Here We Are, Under The Seven Stars

Last Saturday for me started out earlier than I would have liked at the Endless Dance Hall for some dancing. My drive out to the studio turned out to be rather calm, either because everyone else in the area was still in bed (like I wished I was) or because they were all in some store or another spending money on all the dealz (yes, with a ‘z’) that were being given out on commercial goods. I like to think I was having more fun, even if I was putting in a lot of work.

I was a little worried that I would show up at the Endless Dance Hall and find that the door was still locked at the early hour. Lucky for me I wasn’t the first person to arrive, so I managed to get right in. Inside I found that Indiana was holding some kind of morning workshop session with her children’s group, so there were actually quite a few bodies milling about on the dance floor, plus one kid sleeping on some chairs in the back of the room. I have no idea how he was comfortable there. Sparkledancer was also hanging out on a chair in the back of the room – she wasn’t asleep though, she was just putting on her dance shoes.

Dropping my stuff on a chair next to her, I put on my own shoes so that we could get moving while we waited for Lord Dormamu to arrive. Sparkledancer and I stretched out a bit and then started dancing through some basic exercises in practice hold to get warmed up. Once Lord Dormamu got there and we were able to get started, we managed to get a lot of work done. Most of our time was spent looking at the Waltz, but we also briefly touched on one point in the Tango, and at the end we talked about several points in the Foxtrot.

Keeping these notes chronological, I’m going to start with the Waltz. What were the super interesting points to remember from that day? Let’s see… well, foremost in my mind, we talked about the Whisk again, still trying to perfect the look of the figure. This time, Lord Dormamu took a different tact to see if it would improve what he was seeing. We had been ending the previous Reverse Turn facing diagonal wall before executing the Whisk. He thought that part of the issue might be that to get all the way behind me in Promenade Position, Sparkledancer has to move quite a bit if we start at that angle. He wanted to see what it would look like if we ended the Reverse Turn facing wall instead.

That small change made the figure much easier to execute for Sparkledancer, and also made the figure look much better to Lord Dormamu’s eyes while he was watching from the outside. Hopefully this is the final piece that we need to get our Whisks to be the top of the class, and we can avoid talking about the figure again for at least a little while. That would make me happy.

Continuing on after the Whisk, we talked about the end of the next figure, which is a Chasse from Promenade Position – and the beginning of the figure after that, which is a Natural Turn. Lord Dormamu wanted me to be keenly aware of keeping the last step and the first step of those two figures moving in a straight line toward diagonal wall. For some reason that day I was moving a bit to my left while doing the two figures I guess; I didn’t feel it, but that’s what Lord Dormamu said that he saw, so he told me to make sure to fix it.

That was the only specific points of figures that we looked at. The other notes that he wanted us to continue to work on are more general, and should be implemented throughout the entire dance. To start with, he wanted me to really work on thinking about keeping my upper body still while moving and focus on only moving with my legs. One of the things that he said that he noticed during the competition that he judged us in was that sometimes he could see my upper body moving before I took steps. He thought that this needed to go away, obviously. If I think about it, this is a simple fix (it’s all isometrics, baby). I just need to make sure that I do the same thing without thinking from now on.

Our lowering action between figures needs to be more distinct as well. We have taken lowering while moving a bit too far, which prevents us from lowering as much as we could because the movement gets in the way. For figures where we close our feet at the end, he wants to see us specifically stop as our feet close and begin to lower straight down while preparing the leg, then continue to lower like we were as we start moving. This should help make the lowering more dramatic and more controlled.

Finally, in any of the figures where I have started to play with the timing to stretch out the moment when we are risen to our highest point, we need to work on making the steps coming out of that moment more controlled. Holding that rise for those few extra moments impacts the steps that come after, making them a bit faster out of necessity. From the outside, Lord Dormamu said that it sometimes looks like the steps are out of control and off-balance. I never feel like I am off-balance since I can hold myself up at any point if we were to stop, but because they look like they are off-balance it becomes a problem. So we need to fix the way they look for anyone who might be watching.

The next thing that Lord Dormamu wanted to talk about was Sparkledancer. The two of them went off on the subject, sort of talking around me, but I managed to glean some of what they were saying by listening. Basically he wants her to work on being bigger – stretching her frame wider, while at the same time creating more volume by pulling away if she is able. Trying to make the full picture of our frame as huge as possible. I was brought back into the conversation when he wanted to have her practice getting into position with me so that he could manipulate her limbs.

One specific point that he wanted her to work on was to already be in her frame position while coming toward me to get into frame, rather than coming into frame first and then bending herself into the right position. The two of them went through this exercise a few times using me as a dance dummy. When they finished working out the basics, he told her to keep practicing the action on her own time during practice with me.

At that point, because I was curious, I asked if there was anything that she needed to do differently when looking at getting into or holding her super huge frame in Tango, since the frame in Tango is slightly different. He thought about it for a moment, and then said that the same idea should apply for getting into that frame, but holding the frame once we start dancing should have a subtle change. During the times we are moving in a Tango, he wanted Sparkledancer to work on keeping the frame as big as she could possibly hold comfortably still, but any time that we stopped and held in place briefly he wanted to see her work on expanding the frame just a bit more.

We only danced through a couple of figures in the Tango for a few minutes to try this, and then we moved on. Just a very brief note to work on later in practice, I guess.

By this point we were already starting to run over our allotted time, but Lord Dormamu still wanted to look at a few items in the Foxtrot. He had us dance through the routine once so that he could see how we have been doing with practice before talking through anything with us. The first thing he tells us after we finish that is that Foxtrot is still our best dance, no question about it. That’s always a nice thing to hear!

But we didn’t get any time to pat ourselves on the back after that comment. The first thing that he mentioned he wanted me to do was to shorten up my steps even more when I am going into figures that have a Heel Turn for Sparkledancer. I have been working on this quite a bit, and I thought that I was already taking pretty small steps, but he wanted to see it become even smaller still. The primary focus of these figures should be the rotation and not traveling, he told me. If I take too big of a step, I overwhelm the action that Sparkledancer is doing in her Heel Turn, so the steps need to become shorter until we get to the Feather Finish.

The only other thing of note that we talked about in the lesson was the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. Lord Dormamu wanted to see me angling my steps more going into the figure. At the end of the preceding Natural Turn he told me that I should think of taking my last step with my right leg on a bit of a diagonal toward center, and then do the same going in the opposite direction toward the wall when taking my first step going into the Closed Impetus. The step that I was taking looked like it was going straight behind me, even though I felt like I was stepping off on an angle, so he wants me to make it look more like how I think it feels.

Tuesday night was a bit of a surprise for me. Near the end of the normal workday, I got a message from Lord Dormamu. He wanted to tell me that a friend of his was coming into town unexpectedly that evening, and he wanted me to be out at the Endless Dance Hall in a few hours so that I could take a coaching lesson with him. I had a bunch of stuff that I had planned to finish up at work that night, so I told him that I didn’t think that I would be able to get there by the time that he wanted me to be there. Lord Dormamu replied that he wanted me to try my best to make it there.

All the men at my office have to wear a shirt and tie. For serious.

Turns out that this ‘friend’ of his was actually the guy who coached him for a couple of decades, during the times when he won all sorts of National, International and World titles with his professional partner, so he thought that it would be good for me to get some perspective on how I dance from this guy. No pressure, right? Oh yeah, did I mention that this guy was also a multi-time National, International and World Champion himself, on top of coaching Lord Dormamu to win the same kinds of titles? Well, suddenly being at work and missing out on this opportunity seemed like a dumb idea! So I pushed back all the tasks that I could and got out of the office as soon as possible to make it out to the Endless Dance Hall. Luckily I managed to get a hold of Sparkledancer and coordinate with her so that we got to the studio at roughly the same time.

When Lord Dormamu told me that this guy had been his coach for decades, I expected to be meeting up with some super old guy… but it turned out that this coach only looked to be a handful of years older than me. The best part about this lesson though was that the perspective that this guy gave me on how he would recommend that I do certain techniques was extremely interesting, and there are points that actually make my life much easier. I am a big fan of techniques that make my dance life easier!

The funny part of working with this coach though, was that whenever this coach gave me technical points that differed from what Lord Dormamu has told me to do in the past, I would tell him about what Lord Dormamu had told me to do in those spots. Then he would look at me with a twinkle in his eye and say “Don’t worry about that. Do it my way and I’ll tell [Lord Dormamu] all about it.” I guess that is one of the perks of working with the coach of your coach…

Lord Dormamu met with us when I got to the studio to introduce the coach to Sparkledancer and I, and before he wandered off he said that we should start out with showing off our Waltz. After he took off, we went over to an empty corner of the ballroom and began to dance. There was a group class going on near the far wall of the studio, so I ended up altering the routine slightly to accommodate the lack of space – cutting out the Chasse from Promenade Position after the Outside Change. Sparkledancer and I made it three-quarters of the way around the room before the coach called out to us to stop and make our way back over to where he was standing.

The first thing that he asked me when in range was about the missing Chasse from Promenade Position. I told him my reasoning for removing the figure (i.e. to keep from plowing into someone in the group class). He told me that I should never do that. The connection that I had made when going right from an Outside Change into a Natural Turn looked awkward in his eyes. His recommendation was to keep the Chasse from Promenade Position in the routine, but to take much smaller steps to fit everything in the space available.

But the meat of what he wanted to talk with me about (most of the coaching session was spent going over things I did) was my frame. What he saw when Sparkledancer and I were dancing was a lot of movement of my right elbow, which was breaking the look that we wanted to achieve. His interpretation of what was causing the issues with my elbow was that I was trying to contort it in a way that was impossible, and the act of attempting to keep it in an impossible position was making my arm break whenever I did actions that shifted my partner within the sphere of my right arm.

As I’m sure you know, since I’ve mentioned it many times, Sparkledancer is a bit shorter than me. We are a good match in height, which is why we are still Amateur partners to this day, but she is several inches shorter than I am. So if I get into frame trying to hold my elbows at the same level as my shoulder line, and then try to get into frame with Sparkledancer, the only outcome to keep my arms there successfully while her left arm goes over top of mine is to either A) hold Sparkledancer off the ground for the entire dance, or B) lower myself down further to the floor so that I am shorter than her.

Neither of those options is really a good choice, so I have to do something else. He told me that I shouldn’t be worrying about keeping my own elbows level with my shoulders to create a straight line going across, but rather I should focus on keeping Sparkledancer’s elbows in line with her shoulders to show off that straight line. That means that my right elbow needs to come down so that it fits underneath her arm, and then I only pull it upward to help lock her arm in place. Once my right arm is in position, my left elbow should be brought down so that it is in line with my right. And both elbows need to come forward away from my body more to give her the room to bend away from me.

This position actually feels much better for me… and really doesn’t fight against my muscularity. Before, when trying to keep my elbows level, I would be working so hard that oftentimes I would end up flexing my trapezius muscles, which makes it look like I’m shrugging and gives the illusion that my neck is shorter than it really is. With my elbows held lower, my shoulder muscles are more relaxed. Hey – maybe this means that I can go back to doing my shoulder workouts with heavier weights again! I have cut a good 20+ pounds off the weights that I have been using when working my shoulders to try to help them look more flat while holding my arms up, but if I can lower my elbows a bit and relax my shoulders at the same time maybe that isn’t going to be a problem anymore. Hooray!

Anyway… the coach suggested that to work on this new position, I should start practicing with Sparkledancer to get into frame differently. He wanted her to get into her position for frame first as the music started, and then have me come toward her and fit my arms to wherever her arms are before we start dancing. Sort of the opposite process that most couples do when they get on the floor to compete. This ensures that my right elbow is always at the right height to dance with her, and then I just match the height of my left elbow to follow suit.

He also recommended that I keep my right arm much more solidly in place when in frame with my partner. It seems counterintuitive – if I am holding her more tightly, you would think that she won’t be able to shape away from me as much and create volume, right? From his experience however, he says that ladies have always been able to work off of him more when he gives them a tighter, solid hold to provide them stability, as opposed to letting the right arm be relaxed and move with them while they stretch.

To practice this, he went and got two paper towels from the bathroom. One was put under my right hand, and the other on top of my right elbow – the two points he wanted me to press toward her with. Sparkledancer and I then had to dance together with me pressing the paper towels into her so that they didn’t fall out of place. I’ve done a similar exercise in the past with paper and my feet to teach me to keep them on the floor, but never using my arm before. Luckily, I passed the test.

We also spent some time talking about where the movement when we dance comes from. At one point the coach asked me where it was that I thought the movement of our figures originated. I immediately replied that it started with my standing leg, since that is the concept that has been drilled into me for years and years. He just smiled at me and said that he used to think that was the case too, but in later years his view changed. Nowadays he believes that the movement should always originate with my ribcage rather than my legs.

If you think about it, he told me, how in the world does your partner know that you are going to be taking a step forward for a Natural Turn? She isn’t connected to my leg, so if I am originating the movement from down there then I am already trying to go forward before she knows what’s going on, and her body will block me for a brief moment until she catches on. However, if the first thing that she feels is my chest starting to move, she should begin to move herself out of my way immediately, so now when I drive with my standing leg I meet almost no resistance. It’s an interesting theory, and I think that I’ve heard something similar from someone in the past, but I can’t for the life of me remember who that was. If I was more enterprising, I would go back through my notes and find it, but… maybe I’ll do that later.

Finally we talked about the lowering in the Waltz, which is something that Lord Dormamu worked with us on when we saw him over the weekend but we hadn’t gotten to spend a ton of practice time on before this coaching session. The coach knew that this was a work in progress, but he wanted to mention it to us anyway. When he asked me what it was that made the Waltz distinct from all the other International Standard dances, I told him it was the rise and fall action. He nodded at me, but then told me that it was actually more important to think of it as ‘fall and rise’ instead. It is actually the lowering that is the important part – if we can get that correct, it will keep all the other pieces like the footwork and using our legs correct, and the rise will happen naturally as we move through the figures.

With all this information swimming around in our minds, we were starting to run through the routine again from the beginning to see if we could apply everything. As we did so, Lord Dormamu returned from wherever it was he had been hiding so that he could see our progress. With Lord Dormamu watching, the coach had us run through pieces of the Waltz, but then unexpectedly he told us to try to apply everything he just talked about and do our Tango routine instead.

Doing that unexpectedly… actually went really, really well. When Sparkledancer and I got to the first corner, the coach was telling Lord Dormamu that the two of us were really good dancers. When we got near the second corner and I did the Progressive Link so that I could go into the Natural Twist Turn, the coach had me stop where I was and hold still so that the two of them could marvel at how good we looked. The coach made Lord Dormamu run over to the other side of the room and get his phone so that they could take a picture of us and show us how good it looked, because it made both of them so happy.

Overall the coaching was good… as you can probably tell by all the notes I just made about it. It was much more useful to me than those coaching sessions I’ve been talked into in the past that are all done to play the dance politics game. If Lord Dormamu tells me that this guy is coming into town in the future, I will definitely clear my schedule to work with him again.

I’m going to leave things here for today. I wanted to talk about so much else that I also did this week, but I think that would be too much for my brain to process. This post got to be super, super long. So, until next time friends!

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It’s Nothin’ Dangerous, I Feel No Pain

Last Saturday it seems like all the stars aligned and everything worked out perfectly in my morning so that I could go to a workshop taught by Judge Dread in the afternoon. Hooray for me! Part of me thought that going to the workshop would be a good idea because Judge Dread is a big-time judge that I see often enough at competitions I sign up for, so getting in some face time with him in a non-competition setting would be a good political move. Dance Politics, am I right? Things turned out even better than that though, because the workshop also turned out to be both a lot of fun and relevant to the material I usually practice.

Judge Dread wanted to work on Foxtrot that afternoon, and he told the class that while the pattern he had in mind was built using figures from the International side of Foxtrot, a good dancer could also apply the choreography in an American Foxtrot if they wanted. He wanted to ease everyone into the steps slowly, so we started off with a bit of basic choreography from the Bronze International Foxtrot syllabus, then those figures were upgraded piece by piece until we ended up with the actual choreography Judge Dread had in mind.

The starting point is pretty simple if you’ve done International Foxtrot before: a prep step into a Feather, then a Basic Weave, and finally a Change of Direction. Judge Dread pointed out to all of us that the Feather was a four-count figure, while the Basic Weave and the Change of Direction were both six-count figures, so the pattern should fill a full four bars of music. That’s all well and good, but what if we wanted to attach something different to the end of the choreography? Then the six-count Basic Weave would throw off our phrasing. To fix that issue, Judge Dread had us add in an extra two steps to the Basic Weave to make it an eight-count figure, so now the figure fits into the phrase.

Doing that however makes the Basic Weave look really long and boring, so rather than just stay in the position that we got into when we started the Basic Weave, Judge Dread told the ladies that we were going to have them shift across the man’s body for steps four and five to get into Outside Partner position on the man’s left side. Some of you may have heard this called ‘Wing Position’ before. Extending the steps and shifting the lady like that in the middle of the figure actually changes the Basic Weave into a figure called the Quick Open Reverse with Left Side Run, according to Judge Dread.

Now that we had fit this new figure to the musical phrase and made it more interesting to watch, we were ready to look at the Change of Direction at the end and make it into something more interesting as well. The pattern of steps that Judge Dread showed to us was something that he said a famous dancer (whose name I didn’t recognize) taught to him back in the early 1980s, and he still sees high-level competitive couples using it to this day. According to him, it especially comes in handy in competitions if you get stuck by people on the floor, because it’s an interesting pattern that stays in a relatively small area for a few bars of music. On top of that, this pattern can be done in ANY International Standard style. Yes, even Viennese Waltz works when you use a bit of Canter Timing.

Each section listed next covers one measure in the music; since we were working on Foxtrot that day, we were doing it with a four count. This configuration started out by facing diagonal wall and going into the first two steps from the Change of Direction, as you probably already guessed. After those steps, instead of stepping forward on the left foot to complete the Change of Direction, Judge Dread had the men step backward and lead the ladies to do an Outside Swivel. Once back in dance frame after the Outside Swivel we would lead the lady into a Contra check that ended with a Natural Pivot on the left leg that would flip us around 180°. That covers the first three bars of music.

The last part of the grouping was something that Judge Dread called a “Rudolph Ronde” with Slip Pivot. Essentially the men would finish the Natural Pivot and take a step forward onto their right leg. Leaving the left leg behind you, we would rotate our bodies to lead the lady to ronde her outside leg before shifting our weight back to our left foot and then slipping and pivoting on the right. Depending on how you rotate your body, supposedly you can indicate to the lady whether you want her to ronde with her outside foot on the floor or in the air, but I wasn’t able to figure out the way to do that during class. After the Slip Pivot you should be back facing diagonal center, and four bars of music will have gone by without you having traveled a whole lot. After that was done, Judge Dread just had us go into normal a Reverse Turn (International or American, depending on how comfortable the lady is with Heel Turns) to keep traveling down the floor.

That class wasn’t the only dance-related thing I did last Saturday either! I also went out to a dance party that night that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall just to get out and be social for a little while. I may have gotten scolded for going to the dance party to mostly talk to people by a lady while I was there… I had a hard time trying to explain to her that I spend so much time on the dance floor lately while I practice my competition stuff, but don’t get much opportunity to talk to people. Apparently that wasn’t a good reason for her. It wasn’t like I was hurting anything though, since the ratio of men to women was almost even that night. If the ratio had been lopsided, I would have been on the floor more, I promise!

The party advertised a lesson beforehand on Bolero. It’s a style that I don’t really do too often, and I never picked up a whole lot of figures for it, so I thought that the lesson would probably be interesting. As it turned out, the instructor that had come in to teach the class only managed to cover figures that I already knew for Bolero. Plus, the guy teaching wasn’t very interesting to listen to. I don’t know what it was about the guy’s voice, but he seemed to drone on and on and I just couldn’t get engaged in what he was saying. So I ended up being a little bored while in the lesson. I maaaaaay have roped Sparkledancer into playing a game of ‘Quick Draw’ with me using finger guns while we were standing across the room from one another. I lost a lot, because my arms move slower. You know, from all the muscle. That’s where the real gun show is at. 😉

A large chunk of time at the beginning of the lesson was spent with the instructor describing the Bolero and how to do the basic steps for the dance. He only taught the class how to do the basic without rotation, though he demonstrated later in class how the Leader could rotate the basic if desired. After getting through the basic movements, he next showed everyone how to do the Cross Over Break (i.e. a New Yorker, depending on what syllabus you look at). We were told to link the two figures together by doing the front half of the basic movement followed by three Cross Over Breaks in a row. Once done with those, he showed the class how to do a Lady’s Underarm Turn on the man’s left side.

Rather than link back into dance frame after the turn, the instructor had the men take the lady’s left hand in their right with the arms wide. In this position we did Outside Breaks Forward, two of them normally and then a third that ended with the man stepping to the side without rotating his body. This wound him up to the right, allowing him to lead the lady to do Swivels in front of him for two measures. At the end of the swivels the man would pull the lady back toward him slightly as he went into the back half of the basic to close back into dance position to finish.

The Swivels were the figure that a lot of the other men in class had the hardest time with. Several of them stopped the instructor to ask how it was that they were supposed to lead the ladies to do them, and they didn’t seem to understand when he explained to them how they needed to leave their arms engaged and rotate their bodies to signal to the ladies to move. Having done this figure before lots of times in a couple of dance styles, it seemed so intuitive to me how the movement was supposed to work, so I had a hard time understanding how those guys couldn’t just feel the lead they were supposed to do when they tried the movement. I can’t remember if I had that much trouble getting it back in the day all those years ago when I originally learned how to do it myself. Maybe I did? I don’t know.

After the lesson was over, the party began. I admit to not being a huge fan of the DJ that was working the music that night. The DJ seemed to like playing Latin-style songs almost exclusively, with only a smattering of ballroom-style or swing-style numbers mixed in. If you like dancing Latin numbers more, I guess that wouldn’t bother you too much, but I prefer a more balanced mix of the three classes. I think it helps mix things up over the course of the party, which gets different people out on the dance floor as the class of song changes. But, to each their own, I guess.

Also, the DJ liked to go out and dance to a lot of the Latin-style songs, which is fine, but more often than not she would totally forget to watch what the music was doing while she was out on the floor. I’m not sure why she didn’t set up multiple songs to play on some kind of mixed playlist that she had chosen. Most music programs will let you queue songs like that. There were a couple of times when she would forget about what the music was doing, then the song would end and her computer would move on to another song of the same dance style before she managed to run back to abruptly change the song to something else in a different dance style. That was weird.

But the weirdest thing that happened during the dance party was that the DJ tried to play a Pasodoble for people to dance socially. At first, people were looking around, not quite sure what to do. Many of the social dancers had never even seen Pasodoble before, let alone learned any steps for the style. After a few bars of the song, two dance instructors who happened to be at the party convinced a couple of their students to go out and give it a try. It didn’t go super well, since Pasodoble is usually choreographed and isn’t done lead-and-follow, but when the DJ cut the song short and everyone cheered for them for giving it a shot. Hooray for them!

This past Monday night when I got to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class, I was sitting along the back wall with some of the others waiting for class to start. The ladies near me were talking about how tired they all were, and they were trying to figure out what they wanted to go over in class that night. They made a pact that they were all going to vote for Rumba, because even though what we’d likely cover in class might not be easy, at least it would be slower. Lord Junior wasn’t opposed to the idea, so that’s what we ended up doing. He decided that we should go through some exercises that emphasized Latin Walks, since he said that everyone can always work on making those better. Some of these exercises were done alone, some with a partner, and some were done first alone and then a partner was added in later.

We started out with just going over some single steps forward as Lord Junior discussed where we should be settling over the leg in order to initiate the movement, and how we should all think about the lines the legs create in each stage of the steps. After that, we spent time chaining steps together. First we did three four-count measures going forward (half starting on the right leg, half on the left). Next we did steps going forward that would rotate to steps going to the side. We only did two four-count measures of these steps so that we could have one measure starting out in each direction (forward-side-forward, side-forward-side). Like before, half of these were done starting on the right foot, and the other half starting with the left.

The next thing that Lord Junior wanted us to try ended up being kind of hilarious. His intention was for us to do Hand-to-Hands, but after replacing your weight to go back forward you were supposed to do a Spiral Turn that ended facing where your partner would be and then take a step to the side before rotating 90° to go into another Hand-to-Hand. You know how if you put your weight on one leg with the other behind you, you should only be able to rotate in one direction to do a Spiral Turn? Well… that didn’t seem to be the case in this class. For some reason, all of us (including me) at one point or another tried to rotate the wrong way, which just messed up everything after that.

After spending a few minutes laughing really hard at us, Lord Junior thought that we might be able to get through the turns properly if we worked with a partner, so the guys were paired with one of the girls and we tried things again. This is where I got messed up, because suddenly I was on the other leg and it threw me off for some reason. I think I had to go through two partners before I managed to work out my issues and get it down 100%. By that point though, everyone in class was so fired up that anytime one of us messed up and tried to turn the wrong way, it would set everyone else off laughing (including Lord Junior), so messing up didn’t feel so bad. Yes, we really were the ‘advanced’ class that night!

There was one final exercise that Lord Junior wanted us to try out that night. The idea was to start facing one wall, take a step backward and do a 180° pivot that went into a Three-Step Turn and came out as if we were a lady going into Fan Position. After going through this a couple of times, he decided to pair us off again so that we could work in partners. I spent a minute going through the step on my own using the opposite leg so that it wouldn’t throw me off this time when I had a partner with me.

When we ended while with a partner, we were essentially in Hand-to-Hand position. After watching us work through things with a partner a few times, Lord Junior had the brilliant idea of going from the ending back into the Hand-to-Hand with Spiral Turn action that we had done so spectacularly earlier. Yay…? The issue with trying to turn the wrong way during the Spiral came back with a vengeance, and it was still just as funny for everyone the second time around. Who says that technique-focused classes are boring? Not me, that’s for sure!

Finally, last night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior told us that we were going to work on some Tango, in honor of one of his students who was in class with us that night who would be moving away at the end of the week. Tango is her favorite dance style, so it was a fitting final dance for her, and we were all happy to oblige.

What Lord Junior failed to mention before class started was that the pattern that he was going to have us do was going to be super hard. Stupid hard, even. Normally I don’t have much problem picking up choreography, since there are so many women in class and I get to repeat the steps a lot more than they do, but this class it took me quite a while to feel even semi-confident with what my feet were supposed to be doing, so I didn’t switch over part way through to focus on other techniques. I’m not sure why that was. During most of the class my brain was struggling to just keep the steps straight, but now that I am home and sitting here on the couch writing this I can picture the figures perfectly. I bet if I had enough space in this room, and my cat was willing to dance with me, that I could get through it perfectly! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…

We started off with our partner facing down the line of dance in Promenade Position. To set up for the first difficult figure Lord Junior wanted to do, we did a basic Promenade with the man closing and a Natural Pivot attached at the end to turn us back around so that we were facing down the line of dance again, this time in closed dance position. Easy enough. The first difficult figure that we did was a Gold-level figure called The Chase, but we did it using the alternate ending to the figure where you come out with a Chasse to the Right and end with a Whisk that rotates you 90° to the right and puts you back into Promenade Position. This would normally be used to turn you around a corner.

The next figure confused a lot of people because it is a lot like the previous one, so doing both back-to-back was what made this choreography particularly hard that night. We did two Fallaway Whisks in a row. Because we had allowed the outside foot to come forward after the previous Whisk, to start the figure we had to take one slow step forward on the outside leg before the first Fallaway Whisk, which starts with the inside leg. If you get through the first Fallaway Whisk correctly, rather than let the outside leg come forward after the Whisk part at the end you would just push off that leg after it crossed behind to start the second Fallaway Whisk right away. Most people in the class that night weren’t good enough to keep both of these Fallaway Whisks going in a straight line, so we would curve them as needed – sometimes almost going in a complete circle. After the second Fallaway Whisk we finished the pattern by adding on a basic Closed Promenade at the end.

Now that I’ve finished writing all of this, I have to go find some band aids. My cat was not too happy about me trying to use her as a dance partner, so I got slightly scratched. Still worth it. Until next week!

Life’s True Intent Needs Patience

Oh man, so many things! Do you have weeks like that, where there is too much packed into a measly seven days, and you have trouble trying to keep track of all the important things that you saw and did? That has been happening to me a lot more in the last year or so. I’ve been starting to wonder over the last couple of weeks whether I’m getting a little burnt out with everything or not. Have I considered stopping yet? Well, maybe a little. But I don’t want to avoid doing things that could be fun and then regret it later, so I keep going.

I’ll try and keep this brief, with just the highlights that are worth remembering. What to talk about first? Well, last Friday night I met up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu so that we could go over everything before the competition that I was in this past weekend. It was a good review, and I was sad that the lesson had to end early because another group class had started up that ended up attracting so many people that they used almost the entire floor. So we set up a time to get together again in a few days after the competition to review the results and continue going over points that needed work. I won’t go into much more detail about this lesson so that I can move on to talk about more interesting notes.

Obviously the most important thing that I did this weekend was going to that competition. Well… I guess ‘important’ is relative – I ended up dancing unopposed, so while it is always a good thing to have experience getting on the floor in front of the judges, the results that I got back from the event are only mildly meaningful. I personally don’t like dancing unopposed. I like it even less when they put you on the floor all by yourself if you are unopposed. Lucky for me, at this competition they put some older age group on the floor with us at the same time, so at least I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb.

So why did I even go to this competition? Well, Sparkledancer and I were told that sometimes the important part of going to a competition is participating in the political game. We were sent to this event specifically to put in some face time with the competition organizers. Both of the organizers of this competition are also sanctioned adjudicators, so the idea is that if we support them by going to their competitions and make a point of talking to them, then if they see us dancing at a competition they are judging then they will have a better initial impression of us before they even see our legs start moving. Dance politics is not exactly a field that I want to participate in, but Lord Dormamu really recommended that we do this, so I just went along with it.

After arriving at the venue and tracking down Sparkledancer, the two of us didn’t have to do much searching to find the organizers. They were right near the registration desk, so we got to sign in and pick up our packets for the competition and also say hello to the organizers all in one trip. I love convenience! I made a point to tell them that Lord Dormamu said hello, because he told me to and also because then the organizers would know that we were there representing him at the event. They were nice enough people to talk to, and were really excited to mention that they were working on putting together a new competition next year, one that is at a place even farther away from my home than this one was. I guess that means I have to look into going to that event next year as well, right? Sigh…

Since I got to the event early Saturday afternoon and the rounds that Sparkledancer and I were in weren’t until first thing on Sunday morning, once we got done talking to the competition organizers we had some time to kill, so she and I decided to go looking around for a late lunch. The food they were offering at the venue was really expensive, so I pulled out my handy-dandy phone to look for something cheaper within walking distance. We found a sandwich shop that was only a half-mile away, so we agreed to go out for a walk to get sandwiches.

Now, this competition was in a part of the Dance Kingdom that I had never been to before. Based on the information I can find, supposedly I was in a pretty big city, but man… there was no one around. During the fifteen minute walk I took to get to the sandwich shop, I didn’t see any other people walking around, and there were almost no cars on any of the roads within my viewing radius. I saw sparrows eating food out of the middle of the road I was walking along – that’s how few cars were going down that street. It was a bizarre experience for a Saturday afternoon, nothing like what I would see walking around in the big city where I am from. Where were all the people on that Saturday?

Then, much to my surprise, this sandwich shop that we walked to was actually in a public dining area in a children’s hospital, so that was kind of a depressing meal to eat, as I’m sure you could imagine. Unfortunately, once we discovered this, we tried to find another place to get food, but the next closest place was another half mile from the competition venue in the complete opposite direction (so a mile from where we were standing at that moment). I don’t have any kids, so I think that this was the longest amount of time I’d ever spent in a children’s hospital in my life. I tried watching the people walk around while I was eating for a little while, but that just made me sad, especially when they were wheeling the patients around in the hall nearby. When I gave up on that, I spent the rest of lunch eating and talking with Sparkledancer while looking down at the table. The sandwich was good though, and I even picked up another one to take back with me so I could eat it for dinner that evening.

I went down to the dance floor in the evening on Saturday to watch some of the high-level competitors dance in their rounds. I managed to get there before the session started so I could claim myself a seat, and I saw Sparkledancer off on the side talking with a couple of people, so I headed over to say hello. The people that she was talking to were a couple of youth competitors that we see around all the time when they take lessons from various coaches. They are both teenagers now, but they have been dancing for many, many years, so they make me look terrible by comparison. The mother of one of the teens was there too. She’s a nice lady when she talks to me, but she is incredibly hard on her child. I get that she just wants her child to do really well, but sometimes I wonder if the mother is more into the dancing and competing than the child actually is.

Anyway, I was talking with all of these people for a while up until the two teens had to go out onto the floor to try to warm up before their rounds. I stayed in that spot once they left, just chatting with Sparkledancer about the people who were out on the dance floor. After a minute or so, a woman who was sitting behind me leaned forward and asked me if one of those two teens was my child. That… really made me feel old. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t old enough to have a kid that age, but then I did some math and I realized that it was entirely possible that I could have if I had actually had a kid in my late teens. Boy, I should pay more attention to how old I’m getting…

The high-level rounds were interesting to watch for a couple of reasons. For one, the two kids I knew did super well against their challengers, so it was nice to be there to see that. But the thing that stuck with me the most was actually what I noticed while watching the older senior-age competitors dancing. These were all competitors who would have been ten to twenty (or more) years older than me, and I managed to stick around for the rounds in both American Rhythm and International Standard. Watching them dance was rather enlightening, I must say.

It struck me right away during the American Rhythm rounds I saw first. Looking from couple to couple, they all looked… almost robotic. Obviously these couples were the best-of-the-best, dancing at the top of the proficiency ladders, and I’m sure they train and practice at least as much as I do (probably more). But I was watching them, and I couldn’t see any connection between the person dancing and the movements they were doing, if that makes sense.

It looked like their bodies were just moving because these were the routines that they had practiced for so long, over and over again. The movements were as big as the body could make it while maintaining control, the smile, if it was there, was plastered on the face but not touching the eyes, the eyes were looking off toward the crowd but focused on nothing… it just seemed so ‘off’ to me as I was watching. It was actually distracting me away from watching the technical aspects of their dancing. Instead, I found myself drawn to watching a guy who was standing off to the side of the dance floor across the room from me.

I found out later that the guy I was more interested in watching was a dance instructor who was there to compete in some of the Pro/Am events with his students. During these high-level rounds that evening, he was standing off to the side, just wiggling and grooving along with the music that was playing. At one point during the East Coast Swing number, I swear I saw him humping the air with a silly look on his face. That guy didn’t look robotic at all while he danced, and it was quite obvious that he was mentally connected to what he was doing, and he was quite clearly having fun while doing it. That helped me to realize what looked so ‘off’ about the competitors on the floor – none of them looked like they were having any fun!

Once I figured out what looked wrong about it, I started to ask myself if I looked like that when I danced through any of my routines, and I got worried. I don’t think that I would be fun to watch, either for a judge or for someone in an audience, if I was just going through the motions. I want to be connected to what I am doing, to actually enjoy it, and to be able to do it in such a way that people can get that feeling from me when they watch what I am doing. If I stop enjoying what I am doing, if it no longer is fun and I am just going through the motions because that’s what’s expected of me, then what’s the point? In essence, I do not want to be a robot.

…although, being a cyborg could be cool. I would want to have a cool fake arm that has super strength, and would also have a device that could pop out of the forearm and launch freshly baked cookies at people. You know, the kind that are only like half-baked, so they are super soft and gooey in the middle? I would be super popular at parties if my arm could do that. 😉

Anyway… that was my interesting observation from Saturday night. Sunday morning I actually got to dance. The schedule that they set up for Sunday was a bit weird to me. They had heats for Amateurs in International Standard, but mixed into those were heats for Pro/Am International Latin for some reason. I’m not sure why they built the schedule that way. That’s the first time I’ve ever been to a competition with a schedule like that.

My heats went fine, for the most part. The dance floor at the venue was tiny compared to other competitions I’ve been to, so I had to pull my steps a lot to avoid running off the floor. That caused Sparkledancer and I to bump legs a few times unexpectedly during the first few events. I think I’m going to have to figure out a way to start practicing how to dance on small floors, because this seems to happen from time to time. When I am used to dancing on a floor the size of the Endless Dance Hall, it is hard to adjust to dancing on something that isn’t even half that big. By teaching me how to move so much when I dance, Lord Dormamu has inadvertently made my life difficult at times.

During the first dance of our first event, one of the other ladies on the dance floor lost part of her hair! I’m not sure how, but she had some kind of fake hair piece that was attached to her head fall off on the far side of the floor, in the middle of the line of dance. I saw it when I got close and thought it was funny, so I mentioned it to Sparkledancer. Dancing around it wasn’t an issue for me, but other competitors kept looking at it a bit nervously. When the music kept going with no end in sight, finally one of the judges ran down to the end of the floor to pick it up and move it to a table that was off to the side for safety. That was a pretty amusing moment.

One other interesting thing from the competition came from the Pro/Am International Latin rounds that also took place that morning. One of the students in particular stood out over all the others. There was a much, much older lady – she looked older than my grandmother at first glance – who was dancing Latin. She wasn’t just dancing the three-dance rounds, not even the four-dancerounds… no, this lady went for it all, doing the five-dance Latin events. It was amazing to hear the crowd respond while watching her do Jive and Pasodoble like a champion.

After my events were over, Sparkledancer and I were standing off to the side and watching the other rounds while waiting for the awards presentation to begin. This lady happened to come by, so we ended up getting to talk to her for a few minutes. As it turned out, she really was older than my grandmother! She confessed to the two of us that she was almost ninety years old already! And get this – she hadn’t even started to dance until she was eighty – incredible!

Apparently she really only dances Latin as well. She knows other styles that she will dance socially with people, she told us, but when she decided to compete, she really liked the strict rules and techniques that Latin has in it. The way her instructor showed her the American Rhythm styles didn’t offer her that kind of challenge, so she decided against it, even though most people in the area she lives dance only American styles.

Talking to her was super cool. It makes me think that when I get a little older like her, maybe I can still be dancing. You know, because I’m so old, based on that lady asking me if I had a teenage child…

Tuesday night I ended up back out at the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu to work on things. That night we ended up focusing solely on Tango. There were a few important notes that I wrote down afterward that I will have to start adding in when I practice. Probably the craziest thing that came up that night is that somehow, even though I have only practiced Tango enough in recent weeks to keep it fresh, I seem to have suddenly become able to move enough during the figures to overrun the length of the dance floor in the Endless Dance Hall. That’s… a real problem.

I mean, sure it’s pretty impressive, and it’s a huge change over how I was moving back when I decided to go down this serious competitor track, but it’s a serious problem because no competition floors I have danced on are anywhere near as big as the floor at the Endless Dance Hall, and if I am now traveling more than the length of that huge floor, I am creating issues for myself. I mean, I had just been at a competition with a tiny floor, and having to rapidly adjust and pull my steps in short caused me to bump legs with my partner. It’s a real issue! Lord Dormamu just thinks that it is funny, and tells me not to worry about it. I am worrying about it though. Sigh… me and my strong legs.

Anyway… I was told that night to try to alter where I am holding my left arm a bit. Lord Dormamu wants me to push my forearm on my left arm farther out away from my body in order to help Sparkledancer hold her frame wider and more round on top. She will also be rotating herself slightly farther around my right side to improve the look as well. It feels a bit weird, because there were times I felt like I was literally pulling Sparkledancer to the left with my left arm (she is really light, so pulling her around is really easy for me if I’m not careful). This is probably going to be a major focus in practice this coming weekend to help me get used to the way that feels.

I was also told that when I am holding myself on one leg while my other leg is resting on the ground, that I should roll my resting foot up onto the toe instead of letting it sit on the ball of the foot. Like if I am in Promenade Position before moving for example, and my weight is all the way over my right leg and my left foot is out to the side and slightly in front of me. He thinks that having my foot up more on my toe gives me a better looking leg line for that brief moment I hold the position before moving.

One last change I need to remember: during any Twist Turn I do from this point forward, he also wants me to start doing a flick with my head as I settle onto my right leg after the twist is over. Apparently our Twist Turn was starting to look pretty good, so Lord Dormamu wanted to give me something to spice it up even more. I’m not sure how turning my head from side to side really fast makes anything spicy, but I didn’t question him. I just need to remember to start doing it.

Finally, I went to Standard Technique class last night and had a lot of fun. When I showed up, Lord Junior stopped me at the door and asked me what dance style I needed to work on the most based on the results from the competition this weekend. I told him that since I was uncontested, I didn’t really get any results, but Waltz has been the style that I have been focusing on in practice a lot lately. He told me that he would go over Waltz for me then, and put together some figures from the Silver-level syllabus to help me get more practice with them, since he assumes that Lord Dormamu will let me move up to competing in Silver in the near future. Yay! A whole class focused on practice for me!

Lately we have been starting class while on one of the short walls, which means that a lot of the choreography Lord Junior gives us lately in class ends up turning the corner somewhere in the middle. This class was no exception. We started out facing down the short wall on one end of the studio, and he had us do a Progressive Chasse to the Right going into a Back Lock, traversing the whole short wall. In the corner we did an Outside Spin that went into a Natural Turn to change walls. From there we did a Natural Spin Turn and then went into a Turning Lock, closing the whole thing up with another Natural Turn.

I know, that seems like a pretty short combination of figures compared to what we’ve done in previous weeks, but this week there were a lot of ladies in class, and many of them really struggled to make the Outside Spin work. That meant that Lord Junior had to spend a lot of extra time going over what to do and what not to do to try to help them get through the figure successfully. The biggest issue that more than one of the ladies did was failing to close their feet together as they spun, which made it difficult for either Lord Junior or I to step around them on the second step of the figure. Most everyone managed to figure out the issues by the end of class, so that was good.

This ran really long, so that’s all I’m just going to wrap things up here. There should be a lot less traveling this weekend, so that should make life a bit calmer for me. There is a dance party on Saturday night that I will be attending, plus I will probably end up hanging out in one studio or another on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons to put in some extra practice time. Being at a competition last weekend meant that I had to skip doing real practice because there wasn’t enough room for me, so I’m sure I’ll be making it up over the course of this weekend somehow. We’ll see what happens when I tell you all about it next week!

This Is Where We Dance Tonight

I mentioned last week that I had some stuff to take care of at home last weekend, so I didn’t actually go out and do much in the way of dancing, but what I did go out and do made my head spin a little. I’m sure that you’ve seen in the past that I’ve referred to Lord Dormamu as my ‘coach’ and not just my ‘instructor’ – that is a very deliberate choice of words. Sure, I do get together with Lord Dormamu for instruction on how to improve my dancing, because he has lots of things that he can teach me. However, on top of that, Lord Dormamu also helps my competitive partner and I play the games that are involved with doing well in the competitive dance environment. When I met up with him this weekend, we spent a good long while discussing just that.

The lesson block that I had scheduled with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu ended up running really long last Saturday, but that was because we spent a large portion of it just sitting around a table talking. We went over the results of the last competition, my analysis of the results, and made a bunch of plans for what Sparkledancer and I would do going forward for the rest of the year. You know, all sorts of coach stuff.

Between the three of us looking around online, we managed to find a large number of competitions for Sparkledancer and I to consider signing up for before the end of 2018. We narrowed the list down to six finalists. Several of these are being held at venues that are only a short drive from my house, so those ones are more than likely to happen. A couple of them will involve traveling quite a bit… like hopping on a plane to get there, because driving to the location would require taking extra time off of work. Plane tickets obviously drive up the cost of those events considerably, which is always a little bothersome. It’s not that I can’t afford to do these things, it just makes me think about how much money I actually want to spend to travel and compete while Lord Dormamu is still holding me at Bronze?

One other point that we looked at was the historical evidence that we could find to give us a rough idea of how many people we might be competing against in these chosen competitions. I personally don’t think it’s super worthwhile to dance unopposed – I mean, unless I screw something up pretty terribly, I am guaranteed to get first place. For some people, getting a first place ribbon/trophy while dancing unopposed is something that they celebrate. I know a pair that competes in Amateur competitions for both Latin and Standard, and there have been lots of times I’ve run into them at competitions where they exalted me with stories of all the first place ribbons that they won so far… only for me to find out later that they didn’t have anyone else dancing against them.

While it does make me happy that they are happy for winning those first place ribbons/trophies, for me, it doesn’t really feel like I earned anything if I win that way. I say this because there is one competition in particular that Lord Dormamu wanted us to go and do that was like this – it’s a new event this year, and based on the registration information we could find online, no one else was signed up in any of the events that we would be heading out there to do so far. Because it looked like there was a chance that we would just be paying a bunch of money to travel out there and dance unopposed, I argued that it wouldn’t really be worthwhile.

Lord Dormamu had a different take on the matter. He knew the people who were the organizers of this new competition. Apparently, in addition to organizing events like this throughout the year, they are also well-known adjudicators who are brought in to judge many high-level competitions that he wants Sparkledancer and I to end up going to as we move up in the world. His view was that it was more important for Sparkledancer and I to show up and support this competition, even if we end up dancing unopposed, so that we can get in good with the competition organizers. If they see us at their brand new event, and then see us later competing at an event that they are judging, that could be the little bit of political capital that we need to get marked better than someone we are competing against if we are otherwise dancing at the same level.

There it is, the dreaded Dance Politics coming back into the picture. Going to this event sounds like it is purely a political move, not really a test of how well we dance in front of the judges. That means that when I go there, the most important thing that Sparkledancer and I will have to do is to say hello to the competition organizers when we see them (not ‘if’ we see them, ‘when’ – we will have to seek them out to make sure it happens), tell them how much we loved this brand new event, and pass on greetings from Lord Dormamu so that they know that he is our coach. The dancing part of the competition is almost secondary.

Sure, there is always the hope that someone else will sign up to dance in the same rounds that we do, but unless the rounds fill up with eight to ten more couples, I’m not sure the priority level will change. Is that weird? It feels weird to me, but apparently playing this political dance and meeting with and supporting the right people in the right competitions is an important part of being an up-and-coming competitor. Sigh… I’m going to register my distaste for this part of the game here so that I can get it all out of my system before I have to go out and play these games. Is this is how Champions are really made?

Moving on… one of the competitions that was added to our list in October actually happens on the same date as a different event that I’m pretty sure I have to be around town to help out with. Do you remember me mentioning last week that I was talked into being a part of another dance non-profit? Well, during that meeting where I was brought into that group, they talked about throwing a fundraising event in the fall. The date that they wanted to book the fundraising event for is the same weekend as the competition Sparkledancer and I were told to do in October. I didn’t realize it at the time last Saturday when I was going over all of this with Lord Dormamu, but when I got home and started adding all these potential competitions to my calendar I saw the overlap. I’ll have to confirm with Lord Dormamu, but most likely that competition won’t actually happen.

With the schedule of what we are planning for more-or-less set, we next spent some time discussing the results of our last competition – not our placements, which were good and didn’t really warrant discussion, but how Sparkledancer and I felt we did, and what we thought didn’t go so well when we were out on the floor. I brought up the basic data analysis I did of the results, and showed Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer how the math showed that Waltz was our weakest dance style based on how we’ve done during the last couple of competitions. While neither one of them seemed to care about the math too much, Sparkledancer agreed with my assessment, so Lord Dormamu agreed to look at our Waltz first that day when we finally got around to dancing.

I also showed him how there was one judge that marked us with significantly different placements than all the others in all of our events. This was something that Sparkledancer and I had experienced before – I even mentioned it here if you remember. This time around, when I mentioned the name of the judge who had done this to us, Lord Dormamu didn’t just chalk the placements up to the couples who were placed higher than us by this judge being students of his and leaving it at that. No, this time Lord Dormamu actually knew who the judge was quite well. In fact, there is a competition that Lord Dormamu is running in August, and he said he was flying this particular judge in to… well, judge.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Now there is a plan that, while this judge is here, Lord Dormamu is going to set aside one of the coaching sessions that this judge will be running the next day so that Sparkledancer and I can work with him. This is another one of those Dance Politics moves, as explained to me. If Lord Dormamu arranges this coaching session and introduces us to this judge at the start of the session, then this judge will, from that day forth, associate our names and faces with Lord Dormamu. The judge (supposedly) will then think to himself ‘Hey! Lord Dormamu was cool enough to bring me in to work on this competition and pay me to judge, but he also entrusted some of his students into my hands to get my advice on how they can dance better!’ – which should change his opinion of how we dance if he ever sees us in a competition he is judging in the future.

This is one of those places where dancers who compete Pro/Am have an advantage. Sparkledancer and I have to put in the face time with judges if we want to be able to subconsciously improve their opinion of us when they see our names on the list of competitors. Lord Dormamu already knows a lot of these judges. He talks about being friends with lots of them. When he goes to competitions to dance with some of his Pro/Am ladies, the judges can clearly see that it is him, and they know the lady is his student. That automatically brings along the subconscious improvements of their perception of how the lady is dancing.

Unless Sparkledancer and I figure out how to start competing in some sort of weird three-way hold with Lord Dormamu, we can’t purely get by on his name – we have to build this kind of recognition for ourselves. Lord Dormamu told us that he can introduce us to all the right people, but we’ll still have to put in time with those people so that they will remember us after the initial introduction is over. The best way to do that is to take coaching lessons with the judges, unfortunately. It’s an expensive method of gaining recognition, but it is by far the best way to have one-on-one time with a judge where everyone can get to know one another.

Dance politics… what in the world have I gotten myself into?

We were lucky that Lord Dormamu had a bit of extra time between when he had scheduled his lesson with Sparkledancer and I and when his next lesson was scheduled, because after all of that discussion we still hadn’t done any dancing! True to his word earlier, he had us start off by showing him our Waltz so that he could see what changes we would need to make in order to bring it up to the next level. One lap around the floor was all that Lord Dormamu needed to see in order to make a plan about what he wanted us to work on.

The biggest problem that he told us he saw with our Waltz was that there was too much ‘floating’ on the floor while we danced. Yeah, that’s actually a problem that you can have in the Waltz. The dance style should give the illusion that you are floating as you move for anyone watching your upper body, but the lower body needs to tell a completely different story. That is what Sparkledancer and I need to improve the most in order to bring our Waltz up to the next level.

What I need to work on first and foremost is to show more connection to the floor. This is actually the easiest thing to change for me. Sparkledancer has to work on grabbing the floor with her feet and holding onto the connection, which is bound to make her feet sore after we’ve been practicing for a while. But me? I’m a couple hundred pounds of muscle who, for some unknown reason, walks very lightly. I just need to let the weight of my upper body hold my lower body down properly. This goes against all of my natural inclinations while I’m moving around, but I’m heavy enough that it makes a real difference with my connection to the floor. Sounds easy, right?

On top of that, Lord Dormamu said that we can always work on showing more drive from the standing leg, which is something you’ll probably never hear a judge tell you that you see too much of. For me specifically he also wants me to work on smoothing out my transition to the “second standing leg” as I move. I’m sure that you can figure out what that is if you’ve never heard of it before – if you are pushing yourself forward with your right leg, your left leg eventually has to hit the ground and start absorbing your weight. Along the way you will reach the point where 51% of your weight has transitioned to be over your left leg and only 49% is left over the right leg, and that’s when you’ve changed which leg is the standing leg in the same step. The new leg now needs to pull you forward for a bit before it can transition behind you and start pushing to create power.

Lord Dormamu said that sometimes he can tell when I make that transition between legs, because there is a bit of a wobble going on, which is why I need to work on smoothing the transition out to get rid of that. This is the same concept that I am working on in the Foxtrot, basically, though with different timing, different rise and fall, and less continuity of motion in the Waltz. This type of usage of the legs is a very advanced concept, and supposedly if I can master it early on while I am still competing in syllabus events it will make my life much easier as I move into the world of Open choreography.

What is the best way to practice this kind of change for our Waltz routine? Well, we were told to take things all the way back to basics – plain old box steps. Just Reverse and Natural Turns, no rotation, focusing on our legs and the floor. Until we are told otherwise, he wants us to start each of our practice sessions by doing the following exercises for two minutes each: standing side-by-side, Sparkledancer and I will do box steps by ourselves for two minutes starting with the left leg going forward, then two minutes that start with the left leg going backward. After that we will stand in front of each other and hold our arms wide (not real dance frame) and do two minutes that start with my left leg going forward, Sparkledancer’s right leg going back, and finish with two minutes of my left leg going backward, Sparkledancer’s right leg going forward.

But wait! There’s more! To help practice for smoother transitions between legs as we move, we do one last set of the exercises where we are standing in front of one another, but this time we extend each box to a six count. The first step forward/backward and the step to the side are normal, but dragging your feet closed while rising should cover four beats. We do two minutes in each direction of those as well. When all is said and done, that’s ~12 – 15 minutes of work, staying in roughly the same spot on the dance floor.

Doing those exercises makes practice all kinds of fun, let me tell you… <feel the sarcasm here>

Enough about that. I seem to have prattled on forever on just one thing that I went out and did last weekend! Oh boy, that does not bode well. Tell you what, I’ll only talk about one more thing, and leave it there for the week. Let’s… let’s talk about Latin Technique class, since that seems to be the class I seem to discuss the least lately.

This week in Latin Technique we looked at some Cha-Cha. There were three ladies in class this week that are relatively new to International Latin, so the figures that we covered in class weren’t all that difficult, but we never got to a point where all of the new ladies could do them well enough to do everything with music up to full tempo. I could do it though, but that’s probably mostly because I get to repeat the figures a lot more than any of the ladies as I rotate through class to dance with all of them.

What I danced with everyone was as follows: starting off facing your partner with your right leg back (ladies with their left leg forward), we did a prep step on beat one, then a normal Cha-Cha Checking action. The guys then did a Slip Chasse while the ladies did a Forward Lock, ending with leading the ladies through a Curl. Rather than do the normal ending for a Curl which sends the lady out to Fan Position, Lord Junior had us instead collect the lady back into dance position and go into a Reverse Top, just for fun.

We went around in the Reverse Top over the counts of two measures, and then the guys would turn the lady through another Curl and lead them to follow him through a Backward Lock into an Aida. After the Cuban Motions of the Aida, we came out of it with a Forward Lock, then went into side-by-side Switch Turns, coming back together at the end for a basic chasse action to the right.

Let’s call it good there for the week. This next weekend I have some work stuff to do, so I probably won’t go out much again. I have just one lesson scheduled, another with Lord Dormamu, but that’s about it. Hopefully we won’t get into another long conversation about our competitive plans this time around. Documenting all of that is a lot of work!

Until next time, keep on dancing!