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!

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If She Would Dance, I Would D.J.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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