It’s been another crazy week for me here in the Dance Kingdom. Maybe I need to start coming to grips with the fact that I will just never spend any time at home any more, and learn to live comfortably in a dance studio somewhere. It feels like that is the direction my life is heading at least…
Let’s start out with what I did on Saturday. That afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and we spent our time looking at Tango for most of the session. I did have one question I wanted to look at right off the bat dealing with one of the warm-up exercises that we had been asked to do for all of our practice sessions. I had to ask about how we were having some trouble dancing our practice boxes without rotation, since I felt like I was always fighting to get my leg in-between Sparkledancer’s when we did the Natural Turns. I mean, I thought it was because I worked very hard to have strong legs, so they are several times bigger in size than the gap between Sparkledancer’s legs, and I was worried that in order to do the exercise properly she was going to have to take up some weird bow-legged pose. It was an actual concern for me!
Lucky for me, Sir Steven said that while this was a good exercise for warming up, actual figures in Waltz have to rotate. We didn’t seem to have issues doing Natural Turns when we rotated during the step, so it wasn’t something to be too concerned about. If we felt like we were fighting each other during warm-ups when trying to go straight, then we should just start rotating the box step as we warmed up to make it easier on ourselves. Sir Steven said it would be better for us to rotate than to start doing something weird and put Sparkledancer into an awkward position where it was easier for me to fit my leg through.
Now, as I said earlier, we worked on Tango. Sir Steven spent some time watching us do the routine at first to make sure that we were dancing through the figures with our weight split between our feet like we were supposed to be doing. I was told that it looked funny when I was trying to close my feet together completely at certain points, since the more we compressed into our knees the more Sparkledancer’s knee ended up between mine, so I could just do an air-close instead to avoid crushing her leg (I may have accidentally bruised her on both sides of her right knee by closing my feet together with her knee in-between mine as we practiced).
We also spent quite a bit of time looking at the two Promenade figures at the end of the long wall that afternoon. The first one is a Promenade Pivot, and for that we worked on making sure the rotation during the pivot snapped into place more sharply at the end, rather than letting the pivot take its time turning us to the right angle. Snapping into place is much more staccato, which looks more like Tango and less like a Waltz pivot. The second Promenade closes with a right-side lunge for me going into the corner. From there we are supposed to do two rock steps before shifting our weight to my left leg. He wanted Sparkledancer to not only turn her head to look at me during the rocking, but to also bring her forehead toward mine to add a bit more dramatic flair to the movement. I tried to tell him that I’m not really a dramatic person, but more of a comedian, so it would be more natural for me to be making faces at her or sticking out my tongue, but he didn’t seem to like that idea. Sigh… maybe someday.
Even though it was already late on Saturday night and the parties were well underway, I did manage to make it out to the ballroom dance party being held as part of the big West Coast Swing weekend at a venue downtown. As I got there, they had apparently just finished up a big West Coast Swing competition in one of the two dance rooms, so there were a number of very sweaty people wandering around the hallway, which was amusing to me for some reason. I made my way over to the room dedicated to the ballroom dance party and found most of the other members of my Royal Dance Court group hanging out in the back of the room. There were a lot of faces in the crowd and on the dance floor that I recognized, but also quite a few that I did not. I’m guessing a lot of those people I didn’t know were West Coast Swing enthusiasts who had come to see what was going on during ballroom dance night, or to partake in some of the other dance styles they knew that weren’t West Coast Swing for a change.
At one point during the party, I asked Sparkledancer to wander with me over to the other room that was set aside for dancing to see what was going on. That room was dedicated to pure West Coast Swing all night, and since Sparkledancer is the only person I knew who also knew West Coast Swing, I wanted to have her along just in case I felt the need to jump in. The two of us stood in the doorway watching everyone on the floor for quite a while. The dance floor there was packed, with very little room available for anyone else to participate. We never actually made it out to the floor, because after the first song Sparkledancer told me that she was going to hide behind me so that none of the guys in that room would ask her to dance with them. I guess she was watching them, and to her it looked like all of the men were using a lot of force to lead their partners through things, and she just didn’t want to have to go through that.
Otherwise I got to dance the night away. Since this was actually a competition-sized floor (this same space has been rented out for actual ballroom competitions in the past, using the same sets of floor tiles they had lain out for the dance party), I danced all of the ballroom numbers with Sparkledancer that night so that we could get a bit of extra practice in. The party was supposed to go well into the night, but the crowd mostly dissipated with about an hour left before the DJ was going to leave. As you can imagine, the people who remained out dancing on the floor were younger than those who left, and since a majority of the ballroom community seems to fall on the older side, there weren’t all that many of us hanging around late into the evening. Oh well, that left tons more room for me to dance! Hooray!
Here’s an interesting note from this past Sunday’s practice session with Sparkledancer:
We were out in the evening at the Electric Dance Hall to work on our homework for the week. No one else was around, since there was some sort of big event being televised that the rest of the world was at home watching, so we had complete control of the dance floor and the music as we practiced. As we got to the point where we were going to start dancing through our routines by ourselves, I told Sparkledancer that she could start first, and then I would start when she reached the next corner so that she could always be about one wall ahead of me. I counted her off and then I watched her start down the floor, waiting for my turn.
As she got through the first Progressive Chasse, the timing of her steps did not match up with the timing the figure should have used in the music. I called out to her to let her know that, and she stopped to look at me dejectedly, then came back to restart the routine. I stood behind her quietly as she started over, and she started off on the wrong beat and didn’t correct the timing through the next few steps, so I stopped her again and asked about it. She told me that she thought it was right, but has never really thought about the timing too much before since I usually keep it for her, or she just follows whomever is leading.
This led us into a discussion about basic music theory, a topic that I am very familiar with since I used to be a professional musician in my youth and spent many years studying music because of that. I tried to give her pointers to help her distinguish the first beat of each measure from the other beats, and how to recognize the phrasing in the music to associate the order of our dance figures with the phrase. We went over this for quite a while, and she seemed to really think the way I explained things was helpful. When she tried to run the routine again on her own without me counting, she was able to get through everything without missing a beat. Yay!
So on top of our other dance homework, we may start spending ten minutes or so each practice session working on some music and music theory work to help her out. For a hobby that is so dependent on music, I sometimes forget that the way I was brought up in that world and how I hear songs is very different from other dancers on the floor, so this could help Sparkledancer out a lot, which could help her when we are forced to dance our routines separately in the future. There’s rumors that we may be asked to start attending these super competition practice sessions once a month, and having all partners dance their routines on their own is a part of that, so it’s best to start preparing now!
During Latin Technique class on Monday night, we decided to work on some Rumba, and Lord Junior wanted to have us specifically go through some things that Ms. Possible was having trouble with in her private lessons so that she could get some more practice in. Before that though, we got to warm-up with some Rumba Walk exercises. This variation was different from any I had done before: we all started lined up along one wall of the studio with our weight on the left leg and the right foot pointed behind us. From that position we took two slow steps forward, and then on the third step we did a slow Spiral Turn on the right leg. Next we switched sides, taking two slow steps forward starting with the left foot and then doing a slow Spiral Turn on the left leg. After those walks with turns we did two sets of normal Rumba Walks with no turn on the third step, and to finish we repeated the walks with the Spiral Turns. At the end of the last turn on the left leg, we flipped around wherever we ended up on the floor and did the same pattern going back the other direction.
Finishing that up, Lord Junior had us working on a pattern that would allow us to use those slow Spiral Turns during the progression. We started this with the men standing on or left leg with our right foot pointed behind us, while the women stood on their right leg with their left foot pointed forward, holding on to each other with one hand. On any beat four in the music we took a slow step forward, then the men did a forward check and closed our feet while leading the ladies to do a backward check before going into a Curl, ending with them turned 90° to their right so that we could go into a Reverse Top. After one full measure of rotation in the Reverse Top, we released the ladies out into Fan Position on the second measure. I’ve never ended a Reverse Top like that before, but it is a fairly simple ending to do, and I’m not sure why I never thought of it before. Give it a try!
From Fan Position we lead the ladies to do half of a Hockey Stick, getting them to the point where they were standing in front of us and then leading them through a very slow Spiral Turn that covered three beats of music. The turn should flip them to head back in the direction they just came from when completed. We then sent them back out into Fan Position again, but this time at the end the men took a step forward after them. To make the ending interesting, we led the ladies to go through a Switchback as we checked forward, rotating the ladies wrist slightly to get them to turn. This was a fast movement since we didn’t have the ladies hold the Switchback for more than one beat before we led them to replace their weight backward, turn back around and step forward on the next beat. The men just walked backward as we led the ladies through their steps, helping to steady them as they turned and moved so quickly.
Tuesday night I had a session scheduled to get together with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu once he was back in the country. Sparkledancer and I had been talking about things over the weekend, and we decided to start out this lesson by asking him if there were any items that we would need to acquire for this journey that we were heading out on, specifically like new outfits that may have to be custom-made or tailored to fit properly. We wanted to start the process of gathering everything now while we still had no events on the calendar, rather than schedule something and then be handed a list of things to we would need, forcing us to run around in a panic trying to find everything. You know, like planning ahead! It’s a crazy idea, but I wanted to push for it anyway.
Lord Dormamu told us that he would want us to get some actual fancy competition attire. I’ve always just worn a suit in the past when competing in Smooth or Standard, and that’s worked out pretty well for me. I was told that using a normal three-piece suit would work out for small events, but for larger events I should invest in an actual ballroom tail suit. Lord Dormamu thinks that my new outfit will be fairly inexpensive – only a couple of thousand for the actual outfit and then whatever it costs to get it tailored to fit me properly from a local tailor. Apparently his definition of inexpensive is very, very different from mine… Lucky for me, since I am a boy my outfit will really never change, so I can wear it until it falls apart, which will save me money in the long run.
On a positive note though, he did say that my new dance shoes that I just got will work out perfectly, so I am good with those at least. Yay!
Sparkledancer was definitely given much worse news than I was. Lord Dormamu talked to her about getting a budget for a dress from her, and using that he would call around to some of the people he’s friends with overseas to have them look for a used competition dress in her size (her size is taller than average and thin). According to his estimates, a decent used dress he would like would probably run her five to eight thousand to acquire, and then whatever additional costs there are for final alterations to make it fit perfectly. He thinks that getting a dress like that will be good for her for a year or two before it is time to look at something new.
Wow. Yeah, guys definitely have it better off when it comes to clothing.
With the shock to my wallet of that discussion out of the way, we continued to work on Waltz. That night we spent a lot of time looking at the Double Reverse Spin. The first issue he wanted to work on was with Sparkledancer. He was happy that she was really driving as she came around me to finish up the turn, but he said that she was doing it way too fast. According to him, when a ballroom adjudicator is watching someone do a Double Reverse Spin, they don’t really care about how much you turn or how quickly you can get around. What they really want to see is the dancer risen up on their toes, balanced and spinning effortlessly for as long as possible. Moving too fast like Sparkledancer was will cause her (and me, by association) to wobble as we rotate, and that will definitely get us marked down. So working on our Double Reverse Spins was added to our homework this week.
We also spent a lot of time looking at our chasses. We have one Progressive Chasse to the Right and one Progressive Chasse to the Left as we travel along the first wall of our routine. Lord Dormamu wanted to make sure that every time I go through those figures that I am really compressing into my leg on the first step in both directions. I guess it looked like I was starting to rise somewhat on the first beat to him. On the Progressive Chasse to the Left, since we start out in Promenade Position, we also have to make sure to close by bringing her around on the second step, and then on the last step with my left leg I am actually changing the angle of my movement slightly to move more toward my partner rather than continuing in the same direction the Progressive Chasse to the Left was already heading. It is a subtle change, but by altering my angle I am less likely to leave my partner behind since I am driving straight toward her.
Tuesday night was a good night because we actually made it through the whole routine this time around, which feels like improvement to me. Because of that, we had a chance to look at the two Reverse Turns that occur at the end of the short wall. Lord Dormamu really wanted me to do a lot more bending to the left on the first of the two. When he put me into the position he liked, it felt a lot like I was doing a Standing Side Stretch in Yoga with how much he bent me. Luckily, on the second Reverse Turn I am able to level out. The other figures along the short wall (the Double Reverse Spin, Whisk and Natural Turn) are all similar to figures we did elsewhere in the routine (the Whisk is basically a Progressive Chasse to the Left), so all we had to do was make them exactly like the earlier versions of the figures and we would be perfect. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?
The other thing that happened while I was at the Fancy Dance Hall Tuesday night was that all of the staff members that I saw that night were asking me if I was going to be in the competition going on at the studio on Saturday. I had heard it mentioned before, and there were signs hanging around the building advertising the event, but Tuesday night was the first time anyone had asked me directly about going. Even Lord Dormamu asked if we were going to participate at the beginning of our lesson, to which I told him that no one had formally asked me about it before that night nor told me how much being in the event would cost. Sparkledancer also told him that she had another event she was signed up to go to late afternoon on Saturday too, so I figured that there would be no way we could participate at all.
After we finished up our lesson, we ended up back in Lord Dormamu’s office again. I’m starting to dread being brought to that office, because it always seems to end with me kissing my money goodbye. Lord Dormamu told us that though we weren’t given any prior information about the cost, he thought it would still be a good idea to have us come in and be looked at by the outside adjudicator that would be judging the event. He said he would do us a favor and take our entry fee which would normally have been used to cover tickets for the all-day event and the catered lunch, and allow us to put that toward doing more heats instead. The heats for International Standard would only be in the morning, and we could both take off after we were done rather than getting lunch, saving us money and allowing Sparkledancer to make it to her afternoon engagement on time. So we decided to go for it, and we each paid half the cost for ten heats, which by my math meant two heats in each International Standard style. Based on the timeline we were given, we would be done in an hour or so.
As we were leaving the office, the Princess was standing outside the door working with some of the staff to get the venue ready for the weekend competition. She seemed excited when Lord Dormamu told her that we were going to be participating this weekend. Lord Dormamu and the Princess started talking, and she asked if he thought we should be in included the three-dance championship round. He started to think about that and pulled out his notepad, telling her about how many we had signed up for and how it was possible that he could take us out of some heats to make that happen, or even just throw us in with everyone else if there weren’t too many people signed up already. After going on for a while and totally ignoring Sparkledancer and I, the two of them finally turned back to look at us standing there wide-eyed, wondering what we were going to be doing. Lord Dormamu told us not to worry about things, and they would let us know Saturday morning what we would be doing.
So, surprise! I’m getting judged this weekend. Since I haven’t had time to really practice things between then and now, I guess I will be staying out late on Friday night with Sparkledancer to go through our homework and get things right before then. Sleep is overrated, right?