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!

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But Oh, How I Changed And Oh, How I’ve Grown

**I feel like I’ve had this song in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it. It may be my current favorite song.**

Here we are! It’s 2019 already! Would you look at that. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school, dreading the thought of deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had the chance, I would totally go back in time and tell my young self that nothing I was worrying about at that time would matter, because somehow 20-ish years later I will be spending most of my free time training to be a competitive dancer. The look on my young face would be priceless I bet.

How did you end up ringing in the new year? I did it the same way that I’ve done it the last few years of my life – out on the dance floor! I spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Dance Hall having fun with a bunch of people, dancing the previous year away. It’s one way to make sure that I get to start the year off on the right foot!

(Actually, the left foot, since, you know, that’s how I usually have to start…)

I like the way that Lord Junior runs his New Year’s Eve parties. It’s basically the kind of party that he would hold at his house for all his friends – if his house were a big dance hall. He had cut off a section of the dance floor in the back by moving up a line of chairs. In the segregated area he set up a bunch of tables for various games that people could play if they needed to give their legs a rest throughout the evening. Which was good, because he was planning on letting people dance all night long! Of all the dance parties I saw on the calendar for New Year’s Eve in my area, Lord Junior’s was the one that was open the longest – he started the night off at 8:00PM with a basic dance lesson for all the newbies, and the party was slated to go until ‘?’. I left the studio pretty late, shortly after 1:00AM I think, and there were still a fair number of people hanging out and having fun at that time.

There were a bunch of faces that I didn’t recognize at the party that night. Many of them were brand new to dancing and out looking for a different way to party on New Year’s Eve. As I said, at the beginning of the evening Lord Junior offered a dance lesson for everyone, and spent the hour covering really basic American Rumba and American Foxtrot. He promised all the newcomers that the DJ would play a fair number of these throughout the evening so that they could all get out on the floor and mess around with the steps he was showing them.

Somehow the class ended up with more men than women, so I opted to sit out so that others could take my place. Lord Junior convinced his wife (who was hanging around in the back of the studio) to come join the class, which made the number of men and women even. I wasn’t too sad about sitting out, believe it or not. See, I had stuck to my normal workout schedule just before I came to the party that day. I’ve switched back to doing heavy weight training after taking a couple of months off to let my body recover, and it was leg day that day, so I was definitely feeling my legs protest by that time. Having an hour during the class where I could just sit down and give my legs a chance to rest before dancing was actually really nice for me.

Once the class was over, everyone was released to have fun for the rest of the night. I think I spent much of the time that night alternating between dancing with people I knew and helping out newcomers with dances they didn’t know. Later on in the evening, Lord Junior roped me into going over to play one of the games with him that needed more people. He was super excited about playing the game (I think he had a bit of the champagne by that time), so of course I couldn’t let him down! That was a lot of fun.

At some point in the evening after the class finished up, I was looking out over the dance floor, and I was surprised to see that a familiar face that I hadn’t seen in a really long time had shown up. It was Young Dave! Yeah, that guy! That takes me all the way back to my days dancing at a franchise studio! I’m not entirely sure what brought him out to the party that night. Quite a while ago he disappeared from the dance world as the franchise studio gobbled him up with plans to turn him into a dance instructor. I heard later that those plans didn’t work out so well for him, and then he injured himself and basically gave up dance entirely. But I guess he’s back! Maybe this is a good sign – I assigned him one of the funniest Lego figures back in the day, and I was sad when he stopped showing up so I didn’t get to use that figure in pictures anymore.

While I’m on the subject of young dudes who came to the New Year’s Eve party, I think that Sparkledancer might have made a new friend that night. She had come to the party, but I didn’t see her for much of the night as she was bouncing around, dancing with her husband and talking to various people who wanted her attention. There was this one guy that I had never met before that kept going over to talk to her. I was introduced to him at one point by Sparkledancer – I think she did it so that he would talk to me for a while so she could run off and get a break. I don’t think he came to the party with anyone… or even knew anyone at the party before he showed up. That might explain why he latched on to Sparkledancer to talk to all night. She’s kind to strays like that. After all, she has kept talking to me for all these years. 🙂

Funny enough, I got a couple of texts from Sparkledancer the next day about this same guy. At some point during the night, she had exchanged phone numbers with him. From what I could gather from her story, he was a franchise studio student who was looking to branch out into the wider ballroom community. Partly that seems to be due to the high costs of the franchise studio which he didn’t want to pay any more, but also because it sounds like his old instructor left his studio, and this guy thinks that he knows more than the new girl who the franchise paired him with. So Sparkledancer offered to help be his guide to the wider ballroom community, and got his contact information for that reason.

She texted me on New Year’s Day to tell me that he was sending her a lot of messages to talk about dance and where he was hoping to go in the dance world. He has been dancing for two years now, and has had three different instructors at the franchise studio. He says that he wants to get into competitive dancing, but the franchise studio he is at doesn’t offer many competitions throughout the year and he isn’t sure if his franchise instructor would go to outside competitions with him. But he also told Sparkledancer that he doesn’t really want to work to be a competitor in the normal way. He wants to start going through and learn the figures so he can compete in Bronze, Silver and Gold, but he doesn’t want to worry about learning the technique until he finishes getting through all that. Huh.

But competing, much like taking lessons at his franchise studio, is also an expensive option, so he was asking her all about the cost benefits of having an Amateur partner for competing instead of trying to do Pro/Am, like she and I are doing. The creepy thing that Sparkledancer was telling me that I guess the guy was mentioning over and over is that he seems determined to find a dance partner and then also make that girl his life partner, so he wouldn’t stop asking Sparkledancer where he could go to meet all the young ballroom girls. I think she told me that he said he was 26 or 28, so he is looking for a girl who is between 20 and 24 who is also single.

To that end, it appears that he had developed a weird interest in Lord Junior’s current intern at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior has this girl who I think is in her mid-twenties that he has been training so that she could become a dance instructor someday. She helps out at the studio with running the front desk and cleaning in return for free lessons from Lord Junior toward that end. The new guy met her at the New Year’s Eve party, and I guess she made a big impression on him. Probably because she was dressed to party in tight leggings and a crop top. Intern girl is funny sometimes – she’ll dress like that, which seems to imply that she wants attention, but if you spend any time talking to her you would find out that she is super shy and tends to avoid attention. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, new guy asked Sparkledancer several times about Intern girl, trying to pass off his inquiries as questions about what level she is and whether the two of them were the same so that they could start training together. That would be one thing, but Sparkledancer was texting me and saying that he was throwing out leading phrases to try to get Sparkledancer to give him personal information about Intern girl. That… sounded kind of creepy to me. Funny, but creepy.

(Also, as an update, I saw Intern girl tonight when I was at the studio practicing. She said that the guy had found her on some social media site, and had sent her a couple of messages. I guess it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that he was using to find out information – he also went right to the source! Intern girl, as you might guess, thought it was strange that a dude that she met only once was asking her all kinds of things, so she just deleted the messages he sent.)

So that was the fun dance related stuff that brought my previous year to a close and ushered in the new one. Good times all around!

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Now that the year is all over, I sit here staring at this page, trying to look back over the last year I had in dancing to think about where it’s taken me. Let’s see…

2018 saw me really embrace the competitive side of dancing and all but walk away from social dancing in that pursuit. Throughout 2017, when I first decided to start seriously competing, I tried to maintain the same level of social dancing that I had been doing up until that point. It got to be a lot, and the social dancing wasn’t really helping me remove all of those bad habits that the social dancing had caused me to develop in the first place. Throughout the past year the amount of time that I went out was cut back more and more, and by the end of the year I got down to only going out to dance parties maybe once or twice a month. That’s probably pretty apparent if I were to flip back through my notes and compare the types of things that I have been talking about lately with what I was talking about at this time the year before.

That doesn’t mean that I have been dancing any less though. If anything, the sheer amount of time that I spend at a dance studio per week has increased dramatically because I am out trying to get in more practice time. That is one of the downsides of dancing Amateur that most people who dance Pro/Am don’t even consider – I have to practice a lot to ensure that I can do everything correctly without even thinking about it, because I don’t have a Professional who could cover for any mistakes I might make.

Note: I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing. My coach admitted to me earlier this year that there are times that he hates competing in Pro/Am competitions. He is a retired World Champion (the real kind, where he won titles in major International competitions, not just the kind from the competition circuit in this country where they call their winners ‘World Champion’ for some weird reason even if all the competitors dancing are from the same state). His Pro/Am students are paying him for his expertise as a retired World Champion. If his students get tired during a competition, or do their techniques incorrectly, he has compensated for them so that those ladies will still win their competition. He told me that doing that sort of thing – leading and adjusting his student’s actions with his frame so that they always look good and always win their rounds – is really hard on his body. So yes, a Professional admitted to me that he will go out of his way to cover for mistakes his students might make.

I’m not saying that Pros have to do that for all students, just that (as an Amateur) I don’t even have that possibility. If my partner or I screw up, we both are getting judged for what we do, so there isn’t someone in our partnership who could cover it up… anyway, this is getting way off from the point that I was trying to make. Let’s circle back around again…

Also, in order to keep up with the high pace of improvement and change that my coach desires of my partner and I, practicing so much to make sure that any changes we make in our coaching sessions becomes muscle memory is not really optional for me. I must have things down before the next time I see him, so that I don’t let him down and so that we can continue moving forward. So I practice a lot now – much more than I did throughout 2017. I have actually been thinking about moving so that I am closer to one of the dance studios that I practice at in 2019 because I spend so much time practicing. Getting rid of the drive time would be great! Then I could spend all that extra time doing more practice, right? Right!? Sigh…

But the results of all the work over the last year have been better than I expected. I went to a lot more competitions than I thought I would when the year started (I think I did seven or eight of them – but don’t quote me on that). I placed a lot higher than I was expecting to in most of them. There were even a couple of competitions that I did where my coach was one of the judges, so aside from getting back placements I was also able to get back direct feedback on what I needed to improve while competing from him, which is super helpful. We’ll see if all the hard work in 2018 pays dividends for the competitions that I do in 2019.

I also worked with my coach to play the dance politics game from a very different side throughout last year. For example, one competition that I was told to go to earlier in the year I didn’t actually dance against anyone, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the event. The organizers of the competition are important judges in the circuit, so I was told to make a showing there to help create some name recognition for myself with them. On top of that, there were several coaching sessions that I took with visitors who also judge competitions, for the same name-recognition reason. This side of dance politics is kind of an expensive game to play, and I don’t really like it all that much. But my coach thinks that it is important, and he hasn’t steered me wrong about anything yet, so I will keep following his recommendations. I’m sure there will be more political games for me in the year to come.

Based on how last year went, I have been wondering if I like being a true competitive dancer more than what I was doing before that, where I was mostly a social dancer who would get talked into competing occasionally. I’m not entirely sure. There are aspects of being a competitor that I like, but there are also a lot of pieces that are frustrating. Maybe I will spend some time in the future writing specifically about the trade-offs and detriments I see now that I am spending all my time focusing on competing instead of focusing on having fun as a dancer. That might be interesting. I’ll make a note about that so that I don’t forget.

Anyway… enough about that. 2018 was good in reflection, and I am looking forward to seeing where the adventures take me in 2019. There’s the potential for lots of crazy things if I end up doing all the things that my coach has been trying to talk me into doing. Bigger competitions, overseas competitions, training camps, meeting more people. He even talked about taking Sparkledancer and I to go to some dance event in his home country, and while we were there he would take all his students to his parent’s house so that we could experience his mother’s traditional cooking. I don’t know if I will end up doing all that next year, because theoretically I will only be competing in Silver at that point and it seems like a bit much, but there is potential so I’m not going to flat-out say no. We’ll have to see what happens!

Are you ready? I am! One more deep breath, and then let’s take off into 2019!

I’m super excited because tomorrow is my first ‘off’ day since changing out my workout schedule at the beginning of the week. The schedule I chose to take up is a five-on, one-off mix, which means I’m still technically working out six days a week, except for that one magical week down the road where the stars all align and then I will have an off day on the first day of the week, then five days of workouts, then a second off day on the very last day of the week! Calendar craziness!

My plan for tomorrow is that I’m going to use the time I normally reserve for my workouts to just stretch for a while. Since I made such a dramatic shift in the types of exercise blocks I am doing, my body is telling me that it’s a little unhappy – but in that good way, where your muscles are just complaining because you had been doing the same thing for several weeks and they had adapted to doing that, and now you are forcing them to work hard and adapt to something completely new. It’s the kind of pain that I love, because it tells me that I am working hard. Even so, a nice, quiet hour of stretching everything just sounds magical to me, so I am looking forward to it.

I imagine that there might be some people out there that are feeling the same way as I am – or maybe worse than I am – if they decided that regular exercise was their chosen resolution for the year. Obviously this feeling of soreness is something that I am used to, since I do this to myself fairly regularly to help avoid getting stuck at plateaus in my fitness. Exercise isn’t a resolution for me obviously, it’s just part of my normal lifestyle.

For people who didn’t really exercise very often and may now be trying to exercise frequently, I would guess that they are much worse for the wear than I am. You don’t necessarily want to follow my plan of action – I prefer to use stretching to alleviate any soreness I cause myself. I tend to stay away from drugs, even common pain relievers, unless I have no other recourse but to take them. So your mileage may vary.

To anyone out there trying their best to improve their fitness in 2019, I want to say that I am proud of you for making that choice. I hope that you not only reach, but then surpass any goals that you have set for yourself. And I believe that you can do that as long as you stick with it. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that the first week is always the hardest. Don’t run away from the pain and soreness that you have right now – embrace that feeling, because it means that your body is changing! And wasn’t that what you were going for in the first place?

Let’s do awesome things this year. Whatever it takes!

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

How was your weekend? We ended up getting snow here, which pretty much shut down everything for a couple of days. It was sad. I went to work on Monday morning and there was only a skeleton crew of people (like me) who were willing to attempt the drive with all that scary white stuff on the ground. I think everyone else just called in afraid. I wonder if HR classifies it like calling in sick, or if they file it under another code?

So many of the dance-related things I had planned on doing this past weekend just didn’t happen because of that. So what was left? Well, there was still a party on Saturday night that I went to, which surprisingly didn’t get cancelled. I also had that lesson with Lord Dormamu last Thursday that I mentioned in my last set of notes, but didn’t actually talk about then. I had another lesson with Lord Dormamu yesterday night as well. We’ll just roll those two items together here to keep the notes concise.

I’ll start with last Saturday night then, when I went to a holiday-themed dance party out at the Endless Dance Hall. This was a big formal event, and all the tickets for the party had sold out shortly after they had gone on sale, plus there was supposedly a waiting list of people who wanted tickets if anyone decided to cancel. The weather reports throughout the day were talking about all the storms in the area, so much of the day I wasn’t sure if either A) the party would be rescheduled, or B) people who had tickets would end up staying home. Wintery weather makes people in my neck of the woods go crazy. That wasn’t going to keep me home though! I even ended up being one of the first people to show up to the party, since I had left home a bit earlier than I needed to because I was worried that people would forget how to drive in questionable weather.

I am a fan of the way that this group put together the dance party. When I was a member of the Royal Dance Court and we hosted formal parties, we always hired a catering group to make and serve the food for us. I’m not exactly sure why that was, it was just the way it had been done before I joined, and I’m sure it is the way things will continue now without my input. This group had a dedicated sub-group of volunteers that actually cooked all the food that they were serving that night. I know that this practice will fade out over time, since nowadays younger people seem to have so many more weird food allergies and special dietary needs, but for an event like this I think that it adds a nice touch. Like having a nice home-cooked meal with a ton of your friends, and then there is dancing too.

At this party they had set up a smorgasbord of snacks and appetizers on one set of  tables along the edge of the dance floor, and all the different kinds of desserts you could want on another set. These tables were out all night long, so you could have actually started your meal that night by eating dessert rather than saving them for the end. On top of those tables, they had a whole buffet line waiting in one of the small rooms that is off to the side of the ballroom where they kept the actual dinner menu. I think I ended up trying a little bit of everything that wasn’t on the dessert table that night (I’m not a huge dessert person). Everything I had was spectacular.

Once dinner was mostly consumed, the DJ started up the music and the dancing began. With the appetizer and dessert tables being so close to the dance floor, you could get snacks while you were dancing if you were still hungry. Most of the items were of the finger-food variety, which works really well for dance parties. The items that require plates to eat are left behind as the night wears on, because you can’t eat those as easily while moving around. That’s why whenever I am asked to bring food to a dance party, I always do finger food.

(Want to know a secret? Deviled eggs work really, really well. A majority of people I’ve met in my life love them, and they are super easy to eat, so you barely have to stop dancing to have one! I’ve brought deviled eggs to sooooooo many dance parties, because then I never have to worry about taking home leftovers. Hopefully this advice comes in handy for one of you!)

Because this was a holiday party, most of the music played by the DJ that night was appropriately holiday-themed. I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music when I hear it in every store as soon as Thanksgiving is over, but I enjoy it at events like this one. I can take in the songs over a relatively confined time period, and there is an activity related to the songs going on at the same time. That makes me happier than being bombarded by the same five or six Christmas songs anytime I walk into a public building or turn on a radio.

Moving on, let’s swing back to last Thursday and talk about the notes I took from my lesson that night with Lord Dormamu. That night we started out by reviewing things in our Waltz routine and then spent the bulk of our time looking at the Quickstep – something that we haven’t gone back to in a while. Lots of minor things that will need practice were covered that night. Luckily our next competition won’t be until late-January, so we’ll have time to get everything down by then (I hope).

Starting with the Waltz: the first thing that Lord Dormamu wanted me to look at was my Natural Turn. He wants me to start pulling my left hip more to the left in the figure. Doing so will shape my body into even more of an arc than I had been doing, and the effect should be that the pulling of the hip looks like it is drawing the feet together. This particular change will require a lot more practice, since if I’m not super careful it can throw Sparkledancer off-balance when I do it. That would be bad.

We still need to work on our lowering action in the Waltz as well. Lord Dormamu actually made an observation that night – he told Sparkledancer and I that he thinks that being so athletic may be partially to blame for the issue we have with the lowering, something that other students of his haven’t had to work on so much. Between the two of us he says, we have so much strength in our legs and really well-trained balance, so we are able to move a lot with each step in our Waltz without lowering before the step like we’re supposed to. Sparkledancer and I can essentially, while dancing together, hold ourselves up and lower while moving and achieve a greater distance of travel than most people. Other students need to lower themselves before they start moving to even come close to comparing to how much we can move down the floor.

This might explain why Foxtrot is our best looking dance style and many other people dislike competitive Foxtrot, because that’s essentially the crux of what you are supposed to do. However, the Waltz was designed to look different, so this strength of ours in Foxtrot is holding us back a little bit in the Waltz. Essentially, our goal at this point is to force ourselves to lower before starting to travel like everyone else does. To do this, Lord Dormamu actually told us to take our Waltz and slow it down. Once we feel like we have slowed it down a lot, then we need to slow it down some more. This will give us time to think about and force the lowering to happen at the end of beat three and continue over into the beginning of beat one. Basically we have to drill it at ‘punishment speed’ until we get it right. Joy…

With that we moved on to the Quickstep. The first thing that we talked about after running through the routine once for him was the places where he had asked us to add in actions with our heads. He said that right now it looks like our had movements are timed to the music rather than occurring because of an action in our legs, which is bad. Our goal is to have the head motions occur as the leg starts taking our weight, so if there are places where we delay the step because we are playing with the musicality (like at the end of the Natural Spin Turn), the head motions should be delayed as well. Everything has to be connected we were told, and actions have to happen for a reason beyond just ‘our coach told us to do it.’

Next up we talked about the snap back into frame after the shaping we do in the first Progressive Chasse to the Right. Lord Dormamu asked me to make this look more prominent, more like we are actually ‘snapping’ back into normal shape. This comment set off red flags in my head, telling me that I needed to think about it a bit before just doing things. I may have mentioned before that I have a lot of mass in my upper body from all the heavy weight lifting… well, Sparkledancer can’t be much more than a little over half my body mass (I don’t know how much she weighs, but it’s A LOT less than me), so if I accidentally ‘snap’ myself too hard, there’s a chance I could hurt her. So I made a mental note to make sure I don’t do something stupid like that.

Remember the strange configuration that we were given in the first corner of our Quickstep routine? I drew a picture of it waaaaay back in the day if you don’t. Well, we are changing it slightly again, because we’ve managed to make it look good enough that we are now being allowed to upgrade it to the next level. Instead of keeping all the steps in one place, we are changing the first three steps to cover what would be half of a hexagon on the floor. That would make the fourth step at the end, which is a Slip Pivot, turn for a quarter of turn instead of an eighth. Hooray for being able to make things harder, I guess…

Finally we looked at the Running Finish figure. This figure actually took us all the way back around to what we talked about at the beginning of the lesson with the Natural Turn – in every Running Finish from here on out, Lord Dormamu wants me to pull to the side more with my right hip as I take my second step just like he wanted me to pull to the side in the Waltz Natural Turn with my left. This action should look different from the Waltz though because I am down in my legs more in the Quickstep as I take the step (I am in the middle of rising in the Waltz), so I should be able to pull my hip more here. Also, while doing this I need to be sure to take a smaller step to the side to help Sparkledancer get around me. If my step is too big, it makes her work too hard.

When Sparkledancer and I met up with Lord Dormamu yesterday night, we started out once again by looking at the Waltz, but this time we finished up by looking at Foxtrot instead of Quickstep – and that was only for a few brief minutes. While many of the points that we worked on in the Waltz were just continuations on the theme that we had started with last Thursday, there were a couple of new points that we talked about that I need to make note of so that I don’t forget them.

Let’s talk about the point that I found most interesting, because that will probably take up the most space. After dancing through the routine once, Lord Dormamu told us that our lowering action was better, but still needed more work. He then asked about how we had been working on things while practicing. I told him that Sparkledancer and I had been focusing on going through the figures slowly like he had recommended to us, generally by dropping the music down to 75% – 80% of the original tempo to work with. I felt like that was really slow, since I can certainly feel the lowering action in my right ankle from so much repetition this past week. My ankle has been kind of sore lately, even though I told it to suck it up and get over it. Silly ankle… it should just listen to me!

Lord Dormamu had a different suggestion for us to try. He told us that we really should just throw out the music entirely and work on doing the actions that would fall over beats three and one as slowly as we could physically handle. Any steps that would happen on a beat two in the music (in general – not all the time) would be where we rise up, so that had nothing to do with what we were working on here and we could go through those steps faster to move on to the next one. I had to ask, since I was concerned – how would the two of us stay together and take our steps at the same time if we didn’t have a consistent beat in the background to keep us moving in sync? He laughed at me for that question and told me that this exercise would also bey bonus practice on true lead-and-follow. Hooray…

We stopped for a couple of minutes here so that Lord Dormamu could tell us about his thoughts so that we were all on the same page. Apparently, I am one of those lucky individuals that fall into the camp of ‘innately able to hear and follow musical rhythm.’Staying on time when the music is playing is not something that Lord Dormamu ever worries about with me, because I have demonstrated time and again that I can just do it without even thinking. So in an instance like this, having the music playing in the background to try to work on staying in time with a song for extra practice is not all that useful for what we are trying to accomplish by this exercise.

In contrast to what we are trying to do while practicing super slowly – where we focus on lowering down as low as we can go and moving super slowly through those steps to make sure that every action happens in the proper place – once we get to a situation where we want to put on the music (like we did during our lesson), all of the thoughts that we are keeping in mind while moving slowly then get thrown out. Completely. The idea is that we are moving super slow and repeating the movements over and over again to train the muscles in our bodies to act in that manner so that when the music is put on the actions being in muscle memory will make our bodies unconsciously attempt to mimic the movements that we are doing slowly. Even if the music is too fast for us to lower as dramatically as we can when doing things super slow, it will appear to someone watching from the outside that we are doing everything correctly.

This type of training is really only possible because I can feel the rhythm ( yeah, yeah… the same song popped into my head there too). Lord Dormamu has another Amateur couple that he trains that he told us about as a comparison. The male in that pair cannot hear musical rhythm innately. In fact, this guy really struggles with staying on time, even to this day. It has only been through hard work and countless hours of practice that they have been able to achieve the high levels of success that they have managed over the years. Lord Dormamu would never ask that gentleman to practice his figures without at least counting out the time while doing so – because that guy needs all the extra help he can get to work on the timing. For that couple, having the music on so that they can use it to keep the timing correct is always a priority.

Incidentally, this took Lord Dormamu off on a tangent where he told us about one of that guy’s children. He said that this other Lead and his wife had put their son into piano lessons when he was young, and it didn’t take long for the piano teacher to identify that the son also had trouble with keeping musical rhythm just like his father. That has Lord Dormamu convinced that being able to hear music in that way must have some genetic component to it, since not being able to hear the rhythm seems to have been passed from father to son. Interesting…

Moving on – the Lord Dormamu also told us that doing all of our practice like this would help us fix a couple of things. First of all, the lowering, as mentioned earlier. But secondly it would allow us to work on making our dancing look the way it needed to despite the bodies that both Sparkledancer and I have.

Yup, my eyebrow went up there too. Stay with me for a second…

Apparently, as Lord Dormamu explained, both Sparkledancer and I have traits that make us look different from the ‘normal’ competitive dancer. Sparkledancer looks a lot like your average dance instructor from a distance, but I guess from afar it also looks like she has really long limbs. Lord Dormamu told us that he looks the same way – his coaches over the many, many years of training he had, always told him that his limbs looked like they were really long for his body. Because of that, if the limbs look like they are not moving with the rest of the body, it is really noticeable.

For instance, when she is preparing her leg to take a step backward, if the leg shoots backward super fast to prepare for the step, suddenly it looks like there is this long leg just hanging around back there. The longer the leg, the more the leg stands out so to speak. That’s what he said these exercises would help Sparkledancer with. Slowing the leg down will alleviate that impression, because the leg won’t be extended to full length behind her to quickly.

As for me… I am just all over different. I don’t look like a dance instructor at all, according to Lord Dormamu (other than my tendency to wear black clothing while in dance studios). I look “solid” as he so delicately put it, and then proceeded to start punching me in the chest to emphasize that point. Because of all the muscle I have, I cut an imposing and distinct frame on the floor. This becomes a problem if I let my own limbs start moving too fast on me. If the Waltz is supposed to make me look like I am heavy on the floor, and my body is solid-looking, which naturally should be heavy on the floor, then if I am stepping through the routine with very light feet the whole thing just looks wrong. Moving slowly for me and relaxing a bit to allow my natural weight settle me to the floor as I move will fix all of that.

Wow. I wrote a lot more about dance theory than actual dance steps, huh? I guess that’s what I took away from this session.

The whole reason that we looked at Foxtrot at the end of the lesson was because I asked whether we needed to work on practicing slowly without music with all of our routines, or if this exercise was just limited to the Waltz. After all, I wanted to make sure that I got things right during practice over the next week before we see him again! Foxtrot was the first style that came to mind, so he wanted to have us trying running through it once in the same slow, sans-music manner to see what it looked like.

As it turns out, none of the issues we have with the look of our Waltz are apparent in the Foxtrot. It still is our best looking dance style. The only thing he cautioned us on was a few of the foot movements through the Natural Weave, but we weren’t sure if those were an actual problem or just caused by moving at an uncomfortably slow pace through the figures, so he told us to keep an eye on them in practice and we would check them again next time.

That’s all I’ve got to say this week. It was actually a lot more than I thought I was going to say. I really have to stop being so verbose… ah well, there’s always next week for that!

Some Balls Are Held For Charity And Some For Fancy Dress

I went to two different dance parties this weekend. Two very, very, very, very, very… (I think you get my drift) different dance parties.

Last Friday I went to a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. I hadn’t originally planned on being there that night, but Bony was asking a bunch of us if we would go since she was going to be there, and I couldn’t say no to her. She asks so little! It turns out that the only reason that she was going was because some lady that Bony is friends with was going to be out of town, so she had asked Bony to go to the dance party to meet her husband and be her husband’s dance partner for the night since she couldn’t be there. Since Bony had recruited friends to join her at the party that night, those ladies all ended up taking turns keeping the older gentleman out on the dance floor. Pretty good deal for him, right?

Me, I guess I was just asked to be there for moral support, or something. After all, that guy probably didn’t want to dance with me, even if I am super fun to dance with. There were plenty of other ladies for me to dance with throughout the night, so I never actually had to sit out for a dance unless I actually wanted to. The party broke up earlier than I expected, with most of the attendees leaving to go home before ten-thirty even though the party was scheduled to go until eleven. When there was no one unpaired ladies left for me to dance with, I took off as well.

Then there was Saturday… I don’t even begin to know how to describe this, so just bear with me for a moment as I start at the beginning.

Saturday afternoon I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for an hour or so to get in some practice time, like we usually do. She got to the studio as I’m stretching out my legs. Once she spotted me she got this hopeful look on her face, and she comes over and asks if I would do her a huge favor. There was going to be a dance party that night, and she wanted to go to it. She had asked her husband to go, but he had told her he wasn’t interested. Even after that, she still wanted to go, but she didn’t want to go by herself, so she wanted to ask if I would be a pal and go with her.

That didn’t seem like such a huge deal, so I said that I could probably clear up my schedule and go out for a few hours that night. I told her to send the details of which studio we would meet at and what time and I would let her know after I had a chance to go home after practice and move things around and I was sure I could make it. Then she looked at me hesitantly and told me that the party wasn’t actually at a studio…

Turns out that this party that she was interested in attending was a Victorian-era Christmas Ball… and they were advertising that they would give you a discount on the cover charge if you made an attempt at dressing in Victorian period attire. Also, the group that was hosting this event was known for teaching people the Waltz… but not the style of Waltz that I necessarily knew. The flyer that she showed me promised that the event would feature the dances from the Victorian era “including but not limited to quadrilles, polkas, waltzes, and those lighthearted games known as ‘Germans.’” (Yes, that is really what it said!)

Suffice to say I just kept looking back and forth between Sparkledancer and the flyer for a bit, totally unsure what to make of the whole thing. It wasn’t exactly the kind of party that I was expecting to go to, and my first thought was that I wasn’t sure that I had anything that would even vaguely resemble period attire that I could wear. So I backtracked a bit and said that I would think about it and let her know later, and we got to practicing.

When I got home that afternoon, I dug through the closet where I have been storing all the crazy outfits that I have collected over the years because of dancing to see if I had anything that would work. I did manage to find an old top hat and a cravat that I had worn for a showcase performance I had done years ago, and I figured that if I coupled that with a plain white dress shirt and a vest that it was probably the best that I could do for anything even close to period attire. But the question I was still asking myself was whether I really wanted to go to an event like this or not. So, I did what I usually do when I can’t make a decision as to whether to do something or not – I consulted the unbiased opinion of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Since I’m writing out this whole story, you can probably guess that he told me I should go.

My man!

This particular dance adventure was… well, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. This ended up being way outside of my comfort zone. I’m not even really sure why. I do a lot of dancing, of all kinds of different styles. I’ve gone to lots of costume parties over the years because of dance. I’ve even gone to a number of strange dance parties that were completely unrelated to ballroom dancing just so that I could dance at them. But this party… for whatever reason I was just not comfortable being there. Even days later as I write this, I still really don’t know why.

That being said, it was a fascinating party to attend from a people watching perspective. Utterly fascinating. Many people not only dressed in period attire, but attempted to speak and act as if they were from the period as well. I would liken it to being at a Renaissance fair, except it was the Victorian era instead of the Renaissance, and a dance party instead of a fair. I’ve only been to Renaissance fairs like twice in my life so I’m not really an expert on what goes on at those, but that is the closest approximation that I can make to try to help you understand what was going on at this event.

The big problem I ran into once I was there was the expectations that I had built in my head before I arrived at the venue. Even after reading that flyer with the crazy description that I quoted earlier, I had built it up in my head to be some sort of old-timey Waltz party. I am not usually keen on going to parties where they do one style of dance all night, but this particular party had other factors going for it that made it seem like it could have been amusing. What I found when I got there was that they didn’t ‘Waltz’ – at least, not in any sense even close to what I think of as Waltz. In fact, I counted only three songs in the first two hours that were even in some form of triple time (¾, ⅜, 6/8 or the like). I don’t really see songs that are not in triple time as being Waltzes, so why did I imagine this to be a Waltz party?

Most of the dances that they did that evening were what I would actually consider line dances. Everyone would form a big line (or two big lines or a big circle) and all do the same steps. There were a few dances that were more like Square Dancing, where the hostess would call out the names of figures and then everyone would do them. And then there were the weird “Germans” games that had been mentioned in the flyer… those were weird.

Let me mention one of those games that thoroughly confused me. Everyone got split up by sex, The men were arranged into a big circle facing inward, holding up our arms and touching our palms together, leaving space between us on either side. The ladies just lined up on one side of the room. As the game started and the music was put on, the lady at the front of the line would come forward and enter the circle of men. One man would then back out of the circle to be ‘it’ for that lady.

The game was described as being like ‘cat and mouse’ – the lady would run around inside the circle and try to duck out and back in between the men. The ‘it’ man would run around the outside of the circle and try to touch her somewhere on her body. If the guy managed to tag the lady, she stopped running and they would do some kind of dance together of the man’s choosing around the outside of the circle. He would drop her off at one of the chairs in the room after completing their circuit and return to the circle. If the guy was having a hard time catching the lady, the circle of men would take a step inward, slowly closing the circle and making it harder for the lady to get between us. Once the lady in the circle was tagged and she started dancing with the ‘it’ man, the next lady in line entered the circle and the process began anew.

This. Went. On. FOREVER. Since the game was only played with one woman at a time and there were A LOT of ladies at the party, giving every lady who wanted to play a chance consumed well over a half-hour of the party. After the first half-dozen ladies, I was totally bored. Whether I got to be the guy who was ‘it’ or not, I was bored. Maybe it was my fault. I guess my attention span has been shattered by going to normal ballroom social dances, and now I can’t focus on the same dance style for longer than one normal song anymore without getting antsy to switch things up.

Another weird thing about that night was how much the hostess liked to use the word ‘frisky’ to describe parts of the dances she was teaching. I’m sure that she was using the word to try to get a chuckle out of the attendees, but there was a side effect to her use of that word that I’m not sure if she intended. Attending the party that night were many younger people – younger than me, which makes them pretty young. Whenever the hostess would describe a part of the dance as being ‘frisky’ these younger people always seemed to take that as meaning they were allowed to be out of control for some reason.

For example, one of the dances that we did was a pretty simple quadrille where one couple would march over in time to stand in front of the couple on their right, then bow to them, then you would take hands with the new person in front of you and spin for an eight count around before marching back to your starting point. On the next eight count you were supposed to pick someone else to spin around with a few times and make it back to your spot, and then your turn was over and the couple to the right would take over and start the pattern all over. Pretty simple, right? I bet that when you picture this in your head, you are picturing a pleasant, slow dance that would have been enjoyable to Victorian-era nobility. That’s how I was picturing it as we were being taught the steps.

Well… the hostess described the spinning portions of the dance as being ‘frisky’, so suddenly the younger men at the party took the dance from a pleasant quadrille to a death-match style contest to see who could spin their lady around the most times before the eight-count was over. That made things dangerous. The floor at this venue wasn’t a nice wooden floor like they would have at a dance studio, so anyone who was wearing shoes that were more costume-appropriate didn’t have a lot of traction. My dance shoes (which I brought with me, because I had pictured the dancing being different that night) were sliding all over the place too. So we had people spinning as fast as they could while sliding all over the floor. It was nuts!

Another example was a line dance that we did where people paired off and formed two lines facing one another. The line of Followers would step toward the Leaders, then back, then go between the Leaders on their right, then the Leaders would flip around to face them. Then came the part that the hostess described as ‘frisky’ where the two Leads and two Follows at the head of the lines would take hands into a big circle and spin around a few times, then the Leads would stand in place side-by-side at the head of the line while the two Followers marched in a circle around their Lead two times. When the Follower finished marching the second circle they were supposed to take the Lead’s hand and sashay down between the lines of Leads and Follows to take their place at the end of the line, and everyone else moved up in line.

Again, it sounds nice and gentle and pleasant, and you can imagine watching people do this in a Victorian-period movie, right? Well, because the hostess used the word ‘frisky’, the circling that the two couples at the head of the line did turned into a race. First they would see how many times they could spin when all four people were holding hands. Then the ladies would run around their Leads to see who could complete their two circles the fastest. Finally, when the lady grabbed the guy’s hand, many of them ended up sprinting (not sashaying, actually sprinting) down to the end of the line as fast as they could. Nuts!

Kids these days, right?

One other interesting note about the party – unexpectedly, there was one girl in attendance that I hadn’t expected to see. She was a younger girl who has joined us out at the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique and Standard Technique classes for the last several years. When we finally had a few minutes to talk, she came over to say hi to Sparkledancer and I. She seemed to be at the party all by herself, so Sparkledancer asked her how she had found out about the event (turns out that she had seen the same flyer that Sparkledancer had shown me). What she said was kind of remarkable.

It turns out that this was what she had always dreamed of doing – this kind of Victorian-era reenactment dance party with all of the old-timey dancing. In fact, the whole reason that she had originally started to take ballroom dance lessons was because she had wanted to go to parties like this, but there weren’t any going on that she could find, so ballroom dancing was the next best thing. As the girl was telling Sparkledancer this, she started to get teary eyes and choke up a little, because she was so happy that she had finally found a group that held events like she had dreamed about. She had already talked to the hostess about joining their lessons during the week, and was thinking about ways to improve her costume to make it even more period appropriate. So that was really cool. I’m really happy for her that she finally found what she had been looking for. Hooray!

As for me… I can’t say that I would go back to another of these parties. It was certainly interesting, and entertaining for an evening, but it’s just not my cup of tea. As I said, I get bored doing the same dance style for long periods of time (even if the dance style is line dances), and all the dances they did that night seemed to go on forever and ever. I know that was because they wanted to give everyone a chance to participate, but it just bored me silly. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve never put a lot of energy into learning dance styles like Salsa or Argentine Tango to go to clubs where they dance those styles, because that’s all they will do all night long. I’m really happy for people who love to do that, but I’ll stick with ballroom-style social where they switch up the dance styles after every song.

So the next time someone asks me to go to a Victorian-era Ball, I’m going to have to turn them down. I did it once and got the stories out of it. That’s good enough for me!

Enough about that. Since I’ve already said a lot this week, let me finish up quickly by talking about last night’s Standard Technique class that I went to. I’m not exactly sure what was going on last night, but there were very few people hanging around at the Electric Dance Hall compared to what I usually see on a Wednesday night. For one thing, the West Coast Swing class that goes on every week only had three people in it, when usually there are at least ten or twelve. And then the only other student besides me to show up for Standard Technique was Sparkledancer. Where was everyone else last night?

In a way though, it was nice that it ended up being just the two of us – it was kind of like getting a private lesson from Lord Junior for the much, much, much lower cost of a group class. To keep things interesting for all of us, once we had decided on a dance style to work on that night (Foxtrot), Lord Junior basically pulled out the syllabus guide and started running Sparkledancer and I through the list of Silver-level figures for Foxtrot. After all, the Silver figures are more interesting than the Bronze ones, and at some point in the next few months we are going to be moving up to that level anyway, so he thought we might as well start memorizing all the figures now.

We managed to get through six of the figures during the course of the class. They were (not in this order) the Closed Telemark, the Open Telemark and Feather Ending, the Top Spin, the Hover Feather, the Hover Cross, and the “Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending” (yes, that is all one figure). All but two of these figures I have done at some point or another in my life – probably in other Standard Technique classes, if I had to guess. I really don’t know where else I would have gone through them besides in this class.

The two figures that I can’t say that I’ve seen before that night were the Hover Cross and the Closed Telemark. Of those two, the Closed Telemark sounded the easiest – it’s just a Telemark where you finish the turn in normal dance position instead of shifting to Promenade Position like you would in an Open Telemark. Once I had tried it out, I could see why I’ve only ever done the Open Telemark before – it’s hard to turn a full 270° while remaining in dance position the whole time. I managed to get through it successfully a couple of times by the end (hooray for me!), but if I end up having to use this figure in the future I will need to put in some more practice to make it look presentable.

The Hover Cross was a different matter altogether. Unlike the Closed Telemark, where I had a basic understanding of what to do since I have done Open Telemarks in the past, I had nothing to compare the Hover Cross to mentally, so I was learning the footwork on the fly. My first few tries failed because I took the wrong steps. My next few tries failed because the sway that I was trying to do looked funny. By the ninth or tenth time I managed to figure out what I was doing to make the figure look passable, but it still felt funny to me. Maybe that was just because I didn’t really know the figure, but who knows? We moved on once I managed to make it through OK to look at something else. I’m sure I will see this figure again at some point in the future.

I’m going to leave it there for the time being. I did have a lesson with Lord Dormamu tonight, but I think if I tried to put all my notes from that lesson into this post it would get to be much too long even for me. So I’ll probably start with those next time!

This coming week has a few highlights to look forward to. There is a workshop I heard about on Saturday morning that sounds like it could be fun, and then I am going to another holiday dance party Saturday night (a normal holiday dance party, not like the one I went to last Saturday). This is probably the last specific holiday dance party I am going to go to this year. There will be other holiday parties I’m sure – since it is that time of year I would guess that all parties are vaguely holiday themed – but if I end up at one of those it will be a last-minute decision, unlike the party I’m going to this weekend which I bought a ticket to weeks ago to ensure I would have a place reserved.

Will I see you there? I hope so! If you find me, come give me a high-five. That is a less common form of greeting, so I’ll know how you found out about the party if you greet me like that. It will be our secret code.