They’re Just Lousy With Loyalty

If you remember, last Thursday night I was asked by my normal coach Lord Dormamu to take a coaching session with a visiting adjudicator that he knew. This gentleman was only going to be in town one night, and had an opening at the end of the evening that worked in both my Amateur partner’s and my schedule, so we ended up out at the Endless Dance Hall to have him look at how we were doing. I was reluctant to do this coaching session, but Lord Dormamu wanted us to be there, so before I knew what was going on I was meeting up with Sparkledancer in the parking lot of the Endless Dance Hall at the time we were told to come by.

OK, let me back up the train here – to say that I was feeling reluctant about doing this would actually be an understatement. By this point, we had only finished three of the four new routines we were getting choreographed. The third one of those was done right before Lord Dormamu left for his two week trip overseas. None of the routines we just got had even been looked at by Lord Dormamu to make sure that we had everything down correctly after he gave them to us. There just hadn’t been an opportunity to do that. If we had managed to get an extra lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled before this coaching session, I would have wanted to get the last routine choreographed instead of looking over the other three.

So having a visiting coach be the first person to give us any kind of feedback on our new routines  had me worried. On my drive over to the studio that night, I wondered to myself how much we would end up discussing with this guy that would not come up if Lord Dormamu had looked over the routines with us beforehand and pointed any minor issues out to us first. Which would also be a lot less expensive, since the visiting coaches that Lord Dormamu knows always cost an arm and a leg to work with. My normal sessions with Lord Dormamu only cost me an arm OR a leg because we are regular, ongoing students of his. That would have saved a whole limb!

Lucky for us, this visiting coach didn’t tell Sparkledancer and I that anything looked super out of the ordinary. We spent some time looking at all three of the new routines that Lord Dormamu had recently created for us – Foxtrot first, then Waltz, and finishing with the Quickstep. There was really only one comment that he made during the whole session while we were working together that I thought was interesting, which no one had ever mentioned to me before. Sparkledancer may have gotten a few things out of the coaching, but it was really that kind of lesson for me: tons of money spent for just one interesting comment that I made a point to write down.

As I said, we started out with the Foxtrot. After dancing through the routine once, the coach asked me about the figures that we were doing. I walked him through each one slowly in order from the beginning: Feather, Reverse Turn with Feather Finish, Open Telemark, Natural Turn, and then the Outside Swivel. When we got to that part, I mentioned to him that Lord Dormamu had told us to hold after the Outside Swivel for two beats before going into the Basic Weave, because even though that’s not technically how the figure is written in the syllabus, if we didn’t fit in an extra two beats somewhere we would end up off phrase with the music.

The coach kind of nodded along as I explained that portion, then told me that doing the figure like that should be fine unless we run into an invigilator who was a real stickler for how the figures were written in the book. What he said that I found interesting was: back in the day when the figures for these dances were originally designed, which was way back when the only ballroom dancers were probably dinosaurs wearing sophisticated top hats, the figures were created without the idea of connecting them to the music. Yes, each figure has a specific number of beats given to each step, but there was no thought into anything more than the number of beats. Talk of fitting the choreography to a musical phrase never came up back then, apparently.

I don’t know why I find that so interesting, but I do. It’s cool to think that we have managed to evolve a little bit since the days of dancing dinosaurs in top hats. Although, I admit, if I got the chance to dance with a real dinosaur wearing any kind of a hat, I would take it in a heartbeat.

My main issue was with the rest of the session. Much like other male coaches that I am asked to work with, this one was convinced that I would look so much better if I just changed the way I held my frame to be more like how he likes to hold his frame, rather than sticking with the way Lord Dormamu has been telling me to hold myself. It feels like a lot of the male adjudicator I am told to work with have this same opinion, that their way of holding frame is the best way, and everything I do would be better if I was more like them.

Maybe it’s an ego thing? It doesn’t matter what works best for the flexibility in my shoulders, or what Sparkledancer and I talk about when she asks me to change things with my frame for her benefit – obviously I’m not smart enough to realize that their way of holding frame is the most elegant, most solid, and best looking way of holding frame of all time. Someday (if I pay for enough coaching from any one particular adjudicator) I would be able to see that they are right, and then I too will be preaching the gospel to others so that they hold their frame the same way.

This visiting coach was another one who learned the “correct” way to dance decades ago, back when everyone did things differently than is done today. His particular quirk that he wanted to show me was that I should stop using my body so much to direct my partner. Instead, he wanted me to start using my arms and hands more to ‘steer’ my partner while dancing. Yes, there was an analogy to a car thrown in there somewhere during this session.

He was especially keen about how I could be using my right hand on my partner’s back to tell her when to turn by actually pressing either with my fingers or with my palm to initiate the rotation of her upper body. I mean, I sort-of understand where he was coming from, since when he danced with me to demonstrate he didn’t get into body contact, and without that there was no way I could use my torso and hips to direct him. But that’s not a problem I have when dancing with Sparkledancer. Lord Dormamu preaches dancing International Standard in body contact when he trains us. Using my arms to do anything never comes up.

So yeah, a lot of money spent for only one interesting tidbit that I didn’t know before. Was it worthwhile? It’s hard to say. So much of the dance politics game goes on behind my back, it’s hard to ever really know if all this extra money is actually doing anything for how well I score. And if it is making a difference in how I am scored, I don’t know if I actually feel good about that. After all, isn’t getting good placements supposed to validate how well I can dance? If I can sway my scores somewhat just by spending more money with the right people, then that’s not necessarily validating my skills – it’s really validating my wallet.

Sigh… what a weird competitive world I spend time in.

Moving on: last Saturday afternoon I managed to hit a milestone – I finally got the last of my new routines that actually needed to be choreographed. Hooray! That is a step in the right direction! With the Tango routine put together, that means that Sparkledancer and I should have everything worked out after a few weeks of cleanup and then we can finally look at testing these new configurations out in front of some judges to see how we do.

Before we got to the Tango that afternoon though, we spent a few minutes talking about our other routines. Lord Dormamu told us that he had gone out to dinner with the visiting coach after we got done with our session that previous Thursday, and the coach had nothing but good things to tell Lord Dormamu about how good we were looking. Then he asked Sparkledancer and I if there was anything that we wanted to look at in those routines before we got to work on the Tango.

I had something that I wanted to ask about that was an issue for me, but probably wouldn’t have been a problem for the average person. I wanted to go over the last short wall in our Quickstep with him, because with the way that the choreography was designed, I was not able to fit all the figures in on any of the dance floors where I go practice without shortening the steps in an awkward manner.

If you remember, the last short wall in our Quickstep consists of a Running Right Turn, a Quick Open Reverse, a Progressive Chasse, a Forward Lock and a Natural Turn. Now, do you also remember how I described Standard Technique class last week and I said that I was able to cover the whole short side at the Electric Dance Hall with just the Running Right Turn into a Natural Turn? That should give you an idea of how tiny I was having to make all the steps in these figures in order to stay on the floor in any room that wasn’t the size of the Endless Dance Hall.

Lord Dormamu said that I had a couple of options, depending on the size of the floor I was dancing on. First, I could always cut out the Forward Lock and just attach the Natural Turn to the end of the Progressive Chasse.  For a wider competition floor, this would easily get me all the way across. On a smaller floor, I could always do just like Lord Junior had shown me in Standard Technique class and attach the Natural Turn to the end of the Running Right Turn. This way the Quickstep routine has some options available for me to adjust as needed.

Once we had worked through that issue, we moved on to look at the Tango. This routine is a bit different than the other routines that we had done previously. For one thing, it is choreographed so that we start in the middle of one of the short walls rather than in a corner like the others do. But the most notable difference is that this routine only has one long wall instead of two. That should make it easier to memorize. The figures look like this:

S Wall 0.5 L Wall 1 S Wall 1
Back Corte Open Promenade Two Walks
Progressive Link Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside Brush Tap
Back Open Promenade Outside Swivels Progressive Link
Four Step Promenade Link Open Promenade
Natural Twist Turn Back Corte Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside
Progressive Link Progressive Link
Fallaway Promenade Natural Twist Turn
Right Side Lunge
Left Foot and Right Foot Rocks
Back Corte

I think that the only figure we added that I hadn’t seen somewhere before was the Back Open Promenade. I’m not entirely sure about the Fallaway Promenade – it sounds familiar, but the footwork for it didn’t feel familiar once Lord Dormamu showed the figure to me. Everything else listed I at least had a vague idea how the steps went. Most of the non-Bronze figures I know for sure that I have done in a group class somewhere (probably the Standard Technique class I go to most Wednesday nights), so that made my life easy.

The last thing that I did this week was to go to Standard Technique class. This week in class we had a new gentleman join us. Well, sort-of new – this guy is someone who has been hanging around the dance community in the Dance Kingdom for a while after being convinced to go to a dance party one night by Sparkledancer of all people a couple of years ago. Good job Sparkledancer! Because he travels so much for his job, he realized that he wasn’t going to improve all that quickly just by occasionally attending group classes, so he found an instructor to start taking private lessons from to help learn new things on his schedule.

Six months ago his instructor convinced him to try out a competition, and he discovered that he loved it and wanted to do more. His instructor had been trying to find ways that he could continue to improve as a competitor that would work with his travel schedule, and she recommended to him that during the weeks when he was in town he could come to Lord Junior’s advanced classes to help with that. Since the classes are technique focused and don’t require showing up every week of the month to keep up in the class, she thought it would be great for him. So his instructor contacted Lord Junior to let him know the guy’s story, and now we have a new friend who will be joining us whenever possible. Hooray for new friends in class!

This week when class started, all of us who were regulars to the class didn’t have anything specific that we wanted to look at, so Lord Junior decided that it would be a good week to look at the Reverse Wave in Foxtrot. I was on board with that idea, since I had been told that being able to do the Reverse Wave well was a critical part of anything I wanted to do in Foxtrot from now on.

The progression that Lord Junior put together for us in class ended up being only a handful of figures. Our new friend in class had really only ever done American Foxtrot up until recently, so a lot of the simple things that the rest of us knew already had to be explained to him, which took a bit of extra time. We only ended up getting through a Feather into a Closed Telemark, coming out of that with another Feather and then attaching the Reverse Wave, finishing up with an Open Impetus. We would have done more, but time ran out.

That’s all I’ve got this week. There may be some crazy things on the schedule for this weekend. Nothing is confirmed yet, but I have the times blocked off in my calendar just in case. Assuming the thing I am being asked to go to ends up hitting at least three LOLs out of a five LOL scale, then I will tell you all about it. We’ll see what happens… it could be weird!

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I Give You He Who Suffers The Truth

This week’s stories of ballroom dancing that I have for you are actually going to be about the adventures of a different guy…

Remember that guy that I mentioned, the one whom Sparkledancer met on New Year’s Eve and she has continued to talk to ever since? He finally managed to meet up with her to go to some dance events outside of his home franchise studio! Sparkledancer has been telling me over the last couple of weeks that the guy was a bit strange, so she wanted me to be around at these dance events that she was going to, to help share the experience. Because I’m a sucker who is prone to being helpful, I agreed to go. These stories I am going to tell this week from the position of an observer.

My understanding of the situation surrounding this gentleman, whom I’m going to call Seedling, is as follows: he has been a member of a pseudo-franchise studio for the last two years. During that time he has had three different instructors. While he seems (at least, from what I can glean from talking with him) to enjoy the social aspects of the franchise studio, there are a couple of points that he is dissatisfied with. For one, the cost is too high for his tastes. For another, he believes that he is so much better than most of the other people at his studio, including his current instructor. Third, he was frustrated that his instructor had been holding him back in Bronze. She kept telling him that she wanted to make sure that his technique was good before promoting him, but he thought that he was doing great and was more than ready to move up.

Sparkledancer wanted to help him out, because she’s nice like that, so she asked Seedling what his dance goals were. That was where the story that Sparkledancer was relaying to me gets a bit harder to follow. First she was telling me that he said that all he wanted to do was be an awesome dancer. That is a pretty common goal, but the biggest things that help with that are time, patience and practice, so there wasn’t much Sparkledancer could do for him. Then he came back and said that he wanted to become a competitive dancer like her – but he wanted to do it by learning and competing in all the figures up through Gold, and worrying about learning the technique only after he finished doing that. Sparkledancer tried to caution him that going that route was possible, but to compete without mastering the techniques means placing badly in competitions, so he had to be ready to accept that.

That plan didn’t sound right to him, so then he told her that his goal was to be a super awesome dancer that was basically an instructor, and all the ladies would be able to recognize his skill and he could give “semi-private lessons” (his exact words) on the dance floor during parties. That really irked Sparkledancer, because she is really against men at social dances who think that they should be teaching women how they think they should dance during a party. So she told him off about that goal. Seedling backed away pretty quickly, coming  back with the idea that he wanted to become a Dance Host that women would hire to dance with at social dances instead.

When Sparkledancer told him that the majority of the Dance Hosts that are in the area are dance instructors from various studios, Seedling told her that he could totally be an instructor. After all, he reasoned, he wears all black when he goes out dancing already (yes, he actually said that to her), and he already helps other students in the Bronze I classes at his studio with their steps when they are having trouble. To that Sparkledancer responded that if he actually wanted to become an instructor, he should start off by talking to some of the instructors in the area to get some advice. After that, he would need to go back to his Bronze I classes and start learning the Follower’s part, because an instructor needs to know both sides. If he can master that, she told him that he then needs to make a name for himself so he can attract students.

Given that information, he decided to change his goal yet again. This time, he said that he was going to become a super high level competitor and make a name for himself by winning some big-name competitions. For some reason, he chose International Latin to be his thing. If he did that, he reasoned, then the ladies would come knock his door down to ask him to be their instructor. Bringing it back around, Sparkledancer told him that if he really wanted to do that, then he would need to start working on the technique immediately because that is really the only way he is going to win any competition, especially the bigger well-known competitions.

So this conversation had been going around in circles between Sparkledancer and Seedling for the last two weeks. I have gotten texts from Sparkledancer while at work where she has sent me snippets of things that he has said because she was having a hard time believing that he would think that way about whatever subject he was currently going on about. I think it’s kind of funny, since I haven’t had to deal with it firsthand.

At the end of last week, when the conversation between the two of them came back around again to how he wanted to become super good, but he was already better than his instructor since she only started dancing six months ago, yet he didn’t want to leave his franchise studio because he loved the people there, Sparkledancer finally threw down the gauntlet: she told him that he could go out to a few things that were happening in the Dance Kingdom that weekend and see what the dancing world outside of his franchise had to offer. Then, armed with that knowledge, he could make up his mind about whether it would be better for him to stay and be happy where he is, or leave and be happy on the outside. Seedling agreed to her challenge, so the great test began!

This was a particularly good weekend to go out and experience things for a franchise dancer – Saturday afternoon, Judge Dread (the internationally known ballroom adjudicator) was in town giving workshops. After that, on Saturday night there was going to be a social dance out at the City Dance Hall. Before the dance party there would be a lesson in East Coast Swing given by an instructor who has racked up a number of national dance titles in her competitive career. Finally, Sparkledancer told him that he should make an appearance at Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night, since Seedling had decided that he wanted to dance International Latin competitively. That class would give him a glimpse into what the world of competitive technique for Latin looked like so he could see what he was in for by taking that path.

And so, Seedlings quest began!

The first stop on this tour of the outside world for Seedling was the Endless Dance Hall for workshops with Judge Dread. I only stayed for the first one because I had things to take care of back home, but Seedling stuck around for both – the first being in the Waltz, and the second in Cha-Cha. The Waltz concepts that Judge Dread went over would work for either American or International Waltz, but from what I heard the Cha-Cha choreography was purely from the American Rhythm side of the house.

There were two concepts that Judge Dread wanted to have everyone think about during his Waltz workshop – figures that progressed a lot down the floor, and figures that stayed in place. To give everyone an example of the first kind of figures, Judge Dread had us all do an Open Progressive Twinkle followed by an Open Natural Turn. The Open Progressive Twinkle was done at a very wide angle so that it started heading toward diagonal wall and continued almost straight in that direction. If the Open Natural Turn was done using the expected angle, you would finish the two figures heading toward backing line of dance.

To prepare us for a set of figures that would stay in one place, Judge Dread changed the Open Progressive Twinkle that we were currently doing so that it turned us 90° to come out diagonal center, and then he told us that we were going to move the Open Natural Turn to the end of the progression. In its original place we instead did the first three steps from a Weave From Promenade Position. After those steps we did a basic Reverse Turn which brought us to a complete stop with our feet together, setting us up for the first non-traveling figure – a basic Right Lunge. Coming out of that, he had us do a Spanish Drag, which is a picture line that you normally see in the Tango, but it works just as well in the Waltz.

The Spanish Drag was only held for one beat, allowing us to use the third beat of that measure for a Slip Pivot to turn us to face against line of dance. That positioned us for a Back Twinkle to change directions, and we began to travel again down the line of dance using the Open Natural Turn that Judge Dread had moved. Once we had all those figures down and everyone in class had run through the choreography as-is multiple times, Judge Dread told us that all the steps that we were doing were even in timing, so normally a dancer would try to mix things up by adding in figures that had syncopated steps to keep the choreography exciting.

With that in mind, Judge Dread showed everyone the footwork for the Grapevine as seen in Waltz. We put one of these in between the first Open Progressive Twinkle and the opening to the Weave from Promenade Position, and two of them in a row after the Back Twinkle near the end before the Open Natural Turn that finished the choreography. The whole progression was pretty long as you can see, but it flows very nicely from one piece to the next so it is easy to remember once you step through it a time or two.

Next up on Seedlings tour was the dance party held at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. There we were given another long progression by the instructor that the group hosting the party had asked to come teach. This instructor was someone who I had met before, but I’d never had a chance to take a class or a lesson from her until that point. I must say, I thought she was pretty funny. There was a method to what she was trying to show the class, but she kept jumping around from point to point, often coming back to figures that she had explained before to tell us all something that she had forgotten when she first talked about the steps. The fact that I could follow her train of thought either means that I was paying attention really well, or I am actually pretty scatterbrained and so jumping around between topics makes sense to me (the jury’s still out on which of those facts is true).

Because we had a couple of people in the class that had never seen East Coast Swing before, the instructor started off by showing them how to do the basic. This was actually the part that threw me off the most – I came from one of those schools where they taught you to start off with the rock step for the basics in Swing dances like East Coast Swing of Jive. This instructor started with the triple steps instead. Even when I was thinking about what to do, my body still tried to wind up to take that rock step right at the beginning, and that messed me up more times than I would like to admit during her class. Please don’t think less of me for admitting that to all of you…

Once all the newcomers were comfortable with the basic, she began going through the progression she wanted to show everyone. The whole thing started with one normal basic, then added on a basic that rotated 90° counterclockwise. Once facing the new wall, she had us go into a regular Cuddle. After we came out of that so that the partners were standing across from each other again, she had us go into a more advanced variation of the Cuddle. The variation started out the same way, but once the Follower was wrapped up the Lead would take four steps going forward clockwise around the center point. On the third step the Lead would release the Follower’s left hand and move his right hand down to rest on her right hip, so by the end both partners were in a side-by-side position facing opposite walls.

The Lead’s hand on the Follower’s hip allowed him to give her a nudge to lead her to start the next part of the progression. We did three triple-steps in a row heading toward the Lead’s right. After each triple-step, the Lead would rotate their body 180° to face the opposite wall. Keeping pressure on the Follower’s right arm would get her to flip to face the other direction at the same time. So the progression was a triple-step, 180° to the right, triple-step, 180° turn to the left, and then one last triple-step and 180° turn to the right.

After the third triple step the Lead would bring their left hand up to lead the Follower through a Tuck Turn while he did two steps in place, which kept the Lead on time to do a triple-step with the Follower after the turn was finished. From here the instructor had us do another basic with a Link to get back into dance frame, and to give everyone a chance to take a breath before the next figure, which turned out to be a Lindy Whip. Coming out of that she had us go into Back Walks And Points (I’m pretty sure that’s the actual name of the figure), and we finished everything with one final basic.

The dance party after the class turned out to be an interesting test for Seedling… but we’ll get to that in a bit. Right now, let’s go over the final class that he went to outside of his normal studio this past week, which was Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night.

During class, Lord Junior wanted to have us all work on the opening section from the Closed Silver routine for Cha-Cha that he uses with his competitive students. The opening section isn’t very long, but Lord Junior designed it to showcase a lot of quick movements in an attempt to try to wow the judges right at the start. It opens with both partners facing each other and going into a set of Cucarachas to the right, leading into four in-place chasses. After the fourth, we stepped backward on a diagonal to open up away from our partner while still holding on with the left hand – Leads going off to their right, Followers to their left. This was supposed to give us some space to do Cuban Breaks without kicking each other, but I have really long legs so sometimes if my partner didn’t step very big there still wasn’t quite enough space for me.

After a set of those with the left leg, we would pivot to turn around 180° so that we could do a set with the right leg as well. Finishing those we rotated to square up with our partner again briefly, then launched right into a set of four syncopated New Yorkers. Coming out of the last one we did one normal tempo New Yorker on the right side (which seemed awfully slow by comparison), which finished with a basic chasse to the left. That was all the figures that Lord Junior wanted us to do, so the rest of class was spent trying to perfect the movements so that everyone could do them at full tempo.

So after several days of romping through the world of dance outside of his franchise world, how do you imagine that Seedling felt about his future dance journey? Well, if the conversation that he had about his dance goals with Sparkledancer gave you any indication about his train of thought, you might be guessing that he would be unable to make up his mind about his future now that he has more information – and you would be correct. Seriously, I heard all about his discussions with Sparkledancer after each of these outings, and the guy was all over the place!

For instance, after Latin Technique class was over, I went home and was sitting on the couch looking at some things for work when my phone beeped at me. It was Sparkledancer, forwarding me a message that Seedling sent her after she asked him what he thought of the class. He said: “Yeah it was really good. I mean my instructor said it before but the WAY he said it made sense a lot faster. It was a slower class figure wise but a lot of technique in exchange.”

…I guess he missed the part where the class was called Latin Technique?

Anyway, on top of that Seedling was convinced that he was way better than all of the other women in class, telling Sparkledancer that he wasn’t sure why the girls were in the advanced class when they were struggling to keep up with him. He had the same issue with all the ladies that he danced with at the social dance on Saturday night, telling Sparkledancer that he thought he was so much better than all the women because he knew so many more figures than they did and the women were struggling to understand what he was leading.

…I know what you’re thinking, because it was the same thought that I immediately had too: if ALL the women are struggling to follow you, then likely the problem is not that the women are too low of a level compared to you. The common denominator in that situation is staring at you in the mirror.

Now that Seedling has been to two social dances in the world outside of his franchise studio, he says that it is exactly the same as the social dancing at his franchise studio – meaning that the majority of the women he is going to meet there are going to be outside of his age range for dating. With that information, he seems to be leaning toward wanting to be a competitive dancer. The conversations that Sparkledancer told me about are back to going round and round, because it seems like he wants to dance competitively, but going down that path doesn’t solve his original problem of dancing being more expensive than he can afford comfortably. It actually makes that problem worse.

From the sound of it, he doesn’t like the fact that the franchise studio he is currently a member of won’t cut him a break and let him take private lessons without paying for the group class package on top of that. But he doesn’t want to look at dancing with other instructors outside of his studio where he wouldn’t have to pay for group classes if he didn’t want to. I wonder if it’s because he actually likes this instructor that he has. Even though I have heard him say that he is a better dancer than her, so he isn’t sure that she can teach him a whole lot, secretly I suspect that because she is young and pretty, pays attention to him and praises him for everything that he is doing with a constant stream of high-fives and saying ‘Good Job’ instead of offering any criticism, he doesn’t want to leave her.

The young and pretty thing I know for a fact is something he likes – seriously, he was very eager to show me a picture of how pretty this girl was over the weekend for some reason. I didn’t even ask, he just started pulling up her pictures on some social media site on his phone right in front of me. It was a little creepy.

Overall, I think that Seedling’s weekend of adventure through the Dance Kingdom probably won’t change anything for him. I get the impression that he is set in his ways, even if he isn’t content with those ways. Change is hard. It’s daunting to look at a new path and convince yourself to take it knowing that you basically have to start over at almost the beginning to actually further your progress. I should know, I went through it before – both when I walked away from the franchise studio where I started out and had to adjust to dancing on the outside, and then again when I started to compete seriously under Lord Dormamu’s tutelage and he made me reset and go all the way back to the beginning in International Standard to rebuild my fundamentals into what they are now.

I don’t know when the next time I will see or hear about Seedling again will be. I suspect that this isn’t the last time he will show his face. I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens!

From Where I Stand I See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Was A Hand Grenade That Never Stopped Exploding

Last Saturday night I was feeling mildly extroverted, so I decided to head out to the dance party that was planned for the evening out at the Endless Dance Hall. This party wasn’t like most of the parties that go on in the Dance Kingdom – normally the hosts of the party set up a pre-party dance lesson from some local instructor to lure people to their event. This party wasn’t going to have one of those. Instead, the Endless Dance Hall had planned on having a showcase performance on Saturday, so the organizers of this dance party worked with them to schedule their party to start right after the showcase finished. They gave people a special deal that let you get a ticket to both watch the performance and attend the dance party for one low price, so of course I got there early enough to do both.

My friend Indiana had a huge role in putting the showcase part of the evening together, and I think that she was either dancing in or had choreographed at least two-thirds of the dance numbers in the show that night. Hooray for her! Normally when I go to showcase performances, what I see is basically an all-male review, with the majority of the acts being by a few male instructors dancing with their amateur female. It’s nice to occasionally switch things up and see what kind of show you get when a lady takes the spotlight.

Indiana spends a lot of time working with a gaggle of kids, and has been crafting them into a dance troupe over the last couple of years. This is an endeavor of hers that has been supported by donations from the whole dance community, and she likes to use events like these to give the community a chance to see what their donations are helping to achieve. That night the kids were the ones dancing the most – sometimes as a big group with all the kids participating, and sometimes as smaller groups. One of the acts was even done solely by the eldest male and female students, dancing together on stage alone. Sometimes when I am out at the Endless Dance Hall for my own lessons I have been able to see Indiana working on these routines with the kids, so it was cool to see the finished products.

There was one part that I admit that I was a bit worried about. In one of the routines I had seen them practice, two of the older boys pick up two of the much younger girls and hold them over their heads. I saw them practicing this lift in a couple of their rehearsals prior to the show, and what I saw had me a little worried. My biggest concern was obviously for the safety of the girls. I know that they chose the younger and smaller girls because they weigh less. The two boys doing the lifts were older, but are still in that scrawny early teen phase of their lives, so they don’t have a ton of upper body strength. As a male who went through that same scrawny early teen phase, I know what it’s like. In rehearsal there were a few times when the girls came dangerously close to being dropped – one time would have become a close encounter with the ground if other kids standing nearby hadn’t helped catch the young girl. So that was one thing that concerned me.

Also, the place where the boys were putting their hands on the young girls back to hold the girl over their head caused her to bend her back weirdly. At least, it seemed weird to me when I watched them do it in rehearsal. Then again, I am no longer that young, and it’s very rare for me to bend in strange angles like that nowadays. The young girls may have thought that bending like that was totally comfortable, even if it looked like an awkward angle for their spines to me. I never asked them, so I don’t know for sure.

But my concerns were all for naught because the lifts went off without a hitch that night. The crowd went nuts for them, as I’m sure you could have guessed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you want to do a dance showcase and really impress your audience, a lift is the way to go. People love them!

Other than Indiana and her kids group performing that evening, there was one other notable instructor that was there performing with a couple of his students that evening. He was notable to me not because of how well his acts went (they were all really good), but rather because of him… I had never seen this particular instructor before in all my travels around the Dance Kingdom. I found out later that he had come in from out-of-town with his students specifically to perform in the showcase, which explained why I had never met him before. I like to believe that I’ve talked to or seen pretty much all the instructors that teach in my little corner of the Dance Kingdom by now.

There was something… I don’t know exactly, but the guy just gave off a creepy vibe. Have you ever been in the same room as someone, and you know that they’ve done nothing out of the ordinary, but the person just feels creepy? That was this guy for me. Maybe it was the greasy pompadour that he had going on that was throwing me off. Maybe it was because during his dance performances he seemed to like doing things that would shift the focus away from his students who were dancing and onto him. I’m not entirely sure, but I just couldn’t get away from the fact that he creeped me out.

Before you think badly of me, just know that I did intend on trying to talk to this guy after the performance was over. I thought that if I said hello to him and talked for a moment, I could learn more about who he was and probably find out that he was actually a really nice dude. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around after the performance was over, so I never got a chance. I guess I will never know unless I see him around again sometime in the future.

The dance party after the showcase was also a lot of fun that night. There were a couple of younger guys who came to the party and danced together most of the night. That is not notable in-and-of itself, but I noticed it because they kept switching off which guy would lead and which one would follow. I did stop and talk to those two to praise them for being able to do that. Neither one of them was an instructor, they just both liked to have the option to be both the Lead or Follow as the mood struck them. I’ve been in classes where the instructor has asked everyone to try dancing the other part before, and it is a hard thing for me to do if the steps are not the natural opposite of what I would normally do, so my hat was off to these guys for being able to do that!

On Monday night out at Latin Technique class, I had a really easy night. The ladies that were in class did not, but Lord Junior and I did (relatively speaking). The weekend before class, Lord Junior and a few of his students had worked with some high-level out-of-town coach, and the coach had helped Lord Junior take a large chunk of Veep’s Open Rumba routine and throw it out to put in something much harder. Because they had just put the new section of the routine together only a few days prior to Latin Technique class, Lord Junior decided that since Veep was in class that night he would go over that new piece of choreography with the whole class… mostly to help the two of them memorize it faster.

Like a lot of high-level Rumba routines I’ve seen in my time, this new choreography is also focused on having the ladies do some crazy stuff, while the guy gets to basically just shift his weight back and forth over his legs without moving around. Most of what that consists of is standing strongly in place so that the girl you’re dancing with could use you for support, or as a platform to push off of. Man, us Leads have really got a rough job sometimes, don’t we?

We started out with the guys in a bit of a lunge on our left leg with our body twisted to offer our left arm to the lady. She was stretched out away from us with her weight on her right leg and her left foot pointed forward. The ladies would do a delayed walking action forward, holding on beat two and stepping on beat three, walking across our body and pivoting at the end to face away from us like in a Switchback, then bringing their arm up and pointing their leg back to create a line. The guys just stand up from the lunge while the ladies do this, then shift our weight to the right leg, then back to the left. Hard work, right?

The next part is the only real exciting thing that the guy gets to do. On the next beat two we would lead the lady to rotate back to face us, then release her hand. During the rotation she would lower down into her legs and put up both of her hands in front of her. The guys would then take a step forward on the left, then a small step on the right and go up on our toes to make ourselves as tall as possible while putting our right arm up. Those steps forward should put the guys body so that the lady’s hands are resting against his upper abdominal muscles. Be careful not to lean forward here – the lady’s hands are only there for decoration, not to actually support the guy. Once you are standing super tall in front of her she’ll tilt her head to look up at the guy – Lord Junior says it should be a look of amazement to really get the character of what the coach was trying to show him.

During the next measure in the music, the guy will pivot in place while lowering back down to be on his full foot and then step away, lunging out on his right leg this time. The lady uses that time to do a weird body-rolling move as she stands up slowly and then takes the guys proffered left hand. In the next measure she will step toward the guy on the second beat, then he will lead her to do a slow Spiral Turn over the next two beats. At the end the guy needs to shift his weight to his left leg and  lowered down his left arm to be near his waist, holding it strong there.

The lady will use that arm to press down on to help her create a line where she lifts her left arm over her head and stretches her left side as long as possible. It’s easier for the lady to do if she has something to press against, hence the guy keeping his arm strong. After a brief hold in this line, the lady will step forward out of it and the guys will take a step forward on their right leg. We’ll lead the lady to do kind of a Three-Step Turn where we release her hands, and she’ll move away from us and lunge out on her right leg perpendicular to the guy, turning her head to look over her left shoulder at us. We’ll hold in place until the very end of the third beat in the measure and take two steps forward to stand on both legs near her as she looks at us.

That’s where the new section ended. It’s kind of a neat looking piece, and I’m sure my picture doesn’t really show enough for you to get a true feel for what it looks like. Just trust me that it’s actually cooler than I can describe, even if it is complicated.

The things we did this week in Standard Technique class were a bit easier to explain than that Rumba choreography, since all the pieces can be found in the syllabus book. We got to work on Quickstep that evening at my suggestion – over the last few weeks before class started, I had heard Lord Junior mention that he thought we hadn’t looked at Quickstep in a while. Since no one else who came to class that night asked to work on anything specific, I threw that out as a suggestion, and everyone else just shrugged and went along with me. Hooray for me winning through other people’s apathy!

Lord Junior started off class by talking about the V6 figure from the Silver Quickstep syllabus. The by-the-book figure is actually just a combination of two different figures that you’ve probably seen before – a Backward Lock and an Outside Change – starting off heading toward diagonal center and finishing heading toward diagonal wall. That’s what gives it the ‘V’ shape that the figure is known for. I can’t find anything written about what the ‘6’ stands for in the name though… that part’s a mystery.

We started off simply enough by doing a prep step into a Half Natural Turn, then a Natural Spin Turn that went immediately into the V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn is used as the first step of the V6 in this configuration. At the end of the V6 we added on a Forward Lock and another Half Natural Turn to finish. This gave us the basic outline of what Lord Junior wanted to work with us on that evening.

Once we all had that down, Lord Junior wanted us to upgrade the V6 so that it used the alternate ending that you see done a lot which replaces the Outside Change portion of the figure with a Six Quick Run from the Gold Quickstep syllabus. This speeds up the ending portion, and you really don’t get a chance to take a slower step and breathe until you finish and get to the Half Natural Turn. The trick to keeping this alteration successful is to make sure and watch your rise and fall – you basically start to rise up at the end of step four of the V6 and then stay up the whole time until the end of the Six Quick Run.

Now, you may have noticed that I specifically kept saying ‘Half Natural Turn’ earlier. That was completely intentional, because once we finished upgrading the V6 to its alternate ending, Lord Junior wanted to have us change the Half Natural Turn after it into a full Natural Turn. Now, in Quickstep a full Natural Turn is not like what you would see in the Waltz or Viennese Waltz, where it is just two Half Natural Turns in a row. The second half of a Quickstep Natural Turn involves a Heel Pull action for the lead as you step to the side, then you pass your feet as you step forward onto your left leg.

Supposedly the Heel Pull action allows you to move faster than you would if you had taken three normal steps without the Heel Pull, but I’m not convinced about that. Still, Lord Junior warned us that we likely wouldn’t see people doing this full figure very often. In fact, he admitted that he had personally never seen this version of the figure until he was studying for his certification exam in International Standard a few years ago. If you read through the Bronze syllabus for Quickstep, this is the actual figure you’ll find, so don’t be surprised if you see it there now that I’ve told you!

After we got through the Natural Turn, we added on a Forward Lock that headed toward diagonal center. This set us up for the last step that Lord Junior wanted to show us that night, which was another Silver-level figure called the Fishtail. This is one that I had never seen before, but it wasn’t too rough to get through. Basically it is a forward check on the right leg toward diagonal center, then you step backward and then to the side to change direction so that you can finish with a Forward Lock toward diagonal wall.

There was one time that I messed up this figure pretty bad that night because when I tried to do the check on my right foot but my foot kept sliding forward, and it took some effort for me to get it to stop sliding and then to try to change direction. The mistake put me way off time with the music that was playing. Luckily Lord Junior didn’t notice, and my partner just laughed about it, so it wasn’t too embarrassing for me. I guess I should have brushed my shoes better before class started or something.

That’s all I did this week! So, I have to ask… are you getting excited? We are getting so close to Halloween! I am planning to do some finishing touches to my costume this weekend so that it is all ready to go for next weekend. I know that I will have full range of motion for dancing when in my costume, but this one does have a mask with it so I am a little worried that it may get to be hot as the evening wears on. Still, this costume makes me laugh a lot, so I am excited to wear it even with the risk of being warm.

Do you have your costume all ready? I hope so! Halloween is my favorite time of the dance holiday season! What kind of crazy creatures will I get to see people dress up as this year? I can’t wait to find out!