Speaking My Lesson From The Brain

This past Friday night I ended up at a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. Based on the messages I saw floating around online, there was a bigger dance party with some sort of special surprise that was going on at the Fancy Dance Hall that night as well, but I didn’t want to make the drive all the way out there when there was a less crazy party going on at a dance hall much closer to my house. Besides, as I see it, as a male dancer I can pretty much go to whatever sort of dance event I want and always be useful, so I knew that whatever I chose would be end up being fun for me.

I arrived at the Electric Dance Hall a few minutes after the party had started. Lord Junior stopped what he was doing to come over and greet me, and he made a specific point of telling me about one lady who was at the party that he wanted me to go dance with at some point that evening. She was relatively new to dancing, having first started taking lessons at the Electric Dance Hall in November, but now she was starting to feel confident enough in her abilities to show up at these social parties. I made a point of dancing with her a couple of times, sticking to slower dance styles like Waltz or Rumba to try to figure out what she was comfortable with.

Somehow that night I also ended up dancing a Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks. As a general rule I really try my best to avoid dancing with instructors or professionals, since there are always other amateur ladies I could be dancing with, but that night as the song started Lady Lovelylocks walked right up to me, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the dance floor. The song that was playing could have been either a Cha-Cha or a Hustle, and since I knew that Lady Lovelylocks spent a lot of time competing professionally in International Latin and I didn’t, I made a point of asking her if she knew Hustle as we got started. With the music being so loud, I’m not exactly sure what she said to me, but she was smiling about it, so I took that as consent to do what I wanted.

The dance did not go as well as I would have liked. Part of the problem I have with dancing with instructors or professionals at social dance parties is that I always feel like it is some kind of test. Logically I know that this is incorrect, and these people just want to have fun sometimes just like me, but in the back of my brain I still worry about screwing up steps while dancing with them, so I’m really on edge for the entire song. The other problem was that Lady Lovelylocks felt kind of out-of-control when I was dancing with her, which was a bit unsettling, and that made me worry about what I was doing even more.

I’m sure that you’ve thrown a punch before, so I’m going to use that as a comparison – have you ever pulled a punch? Where you try to hit something really hard but then stop your arm short at the last second? There’s tension that you get when you pull your arm back that comes from your triceps, right around the lower half of your arm going toward your elbow. I associate that feeling with cancelling the movement in my arms quickly, to prevent my fist from accidentally hitting anything (or anyone if I’m in a kickboxing class). Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You can try throwing a punch and stopping your arm before it completely straightens if you want to give it a try.

Well, as I was dancing this Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks, she was putting a lot more power into her turns than I have ever felt anyone use during a Hustle before. I know this because when I did figures that would require me to stop her to change her direction, like a Triple Spin or transitioning from Open Dance Position to Closed Dance Position, I would put up my right arm and she would slam into it. She doesn’t weigh a whole lot, but she was running into my arm hard enough that I was getting the same feeling in my triceps when stopping her body that I would get when pulling a punch. That’s crazy!

I know that’s a bit strange to mention, but that was a really memorable note for me from this dance party. Other than that, it was a fairly normal night where I got to talk with people who I knew and dance the night away. I tried my best to keep dancing that night for as long as the Dance Robots kept dancing, but near the end of the party most of the unattached ladies had either gone home or were changing their shoes, so there wasn’t much I could do for the last couple of songs, while the two of them kept going right until the end. Maybe next time…

With Sparkledancer being out-of-town the last few days of last week, we had to reschedule our weekend lessons to a time when all of us would be around. That meant that I ended up meeting with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven out at the Fancy Dance Hall on Sunday morning instead of our usual Saturday time slot. I got to the studio a bit early as usual to warm up a little, and found that there were a couple of people hanging out who were setting up furniture for some function that was starting at noon. They didn’t leave us much room to work that day, since they had set chairs up in a big arc around a small center point against one long wall. There was a very thin strip of floor behind the chairs that could be used for dancing, but it wasn’t quite wide enough to do much more than travel in a straight line.

Sparkledancer showed up a short while after I did, and Sir Steven a bit after that. He took one look at the room and told the people setting up for the party that we were going to move the chairs back to widen that strip of floor behind the chairs enough for us to work, so the three of us pushed everything up so that we had a lane about ten feet wide. That gave us slightly less play between the chairs and the wall to work with than I would have liked, but we made do for our time there.

Sir Steven had us work on our Waltz routine. We danced through it a couple of times, since the first time I danced was mostly used to get used to dancing through the lane without hitting any chairs on one side, or the wall on the other. We only got through the long wall, as you can imagine, because we couldn’t go down the short wall without moving more of the furniture around. Since no one else was dancing at the same time that day, when we got down the long wall to the far end, we just turned around and danced back the other way. That kind of messed with my head the first time we tried to do it, but I managed to get through once I got started.

Given the limitations on space, Sir Steven decided to have us spend time working on the two chasses along the long wall, since they traveled in a straight line, which helped us avoid running into any furniture. Let me tell you, even though a Progressive Chasse to the Right is only four steps, they seem like the worst four steps in the world when you go through them at painfully slow speeds. We made micro adjustments to the length of our strides, the angles of the steps, then moved on to the Outside Change and did the same thing super slow, and ended with the Chasse from Promenade Position getting the same treatment. At the end we strung all three figures together and ran them at a slightly more reasonable rate of speed, which felt like such a relief after going through everything so slowly beforehand.

On Monday night, in place of going to Latin Technique class, I ended up back at the Fancy Dance Hall to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. It had been two weeks since we had all gotten together, and with Sparkledancer being out-of-town on Saturday and Lord Dormamu leaving on Tuesday for an overseas trip to some exotic country to do dance things, we had no other choice but to get something in on Monday night or miss out for a while.

In a massively surprising turn of events that night, Lord Dormamu actually wanted to get started on our lesson early! Normally he continues working with his students until he finishes up whatever concept he is trying to teach them, which quite often has him running his lessons over their scheduled time slots. If he schedules multiple lessons in a row with no break in between, one lesson ending late puts the next lesson behind when starting, and if that lesson also ends late the next lesson is even more behind when starting, and if that one ends late… it’s a terrible cycle! To come in and be told that we could start early for once was a real surprise, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be asked if we would be willing to change our lesson like that again.

We went back to Foxtrot again, just as I expected. Because it had been two weeks since our last meeting, we spent a little time reviewing all of the things we had been practicing in Foxtrot over the last two weeks first so that Lord Dormamu could evaluate how our practice sessions were going. Overall he was pleased, which made me feel good. There were a few spots that we went back to in order to fix a few things, and one new change that he wanted us to start adding in when we danced through the routine. Let’s start with the things that we’d touched on in the past that he wanted me to continue working on:

  • As always, he reminded me to stay down the entire time while I am dancing. I guess he still sees me coming up higher when taking certain steps, even though I feel like I am staying super low the entire time.
  • We went back to dance through the Three Step really slowly again. Just like when we had done the chasse figures in Waltz slowly with Sir Steven the day before, going through the Three Step super slow is pretty terrible. This time, he wanted us to do it so that Sparkledancer could work on taking bigger steps. As Lord Dormamu told her that night, he wanted to “unleash” me during the figure but he couldn’t do that if she didn’t take bigger steps.
  • Apparently he can tell when I am not rotating myself enough during the first Reverse Turn in the routine. If I do not have enough CBM during the first half of the figure, apparently my steps backward tend to go off on a bit of an angle. This may or may not have happened that night because there was another instructor and her student standing in the middle of the floor while we were going through that figure, but Lord Dormamu told me that I should just dance through them if they are going to be silly and stand in my way.
  • Finally, Lord Dormamu also didn’t think that I was pivoting myself enough during my first step of the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. If you remember, he told me how he has always done a Closed Impetus with the first step I take being a curved step backward to the left that I then pivot on, instead of  taking a step straight backward that begins to turn to the right which is how the book tells you to do the figure. He wanted me to pivot even more on that first step of mine to make sure that we are getting around even more.

As for new things, we looked at the second Reverse Turn in the routine that night, which is in the corner at the end of the long wall between a Natural Weave on the long wall and Basic Weave on the short wall. Up until that point, we had been doing the Reverse turn while heading toward diagonal wall the entire time. This Reverse Turn ends with a checking action instead of a Feather Finish, which allows us to change our alignment easily between heading toward diagonal wall on the long wall to heading toward diagonal center along the short wall.

Instead of turning the entire 180° during the second step of the Reverse Turn, he wanted to make this Reverse Turn more like the first Reverse Turn we have in the routine where there are two distinct parts. The first half would mirror our first Reverse Turn, where you only do about ⅜ of a turn on the second step so that the third step would now be heading toward the wall. The fourth step, which is just that checking action, is where we will now be completing the other ⅛ of the turn to give us the full 180° we had before.

However, Lord Dormamu wanted us to take this fourth step in a very specific manner. There will be distinct rise on this step so that it actually looks almost like I am popping up while taking it (the sort of action he told me earlier in the evening that I should always be staying down to avoid). Also, he now wants me to rotate my head here as I do the sway for this checking action – I will be looking over Sparkledancer’s head when doing this check. I know, I know, this set off all sorts of bells and whistles in my head too, since he just recently told me that I was allowed to start keeping my head to the left again, and before that I was supposed to keep my nose in line with my sternum. Moving my head is going to throw all kinds of things off, I just know it.

Practice makes perfect though, right? I’ll probably have to go over this quite a bit to make sure that I can remember to move my head and then put it back at the right times. Sigh… one more thing to add to my list of items to practice.

Since I didn’t make it to Latin Technique class this week, I made sure to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It was a good thing that I did too, because we ended up with seven ladies in class and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. I don’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t been there, but it probably wouldn’t have been pretty!

We ended up going through some things in Waltz that night. The first figure we did was the only one that I hadn’t seen before, and was by far the most interesting of the figures used that night. Lord Junior called the figure a ‘Checked Natural Turn’ which is also a pretty good description of what you do during the steps. We started with a prep step and then took the first two steps of a Natural Turn. However, as we placed the left foot down, we didn’t completely transfer our weight to the left leg like we would in a normal Natural Turn. Instead, we used partial weight to create a checking action, and then pushed back onto our right foot to do a small Slip Pivot that would rotate us to face down the line of dance.

This variation on a Natural Turn seems like it can be pretty useful, allowing you to quickly change direction if need be. The pivot on the third step could obviously be rotated even further if we had wanted to, but we only used an eighth of a turn because of what Lord Junior wanted us to do next. The key to remember, as I found out the hard way, is not to drive yourself backward on that third step. It is a small step, just under your body, which allows the ladies to position themselves in front of you when they do their pivot. If you push that third step backward, you risk leaving the lady standing far away from you as she pivots herself around the point where your body used to be.

The rest of the progression was fairly simple. Having pivoted to line ourselves up facing the line of dance, we added on a Double Reverse Spin that did a complete turn, and then seemingly to make Sir Steven happy we did a Progressive Chasse to the Right, which brought back memories of working on the same figure on Sunday. Finally, to wrap things up Lord Junior wanted to do another syncopated figure that traveled in a straight line but had different timing and different rise and fall when compared to the Progressive Chasse to the Right. This was a Quick Backward Run, where the syncopation was during the first two steps before the rise, instead of during the second two steps in the middle of the rise like the Progressive Chasse to the Right uses.

At this moment, I’m hoping that this coming weekend is pretty quiet. I feel like I should head out and spend some extra time practicing serious things. I’m not even sure why. Yet there’s always a chance that I will allow myself to be talked into going out and doing other, more fun things instead of practicing. Sigh… more than anything I hope that I get a chance to sleep in for a few extra hours this weekend. I feel like I need some extra rest for some reason. We’ll have to see whether I accomplish any of my desired tasks next week!

None Of Them Can Stop Us Now

This week, I want to tell six short dance graybles. They should get progressively longer as you go on. Are you ready?

Here’s a very short dance grayble:

I’m not entirely sure what brought it on, but during one of my practice sessions last week I told Sparkledancer that I had decided that my Summer dance goal was to work on being swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, and mysterious as the dark side of the moon. She stared at me for a few minutes just blinking slowly and then told me that she didn’t realize our dance competitors were the Huns. I just shrugged and then offered my hand to her to get back into dance frame and continue practice.

Here another short grayble that is only mildly dance related:

 Saturday night I was out at a singles party. There was one guy there who was doing something that I thought was really weird – without getting too specific, let’s just say I was standing somewhere where I could clearly see him reviewing online ads for call girls on a classified advertising website through his phone. After watching this gentleman out of the corner of my eye click on and study ad after ad for a good fifteen minutes, I wondered if this was normal behavior for some guys to do when they were attending an event where he could meet real (and more age-appropriate) women. I mean, really? I can’t be the only person who would possibly see him perusing these ads and find the behavior skeevy, right? You would think that a man of his age would at least know not to spend time on such activities while he is in public…

Because I’m not entirely familiar with how most men act when they are out at events like this, I decided to send a text to a couple of my female friends to ask if this was a normal occurrence. However, I must have accidentally clicked on something when I was putting the message together, because one of the people whom I sent the message (with the description of what I was witnessing) off to was Lord Dormamu! When I finally noticed the error a few minutes after I had sent the first message, I quickly removed his name from the list and sent him a separate message to apologize. He was cool about it, though I have this feeling that the incident could come back to haunt me at a later time.

Now, a more normal dance grayble:

 Saturday night after the whole text-message-boondoggle, I party hopped to go to the Electric Dance Hall where they were holding a Summer-themed open dance party. There was supposed to be some kind of lesson before the party started, but I didn’t leave the other party I was at early enough to make the lesson, so I have no idea what they looked at. But there were other exciting things to see when I made my way through the door to join the dance.

First off, Jem was hanging out just inside the entrance, and was quick to come over and say hello. She had disappeared a probably about six months ago on another one of her extended overseas work trips. No one ever knows when she’ll be gone and when she’ll be back, so seeing her is usually a surprise. It was good to know that she was still kicking butt and taking names, and even though she had forgotten most of her dance moves while she was away, she still came out to the dance party to do her best. I tried to get her to give me an idea of how long she would be in town for this time, but she didn’t know anything beyond the next few days. I may have then told her that if she had nothing better to do on Monday night, that she should come hang out with us in Latin Technique class, but she couldn’t make any promises as to whether she would be there or not.

There were probably a whole host of things that I should have done that night, but instead of being responsible I just spent the night dancing for fun with people who I knew. I probably should have used the opportunity to get in some minor practice with Sparkledancer. I probably should have made a point to talk to the two young couples who came to the party that I did not recognize. I probably should have taken that a step farther and asked the female of each of those new couples to dance a little. But I didn’t. Instead, I just screwed around, and danced while talking too much to whoever my partner was at the time so every step that I took was pretty small and simple, or pretended to be overdramatically awesome and then break out into laughter (I can’t keep up that act for an entire song).

Here’s an abnormal dance grayble (at least, abnormal for this week):

 Sunday afternoon I was out practicing with Sparkledancer. As we finished up practice and I was changing my shoes, I happened to take a look at my phone, and it told me that I had a text message from Lord Dormamu. Fearing that he was going to ask me awkward questions about the subject of the message I accidentally sent him the night before, I opened the message with some trepidation. It turns out that he was just telling me that the Fancy Dance Hall was having this “very special” dance coach come in to town on Monday, and he was recommending that Sparkledancer and I take a lesson.

Since Sparkledancer was sitting right there, I showed her the message and asked her how she felt about missing Latin Technique class Monday night, since I didn’t think I could get out of work, go home to change out of my work clothes, and make it to the Fancy Dance Hall any earlier than the time I would normally be in class. She shrugged and said that it would be cool if that’s the best I thought I could do. We both then replied to Lord Dormamu to let him know what times we could be there, and he said that he would make it happen.

Throughout the short conversation with Lord Dormamu that afternoon, I never got the name of this special coach. Sparkledancer and I decided to go off and grab lunch after practice so we could speculate together about what we just agreed to. During lunch, Sparkledancer looked up the Fancy Dance Hall’s schedule to see if she could get an idea about who was going to be there. She managed to find a name of some lady I had never heard of before, so we assumed that was who we would be meeting with, without any other information to go on.

Monday night, after I got home from work and was rushing around to get ready to head out again, my phone rang. I wasn’t going to stop what I was doing and answer until I saw that it was Lord Dormamu calling me. He wanted to let me know that the coach had gotten up at some super-early time in the morning, and had been giving lessons all day, so she was just totally exhausted at that point. However, the coach lady had decided to extend her stay for an extra day, so Lord Dormamu was calling to see if I would feel good about rescheduling for Tuesday instead. Since Tuesday nights I usually meet up with Sparkledancer for practice, I said that would work out, and that I could contact Sparkledancer and let her know so that he wouldn’t have to call her. Lord Dormamu was super happy about that, so after hanging up and making another phone call, I now had time to relax before going to Latin Technique.

Different grayble, though also a bit abnormal:

 I had gotten to the Electric Dance Hall earlier than usual Monday night for Latin Technique class. Because I had rushed to get home from work, and rushed to complete everything at home expecting to have to make the much longer drive out to the Fancy Dance Hall that night, when I found out that I didn’t have to go there I had all sorts of extra time on my hands. Rather than sit around at home twiddling my thumbs, I left the house. There were only a couple of people at the studio when I showed up. Lord Junior was surprised to see me there so early, so I told him about the random coaching session that I had almost gone to that night. He asked if the coaching was with the lady that Sparkledancer had found the name of at lunch on Sunday, and I told him that I had no idea since I had yet to be given an actual name, but I assumed it would have been.

That’s when I got an unexpected response. Lord Junior told me that if she really was the coach, I really dodged a bullet by not having that lesson. He had met the lady who was supposedly going to coach me that night, and had also heard about many of her exploits – in fact, she had given him his first outside coaching session when he started teaching a couple of decades ago. According to Lord Junior, this lady is one of those people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time when she became ‘famous’ in the ballroom dancing community, and doesn’t really know as much about dancing as she wants people to believe.

This is especially true because she learned to dance a long, long, long, long (long, long) time ago. Lord Junior didn’t give me a timeline, but said she was already fairly old when he got his coaching session from her back in the day, and she never kept up with the way that dancing has changed since the era when she originally learned the dances. This reminded me of a class I had taken years ago from a high-level coach where the coach talked about how a simple thing like the Cha-Cha chasses in the syllabus had evolved over time, so what he had learned in the ‘70s when he was a youth looked only vaguely like what he was teaching to people in the present.

Lord Junior believed that this coaching was more of a political move than something that would actually help Sparkledancer or I learn more. This lady coach is frequently hired as a judge for competitions, and Lord Junior said that it can help both the studios and the students to have them take a lesson with the judge. If the judge recognizes you, they are more likely to be interested in what you are doing versus a competitor that they have never met. That can lead to better marks during a competition. While Lord Junior didn’t think that this influenced who got the top marks during dances, he has seen firsthand where this behavior had influenced whether you were called back if there were semi-final and final rounds in the competition round you were in.

Class started shortly after that conversation of mine. I don’t remember much about what went down during class. I know we covered Rumba. I know that Jem actually did show up for class, and she thought it was funny how much she had forgotten in the time since she last practiced Rumba. In fact, it had been so long since she had put any real effort into dance that her dance shoes rubbed the skin off during class since her dance callouses were gone. She had to stop and put a bandage on at one point after the skin rubbed off in order to continue. But other than that, my mind was elsewhere during class so I couldn’t tell you what we did. I spent the time wondering if this coaching I had agreed to was a good idea. I didn’t tell Lord Junior that the cancelled session had been rescheduled for Tuesday…

The final grayble has a somewhat funny ending:

 I ended up going to the coaching session. I couldn’t think of a good excuse not to, and I kept thinking to myself, “Well, at least it will give you something to write about, right?” In retrospect, it was a rather funny experience. Lord Junior was totally right, in that the lady thought she knew a lot more than she actually did, and in that case I kind of regret all the money I dropped on the lesson. Several major points that she stressed were in conflict with things that Lord Dormamu has told me repeatedly to do. However, she talked about likely being one of the judges for the next competition that Lord Dormamu told me I’m going to be a part of, so in that case… is it good that I met with her? Will that earn me brownie points in the future? That remains to be seen.

Dance politics would be a more fun game to play if it wasn’t so expensive.

What kinds of things did she tell me to do that conflicted with what my normal instructors have said? Well, let’s start with my frame – she didn’t like my dance frame with Sparkledancer. Not one bit. She noticed it because she saw my right hand on Sparkledancer’s back, and thought that it was too high on her shoulder-blade. That led to a discussion about how my elbows were up too high. She said that I should create a ‘W’ with my arms, so that my elbows were down, and then just rotate my forearms forward to their position. My right hand ended up not on the bottom of Sparkledancer’s shoulder, but cupping her left latissimi dorsi muscle. Now, when I take lessons with Lord Dormamu, and in lessons I’ve taken with Sir Steven and even the Princess, I am told to keep my elbows up and in line with my shoulders to form a straight line below my neck. The position this coach asked me to get into was… weird.

Another thing that we spent an inordinate amount of time on was the little starting sequence that I’ve been told to use. In both Waltz and Foxtrot, when the music starts and I get into frame I take one step to the left, a step to the right, then lower and take a heel lead for the last step before taking the first step of the actual routine (either a Natural Turn or a Feather in Waltz and Foxtrot, respectively). That heel lead was what bothered her. She said that because it is the last step of the ‘figure’, even though it is just a starter step, technically it should be a toe lead. And that feels really… unnatural, which is why we spent so much time on just that step. I kept going over it and inadvertently taking a heel lead, because if I lower down and drive out of my right leg I naturally want to take a heel lead. Having to make it a toe lead just feels wrong.

There were a couple of small suggestions that she made, mostly about the choreography in our Foxtrot routine, but those two points were things she really focused on. After the lesson was over, coach lady went to go talk with Lord Dormamu. I was feeling unsure about the situation, so to cheer myself up I went over to the front desk to talk to the two female Australian instructors that teach at the Fancy Dance Hall. Their accents make me happy, so I just wanted to hear them talk for a bit. After a few minutes I heard Lord Dormamu calling my name, so I excused myself and went to see what was up.

Coach lady was trying to tell Lord Dormamu what we looked at. Unfortunately, she started by telling him about the change she wanted us to make to our starting sequence, and they never got past that point. She asked him if he saw that I was taking a heel lead on the third step, like it was the most appalling thing that she had ever witnessed. Lord Dormamu just shook his head yes and said “Of course, I told him to do that.” That was not the answer coach lady wanted, so she started to teach him how it has to be a toe step, because that’s the correct way to do it. This led to a bit of an argument where Lord Dormamu might have mentioned how he’s been training for over twenty years and has always been told to do it his way, while she countered with how she’d been dancing longer than he’d been alive and so a heel lead is wrong.

Lord Dormamu then took a step back, put up his arms in a practice frame and tried to do the starting sequence with a toe step. The first time he naturally tried to take a heel step (just like I had done) so he had to stop and retry. The second time he forced himself to take a toe step, stopped, visibly shivered and then looked at me and said that it feels “so unnatural!” I nodded in agreement, so he shook his head and turned back to her and thanked her for her input, and said we would work on things when he met up with us this weekend for our lesson. That seemed to make her happy, so she turned and started walking toward the back of the ballroom.

With all other things that she had gone over with us forgotten as she departed, Lord Dormamu waited until she was out of earshot and then clapped Sparkledancer and I on the shoulders. He then told me to forget about changing that step. He drove home the point by again repeating how long he has been dancing, and added on how many world championships he’s won and all his placements in various other major competitions before saying that he won all those while doing the starting sequence with a heel lead, and no one ever judged it wrong before. I was going to ask him about the change she wanted with my frame, but I figured it could wait until this weekend.

Is this what Lord Dormamu meant when he told me that all ballroom judges were old, blind and stupid? Your guess is as good as mine!

And that’s… all the graybles I want to tell this week. What do you think? Did you guess the theme? It was bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Like this is. 😊

Open Up Your Eyes, Life Is Poetry In Motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come On Now, Follow My Lead

For a little bit of a change of pace this week, let’s reflect on a bit of dance drama that is going on in the Dance Kingdom at the moment. I am not a part of it, but I have been hearing a lot about it from a growing number of people. Plus, it’s on my mind at the moment, so I want to talk about the problem. This isn’t necessarily a brand new problem we’ve been having – parts of this drama have come up during a couple of different quarterly meetings I’ve been to for my Royal Dance Court group, so the issue has been going on for at least six months. I personally did not see it as being a big problem initially, certainly not an issue worthy of discussion at multiple different meetings, but since the issue now seems to be spreading into conversations with even some non-Royal Dance Court members, I don’t feel so bad spending a little time writing about what’s been going on.

It all starts with one elderly gentleman, whom for this exercise I’ll refer to as Mr. Grouchy-Face. Now, Mr. Grouchy-Face likes to dance, and when he goes to dance parties he is an unattached male, so he’s the kind of person that all of us in the dance community like to have around. Followers like him because usually there aren’t enough guys at any dance party, so having one more guy around who doesn’t bring a dance partner with him increases their chances of getting to dance. Other Leads like him because having another Lead around means that occasionally they might get to have a break during a song to go get some water or snacks, or even (gasp!) say hi to their friends.

This guy…

But Mr. Grouchy-Face is not like other dance Leads in that way. Mr. Grouchy-Face does not rejoice in the arrival of all other dance Leads at the parties he goes to (and occasionally at parties he doesn’t even attend). Mr. Grouchy-Face seems to have something major against a specific subset of Leads, and he likes to make sure everyone knows about his feelings regarding these gentlemen. It used to be that he would occasionally make off-hand comments during dances about these Leads at parties, but lately it seems he has taken to writing up long-winded ranting posts complaining about these men online. These rants of his are things that I have seen because lately they’ve gotten copied and emailed around when others take offense to his messages. Mr. Grouchy–Face goes back and deletes his writings after a day or so, so the only record we really have are these copied versions that are passed around… but if you wait until another dance party comes along, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see another message on the same theme be posted by this gentleman.

See, what we have going on in the Dance Kingdom is this process where sometimes a couple of ladies in the community will get together and, to make sure they have a dance partner during a dance party they want to attend, they hire a male dance instructor for the evening. These instructors essentially act like Dance Hosts, like you would see on a dance cruise. From what I’ve been told about the process, there are a handful of younger male dance instructors in the Dance Kingdom that are willing to give up their Friday or Saturday evenings to make some extra money, and if you split that fee amongst two or three ladies it doesn’t cost a whole lot. If the dance instructor has two ladies, each lady gets to dance every other dance, if there are three, they get to dance every third dance, etc. etc..

The return that the ladies get for the price is incredible. I have been to many parties where male instructors have been hired out in this manner, and these guys really get a workout during those evenings. They dance pretty much every song, and I’ve seen times where the only rest they take is during line dances or mixer dances, and during the break in the middle where the host of the party gives a few announcements. These Dance Hosts rival only the Dance Robots for how much time they spend on the dance floor during your average party!

Mr. Grouchy-Face does not like this practice. Not even a little bit.

The first time I heard about Mr. Grouchy-Face’s issue, it was described to me during a Royal Dance Court meeting as a patron of some of our dances being concerned about the hired dance instructors coming in and doing all kinds of “fancy moves” all over the dance floor, which Mr. Grouchy-Face said was a safety issue. When I heard that, I think I just stared at the person relaying the story, blinking slowly. That concern about a ‘safety issue’ is what brought about the speech I gave about floorcraft at the beginning of our dance party last month (note: I didn’t give a repeat speech this month because we had a much smaller crowd this past weekend, as I feared we would).

And that’s the point that brings Mr. Grouchy-Face back into the light this week… this past weekend I did help host another monthly dance party with my Royal Dance Court crew. There weren’t a ton of people who came by – it was a fair amount, but nothing like the crowds of the months prior. Mr. Grouchy-Face was not one of those that came out that night to dance with us. His name was not on the sign-in sheet, and I did not see him out on the floor, so I know for a fact that he wasn’t there. Yet even though he had no first-hand knowledge of the party, he chose to complain about what he thought happened that night. The next day someone showed me a copy of another long-winded rant that he had composed all about things that ‘happened’ at our dance party.

The Internets are serious business!

Living in this modern world like we do, a couple of the attendees at our dance party had taken a number of pictures of the event and posted them online. Mr. Grouchy-Face looked through all those pictures and decided to write up something all about how the party looked like a lot of fun and he wished he had gone, but it was probably better that he didn’t because it appeared, based on his personal count, that 85% of the pictures taken of the party were centered on these hired Dance Hosts. When I read through this message that was forwarded to me, I thought someone was pulling my leg! There was only one instructor that I saw who came to the party that night because he was hired as a Dance Host! One!

Now, to be fair, there were a couple of other instructors that were there at various points throughout the night – we (the Royal Dance Court) had hired an instructor to come in before the party and teach an American Waltz lesson, and he had stayed for the party afterward to dance with ladies and possibly drum up new business for himself. Lord Junior had been in the area that night, so he had stopped by to say hi to people he knew, and he ended up staying for an hour or so to dance a little… but no one paid him to be there, and the Royal Dance Court member running the check-in desk let him in for free since he has helped us out with a lot of things in the past. And finally there was a guy who came to the party that I am pretty sure teaches lessons at the Endless Dance Hall, but I can’t swear to that, so maybe he was counted as an instructor. This gentleman actually paid the cover charge to get into the party, and spent the evening dancing with ladies socially without causing much of a fuss, so I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

I had to actually get out my computer after doing that mental checklist of the dance instructors at the party so that I could look at the pictures that Mr. Grouchy-Face was talking about. As I flipped through them and took count for myself, there were nowhere near 85% of the photos being centered on the dance instructors (and that was counting the few instructors who were there that weren’t hired as Dance Hosts for the evening). I then went through and took another count of the photos where you could see one of those individuals in the background of the pictures. The venue we use isn’t super huge, so if you take a picture that isn’t facing the wall you can get a large portion of the dance floor in the shot. Counting that way you might be able to make an argument for 50% of the pictures having a dance instructor in them, but that is still a far cry from 85%.

But the part that really confuses me the most? I think it comes down to this statement that he made:

“The [Royal Dance Court] feels so strongly about hosting as the norm for “social ballroom dancing” that some of their [Court] members don’t even show up and participate in the club’s own group lessons. It’s the same [Court] members who arrive with a dance host only after the lesson and rarely dance with their own club’s members. When these [Court] members manage to dance with someone other than a pro (their “host”), it takes a “real” man away from everybody else. Essentially, the [Court members] ensure that they dance every dance—even when it leaves other (member) ladies sitting out.”

(Note: this is a direct copy from the statement Mr. Grumpy-Face wrote that I was forwarded. The italicized words in brackets change the names he typed to protect the innocent)

This is what throws me for a loop – if Mr. Grumpy-Face is so concerned about ladies sitting out during these dance parties, don’t you think he would be excited to see these instructors acting as Dance Hosts out on the dance floor? If the Dance Hosts take care of a couple of the ladies throughout the night, that frees him up to take care of other ladies who are “sitting out” so that more people can dance during each song! I mean, I don’t see it as being any different from what the Dance Robots do. They are not married, but they always come to dance parties together, and they very rarely dance with anyone else during the evenings. If the female Dance Robot decides to join in during a mixer dance while the male Dance Robot goes off to eat snacks (or cause trouble, which he thinks is funny), you could make the same argument that the female Dance Robot is taking a “real” man away from the other ladies attending the party too, couldn’t you? If that’s true, then you could say the same about the handful of older married couples we see coming to the dance parties who don’t often switch partners during the evening too!

I don’t think this concern for ladies sitting out is the whole reason that Mr. Grumpy-Face dislikes the Dance Hosts so much. I think a lot of it has to do with some dance jealousy. Take a look at this statement he made in an earlier rant he wrote about another event:

“’Hosting’ was going on last night, so it looks like this was about a 7:1 opportunity for the ladies to dance with someone better than the ‘members’.”

What am I even reading here…?

That’s what I personally think the real heart of his problem is. Dance jealousy. It’s fairly obvious that these dance instructors that are hired to dance with ladies know more than the amateur male dancers at the parties. After all, they are dance instructors! If they didn’t know more than the amateur male dancers, then they probably shouldn’t be teaching, right? But rather than watch these instructors dance at the parties and get inspired by what he sees, and then go out and learn how to dance better himself, Mr. Grumpy-Face chooses to complain about their presence at the dance parties instead. Because obviously complaining online takes much less work than going out and practicing his own dancing so that he can become better… which is something that he could totally do, since he is retired and thus has lots of time during the day he could devote to dance practice!

Another weird thing that Mr. Grumpy-Face has made comments about that he doesn’t like is an upcoming fundraiser dance that is being held in the Dance Kingdom this summer. To raise money for one of the children’s ballroom clubs, there is this adult ballroom club in the area that is holding a fundraiser dance party. They talked a whole bunch of local dance instructors in the Dance Kingdom into donating a few hours of their time that night, and people are allowed to “purchase” a dance with those instructors during the party, with all the money for those dances being donated to the children’s ballroom club. It’s a neat idea, and I’ve been to a party like this in the past, and everyone who was there seemed to really enjoy themselves and the event raised a sizable amount of money for the cause. Who wouldn’t like that?

Mr. Grumpy-Face saw the announcements posted for this upcoming charitable dance party, and he is not a fan. He thinks that a better idea would be to have the group of people who is putting together this dance be the ones whom people will donate money to dance with. I’m not sure how he thinks that will differentiate this event from a normal social dance that these people attend where other attendees can dance with them for free. You would think that he could see that, logically, more people would be interested in attending a dance party to dance and socialize with these local professionals, many of which do not often attend social dances, versus donating money to dance and socialize with the party’s organizers, whom I see all the time at various social dances around the Dance Kingdom and could dance with at any of those events. Especially since several female dance instructors have signed up to donate their time for the fundraiser, which you almost never see happen because there is usually a glut of female attendees at social dances. So that night even Mr. Grumpy-Face could hire a dance host to dance with if he wanted to!

Sigh… OK, I think I’ve got that out of my system. I apologize for showing you a part of the seedy underside of the Dance Kingdom. Being elected as a member of the Royal Dance Court exposes me to these things. This issue has started to take on a life of its own lately, so I thought I could use this as a way to get my incredulous thoughts off my chest so that I can remain calm and collected during the future discussions about this issue that I’m sure will come up. You can bet that there will be more to the story the next time I get together with my Royal Dance Court group, even if I see them informally.

Thanks for sticking with me through this. Until next time – keep on dancing!