Said My Name Is Called Disturbance

A lot of the people I know in my neck of the woods were off at some big Pro/Am competition last Saturday, so my weekend got a bit switched around. All of the dance-related things that I normally do on Saturdays had to be done on Sunday, so all of the dance-related things that I would have otherwise done on Sunday I did on Saturday instead. By the time I was heading off to bed on Sunday night, I had to remind myself a couple of times to set my alarm to get up for work the next morning, because I was feeling a bit mixed up trying to remember what day it was.

On Sunday I had planned to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella so that the girls could continue to work on improving how Sparkledancer looks while in dance position. Much of our practice time over the prior week had been devoted to working on the Waltz, so Sparkledancer asked Lady Tella if she could start off looking at that style with us. Near the end Sparkledancer and Lady Tella switched over to looking at the Tango for a little while, since that style has positioning for the lady that is so different from every other style. Most everything that was talked about during this session didn’t really impact me, but there was one particular note that Lady Tella gave to me that I have two minds about, so I’ve been trying to digest what to do with the information since Sunday.

Lady Tella told me that while my posture is good and I am obviously much bigger than most male ballroom dancers, my presence on the floor needs to change slightly. She used the words “arrogant” and “haughty” to describe the look that she wanted to see me going for. I guess that in her experience being around male dancers in the Professional circuit where she competes with her partner, the really good men all strut around like peacocks with too many feathers up their backsides… or like nobility that is looking down on the peons. I do not look like that normally, as you can hopefully imagine, so she wants me to try to incorporate that into my presence while I am dancing.

This bothers me a little. I guess on one hand I can understand why really high level dancers would want to pass themselves off in this way. For one thing, that is essentially the mental picture that most people have in the back of their minds of ballroom dances: the suave prince who is hosting a ball, and waltzing around the floor with a princess. In that scene, of course the guy is going to hold himself above all the others. He’s the frickin’ prince, so the peons (historically speaking, of course) are actually below him. For another thing, wandering around looking like this for most guys will make them look even stronger and more confident, like they are definitely the ones in control of the situation. During a competition, looking like you ‘own’ the place can be very advantageous.

Even though I can understand this in that sense, I have to say that it feels wrong to me to try to dance while in that mindset. I don’t like even pretending to be haughty or arrogant. Trying to be arrogant does not feel natural to me, and I can’t say that I particularly enjoy being in that sort of mindset, even if it’s just for a performance. That’s not how I was raised, and part of me thinks that my mother would smack me upside the head if she ever caught me looking like that. I much prefer to be charismatic, approachable, happy, and maybe even a little funny if I can pull it off while I’m dancing.

The bigger question that this raises for me is… why have high level male competitors over the years decided that this is the best way to portray themselves anyway?

When I think about going out and being a dance ambassador, trying to convince people to try out ballroom dancing for themselves, I can’t say that being arrogant or haughty would pass off as an enticing selling point to people who have never set foot in this world before. If anything, I think that me looking arrogant would actually dissuade people from wanting to come out and dance with me. So why in the world would I want to act that way during a competition? Since competitions seem to be the only part of this sport that is ever broadcast on television, do you think that someone tuning in and watching a bunch of haughty-looking men out on the dance floor would suddenly think to themselves ‘Huh, that definitely looks like something I want to try. Where do I sign up?’

Somewhere along the way the idea of ballroom dancing seems to have gotten twisted. Instead of being a social activity that we can all go out and do for either fun or sport (or both), it’s turned into this world where you have to look and act a certain way to fit in and do well: old men complain about people who show up at social dances wearing jeans; during competitions, it is entirely possible for a couple to be judged based on appearance rather than purely on skill; knowing the right people can help you advance further – and usually ‘knowing’ people involves spending money to take lessons from or go to events hosted by said people. All of this adds up to make the world of ballroom dancing appear to be a world where only those well-to-do enough hang out, and people of lesser means get scared away before their own adventures in dancing even get started.

So what is a poor boy like me to do? I mean, aside from singing for a rock ‘n’ roll band, of course. Do I take the advice of this young lady who I was working with on Sunday and pretend to be more haughty and arrogant when I am out on the dance floor competing, because that is what the recommended look is? Since I can’t really watch myself very well while I dance, and videos I take really only show me a limited amount once I move away from them, I can’t tell with my own eyes if the act I would be putting on really does make me look better while dancing. Or do I fight against that notion and be more like my normal persona? If I can prove to others that I can do well while appearing to be charismatic and approachable, perhaps I can use that as a selling point to others who have never danced before and say ‘hey, if I can do this, you could totally do it too!’

I don’t have an answer at the moment. I think I’m going to have to noodle on this a bit more before I can figure out what the best answer for me actually is.

*    *    *

Well… that went off on a bit of a tangent, didn’t it?

In Latin Technique class this week we looked at some Cha-Cha. Lord Junior had been having a conversation with one of his more advanced students before class started about a particular concept in Cha-Cha, and being the nice guy that he is, he wanted to talk about the concept with the whole class once we got started. This was mostly something that would be useful to ladies, but Lord Junior said there were some specific places that men could use this trick as well, depending on the choreography that was being used.

The idea was this: in Cha-Cha, what you see high-level dancers doing nowadays is replacing spots where they would normally do a Turning Walk action with a Straight Leg Pivot. He demonstrated this using a fairly simple figure that most ladies have done before, which was the Hockey Stick. During a normal Hockey Stick, on step seven the ladies will do a Turning Forward Walk that rotates ⅜ of a turn to the right. Now picture this: on step seven when you step forward onto your straight right leg, you leave the left leg behind you and pivot for ⅜ of a turn on the right foot. When you finish the pivot, the left leg is already in the right position for your next step backward onto it with no additional leg action needed, speeding up the entire movement by a fraction.

What makes this simple-sounding concept more advanced than the Turning Walk action is that you have to do it well, so that it actually looks like you are doing a Straight Leg Pivot on purpose. If you don’t keep your leg lines crisp and the pivot precise, you run the risk of it looking like you just messed up while doing a Turning Walk and are just trying to fake something until you can get back into the correct choreography. If you want to do this substitution during a competition, make sure that you practice enough so that the change looks clean, otherwise a judge could fault you for it. Oh yeah, and avoid making this change until you hit Open-level choreography. If you try this in Syllabus rounds, you can get faulted for it, since the official syllabus figures are still written as Turning Walk actions.

To practice this action, we were given a short progression during class to work with that incorporated the example used in demonstration. We started right off with the ladies already out in Fan Position, closing them into a Hockey Stick while the guys did a Slip Chasse. After we finished the Forward Lock in the Hockey Stick, Lord Junior had us do something a bit silly to let the ladies also  work on their hip actions that night. The guys would step forward and point their opposite leg to the side for three steps while the ladies were doing Batucadas, an action you normally see in Samba. At the end of the three pointing steps, we did two quick steps forward to end up on our right leg (ladies on their left).

From here we did a normal checking action into a basic Backward Lock Step. To finish everything off, Lord Junior had the guys just transfer their weight onto their right leg to get close to the lady, which stopped her from moving any farther forward. She would then raise her right leg up while balancing on her left leg, putting her into a line that looked kind of like a flamingo to me. The guys then lunged out to our left side while twisting to give the lady more of our left arm, which would help her rotate her body a bit further while she was still up on one leg, before we led her across our body at the last moment for a three-step turning motion that put her back out into Fan Position. The guys could either do a small chasse to the right here, or if the lady didn’t travel all that far we could just step to the right and hold to make our own movement smaller.

Standard Technique class this week was a lot of fun. This was the first week in a really, really long time that there was no one else in the studio except for those of us who were there for Standard Technique class. I don’t mention it much (not really at all), and I don’t show it in pictures very often, but the Electric Dance Hall usually has tons of activity going on. I would make the argument that it’s the busiest dance studio within an hour drive of my house – and there are quite a few dance studios to choose from in that radius, so that’s really saying something. To have the whole floor free for a single group class was pretty awesome.

To capitalize on our good fortune, Lord Junior had us work on some Quickstep, and gave us what almost amounted to a full competition routine. Some of us were able to use the progression to easily cover three-quarters of the loop around the floor. He would have given us more, but we ran out of time just trying to practice what we had at the end of our time that night enough so that all the ladies could get through it well. I specifically say ladies here because there were five women in class, but only Lord Junior and I to dance with them, so he and I got to practice the figures quite a bit more than all of the ladies that night.

We started off in the corner of the long wall, facing diagonal center. After a prep step we went into two Forward Lock Steps that were in Pepperpot timing (for those of you who don’t know, “Pepperpot timing” is five steps done at a count of ‘quick-and-quick, quick, quick’). Depending on who you are dancing with, these two Forward Lock Steps can cover a significant amount of ground, so you may need to adjust your angle slightly to avoid crossing into traffic on the other side of the dance floor. Lucky for me that the dance floor was completely empty during class, right? After the two Forward Lock Steps, we went into a Quick Open Reverse followed immediately by a Four Quick Run, finishing with a basic Natural Turn. That chain of figures was enough to put us into the far corner on the first long wall.

To turn the corner we did a Running Natural Spin Turn and used that to go into a Backward Lock Step. How much the Running Spin Turn was actually turned really depended on how far down the floor you and your partner managed to get as you traveled down the long wall. If you ended up with some space between you and the wall, the Running Spin Turn should end with you backing diagonal wall on the short wall, and the Backward Lock Step will then follow that path. If you and your partner end the long wall right against the short wall, you have to underturn the Running Spin Turn and end backing line of dance, then take the Backward Lock Step that direction to avoid crashing into the wall.

Most of us were able to easily cover the entire length of the short wall with those two figures, so at the end of the Backward Lock Step we used a Running Finish and another Natural Turn to turn the second corner. At this point we did an Overturned Open Telemark, which I think was the hardest figure we did all night, since a Heel Turn is not something you can easily do in Quickstep at tempo. Coming out of the Overturned Open Telemark put us in Promenade Position facing line of dance. Here we did a step and hop action over the next two beats of music followed by a Promenade Chasse that was in Pepperpot timing, and then we repeated that amalgamation one more time. We ended the progression by just taking a few steps that ‘ran’ forward, using those to bleed off any momentum that we had left.

Have I mentioned that I’m doing another competition in a few weeks? I’m pretty sure it’s scheduled over the last weekend of this month, but I don’t have my calendar in front of me to confirm that for sure. I know I’ll be there for sure whatever date it actually is, since I already paid my entry fee and signed up for the rounds I wanted. Is it terrible that I can’t remember the exact date right now, and I really can’t bring myself to either get up and go look at my calendar, or open another tab in my browser to look up the information online? I am so lazy sometimes…

But that’s what all my practice work has been preparing for lately. Here’s hoping that the field of competitors at this event is pretty large and that I haven’t danced against most of them before in previous competitions. I feel like I would get a better read on how well I’m doing if I can face off against more people, rather than the same people over and over again.

We’ll start the countdown and see what happens soon!

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Open Up Your Eyes, Life Is Poetry In Motion

Saturday morning I had two coaching sessions scheduled again, much like last week. This week we managed to get to both lessons in the order that they were originally set up, though a bit behind schedule. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall about a half-hour early to stretch out and warm up, like usual. Lord Dormamu was there giving another lesson at the time, so I knew he was already in the building (always a good sign). A few minutes later when he noticed me stretching out my shoulders near the mirrors, he stepped away from his lesson to come over, greet me and ask if I had a lesson with him first or with Sir Steven. I told him that my calendar said it was him, so he nodded and said that he was running about twenty minutes behind. That gave me almost an hour to warm up instead of the half-hour I had planned on.

I felt like we did actually show some progress in our Foxtrot that day, which is always a good feeling. We got to look at the end portion of the short wall in the routine, if you can believe that. One point we spent some time covering was my Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Ending. Lord Dormamu showed me why my Heel Turn in that figure tended to get messed up. Many people over the years have shown me how to do a Heel Turn – going slowly, you take a step backward (or back on an angle), pull your other heel back to line up with your standing foot, turn however much you need to rotate, rise up on the balls of your feet and then step out onto the ball of the opposite foot. Over and over again I’ve practiced doing Heel Turns just like that.

The issue with my Natural Closed Impetus is that the lady is stepping between my feet, so if I take a step back and to the left and then attempt to pull my right heel to meet my left, there’s a foot in the way. So in the middle of a routine there tends to be some fumbling and stumbling while I attempt to make the turn work without stopping when my foot would run into my partner’s foot. I generally manage to recover fully by the time I hit the Feather Finish. Lord Dormamu looked at what I was doing and told me immediately that my step backward and my turn should not be two separate movements. If I step backward and begin to pivot on my left leg, then as I am pulling my right heel back my right foot will naturally arc around where my partner’s foot as I turn. Basically all that practice I did in the past where I would pull my heels together before turning was what was holding me back. Sigh…

This also led us to a discussion about our Feather Endings and how he thought we were rotating as we went through them. Lord Dormamu explained that the most important thing about the Feather Ending is that it is the ending, so before you take those two steps you have to already have your body in the correct position. If you rotate yourself at all to get into the correct position during the two steps of a Feather Ending, you are doing it wrong and will get marked down. Yet another good point that I’ve never really thought about before until he said it out loud. I’m making a note of it here so that I won’t forget about it in the future.

Skipping ahead… later that night I was out to help host a dance party with the rest of my Royal Dance Court crew. To celebrate the beginning of summer, we had managed to get the famous Mr. Rubber-legs to come in and teach a Shag lesson to everyone. We had booked him for one of our dance parties last year and had such an overwhelmingly positive response, so it seemed natural to have him come back again. The endeavor seemed to really pay off. When Mr. Rubber-legs started teaching his class that night, we had about twenty-five people out on the dance floor by my count. There were quite a few more women than men, so I ended up jumping into the line during class to help out. By the time the class finished up, so many more people had shown up that our line of dancers was running out of space. The count I heard later was that we had more than fifty people show up! I guess half of them missed the memo on what time class started…

The lesson that Mr. Rubber-legs gave that night was pretty much the same one he gave during the party last year. We spent a lot of time (waaaaaay more time than I thought was necessary) to cover the Shag basic. I’m talking like half the hour was spent just going over that one figure. Once he felt that everyone could do the basic, he had us look at a starter step for Shag so that everyone knew how to begin a dance. This basically amounted to getting into a closed dance position and doing a Throwout-like movement. After people got those two figures, Mr. Rubber-legs covered two different basic turns that you could use. At the end of class since there were a couple of minutes left over, he showed everyone how they could transition from the normal open dance position to the closed one used in the starter step, allowing people to dance a basic pattern that could be repeated by going to closed position at the end and repeating the starter step. Nothing too fancy.

I had thought that the DJ would play more Shag numbers that night for the people who came to the party specifically to see Mr. Rubber-legs, but there weren’t that many more Swing songs of any variety than I would normally expect to hear. The ratio of men to women as the party got started was actually really good. We must have had a large number of single men show up after the class got started, because there were a lot more women than men when I joined class, but I was hardly needed to entertain ladies during the dance party. So I spent time that night dealing with… other issues.

HotDog was in high form that night. Originally he had decided to come out to the party because he has taken classes from Mr. Rubber-legs in the past, so he considers himself to be a Shag connoisseur. His quest to show off in front of everyone was quickly derailed by the appearance of two attractive young ladies. One was Juniper, whom I was glad to see out and about on the dance floor that night. She had been away for a while because she fractured a bone in her foot, so I was happy to see that it was finally healed enough for her to begin dancing again. I actually took her out for her first dance of the night to say hi to her. The other was a sorority sister of Prez’s daughter, whom Prez had invited to the party because the girl was curious about dancing. This young lady mostly wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch to see if ballroom dancing was a hobby that she was really interested in taking up.

As I’ve mentioned before, HotDog is a horndog when attractive ladies show up. I found out later that HotDog was texting Sparkledancer for days after the party, asking her to tell him Juniper’s name and how he could get in touch with her. He also spent quite a while awkwardly trying to talk to the sorority girl. She managed to fend off his requests to try dancing, and eventually she got up to come hang out at the front counter near where some of us from the Royal Dance Court were running things. When I caught her making a beeline away from HotDog, I took the opportunity to maneuver myself between where he was and where she was, playing human barricade. That was enough to send HotDog off to find a different girl to dance with.

I made a point to apologize to sorority girl for his creepiness, and she just laughed and said that she’s used to guys like him. Since I had heard Prez mention how this girl was interested in possibly taking up ballroom dancing before the party started, I then put on my Dance Ambassador hat and talked with her about dancing for quite a while. I regaled her with stories of the fun and crazy dance-related things I’ve done since I started dancing all those years ago, and I even waved Sparkledancer over so that she could tell the girl all about sparkly dance dress things (a topic I am not all that well versed in). The girl seemed genuinely interested, and I hope that means we could actually see her come back again, but next time as a participant instead of just an observer.

Now for the thing I did this week that was really outside of my normal schedule…

Sunday afternoon I got to have a coaching session with one of those crazy world-renowned International Standard instructors that travel around spreading their wisdom (for a fee, of course). We’ll call this guy… Lord Maple, since it makes me laugh (this gentleman comes to us from a land up north that you may have crossed into during your own travels). A few weeks ago, Lord Junior mentioned to Sparkledancer and I during one of our practice sessions that he would be bringing Lord Maple in for one day to give coaching sessions to a number of his students, and if we were interested in reserving one of the 45-minute slots that day he would be happy to put our names on the list. Sparkledancer told Lord Junior that she had really enjoyed the class that Lord Maple taught last time Lord Junior had brought him in about a year ago, so she was totally going to sign up.

She then turned to me and asked me if I would do the lesson with her, because it would be easier to show Lord Maple her routines if I were there to lead. I told her that if we scheduled this coaching session at the same time we would have normally been meeting up for practice that day, then I would already have the time set aside in my calendar anyway. This would be a nice (albeit more expensive) way to get some outside feedback on how we’ve been doing since we started taking things more seriously at the beginning of the year.

In order to make sure that this coaching session would be worthwhile, I convinced myself to get up earlier than usual on Sunday so that I could stretch out and warm up my body thoroughly before leaving the house. That way I wouldn’t show up to meet Lord Maple in the afternoon and hear him tell me that my problem is that I need to take bigger steps to travel more all because my legs are still half-asleep. I also got Sparkledancer to agree to meet me out at the Electric Dance Hall an hour before the coaching session so that we could dance for a while, helping to further ensure that I was all ready to go. It turned out that taking those precautions was the right call.

Sparkledancer and I had agreed to have Lord Maple look over our Foxtrot with us, since that is what we have been going over with Lord Dormamu recently. After some brief introductions and telling him about our dance experience, Lord Maple asked us to dance our Foxtrot routine together. Then he asked both of us to dance the same thing again with him so that he could get a better feel for what each of us were doing during our steps. When we finished that exercise, he told me that he really liked my forward driving movements during the dance, since they were quite clear and strong, and he could easily follow what I was trying to lead him to do. I may have done a little happy celebration upon hearing that. Then he asked me to dance through it with him again, and this time he would add in all the parts that he thought I was missing when we danced the first time.

When we finished going through the first wall of my routine, Lord Maple stopped and asked me what was different this time through. I told him that he had been emphasizing the shaping a lot more than I had been, partly because I had been told by Lord Dormamu to not worry about anything else other than working on how I drive my Foxtrot from my standing leg and pelvis. He told me that was one way to describe it, and then listed off a bunch of other words that could be used to also describe it depending on who my teacher was and what country they hailed from originally, but basically what he was seeing that I needed to work on all came down to how ‘powerful’ I was when dancing.

Lord Maple told us a story about how he used to want to be described as a powerful dancer when he read articles about himself. He eventually found a female coach to work with, and she asked him what he thought it meant to be powerful. That’s when Lord Maple gestured at me and started to flex his upper body, saying that he used to think power came from looking super muscular and manly, but this female coach stopped him and said that as a dancer, being powerful comes from being the person that shows the most movement from each step that they take. That’s basically what Lord Maple says that I am missing to take my Foxtrot (and other dances, by extension) to the next level.

To show me how I should be doing this, Lord Maple actually started by working with Sparkledancer. He wanted her to make sure that she is moving herself out of the way for each step so that I would have plenty of room to really take my steps. They danced for a bit with him trying to explain the concept to her, and then he thought of an exercise that someone had shown him a long time ago that he thought would help the two of us with the idea. After searching around the studio for a few minutes with Lord Junior’s help, he came back with a scarf that he rolled up and held taut between his hands.

The scarf is used to give you an actual visual representation of the line your hips are making (and by extension, your shoulders and elbows, since they should be on the same line when you are in a proper frame). It was supposed to be a towel, but we were working with what we could find. If you roll up a towel and hold it stretched between your hands on both sides of your pelvis, this shows the straight line your hips make when they are at rest. Then we started to dance. The first step we covered was the Feather. As you do a Feather in Foxtrot, your left foot is the first leg that you step with, so you need to involve your whole left side as you dance through the figure until the next time you get to neutral (which is normally before you go into the next figure). You can emphasize this by rolling the towel with your left hand, as if you were wringing water out.

This was a fairly simple but eye-opening exercise to do. The way we wrung the towel basically changed from hand-to-hand as we moved through the figures in our routine. The Feather used the left hand, the Reverse Turn used the right, the Feather Ending of the Reverse Turn the left, the Three Step the right, etc. etc.. If you use this exercise to help you see the lead with the proper side of your body, it should get the whole body involved as you move. That helps you feel like you are taking steps not just with your legs, but all the way from your upper back. Rise and fall will happen naturally in the figures if the whole body is engaged. It also easily eliminated the issue where it looked like I was dancing in a constant squat, since stepping with my whole body allows me to naturally straighten my legs as I move. Funny how that works, right?

This is another one of those lessons where it really shows that the techniques that instructors harp on in the early days (rise and fall, heel vs. toe steps) shouldn’t have to be forced or remembered. If the underlying mechanics of how you move are correct, those techniques happen automatically.

Wednesday class was cancelled this week because Lord Junior’s wife had some event scheduled that he needed to attend, so the only group class that I went to this week was Monday night’s Latin Technique class. We looked at Jive for the first time in quite a while. Jive was actually not my first choice for the night, since A) my first choice is always Pasodoble, because I think it’s the most fun and B) it had been leg day for me that day, so my legs were already feeling exhausted from my pre-class workout. I always grit my teeth on the nights when my leg workouts happen to correspond with nights I’m going to be dancing, since I know working out my legs will make things harder than normal.

That was certainly true on Monday night. We always start off any class where we look at Jive by going over the basic triple-steps slowly since Lord Junior thinks everyone should continuously work to improve those. At the beginning when we were going slow, my triple-steps in the figures looked and felt pretty good. By the end, since I did a lot of dancing that night to give all the ladies enough chances to practice, my legs felt like jelly and I’m sure my triple-steps had devolved to look more like fast-ish East Coast Swing instead of Jive. No one said anything though, so I must not have looked all that bad…

We only looked at two variations of two different figures that night: Spanish Arms and Rolling Off the Arm. Starting with the Spanish Arms, we covered the normal configuration of the figure, and then the ‘cooler version’ (according to Lord Junior) where we led the lady to do an extra turn as we unwind her. After doing the two different variations independently we then chained them together, doing the basic version followed immediately by the more advanced version. I will admit that there were a few times when I got over-eager and ended up turning the ladies for both.

The Rolling Off the Arm figure was done the same way. There was the basic by-the-book version, and then a more advanced version where we led the lady to do an extra turn as she is rolling off of our right arm. As before, we did the two variations independently, and then chained them together. After everyone was comfortable with all four different figures, we strung them all together – starting with the basic Spanish Arms, the advanced variation, a single Jive basic to compose ourselves and then the basic Rolling Off the Arm followed by the more advanced version. This small pattern is what we ended up putting to music, starting off slowly and finishing at tempo. The last run-through we did with each partner at tempo was really where I felt that my Jive basics were lacking, but I worked hard that night, so I feel like I should at least get partial credit for finishing to the end.

I am hoping that this weekend stays fairly quiet for me. I haven’t had much of a chance to really practice the things that I worked on in any of my coaching sessions last weekend, and I’d like to spend a few hours working through those items. We’ll have to see if anyone makes a convincing argument to me about going to a dance party somewhere!

We Back In The Club, With Our Bodies Rocking From Side To Side

When I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer this past Saturday afternoon at the Fancy Dance Hall, other people were practicing some things on the dance floor, so we were told that we were going to keep things contained to the back half of the room to avoid running into anyone. I have to say that I am quite happy with the way I was able to manipulate my routines djgotusfallininlove1to use the space without having to take tiny steps. As we have been doing recently, we started the afternoon off by looking at our International Standard routines. I threw Sparkledancer for a loop at first with the Waltz, since I took off and used the figures from the first long wall to cover two “walls” in our half-room, and then did the same with the figures from the next short wall, and so on and so forth. Doing so had us turning twice as many corners and covering twice as many ‘walls’ as the routine would normally, but this allowed us to do all the figures using our normal stride length. Once we got through the Waltz routine, Sparkledancer was on board with what was going on and was right there with me for the others as I tried the same thing.

The only routine that gave me a bit of trouble was the Quickstep, and that was really only because of the speed at which we were moving. I still managed to figure out how to make it work, but this one did not seem quite as smooth as the others did when I would get to a corner and have to turn more abruptly than I would have liked. After we had finished running through all of the International Standard routines once, we changed gears and spent more time working on proper swing technique in our steps. This time we worked on applying the technique in International Foxtrot and Quickstep rather than in Waltz like we had done last week. We spent most of the hour working on that, and it was not until right at the end that we switched over to quickly look at a few pieces of our American Tango and the new pieces of our American Waltz that we had added in last week.

This past Saturday night I was invited to go out with some people I often dance with to a non-ballroom dance club, just to screw around and dance for a while. I cannot decide if they invited me more because of the fact that I am a boy who knows how to dance, or because I do not drink so I am an easy pick to be the designated driver. Whatever the case, I ended up at a djgotusfallininlove2place I will call the Pendulum Dance Hall. I did not know it before heading out there, but even though it was the first day of October they were holding a Halloween costume party. Had I known, I would have thrown together some kind of outfit for the night instead of just being out there in my street clothes. I’m pretty sure that the only thing that saved me from being really out of place were my dance skills. People are able to overlook a lack of costume if you can dance.

I will freely admit that I am incredibly bad at trying to dance without using things I learned in my travels throughout the Dance Kingdom. I think no matter what lady I was dancing with or what song was playing, I was usually dancing something that was either a direct figure or some modified version of a figure I learned in a ballroom class somewhere. If I was dancing with Sparkledancer, then they were for sure real syllabus figures that I knew. Most of the songs that were being played that night lent themselves to using figures from either East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Cha-Cha, Mambo/Salsa or Rumba. Doing West Coast Swing was the hardest one that night because of how crowded the dance floor would get during some songs. The other styles I was able to keep contained to a small area on the floor, but I still gravitated toward dancing near a wall with my back to the crowd to protect my lady friends from the other people jostling around.

The dance floor was tiny compared to what I am normally used to, because much of the building area was reserved for the seating area or for the bar (things that actually make the place money, I’m sure). The booths and chairs were arranged so that people sitting could easily see what was going on out on the dance floor. Because of that, both Sparkledancer and I had a lot of people who approached us to tell us how much they liked the way we danced, and a couple of people even asked us where we learned the things we knew. There was even this one couple who approached me and asked if I could recommend a place to them based on where they lived in the Dance Kingdom that they could go and take some lessons too. I’m glad I remembered to bring my Dance Ambassador hat with me that night so that I could be helpful. I haven’t really worn that hat in a while, and it felt good to pull it back out and blow off all the dust. Maybe I’ll even see some of those people on the dance floor in the future!

On Monday night while I was out at Latin Technique class, we all decided to look at Rumba since we had not done that for a few weeks. We started out by warming up looking at Latin Walks in slow motion. As good as it is to practice doing Latin Walks that slowly, it is way more difficult to do things correctly when moving at that rate of speed than it is to go closer to actual tempo. Afterward a grueling ten minutes of slow walking, we put together a little pattern of figures to work on for the evening.

To force us to use the Latin Walks that we had just practiced, we started with the Leaders and Followers split apart about ten feet on the floor facing each other. To get together, we each took djgotusfallininlove3two steps forward to get close enough to clasp hands, and then the gentlemen took a third step to the side while the ladies took one final step forward . This set us up to transition easily into a Natural Top. To keep things fun for everyone, the first measure of the Natural Top was normal, then the second was in syncopated timing, adding in an extra step forward with our right foot at the end. We then turned the ladies around and went into an Opening Out action. When we lined back up into dance position, we had the ladies do a couple of side-to-side Swivels while the gentlemen just rocked back and forth in place. We did four such Swivels, and on the fifth we turned the ladies abruptly around while she was on our right side and she brought her left knee up (kind of like she was balancing in Tree Pose). We held this line for a few beats, and after the ladies brought their leg back down to stand on two feet again, we rolled her out quickly into Fan Position to finish the pattern.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday night started out a bit different from usual. Lord Junior actually had a video that he wanted to show the four ladies who had come to class of some super-high level dancers. He wanted them to see that all of the time he spends telling djgotusfallininlove4them about how they need to stay out to the left is not just because it amuses him, but that if they were to get better and ascend the ranks of dancers in the world that staying out to the left actually becomes a necessity. Lord Junior is on the technologically challenged side of things, so even though there is a big TV hanging in the studio, he did not know how to hook his phone up to it and project the video. The all gathered around on one of the couches to lean over the small device and watch. There was not a lot of room in that huddle, so I went out onto the dance floor by myself to spin around and wait until they wrapped up movie time.

Once everyone finished watching the video, they all came out to the floor so that we could start working on things. The dancers in the video had been doing Quickstep, so that was the dance style that we went with, giving the ladies a chance to emulate the things they had seen done. The pattern of figures we ended up with started out pretty simply, but got into a lot of super-fast footwork by the end. We started with a Natural Turn into a Natural Spin Turn – a pretty common and easy way to start any pattern. Then we looked at the V6 figure, first in its by-the-book form, but we ended up changing the last piece of it to make things slightly more complicated. Normally a V6 is a Backward Lock Step going into an Outside Change followed by a Forward Lock (for some reason if you string those three figures together, they are given a whole new name, even though each individual piece already has a name). Lord Junior had us take out the Forward Lock and instead do one slow step forward followed by a quick shift into Promenade Position to do a syncopated Progressive Chasse in Promenade Position.

But wait, the fun was just beginning to start there! At the end of the Progressive Chasse we did two Step Hops, which look exactly like how the name describes them. Hopping rotated us around slightly less than 90° in the process so that when we landed the second time the Lead’s back was to the wall. After that, we did another syncopated Progressive Chasse, this time one moving to the Right down the line of dance. At the end, we did a third Step Hop to turn a full 90° as if we had been in a corner and for good measure we tacked on one last Progressive Chasse, this time moving to the Left again. Because of the rate of speed we were going, Lord Junior decided to have us do this Progressive Chasse in Pepperpot timing rather than syncopated, which allowed us to put the brakes on our movement so that we could end the whole progression safely.

I am super excited for Saturday afternoon. There is going to be some big meeting that the Royal Dance Court (which I am a member of) was asked to come sit in on, allowing us to represent our dance constituents during the discussions. Since Sparkledancer and I are so much younger than everyone else who would be going to this meeting, we were both asked if we could make an appearance. Maybe to shake things up a bit, maybe to learn more about dance politics – I’m not entirely sure what we’ll end up doing. I find dance politics much more interesting than actual politics, so I’m pretty excited to go to this meeting and see what kinds of topics are brought up for the group to talk about. Who knows what kinds of exciting and crazy things will be discussed! I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!

Hey, I Just Met You, And This Is Crazy…

Hustle class this past Friday ended up being a bit boring. Somehow we had more men than women for the class. I was really surprised at that; that almost never happens. We had started out doing rather simple things again, and since I had a lot of time where I wasn’t dancing with a partner, I started going through the Follower’s steps just to challenge myself. I’m not sure if I could now go through and follow someone’s lead through all the figures, but I would have a better chance now of faking it at least. We managed to get to get through doing the closed- and open-position basic figures and a couple of different turns. Sir Steven spent a few minutes explaining why we were going through and doing the basics without the rock step like we had done the previous two weeks. Basically it comes down to the way that the Hustle has evolved over the years as a ballroom dance style. The rock step is the way they did things back in the ‘70s, and having the men point their legs off to the side is the more modern style. Either way will work, he just said that whatever is picked when you start dancing to a song, you stay consistent until the end of song to keep your Follower happy. Near the end of class we started to talk about the way to do a figure called the Half-Nelson. We spent time going through how best to get the lady’s arm twisted around behind her back without yanking the arm out of the socket. We never got the chance to finish up the figure beyond the arm position before time ran out, but Sir Steven did demonstrate how the full figure looked with Points to show the entire class so that they had something to look forward to doing in next Friday’s class.

Everyone was finally back from their vacations this past Saturday, so I got to meet up with both Sparkledancer and Sir Steven in the afternoon for coaching, and get back to work. I had talked to Sparkledancer on the phone after what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, because she wanted some further explanation of what I was talking about that Sir Steven and I had worked on during out time without her. Let me tell you, when we finally got together and Sir Steven could both demonstrate the idea with her, and then I could try it out, and there wasn’t that awkward half-hearted attempt we both had trying to fake it with each other, things made a lot more sense. CallMeMaybe1Sparkledancer ended up being totally cool with the pelvic thrust idea. Sure, there was a bit of giggling the first couple of times we did certain things (honestly, I think that deep down, none of us really progress beyond awkward teenager mentality), but we managed to work through things pretty well. It’s going to take some practice for sure, but I have a good feeling we’ll be able to manage this new concept together. It will add one more thing to the list of things that I do while dancing that would sound awkward if I tried to explain it to non-dancers, so I will probably never tell my family or friends about it. That’s another reason why I explain things here in my dance notes, behind the veil of Internet anonymity! Plus, a few of you have probably tried the technique before, either having pressed your core forward into your partner to make them stretch back, or having stretched back because you felt your partner press their core into you. It truly only looks like a pelvic thrust when I am watching myself try to do it in a mirror without a partner, I promise. With an actual partner, it doesn’t look out of the ordinary at all.

We worked through that particular concept with the first part of both our Foxtrot and Waltz routines. We didn’t go through the whole routines – Sparkledancer had asked at the beginning of the lesson to take things easy on her, because she was worried that she would have forgotten everything in her two weeks off. There was one point when Sir Steven was going over a part in our Foxtrot routine, and comparing the things he wanted to see us doing to the Wing figure that he saw us doing in Waltz during the last workshop we went to with Judge Dread. After going over everything, he asked us to put it into the routine and see how it looked. I stepped through the portion of the routine with Sparkledancer fast before we went through anything with any kind of rhythm or technique, because she was giving me a look that told me she didn’t know what portion of the routine we were going through. That helped get us both on the same page. Once we got done working through Waltz, we changed gears (and shoes) and looked at Cha-Cha for a while. We managed to move beyond doing the basic chasses that day with both of us there, and we got into doing New Yorkers. Somehow, when working on technique in either Latin or Rhythm dances, it always comes back to doing New Yorkers. I’m not sure why that is…

I convinced Sparkledancer to come to the dance party that was going on that night so that we would have a chance to walk through some things once or twice. The dance party was going to be all kinds of fun because I found out that Indiana was going to be teaching a lesson beforehand, and I haven’t had a chance to see her in quite a while. Before the party started, I was standing over in the corner talking with some of the other people I knew about life and dancing and whatnot, and Indiana came over to join us. She was worn out from having been in heels all day teaching a children’s ballroom workshop. I guess the children she works with have a bit more… enthusiasm… than her older students. She asked about the Cha-Cha class she was planning on doing, to see if she could figure out something that we didn’t already know to go over. I thought that was really cool of her. When the class started, there were a few people in attendance who had no Cha-Cha background at all, so we spent the first twenty minutes or so just going through the basics. When we had everyone on the same page, she had us go through a figure where the Leads would do a turn and swap hands behind our backs before chasseing to the left perpendicular to the Follower CallMeMaybe2while she did a forward Lock Step. When we got to the end of the chasse, the Follower would start doing a Crossover Break, but we would stop her with our left arm, and then we would chasse to the right while the Follower did a three-step turn in front of us. At the end of the chasse, we would switch hands and do a New Yorker with our partner to bleed off the momentum from the previous move, and then we could go on to whatever else we wanted.

The dance afterward was a good time. Sparkledancer and I didn’t get to practice together as much as I had hoped for; since she had been gone for so long she had to catch up with everyone she knew that was there, which turned out to be really good for her (more on that later). I got to watch the spectacle of HotDog making a move on one of the ladies that came from the Great Dance Hall by the Lake. There is a group of them that has been coming to a lot of events lately. We’ll call them the Condiment Kids. Three of the four were there that night – two of the girls (Mayo and Relish) and their male cohort Mustard. Anyway, HotDog made the mistake of letting people know that he was interested in Relish (as many a good hot dog would be), so Sparkledancer asked him if he was going to get her phone number. He made some offhanded comment that it would be super easy to get, and would only take him a few seconds, so Sparkledancer told him that she wouldn’t believe him until it actually happened. For the record, it didn’t take a few seconds for him to do it – he actually waited until he was just about to leave the party for the night, after she had had a couple of glasses of wine before he asked her. CallMeMaybe3He did succeed in getting her number, so good for him, but it wasn’t as quick of a process as he boasted about. So to finish what I mentioned earlier… being all danced out for the night, a bunch of us ‘kids’ were heading out to make our way home. As we walked by the front desk, The Prez asked Sparkledancer if she could talk for a few minutes before she left, so Sparkledancer bid HotDog and I good night and we took off. Sparkledancer called me before I got home, excited to tell me all about her talk – apparently The Prez thinks that she is so good at talking to everyone and being a Dance Ambassador that she wants Sparkledancer to join the local Royal Dance Court. There are some things that Sparkledancer would have to finish up first, but I think she is going to do it. I have to say, I am pretty jealous of that. I am going to have to step up my game and be a better Dance Ambassador so that maybe someday I could be asked to become a member of a Royal Dance Court. Do you think that kind of power would go to my head?

During Latin Technique class Monday night we did some Rumba. We had a new face join us in class this week. Actually, she’s not really a new face, I’ve talked to her quite a bit, but she has never come to that class before. I’m going to have to call her Bean (it makes me laugh). Bean has told me that she used to teach Yoga, and now she is interested in becoming a dance teacher. Lord Junior has taken her under his wing, so I have seen her around the Electric Dance Hall quite a bit. The figure that Lord Junior wanted to work on in Rumba was the Opening Outs, but we got into them from a Natural Top and then had the lady do a Spiral out of it. He wanted the ladies to do the fancier version of the Opening Outs where it looks like they put their arm out, then retract it, then put it out again before the Lead flips them over to the other side to repeat with their other arm. This was a fairly easy step for the guys, since our part is just a Cucaracha whether the lady is doing the fancy arms or not. Dancing with Bean was interesting – we had never really danced together before, and she is tiny. I felt like if I accidentally flexed my CallMeMaybe4arm while we were in frame, I would have crushed her ribs. Lord Junior spent a lot of time working with her on things to make sure she could get it perfectly, since she wants to teach this stuff to others soon. Abracadaniel and I didn’t get too many comments on what we were doing, since our part was fairly simple. Either that or we just did it perfectly the whole time, because we are awesome!

So much dancing this weekend! There is a dance party tomorrow night, coaching on Saturday afternoon, a dance field trip to the Cherished Dance Hall on Saturday night, and then another workshop with Judge Dread on Sunday afternoon that I think I will end up going to as well. Whoa. What kind of dancing are you doing this weekend?