competition last year, which didn’t necessarily make it seem worth the money and the time we would have to spend driving out to the venue.
Because of that, we changed our plan to take out the event this month and replace it with a different event next month. This other competition is going to be larger and is also farther away, so we would have to fly out to get there. The advantage of this event is that, because it is in a completely different area of the Dance Kingdom than we have ever gone to before to compete, it should pit us against a completely different set of competitors. That should make for a better test of how we’re doing than going to the one this month and dancing against all the same people we’ve danced against before. So I’ll take care of booking my flight and whatnot for that this weekend. Fun times ahead, right?

One item that we worked on a lot in the Tango that evening was trying to bow my back even more while I was moving. We had talked about this on Saturday, and between the two lessons I had gotten to spend some time on my stability ball at home, trying to gently increase the amount my spine is able to bend in that manner. But I could only do so much in just a few days. No matter how much Lord Dormamu wanted me to bend yesterday, I was just hitting my physical limit.

At one point he asked Sparkledancer and I to try out something different – he had me plant my feet for the start of our routine, and then bend myself to the extreme so that my chest and head were facing toward the ceiling while putting my arms out straight to the sides. Then he had Sparkledancer come stand in front of me and wrap her arms around my neck to hold on as we started to dance.

This… was an interesting way to try to move. A lot of the steps were fine for me after a bit of adjustment in my center of balance. The place where we ultimately had to stop and reset was when we got to the first Natural Promenade Turn. As you might have guessed, it is nearly impossible for Sparkledancer to rotate around me when my arms are sticking straight out to the sides like Lord Dormamu had asked me to do, so everything we were doing just fell apart at that figure.

The point of this exercise was to show me the feeling that I was to be going for when I am finally able to spend time increasing the flexibility in my spine. Obviously I won’t be bending in quite the same way at that time, since my head needs to be upright to see where I am going when Lord Dormamu isn’t following me down the floor to keep the other dancers out of my way, but the feeling should be similar. After a couple of times dancing like this, he had me come back to the start and bring myself back upright, bowing my spine as much as I could on my own and still pulling my shoulders back somewhat so that my head was looking upward toward a point closer to the ceiling.

It wasn’t an impossible position for me to hold, but I can’t say that it was the most comfortable position I’ve ever tried to dance Tango in. Even though I felt like I was bending my spine up like a snake, Lord Dormamu told me that the look I had from his point of view was that I was standing straight and powerful. My advantage over other dancers, he said, was that I have a much bigger chest than most male dancers because of all the muscle I have. If I can bend in the way that he wants while dancing Tango, it will put all that muscle on display and look really strong and solid. So, I guess that’s the goal I am working toward. With that as a goal, in some ways it will be kind of nice that Lord Dormamu will be gone for a while. That will give me time to practice and work to get better at what he is asking.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be out doing other things in that time period! This coming Saturday is actually shaping up to be rather busy for me as far as dancing goes. Sparkledancer’s new friend (the franchise studio guy that she met on New Year’s Eve) has been begging her to go with him to any kind of dance events outside his studio. He has finally worn her down, and she has agreed to do so this weekend. As you might have gathered, she begged me to go with her so that she can pawn this guy off on me if he gets to be too much. Sigh…

As far as what I’m going to end up going to – Judge Dread will be in town on Saturday giving workshops at the Endless Dance Hall, so I will be going to hang out there. After that, there will be a social dance at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. The group running that event is having someone come in and teach a lesson in East Coast Swing before the party starts, which sounds entertaining.

And, as always, on top of that I’m sure I will try to get some practice in on Saturday, since that is a day I try to use for practicing. It all should be a lot of fun. If you’re around this weekend, I hope to see you at one of those events!

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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. 🙂

A Momentary Maniac With Casual Delusions

Man there are a lot of interesting notes about dancing this week! So many! This post could end up being a bit long. I’ll try my best to stick to only the most interesting of interesting details, but I’m laying out that warning beforehand just in case. Deep breath…

The first thing that I should talk about was the competition I was in on Saturday. This was actually my second time signing up to be in this particular event – the first time being last year – so when I got up in the morning to make my way to the Dance Death Arena to sign in I actually knew which room they were using. I met with Sparkledancer in the parking lot so that we would be able to sign in together. As the two of us were getting out of our cars and grabbing our stuff, a lady who had parked nearby saw us. We were both wearing formal attire, so we kind of stood out in the midst of all the other people milling about in the area.

This lady walked over to where we had parked and asked us if we happened to be part of the dance competition that was going on. We told her yes, and she said that she had guessed that was the case because of our outfits. Apparently her son was also taking part in the competition, and she had driven in from out-of-state to watch him dance but had no idea where she to go after she had parked her car. Lucky for her, I knew right where to go! She decided to tag along with Sparkledancer and I as we made our way into the building and up to the room that was set aside for the competition. The lady parted with us as we reached the check-in desk to wander into the room and search for her boy. I hope that she came back and bought a spectator pass at some point later…

I was signed up for the same set of rounds this year that I did last year at this competition, and like before there were two rounds that were packed with other competitors and two rounds with almost no one else in them. The two rounds that had people sign up made me really happy – after competing uncontested in the last couple of competitions I’ve been in, being in these rounds more than made up for that. There were a bunch more couples signed up this year than there were last year! So many more in fact that they had to split the rounds one additional time over what they did the year before. This time, we had an extra ‘first round’ (that’s what they called it) we danced before the Quarterfinal rounds. I ended up dancing a lot more on Saturday morning than I had originally expected.

Just to get it out of the way early, let me say that the competition went really well. The only part where Sparkledancer and I had an issue was in the final Tango and the Foxtrot of the day, which were the last two dances that we did that day. Something unexpected happened that caused those dances to go a little off track, but I’ll talk more about that later. Overall the competition went great – much better than I expected it to.

The most nerve-wracking part of the whole competition experience was having Lord Dormamu as a judge that day. I felt like I had to put extra effort into everything that I did in order to live up to his expectations. I wonder if anyone else was feeling like that because he was judging? Maybe it was just me. Probably Sparkledancer too, since he’s obviously her coach as well.

Funny thing about Lord Dormamu being a judge: as I was waiting in the on-deck area for my first round of the day to start, the girl in line right behind Sparkledancer and I was talking to her partner about Lord Dormamu. She was super excited that he was there that day. I guess she has gone to some of his ‘Master Classes’ in the past, and even got a chance to dance with him at some social party a few months ago. She then proceeded to sound almost offended that he hadn’t gone out of his way since arriving at the event to come over and say hello to her… because obviously there was no way he could have forgotten who she was after that dance they had shared at a social! I had to work really hard at keeping a straight face when hearing her go through her line of reasoning.

Early rounds of dancing all felt really good, and Sparkledancer and I made it through the ‘first round’, Quarterfinal and Semifinal rounds to get on the slate for the Finals in all four dance styles we were doing that day. After the Semifinals, the organizers had put in a few other rounds of different dances just to mix things up a bit. Two of those extra rounds were the other rounds that I was signed up for, the ones that had only Sparkledancer and I and one other couple signed up to dance in. To make better use of the floor, they also rearranged other parts of the schedule to have some of the Mixed Proficiency rounds on the floor at the same time.

The first round of these smaller heats for me took a sideways turn – not in the dancing I did, but from an organizational standpoint. I’m not sure what went wrong, but for the first dance in the round they had us all take the floor and get ready to Waltz, and then let us go. Everything seemed to be going fine, but as the music wound down the judges were all huddled together along the side and were talking. That’s never a good sign… all of the competitors were standing around watching, starting to fidget a little bit. After a few more moments the emcee came back to the microphone and said that since our Waltz was so good, they were going to have us do another fifteen seconds of it so that the judges could see a little more. The music started again, we danced a little more, and then stopped.

Whatever was going on still wasn’t good, so the emcee came back and said that they were going to have to reset and have us do the whole dance again! So, once more I got to go through that Waltz number. I thought that everything went well this time around and we’d actually be able to move onto the next dance style… but alas, ‘twas not to be. After a few more minutes the emcee came back to the microphone and finally admitted that they were having some kind of technical difficulty, so while they worked that out they were going to put on a few songs for general dancing, and then when everything was fixed all of the competitors would get to come back and do the Waltz one last time. So I got to dance a lot more Waltzes that day than I expected.

Finally we got to the Finals for my highly contested rounds. First two dances (Waltz and Quickstep) go great. Everything feels strong and in control, and I can’t think of any points that I would have wanted to go back and do better. Then we got to the third dance… the Tango. In the middle of the second Back Corte along the first long wall, something happened where another couple of competitors got too close to us, and somehow the female in that pair put her heel into Sparkledancer’s right shoe! That obviously got her foot all caught up with the other girl, so she tripped over her feet a bit at that moment, and that made me trip up a bit (luckily no one fell), so coming out of that Back Corte as you can imagine was rough and it took a few steps to recover… or so I thought.

The incident made things much worse for Sparkledancer than I knew about at the time. She couldn’t tell me until after the Tango was over, but one of the results of the girls sticking her heel into Sparkledancer’s shoe and pressing down was that she pulled the shoe almost all the way off of Sparkledancer’s foot! For quite a while after that happened, Sparkledancer was desperately trying to keep from losing her shoe. She was spreading her toes as wide as possible to hold onto the shoe, and slamming her foot down onto the floor to try to get the shoe back over her heel so that it would stay in place. Obviously these movements would have made her footwork look a bit strange if any judges were watching closely enough.

When the Tango ended and we had a moment to recover before the Foxtrot, Sparkledancer finally managed to pull her shoe all the way back on properly, but it seems like the force of the girl putting her heel in there also stretched out the side of Sparkledancer’s shoe. I guess it was stretched out enough that her foot was wobbling around inside of the shoe instead of feeling secure. That made going through the Foxtrot a strange new experience for her as well.

I felt terrible about this after we got off the floor and Sparkledancer had a chance to tell me (and show me) what actually happened. Absolutely terrible. I didn’t think I had gotten too close to the other competitors on the floor, but I guess I misread the signs of where that one couple was going to be moving, and that allowed them to get close enough to us for this accident to happen. The worst part is that the shoe got stretched out badly enough that it doesn’t feel secure for her anymore. She told me that she is going to look at it and see if anything can be done to repair it, which may involve her drilling another hole into the strap that goes across the shoe so that she can pull the buckle tighter.

If nothing works, I’m going to have to find a sneaky way to figure out what size her shoes are and order her a replacement pair. I feel responsible since I was the one leading, so if need be I’ll be the one to pay to fix things. I know that Sparkledancer will probably read this and then call me or text me to argue this point… but she really can’t fight me over it. After all, I’m bigger than her, so she really can’t stop me. Plus, if I just buy the shoes and then give them to her husband, he’ll make sure that she uses them for me. One way or another, I’ll win.

Anyway… once we got all our marks back from the judges for the finals, it was clear that the last Tango and Foxtrot got marked a little lower than all the other Tango and Foxtrot rounds we did that day. That’s OK, it’s what I would expect. We still did really well all things considered, but I would bet that we would have done a little bit better without the shoe malfunction. So yeah… there’s really no way you can practice to recover from an unexpected event like that, so I don’t know if there’s anything we need to do to change the way we practice because of these particular results. The notes that we get back from Lord Dormamu on what he saw while judging us will be the areas that we’ll focus on instead, and I’ll just write off this incident as a fluke.

On Sunday afternoon, instead of staying home and relaxing I decided to head out to the Electric Dance Hall to watch the showcase performance that was scheduled for that day. Since I end up out at the Electric Dance Hall off and on to practice, I have seen quite a few of these performances throughout their stages of development, so I thought it would be good to go and support everyone, and also see the polished final products. It was actually a lot of fun for me to just sit and watch everything and talk with some of the people I recognized. There was some social dancing scheduled between acts, but I didn’t even bring my dance shoes with me to the party this time around. It was a nice little break for me!

(Just so you know, I did meet up with Sparkledancer earlier in the day on Sunday to practice, so it’s not like I didn’t also do some dancing on Sunday…)

This showcase had a vague theme that was outlined on the flyers for the event, and when I got to the Electric Dance Hall I saw a couple of people who were sort-of dressed up to fit with that theme, but the overall impression that I got from the performances was completely unrelated. So I’m not really sure if the theme had any real meaning for the day, or if the original plan called for the performances to be more theatrically appropriate, but that fell along the wayside somewhere.

Aside from the handful of performances that were group numbers, all of the other dances were done by Pro/Am pairs. That’s not really super meaningful one way or another, but it’s just something that I noticed. Usually during showcases I see one or two Amateur pairs performing, but there were none signed up this time around. The person who performed the most that day was actually Lord Junior for once. In the last few showcases I’ve been to that he’s hosted at his studio, usually there are other instructors signed up for a ton of dances. This time it was his students who had filled most of the slots. Good job Lord Junior!

You know who I did unexpectedly see performing again that day? Pompadour guy. Yeah, he showed up again, still giving off his strangely creepy vibe. I’m going to call him Sir Zippy just to make things easier. Actually, I got to see him earlier in the day before the show too. When I met up with Sparkledancer for practice, we had been dancing for about twenty minutes when Indiana showed up at the studio randomly. That was unexpected in and of itself, but then Sir Zippy also showed up! The two of them were going to be performing together at the showcase, doing the same number that they had danced during the last showcase when I first say Sir Zippy, so they were meeting up to get in a little practice before the event.

I did try to talk to Sir Zippy a bit that morning, to try and see if the creepy vibe coming off of him was all in my head or if he was actually a creep. However, I discovered that English is not his first language, so our conversation was… almost nonexistent. That didn’t help change my impression of the guy. Indiana had nothing but nice things to say about him, which kind-of helped… aside from the “funny” story she told me about how she was riding around in his car with him and the brakes apparently decided to quit working properly. He started to drive a bit erratically, but didn’t tell her anything was wrong until they got to their destination safely. Obviously they both managed to get out of that situation unharmed, which was great, but I just couldn’t see any humor in that. Maybe she needs to try telling me the story again with more animal puns? That might make it funny.

Other than Indiana and Sir Zippy performing together, there were a couple of other notable acts to mention. Indiana had brought her group of kids with her, and they performed one of the numbers that I saw them perform last month. I got to watch from a different angle this time, so that was fun. The Professor showed off a dance number with a bunch of ladies from his dance fitness class. I think the performance was intended to promote his class, and wasn’t put together specifically for the showcase. That guess is just based on all the repetitions of the same movements that they did during the song, which is something I would expect from a fitness class’ choreography, not a showcase performance choreography.

There were a couple of numbers that Lord Fabulous did with a few of his students. These were notable for a very different reason – which I noticed while he was dancing, and it was pointed out to me by another person watching the performance, AND was also pointed out to me by someone else before the class I went to Monday night. That’s how you know what he did was notable.

So what was it? Well, Lord Fabulous was being really, really, really forceful while leading those ladies through the performances. Like, to the point of being almost uncomfortable to watch. One of his students that he did a couple of dances with during the show was a much older woman who looked to be all skin and bones, and he was just shoving or pulling her roughly through every turn and rotation. There were a few points where it looked like he had used so much force that it caused her to over-rotate, and then she would get this confused look on her face as she tried to figure out on-the-spot how to recover properly.

I’m not sure if he was dancing like that at the show because of the adrenaline of performance or what. Sparkledancer has told me in the past that Lord Fabulous has an extremely forceful lead even during casual social dances, so maybe this was just the first time I really paid attention to how he dances from the outside. Crazy.

After all that, Monday night I got back to a bit of normalcy and headed out to Latin Technique class for the night. There were a couple of new faces that joined us in class – both of them were members of Lady Lovelylocks’ ‘Sexy Lady Formation Team Dance Club’ group that had performed at the showcase. They wanted to continue to improve at being Latin dancers, so they are going to start coming to Latin Technique to help out with that. Hooray!

One of them had asked Lord Junior if he could go over some basic Samba in class that night to get them started, and since he is such a nice guy he agreed. It was a little repetitive for me since we had just gone through Samba last week, but since Samba is one of those styles that I freely admit that I am not at all good at, I didn’t offer up any resistance to the idea. As it turned out, we didn’t do any partner work that day anyway, so I was able to work on trying to control my poor white boy hips in the back of the room all by myself without worrying about offending anyone else.

Interestingly enough, for a warm-up Lord Junior had everyone work on isolation exercises. They were just simple movements, like leaving your feet and shoulders still while moving your hips back and forth, or leaving your lower body still while moving your shoulders back and forth – all the ones he had us look at that night were core related, leaving the legs and arms out of the equation. He made a few remarks about how important these sorts of exercises were for dancing and improving flexibility, and how he really should make us all do more of them, but since they aren’t all that exciting he told us we should find a way to do them on our own time. I didn’t think that the exercises were all that challenging, but then again I do a lot of core exercises on my own time already. After all, that six-pack doesn’t maintain itself!

Once we finished up with that, Lord Junior moved us on to look at Whisks. For the new girls in class, he mentioned the basic forward-and-backward actions that is the actual Samba basic, but said that you rarely (if ever) see anyone doing those once you move beyond the basics since they are super boring. He likes to have his students think of the Whisk as the basic action instead, because it’s more fun. After the Whisk, he moved on to show the ladies the Botafogo, since in the Samba line dance that is popular in my neck of the woods that is the next figure that you see. Finally we looked at the Volta action, which is what we spent all kinds of time on in last week’s class. As class was winding down, we combined all three figures to run through everything slowly a few times with slowed down music.

Whew! I’m got tired all over again just typing all of these stories out. We’ll just call it good there for this week. I’ve already written much more than the self-imposed word limit I try to hold myself to (I fail at it a lot…). Until next time friends – keep on dancing!

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!