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!

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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?

We’re Hangin’ A Sign, Says “Visitors Forbidden”

I’m a firm believer that one of the best things you can do to get past any sort of funk, whether it is caused by dance or other things in life, is to go out and do something that is dance related, but is also fun and different. I love going out and having dance adventures (if you couldn’t tell just by looking at the title of this site), and I’ll admit that there are lots of times that I have gone out on dance adventures during the week specifically so that I have something amusing to write about later. If I didn’t do interesting dance-related things, this whole site would be filled with me talking about taking lessons and working on technique and figures over and over again. With that in mind, this past weekend I went out on two dance field trips, one I wanted to go on and one I got talked into going on, and they left very different impressions on me after they were over. Let me tell you all about them!

So… this past Saturday morning I ended up going to a dance fitness class. Bony has taken to going recently and has been loving it, and so she’s been telling everyone that they should join her because of how much fun it is. My initial thought when she asked me to go was “Am I going to be the only guy in class?” to which she said no. She convinced Sparkledancer to go, and then both of them were asking me to go along with them, and I have trouble saying no to groups of people. So I went. And I was the only guy there aside from the instructor. If you don’t count him, it was me and what seemed like forty women in class. Luckily, I knew three of them (Bony, Sparkledancer and Lord Junior’s professional partner Lady Lovelylocks also came). Before the class even started, I swear I was being evaluated like a piece of meat. I was off in the far corner of the room (it felt safe to me there), moving around a little to warm up. The song playing in the background was a Cha-Cha, so I was doing some chasses, just to get the blood flowing to my legs. One of the women on the other side of the room got all excited while I was doing the chasses and ran over to me to ask if I knew the video for the song, because what I was doing was part of the choreography apparently. I told her no, that it was just normal Cha-Cha chasses. I had thought that would be the end of it, JetSong1but that was not the case. She was super excited to talk about the class, and the instructor, and how much fun things would be, and how great it was to see me there. I did my best to keep up with her enthusiasm (and the speed with which she talked), but she was above my league. Class started when the music was turned up louder and the instructor, who was a ball of energy that we’ll call The Professor, made his way to the front of the room. The women waved to me and left to take her place to his left up at the front of the class as everything got underway.

(Note: after the class, Sparkledancer laughed at me and said that she had been watching the woman talk to me, and it wasn’t so much that the woman was really excited about the chasses I was doing, it was actually that the movement gave her an excuse to come and start a conversation with me. Sparkledancer thinks the woman would have done the same thing no matter what I would have been doing.)

The class went exactly as I expected it to for me. Without knowing the choreography, there was a lot of flailing of limbs on my part and some amusement over the selection of songs used. The Professor kept things going for well over the scheduled hour class was supposed to take, only allowing for a few brief respites for his flock before pushing them into the next routine. It felt kind of like being in a commercial for the dance fitness program – every so often, when JetSong2the Professor led a move that the ladies found exciting, or when a new song started, or sometimes for no reason at all, a woman would start yelling excitedly, then more would join in. If the excited yelling went on long enough, the whole class would get in on it together. I can’t say I’ve ever been in a position where that has happened before. Usually when I exercise, it’s fairly quiet – the whooping and hollering was a new experience for me. They also liked waving their arms a lot. Some of what they were doing seemed to be part of the choreography for the songs, but sometimes it just seemed like they were doing it out of sheer excitement.

When class was over, the same woman who made a point of talking to me before class started ran over to talk to me again. She really wanted to know what I thought about the class, and whether I was interested in coming again next week to join them. I told her that I felt a little out-of-place there, like I was invading a class for women only. She told me (I’m not even making this up) that they used to have a lot more men in class – there used to be two of them that came regularly. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at that statement in front of her; we apparently have very different ideas about what constitutes “a lot” of men in a class. Then it hit me – she was playing dance ambassador to me! I have done the same thing many times: talking to newcomers, trying to get them to come back and dance with us again later, expounding all the fun things that we do as dancers. This lady was talking to me exactly the same way I would talk to dance newcomers when I wanted them to come back and dance again. So now I know what being on the other side of that conversation feels like. The whole experience was fun though, and I will say that I can see myself going back to do it again. I don’t think I could handle going every week, because I think that with my current workout schedule that would be a little much, but maybe every couple of weeks it would be a nice change of pace.

Then came the dance adventure on Saturday night. Let me tell you a tale I’m going to call West-Coast-Swing Side Story…

Let me preface this by saying that I have always really liked West Coast Swing. I have even done competitions where my dance partner and I have been the only ones on the floor during the West Coast Swing heats. I had heard about this free beginner workshop that was going on Saturday night hosted by a local West Coast Swing club, so I was all excited about going. I don’t get to do West Coast Swing that often (it’s not one of the more popular American Rhythm dances, and I’m sure living near the east coast doesn’t help either), so I thought that I might be able to pick up a few new figures while I was there. Now, I was fully aware walking into this workshop that this wasn’t actually going to be Ballroom-Style West Coast Swing, and there are some differences in the way we do things when compared to the way the general practitioners of West Coast Swing do things. The big one that I’ve been told about over and over is that in Ballroom, ladies do something called a Coaster Step to end one figure and start the next. In general practice they do a different figure called an Anchor Step. The Coaster Step allows the lady to bring her feet together and then take another forward step, pushing off her standing leg to build some power when starting the next figure. The Anchor Step is more like a soft punctuation mark at the end of a phrase, shuffling the right foot behind the left, in something that looks kind of like a rock step, but shuffleier (I know it’s not a word, but I’m using it).

The guy teaching the class started out by going into this long explanation of how West Coast Swing is the most educated of dances; people can’t just go out there JetSong3and pick a random partner and expect them to be able to follow what’s happening like you can with any other dance. I sort of understood where he was coming from with this remark, but the way he phrased it felt almost… snooty. Like he didn’t think that other dances were as good because they were more accessible to the masses or something. It was a weird feeling to get, something I don’t think I am describing, or could describe, properly. He talked about how West Coast Swing was unlike any other dance in that it was danced with the Follow travelling along a line and the Lead creating rails along the outside to contain the Follow, like a railroad track. He even made mention of how he had in fact danced West Coast Swing on railroad tracks, and even on a diving board to show how this concept should work. Of course, being the wisenheimer that I am, I thought ‘huh, he is just describing a Slot Dance’ and ‘he must have never tried Hustle if he thinks that West Coast Swing is the only dance that does that.’ I kept those thoughts to myself during the class though.

After the off-putting remarks, the class was sort of fun when looked at from a group class standard. It was a large group, with lots of new dancers in class, and though we only covered some pretty basic figures, there were a couple that I didn’t actually know mixed in, so that was good for me. The part of class that kind of makes me step back and scratch my head was the way the actual members of this West Coast Swing club seemed to treat people who knew Ballroom-style West Coast Swing. Most of the members of the club were easy to discern – they were wearing t-shirts with the club logo, so it was easy to pick them out. Many of the club members (both male and female) were helping out with the class since there were way more women than men. The club members seemed to be able to tell those of us who were Ballroom kids apart from the rest of the group, and they didn’t seem to like us very much. Before class even started, Sparkledancer and I were dancing some Rumba to the music playing in the background while waiting for others to show up, and I could see them watching us from the sidelines with weird expressions on their faces. During class, I ended up in line next to an older member of the club, and he stopped me a couple of times to adjust my arms and JetSong4my frame because I was holding myself much more like a Ballroom dancer, not using the floppy, overly relaxed posture that they were all using. When I mentioned I stood like that because I only did Ballroom West Coast Swing, he only said “I know” to me, and that was it. No other explanation of why he felt the need to fix my frame. Sparkledancer had it worse than I did – she told me after the class that some of the club members asked her as she rotated through if she had danced before, since she knew several of the figures already, so she told them she did Ballroom. They kind of scowled at her when she said that, and one guy even apparently apologized to her because of it, saying that he used to dance Ballroom and was so glad to be out of it. I didn’t realize it was such a negative thing.

It almost felt like we were in two different dance camps, and we weren’t allowed to interact with each other. I left shortly after the workshop was over, but maybe if I had stuck around we would have had a rumble. It wasn’t exactly the uplifting West Coast Swing learning experience I had been so excited for. I know we did things a little differently, but we were all dancers, so we should have been able to meet on some common ground. Would we have gotten the same reaction from people who dance Samba in Brazil when they see us dancing Ballroom-style Samba? Maybe. Maybe we are destined to live in two separate worlds, and ne’er the two should meet. I certainly didn’t want to do the shuffley version of West Coast Swing, I like the Ballroom version that I learned. It makes me happier. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

It reminds me of words once spoken by a great poet:

“When you’re a Ballroom kid, you’re a Ballroom kid all the way.
From your first basic steps to your last dyin’ day…”

OK, maybe that’s not how that actually goes, but it’s pretty close, right?

(With many apologies to Bernstein and Sondheim…)