I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

I didn’t do much this week. I started to feel kind of like crap on Sunday night, and since there was too much I needed to do at work to stay home and get better, I would suffer through taking medication to make me functional in the office during the day, and then go home and crash. After three days like that, I’m feeling mostly better, thankfully. I did sleep funny last night, so I’ve had this throbbing pain on the right side of my neck all day. Once I get this post all taken care of, I’ll probably go lay on the foam roller for a while to see if I can get some relief in my muscles. Cross your fingers for me!

Last Saturday I had a coaching session scheduled with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and we spent the whole time looking at Quickstep. Quickstep is one of those dances that I don’t entirely feel good about yet. I don’t feel as bad about Quickstep as I do about Tango though, which even Sir Steven admitted was still our weakest dance style, though we have improved greatly over the last month.

The big problem I have with Quickstep is the fact that it’s hard to practice well, much like Viennese Waltz. When Sparkledancer and I go out to practice during the week, we usually end up practicing in locations where  either A) the floor is smaller, so it is hard to really practice the movement of more than one figure at a time, or B) the floor is big enough, but there are a lot of other people using it, and none of them are doing the same dance style, so practicing Quickstep or Viennese Waltz up to tempo becomes dangerous.

For the most part, things felt pretty good while working on Quickstep that day. Our movement was really good, since Lord Dormamu has been focusing on movement with us. We spent time working on keeping our bodies rotated correctly during the Progressive Chasses that make up the majority of the long wall. Sir Steven told me that my part is easy, since I can pretty much keep my body rotated with a left-side lead after we finish up the Natural Spin Turn at the beginning up until we end with the Hesitation in the far corner. I love it when things seem easy! I’m sure that note will change later, but for now it’s simple to keep in mind!

After cleaning up some minor aspects and letting us run through all of the figures slowly for most of the hour, Sir Steven wanted us to run through the whole thing without stopping. Another instructor giving a lesson across the room was using the music at the time, so I just tapped out a tempo for Sparkledancer using my fingers on her shoulder so we could stay in sync. Just before he let us start dancing, Sir Steven went over to the couch where a different instructor for the Fancy Dance Hall named Sir Bread was sitting and asked him to watch what we were doing as well. That put the pressure on!

Once we finished the first long wall, Sparkledancer and I walked back to the middle of the room where Sir Steven and the other instructor were standing. When I raised my eyebrows in query to get some feedback, Sir Bread laughed and said that he asked Sir Steven after we started dancing why we were moving so fast and why there was no rise-and-fall, because apparently he thought we had been doing Waltz. It wasn’t until we got about halfway through that he realized that we were actually doing Quickstep, and then he felt stupid. We all had a good laugh at his expense, and then Sir Steven asked us to go do it again now that everyone was on the same page.

After the second run-through, Sir Bread commented specifically that our movement was looking really impressive. I may have done a little happy dance upon hearing that. Yay me! He saw a few points where it looked to him like we were rising up too much in the middle of a Progressive Chasse, so he told us to be aware of that. There were also a few points that he mentioned that we might have been breaking body contact, but those he wasn’t entirely sure about because he wasn’t close enough to see for sure, so the just told Sparkledancer and I to keep an eye on that during practice to make sure it isn’t happening.

I did manage to go out to one dance party on Saturday night, so my weekend wasn’t completely ruined by the hurricane passing through the area. Actually, it didn’t seem like we got any rain or wind until Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure why everyone was so freaked out about the storm where I live! Crazy people…

The dance party was supposed to be a semi-formal affair, but I went out to a different event before I made it to the party, so I was just dressed casually. When I got to the dance hall, I saw that Sparkledancer was there too, and she was up at the front talking to the DJ. I went to go put my dance shoes on and wandered over to where they were to say hello.

I found out that the two of them were having a fascinating discussion! Apparently, they both had joined a national ballroom dance-related organization, kind of like I did several weeks ago! They are in a completely different national organization than I am, so we probably won’t ever do anything together, but it was fun to talk dance politics with the two of them. As it turns out, neither Sparkledancer nor the DJ talked to each other before they joined this organization, but somehow the two of them ended up being placed on the same committee, so they would get to work together. How random is that?

Both Sparkledancer and the DJ mentioned that they had the same reservations about the national groups that they were a part of that I did about mine – the organization seems to be run by a bunch of old people who are really out-of-touch with the way that things are run nowadays. From what they told me, their national organization also has its priorities all out of whack, since they view the social dancers and the competitive dancers as two distinct groups of people, yet the membership dues that they collect from the social dancers are primarily funneled into the coffers for competitions that they host across the country instead of being put back into the social dance community.

That news obviously opens up a whole discussion can of worms that I’m not sure I want to process in writing at the moment. I’ll table that for another time.

We only got to talk for about ten minutes before the DJ had to start announcements for the party, but it was fun. They told me all about their group, and how their committee was going to focus on ideas directly related to outreach and communication with dancers. I told them all about the group that I joined, and how I would be working behind the scenes, making decisions that would shape tools and platforms that would be used by dancers across the country.

Even though the two of them are working for a different group with a different focus than I am, I think the three of us should continue to have these conversations and learn from each other as we move forward. After all, the more allies I have in my fight to shape the world of ballroom dancing in the U.S. into a more modern, unified world, the stronger my position will be, right?

Look at how political I sound! Man, I could run to be the President of Ballroom Dance someday if I keep this up! Do you think people would vote for me? Would you vote for me?

Anyway… Right before the dance party, there was a dance lesson that covered American Tango. When the instructor asked how many people in attendance had never done American Tango before, there were several hands that went up, so he decided to start things off from the beginning. Since the class actually had more men than women in it (which is unusual in my world), I decided to go sit out and just watch. Sparkledancer also came over to sit with me, because she was more interested in people watching than a beginners class in American Tango.

The instructor showed everyone the basic steps first, followed by the Reverse Turn. To practice the figures, he had everyone dance around the room rather than in straight lines up and down the floor. Most of the class had done some American Tango before, so some of the men were throwing in other crazy figures to show off, but there was one couple in particular that caught my eye. They were an older couple, and they had both raised their hands when the instructor asked who had never danced Tango before. They were struggling.

After the instructor split everyone up again and showed them how to do a basic Promenade into Fan, he had the class start practicing by dancing around the room again. This time, that new couple passed close to where I was sitting. I stood up and stopped them to ask how things were going, and the lady told me with a look of panic in her eyes that they were already so lost on the Reverse Turn, and then the Promenade thing also confused them, that they were thinking of just sitting out like I was doing. I offered to take them over into the nearby corner out of the line of dance and work with them to help them get the steps down correctly. I even offered to have Sparkledancer help me so that we could cover steps twice as fast.

I spent some time stepping through the guys part with the husband while Sparkledancer went through the lady’s part with the wife. Then Sparkledancer and I switched so that I could dance through the figure with the wife while she back-led the husband through his steps. He was still struggling a bit, so we switched back and I had him chant through the steps while we did them together to help him remember (forward-side-back, back-side-close). That seemed to finally help him get his footwork down.

After about ten minutes, we got them to the point where they were successful. Hooray! Sparkledancer mentioned one last note to the two of them that, if all else fails, they could just do the basic figure in a big circle all the way around the room if they wanted, rather than try anything they thought was too fancy. The new lady was really relieved to hear that, and said that they might try that out that night.

The two of them then rejoined the last part of class feeling much better, now with smiles on their faces. I lost sight of the pair during the party after the class, so I’m not sure how much dancing they did beyond the American Tango. However, I had to leave early that night to go take care of some things for work, and I caught sight of the lady and her husband on the far side of the dance floor on my way out. When I caught the wife’s eye and waved goodbye, the lady said something to her husband and then jogged over to where I was.

As she approached, she took hold of my forearm and I leaned in so that I could hear her over the music. She wanted to thank me for helping the two of them earlier. She said it was the highlight of her evening, especially after she had seen Sparkledancer and I dance together for one of the songs during the party (we were just screwing around with one of our routines, to work on dancing and using floorcraft at the same time). The lady told me that it was really nice that such high-level dancers would spend all that time during a class just helping her and her husband get a couple of figure right. Aww… that gave me warm fuzzies.

One final note: I happened to get something this week that I was expecting, but was surprised that it arrived so soon. Now I am officially the proud owner of some new clothes for my next dance competition. Yay… really, it’s probably not all that exciting to anyone besides me.

This outfit is a lot different from what I have worn in the past for competitions. I used to wear a three-piece suit that I own, the kind that most guys wear to church or job interviews. It was something that I already had in the closet, it worked for what I needed, and since I was competing so rarely I didn’t give it much thought before. Because I decided to change my dance focus this year and add more competitions to my schedule, it made sense to get some clothes that were specifically made for ballroom dancing. Seems logical, right?

The “dress shirt” that came with the set is interesting. It’s another one of those weird shirts that buttons up between your legs, which is always a fun thing to put on. I know that this feature helps keep the shirt from coming untucked while you move, but it just feels… weird. The material that the shirt is made out of is also this elastic-style fabric. The shirt is cut to be rather tight, so having the material stretched over my shoulders and arms just makes me look pretty muscular.

If that wasn’t enough, I decided to go with the coat-vest option rather than just a vest or a coat. This piece looks like someone took a long jacket from a tuxedo and then cut off the arms, so it’s not only perfect for a dance competition, but you can also wear it to any formal weightlifting events you attend at the local gym. Obviously you wouldn’t wear a shirt under the cut-off jacket to any formal gym parties, because you want to show off that you are super ripped AND super classy.

The pants that came as part of the outfit are pretty much the same as the practice pants that I wear all the time, except these have the shiny satin stripe that goes up the side of my legs. It’s a good thing that there is that noticeable difference too, that way I don’t accidentally get the two pairs of pants mixed up. My practice pants are not in bad shape, but they do get beat up and washed frequently, so if you are looking at them up close you can tell they are not in competition shape.

Overall, I think this look should help me with some things. For one thing, with the “dress shirt” being so tight and the cut-off jacket showing off my shoulders, you can see that my shoulders are fairly muscular. Especially if I were to stand next to your average dancer. I’m hoping that will help a judge to see that I am not sticking my trapezius muscles up when I am in frame… they are just that big. I think it looks fairly obvious in this new outfit, so we’ll have to see if a judge can see it as well.

Maybe I should bring my new clothes out to the Fancy Dance Hall sometime and have Lord Dormamu take a look. I know that he judges a lot of ballroom competitions, so maybe he can tell me if this getup helps him see that my shoulders are really just this size when they are rolled down. After all, these three articles of clothing were stupid expensive. Stupid. Expensive. If I don’t get positive feedback on them, is it even worth all the stupid money spent on them?

Sigh… expensive clothes are stupid. If I didn’t have to dress professionally for work, and I didn’t have to dress all fancy for ballroom dancing, I would probably only buy simple clothes that I would wear until they fell apart at the seams.

I’m not sure what’s going on this weekend yet. I do have lessons with both Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven lined up that I have to attend. Supposedly the Endless Dance Hall is having a free dance party on Friday night to celebrate the anniversary of their opening, so that might be fun (free parties are always fun, right?). My Royal Dance Court group is holding our monthly dance this Saturday, but I have a work thing I can’t get out of that I need to meet with some people and accomplish first, so I don’t know how late I will show up to that event, if I can make it at all.

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If She Would Dance, I Would D.J.

Last week Thursday night I ended up meeting up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for some coaching. This lesson was supposed to happen the week prior, but Lord Dormamu had a scheduling conflict, and then was out of town for some competition or another (he does that a lot), so we had to put things off until last Thursday. The plan for that night was to continue to work on our movement in Foxtrot.

Overall, Lord Dormamu is pleased with how things are coming along. That night, instead of worrying about the overall look and feel of our movement, we spent most of the night looking at figures in the routine and fixing specific issues. The first thing he hit on was the Three Step that happens on the short wall. He told us that it seems like that Three Step is never as good as the one that we do along the long wall, even though we should be doing the exact same technique during both. We had to go back and dance through the figure over and over again for him to prove that we could execute both Three Steps in the same way. As the night progressed and we moved on to other figures, he would often have us back up and start at that Three Step and dance through the routine until we got to the figure we were reviewing, to give us even more practice. Sigh…

The next figure that he wanted to touch on was the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. I was told that the leaning I was doing during the rotation of the figure was helping to make my head look like it was in the right place, so that was good. I specifically asked him about how much I was shaping my body though – sometimes I felt like I was getting close to, if not actually, breaking along my left side as I leaned my body as much as he wanted. He had me go through the figure a couple of times while he watched closely. From where he was standing, everything looked great to him, so he told me I shouldn’t worry too much about things that aren’t happening. It’s still a weird feeling to be bending my body to the left so much during the figure, but I guess I’ll just have to get used to that.
  After the initial rotation in the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish, as I bring my feet together and Sparkledancer gets all the way around my body, Lord Dormamu wants me to start raising myself up more, straightening my legs quite a bit in the process. This is very different from what he has been telling me to do in Foxtrot up to this point, where I was supposed to stay down low the whole time I was dancing. Coming up like this does kill the movement a bit, as you can imagine, but since we are using this figure to rotate around a corner, Lord Dormamu said that it will actually help the movement change direction faster. That will be something else to get in some practice doing before it feels more natural.

The final big thing he wanted Sparkledancer and I to change was the three-step Change of Direction that we do after the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. For the time being, he wants us hold in the middle of that figure for an extra measure of music, making the figure seem more like a Hesitation than a Change of Direction. The reasoning Lord Dormamu gave us was that adding in the extra pause there would allow us to really collect ourselves, reset everything, and then start the routine fresh again as if we were starting from the beginning. If I thought that raising up in the middle of the Closed Impetus felt unnatural, this change to the Change of Direction is even worse. I can understand the benefits of what he wants us to do logically, but it’s going to take some practice to make it happen comfortably for me.

I just love practice so much, don’t you? That must be why I make all these notes about things I need to practice! That just has to be the reason!

Saturday morning I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to get some work in. Sir Steven looked at our Waltz and Foxtrot routines for a few minutes each to start with, and then we spent the majority of the time that day practicing Tango again.

The most interesting thing that we ended up looking at was in the Waltz, and I don’t even know what to make a note of about the change! We got caught up looking at the Natural Spin Turn again, since that seems to be a thing we always have to stop and look at whenever we do Waltz. Sir Steven wanted me to try to take an even bigger step for the third step coming out of the Natural Spin Turn if I could. Whenever I tried to do this, it really didn’t go well. He tried to get me to adjust all kinds of things to make it work better, like lowering more as I took the step, or rotating my upper body more going into the second step and holding that position for the third step, but none of that helped. We then started going through the figure slowly, stopping at every step to see what was going on.

Whenever we stopped on the second step, I was having a hard time trying to keep my balance with Sparkledancer. I could stand there and hold the position on my own, but with Sparkledancer it felt like I was constantly falling backward. So Sir Steven and Sparkledancer worked on what she was doing during that step to see if that would help my situation. The two of them managed to figure something out, and then when he had Sparkledancer and I go through it again, whatever they did made a huge difference! Suddenly everything was balanced, and I could stand there all day and hold on the second step before stretching into the third.
  The problem is that… Sparkledancer doesn’t remember exactly what she and Sir Steven changed. When we were practicing on Sunday afternoon out at the Electric Dance Hall, I made a point of going through the Natural Spin Turn again so that we could get in some more practice. She and I talked about the figure, and she tried to remember what was changed, but couldn’t. Even still, we were able to get through the figure without any issues, so whatever she and Sir Steven figured out must have stuck with her. The real test will be to see if we can get the same results when we practice again next weekend… if everything still feels good then, I will say that it’s a permanent change. If we have issues, we’re going to have to try to make some guesses to figure out what was changed to fix it.

Maybe I’ll ask Sir Steven when I see him on Saturday if he remembers, and then I’ll write it down right away. That helps me remember things for sure.

Tuesday night I headed off to a quarterly meeting of the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. The group tried to keep the meeting as short as possible – there are two teachers in the group that had just started school the day before, so they wanted to get home and go to sleep. I’m pretty sure one of the other older ladies also just didn’t want to be there that night; this observation is based on her behavior – she was pretty quiet all night, she made one disparaging statement near the end of the meeting, and then she bolted for the door as soon as the discussions on the agenda were over. I had one item that I really wanted to talk about during the meeting, and luckily everyone seemed to be in favor of my idea, so that made me feel pretty good. Hooray!

I’m going to start by talking about my big win, just to pat myself on the back a little bit. There’s been this ongoing issue that keeps coming to our attention, where apparently some of the Amateur male dancers who attend our dance parties do not like having to share the dance floor with dance hosts. For those of you who may not know, in my part of the Dance Kingdom, a dance host is generally a male dance instructor who is hired by a female student (sometimes a group of students) to dance with them at a social party. The complaints usually come from one older gentleman in particular, though the rumors that circulate say that he isn’t the only one complaining – he’s just the most vocal with his complaints.

Basically the problem comes down to the fact that the gentlemen feel like these dance hosts are making them look like… well, amateurs. Because the dance hosts are also dance instructors, they know how to dance every dance style that is played, and they can throw out all kinds of “fancy moves” that the amateur men don’t know how to lead. Those amateurs that have complained about this practice say that the ladies are likely to become less interested in dancing with them if they could choose to dance with one of these dance hosts instead, because the dance hosts are just better dancers.

I know, I’m sure you can also see all the holes to poke into that argument, but so far none of us have been able to assuage these complaints with our logical counterarguments.

The thought that kept coming to me whenever I would hear other members of the Royal Dance Court discussing this issue was “why don’t these men who are feeling inferior go out and learn some new things?” After all, there are many female dance instructors in the area, and I’m sure those ladies could work with these amateur males to help them improve.

Then it occurred to me – when we host our monthly dance parties, we hire a dance instructor to come in and teach a class before the party starts. Since I joined the Royal Dance Court almost two years ago, I can think of only three parties where we brought in a female dance instructor to teach the class before the party; for all of the other events we brought in a male instructor instead. So maybe the guys that attend our dance parties just don’t know about all the female instructors in the area!

That became my goal for the meeting – to try to convince the rest of the Royal Dance Court that we need to bring in more female instructors to teach. I was thinking that as we started to plan out the dances and themes for our 2018 parties, we could make a goal of trying to get five female instructors to teach during that year. It seemed like an ambitious number to ask for, but if the group agreed with me I already had three female instructors in mind to ask right away, and I was sure that the rest of the group could give me two more potentials to talk to.
  And you know what? The rest of the Royal Dance Court members actually seemed excited about my proposal! I threw out the three names I had, and I did manage to get a couple more to add to my list from the others. Yay! One of the ladies I suggested would be a big deal if we could get her to agree to teach for us, because she is a super-high level competitor that has all kinds of competitions and championship wins to her name. I thought that the women who attend our parties would find her insights on dancing fascinating. I offered to talk to her personally and see if she’s even interested, and if she says yes we would basically let her choose whatever dance style she wanted to cover.

I think she likes me, so if I ask her I hope she would at least consider the proposal. Maybe I’ll find a present to bring to help persuade her to go along with my crazy idea. What kind of present would be most persuasive for a female dance instructor? Chocolate? Dance shoes? Puppies? I’ll think of something.

The other issue that we spent a large amount of time discussing was themes for our dance parties, or more specifically, whether or not themes were even a good idea for our parties. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but longstanding tradition in our Royal Dance Court group has it so that every dance party that we host has some sort of accompanying theme. Over the course of my tenure, I have found that the majority of people who get dressed up to match the theme are the other members of the Royal Dance Court (being a guy, I may or may not dress up, depending on how I feel that particular day). So the question came up at our meeting on Tuesday: if we are the only people participating in the themes for the dances, should we continue to have themes for every single dance?

I was in the camp that said that it’s cool to do a theme every once and awhile, but we didn’t need one every month. If we have them as special occasions rather than a regular occurrence, maybe more people will participate. Sparkledancer brought up the fact that the only themes that she really noticed people dressing up for were the Christmas themes, and themes that involved wearing a specific color. On top of that, another ballroom dance club that is near us does themes for all of their dance parties, and they really go all out. Because their parties always happen before our parties every month, Sparkledancer thought we could distinguish ourselves from them by taking a more relaxed approach to decorating and dressing up, and have our parties more focused on the dancing.

Sparkledancer’s speech was enough to get a majority of the Royal Dance Court members to agree with her, so we decided to give her idea a try for 2018. It will be interesting to see what the reaction to these changes are next year, if I manage to get a bunch of female dance instructors to come teach lessons for us in 2018 and Sparkledancer manages to change our parties so they are less crazy themed and more focused on dancing for fun. Look at the kinds of changes the youth of the Dance Kingdom can bring about! This is just a small-scale change to start with, but it gives me hope that if enough of us “younger kids” can band together we can make bigger changes in the world of ballroom dancing that can improve things for everyone!

Finally, let’s talk about what went on in Standard Technique last night. I got to the Electric Dance Hall a bit before class started, and I was a bit worried because the windows were so dark. I thought class might have been cancelled, and no one sent me the memo – though, there were a lot of cars in the parking lot, which implied that something was in progress. As it turns out, the big chandelier that is the primary source of light in the dance hall was having some maintenance done, so it just seemed dark from the outside. Lord Junior had a handful of lamps in all the corners and on the front desk to light the studio. When I got inside, it gave the place a sort of romantic atmosphere, which was kind of fun for dancing.

Weirdly enough, we had an extra gentleman join us for class yesterday. Normally having more men would be something that would make me rejoice, but it was weird yesterday because… well, you know that guy I mentioned earlier, the one who has been the most vocal about the dance hosts making the amateur Leads look bad? That was the guy that showed up for class! I know! What are the chances that someone whom I wrote about a few days ago would just randomly show up to take part in a dance class that I am also attending? Especially since he has NEVER shown up for Standard Technique class before. That is a super strange coincidence, don’t you think?

Anyhow… Lord Junior wanted to look at some Foxtrot that night, which I can always use more work in. Overall the figures that we looked at weren’t all that bad. The one advanced figure that Lord Junior specifically wanted to look at was the Reverse Wave, and almost everything else we used was from the Bronze syllabus. The progression had us do a prep step into a Feather, then the first half of a Reverse Turn. In place of the second half of the Reverse Turn we did the Reverse Wave, and to come out of the Reverse Wave we started with a Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. Near the end of class Lord Junior gave us the option of switching the final figure out with an Open Impetus if we wanted, just to keep things interesting.
  Lord Junior did make some comments about me doing the Closed Impetus, since this was the first time he had really watched me do that figure since Lord Dormamu told me to change the way I was doing the steps. From where he was standing, Lord Junior said that he thought it looked like I was breaking on my left side. That was what I was worried about when looking at the figure with Lord Dormamu last Thursday, when he told me that it didn’t look like I was doing anything wrong. I guess Lord Junior either saw things differently from Lord Dormamu, or I happened to be doing the figure differently last night in some way. After Lord Junior mentioned what he saw, I made a point to try to focus on keeping my left side as elongated as possible during the figure, and Lord Junior said that whatever I was doing helped fix the issue. So… yay?

I will probably have a quiet week next week, which will be nice. Lord Junior is going to take a vacation to go see his family for the first time in quite a while, so Latin Technique class and Standard Technique class won’t happen next week. There is one dance party that I know about going on Saturday night, and I may or may not go out to attend that. Based on what my calendar is telling me, I have a lesson with Sir Steven on Saturday, and then a lesson with Lord Dormamu on Sunday. With Monday being a holiday, it would probably be smart if I talk to Sparkledancer about setting up some practice time for that day.

That’s… OK, maybe not as quiet of a week as I thought. At least I can look forward to sleeping in on Monday instead of getting up early for work, right? I will look forward to that.

When We’re Dancing, The Night Begins To Shine

Forgive me for a bit of rambling this week. There are so many things jumbled around in my brain that I just need to get out so that I can sort through them. Bear with me on this…

Last Saturday I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to continue working on Tango. There’s not a lot I need to remember from the actual lesson – the more interesting discussion came after we finished dancing. The one thing that I jotted down as a note is something Sir Steven wanted me to start doing during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. I was told that, in order to make the figure look more dramatic, I need to rotate my body just enough to keep Sparkledancer on the outside for the first two steps, but to make sure that I am not rotating my body as much as I possibly can.If I do that correctly, I can dramatically snap my body the rest of the way when I take the third step, making the figure look really sharp.

The big thing to watch out for when I do this (as I found out that day) is that I have to rotate my body quickly to make it look dramatic, but not too quickly. I weigh a lot more than Sparkledancer, and if she’s in close body contact with me as I rotate my body with any amount of force, I can end up just flinging her body around. While it’s kind of funny to me when that happens, I can’t really say that anyone else finds it super funny. So the trick is to rotate quickly, but to do it lightly. Reminds me of Lord Dormamu’s comments from last week, about moving with power, but softly – like a gentleman. I told you that was a quote to remember!

As we were finishing up getting all the signatures in order for our lesson, the topic of upcoming showcases came up. From what I gathered recently, the Electric Dance Hall was planning on holding their fall showcase sometime around mid-October, and the Fancy Dance Hall is planning their winter showcase for mid-December. A couple of people on the Fancy Dance Hall staff have now mentioned to either Sparkledancer or I that the two of us should put together an act for their showcase. In hearing that, I automatically thought that if I was going to do it, I should have an act that could be performed at both showcases, like my last showcase number.

But… when the showcase came up this past weekend, I found out that the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is putting on will be like their recent summer showcase. That means that, rather than just being a collection of student performances for friends and family members to come watch, this ‘showcase’ will be more like a musical. There will be a story to follow, and all dance numbers need to fit the story, and the whole night will be arranged in a specific order that follows a plot. Rehearsals will involve not only making sure that performers can dance through their routines successfully, but also to choreograph transitions between performances so that everything runs together smoothly.

Also, it will involve having to do some acting, since the dances will be ‘performed’ by characters from the story. There won’t be speaking parts, but there are definitely characters that need to be embodied and presented so that the crowd can tell who you are.

So… that’s daunting. The story that they are planning on doing for the showcase is Christmas themed, as you can guess. It’s a pretty well-known story, so I was able to go back through the notes on the plot and think of ideas. I had one that I thought was pretty good, that could be rather dramatic and elegant and even, dare I believe, funny, but I’m not entirely sure how Sir Steven felt about my idea. It would be a ballroom style dance showcase. That’s a big leap of faith for me to take. I’ve always thought that ballroom showcases got to be kind of boring from an audience’s perspective – they tend to be slow and really limit the amount of exciting things that you can put in.

That’s why I also told Sir Steven that if we were going to do this, somehow we would have to put lifts into the routine. I think that audiences really enjoy seeing dancers do lifts while dancing, and I spend too much time on strength training to not do any. Plus, Sparkledancer is pretty tiny, so it hasn’t been much of a workout to pick her up during all of the other showcase numbers we’ve performed together. Sir Steven told me that he would look into some ideas for ballroom lifts and get back to me.

I’m sure I will have more to say about this in the near future. After all, we are less than two months from the possible performance at the Electric Dance Hall’s showcase, and less than four months from the Fancy Dance Hall’s performance date. If we’re going to be in the show(s), we’ve got to start working on things soon!

Last Saturday was also the night for the monthly dance party that is put together by the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. Yay! Someone had wanted to do a vaguely Summer-themed dance party that night, and we brought someone in to teach a Bachata lesson prior to the dance. While I’m sure that something like Salsa would have been slightly more Summery than Bachata, the guests to the dance seemed to enjoy the Bachata, so everything worked out great.

I will confess to not being all that well versed in Bachata. Afflicted with long legs and white-boy hips, I don’t think I’m all that good at any Latin dances, especially those of the Club Latin variety. That said, what the instructor covered that night was fairly basic, and with all the years of training I’ve had in making sure I have a connection with my dance partner, I could get a lady through the figures with ease. I had more than one lady tell me that I was the only guy besides the instructor that they managed to get through the steps with successfully. I even had one lady tell me that I must dance Bachata all the time with how easy it was for her to dance with me. When I told her that I really never dance Bachata, she looked right into my eyes and said “Well, then you must be a natural.” Huh.

Because only a handful of people in the class that night confessed to being good at Bachata, the instructor started things off just covering the basics. There was the side-to-side basic figure, and then the forward-and-back basic figure, and then Spot Turns for the ladies during the side-to-side basic. When the instructor felt like everyone had those basic figures down, he gave everyone a pattern of figures that they could do that got progressively more advanced as it went on, until he ran out of time in the class..

The pattern started out with a normal side-to-side basic. Then we did the same basic figure with the ladies Spot Turns added. Once we finished that, we took a wide two hand hold and the men led the ladies to travel forward on a diagonal path while he traveled backward, taking four steps diagonally back from right to left, then rotating the lady to do another four steps from left to right. We did four of these traveling diagonals so that when we finished we were on the right side once more with the left foot free. Then he had us do some leg flicks, pointing the leg to the side for beat one, flicking it up behind our other leg on beat two, taking a step to the side on beat three, and finally slowly sliding the other foot in over beat four. We did four of these as well, to keep the musical phrasing.

As we neared the end of class, he showed the ladies how to do Swivels, These were exactly the same as what you have probably seen in International Rumba, where the lady is in front of the man stepping and turning from side to side. This was a challenging step for many of the ladies I danced with. At first the instructor wanted the ladies doing one Swivel for each beat of music, but after a few minutes of practice when he saw that many were struggling to keep that pace he backed down and said that if they wanted they could do one Swivel for every two beats of the music. A lot of the ladies I danced with still wanted to believe they could do the fast ones, so I would let them try, and then if they struggled I would stop and get them to try it again slowly to be successful.

By the time the class had finished, more guests had shown up for the party to participate in the open dance. The ratio of men to women was pretty even that night, so I wasn’t really needed for dancing. That was probably for the best too, since I had to leave early to take care of some stuff for work. Also, the DJ made sure to play a fair number of Bachata songs, and I probably would have had to fake my way through those if someone had asked me to dance during one…

Keeping things on the slower side this week, we ended up looking at Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday night. On an interesting note, a lady whom I have met several times before ended up joining us that evening. We’ll call her the Gatekeeper, and she’s an… interesting case. For a long time, I used to think that she was reluctant to learn anyone about dancing from anyone other than Lord Fabulous, but apparently the two of them had some kind of falling out recently. Since then, I’ve seen her at the Fancy Dance Hall taking a lesson with Sir Steven, and now she showed up to take Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class. I’m not sure if this will become a regular occurrence, or if she and Lord Fabulous will reconcile their differences shortly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As we usually do when new people who Lord Junior doesn’t know very well join us for class, the figures we looked at that night weren’t super intense. If Gatekeeper sticks around for a few weeks, I’m sure that will start to change, but for the first night there she could get through the figures pretty easily. Starting in Fan Position, we took the ladies into an Alemana, with the guy shifting to the left slightly so that the lady ends her last turning walk on the Lead’s right side. Collecting her with our right arm, we turned her in a Natural Opening Out action that we over-rotated as we closed so that it melded right into a Reverse Top. We went around for three measures, releasing the lady in the middle of the last measure so that she would end up back out in Fan Position. Just as class was ending, Lord Junior was having us move from that Fan Position into a Hockey Stick, but we didn’t get any farther that night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday was pretty fun, in my opinion. The class was rather small compared to the number of people who usually show up. I think that with so many schools starting up again this month, many of the normal attendees are either getting ready to go back themselves or getting everything ready for their kids to go back. At least, that’s my theory – I could be wrong.

We looked at Waltz this time around. There were a couple of figures that we looked at that I don’t remember ever seeing before, which is always exciting to me. First off, when we started class, Lord Junior asked all of us if any of us had ever seen a Left Whisk. When everyone said no, he decided that we would definitely be using that figure during class. As you can probably guess, a Left Whisk is basically the same as the basic Whisk, only you are crossing the opposite foot behind. While the normal Whisk is a figure you learn in early Bronze International Waltz, a Left Whisk is a Gold-level figure for some reason.

Our pattern that night was rather short, and it doesn’t travel all that far because of the spin and lunge that we do after the Left Whisk. We started out with a normal Natural Spin Turn and then transitioned into the Left Whisk. With my right foot crossed behind my left, our next figure was to unwind with a Standing Spin while the lady walked around me. This Standing Spin felt a lot like a Natural Twist Turn from Tango. Once the lady got all the way around us, we rotated her body so that she was perpendicular to ours and then did a Same Foot Lunge, with the man lunging to the right and the lady stepping backward on her right leg and leaning backward in an Oversway-like line. If you were in the right position, you would almost have the lady sitting down on your right thigh when she was leaning back.

To come out of the Same Foot Lunge, the guys would stand the lady back up and pivot her around without moving yet (that’s how she gets back to being on the opposite foot from us). Once she was pivoted back into normal dance position, the guys could collect and do an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position heading toward diagonal wall. Lord Junior was going to add on something else at the end to give us a better closing than ending right in the middle of an Open Telemark, but we had spent a lot of time working on the Standing Spin and Same Foot Lunge that night, so we had to leave it there so that we could get in several practice rounds before class ended.

Remember how last week I mentioned feeling like my schedule was overwhelming without actually having anything out of the ordinary on it? I guess feeling that way wasn’t good enough for me, so I somehow got talked into adding more things to my schedule. There’s the showcase that I mentioned earlier that I’m fairly certain I will start working on. Just before that, I had already agreed to compete at the end of September, so not only do I have to find time to learn and practice a showcase routine, but I still have to continue working on my competition routines at the same time!

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I had volunteered myself to be part of this committee that will be making dance-related decisions on a national level. Well going along with that, my local Royal Dance Court group will have our quarterly meeting next week to talk about what we have planned for the rest of this year, and to start discussing the dance parties and events we want to host next year. There is this debate going on about themes for our dance parties – a few of the members of the Royal Dance Court really like planning themes for these parties, with decorations and a playlist of music that matches the theme. Others (like me) don’t see many of the dance attendees dressing up for the themes, or mentioning anything about the decorations, so we feel like having a theme every month is overkill without participation. That should be a fun discussion…

On top of that, my Royal Dance Court group was asked to send representatives for an upcoming regional conference, where a bunch of different dance groups in our region are coming together to discuss our successes and challenges in getting people into ballroom dancing in our respective areas. As you can probably guess, I was asked by Prez if I would tag along with her to that regional meeting. I’m pretty sure that she asked Sparkledancer if she wanted to go as well, and that the ladies will be getting a hotel room together to reduce costs and whatnot. Being the only guy, I have to find my own accommodations. There was talk of reimbursements if I saved my receipts, but I hate doing expense reports, and I make stupid money compared to my living expenses, so I can just eat the cost.

Anyway… why did I agree to go to this meeting? For starters, there are rumors that some of the people in charge of the national organization that I had signed up to be on that committee for might have a representative there to talk with all of these regional clubs, so I figured getting in some face time is a good idea. Also, I’m fairly certain that Prez asked Sparkledancer and I if we wanted to go because she wants our Royal Dance Court to stand out because of our respective youth. There is supposed to be a dance party that night after all of the meetings in the afternoon, and if Prez shows up with the two of us who also happen to compete together, and she can get us to dance in front of everyone else at the party… I’m sure that will score her some bonus points, and I’m willing to do that for her.

I could be wrong about that, but with what I’ve learned about Prez over the years, she likes to have power and status over people, and I wouldn’t put it past her to use me to that end. But knowing how dance politics works, helping her earn status points can also help me out too. If I can get to know the leadership of all these dance clubs in my region, maybe I will be able to present my ideas about how I think things should be done to them, and have some small influence on the way the clubs are run. On top of that, if I want to use my committee position to help solve big problems at the national level, I want these people to know who I am, and trust me enough to tell me about issues they come across. After all, if no one tells you about an issue, how can you help solve the problem?

So now my calendar is actually getting full. What is it about me that seems to be drawn to do all of these things, even knowing that I would much rather just have a quiet weekend curled up in bed with my cat, doing nothing but staring out the window? I must be crazy.

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. 😊