They’re Just Lousy With Loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Such An Inspiration For The Ways That I’ll Never Ever Choose To Be

This weekend was quite the rollercoaster of reflection on competitive dancing for me. After what I wrote last week about my existential crisis toward dancing, I had hoped in my heart that the competition I was planning to go to would help me see that dancing was still just a fun pastime that I could lose myself in. Instead, this competition decided to take the negative things I had seen in the periphery of the competitive dance world and shove them into my face so that I could no longer deny that those things were happening. As you might expect, that didn’t help my existential angst about dance one bit.

Before I go any further, I want to let you know that I did sit down with my Amateur dance partner Sparkledancer one afternoon last week to try to explain to her what was going on in my head. I felt that it was only fair to keep her in the loop. After all, I am one of those rare males that lives in the world of ballroom dancing and actually does take it somewhat seriously. If this existential crisis cannot be resolved and I decide to quit dancing competitively, she would have a hard time finding another partner.

(That’s one of the other sad parts about this world – if I drop out, she would likely have to find the money to take up Pro/Am, since the chances of her finding an Amateur male to dance with are slim. Whereas if Sparkledancer ever decided to stop dancing, I would probably have several Pro/Am male instructors that I know calling me to set me up with some of their students… if my own coach didn’t just dump a new partner in my lap, that is.)

Part of the reason that I met up with her to have this talk was that Sparkledancer had been sending me messages throughout the week to let me know what she had learned about the other competitors that we were going up against in the competition. She really likes to know who she is facing – something that comes from playing sports in her youth. The problem was that information that she was sending me was not making me feel good about going to this competition. In fact, based on the way I usually look at and interpret data, I already could see what the results of the competition were going to be even before I got to the venue.

When I tried to explain my existential angst to Sparkledancer, she didn’t get it at first. Then when I tried to tell her how I really didn’t want to go to the competition any longer once she sent me all the information about the other people we were dancing against, she didn’t seem to understand that either. She told me that I should try to go into this event and just have fun and do my best. Nothing was set in stone she told me, despite how I was reading the data, so the results might not turn out the way I expected. Plus, it was already too late to get a refund on our entry fees, so we couldn’t get out of it without losing money.

After our first round was over and we were sitting next to each other quietly in the audience while waiting for our next round to start, she told me that she finally understood what I was trying to tell her earlier in the week.

If you dance competitively you will probably already know this, but outside of the franchise dance worlds and the local studio-only competitions there are basically three different paths you can take as an Amateur competitor. Each path has its own rules and regulations that tell you when you should be moving up in your proficiency level as a dancer. These paths set your required proficiency level using some kind of ‘point’ system, or your win/loss ratio as a competitor, or something similar. I’m sure you’ve seen some of these systems so you get the gist of what I’m talking about.

The major problem that exists, that people have mentioned to me in the past but I never took much stock in until this past weekend, is that these proficiency levels on each of these paths are independent of each other. That means that a dancer could, if they wanted to, train and compete while following one path, and then when they hit a level where they can no longer beat the other competitors in their proficiency level along that path they can start over back at the beginning on one of the other two paths. The term I hear a lot of people use to describe this behavior is “sandbagging.”

That is the kind of Amateur couple that I faced this weekend. Sparkledancer sent me information from their competitive record that she found online, showing that they had been competing and winning in the highest levels of beyond-syllabus proficiency while following two of the competition paths, and now here they were in a competition from the third path, back to dancing Bronze syllabus in International Standard. They weren’t the only couple signed up for this competition that was doing this, but their record was the most uneven of the mix out of all the competitors that I looked at..

So when I looked at the records that Sparkledancer had sent me in the week leading up to the competition, I could logically arrange the competitors and figure out who would get put into all the top spots of the rounds based on the proficiency levels they were competing in at other competitions. And guess what? Those placements that I had made logically by looking at the data presented to me was exactly what happened. I was not surprised by this when the results came back… but being able to look at the data and determine what place you are going to get before you even take the floor and do one step in your dance routine takes all of the fun out of going to the competition in the first place.

So far, I have kept all the competitions I have done, no matter which competition circuit the competition happens to be in, at the same proficiency level. My coach has told me to compete at my level all the time, and not to mess around in any other proficiency levels until he tells me that I am ready. I sign up for competitions with some thought to try not to earn too many points in any of the circuits, allowing me to stick with this plan. So I guess you could say that I was disappointed to see firsthand that other coaches don’t tell their students to do the same thing.

Then there were the blatant examples of Dance Politics at work that also left a gross feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The first one was something that I heard about while waiting in line to check in for the competition and pick up my packet of stuff. I was in line behind a group of other people – all members of the same dance studio I assume, since they were all wearing cool matching jackets. One lady from the group was telling a “funny” story from the last competition that she and her partner had participated in, and this story really emphasized to me why playing the Dance Politics game is a terrible curse that we all have to live with.

The story goes like this: at that competition she went to, there was a well-known younger couple dancing in some of the youth rounds. They are really high-level up-and-coming dancers with names that even I vaguely recognized once she said them. The championship round for under 18 International Latin was large at this competition, so it had been split into multiple rounds (i.e. quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals, based on the story) to determine the winners.

Something happened during the quarter-final round that injured the female half of this young couple. The lady telling the story didn’t elaborate what the injury was, but it was bad enough that the young couple dropped out of event. When the semi-final round for the Latin championship came up, a handful of the judges did not refresh their judging pads even though the emcee asked them to, so those judges still had this couple on their list even though they weren’t on the floor during that round.

I’m sure you can see where this is going… without even dancing in the semi-final, that couple somehow still managed to get multiple votes that would have allowed them into the final for the Latin championship! Not just one judge marking them to go to the final, but multiple.

That one story that the group of people in front of me in line were all laughing about really shows that there is a lot of truth to what I have been told by my coach – that meeting with these judges so that they know my name can make a difference with how they mark me in a competition. I mean, if the judges saw the names of that couple on the list and marked them to make it into the final without even checking to see if they were actually on the floor, that means that my coach has actually been downplaying how important the Dance Politics game is for competitors.

More than this story that I heard though, I saw this for myself with how I was marked at events in this competition. Remember all that coaching that my coach had signed me up for in the month leading up to this competition? Well, out of all of those meetings I only ended up with one of those judges actually watching any of my rounds on the actual day of the competition. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the judge that I didn’t particularly like because he told me that I was “boring” to watch.

As I was standing in the on-deck area preparing to take to the floor to dance my Waltz, I saw that this particular judge was going to be watching. I made a quick mental decision that I was going to try to be interesting during these rounds. I knew that was something that this particular judge would be looking for – he had told me that was what he primarily watched for, after all – so I thought that I would just give it a shot. After all, it wouldn’t hurt me. I already knew that the one couple who normally danced at super-high proficiency levels at other competitions was going to win, so the rest of us were just going to be mucking around for the placements underneath them.

During that Waltz I started telling Sparkledancer all about how I felt like a bear on a unicycle trying to entertain the crowd in hopes of getting a bowl of honey afterward. She thought that was funny, so the rest of the time that we spent dancing we kept talking about bears on unicycles. As we moved on into the Quickstep, we talked about what kind of hats a bear riding a unicycle should wear (she thought they should be in party hats, I thought cowboy hats). In the Tango I asked her if they had unicycles big enough for polar bears to ride. As we finished up with the Foxtrot, I told her that I thought the honey was so close that I could smell it.

In some ways, knowing what the results of the event would be helped me stay more relaxed, and telling jokes about bears on unicycles made both Sparkledancer and I laugh pretty much the whole time. A genuine smile that a person wears from hearing a silly joke looks a lot more authentic than the fake smiles a lot of other competitors plaster on their faces when they go out to dance, in my opinion.

When we got back the results for those dances, the results were exactly what I was expecting they would be… except one. That one judge, the one that I had the coaching with who told me that I was boring to watch, he had marked Sparkledancer and I first for everything. Way higher than all the other judges marked us. I don’t know if it was because he recognized our names since we had taken coaching sessions from him only a few weeks beforehand, or if this time around he thought that we were actually interesting to watch because we were being silly as we danced. Whatever the reason, his marks really favored Sparkledancer and I. That didn’t change what the overall result was for the top placements, which still ended up exactly how I had predicted, but it was interesting enough that I thought I should note it here.

So Dance Politics… I don’t really feel good about that. Since the judging system that ballroom competitions use is so subjective, it’s hard to say whether I actually danced better at this competition than I have at other competitions. There are definitely some data points that say that I did – I felt stronger and more confident in all my dances at this event than at competitions of the past for one. Another point is that there were a handful of competitors at this competition who had beaten Sparkledancer and I or that we tied with at competitions in the past, and this time around we were clearly marked better than them. That could  be interpreted as showing some improvement has actually happened, right?

But then again, the judging is subjective. Maybe the one judge really did just like my dancing that day because he remembered my name, or because I was talking about bears on unicycles and being interesting. That doesn’t mean that I have actually improved technically at all as a dancer, that just means that he remembers me giving him money a few weeks ago or he got caught up in my mirth. And that’s a stupid reason to mark me better. How will I know if I have actually improved, or what dance styles I need to work harder on, if all the scores that I get back are just subjective and don’t really tell me anything concrete?

This competition did not make me feel better about dancing competitively like I had hoped. If anything, it just left me more conflicted about whether I want to stay on this path of pure competitive dancing or not. Maybe I am going to have to figure out some way to grade myself on how I dance so that I can track my own improvement over time. If I can’t trust the marks of the judges at most competitions, what else can I use to gauge my own progress?

So this week I am leaving you with more deep thoughts. I had really hoped that I would have a better resolution for you this week after what I wrote about last week, but the dance adventures I went on over the weekend did not give me that. This coming week my life should get back to normal, with regular dance classes and normal practice returning to my calendar. Maybe returning to the routine grind will help.

We’ll have to see! I’ll let you know how things are going next week.

The Quest Is Long And The End Is Near…

So I’m less than a week out from my next competition, which is the biggest competition I’ve gone to in a while, and do you know what happened? I got a text message from my coach over the weekend telling me that a visiting coach is coming into town and he has booked time on the guy’s schedule for Sparkledancer and I to meet with him. You know, a week out from competition… when I should be spending my time just running through everything rather than trying to cram more new knowledge into my head. No big deal, right?

Normally I don’t question my coach when he tells me to do these things, but as I finished up the coaching session on Monday night and walked out to my car to begin my drive home, I was having a bit of an existential crisis. I walked into the Endless Dance Hall that night thinking that this would be a coaching session much like the ones I had a few weeks ago, where I would just be meeting with this guy to make sure that he knows my name and would recognize my face in the future the next time he judges me somewhere.

It turns out that this guy is someone who my coach actually trusts with his students, who has deep philosophical knowledge about ballroom dancing that is useful. On top of that, he is also on the judging panel for the competition that I am going to this coming weekend. So… yeah, that meant that I couldn’t just write off everything he said like my coach told me to do with all the things the other judges told me when we finished up. At least, I didn’t think that I could. I’m really not sure anymore what is important to take away from these meetings.

My coach Lord Dormamu was there with us the entire time, teaching some of his other students on the opposite side of the room. When we got started, he gave the visiting coach a rundown of what we had been doing lately, and asked him to take a look at the way that I hold my frame while keeping my chest out, and Sparkledancer’s volume (which are the two major points he told Sparkledancer and I to focus on) to see if he had any other recommendations he could give us to improve those areas before going into the competition next weekend.

The visiting coach put on some music and had us dance through all of our routines in no particular order for ninety seconds each. When Sparkledancer and I finished and we all met back up in the middle of the room, the coach turned to Sparkledancer and told her that he already knew how he could help her create more space to look bigger, but it was actually going to be me that was going to have to change something to make that happen.

Can you guess what it was that he wanted me to change to help her out?

.

..

Yup, he wanted me to make an adjustment to my frame. Remember how I said something along the lines once about how you could ask ten coaches what the correct way to hold your frame was and you would get fifteen different answers back? This was another of those moments.

Specifically what I was doing with my right arm is what he wanted to have me change. Lord Dormamu has worked and adjusted me quite a bit, and somehow in all of that adjustment my right hand has ended up sitting just below the top of Sparkledancer’s left shoulder. This makes it easier for me to keep my right elbow up, which is a trouble point that Lord Dormamu is always concerned with when he watches me dance. There have been minor adjustments to where my hand has been placed over the 2+ years that I have been dancing competitively like this, but the hand has always ended up in roughly this place through that entire time.

However, this coach says that keeping my arm and hand up that high on her shoulder is actually preventing Sparkledancer from creating the space that she is being asked to create. Because keeping her legs under her forces her to keep her lower spine straight, the only option she has to create space is to bend herself up and over my right hand/arm. If I am keeping my hand up so high, the coach told me I am making it impossible for her to do that. Sure, that makes sense.

Also, he was worried that during any turning figures we do I might instinctively tighten my right arm as I rotate. Because my hand is near the top of her shoulder, if this action would unintentionally press inward with any force in my right hand I pretty much guarantee that I am going to fold Sparkledancer’s left shoulder toward my chest. The coach pointed out that while Sparkledancer may be strong, no matter how much she might try to fight against my right hand to keep her upper body away from me she would be no match for the strength in my arm.

His recommendation was to have me hold my right arm out straight, let her get into position with me, and then close my right hand to her body lower, so that my palm is basically against her lat muscle and my fingers are resting underneath her rear deltoid. Just dancing around like this doing some basic steps from our Waltz routine made life so much easier for Sparkledancer, and she was surprised how much of a strain that took off of her. That is a major point in favor of this change.

Sparkledancer excitedly asked if there would be a similar change to how I hold her for Tango, since that frame is slightly different. The coach told me that the idea is the same, except that once I close my right hand to her I would rotate my spine to bring my right side forward, allowing my right hand to slide toward her spine in the process. Other than that, everything else remains the same.

However… I had to stop and ask about this. In order to make the change he wanted, I am basically rotating my forearm to turn my palm upward. Rotating my arm like this naturally brings my right elbow down so that it looks (in my peripheral vision at least) like my right elbow is way below my left elbow. I can’t bring my right elbow up higher while my forearm is rotated like this without a painful sensation in my shoulder, which tells me that I shouldn’t be doing that. This coach told me that while he can see the elbow being down when standing at a distance, it isn’t as bad as I was making it seem.

I still wasn’t convinced that this was a good idea, since I have been yelled at so much to keep my elbow up and putting my arm in this position was guaranteeing that I wouldn’t be able to do that. He told me that when he is judging dancers in a competition, his first judgement is based on how the dancer’s spine looks. If the spine is straight, then he will move on to look at the arms. For me, he said, it is easy for him to see that my spine is straight and my shoulder and arm are naturally sitting in the position that he had asked me to be in, so he wouldn’t think twice about my right elbow being slightly lower than my left one. Especially considering that Sparkledancer is shorter than me, so my arm has to be down slightly to fit under her arm.

If I was forcing my arm to do something out of the ordinary, he would be able to see that my right shoulder wouldn’t be laying flat. He moved my arm around to demonstrate how the shoulder (especially one with as much muscle as mine) would stick up in funny places if I tried to make the arm do something that was against my anatomy. So this coach thought that the placement of my elbow in relation to the new placement of my hand wasn’t a problem. If he ends up judging any of my rounds at the competition this coming weekend, he has all but guaranteed that he wouldn’t mark me down for that.

That helped me feel pretty OK about everything by the time we finished up that coaching session. As I was about to head back over to where my street shoes were so that I could take off my dance shoes, I heard Lord Dormamu call my name. He waved me over and told me to grab Sparkledancer and hang out for a few minutes. He was almost finished teaching the other couple that he was working with, and when they were done he was going to have both of us run rounds (both of us will be going to the same competition next weekend).

Running those rounds was what made me stop feeling good about everything…

The coach I had worked with was sitting along the edge of the floor, Lord Dormamu was up at the front running the music for us, and I was on the floor with this other random couple who danced at a super high level. That part didn’t bother me so much, because even though they were much higher level and were doing all the fancy moves while flying around the floor, I was easily twice the size of the other guy. I caught eyes with him before we started in an attempt to give him a sense of camaraderie, but I think he might have interpreted me wrong because he stayed waaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell away from me after that. Did I scare him?

The issue I had was with Lord Dormamu yelling things across the room at the two of us during these rounds. As you might imagine, the thing he yelled to me the most was about bringing up my right elbow, which I physically could not do since I was holding it in the position that the other coach (who was also watching us dance this whole time!) had told me was going to be fine. That twenty minutes spent running rounds while getting yelled at to do something that I could not physically do really kind of… broke me.

After we finished, I said goodbye to everyone and walked out into the rain to head to my car. The rain felt kind of fitting at that moment. I was really questioning whether dancing competitively like this – working with so many high-level coaches who all tell me different things, playing the dance politics game to help garner favor in my results, paying so much time and treasure for this experience – was really something I wanted to do.

Full disclosure for a moment: I am not a competitive person by nature. Really, I actually have very little interest in competition against other people. I like challenging myself, but only against my own results. Like working out – I keep notes on what I do when I exercise, especially for weightlifting sets. Pushing myself to lift heavier or do one more rep (when I can do it safely) feels right for me. But I don’t go around bragging about my results when I do it, I just do it because I like the sense of improvement that I get from hitting a new level.

Stacking myself against other people like I have been doing when I go to all these dance competitions isn’t something I would normally choose to do. On my drive home that night, I began to wonder seriously if I have just been going along with what Lord Dormamu has been telling me to do since he thinks that I have whatever quality it is that a competitive dancer needs. And that’s great… except for the part where I wouldn’t normally choose to compete at all, which is a quality that I’m guessing a competitive dancer shouldn’t have. How much am I actually enjoying all this stress that Lord Dormamu’s demands and expectations are putting on me?

I never resolved that question that night. When I got home, I zoned out and did something mindless to forget about the evening. But I couldn’t just ignore those thoughts forever – especially since I was scheduled to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer again on Wednesday night for one final session with him before the competition this weekend.

Wednesday’s session made me feel a lot better about dance life than the ending of the session on Monday night did. There were three points that Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that he wanted us to focus on for this particular competition: keeping my chest out, keeping our topline calm the entire time that we move, and maximizing the amount of volume that Sparkledancer creates. Everything else he said was best left to muscle memory at this point in time.

Lord Dormamu also gave the two of us a promise that night. Once this competition is over he said, we will finally start work on moving up to the next proficiency level. After being bored out of my mind working on the same things over and over again for almost two-and-a-half years, we are finally going to get new routines, with new figures and techniques to challenge myself with. This certainly has sparked my interest. Maybe boredom is the reason that I was feeling so bad about how the night ended on Monday night – I have gotten so disinterested in doing the same steps in practice over and over again that I just don’t feel any drive to do those steps any more.

So in the end, once this weekend is over I will probably spend some time sitting at the ‘think about my life choices’ table to seriously consider how I really feel about competitive dancing at this level. I don’t think anything will change, but since these thoughts came into my mind I have to spend some time addressing them. After all, this is a really expensive (really, really, really expensive) hobby to be doing if I am not 100% committed to it.

Will the promise of getting new routines to work on reignite my drive and bring back the fun of dancing? Or will I find it to be the same kind of slog that I am in now, which just feels like work on many days when I go out to dance? I’ll figure that out in time.

First thing’s first – this weekend’s competition. Wish me luck!

The Journey Seems Endless But I’ll Carry On

To make up for the lengthy post last week, I’m going to limit my stories this week to just two items. I’ll talk about Latin Technique on Monday, because that class brought a whole mess of drama with it, and then my lesson with my normal coach that I had on Wednesday night. The drama is… well, I was only dealing with it vicariously, but it still got weird. So bear with me while I work through that a bit.

So Monday night at Latin Technique class we looked at Samba. Lord Junior was having a lesson with his student Gatekeeper before class started, and there was a piece of her Samba routine that she was having trouble with as they were finishing the lesson. Rather than promise her that they would work on it the next time they got together, Lord Junior had all of us work on that same piece during class to help her out. I don’t know what part in this sequence that was giving Gatekeeper trouble in her lesson since she seemed to get through everything just fine when I danced through the section with her. Maybe the class magically solved her problem?

The sequence in question was pretty short. Lord Junior started us off with four Criss Cross Botafogos, which wasn’t actually part of the routine but he said it was an easy place to start us moving so we ended up in the right position. From there the ladies did a Solo Spot Volta while the men did a Stationary Samba Walk. As the ladies turned, we kept hold of their right hand with our left, and at the end we reached our right arm around the lady’s right side to take their left hand, putting us in Sweetheart Position. In this hold we did three Samba Walks heading down the line of dance. After the third we did a Rolling Off The Arm, then rolled the ladies back in as we faked a step to get into Shadow Position. We finished with a pair of Volta Movements down the line of dance, since we ran out of time to go any further.

That part of class was pretty normal, and though I never feel all that good when I do Samba, I managed to get through the sequence pretty well with all the ladies. What created the drama in this class was Seedling. I didn’t find out about this until after class was over, and it wasn’t really explained to me all that well, but at some point, either when getting the lady into Sweetheart Position or into Shadow Position (or both, maybe), Seedling got a little… handsy. Sparkledancer was in class that night, and was the one who actually told me about it happening to her, and she said that she also saw Seedling do the same thing to Gatekeeper.

I have no idea why his hand would have been up so high while trying to get the ladies into Sweetheart Position, or coming around the side of the lady at all when getting into Shadow Position, but as I was standing out in the parking lot in front of the Electric Dance Hall after class was over, Sparkledancer told me that his hand was definitely there – fingers grazing all over places that made her cringe. It got to the point that when dancing through the pattern with him, she started to cross her arms over her chest without even thinking about it to try to prevent his hand from getting to that point again.
Lord Junior was the one that noticed her doing this, and called her out on it. While dancing through the pattern with her, when he put his right hand out to take her left hand in Sweetheart Position, she didn’t grasp it like she was supposed to. He had to knock his hand on her right hip a few times to remind her to grab hold before they got to the Rolling Off The Arm. Trying to roll her out without a hand to hold on to would have caused all kinds of problems.

But it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that seemed to be crossing her arms over her chest rather than taking the hand in Sweetheart Position.. Three out of the four ladies that were in class that night were hugging themselves in this same manner, and when Lord Junior danced with them and they did this he would have to say something to get them to give him their hand before they hit the Rolling Off The Arm. There were times that I could think of when ladies in class had done the same thing to me and I struggled to get a hand as we were dancing.

Once Sparkledancer told me about what Seedling had done to her and how she thought it might have caused her to cross her arms over her chest protectively, it made me wonder if the same thing might have happened to the other ladies in class, which is why so many of them neglected to give Lord Junior and I their hand. Since Sparkledancer said she saw the same thing happen to Gatekeeper, it would make sense that she would unconsciously react the same way, and that might explain why she had missed the hand link a few times. Did the other two ladies go through the same thing?

When the shock of hearing what happened in class left me, the next thing that came into mind was the story that Seedling has told a couple of times about how his instructor at the franchise studio he goes to chewed him out for “inappropriate touching” while he was practicing with her. To me, one time something happens can be considered an accident, two times with two different people is a bit coincidental, but three times with three different people? Possibly more? That makes me think that something else is going on here. If Seedling hadn’t already left to head home after class, I probably would have considered having words with him to see what was going on.

Instead, Sparkledancer asked me if she should mention it to him. I thought about it for a second, and then replied that if it happened to her and she doesn’t say anything, then she is basically deciding that she is OK with what transpired – which I didn’t think that she was since she just finished telling me how weird the situation made her feel out in the parking lot, rather than just messaging me about it when she got home. Since Sparkledancer has a running conversation with Seedling most days via text, I thought she should let him know what he did, and how he can fix the issue going forward so that it doesn’t happen again – predominantly by lowering his hand so that it is near the lady’s hip rather than keeping his hand up anywhere near her chest.

It seemed like the right thing to do to me, but oh man did that advice take the situation all the way off the rails…

Rather than apologize for inadvertently touching someone inappropriately, Seedling’s reaction was first to deny that anything even happened because he “didn’t feel” anything during class, and then he turned the conversation around so that he seemed like the victim in all of this. After Sparkledancer reached out to Gatekeeper and got confirmation that Seedling had accidentally touched her in the same way, Seedling continued to deny that he had done anything wrong, even though there were now two ladies from class saying that they had clearly felt his hand somewhere that it shouldn’t have been.

This conversation between Sparkledancer and Seedling apparently continued late into the evening, until finally she got sick of Seedling telling her that she obviously couldn’t have felt his hand grabbing her breast because he didn’t feel that. She quit talking to him and went to bed. That wasn’t the end of things though, because Seedling wouldn’t let this perceived insult to his dance pride go, and he went back at the situation the next day.

His new approach on Tuesday was to tell her that if he really had done something wrong, any of the ladies in class who he had wronged should have said something at the moment so that he could have corrected the problem rather than “running away” from him after class. Also because Sparkledancer had talked to Gatekeeper about the issue, he was concerned that the two of them would start spreading rumors about something that he swore he hadn’t done to all the other ladies at the studio in order to turn all the women and also Lord Junior against him. All of this just because Sparkledancer tried to tell him to change where he was putting his hand to avoid any future problems.

Finally, Sparkledancer got fed up with all of this and told him that his reaction to her giving him helpful advice was inappropriate – there was no reason he should have been shifting blame and questioning if it happened. My phone started chirping on Tuesday morning as Sparkledancer forwarded me his response so that I could see firsthand what he told her in reply.

(This is all copy/paste; the spelling and grammar errors are not mine.)

“You two talked to each other and made your choice”

“Idk what was said..Or even when you had time”

“My reaction is my reaction.I am sorry that I accidentally did whatever you two thought I did.”

“Should I let myself get walked on?”

“Im not going to be told how my reaction should be.”

“Forced to do things”

“I just don’t like getting told that I’ve done something wrong that wasn’t intended. I don’t wrong people.”

“I take pride in not being an asshole..”

“But if feels from my perspective that everyone seems to think that.”

“No matter where I go.”

So… there’s sort of an apology mixed in there, but wow… There’s some hardcore victim mentality mixed in that mess. I’m beginning to understand why his instructor at the franchise studio might have chewed him out for accidental inappropriate touching. If his reaction to being told is to deny that anything happened and then turn the issue around so that he is the one being wronged, then it makes sense how that could have upset his instructor enough that she would yell at him. I want to yell at him for this, and he didn’t even stand close to me during that class! Sheesh.

Anyway… that’s all for that story. Let’s move on to something else – yesterday night I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with my coach. We are only a week-and-a-half out from the next competition that I plan on going to, so it was important to get together and go over everything at least once to make sure that Sparkledancer and I are in good shape for that event. I also wanted to spend a few minutes talking about the coaching that Sparkledancer and I had with the judges from the last competition.

As it turns out, according to Lord Dormamu I could just disregard all of the information that the judges I worked with gave me about changing how I danced. The whole reason that Lord Dormamu worked with the competition organizer to sign Sparkledancer and I up for those coaching sessions was just to get our faces in front of those judges. He told me that back when he was competing, he stopped keeping track of how much time and money he put into coaching sessions with judges that he had to do just to make sure the judges recognized him, not to actually learn anything. That is how the dance politics game is played, and he is trying to help Sparkledancer and I play it as best as he could.

So… that was a little disheartening. I understand the concept of stacking the deck in your favor, but there is a part of me that had hoped that somehow I could be good enough to get by on just my own skills, rather than playing intricate mind games to build a reputation with the people in power. I don’t like spending time networking, especially networking that I feel is pointless because there are no concrete results that I can point to in order to prove that the time spent was fruitful. Plus, it’s really expensive to do all of this if I can’t see any fruitful results. But I did agree to let Lord Dormamu choose my course through this competitive world since he is the expert, so if he says that it is a good idea that I do these things, then I will go out and do them.

Once we got that discussion out of the way, we got to dancing. That night we managed to look at Waltz, Quickstep and Foxtrot for quite a bit of time, and spent just a few minutes right at the end on the Tango before we had to stop because Lord Dormamu’s next students had shown up. Things were looking and feeling good that night overall, so the most important thing that we were given were overall thoughts that applied across the board, rather than any further corrections to specific figures.

The overall idea given to me that I needed to focus on before going into our next competition was my chest. Lord Dormamu wants me to take that broad chest of mine and work on having it stand out proudly as I move in all dances. The caveat to this is that I need to be sure to keep my head back while I keep my chest forward – if I don’t, then having my head out of place will destroy the look that he is trying to mold me into. The note for Sparkledancer was still that she needs to think about volume while moving. Nothing else fancy, just creating as much of it as possible will keep Lord Dormamu happy with her.
Otherwise we are looking pretty good. Since the next competition is so close and (based on the entries that we can see) looks like there will be a decent amount of competitors to challenge ourselves against, we aren’t going to try to change anything else between now and then. Once we finish that event we can come back around and start to make some more changes to the way that we execute figures. Based on the competition calendar, we will have a couple of months at least before the next competition, so we should be able to put in the time and effort to take everything to the next level. That’s the current working plan, at least.

Before leaving for the night, Lord Dormamu was telling me about a movie that he had gotten to go out and see recently, one that I had also gone to see a few weekends ago. There is another movie that is coming out in a few weeks that I am super excited about (I’m sure you can guess which one), so naturally he and I started talking about that movie as well. We were both speculating on what that movie would be like, and finally we just agreed that we should go see the show on opening night together – that way there was no chance that one of us would spoil the movie for the other. Going to see a movie with my coach will probably be hilarious.

All kinds of crazy stuff in the works for this month! What kinds of plans do you have on your calendar? It’s hard to believe that it’s already April. Where has the time gone?