From Where I Stand I See

I’m going to start off this week with an update for you on something I mentioned last week: over the weekend I managed to convince Sparkledancer to bring her competition shoes with her to one of our practice sessions so that she could test them out. Turns out that the shoe that the girl stepped in at the competition did get stretched out pretty badly, and nothing Sparkledancer tried that day as we practiced managed to make the shoe feel stable again. After testing it for about an hour, she told me that she might feel comfortable using them occasionally for practice, but to put them away again and try to rely on the shoes to function well during a competition would be a bad idea.
So, after a lot of arguing and a brief and hilarious scuffle, I managed to steal one of her shoes and look at the size printed on the inside. I went ahead and ordered her a new pair. Despite what she will tell anyone else, I personally feel like it was my fault that I didn’t get us away from those other kids on the floor, so I will take responsibility for that other girl sticking her heel into Sparkledancer’s shoe and damaging it. Plus, I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get paid enough to afford to do random things like this, so it’s really no skin off my back.

One thing that I did learn is that the shoes Sparkledancer uses are stupid expensive. Holy cow, those are the most expensive pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my whole life! I thought I paid a lot when I got my own super-fancy shoes that I use for practice (and the second pair I have in my closet that I only use for competitions), but those shoes seem cheap by comparison. Do you think that it’s because there are so many more female ballroom dancers than men, so men’s shoes are just less expensive because of the disparity in demand? That would be an interesting peek into the economics of ballroom dancing.

Anyway, once the new shoes show up the problem will be corrected. I still feel bad that anything happened in the first place, but being able to fix the problem eases my guilt quite a bit.

Enough about shoes, let’s talk about dancing. This past weekend, aside from practicing, I managed to get myself out of the house on Friday night to head out to the Endless Dance Hall for their party. It was the biggest party scheduled in the Dance Kingdom – many other dance studios cancelled their own Friday night parties so that they could join the fun out at the Endless Dance Hall. Why would they decide to do something crazy like that? Well, they all knew that they just couldn’t compete with the Endless Dance Hall. For one thing, it does have the biggest dance floor available anywhere within a few hours drive. For another, they had hired the best ballroom DJ to come play the music that evening, and that always draws in a fair number of people.

But the real coup de grâce was the fact that they made their party free to everyone who showed up.

Yeah, free parties do tend to attract people more than parties that you have to pay for. Especially parties that also have a dance lesson being offered (for free, of course) and prizes up for raffle (also free). What’s not to love? So it totally makes sense that all the other studios in the surrounding area cancelled their Friday night parties and encouraged their students to go over to the Endless Dance Hall. Heck, I even saw some of the instructors from other studios in the area at the party that night, weirdly enough. There’s no question in my mind that it was the place to be! That’s why I went!

I didn’t get there early enough to take part in the lesson. I mean, I’m sure I could have jumped in right at the end to help out since there did seem to be a few more ladies than men on the floor, but as I stood watching what was going on for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The lesson was on Cha-Cha, I did get that much, but there were a lot of people I had never seen before in the lesson, and most of them appeared to be lost on what to do, so trying to glean the steps that were being taught from them wasn’t working for me. The instructor had a microphone, but with the noise from the crowd going on I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. So, I just stayed on the sidelines and watched instead.

But I didn’t have to stay on the sidelines long! Soon the lesson finished and everyone in class was released to do what they wanted. I spent my time that evening between dancing and talking with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a while. I don’t know if my number was ever called in the raffle – I ended up giving my ticket to the Dance Robots. The prizes looked nice, but I didn’t really need anything, and those two always make me happy when I see them.

I danced a lot that night, and because of that I didn’t manage to hit up the snack room until way late in the evening – like half-an-hour before the party ended late. As my luck would have it, a lot of the good snacks were already gone, which made me kind of sad. I don’t know why it is that I don’t feel hungry until so late at night. I mean, I do have a tendency to make sure to eat dinner before I go to parties like this, which probably has a lot to do with it. Do other people just not do that? Is that why they always plow through all the snacks before I feel like having something? Just a weird thought I had that night…

Monday night in Latin Technique class we continued with the trend that we started last week of working on simple figures to help the new ladies that joined class improve their basics. This makes two weeks now for these new ladies. I wonder if they’ll stick around long enough for me to give them names? I’ve had this terrible luck lately where when someone does something notable enough that I decide to break down and come up with a name for them, they disappear almost immediately afterward. That’s why lately I’ve really only come up with names for the notable dance instructors I meet rather than the students, because instructors are less likely to disappear (though it still happens). Fingers crossed that these ladies in Latin Technique will prove to be interesting and hang around for a while.

This week’s class was all about Cha-Cha. Mostly slow Cha-Cha. I’m pretty sure that Lord Junior said that he had lowered the tempo of the songs he had us practice to down to 65% for much of the class, which felt really slow to me. The figures that we worked on we did end up dancing with partners, but the material was all designed so that the partners were just mirror images of each other. That allowed some of the ladies to pair off with each other. There were six ladies in class that night, and just Lord Junior and I trying to work the crowd would have left a lot of people standing around waiting if he hadn’t designed things so that they could work together.

The pattern that we were doing was short and simple, at least in my opinion. I’ll go through this from the Lead’s perspective – so if you want to do the Follower’s part just mirror what I say. We started out facing our partner and doing a basic chasse action to the right. At the end we went into a basic New Yorker on the right side. Coming out of that, rather than squaring up with our partner again we instead did a 180° pivot and went into a Three-Step Turn heading to the left, letting go of our partner as we started to turn.
At the end of the Three-Step Turn we squared up with our partner again and went into a basic New Yorker on the left side. Coming out of that we went into another 180° pivot to do a Three-Step Turn heading back to the right. At the end of the turn we would reconnect with our right hand, facing our partner with our weight on the right leg, ready to move into something else. That’s where the pattern ended for the night. As I said, pretty basic and simple if you’re comfortable with the basics of Cha-Cha.

To amuse himself, as the newcomers in class got more comfortable with the figures, Lord Junior started to increase the challenge factor. First off, he had us start using our arms. I never think that using my arms looks good (which is part of the reason I have stuck with Standard for so long), but I managed to get through. Next, as you can imagine, he started to speed up the music, first by 5% intervals, then 10%. We did actually make it up to full speed that night by the end, which surprised me. The ladies who hadn’t done much Cha-Cha before were struggling to keep up when the song was at tempo, but they were laughing about it and having a good time, so it didn’t seem like it was traumatic for them. Hopefully that means that they’ll be back for more next week!

Instead of going to Standard Technique class on Wednesday, I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu to finally discuss what he saw while judging us at the competition we were in a couple of weekends ago. The session was enlightening, as you might have expected, and definitely gave me a number of points that I will need to work on in preparation for the next competition I decide to do. Incidentally, that topic came up briefly as well during the lesson, and it looks like the best option for our next competition will be in January at another event that Lord Dormamu is also going to be judging. That sounds really convenient, don’t you think?

After a brief discussion at the beginning of the lesson about what Lord Dormamu saw from us while we were on the floor competing, it was clear to me that I am not one of those magical individuals that does better dancing in a competition than I do during practice. I honestly didn’t think that I was, but this confirms it for sure. There were things that he saw me do that I didn’t think that I was doing, and techniques that I thought I was doing a lot of that he said were barely noticeable. I guess I need to start recording myself more often when I practice if I want to see these things with my own eyes.

One of the most interesting notes that Lord Dormamu said that no instructor has ever told me before was about the incident with Sparkledancer’s shoe. We obviously had to tell him that story about the shoe incident, and how things looked funny while Sparkledancer was trying to get her shoe back on as we danced. He said that in a situation like that, we should have just stopped, separated briefly so that Sparkledancer could put her shoe back on, then come back together and continued. According to him, no judge would mark us lower for doing something like that if it was required to stay safe. Good to know for the future.

Lord Dormamu also noted a similar take on dancing through a contested field. I guess there were points that he saw me moving where I was weaving through the other competitors on the floor. The way he interpreted it was that I was doing it in order to keep moving through my routine and not show any downtime in my dancing. This can be a good thing to do sometimes he said, but there were points where he noticed that moving between other dancers affected the way that I held my frame, or the volume that Sparkledancer was trying to create. If people are too close together, volume is something that obviously contracts if you try to squeeze through people.

I was told that when the floor is crowded with competitors, it can actually be more impressive to a judge if I just stop and hold in place, even if I end up holding for long periods of time while waiting patiently for the floor in front of me to clear up and become safe to continue dancing. Doing this allows me to show that I am calm, confident, and in control of the situation way more distinctly than forcing my way through a crowd ever could. This is especially true while we remain in the closed syllabus rounds, where many of the other competitors will be nervous and fidgety, especially if they are not used to navigating a crowded dance floor. Being calm and poised will set me apart from all the others in the eyes of the judging panel that is comparing all the competitors to each other.
With those overall notes out of the way, we looked at our Waltz and Foxtrot routines that night. The first comment that I got after dancing through both of them the first time was that none of the issues that he saw us doing while dancing in the competition were present now. So, I guess that means that I somehow have to find a way to compete more to figure out how to keep the way I dance in competition and the way I dance in practice the same. Sounds so easy, right? Sigh…

The overall takeaway in the Waltz that Lord Dormamu gave me was that I needed to work on lowering more. He thought that the lowering action was not enough during the competition while I danced the Waltz. To fix this, he wants me to work on lowering even more during practice. That way, when I naturally lower less during a competition, it will still look low enough. You know, overdoing it under control to make it look normal if I ease off. The joke that Lord Dormamu told me was that he wanted me to work on destroying my knees by lowering so much in practice.

I happen to like my knees, so I probably won’t go that far… but I can see what he is trying to imply with that joke.

As for Foxtrot, I was told that there were points during the competition where he could see me pushing off my legs to move. While in some ways this is good, because it shows that I am clearly using my legs to drive through the steps, it is bad when it happens in such a way that it can be seen clearly by someone watching. For example, if I am driving through the step and I give it one last push as I switch from one leg to the other, that action might make me (and then Sparkledancer, because I’m heavier than her) bobble a bit during the transition between legs. Trained eyes pick up on little movements like that!

We went back to talking about the overall vision for Foxtrot – ideally, the dance will flow smoothly from start to finish. Little bobbles that are noticeable will detract from this look that we are trying to achieve. Lord Dormamu said that he wants me to think of the dance as if there were a wire strung along the floor over my route while dancing, keeping everything smooth and level. The only change in elevation should be kept to the sides of the frame as we sway through the steps, while the center of our frame remains smooth and level the whole time (I know it’s not physically possible to do that while swaying properly, but that’s the idea to shoot for).

During the lesson we walked through a lot of the pieces of both routines to make sure that we understood what the end goal was, but a lot of this is going to come down to practice between Sparkledancer and I – repeating everything endlessly to make sure that moving in this nature is a fundamental part of who we are. I know it doesn’t sound super exciting, but that’s how we continue to do well while competing and keep on improving overall at the same time. There are talks about us going to some kind of championship dance competition during 2019, and Lord Dormamu obviously expects us to win, so getting these points that he saw in our last competition straightened out is imperative if we are going to meet that goal he has laid out for us.

Those are my dance notes for this week. I think that it’s going to be a rather quiet weekend in my world. As probably many of you are aware, there’s a big competition going on this weekend in another area of the Dance Kingdom. Like, really big. I won’t be there, since they don’t offer much for amateurs to do at this competition, but I know quite a few people who are going. Lord Dormamu, as you might expect, is going to dance with a handful of his Pro/Am ladies. Lord Junior is also going to compete with what sounds like a whole contingent of his students. That should be some crazy road trip for them!

To everyone competing in that event this weekend, good luck! More than that, have fun! A wise man once said that if you’re not having fun, then it’s really not worth it. Aside from having fun, I hope that any of you reading this who might be dancing blow all of your competition away… unless you are competing against one of my friends, then I hope that you come in second. I mean, that’s only fair for me to hope, right? No hard feelings. 🙂

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Engine Running Hotter Than A Boiling Kettle

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 nosleeptilbrooklyn1right-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 nosleeptilbrooklyn2I 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 nosleeptilbrooklyn3where 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. nosleeptilbrooklyn4Lord 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?

So Cups In The Air…

Last Friday night I was asked to go out to an open dance party at the Electric Dance Hall, and to bring a snack item along. Well, it wasn’t that I was ‘asked’ so much as ‘threatened’ to ensure that I would show up and bring a very specific food item with me. See, Bony was arranging a birthday extravaganza to happen at this particular social dance, and all week she had been asking various people to attend, and to bring some things along to help her out. The big problem I had with what she asked me to bring was that I couldn’t for the life of me find a place that sold the snacks she wanted, so I ended up having to make them myself. I’m a fairly OK cook, but I’m a terrible artist, so what I made tasted great from what I was told, but I thought they looked less-than presentable when I loaded them into a case to take them to the dance party. Lucky for me, every last one of the snacks were eaten by someone that night, so I didn’t have to see them again once I put them on the table and went off to dance.

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So many ladies!

As I walked through the door and made my way to the front desk to plop down some cash for my entry fee, Lord Junior stopped by to tell me that he was really glad I had shown up. There were actually two different ladies that had their birthdays that weekend, and both had decided to come out to the dance party and celebrate. One of the ladies had brought almost a dozen people with her, and almost all of them were women. So there was a major shortage of men when I got there. Lord Junior spent a minute pointing out some of the rookies to me as we were up at the desk, giving me some names in the process (I’m terrible with names though, so I’m pretty sure I forgot them all before I finished changing my shoes). Once I stood up, I took a look around the room to assess the situation, and then I got to work.

Luckily most of the newcomers that I had never met before weren’t really interested in small talk when I danced with them, so I didn’t have to try to be super charming all night. One of the two ladies whose birthday was being celebrated was probably the most talkative of my partners. She told me a story all about how she was just turning fifty, and decided that she was bored with sitting around at home doing nothing after work, so she decided to take up ballroom dancing a couple of weeks ago. By the time we were dancing together, she had gotten through two private lessons with Lord Junior earlier in the week, the Salsa group class that had been right before the party, and then the party, and she was really enjoying dancing so far. Maybe this is a good sign that she’ll stick with it for a while? It’s hard to tell with people. I guess time will tell if I end up seeing her again around the Dance Kingdom.

Saturday morning I headed out to meet up with Sparkledancer at the Fancy Dance Hall early on so that we could warm up together before our scheduled session with Lord Dormamu. It turned out that we didn’t really need to do that. He was teaching someone else when Sparkledancer and I arrived, and he ran that lesson so far over its time limit, that if Sparkledancer and I had shown up right on time for our lesson we would have had just as much time to work on warming up as we had shown up early to get in. As you can imagine, that also meant that he ran our session way over its time to make up for it. We worked on things with him for close to ninety minutes once we finally got started. My normally punctual brain may just go crazy having to adjust to such a fluid schedule!

We spent the entire time working on International Waltz with him that day. There are a couple of interesting notes that I jotted down during the session to remember. The first thing happened as he had us show him the box steps that we had been doing to warm up, which apparently he was watching out of the corner of his eye while he was teaching his other lesson. As he was going over something about how we should be dragging out feet together, he lifted his foot to rub his hand against the inside edge of his shoe, to emphasize dragging that portion of the foot. I noticed that on his shoes, the suede that covers the bottom was actually wrapped up and over the inside edge of his foot, so that he could use the suede on the floor as he dragged his feet together. I thought that was a really neat thing, and I had never seen shoes like that before, so I made a note about those shoes so I could remember.

The next, and probably most important thing for me, involved Lord Dormamu fixing my posture. We had been working on dancing the figures in the beginning of the Waltz routine, and he said part of my problem was that I was letting my frame get out of alignment sometimes as I moved, and that coming out of alignment was the root of my problem with my head and shoulders being in the wrong place. He had me dance the first half of the Waltz routine by myself so that he could watch and think of a way to fix things. After a few figures, he ran off to the back room and came back a few minutes later with two clear plastic cups. Calling me back down to where he and Sparkledancer were, he had me open up my arms like you would in a topas stretch (i.e. pulling my arms out to the side, expanding my chest, and pointing my palms upward). Then in each hand I got a plastic cup. He told me to hold the cups like that and dance the same portion of the Waltz.

Yes, these are the actual cups he gave me. I kept them. That's not weird, is it?
Yes, these are the actual cups he gave me. I kept them. That’s not weird, is it?

I guess that did the trick. As I danced like that, I was able to keep myself in position without focusing on where each individual part of my body was. Apparently Lord Dormamu was super impressed by the change as well. Sparkledancer told me that as he stood near her watching me, he was talking to himself about how much better I looked, that there was the dancer he saw the potential in, about how smart he was for figuring things out, and various other things in his native tongue that she couldn’t understand. With that, my new homework became to work on dancing like that for fifteen minutes whenever I practice. Sparkledancer can dance with me if she wants to get into the weird hugging dance frame, but it works if I dance by myself too.

As a side note, keeping my arms in that position for long periods of time is not a very nice feeling…

There were a few other notes we fixed, like making sure that my early quick rise before a Double Reverse Spin is not so early or quick, and making sure that I’m not doing anything funny to lead Sparkledancer into Promenade Position. I was told that since I work with Sparkledancer so much, I don’t need to worry about doing anything overly crazy with my hips or body to turn her to Promenade Position, I just need to turn my nose and toes in the right direction and that should move my body enough and she should just know. That seems to be a little too easy in my mind, but I’ll give it a try to see what happens. Sparkledancer was also told that she needs to work on how to go forward and not be shy when in Promenade Position as well, so we should add that to the list of things to do in our practice sessions.

Our lesson that afternoon with Sir Steven was supposed to begin well before our lesson with Lord Dormamu had ended, so obviously we started a bit late. To make up for that, and since Sir Steven wasn’t paying attention as he was having us work on some things, this lesson also ran way over the time it was supposed to end, even if you adjusted the end time for the late start time. I ended up being in these two lessons for slightly less than three hours that day. I guess that means I definitely got my money’s worth? Either that or neither of these guys had anyone else on their schedules to teach that day, so they spent so much time working with me to keep from being bored.

We started out by continuing to work on Foxtrot, picking up where we had left off last weekend. Nothing really new there, we just spent more time ironing things out and repeating things until they felt natural. Then we switched over to look at our Tango routine. Since this was the first time in several weeks that Sir Steven had looked at our International Tango routine with us, I took the first couple of minutes to walk through the changes that Lord Dormamu had told us to make to the alignments on several of the figures, so that everyone was on the same page before we started. Then we talked about Sparkledancer’s head for a while. At the beginning of our routine, and a couple of places in the middle, Sparkledancer is supposed to do a flick of her head. Right at the first figure it happens when we do a Corte – as we are taking the step for the Corte her head turns quickly from one side to the other. Sir Steven asked me how it was that Sparkledancer was supposed to know she should be doing that.

Being full of hilarious logic, my first answer was obviously “because you told her to.” While funny, that was not the answer he was looking for. I was told that there was a way that I could be the one leading that movement, though it was something I would need to do carefully because Sparkledancer is so much smaller than me. There is supposed to be this light body flick action that I give her as we go back for the Corte. If she feels the body flick, her head should move. No body flick, no head movement. Seems simple, right? Well, try flicking someone’s body who weighs so little as you are moving your own body at the same time. There is a lot of potential to put way more energy into that flick than needed, and cause her to have whiplash. OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it’s a scary thought. So we worked on that for quite a while, and since it still didn’t look natural by the end of our lesson, it was added to our homework to work on during our practice time. We were also told to focus on making sure that most of our steps during Tango are done split weight, because when we are thinking about other things (like flicking bodies to move heads) our Tango starts to look too much like Foxtrot.

I personally like Foxtrot more than I like Tango, so I don’t see this as a real problem, but I guess it’s frowned upon by people outside of my own head. Silly people, they should just get on board with my way of seeing things!

Back to the dance shoes I made a note about earlier that day… as we left the Fancy Dance Hall after our marathon lessons were over, I mentioned to Sparkledancer how cool I thought Lord Dormamu’s dance shoes were, with the fancy wrap-around suede sides. My theory was that the shoes probably came from one particular shoe manufacturer, since there are boxes of dance shoes floating around the studio all from one particular company. Sparkledancer told me that several of her pairs of dance shoes come from that company as well, and she loves them since they make shoes that actually fit her feet. My ballroom shoes are starting to get a little beat up, so when I got home I looked up this shoe company online. I found that they had a couple of different pairs of shoes that had the wrap-around suede on the sides, and they apparently also wrap the suede around the back of the heel to make sliding along the floor during heel steps smoother as well. How fun is that?

These fun and fancy shoes didn’t seem to cost all that much more than my last pair of dance shoes did (I had to use a conversion tool to get the cost into a currency I know to be sure), so I ended up ordering a pair. New dance shoes for me! Surprisingly enough, even though they were shipped from someplace overseas, they actually showed up today! That was really fast! I’ll probably wear them to my next lesson this weekend to start breaking them in, and hopefully they will be as awesome on the floor as they are in my head.

Look at that fancy heel!
Look at that fancy heel!

Now for a funny story from practice this week: on Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer out at the Electric Dance Hall to work on our homework for a couple of hours. I spent quite a bit of time again this weekend helping her out when she was dancing our routines by herself. Two of the thing that Sparkledancer struggles with is the order of the figures in our routines, and the alignments on the floor in ballroom dances. These are things that she hasn’t really had to worry about before, since ever since we decided we would compete together back in the day, I have worked on learning how to keep figures and alignments straight in my head, and she has learned to just follow and trust me as I do that. Now that she’s been told that part of her homework is to be able to dance through the routines by herself, she’s had a hard time getting through the figures and facing the right direction, so I have been helping her try to master these skills.

The last routine we were walking through separately during our practice time on Sunday was our International Foxtrot routine. In the routine, coming out of the first corner there is a Basic Weave followed by a Three Step. The Basic Weave travels toward diagonal center and the Feather Finish at the end lines her up backing diagonal wall for the Three Step that travels toward diagonal wall. I was standing in the middle of the room watching her go through the steps, and at the end of the Basic Weave she rotated her Feather Finish so that she was backing line of dance. I called out to her that she should be backing diagonal wall, so she looks over at me and then hops up in place and lands backing diagonal center. I chuckle and say “Nope, backing diagonal wall.” so she hops up again and lands backing wall, then looks at me and sees me shaking my head and turns so that she is facing diagonal center.

I finally walk over and put my hands on her shoulders to rotate her to face the right direction. She laughs and says that she was totally facing that direction before, but since she has scoliosis it just looked like her back was turned in the wrong direction. I stare at her open-mouthed for a bit, not knowing what to say to that as she just stands there giggling, and then she shrugs and tells me that she really was diagnosed with a minor case of scoliosis several years ago, so her spine really is bent a bit, and it’s totally a legitimate excuse. At that point I broke down laughing and had to walk away for a while.

Sigh… does anyone want a competitive partner with a bent spine who tells bad jokes? I’m willing to trade!

On Wednesday night out at Standard Technique class, we opted to go through some Waltz. Much like we did the last week in class, Lord Junior wanted to have us look at a progression of figures that he uses with some of his more advanced students in their routines since they were in class with us that night. That way those two ladies could get in some extra practice on the figures, and the rest of us would get a chance to try them out as well. All but one of the figures were ones that I had done before at some point in my life, so things went pretty well for me overall. I still got caught sometimes taking a toe step instead of a heel step on the second half of my Spin Turns if the lady wasn’t moving a whole lot, but I think that could be fixed with some more repetitions with those partners. I think. I’m pretty sure.

The pattern we ended up with that night is pretty easy to get through slowly, but there are a lot of syncopated steps so you’ll be moving quickly if you dance at tempo. We started off facing diagonal wall and taking a prep step before going into a Natural Turn. From there we did an Overturned Natural Spin Turn, which has you coming out in the same direction you started in (which was backing line of dance for the men). Then we did a Turning Lock to the Right to put us into Promenade Position facing diagonal center. Next we did the figure I had never seen before, which was a Running Weave. It’s basically taking four steps heading toward diagonal center, changing from facing diagonal center to backing diagonal center halfway through. At the end we put in a Side Cross, which is basically like a Change Step except at the end the guy crosses his right foot behind his left while the lady crosses her left foot in front of her right, which also turned us to start heading down the line of dance for the next step.

We danced in a chain so no one worried about running into someone else.
We danced in a chain so no one worried about running into someone else.

Another busy week for me! What’s next? Supposedly there is a big ballroom dance night this coming Saturday night at some festival the local West Coast Swing enthusiasts group is putting on. There’s a good chance I will head out to attend that, depending on what time I finish up the things I have to do for work that night. I was told that since this shindig is being run by the West Coast Swingers the party will be running possibly very late into the night, so even if work stuff takes me a long time I could still probably make it. We’ll have to see what happens though. It may be nice to have a quiet night at home with my cat instead, resting up my legs for all the dance practice I’ll be doing next week.

Man, does saying that mean I’m getting old? I better go find a mirror and check for any gray hairs…

Take Me Wandering Through These Streets

I mentioned last week that my ballroom shoes were dying. Well, I am happy to report that I have successfully procured a replacement pair. Hooray for me! I have to say, there wasn’t much in the way of variety when I was looking at shoes at Ye Olde Dance Shoe Store. As a boy, I could pretty much choose from shiny black or matte black shoes. There was the one pair that was both black and white (scandalous!), but I couldn’t see myself wearing those shoes. I can barely see myself wearing shiny black shoes, which is why I stuck with the matte black ones like my old shoes. Also, there is not much in the way of diversity when it comes to style for men’s shoes. They all pretty much look the same to me. That’s problematic if someone tries to get you to buy their more expensive pair of shoes – if it looks practically the same yet costs $40 more, but you can’t give me any points on what is better about those shoes versus the less expensive pair, then don’t expect to get that extra $40 from me. Both pairs would look the same on my feet, so why wouldn’t I get the least expensive pair? I know, way back in the day when I worked in retail, NewShoes1the people who worked in the shoe department nearby told me that they got some commission on their sales, so I understand trying to push the most expensive pair of shoes possible from that perspective, but I can’t say for certain anyone would be getting commission on my latest purchase. When I finally got home and sat my new shoes side by side with my old ones, I could barely tell the differences between them (other than the obvious wear on my old shoes). I didn’t think they were the same model of shoe since I didn’t recognize the model name when I got bought these new shoes, but now I’m wondering if they might be. They don’t feel quite the same when I wear them as my old shoes did, but they also haven’t been completely broken in yet either. My shoes are brand new, but I don’t think I could tell them apart easily if they got thrown into a pile with a bunch of other male dance shoes at a studio somewhere. That’s why I tend to put my keys in my shoes when I’m not wearing them in a dance studio, so that I know for sure they are mine even if some other gentleman put his shoes right next to mine. Sigh… I don’t even know how ladies handle getting new shoes. They have so many more colors and styles to choose from, I just think that trying to pick something would make my head explode. And then when one girl has a really cool pair of shoes, their friends want to get new cool shoes too. I felt stressed just trying to get a pair of shoes that were plain and black. Too much more to consider before choosing would give me a headache.

I know, I know… first-world problems, right?

When I got together this past weekend with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for coaching, the first thing that Sir Steven wanted to look at was the figure that we had started in on last week for American Foxtrot. I guess he had pulled out a different copy of the Silver-level rule book, and that told him that if you did this particular figure, the lady had to use both feet when turning while at Silver-level, and could go up on one foot (which is what he had originally shown Sparkledancer) only when competing in Gold or higher. Everything for me was pretty much the same, but now Sparkledancer is using her other foot almost like you would for Voltas in Samba, pushing herself around in the spin. I’m not entirely clear as to why there is a need for a rule that says you can’t stand on one foot during this spin if you are not competing at or above a certain level, but I’m sure someone will have some kind of technical reason that will be way over my head. After we spent some time getting that all straightened out, we went back and looked at the new figure that we started in Waltz last week. I found out that what we are doing is actually called a ‘Same Foot Lunge’ since we are both doing a lunge on the same foot. There was no distinction in the name for the portion of the figure where Sparkledancer is doing her Double Developé (I’m going to keep calling that kick by that name until it catches on), he used Same Foot Lunge as the name for the whole sequence. I’m going to call the figure the ‘Same Foot Lunge with Double Developé’ whenever I talk about it, so that’s what you are going to have to put up with. It’s a more apt description. After we got done looking at these two new figures, Sir Steven wanted to go back to the Foxtrot again and run through the second long wall with the syncopated Open Change Steps and Turn and Ronde. By the time we got to this part of our lesson, the Princess had shown up and had begun stretching out on the dance floor. She had some high-level dancer in American Smooth there as well, and the two of them were going to be working on putting together some fancy performance routine. Since no one else was really NewShoes2using the dance floor at the Fancy Dance Hall during the time that Sparkledancer and I were working with Sir Steven, they chose to take advantage of the open floor space for their brainstorming session. Anyway… while they were stretching, they were watching us dance. A few of the times when we were stopped abruptly to go back over a step, the Princess and her dance friend would cheer for us and tell us that we looked good, at the same time Sir Steven was telling us all the things we needed to fix about the steps we had just done (which is why he had stopped us). That was a strange mixed message to listen to. Luckily, by the time we go through American Foxtrot and moved on to running through our International Standard routines, the two of them had begun working on their own dancing, so we didn’t have to worry about any extra comments. Then we just had to worry about running into them as they took up the whole floor with their choreography.

During Latin Technique class this week, Lord Junior wanted to work on some things in Cha-Cha to help improve our speed. This means that a lot of the figures that we used were syncopated, and almost impossibly fast if we were attempting to dance at tempo with music. As it was, we started with songs playing at 60% of tempo and still struggled with getting all the steps done correctly and on time, let alone with good technique in the process. By the end of class, I was feeling better about my own footwork than most of the ladies were, but that was solely because there was only myself and Lord Junior dancing the Lead part, and there were five ladies to dance with. Several of the moves were hard to pull off without a partner to dance with, so as we rotated through at the end I got a lot of practice runs in, but the ladies did not get nearly as many. So, what did we do? Well, it started with a normal New Yorker to my right. When we shifted our weight back out of the New Yorker, we did a Ronde with our inside leg (which was my left leg) and shifted our weight back onto that leg to do a Press Line before dropping the pressed foot and step to the side (those three moves were essentially our chasse for that measure). As we stepped to the side we went into a second Ronde with our other foot that turned into something that resembled a Ronde Chasse, but using the opposite leg from every other Ronde Chasse I’ve ever done. Maybe you can do a Ronde Chasse or Hip Twist Chasse on both sides of your body, but I’ve only ever done them with the left and right legs respectively, until this class. At the end of that ‘chasse’ we stepped forward to something sort-of like a New Yorker, but we didn’t do a checking motion with our feet. As we shifted out of that, the ladies did a Three Step Turn to their right while I just stepped to my left. We didn’t join back up in dance frame at the end, allowing the ladies to go into a New Yorker to their right while I did a lunge to my right side, reaching across with my right hand to grasp the lady’s left bicep and stop NewShoes3their movement. Next I transferred my weight back to my left leg and stood back up from my lunge and gave the lady a nudge to get her to turn to her left while I did a normal chasse to my right. At the end we would catch hands again in a position that would let us start the whole thing over. Seems simple, right? Well, it felt pretty good when we were moving at only 60% of normal tempo, but as we sped the music up it got progressively harder. For the first several rounds I also kept trying to do the Three Step Turn with the ladies for some reason. It took me a few tries to break that compulsion (I just want to turn too!), but I managed with enough repetition. And trust me, there was a lot of repetition for me to go through that night.

Standard Technique class this week had even more ladies than we had in Latin Technique (the ratio was 3:1, women to men). Even crazier! Is it because it is now summer here, and everyone has the free time to come out to dance classes in the evenings? I know that one of the ladies that showed up for class was a college student who is home for the summer, so that’s why she has been around recently and wasn’t a month ago. As for the rest of the ladies… I don’t know what is drawing them all in for class this recently. I’m starting to feel bad since I get to dance a lot while they sit out and watch most of the hour. If anyone knows any available semi-high-level men who would like to come and jump in for classes on dance techniques, I would be really appreciative! Have them give me a call! For this class we went through Waltz. We started with a simple warm-up that focused on our rise and fall. It was basically doing standard, non-rotating box steps for a slow six count – stepping normally for counts one and two, and then slowly bringing the feet together while rising up on your toes over counts three through six before lowering at the end of the sixth count to take the next step. We spent a good ten minutes on just this. I had just got done working out my legs right before I went to class, so rising up on my toes slowly was making my calf muscles even more tired than they were after I got done working out. We had a small pattern of figures that we went over in class that we used to really showcase our rise and fall. The pattern could have included more figures, but we struggled to use just the ones we did include and give the ladies a chance to dance through them several times over the course of the hour. What we did was a basic Natural Turn, then an Overturned Natural Spin Turn that we rotated enough so we started and ended facing the same direction (which for me was backing line of dance). Coming out of that we did a Turning Lock to Right which we ended in Promenade Position traveling toward diagonal center. At the end we did a normal Basic Weave. The Turning Lock to Right was the only non-Bronze level figure we did, but it is something I have seen before so it wasn’t too bad for me. I personally had fun in class, but I NewShoes4think that some of the ladies I danced with were a bit frustrated with things. Our new friend, the refugee from that most famous of franchises (a.k.a. the Dance Citadel, for those of you in the know) seemed to be struggling since this was all stuff that the franchise instructors hadn’t covered with her. I couldn’t really tell if she was upset because things were over her head, or because she had spent tons of money on her previous dance lessons and had never even gotten close to covering the level of things we were looking at during this class. Or maybe she was worried that spies from the so-called Dance Citadel were taking notes of her activities and she would face punishment for straying! You never know when those dance ninjas are watching…

This weekend is going to be a busy dance weekend for me, to make up for not going out most of last weekend. There are a couple of dance parties on my list to attend, a workshop that I’m interested in going to, along with my regular coaching session with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. It will be a good weekend for making sure my new dance shoes are properly broken in, wouldn’t you say? If you see me out on the dance floor, maybe I will show them to you!