Capable Of All That’s Imagined And All Conceivable

I promise that I’m not trying to jump on the cliché bandwagon, but I wanted to start off going over my thoughts on all the changes that happened in 2017. A lot of things changed in my dance world over the last year, and one change in particular is notably poignant. For this, my first post of 2018, I thought I would step back and just reflect for a bit, so bear with me.

Once upon a time I strongly argued that even though I would compete from time to time, I was nothing more than an “advanced social dancer.” I always thought that if I was talking to other people at dance parties, especially newcomers, this made me sound less threatening. Well, in 2017 I officially turned a corner and became a true competitive dancer.

So what has that meant? Well for one, it means that I dance a lot more than I used to, but I social dance a lot less. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth. One of the advantages of having an amateur partner is that I can practice in between my lessons for minimal cost (the dance studio where I normally practice asks me to pay a nominal floor fee for every hour I practice). I know a lot of Pro/Am students don’t practice nearly as much as I do because it requires them to either pay for time with their teacher, or to practice alone, which is a hard thing to do for some dance styles.

Because of this, the people who I know in the dance community have drastically changed. I used to go out to dance parties quite a bit, so I knew a bunch of other dancers and could talk with them about various aspects of their lives. Nowadays my dance partner Sparkledancer and I have tried to schedule our practice time at the studios when there aren’t many classes or lessons going on, so we can work on the movement aspect of all of our routines. That means that the people I run into and talk with the most now are mostly dance instructors.

If I now consider myself a competitive dancer and no longer an advanced social dancer, that obviously means that I chose to compete during 2017. By the count that I can think of off the top of my head, I entered five different competitions last year. Two of those competitions only gave me scores or feedback from the judges, and the results of the other three were based on placements among all the competitors on the floor. One of those three my partner and I danced unopposed all day, so although I obviously placed really well in that event, I don’t consider the results to be very meaningful.

The two remaining competitions went surprisingly well, and that’s what makes me think that I have to call myself a true competitive dancer now. Giving up American Smooth and Rhythm and International Latin competitively and focusing only on International Standard means that all my practice time can really make those five dance styles better, and the results I’ve gotten so far have been… well, impressive. It shows me that all my hard work might have actually accomplished something.

However, I still have the mindset that I am only an advanced social dancer, which is why I said that the competitions went ‘surprisingly well.’ In the past, I used to agree to compete once or twice a year as a way to get some feedback on how much I have progressed in my dancing in the interim. I never expected to score super high. On top of that, in all the competitions I was in during my first couple of years dancing my amateur partner and I always danced our championship rounds against all Pro/Am couples, so in those events we were guaranteed last place. Every time.

As you can imagine, competing as an amateur male against a professional male isn’t really a fair comparison. Logically, I knew that Sparkledancer and I were competing against these Pro/Am couples because there were so few amateur couples competing, and none of the others were even willing to try dancing in a championship round. Knowing that, I probably shouldn’t have ever agreed to sign up for the championship rounds. But my dance partner and I did anyway, and the result of that choice early in my dance career got me used to always being in last place when competing.

Those experiences are what make it surprising to me now when I place at or near the top of the rankings, even though I know the nature of those old competitions are worlds apart from the ones that I compete in now. When I get the chance to dance against all other amateur pairs dancing the same level that I am dancing, there is no question that the results will be different from the results I got when I danced against Pro/Am pairs who were dancing at a higher level than me. But even knowing that logically, I am still surprised when I do well.

There’s also that humbling voice in the back of my head that asks me whether I have done so well in the last couple of competitions I was in because I’ve actually improved, or if I was just better than the other competitors in those competitions. I chose to take part in some competitions that were put together by the same organization, and though the venues were a few hours apart, many of the people who did compete took part in both competitions. So it’s hard to say I would do as well in future competitions unless I find a way to test myself against a new group of competitors.

The obvious way to do that would be to sign up to compete in an event that is even farther away, right? I didn’t do that during 2017. I wasn’t confident enough that I had improved in my abilities yet to make that kind of financial investment in competing. Also, while coming up with money to travel and dance is fairly easy for me to do (I make stupid money compared to my low cost of living), it’s not quite as easy for Sparkledancer. We have been talking about doing a competition that involves traveling farther into the wilds of the Dance Kingdom soon, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on it quite yet. That’s an adventure to look forward to in 2018!

I guess I should mention the catalyst for my change from an advanced social dancer into a competitive dancer, which is also another pretty major change that happened in 2017. Early in the year, Sparkledancer and I were made an offer that took us down this new path. Part of the terms for accepting this offer was that we accepted having a new dance coach to work with regularly.

The story that I have been told about what instigated this offer was that our normal instructor (Sir Steven) approached our new coach (Lord Dormamu) to ask him if he could help push my amateur partner and I to the next level as competitive dancers. Lord Dormamu watched us discreetly for a bit to evaluate the two of us, and he thought that we had a lot of potential, so he agreed with Sir Steven to work on molding the two of us into true competitive dancers.

Agreeing to work with Lord Dormamu is what really changed my mindset on my dance career. As you can imagine, having lessons with him is much more expensive than lessons with any other instructor I’ve ever worked with. Even though I am splitting the cost of these lessons with my amateur partner, it’s still expensive, so I realized that if I was going to be shelling out this kind of money for a coach about every other week, I needed to take everything he says seriously. And taking it serious meant that I would actually have to start practicing regularly and earnestly to get what he told me in our lessons into my muscle memory.

But there is a good reason that his time costs so much. This man is a world champion many times over, so he knows all the things! ALL. THE. THINGS! He retired from competing two years ago, and told me that since retiring his job is to train new couples to be world champions like him. On top of that, he is really good about explaining all of those things he knows to me in a manner that I can easily grasp, so I learn quite a bit from him. The results I’ve gotten in the competitions I’ve entered have validated that this arrangement seems to be working.

In 2017 Lord Dormamu tore apart my International Waltz and Foxtrot completely and put everything back together in a manner that more closely matches the way that high-level professionals dance those styles. We also began working through the Tango to go through the same process. Based on the comments about the future that Lord Dormamu has given me, by the time 2018 is over he will have finished up the Tango, and gone through the same process with my Quickstep and Viennese Waltz.

Looking ahead to the future, Lord Dormamu’s long-term expectations, as I have been told, is that throughout 2018 he will continue to hold Sparkledancer and I at the Bronze level until he is done with this rebuild. After he is finished, we should walk through Silver and Gold very quickly and easily, because all the techniques we are mastering now are the same techniques we will be using at those levels. He seems confident that we could do this, and based on the results I’ve had so far I am inclined to believe that it is possible. I hesitate to say that it is inevitable, but I certainly say that it’s possible!

The other rabbit-hole that I wandered even further down during 2017 was the world of dance politics. I know it seems like a strange thing to even talk about, since this is dancing and by all accounts should be apolitical, but there is a lot of very political work that goes on behind the scenes in the ballroom dance world. I find a lot of it interesting on a theoretical level, but there are some aspects of it that are kind of depressing, and really show that major portions of what goes on, especially in competitions, is based on who you know… and who you know is influenced in large part by how much money you are willing to spend.

Some parts of the dance politics landscape aren’t that bad. If you have been following my dance notes for a while, you will know that I was voted in to be a member of the Royal Dance Court over two years ago now. Last May the leader of the Royal Dance Court nominated me to become the Keeper Of Records for the group, a position which I accepted. Then in November I was elected to continue on for another two-year term on the Royal Dance Court, so I guess the people feel like I have been doing something right over the previous two years!

The Royal Dance Court is what I consider to be the good side of dance politics. We work together to put on fun dance events for members of the dance community. We recruit local dance instructors to come and teach group lessons to help dancers of all levels improve and learn new, fun things. Sometimes we have to deal with issues that come up, but most of the time the work is purely to put together the fun aspects of ballroom dancing – the dance parties that the majority of dancers love to attend.

Now the flip side – Lord Dormamu is the one that introduced me to, and will freely admit to having me play along with, the dark side of dance politics. During 2017, there were a couple of instances where Lord Dormamu wanted me to take a coaching session from visiting instructors. Visitors like these are often seen in the competitive dance community, acting as judges at various dance competitions throughout the world and then teaching coaching lessons at a nearby studio before they fly back home.

While it was interesting to talk to these visiting coaches and hear their comments on the way that I danced, there were many things that they recommended that I do that Lord Dormamu told me to just ignore. His reasoning for why I should ignore these recommendations was that these judges all learned to dance and became champions many decades ago, and the way that they learned to dance competitively is not the way that dancers that become world champions now are doing things anymore.

I asked my Lord Dormamu why then I would want to take these lessons with visiting coaches like this, if he was going to tell me to throw out much of what they recommended to me. That seemed to me like a major waste of my time and money. I could use that money to take more lessons with him and actually learn useful things, couldn’t I?

His answer was that this was all part of the dark side of dance politics that everyone knows about, but many people avoid talking openly about. If I go to a competition where one of these people is judging, and I’ve taken a coaching session from them, they are more likely to remember me and the lesson that we had together. If I am dancing well at the competition, they will think that their coaching had something to do with how well I dance, and will mark me better for it.

Or if I am basically tied for a placement in that judge’s mind with another couple on the floor, and I have taken a coaching session with the judge and the other couple did not, the judge is more likely to bump me higher because of that. They may see me for only a few seconds on a crowded dance floor that they are judging, but that will remind them of the hour or so that I spent with them, and that familiarity tends to mean something.

So Lord Dormamu was basically admitting that you can do better in competitions if the judges know you, and they will know you better if you spend the money to take coaching with them, even if the things that they recommend to you to improve your dancing are not useful. This dark side of dance politics is a game that he had to play while he was competing to become world champion over and over, and now it is a game that he told me that he will help me play. That knowledge leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Dance politics… something, something, dark side… know what I mean?

One last thing: I know that the subject matter of my writings on this site have shifted dramatically over the last year as well. This site has always been the place where I keep my dance notes on all the things that I need to remember. Because I have been taking things so much more seriously over the past year, I have had to document all the things that I need to remember from my lessons, which right now involve a lot of technical points.

That’s probably something that will continue in 2018 as well, so I hope that it hasn’t gotten too boring for you yet! I am male and I dance the Lead part, so most of the notes that I write down are for how to do that side of the figures or techniques. There aren’t a lot of male ballroom dancers out there, so I know my material is useful to a much smaller audience than notes from a Follower’s perspective.

Still, I hope that some of the information that I’ve been told, filtered through my written voice, can be useful to someone out there. And, as always, if you have any questions about any of the things that I mention, please ask! I’m not a dance instructor, but I dance A LOT, so I can probably help, or point you in the right direction if I don’t know.

It’s 2018! That’s crazy! Let’s all make this an awesome year for dancing, however you choose to dance. I hope to see you out on the floor somewhere. 🙂

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We’ve Wandered Many A Weary Foot

It’s been a quiet week here in the Dance Kingdom. Lots of people were off somewhere visiting family to celebrate the Christmas three-day weekend, so not much was going on. I opted to forego trying to find any dance parties to attend this past weekend, and instead spend some quality time on the couch with my cat, taking care of some things for work. I am just a bundle of raw excitement when I’m not out dancing, aren’t I?

But that doesn’t mean that there was no dancing in my life this past week. I did go out and do three notable things, which is more dancing than a lot of people do during a normal week. It seems like so little when compared to how the last several weeks/months have gone for me, though. I am pretty easily talked into going out on dance adventures of one kind or another.

That’s probably why I am one of the few people left who was an original member of the Ballroom Village that still spends time writing about ballroom dancing. If you go through the list I have linked at the top, you’ll see that many of those other sites are no longer updated. Have you noticed that too? Sometimes I wonder if that means the writers of those sites have all given up on dancing, and that makes me kind of sad…

Anyway, I have a few notes I took this weekend about things that I need to remember, so here they are. Maybe something I was told will be helpful for you too!

I started off early on Saturday morning having a lesson with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. Now that the performance of the showcase is finally behind all of us, we spent a few minutes talking about some plans for the next few months. Sir Steven mentioned a couple of competitions that he knew about which are coming up in the first part of the year that he feels would be worth consideration. The first was a studio competition at the Fancy Dance Hall in February, which Sparkledancer and I had also danced in last February.

The nice thing about that competition is that the judges actually give you notes about each heat you dance in, not just a score. That was really helpful for me last time, so I’ll probably do it again. If I remember correctly, the International Standard portion of the competition was all completed before lunch, so I could finish up competing and still have plenty of time to go out on a hot date on Valentine’s Day weekend if I wanted to. Hooray!

Another competition that Sir Steven suggested was actually one of those big-deal, National-level competitions. Sparkledancer and I qualified for that event by doing so well at a competition a few months ago, and Sir Steven thought it might be an interesting experience for us if we wanted to sign up and give it a try. The event is in March or April I think (I was only sort of paying attention when he mentioned the date).

This one I told Sir Steven I was feeling a bit more hesitant about. Right now, I’ve only got a handful of competitions under my belt from this past year that I actually scored well in. I’m not sure that translates to me doing any good when competing on a National-level. I told him that my personal opinion was that I would think about it as we get closer, depending on how well I feel we have progressed in our training between now and then, but if I had to sign up for the event that day I would decline.

Sparkledancer said that she would only want to do the event if I were going to dance with her. She obviously has the option to compete Pro/Am without me, dancing with either Sir Steven or Lord Dormamu, but that would make the event super expensive for her. So I guess the pressure is all on me to see if I feel ready in a few months!

To focus on getting ready, we talked about what we wanted to work on now. Sparkledancer told Sir Steven that we were currently working with Lord Dormamu to make our Tango look like Tango, so we shouldn’t spend time on that since we would be meeting with him later in the afternoon. The one dance style that we haven’t really spent much time working on with anyone during this past year was Quickstep, so that was what she suggested we go over for the next couple of weeks. I agreed with that idea, so the decision was unanimous.

There were a couple of important points that we hit on that needed work after running through the routine a couple of times. The first was that Sir Steven wanted us to make sure that the angles that our Progressive Chasses traveled were correct, were chosen by the direction of the first step, and then stayed at that angle the whole way through. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

Apparently there were a few times where Sir Steven saw whomever it was moving backward, whether it was Sparkledancer or myself, move out of the way to open up space for our partner with the first step, and that caused the Progressive Chasse to curve slightly when we did so. Whoops!

The next point was about the rise and fall that we were doing. I guess there were a few spots where it looked like we were rising quite a bit, more like what we should be doing in a Waltz. According to Sir Steven, we should think of Quickstep more like Tango in this regard, and try to keep the level of our head the same as much as possible. There will definitely be foot rise for some figures, but the amount that we do shouldn’t have us coming up and down like a Waltz. He especially wanted us to stay low during the walking steps in between our Progressive Chasses.

To go along with the talk about the rise and fall, Sir Steven also wanted to mention something that would be a point to think about in all of our dances, and not just Quickstep. Sir Steven says that sometimes it looked like neither Sparkledancer nor I is fully extending our legs from the knee down. He wanted us to make sure that we were getting a full extension whenever possible with each step that we took.

I stopped to ask about that for a few minutes. Because of all of the work that Sparkledancer and I did with Lord Dormamu working on the way that we move while dancing, when I dance with Sparkledancer I am able to cover a lot of ground without putting in a ton of effort. Using our Quickstep routine, we would start in the front corner right up against the edge of the tables, and by the time we got to the second corner we would be close to running into the back wall of the building. And that’s even after I cut out one of the two Forward Locks that are in the routine!

I was worried that pushing to extend my legs even farther would run me right off the floor at any competitive venue that we dance at. The floor of the Fancy Dance Hall is already longer than the floors used at all the competitions I’ve been at this past year, so if I am able to run out of space there, I would definitely have problems during a competition. I understood the need to straighten my legs, but I told him that the only way I could probably do that would be to stand up taller while I danced, so my legs covered less distance when I extend them.

Sir Steven told me not to worry too much about running myself off the floor. He said, and I quote, “that is a problem many of our other competitors wish they had.” He reminded me that years ago, when I was first working on ballroom dances, he was constantly trying to get me to take bigger steps, because that’s a hard thing to teach new students to do. Having to go back and reign in how much I travel on a smaller floor won’t be as hard as I was making it out to be, he told me.

The last thing that we talked about for the Quickstep was the Natural Spin Turn we have at the beginning of the routine. I guess there are times that it looked like I was really forcing the figure to rotate all the way around so that I ended up backing diagonal center. Sir Steven couldn’t tell me if the problem was that my first pivot wasn’t turning enough, or if Sparkledancer wasn’t coming around enough to turn me all the way, but he said that likely the issue was a combination of the two factors, so we should spend some time practicing to make sure we work it out.

As I mentioned earlier, Sparkledancer and I had also scheduled some time to work with Lord Dormamu last Saturday. He was out doing some coaching sessions for students at the Endless Dance Hall that day, so I had to do a bit of traveling to take this lesson. As you can imagine, we continued to work on our Tango, since we are nowhere near being done making that dance style look the way that he wants it to.

So what words of wisdom were Sparkledancer and I given this week to help improve our Tango? There were a couple of main figures that we looked at. The first one being the Right-Side Lunge that happens in the first corner. Looking at this figure was actually a request from Sparkledancer, since we had been reviewing the figure in practice previously and she kept saying that something about the figure didn’t feel right to her.

She and Lord Dormamu managed to fix the figure (I think they changed something about her shaping, but I’m not sure exactly what it was). He also told her that it was time for her to start doing a double head flick when she got into the lunge. I am looking over her head when we get into that position, so it is important for me to keep myself straight and not lean over, otherwise I am going to end up getting my chin smacked by her flicking head.

Lord Dormamu’s overall impression of how our Tango was going that afternoon was that we needed to stay lower during the whole dance. As he put it, we always start out just fine, especially if we get into frame and then he spends a minute yanking us around to make sure our position is perfect, but we tend to drift upward as we travel. We didn’t spend a lot of time looking at any specific parts for this, it was just a note on something to practice on our own time.

Most of our time that day was spent looking at the figures that are connected to an Open Promenade. There are three main ones that we have: the Open Promenade that goes into an Open Reverse Turn, the Open Promenade that goes into a Natural Pivot, and the aforementioned Open Promenade into the Right-Side Lunge. We spent so much time on these figures because Lord Dormamu saw that Sparkledancer and I would lose body contact and ‘gap’ slightly while dancing through the figures, and he couldn’t figure out why.

The first transition that we would do, from an Open Promenade into the Open Reverse Turn, was good. We could get through that without coming apart in any way. It’s likely we can do this because that transition is one we practice more than any of the others. The next transition we looked at from the Open Promenade into the Natural Pivot, Sparkledancer and I would definitely break apart. Each of us could dance through the figures with Lord Dormamu and not lose body contact, but then when the two of us would dance together it wouldn’t be right.

What we eventually decided on to fix the issue was that Sparkledancer needed to come around more on the Progressive Link to be behind me further than she had been. That day, Sparkledancer was wearing a t-shirt that had a character eating cookies on it, and Lord Dormamu told us that when she shifts to Promenade in the Progressive Link she would need to line up so that my right thigh was between two of the cookies on her shirt.

This became somewhat of a joke for the rest of the lesson, with Lord Dormamu showing Sparkledancer how to align herself with someone ‘between her cookies.’ Obviously the joke was a bit childish, and with Lord Dormamu saying it in his accent it sounded downright ridiculous, but I don’t think that either of us will forget this particular takeaway because of that joke. See how useful comedy can be while dancing? If it can help me improve, imagine what comedy can do for you!

Finally, yesterday night I went out to Standard Technique class. The class ended up being really small, with so many people being out of town for the holidays. There were just two of us in fact: me and Prez. Lord Junior and Prez decided to look over some Quickstep during class while I was getting my dance shoes on, so that’s what we did.

The pattern that Lord Junior gave us that night wasn’t super long, though it could cover quite a bit of the dance floor. We started with a basic Quarter Turn to the Left, then went into a Four Quick Run. Coming out of that we did a Natural Turn into a Natural Spin Turn, and finally added on a V6. When we got comfortable with the V6, Lord Junior gave us an advanced variation of the V6 that ends with a Six Quick Run.

This whole amalgamation is perfectly leadable, assuming that your dance partner is familiar with Quickstep. In order to make it through everything properly and communicate the steps to your partner, you really need to focus on getting the rise and fall correct for each figure. Both of the Quick Run figures are fast and require you to be up on the balls of your feet the whole time, and Lord Junior recommended that as you went through them and did the Lock Step that you lower yourself ever so slightly beforehand and then rise up again to signal to your partner that the Lock Step is happening. That is not a requirement, but a recommended courtesy.

My problem during class was with the Four Quick Run. For some reason I kept either forgetting that it was there, or getting the footwork wrong when I tried to go into it. I’m not even sure why. I must have walked through the figure dozens of times while Lord Junior was working with Prez, but then when I tried to dance it with her (especially with the music playing) I would mess it up. Since it was the second figure in the pattern, I would just stop, walk back to the beginning in shame, and then start over.

The funny thing was that as soon as I finished the Four Quick Run and went into the more difficult steps like the V6 and the Six Quick Run, I had no issues at all. Those went perfectly fine all night long. It was just that Four Quick Run that was giving me problems that night for some unknown reason! The only other comment that I was given was that Lord Junior wanted to see me hold the rotation in my body more through the figures. A lot of the pattern needed to be done with the lady in Outside Partner, and he warned me that if I unintentionally squared up too much I would risk bringing my partner back into normal dance frame.

Look at that! We’ve reached the end of the year! How are you planning on finishing up 2017? I’m going to be out at a dance party again this year, obviously. I’m not entirely sure what to expect for this years big finish. A lot of the dance studios in the area are holding New Year’s Eve parties, so it will be interesting to see how all the dancers in the Dance Kingdom decide to divide themselves up and pick an event to attend.

2018 also looks like it will bring some interesting changes to the landscape of the Dance Kingdom. Because I’m involved with the behind-the-scenes dance politics on some level, a lot of people want to talk with me about things that are going on. I have heard about some upcoming dance studio closures that will happen in 2018, a few dance halls that are moving to new locations in 2018, and then there’s the ever-constant shuffle of independent dance instructors changing their loyalties from one studio to another. With the dance studio closures I’ve heard about, there may also be an influx of new free-range instructors jockeying for floor space.

I may try to do a review of the past year next week, just to collect my thoughts on what’s happened and reflect on what’s to come. The one thing that I’m sure about though, is that there will be lots more dance adventures for me to write about. It should be interesting to see what shakes out over the next 12 months!

If It Looks Like This Then You’re Doing It Right

As I mentioned in my last post, last Thursday night I had to attend my first rehearsal for the upcoming showcase performance. This is a very different setup than any other showcase I’ve ever done. Because the show is designed as a continuous story, we had to actually walk through the show to make sure that everyone knew where there entrances and exits were going to be. Along with that, there was a stage manager on hand who was making notes on all the props that were needed for each scene, and how to get those items to the dancers before they had to have them.

This blocking rehearsal was… well, it was really chaotic. No one stepped forward to take charge and keep everyone on task, so oftentimes there were several different groups getting in each other’s way, and they were playing the soundtrack for the show really loudly, so you could barely hear the instructions and comments when the music was playing. I am slated to be in a couple of scenes in the first act, so I was hanging around in the back watching everything until I needed to be onstage. As I watched, I couldn’t really make out what was supposed to be going on in the scenes they were trying to put together… and that’s bad because I know the story that this production is based on!

Sparkledancer and I are entering the set during a scene where there is a party going on in the background behind the main cast. We’re supposed to act like party goers, being happy and excited, and then we were told to freeze for the rest of the main cast’s scene. At a point in the dialogue, the lead male makes a reference to me, and that’s the cue for Sparkledancer and I to start moving and make our way to our starting position. When our song starts, we dance. After we finish up, we exit toward stage right and the lights will shift back to the main cast.

We were then told the part that we will play in the next scene. This one has no dancing for me, just acting. Sparkledancer and I are supposed to act like there has been some kind of fight, and she yells at me (silently) and storms off the stage toward stage left. I am supposed to be sad and dejected, and sit myself down on a bench in the back of the set, next to the lead male. He and I share an understanding look, another dance number takes place in front of us, and then I exit through the curtains in the back when the lights go down enough for me to sneak off.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Those were all the notes that I took about what needed to happen. We were told before the walk-through started that we could step through our dances as the music played, but we weren’t really practicing, so we didn’t have to dance full-on that night. I didn’t even change out of my sneakers, so I faked a lot of the dance just to make sure I could hit the points on the floor I needed with the set props in place. The few times I tried to turn that night were not pretty, because my sneakers have rubber soles and they stuck to the wood floor pretty solidly.

As I found out later though, I should have done more than fake it that night, because unbeknownst to me, there was a big problem that the music editor had created that I didn’t find out about until Saturday morning…

I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer on Saturday to look at our showcase routine. We started of discussing the things that we were told during the blocking rehearsal, to make sure that everything was clear for all three of us. Everyone seemed to be on the same page as we started, so with all of those notes in mind, we got started dancing through the routine to look at everything critically and clean up anything that was out of sorts.

Because there were so many other people at the Fancy Dance Hall that day who were also preparing for the upcoming showcase, we didn’t get a chance to try anything out using the music the first half-dozen times that we danced through things. The routine went fairly well, all things considered – I had to fudge the angles a bit to avoid running into other people on the floor, but people were nice enough to get out of my way as soon as I picked Sparkledancer up off the ground and started moving.

We went through the lift at the end several times to make some adjustments to the final piece of it. Once I bring Sparkledancer down from over my head, I was supposed to get her to be in front of my chest and then curl her like a barbell. Sir Steven was trying to get her to keep her core more solid while I did that, because initially she was mostly relaxed and he thought it looked funny. This was really the only issue that he found with the ending, and as it turns out, it would be totally irrelevant by the end of our lesson.

Finally, with only a little time left before Sir Steven’s next lesson, we got a chance to try out our performance with the music. The main computer in the Fancy Dance Hall had a copy of the soundtrack that was cut together for the show, so Sir Steven picked through the music file until he found the beginning of our number. We practiced the entrance piece, hitting the cues for all our marks, and then got all the way to the end… and then the dialogue that was recorded in the soundtrack kicked in before we finished our lift and did the ending piece that was a huge part of the story!

Thinking there might have been a fluke, we tried it again, and got the same result. Sir Steven had told the person splicing the music together that we would be doing the lift at the end without following the timing of the music, but didn’t tell them how much time to give us to get through everything. After timing everything out based on the way the music is cut, our piece is roughly 1:35. When we practiced everything from the start of our dance until the ending that comes after the lift finishes, we were running right around 2:00. So now we had to eliminate twenty-five seconds of what we had practiced to make everything fit..

There were a couple of parts that Sir Steven told us to try to speed up, and he said to just get rid of the part of the lift where I curl Sparkledancer in front of my chest, but even without those pieces we are still over the amount of time we have in the soundtrack. To make matters worse, we had to stop there for the day since Sparkledancer and I had a coaching session with Lord Dormamu immediately following our lesson with Sir Steven. We all planned on meeting up on Wednesday evening to go over things and try to get the timing issue worked out before Thursday night’s dress rehearsal.

Sparkledancer and I got a few minutes to compare notes as Lord Dormamu finished up the lesson he was teaching before we dove into things. The first order of business that Lord Dormamu brought up was the coaching that we had gone through last Wednesday. The discussion that we had about everything that transpired was probably the most interesting and enlightening thing that I went through on Saturday.

I brought up several points that had been discussed with this coach that were either in direct conflict with things that Lord Dormamu had told me to be doing, or just seemed questionable based on what we were working on currently. Most of what we discussed related to the Tango, since that is what Sparkledancer and I are currently working on with Lord Dormamu. I told Lord Dormamu that we looked at Tango during the coaching session because we got through Waltz and Foxtrot rather quickly, and he was both surprised and pleased that the coach didn’t have much to say about our Foxtrot. I guess normally that style is one that coaches pick apart quite a bit, especially for dancers who are dancing syllabus routines.

The first thing that we discussed was the coach’s advice for Tango that Sparkledancer and I come up more in our frame rather than be so low to the ground that our knees get into each other’s way. I also told him about how the coach told me specifically that I should be leading my partner to rotate to Promenade Position with my hip in Tango, but if I were to get into frame the way Lord Dormamu wanted me to, there was really no way that my right hip could make contact with Sparkledancer at all.

Lord Dormamu’s answer to me was that this coach, like many others that I will end up meeting in my future dance journey, learned to dance (and became dance champions) a long time ago. The way that they learned to dance many figures is not the way that those figures are done any longer. When they judge dancers in Tango for instance, the way that Lord Dormamu is teaching me to do things is the way that will look the best to them and be scored the highest… but those same judges will not know how to teach someone to dance like that since they no longer compete, so they will just fall back to teaching things the way they learned to dance long ago.

And apparently this is normal and expected when any high level dancer works with one of these older judges. The coaching session that Lord Dormamu insisted that we take with this gentleman was mostly to get him to meet us and have some experience with how we dance. In the future, if this coach is judging a competition that Sparkledancer and I are competing in, he will likely remember more about how we danced during the coaching session that we had with him than he will about the few seconds that he sees of us on a competition floor, and his judging will reflect that. That is the real reason that Lord Dormamu wants us to work with some of these judges when they are available in our area.

Some of the advice that the coach gave us, like the concept of using my arms to lead while I dance, is apparently ideas that Lord Dormamu and I will work on in the future. They are concepts that are important, but not important for the level that I am currently competing in right now. Lord Dormamu’s plan, as I officially found out, is to keep Sparkledancer and I dancing in Bronze for another year as he finishes cleaning up all of our dances, and then start us on the track to move up the ranks.

If we have done everything correctly, according to him it shouldn’t take long for us to compete and win significant competitions in Silver and Gold, and he’ll get us to started working on Open-level routines before long. These advanced concepts that the coach mentioned, like leading with the arms and relaxing the position of my shoulders somewhat, will be incorporated into my dancing along the way. But not now, so I shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about them.

That was the first time that I had ever really heard Lord Dormamu verbalize my long-term dance plan. I guess he thinks that I am doing well enough to meet these objectives. Yay me!

Also on Saturday, I went out to what I think is going to be the only holiday dance party that I attend this year. Seeing as how my next weekend is dedicated to performing in a showcase, and the weekend after that I will have family holiday events to attend, there’s a good chance that the next dance party I go to will have to be New Year’s Eve. So I made time to go to this semi-formal affair being held at the Endless Dance Hall, which included dinner and some entertainment along with a chance to dance the night away.

The dinner was a buffet-style meal that they actually served in two different rooms. One room was opened up as soon as guests started arriving, and had a couple of tables full of appetizers that people could stop by and pick at. Then the second room opened and dinner was served. This meal seemed to mostly contain dishes that were made by the event organizers, which gave it a warm, personal feeling as opposed to a catered meal. As people were making their way through the line to get dinner, the first room that had the appetizers had a couple more tables full of desserts added to the mix, just in case you weren’t completely full from eating the other courses.

Once everyone had gotten something to eat and made their way to a table to sit down, the organizers brought out two dancers that are members of one of the local youth dance troupes to perform. I recognized the two of them, and also the routines that they were dancing, because they practice with their instructor at the Fancy Dance Hall on Saturdays during the time that I am normally there for my own lessons, so that was entertaining. They performed a Waltz number and a Cha-Cha, with a short break in between so that they could change costumes.

After the performances and dinner finished up, the DJ started to play music so that everyone else could dance. But more interesting than the dancing was getting a chance to see what all the attendees were wearing to the dance party. Several people who were at the table I was sitting at were pointing out various people on the dance floor, and it turned out to be a really fun game to see who had the best outfit on to show off their holiday spirit.

I think that the winner ended up being, hands down, the gentleman who wore a metallic silver outfit. Everything was metallic and silver, even his dance shoes! He looked kind of like he had just arrived from outer space! Personally I think that the runner-up was the gentleman who was wearing a tuxedo with a cumberbund and bow tie that were pastel orange in color. On a dance floor full of people sporting holiday colors, the pastel orange really stuck out and made him… unique. Close to that would have had to be the lady who was wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and a string of battery-powered Christmas lights in her hair. C’est magnifique!

Wednesday night had more than usual going on for me this week. I for one am looking forward to being done with the showcase after this weekend, so that my weeks can get back to some degree of normality. Skipping my nightly workouts for all this extra dance practice is really throwing me for a loop!

Sir Steven had agreed to meet up with Sparkledancer and I at the Electric Dance Hall the hour before Standard Technique class to go over our showcase routine. We talked about how the music was cut so short for our performance, and what we could eliminate in order to give us enough time to cover the key elements before we had to get off stage for the next dancers. Unfortunately, everything that got changed involved the lift at the end, which is the only part of the whole routine that I actually felt excited about doing.

Now what we have is a lift that moves very quickly – almost recklessly – from start to finish. I roll her out, I hold until the end of the measure as she gets into place, and then I head over to her. Crouching down, Sparkledancer hops up to sit on my shoulder, I stand up and rotate myself to take position back toward the center of the stage a bit. Instead of rotating several times, I am now only rotating one and a quarter turns to save time. Once I am facing the audience, I reposition my hands to lift Sparkledancer up over my head, and then I immediately bring her down in front of me, and then I rotate back the way I came to roll her out for the finish.

All the other pieces that used to be in the lift, including the dramatic effect of doing the whole thing slowly in front of the audience, have been removed. There’s no time any more. We have just barely enough time now for Sparkledancer to walk away from me and then for us to do the final piece of acting to connect our dance to the larger story of the show before the dialogue kicks in and the lights will shift to the next set of performers.

The way that this show turned out… I don’t know if I really feel like it is worth the amount of money I paid to be a part of the show. I guess I was hoping for something… more. I still feel really disconnected from the whole performance, and it’s only a few days away! There’s a good chance that it would take a whole lot of convincing to get me to agree to do another one of these staged showcases in the future.

Once Sparkledancer and I finished up with Sir Steven, we ran over to the other side of the dance floor to join Lord Junior for Standard Technique class. The class felt nice and relaxed that night, which was nice since I have been feeling a bit frazzled lately trying to get everything else done as the holidays approach.

Lord Junior and one of his high-level students had met up with the same coach that Sparkledancer and I had taken that lessons from last week, so we started off class with him and I sharing some of the pointers that we had each talked about with the coach. One of the things that the coach had specifically pointed out about how Lord Junior dances was the positioning of his right arm. He and the coach had talked about how many people have trouble keeping that arm in the right position.

We worked on a figure in Foxtrot that allowed him and I to focus on keeping our arms in the right place. The figure was an Open-level figure called Three Fallaways. My footwork for the figure basically had me doing the first half of an Open Reverse Turn, but then had me do the lady’s part for the second half instead of my normal footwork. Once I crossed my right foot behind my left, I repeated the first part of my footwork again, and then ended the figure with a basic Feather Ending. Seems pretty simple, right?

Broken down like that, the figure is fairly simple and is something that could be lead, but it moved quickly and covered quite a bit of distance down the floor, so you have to be aware of what’s going on before you start. After practicing the figure alone with each lady in class several times, we added on a figure to lead into the Three Fallaways. Lord Junior had us start out with an Open Impetus and Feather Finish. Starting right on an Open Impetus is a bit tricky, but we managed to get through with minimal difficulty.

Dress rehearsal for the showcase was tonight, and the performances are this weekend. It will be nice to finally put this behind me and get back to my normal training for a while. I also have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu on Saturday, so my weekend already feels super busy. Are you going to come watch the show? I’ll try my best not to disappoint if you’re in the audience!

Turn The Bass Up, Let’s Go!

Man, what a crazy week! Has your week been crazy too? I hope so. That’s what keeps life interesting, isn’t it – things being crazy, and of course dancing?

Despite my initial reservations, I ended up going out to a dance party last Friday night for a short period of time. I had considered just staying home and going to bed early, since I was getting up to go compete on Saturday morning, but enough people asked me to go out to a dance party that I finally relented and made way there to meet them. The big event that night was being held at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior was having his annual free dance party night, and no one in their right mind can resist a free dance party!

The place was packed by the time I got there. Lord Junior had told us earlier in the week that he anticipated over one hundred people showing up, based on how the events have gone in the past and the feedback he had already heard from dancers that he knew. That estimate seemed pretty spot-on given what I saw when I walked through the door. I couldn’t even find a chair to sit in to change into my dance shoes! I got there as Lord Junior was finishing up the free beginner Cha-Cha class he had offered, and I found a little spot where I could sit on the floor by a wall to put my shoes on.

A lot of the people in attendance had never danced before. While watching the end of the class, I was trying to figure out how much dancing each person whom I didn’t recognize had done based on the kind of shoes they were wearing. If there was a girl wearing flip-flops, or a guy wearing shoes with rubber soles that stuck to the wood floor, I figured it was pretty safe to say they hadn’t ever tried dancing like this before. That’s generally my go-to assessment criteria.

Luckily, there were enough experienced dancers scattered throughout the class to help everyone get through the basic figures with ease. There were a few times that I saw someone get a little too excited while doing a Crossover Break, throwing their arm out with a lot of force and almost knocking their neighbor in the head, but luckily everyone walked away without injury. Hooray!

Since I had to get some sleep that night, I only ended up staying at the party for about an hour or so. I danced some Rhythm/Latin numbers with friends and a few strangers, and tried to dance all of the ballroom numbers with Sparkledancer if I could find her in the crowd. I figured that would count as last-minute practice before the competition. With my usual amount of flair (i.e. none), I left the party a bit sweaty and disheveled with a smile on my face. Not knowing what the event the next day would bring, this party turned out to be a good way to get me in the mood for whatever came next!

I got up early on Saturday morning to head out to the competition. This was a small, local affair at the Endless Dance Hall, a competition that Lord Dormamu actually helped to organize and put on with a few business partners of his. He had told Sparkledancer and I that we should be in this contest to get some more time dancing in front of judges for experience, so I really wasn’t expecting much from this event. I was secretly hoping that this competition would be like the small event that I did back in February where I actually got written notes from the judges on every heat that I danced, but that was just a pipe dream of mine.

Lord Dormamu had taken care of signing Sparkledancer and I up for all the rounds that he thought we should be dancing in, so when I got to the venue I had no idea what I was registered for. After signing in and picking up a packet with my number and various information sheets, I found that I was slated to be in four different five-dance sets. Each one was listed to be judged differently, so theoretically I would be scored differently each time. For example, the first five-dance was listed as Bronze 3, the second as Full Bronze, etc. etc..

Everything I was signed up for was scheduled to be done before 1:00PM, so all I had to do was dance 20 times over the course of three hours. Nothing to it, right? Physically, that would be easy-peasy for me, however there were a few things that were thrown at me during those rounds that I did not anticipate before coming that day…

For starters, to make the best use of the floor space and time, they had scheduled multiple different divisions to be on the floor at once. Normally this doesn’t bother me, but there were a few times that I was on the floor with the Junior amatuer dancers. These kids barely came up to my stomach in height, and probably only weighed a quarter of what I do. Dancing near kids that size makes me nervous. I know that during those rounds I was moving my head out of position so that I could look down and make sure that I knew where all the kids were while I was traveling.
A few different people mentioned seeing my head moving around while I danced, but I was more than willing to take the heat for that decision. Sparkledancer also told me that if she saw a kid behind me, she would let me know. Both of us were willing to take a dive rather than accidentally collide with someone that small. I could have crushed them!

The second thing that happened that I probably should have guessed would happen was that Sparkledancer and I danced unopposed that day. There were only three other adult amateur couples that I saw in the Standard/Smooth part of the day, and they were all dancing either Gold- or Open-level rounds against each other. That means that the results that I got back weren’t all that meaningful. I have been told that it is possible to dance unopposed and get second place in a round, so the fact that I got first place in everything just tells me that I didn’t screw anything up enough to offend anyone. Whoop-di-doo…

Sparkledancer and I were given a trophy at the end of the day for getting first place in all of our rounds. That was awkward. It was a pretty big trophy, too, like the size of a tall flower vase. I didn’t know what I would do with it, so I let Sparkledancer keep it. Her husband can put up a shelf for her to set it on. If I tried to put it on a shelf, my cat would knock it off until it broke, because she doesn’t believe I should display awards that I didn’t truly earn. My cat is a harsh taskmistress like that.

I did get some unique feedback that day, which does make me feel sort-of good about how I danced at the competition. After the Standard/Smooth portion of the day was completed, the organizers brought in lunch for all the competitors, the judges and the volunteers. Sparkledancer and I had been sitting together at a table near the back of the dance floor next to one of the curtains that cordoned off the front entrance, so we were able to easily slip out and head over to grab some food early on. Since all our rounds were done for the day, we thought that we could eat quickly and then leave so that each of us could head home and get ready for the after party that evening.

After filling up our plates with some food, we headed back to our table only to find that a couple of the judges were sitting there enjoying their lunches! These two judges obviously knew each other, and were chatting away in some sort of Scandinavian dialect from the sounds of things. I didn’t understand what they were saying, and they were completely ignoring Sparkledancer and I, so the two of us sat down and talked about how we thought our rounds went, and left them to their own devices.

After a few minutes of this, the female judge finally looked over at Sparkledancer and I and switched over to English to address us. She apologized, saying that her companion’s English wasn’t the best, so it was just easier for them to have a conversation in that other language they both knew. We all took a moment to properly introduce ourselves, and then the lady asked Sparkledancer and I about where we had learned to dance. This led us down a path talking about how we were currently learning to dance together, and were one of the few amateur couples competing in the event that day.
That comment actually caught the male judge’s interest, and (in broken English) he said that he remembered some of the events he was judging where we had danced, and he had thought that one of us was an instructor.

That bit of feedback is what surprised me the most. I guess that either Sparkledancer or I were dancing well enough that day that this gentleman, who judges many competitions throughout the year, would consider one of us as good as an instructor. I didn’t get much more of an explanation than that simple remark – seeing as how his English was a bit hard to understand, I didn’t think that prodding him to elaborate was a good idea – but it still made me feel good that someone of his caliber would say something like that. It makes me feel like my dancing has noticeably improved.

After all the rigamarole of Saturday was completed, not a whole lot of what I had initially planned on doing on Sunday actually came to fruition. The dance camp that I was told to attend at the Fancy Dance Hall early in the morning, where I thought I would get s’mores? Didn’t happen. I got there that morning to find a couple of people waiting in their cars in the parking lot, and the building locked. Sparkledancer was one of the people who was there waiting, so she and I wandered off to a nearby café to grab some morning coffee and wait somewhere more comfortable than a car.

When someone finally showed up a couple of hours later to unlock the doors, it was getting to be close to the time that Sparkledancer and I had scheduled to have a post-competition review session with Lord Dormamu. The two of us were inside stretching out and warming up when Lord Dormamu arrived. He came over to talk to us and told us that he was having to run the judges all over, from their hotel rooms to the studio, from the studio to the airport because a couple were leaving right away, so he wasn’t going to be able to make it for our lesson until much later in the day. Sparkledancer wasn’t going to be free then, so we decided to try to set something up for next weekend instead.

That left me with only one item that I had planned that actually happened that day – my coaching session with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. We spent the time working on some more things for our upcoming showcase performance. According to Sir Steven, there are a few more figures that he is working out, but he is hoping to have the entire choreography from start to finish for us in the next week or so. If Sparkledancer and I can just get the routine recorded somehow, we can focus on getting it memorized in short order during our practice sessions, which would be nice.

He had us start off that day looking at the Open Natural Turns again. This time we were given a new variation, where I would continue doing my normal footwork, but Sparkledancer would be leaping up in the air on beat one, and then I hold her there for beat two and set her back down on beat three. We were going to do two of these in a row, and then come out into a normal Open Natural Turn. Sparkledancer was having trouble coming out after the assisted jumps at first, until she and Sir Steven worked out that she had to leap off of and land on the same foot in order for the next step to work. If she landed on her other foot accidentally, it would throw off everything afterward.

The rest of the additions we looked at that day were minimal – mostly pieces that allowed us to get into or out of figures we’ve looked at in other lessons. Sparkledancer and I should be able to nail those down in no time. Once we have the full routine, that’s when the real fun will start, leading up to the day of the first performance. Hooray!

This past Tuesday night I had a meeting with the other members of my Royal Dance Court gang to discuss dance business, this time around mostly related to finalizing the plans for our monthly dance parties in 2018. Sometimes I think it is a bit crazy to try to plan these things so far in advance, but that’s just me.

One of the members of the Royal Dance Court had already gone so far with the initial list we started at our last meeting to contact a bunch of the instructors that we suggested and confirm them to teach at our parties for the first six months of the year! I thought we had just thrown out the names of these people as ideas, but now it seems like they are set in stone already. Oh well…

The big drama of the night seemed to be that a few members of the group were outraged(!) that another small dance club in the area had “stolen” a few of our old themes for some of their upcoming parties, and had scheduled lessons before their dances that covered the same dance style that we were going to cover either the next month, or will have had taught the month before! The outrage! I guess one member of the Royal Dance Court interfaces with this group regularly to be sure that any parties we throw are unique from the parties that they throw, so that is how this information was attained.
I saw the list of what this other club had planned. Most of it seemed innocuous enough. There was only one dance style that they had listed that seemed like it could have possibly be taken from our list, since we had come up with an idea to use an eccentric dance style for one of our parties, and then the same eccentric dance style also showed up on their list. The rest of the so-called idea stealing I thought was kind of a stretch. After all, there are only so many different ballroom and Latin dance styles, so there is bound to be some overlap during the year with any ballroom clubs…

There is this part of me that thinks that some of these ladies that are members of the Royal Dance Court just like dealing with dance drama and dance gossip. I can understand how showing everyone a list of another dance clubs party themes and lessons and regarding it as scandalous would make more people sit up and pay attention, because the list is rather boring otherwise. Maybe the lady wants people to think the list is scandalous so that they will laud her for taking the time to collect the information for us?

That’s just not my style, though. If this person had pointed out things about the list that were humorous, I would have been all over that! But scandalous? Meh, I’m not really all that interested. In fact, I think that bringing up those points detracted from the conversation that we were trying to have otherwise, and thus made the meeting longer than it needed to be.

Anyway… one last thing for this week, and then I’ll be done. I promise. Yesterday night I was out at Standard Technique class and we worked on Viennese Waltz for a while. The first part of class turned out to be really funny to me. There was some actual focus on technique given: like practice on not putting the heel down on the second step of each Half Natural or Half Reverse Turn so that you could move the foot faster to begin the next Half Natural or Half Reverse Turn. That focus kind of fell by the wayside as the practice portion of the class got started.

What was funny was when Lord Junior decided to have all of us line up and go through our part of the figures individually. He wanted to call out an amalgamation of steps and then have each of us execute so he could watch. Seems simple, right? So we would line up, he would say something like ‘One-and-a-half Reverse Turns, Change Step, Natural Turn’ and then we would all start down the floor doing those steps.

The ladies in class that night were having trouble dancing through the figures on their own. It really shouldn’t be funny, but it kind of was. I forget sometimes that I had to spend a lot of time over the years figuring out my angles and rotations, because I am responsible for leading the ladies to move and turn in the right direction as well as myself. If someone tells me to face diagonal center and do a Natural or Reverse Turn, I know which way to point my feet and whether to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. It’s almost second nature.
Lord Junior thought it was funny to watch the ladies fumble about, trying to align themselves in the right direction to start, and then sometimes start turning the wrong way as they began moving. I know that a couple of the ladies were getting pretty frustrated at having to stop and start over if they turned wrong, or ended up facing the wrong direction, so I tried my best to help out a little. No one seemed to listen to me though. At one point during class, Veep got caught up laughing at herself so hard after doing something wrong that she had to step off to the side of the floor for a few minutes and calm herself down. That was really funny.

Near the end of class, once Lord Junior had gotten enough amusement for the night, we switched over to look at a little bit of American Viennese Waltz. We didn’t do anything fancy here either, we just worked on Open Natural Turns, Open Reverse Turns and Change Steps in Shadow Position. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Change Step in Shadow Position before. They aren’t hard, just three steps forward (like a Three Step in Foxtrot), but I can’t say that I remember ever doing that before.

I’m all set for a quiet weekend. I’ve got only one lesson on my calendar for Saturday, and then some much-needed practice time with Sparkledancer lined up to go over the pieces of our showcase we need to memorize, and also some time to practice the lift for the routine, but that’s about it. There’s a chance I won’t do much else, unless someone calls me and convinces me to go out to a dance party. I could use the rest though – I signed up to be in another competition next weekend, on the 18th.

What? Yup. I did. It wasn’t that far away, so Sparkledancer and I decided to just go out and do it. Being amateurs, we can just do things like that unless Sir Steven or Lord Dormamu tells us it’s a bad idea. Lord Dormamu thought it was a good idea when I asked him about it, and told me to bring his regards to the competition organizers since he knows them. So I’m going to do it!

Dancing uncontested in our last competition just wasn’t really satisfying, so hopefully this event will be more meaningful. But, that’s a little over a week away, so I’ve got time to mentally prepare myself. It looked like one of the categories I signed up for was empty, so there’s a chance I could be uncontested in that round unless someone joins between now and then. We’ll have to see what happens!