Everything Is Awesome When We’re Living Our Dream

So… the dance field trip that I went on last weekend turned out to be bizarre. There was this dance party scheduled on the second floor of a building that was near the place we went to get ice cream after every Friday night dance over the summer. I had found out earlier in the day that this was actually an after-Valentine’s Day dance for singles, which initially sounded like a good way for me to find a hot date, except that it turned out that it was for singles over 40, so I was really on the young side in that room when I wandered away from the people I went with.

There were a few random people that attended this party with us who don’t usually go on dance field trips with the rest of us. The Heartbreak Awesome1Kid had invited Amazon to come along, so we met up with her when we got to the venue. I had invited the cleaning crew to come along on our trip. They work so hard making sure that the dance halls we compete in are safe, sterile and clean, I thought that they deserved to come out and party with us this time. They don’t really know much about dancing, but they made up for that with their zeal. Sparkledancer had also brought along a guy named Mister whom she had met recently during some carousing around the city. They started talking because he had taken up ballroom dancing a few months ago at the Southern Gem Dance Hall, and was even going to be competing as a newcomer at a big competition that is going on soon a bit north of our usual stomping grounds. He was a really nice guy to talk to, but I think being around all of us from the Land of the Loft made him nervous. It took several strong drinks before he finally said he was ready to take someone out to the dance floor. I tried my best to encourage him throughout the night, letting him know whether the song playing was a Cha-Cha, Jive, Hustle or East Coast Swing. It was nice having an extra guy around to help dance with all the women who are in our group, so I wanted to help however I could.

This dance was held on the second floor, as I said. There was one entrance that everyone poured in from, a few tables set up around the outside of the room, and a big space cleared on the far side from the entrance to be used as a dance floor. The floor was crazy – even Awesome2wearing street shoes (because I never feel good about bringing my actual dance shoes into a bar that may have sticky floors), you could slide around all over the place. The floor was so slippery that at times I had the girl I was dancing with grab my arms tightly during some turns because she was losing her footing. No one fell, thankfully, but I imagine it was kind of like dancing on a frozen lake – and not in that currently in vogue ice-dancing kind of way, but in the crazy test-of-personal-agility kind of way. As the night wore on, and presumably more of the attendees had more to drink, the dance floor became crowded, but the majority of the people who came upstairs stayed in a large mesh that encircled the dance floor, and they all stood around and watched everything.

The craziest thing that happened to me all night came when, at some point during the evening after working up a sweat dancing, I decided to stop and get a glass of water. The establishment had lovingly provided a self-serve container and some glasses on a table against the wall, so I wandered over there by myself to get some. As I was filling up a glass, this very drunk older woman came over and started talking to me. At first it was pretty innocent… she was swaying around and stumbling through some of her words as her friends stood nearby and laughed. Then she grabbed hold of my arm to steady herself, and that’s when everything started going downhill. See, I have this habit of tensing up whenever people grab me unexpectedly, and when I did that, her eyes went all big, and then she started massaging my bicep. She asked me how old I was, and when I told her she started saying that she was old enough to be my mother and that it was crazy for me to come hang out at a party like this. Waving over her friends, she told them they should all grab me as well. As I was squirming under the unexpected attention, Sparkledancer came over. She had seen what was going on from where she had been standing, and I thought she was coming to help by giving me an excuse to wander away, but she started talking with my new “friend” and told her that I was a great dancer, and that we should go out to the dance floor together. Sighing, I handed Sparkledancer my water glass and thanked her for finding me a date (sarcastically, of course), and the tried to lead the woman out to the dance floor. She ran into several people just trying to follow me, so I walked behind her with my hand on her shoulder to steer her out to an area of the dance floor where there was lots of open space to avoid other dancers.

The song currently playing was a Jive, so I started to move and thought that the woman would just allow me to whirl her around for the remainder of the song. How wrong I was. What ended up happening was she spent her time mercilessly groping me. Everywhere (and I mean everywhere). I tried to hang on to her hand while dancing, so that I could prevent her from grabbing me and also lead her through some turns, but she didn’t want to be lead and kept pulling away. For some reason, she really liked moving behind me and either grabbing my butt, or wrapping her arms around my waist and sliding her hands all over… well, I’m sure you get the idea. After the second time she tried to pull that trick on me, I switched over to dancing around her, keeping her at least arms-length for safety. When the song finished up, she was laughing and hugging me, and I could see all the people I had come to the party with across the room also laughing at me. My face must have been bright red – it certainly felt like it was. I led her back to where I originally found her and then ducked into the crowd as quickly as I could.

That's probably pretty close to my actual reaction...
That’s probably pretty close to my actual reaction…

These are the things I get into while practicing to be a competitive dancer. I’m just living the dream, aren’t I?

With the snow last week shutting down everything (yes, I know… we here in the south can’t handle a few inches of snow), classes this week are moving a bit more rapidly to make up for lost time. We also have Arcee hanging out with us at the Land of the Loft right now. As Tall Steven is busy already winning over the hearts and minds of the peasants in a new land for the King, Arcee is training with Lady Q and Lord Fabulous to battle alongside Tall Steven. That was kind of a surprise to me – I didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out at the Great Dance Hall, but every time I was there she was always around. I guess I always assumed that she was already trained as a Lady of the Dance Kingdom, but she was really only Tall Steven’s competitive partner. I would see her at the dance competitions I would compete in, and usually you could find her maintaining the on-deck line for each heat, so you can see why I thought she was a member of the nobility. Because of her competitive experience she knows the female parts for all the dance styles, so now she is taking a crash course in the male part. Based on what I’ve seen in the last few days, I don’t think it will take her long to know the lead better than I do.
Awesome4  Arcee has this air of intimidating intensity about her while she is practicing off to the side of the room. Watching her makes me wonder if I sometimes give off the same vibe when new dancers see me doing things at the studio while they are there. I don’t think I am all that good, having not yet completed the Bronze-level syllabus, but to a newcomer do I look just as serious and intimidating? I don’t want them to be afraid of me. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in their shoes, so I can still relate to them. Maybe I’ll have to do a poll at the end of the next newcomer class that I show up in the middle of, to see how they view me. For scientific purposes, of course.


Lifting Shadows Off A Dream Once Broken

Saturday night’s dance field trip was good, especially for the ladies from our studio. Really good. We went out to a large social dance event being held at a ballroom in town, much like we did right before the last competition I was in. We all met up at a place to have dinner that was within walking distance of the dance studio, and got there early enough to attend the class that they were giving before the event started. The class was basic Cha-Cha, reviewing a number of things I had learned previously and showing a few modifications I did not know of a few other steps. The guest instructors they brought in also did a performance for all of us, demonstrating their Cha-Cha technique before leaving for the night. Once they wrapped up, we danced.

As silly as it may sound to say that, seeing as how it was a social dance party and all, that’s what we all got up and did and that was what really seemed to help shake the dark cloud that had been looming around LiftingShadows1lately. Most of us there were former students of Sir Steven, and since his sudden departure, the ladies especially had been going through feelings that resembled, as one lady described to me, a ‘death in the family.’ That night as we danced no one was preparing for a competition, it was a new group of people that did not know us, on a new floor that only a small number of us had ever been on before. It really seemed to help center us all – to help remind us why it is that we all spend so much time doing this. We got out on the floor and laughed, danced, and basically sweat out all the negative energy that had taken hold. I felt really good about it, and it brought back the smiles to the faces of some of my friends that I hadn’t seen the week before leading up to this event. Sparkledancer and I even convinced Jack and Diane to go out with us to the floor during the two Viennese Waltz songs that were played that night – one for International and one for American style. The last time we did an event like this before competition, the two of them had pressured Sparkledancer and me to get out and practice our American Viennese Waltz routine. The two of them had been working on getting that dance style down the last few months, so we made sure to return the favor. That turned out to be a great way to get out and work up a sweat, as I’m sure you can imagine.

As we were collecting everyone who we came with and making our way out the door, a couple of people approached Jack, Diane and I to ask if we had ever thought about competing before. Apparently they had recently started a group for DanceSport competitors, and they had seen that we primarily knew American-style dancing. From what one of the people told us, that was something that not many people in their group could do (most of the people in their competition group all did International styles). I waved Sparkledancer over to talk with all of us, and we told them about our competition experience with each other, and they invited us to meet with them every Sunday. They had started getting together to work on competition preparation and held a potluck dinner afterward, and as a group they would sign up for various competitions together. The offer really seemed to excite Diane. She had been taking the loss of Sir Steven the hardest, and having someone else whom we had never met before come and complement everything she had learned and ask her to consider competing with them just solidified all the good feelings that we had been cultivating all night for her.

With the funk that the loss had brought to the Land of the Loft now mostly lifted, the big problem that I seem to face now is aimlessness. My former dance coach had some grand scheme in mind, a direction he was pushing me to go in, especially with my competitive dancing with Sparkledancer. Now, when he is no longer around to push down that unknown path, I really don’t know where I was heading. Sparkledancer and I discussed this in length over the weekend, since she feels the same way. One potential idea that we may do is to sign up to do the upcoming showcase together. If we have a performance to work toward, it would get us back into the groove of learning with a purpose, and force us to schedule time to practice together like we have done for every other performance we have had. I’m fairly certain we are in agreement on a song to use for a showcase, and a style of dance we want to do, so the hard parts are completed.

I also have some reservations about the number of people already signed up for showcase, and the numbers of routines each of those people are already doing. With so much already scheduled to go on that night, it may turn out to be a very long evening for everyone, especially the people who come just as spectators. The one factor that may open that issue up for me is that both Bony and Chanel have said that they are potentially going to drop some of the routines that they are doing because of Sir Steven’s departure. If they do, then I know there would be several open spots we could use. I will see what their plan is on Friday night.

Knowing that there is no goal to work toward, Tuesday night I met with Lord Fabulous and Sparkledancer for our first real coaching lesson he’s ever given us with an open mind. Both of us have worked with him LiftingShadows2or taken group classes with him a few times in the past, but this was the first time he has worked with the two of us together in our competitive pursuits. Based on a conversation that Lord Fabulous and Diane had after Sir Steven’s departure, he is looking at scrapping all the routines that we had and starting to build new ones from scratch, rather than upgrading the ones we had before with more advanced pieces, as was our original goal. He told me some remark about how it was like having one famous clothes designer design new items for another clothes line after the death of that clothes line’s namesake. I don’t know a whole lot about clothing, but I think I got the gist of what he was implying by that metaphor.

Having our lesson with him first kind of blew my whole idea of alternating between the three available Lords and Lady out of the water. I know he has watched the two of us work on things for a long time – sometimes literally sitting in a chair watching our past lessons. We are two of only a handful of people who have been members of the Land of the Loft longer than he has been, and he doesn’t really have any high level students of his own. When we had finished our lesson that focused mostly on Foxtrot, he started going on about how he really likes to alternate the lessons he gives to first focus on ballroom styles, and then go to Latin styles, and he told us if we were free Saturday after the classes we both usually show up for that he would put us down to work with him again. There wasn’t an offer to let us work with one of the other instructors, or a question as to whether we wanted to do a lesson on Saturday, it was something he added to his calendar and told us he couldn’t wait to do.

So, it seems like we have been claimed by a new instructor already. Decisions are easy when you don’t have to make them, right?

Pumpkins Grin In Their Despair…

Oh man, it’s Halloween. Did you hear something about a Halloween dance field trip going on last weekend? Because there was one! That seems like a good story to tell on a night like tonight, doesn’t it?

Because many of the people from the Land of the Loft had never actually attended an event held at the Great Dance Hall before, those few of us whom had been there AllHallowsEve1before invited everyone that was going to the party that night to meet us outside the building an hour before the party started. There was a place to eat within walking distance, so we decided that we could all go get dinner together, and then all go to the party together. So, clad in our costumes, we met up to eat, getting some laughs from the other people in the restaurant, and then made our way over to the party.

This year’s party theme invoked the haunted ghost towns of the Wild West. The Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were all dolled up as old-fashioned saloon girls, and the Lords were all cowboys. All the students were told to just come in costume, and it didn’t necessarily have to be a costume that matched the theme, but many people did. When everyone started arriving, they had cordoned us off in the downstairs ballroom of the Great Dance Hall so that they could finish preparing everything in the upstairs ballroom where they would soon present us with some kind of skit to get the party started. People had come bearing treats – various spooky looking desert and snack items, all to be entered into a contest to see who had brought the most holiday-themed food. As we all wandered about, mingling with people from the other lands within the Dance Kingdom, a hush fell over the crowd as the King came and stood in front of the door to the upstairs so that he could address his subjects.

The King talked with everyone for a while, giving everyone in attendance the rundown on the Halloween party. He started by asking everyone in attendance to raise their hands if they had attended each of the previous year’s parties (this being the 8th year that they had thrown one). There were many people present that had attended last year (myself included), and then the numbers dramatically decreased going back farther into the past. The farthest back we got was one couple who had attended the third annual party, but no one there had been members of the Dance Kingdom before that time. Then he went over the game that he had created, the game that they have played every year during the Halloween party (more on that later). When he was finished describing the rules, he had been informed that everything was ready upstairs. With that, he opened the door to everyone, instructed them to quietly head up and stand along the striped wall, and the festivities began…

The first year, when the Princess and the King talked of throwing a big Halloween party, the King had a brainstorm. He came up with a game based on Clue that incentivized everyone to dance together and have fun. The game he invented could AllHallowsEve2be modified to fit in with each year’s theme. This year there was a skit put on by all the Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom that told the story of the murder that everyone would be trying to solve. The sheriff (played by none other than Lord Fabulous) set the scene in a saloon, where the cowboys were trying to impress the saloon girls. One lady (played by the Princess) was being favored by two cowboys (played by Hot Tottie and Lord Bradley). During a tap dance number the two cowboys put on to impress the lady, a fight broke out amongst the gentlemen in the back playing cards. The fights spilled over into the tap dancing cowboys, and soon all the men were involved in the mix. During the fight all the lights went out, and when light was restored we found that the lady had been murdered. As the sheriff explained, it was up to all of us to figure out who was the murderer, where the deed had taken place, and what the weapon was that the killer had used.

As he talked, the saloon girls wandered through the crowd and handed out a card to each person, and the game began. The game was simple enough: your card identified one of the options for one of the three categories (person, place or thing). When you danced a song with a partner, you got to look at their card and they got to look at yours. Each of you could then cross that item off your list. If you danced with enough people, eventually you would cross off four out of the five items in each category and you would be left with the answer to the sheriff’s questions. Just like Clue, for those of you who have played that. First person to get the correct answer and report it to the King without cheating would receive a prize. With that, we danced!

Since they had put out tables for food in the downstairs ballroom, all the dancing remained upstairs, and with all the people who had shown up it was really warm up there. The only person whom I don’t think minded the heat was Sir Steven. I swear that man does not sweat. But we had a good time. There was a lot of Latin dances and very few ballroom-style dances, which I would also attribute to the amount of people on the floor. It was much safer to do dances that did not travel as much. The ballroom at the Great Dance Hall, while bigger than the one at the Land of the Loft, is smaller in size than the floors we would be on for a competition, so there wasn’t much to work with. I did do a particularly dangerous Waltz number with Sparkledancer during the evening, so I can testify to that. I will tell you that I did not win the Clue game they were playing – didn’t even come close. The group that I had come in with had taken up refuge at a table in the back by the windows, and with everyone so close by we were just having fun switching amongst ourselves and a few other random people who got too close and were pulled into our midst. I don’t think I even crossed off any of the items on the list I was given except the item on the card that I was personally handed.

In the middle of the evening they had a costume contest to pick out who was dressed the best out of everyone whom was there. Lord Bradley led everyone AllHallowsEve3around the room in a pseudo-conga line that marched in tempo to the music playing up at the front of the line, but moved really slowly at the end of the line. Other Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were spread around the room to be judges, and Lord Bradley wound everyone around all the people standing still for almost twenty minutes. Everyone in line was laughing pretty hard by the end, losing the ability to take the contest seriously. When the judges had reached their decision, everyone lined up along the striped wall once again and they announced the winners of all the contests. The costume contest was won by the Ski Bums from the Land of the Loft, who were both conveniently dressed as skiers for my picture!

…no, not really, they were dressed as something much more thematically appropriate to the party. But wouldn’t that have been convenient?

There was a second mixer game that was played in the evening that I put much more effort into participating in. The game went like this: the DJ played an East Coast Swing tune. After a while, the music would pause and Sir Steven would yell out one or more of three commands. Once command would make you freeze in place, the other forced you to change partners, and the third had the gentleman drop to one knee and the lady sat down on his other knee. The last couple on the floor to follow the command would be taken out of the game, until only one couple remained. Things started off pretty easily – the music would pause and one command would be shouted out. I stayed off to the side near some other people so it was easy to switch partners, and focused on just doing simple East Coast Swing steps so as not to miss anything. As more people were taken out of the game, Sir Steven started chaining the commands together two at a time so that you would have to do the first command and then the second. As we got down to the remaining few people, I hadn’t been eliminated yet, but then they started throwing in sets where all three commands were used. There were only two couples left on the floor, myself and Tall Steven plus two of the female students. We were pretty evenly matched for a couple of rounds, both of us managing to get everything done quick enough that no one could tell who was slower. In the end though, I ended up losing because I had the girl on the wrong side of my body when they paused the music and I couldn’t bring her to sit on my right knee fast enough and we just kind of tumbled for a few seconds too long.

After that was over, I needed to take a break to let the adrenaline flow out of my bloodstream, so I headed downstairs for a while. Almost all the attendees from the Land of the Loft, including Sir Steven and Lady Q, were all standing in a big circle AllHallowsEve4talking with the Princess. We had a nice long talk with her as she told various stories about things like how the King came up with the idea for the Halloween party and the themed game they played every year, how they really put some thought into the design of each of the lands in the Dance Kingdom so that each would have its own personality, and also about all the time and effort they put in when they bought the Great Dance Hall. The building is really old, so they remodeled a lot of it while saving some of the more historic pieces like the brick finish to the walls in the downstairs ballroom and the original flooring in the upstairs ballroom from a now-endangered type of tree that could not be replaced. You could hear her get a little choked up when she talked about how the Lords and Ladies (“the kids” as she called them) all signed their names beneath the floorboards before they laid them, and how hard it was for her to move from their old building into the Great Dance Hall. She said that on moving day she couldn’t bring herself to help, so she just sat in the middle of the dance floor in the old building and cried. The King told all the Lords and Ladies to just keep packing and moving things and just leave her there – he said he would be able to get another princess if she didn’t want to go with them.

When the talk wound down, it was getting pretty late. We all headed back upstairs to dance the last several songs of the night, and then the party was over. Everyone left meandered downstairs to collect their things, change their shoes, take a whole bunch of last-minute pictures and say goodbye to everyone. After a long night full of dancing, we all slowly stepped out into the cool October night, mostly to go home and collapse in bed. After all, there would only be a few days until we would all be back at the Land of the Loft to do more training!
AllHallowsEve5 Happy Halloween all! I hope you had a spooky night!

Time Keeps On Slippin’ Into The Future

The last few weeks, during coaching sessions with Sir Steven, we have spent a lot of time working on arm motions. I have to say, this is going to be one of those hard things for me to work on. Watching Sir Steven move his arms around, he makes it look so… graceful. LikeAnEagle1Watching myself in the mirror, I don’t look anything like that. For years and years, I have trained my arms with movements that involve things like Kenpo or lifting heavy objects. Neither of those training methods involves a lot of finesse, as I’m sure you can imagine. Thinking about moving my arms delicately is a foreign concept to me, focusing much less on power (which is what I’m used to focusing on) and much more on the movement itself. Practicing that type of movement is also difficult. When I’m in a studio setting, there are mirrors all around that I can use to watch myself, but when I’m at home I would have to be standing in the bathroom to see what I was doing. That just seems strange and dangerous, since the bathroom is small enough that my wingspan pretty much covers it. So it really doesn’t happen on my own time. I’m sure that I would improve much more quickly if I actually spent time practicing the movement. Perhaps that means I need to break down and invest in a mirror and hang it in a room where I have enough space to flail my arms around safely. We’ll see. The holidays are coming; maybe I can add that to some kind of wish list.

Earlier this week I also sat down with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer and we discussed our future dance goals related to competition. Sir Steven said that the level we were currently studying at was a good time to start introducing some of the International dance styles into our mix, so we could actually start working on putting together a Pasodoble routine (yay!). The tradeoff for doing that would be that we would also start working on Samba, so that it wouldn’t be us doing everything in American style and then just one International Latin dance. I have only a little experience with Samba, most of that stemming from a line dance I learned way back when I started my journey through the Dance Kingdom. I do know that Botafogo is probably one of the coolest dance-related words I have ever learned, so this might work out. Sparkledancer likes Samba a lot, so I know she is all for it. Originally when he mentioned doing more than one International style dance, I had thought about adding Quickstep, but that idea was shot down because that would be adding one International Latin and one International Standard dance, which would not be ideal. At this rate though, someday I expect the two of us will decide to just compete with everything in all categories. I mean, learning ten different dance style routines is not that different from learning twenty one different styles, right? It should be totally easy…

This past weekend’s dance field trip to the Grand Dance Hall was a lot of fun. This ballroom was having a weekend dance event, which was two nights of dancing to a live orchestra and some group classes offered on Saturday for anyone signed up to also attend. Sparkledancer and I were the only ones that ended up going from our little group, and when we got there we found that the average age of all the other attendees was around thirty five years older than we were, so we stood out in the crowd. Actually, the entire event reminded me a lot of the dance field trip that we took way back in September when we went to the other social dancing night at a different ballroom – a lot of people on the floor for certain dance styles like Foxtrot, Rumba and Waltz, not very many people participating in more obscure styles like Viennese Waltz and Quickstep, and pretty much everyone was much older than us so they didn’t engage in too much conversation with us younger kids.

We did a lot of Waltz. The floor was packed with people, but I managed to do pretty well maneuvering around without running either myself or my dance partner into anyone. The Foxtrot was much more dangerous – for some reason, Foxtrot songs drew many more people to the floor, and there were people in the middle who wanted to dance either Hustle or East Coast Swing to the Foxtrot songs. This made things even more dangerous, since those couples wouldn’t always stay in the middle, and as they drifted toward the outside it would be harder to avoid hitting either them or all the other couples working their way around them. The Rumba dances that we did also tended to get dangerous. When learning Rumba, I was told to try and keep things contained – you have a little circle on the floor, and you don’t drift outside of it or you would lose points. While dancing with all of these people, it seemed like everyone was trying to invade the circle on the floor that I had staked out, even if I started out with a considerable gap between where I was standing and where anyone else was standing. The night dances certainly forced me to keep on top of my floorcraft game.

The lessons offered on Saturday were equally interesting. They offered two levels of classes: basic and intermediate/advanced. Since most places I’ve been to in the Dance Kingdom do not technically rank their classes as beginner, intermediate or advanced like I have heard that other dance studios do, we weren’t sure where our level of training would fall. The first class of the day was a Tango, and Sparkledancer and I decided to go to the beginner level class first to see what it was like. It turned out that beginner level was really just that – newcomer Tango. We stayed for about twenty minutes, then left to go to the other room where the higher level class was offered. This class turned out to be much more interesting. Partly that was because they were going over things that fell more into place with things we had been working on, but also because the class was being taught by a married couple who were making really inappropriate jokes a lot of the time. The male instructor had to be more than twice my age, so some of the jokes he made caused me to cringe a little, but all the older people in class thought it was hilarious. Let me tell you, I am still far too young to hang out with old people making dirty jokes. The three classes they went through that day were in Tango, Rumba and Swing, and each lasted for an hour-and-a-half. Because there were so many people taking the classes and they taught these longer figures in pieces, we did not go LikeAnEagle2over everything they were trying to get through. I ended up recording the instructors doing the figures slowly at the end of each class, and I promised Sparkledancer that I would review what we were doing on the video and write it up so that we could go over it together at some point when we have some free time to get everything memorized.

Other than that, it’s been a rather calm week here in the Dance Kingdom. Everyone I have talked to at the Land of the Loft has told me that they are all geared up for this coming weekend’s Halloween ball at the Great Dance Hall, so I am super excited for that. There will be dancing, and costumes, and spooky-themed snacks for everyone! If you’re in the area, it is an open dance party for anyone who is in costume, so stop by and we can all party together. I can’t believe it’s been a whole week, and now there’s only a couple of days left to go!