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!

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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!

To Bring The Pieces Back Together, Rediscover Communication

Have you ever had someone mention something to you in passing that caused all sorts of things in your world to suddenly fall into place? I had one of those moments last weekend while I was working with Lord Dormamu. It was this great little moment where I finally could see things clearly… like when you can actually make out the picture on a puzzle you are putting together for the first time. There are also some unexpected repercussion questions that have come up since then, questions that I have been trying to think of answers for in my quiet time (what little quiet time I have). It’s weird how a simple, offhand comment can have such crazy effects, isn’t it?

So what exactly happened? This short story takes us back to Saturday afternoon. I had time set aside to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. A lot of the other people I knew were off participating in a big Pro/Am dance competition that was happening last weekend, but since most of Lord Dormamu’s students are more advanced, and therefore they dance their rounds in the evenings, he came back from the competition Saturday morning so that he could teach during the day, and was planning on heading back to the competition again that evening.

It was a productive lesson. We spent some time at first looking at our Waltz, which Lord Dormamu said was already looking much better after the tweaking we had done in our last coaching session. Then we moved on to look at Foxtrot. He told us that he wanted to spend some time going back to our discussions on the movement in Foxtrot, because looking at that concept again would help us would help fix many of the issues that we had been given notes on from the judges at our last competition, specifically the notes that said “Use your standing leg; Too steppie at times; Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow.”

He started off by having Sparkledancer and I dance our routine for him together a couple of times, and then he split us up and had us each dance the first long wall of the routine with him a few more times. When we finished with that, he told me that he noticed, as did one of his pupils who had been watching Sparkledancer and I in one of our lessons recently, that I had developed this weird ‘bounce’ in my steps when I dance Foxtrot, and I really needed to get rid of it because it disrupted the continuous flow of the dance.

That led him off on a tangent, talking again about his theory behind how Foxtrot is supposed to look. You may not know this about Lord Dormamu, but when he gets to lecturing like this in his lessons, he tends to start dancing around the room as he talks. During the time that he was dancing around the room and talking, he mentioned that I really needed to be working on straightening my legs as I move, then demonstrated it while smacking his back leg for emphasis.

That right there… well, it’s an understatement to say that it blew my mind. I stood there for several minutes, just staring at Lord Dormamu stupidly with my mouth open. Sparkledancer started laughing at me and told Lord Dormamu that she could actually see the light bulb turning on over my head.

I had to stop everything and ask about that. Yes, I had been told by a few people at this point that I needed to straighten my legs while moving, but I had assumed, and no one had corrected me on the assumption, that they were talking about straightening my front leg. I know I had asked about that fact several times during various lessons, telling whomever I was working with at the time that it felt weird to move around while trying to straighten that leg like that. Lord Dormamu then said that straightening my front leg was completely wrong. If I was competing, none of the judges would be watching my front leg, so if it never completely straightened before I transferred weight no one would care. This wasn’t Latin, after all.

The back leg is a different story though. If I am traveling forward, and I’m supposed to be driving from my standing leg, the only way a judge can tell that I am actually doing that is by watching what I am doing with my standing leg. The standing leg ends up being the one behind me if I am pushing myself forward. When I am driving correctly, the back leg should almost straighten completely if I am doing everything right. Lord Dormamu told me that this is normally a rather difficult concept for people to grasp. He has had lots of students he has trained who compete at the Professional level, and apparently this is something he has to teach them all the time because they don’t do it right.

That. Right there. That one note about exactly which leg to straighten. A simple comment. That was the piece to the puzzle I have been missing this whole time.

I’m not sure that Lord Dormamu even realizes, or could understand, how much that one piece of information really helps me out. My whole view on the important aspects that I should be thinking about while trying to move around the dance floor has shifted. Sure, so far in practice it has been a bit rough, and one of my big concerns about moving so much that I actually run off the floor space is now even greater, but everything seems so much easier now that I can focus on doing  something with my legs that makes sense mechanically.

 

*    *    *

 

And it makes me wonder… why has no one ever mentioned this fact to me before? If it was obviously an issue that I was having, why in the world didn’t someone stop me last month, or six months ago, or a year ago, and say “hey dude, you gotta work on straightening your back leg when you move, brah” (I guess they would have been surfers when they told me for some reason). After all, if I had known that this is what I would be judged on six months ago, then I could have spent all of the practice time that I went to during those months making sure that I was doing things right… or at least better. Now I’m just trying to incorporate this change into my dancing after the fact.

This whole train of thought lead me down a different path of thinking, one that has brought up all sorts of philosophical debates in my mind. The main one I keep wondering about is: have I let too many cooks into the kitchen to try to put together the soufflé that is my dancing? I mean, I regularly work with two different instructors, and take classes in dance technique for International Standard every week from a third. While I am taking lessons at various dance studios around town, there are often other instructors wandering around, and they have been known to stop (or be stopped by whatever instructor I am working with at the time) and offer their own advice on how I can ‘fix’ things. On top of that, there have been random coaching sessions from visiting experts thrown into the mix.

Each of these people looks at the things that I do slightly differently, and tries to explain how they think I should fix everything in a different way. Sometimes the things that one person says directly conflicts with things that another one of them has told me, in which case I am left confused. Some of these people are able to communicate with others who are training me to make sure that they are all working toward the same end goal. A few of these instructors really don’t like each other, so I can’t mention that one of them told me a new way to think about a technique I am working on without the risk of having to listen to a tirade about how that other instructor is dumb and not to be trusted.

So far, my excursions into the world of dance politics over the last few years have helped me navigate these situations. I generally regard myself as a friendly person, so I can get along with pretty much anyone, and no one faults me for being able to get along with and take lessons from people they don’t like. Either that, or they just don’t tell me that it’s a terrible idea to my face. It is one of the few perks of having a non-threatening personality like I do. I like to believe everyone likes me!

But what about the pieces of information I am missing, that I don’t even really realize that I am missing until someone tells me? Are there other facts that would be super helpful for me to know, like the fact about my legs I learned the last weekend? I certainly get a lot of information, sometimes enough information that I feel kind of overwhelmed at times, but is it really helpful to have all this information handed to me if it isn’t really fixing the problems I am told that I have? Just imagine how much better I would be by now if one of those many people who I have worked with over the last fifteen months had told me that while I am competing, the judges are looking at whether or not I am straightening my driving leg behind me as I move?

Maybe all these different people thought I wasn’t ready to receive this one missing piece of information. Maybe each one thought that someone else had already told me what I was supposed to be doing, and I was just terrible at doing it. Maybe someone did mention it, but not in a straightforward, easily understandable manner that my logical brain could latch onto like it was mentioned to me this weekend. Maybe I’m really just kind of stupid, and this was an obvious technique that everyone else already knows. I mean, it did make me feel kind of stupid once I found out. It really does seem obvious to me now. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.

So what should I be doing with myself? Is working with all of these different instructors and coaches actually helping me progress as fast as I possibly can, or is working with so many different people hindering my progression somehow? Do I really need the input from so many sources while I am working on competing through the syllabus levels? After all, there is a book that lays everything out for all of the closed syllabus figures. I have actually found and purchased a copy of this magic book that everyone kept referring to. Should I just rely on the book for information, since the facts that it holds shouldn’t change?

Is it too much to ask for someone to just tell me the information I need to know that I don’t actually know I need to know, so that my dancing will improve…?

 

Well… I seem to have gotten stuck in a tangent there. I’m not going to go back and change it though. Let’s just finish up with what happened yesterday night in Standard Technique class, to get a taste of something a little more on topic.

Now that the big competition that everyone in the world seemed to be preparing for is over, more people decided to come out to class last night. When Lord Junior was asking around to gauge what people wanted to work on in class, most of the people who didn’t show up last week wanted to do Waltz. Even though we had worked on Waltz last week, because so many people had skipped class Lord Junior conceded to their wishes and decided to do it again. That night he wanted to focus on some choreography that used the Turning Lock figures, since it has been a while since we had practiced them.

First off, we did two figures to get moving and build some momentum, a Natural Turn and then a normal Natural Spin Turn, one that ended with the guys backing toward diagonal center. Coming out of the Natural Spin Turn is what set us up to do the Turning Lock. The first one was the Silver-level figure that curves to the left, in case you were wondering what the difference between the two of them is. The end of the Turning Lock has us in Outside Partner position, so from there we went into another Natural Turn that started off in Outside Partner before closing with us backing line of dance.

In order to set ourselves up for the other version of the Turning Lock, we had to build up some rotation while staying on the line of dance, so we did an Overturned Natural Spin Turn that turned us a full 360°. Now we went into the Turning Lock to the Right. If done correctly, this figure should turn you so that both partners are moving toward diagonal center at the end in Promenade Position. To complete the choreography for the night, Lord Junior went back to what some of us had done in class last week and had us doing a Quick Open Reverse Turn, though this week we didn’t have to add on the extra Reverse Pivot at the end, which made it slightly easier to get through.

This weekend may or may not be busy for me. So far I have one lesson that I have to attend during the day on Saturday, but then on Saturday night there is that big charity fundraiser gala that Lord Dormamu is putting on. I think I might be volunteering to help out at that, but I have yet to get any information about where I should be or what time I should be there, so it was only a vague commitment that I was given. Maybe they won’t need me after all. I’m pretty certain that I’ll make it to the after party on Saturday night, to do some dancing with all the people who performed at or attended the show.

So that’s potentially what I’ll be up to this weekend. What about you? Do you have anything exciting going on? Are you going to go to the show and the party afterward to dance Saturday night away? I hope so. If you’re there, come say hi to me. I’m sure I’ll be wandering amidst the crowd somewhere.