I Give You He Who Suffers The Truth

This week’s stories of ballroom dancing that I have for you are actually going to be about the adventures of a different guy…

Remember that guy that I mentioned, the one whom Sparkledancer met on New Year’s Eve and she has continued to talk to ever since? He finally managed to meet up with her to go to some dance events outside of his home franchise studio! Sparkledancer has been telling me over the last couple of weeks that the guy was a bit strange, so she wanted me to be around at these dance events that she was going to, to help share the experience. Because I’m a sucker who is prone to being helpful, I agreed to go. These stories I am going to tell this week from the position of an observer.

My understanding of the situation surrounding this gentleman, whom I’m going to call Seedling, is as follows: he has been a member of a pseudo-franchise studio for the last two years. During that time he has had three different instructors. While he seems (at least, from what I can glean from talking with him) to enjoy the social aspects of the franchise studio, there are a couple of points that he is dissatisfied with. For one, the cost is too high for his tastes. For another, he believes that he is so much better than most of the other people at his studio, including his current instructor. Third, he was frustrated that his instructor had been holding him back in Bronze. She kept telling him that she wanted to make sure that his technique was good before promoting him, but he thought that he was doing great and was more than ready to move up.

Sparkledancer wanted to help him out, because she’s nice like that, so she asked Seedling what his dance goals were. That was where the story that Sparkledancer was relaying to me gets a bit harder to follow. First she was telling me that he said that all he wanted to do was be an awesome dancer. That is a pretty common goal, but the biggest things that help with that are time, patience and practice, so there wasn’t much Sparkledancer could do for him. Then he came back and said that he wanted to become a competitive dancer like her – but he wanted to do it by learning and competing in all the figures up through Gold, and worrying about learning the technique only after he finished doing that. Sparkledancer tried to caution him that going that route was possible, but to compete without mastering the techniques means placing badly in competitions, so he had to be ready to accept that.

That plan didn’t sound right to him, so then he told her that his goal was to be a super awesome dancer that was basically an instructor, and all the ladies would be able to recognize his skill and he could give “semi-private lessons” (his exact words) on the dance floor during parties. That really irked Sparkledancer, because she is really against men at social dances who think that they should be teaching women how they think they should dance during a party. So she told him off about that goal. Seedling backed away pretty quickly, coming  back with the idea that he wanted to become a Dance Host that women would hire to dance with at social dances instead.

When Sparkledancer told him that the majority of the Dance Hosts that are in the area are dance instructors from various studios, Seedling told her that he could totally be an instructor. After all, he reasoned, he wears all black when he goes out dancing already (yes, he actually said that to her), and he already helps other students in the Bronze I classes at his studio with their steps when they are having trouble. To that Sparkledancer responded that if he actually wanted to become an instructor, he should start off by talking to some of the instructors in the area to get some advice. After that, he would need to go back to his Bronze I classes and start learning the Follower’s part, because an instructor needs to know both sides. If he can master that, she told him that he then needs to make a name for himself so he can attract students.

Given that information, he decided to change his goal yet again. This time, he said that he was going to become a super high level competitor and make a name for himself by winning some big-name competitions. For some reason, he chose International Latin to be his thing. If he did that, he reasoned, then the ladies would come knock his door down to ask him to be their instructor. Bringing it back around, Sparkledancer told him that if he really wanted to do that, then he would need to start working on the technique immediately because that is really the only way he is going to win any competition, especially the bigger well-known competitions.

So this conversation had been going around in circles between Sparkledancer and Seedling for the last two weeks. I have gotten texts from Sparkledancer while at work where she has sent me snippets of things that he has said because she was having a hard time believing that he would think that way about whatever subject he was currently going on about. I think it’s kind of funny, since I haven’t had to deal with it firsthand.

At the end of last week, when the conversation between the two of them came back around again to how he wanted to become super good, but he was already better than his instructor since she only started dancing six months ago, yet he didn’t want to leave his franchise studio because he loved the people there, Sparkledancer finally threw down the gauntlet: she told him that he could go out to a few things that were happening in the Dance Kingdom that weekend and see what the dancing world outside of his franchise had to offer. Then, armed with that knowledge, he could make up his mind about whether it would be better for him to stay and be happy where he is, or leave and be happy on the outside. Seedling agreed to her challenge, so the great test began!

This was a particularly good weekend to go out and experience things for a franchise dancer – Saturday afternoon, Judge Dread (the internationally known ballroom adjudicator) was in town giving workshops. After that, on Saturday night there was going to be a social dance out at the City Dance Hall. Before the dance party there would be a lesson in East Coast Swing given by an instructor who has racked up a number of national dance titles in her competitive career. Finally, Sparkledancer told him that he should make an appearance at Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night, since Seedling had decided that he wanted to dance International Latin competitively. That class would give him a glimpse into what the world of competitive technique for Latin looked like so he could see what he was in for by taking that path.

And so, Seedlings quest began!

The first stop on this tour of the outside world for Seedling was the Endless Dance Hall for workshops with Judge Dread. I only stayed for the first one because I had things to take care of back home, but Seedling stuck around for both – the first being in the Waltz, and the second in Cha-Cha. The Waltz concepts that Judge Dread went over would work for either American or International Waltz, but from what I heard the Cha-Cha choreography was purely from the American Rhythm side of the house.

There were two concepts that Judge Dread wanted to have everyone think about during his Waltz workshop – figures that progressed a lot down the floor, and figures that stayed in place. To give everyone an example of the first kind of figures, Judge Dread had us all do an Open Progressive Twinkle followed by an Open Natural Turn. The Open Progressive Twinkle was done at a very wide angle so that it started heading toward diagonal wall and continued almost straight in that direction. If the Open Natural Turn was done using the expected angle, you would finish the two figures heading toward backing line of dance.

To prepare us for a set of figures that would stay in one place, Judge Dread changed the Open Progressive Twinkle that we were currently doing so that it turned us 90° to come out diagonal center, and then he told us that we were going to move the Open Natural Turn to the end of the progression. In its original place we instead did the first three steps from a Weave From Promenade Position. After those steps we did a basic Reverse Turn which brought us to a complete stop with our feet together, setting us up for the first non-traveling figure – a basic Right Lunge. Coming out of that, he had us do a Spanish Drag, which is a picture line that you normally see in the Tango, but it works just as well in the Waltz.

The Spanish Drag was only held for one beat, allowing us to use the third beat of that measure for a Slip Pivot to turn us to face against line of dance. That positioned us for a Back Twinkle to change directions, and we began to travel again down the line of dance using the Open Natural Turn that Judge Dread had moved. Once we had all those figures down and everyone in class had run through the choreography as-is multiple times, Judge Dread told us that all the steps that we were doing were even in timing, so normally a dancer would try to mix things up by adding in figures that had syncopated steps to keep the choreography exciting.

With that in mind, Judge Dread showed everyone the footwork for the Grapevine as seen in Waltz. We put one of these in between the first Open Progressive Twinkle and the opening to the Weave from Promenade Position, and two of them in a row after the Back Twinkle near the end before the Open Natural Turn that finished the choreography. The whole progression was pretty long as you can see, but it flows very nicely from one piece to the next so it is easy to remember once you step through it a time or two.

Next up on Seedlings tour was the dance party held at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. There we were given another long progression by the instructor that the group hosting the party had asked to come teach. This instructor was someone who I had met before, but I’d never had a chance to take a class or a lesson from her until that point. I must say, I thought she was pretty funny. There was a method to what she was trying to show the class, but she kept jumping around from point to point, often coming back to figures that she had explained before to tell us all something that she had forgotten when she first talked about the steps. The fact that I could follow her train of thought either means that I was paying attention really well, or I am actually pretty scatterbrained and so jumping around between topics makes sense to me (the jury’s still out on which of those facts is true).

Because we had a couple of people in the class that had never seen East Coast Swing before, the instructor started off by showing them how to do the basic. This was actually the part that threw me off the most – I came from one of those schools where they taught you to start off with the rock step for the basics in Swing dances like East Coast Swing of Jive. This instructor started with the triple steps instead. Even when I was thinking about what to do, my body still tried to wind up to take that rock step right at the beginning, and that messed me up more times than I would like to admit during her class. Please don’t think less of me for admitting that to all of you…

Once all the newcomers were comfortable with the basic, she began going through the progression she wanted to show everyone. The whole thing started with one normal basic, then added on a basic that rotated 90° counterclockwise. Once facing the new wall, she had us go into a regular Cuddle. After we came out of that so that the partners were standing across from each other again, she had us go into a more advanced variation of the Cuddle. The variation started out the same way, but once the Follower was wrapped up the Lead would take four steps going forward clockwise around the center point. On the third step the Lead would release the Follower’s left hand and move his right hand down to rest on her right hip, so by the end both partners were in a side-by-side position facing opposite walls.

The Lead’s hand on the Follower’s hip allowed him to give her a nudge to lead her to start the next part of the progression. We did three triple-steps in a row heading toward the Lead’s right. After each triple-step, the Lead would rotate their body 180° to face the opposite wall. Keeping pressure on the Follower’s right arm would get her to flip to face the other direction at the same time. So the progression was a triple-step, 180° to the right, triple-step, 180° turn to the left, and then one last triple-step and 180° turn to the right.

After the third triple step the Lead would bring their left hand up to lead the Follower through a Tuck Turn while he did two steps in place, which kept the Lead on time to do a triple-step with the Follower after the turn was finished. From here the instructor had us do another basic with a Link to get back into dance frame, and to give everyone a chance to take a breath before the next figure, which turned out to be a Lindy Whip. Coming out of that she had us go into Back Walks And Points (I’m pretty sure that’s the actual name of the figure), and we finished everything with one final basic.

The dance party after the class turned out to be an interesting test for Seedling… but we’ll get to that in a bit. Right now, let’s go over the final class that he went to outside of his normal studio this past week, which was Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class on Monday night.

During class, Lord Junior wanted to have us all work on the opening section from the Closed Silver routine for Cha-Cha that he uses with his competitive students. The opening section isn’t very long, but Lord Junior designed it to showcase a lot of quick movements in an attempt to try to wow the judges right at the start. It opens with both partners facing each other and going into a set of Cucarachas to the right, leading into four in-place chasses. After the fourth, we stepped backward on a diagonal to open up away from our partner while still holding on with the left hand – Leads going off to their right, Followers to their left. This was supposed to give us some space to do Cuban Breaks without kicking each other, but I have really long legs so sometimes if my partner didn’t step very big there still wasn’t quite enough space for me.

After a set of those with the left leg, we would pivot to turn around 180° so that we could do a set with the right leg as well. Finishing those we rotated to square up with our partner again briefly, then launched right into a set of four syncopated New Yorkers. Coming out of the last one we did one normal tempo New Yorker on the right side (which seemed awfully slow by comparison), which finished with a basic chasse to the left. That was all the figures that Lord Junior wanted us to do, so the rest of class was spent trying to perfect the movements so that everyone could do them at full tempo.

So after several days of romping through the world of dance outside of his franchise world, how do you imagine that Seedling felt about his future dance journey? Well, if the conversation that he had about his dance goals with Sparkledancer gave you any indication about his train of thought, you might be guessing that he would be unable to make up his mind about his future now that he has more information – and you would be correct. Seriously, I heard all about his discussions with Sparkledancer after each of these outings, and the guy was all over the place!

For instance, after Latin Technique class was over, I went home and was sitting on the couch looking at some things for work when my phone beeped at me. It was Sparkledancer, forwarding me a message that Seedling sent her after she asked him what he thought of the class. He said: “Yeah it was really good. I mean my instructor said it before but the WAY he said it made sense a lot faster. It was a slower class figure wise but a lot of technique in exchange.”

…I guess he missed the part where the class was called Latin Technique?

Anyway, on top of that Seedling was convinced that he was way better than all of the other women in class, telling Sparkledancer that he wasn’t sure why the girls were in the advanced class when they were struggling to keep up with him. He had the same issue with all the ladies that he danced with at the social dance on Saturday night, telling Sparkledancer that he thought he was so much better than all the women because he knew so many more figures than they did and the women were struggling to understand what he was leading.

…I know what you’re thinking, because it was the same thought that I immediately had too: if ALL the women are struggling to follow you, then likely the problem is not that the women are too low of a level compared to you. The common denominator in that situation is staring at you in the mirror.

Now that Seedling has been to two social dances in the world outside of his franchise studio, he says that it is exactly the same as the social dancing at his franchise studio – meaning that the majority of the women he is going to meet there are going to be outside of his age range for dating. With that information, he seems to be leaning toward wanting to be a competitive dancer. The conversations that Sparkledancer told me about are back to going round and round, because it seems like he wants to dance competitively, but going down that path doesn’t solve his original problem of dancing being more expensive than he can afford comfortably. It actually makes that problem worse.

From the sound of it, he doesn’t like the fact that the franchise studio he is currently a member of won’t cut him a break and let him take private lessons without paying for the group class package on top of that. But he doesn’t want to look at dancing with other instructors outside of his studio where he wouldn’t have to pay for group classes if he didn’t want to. I wonder if it’s because he actually likes this instructor that he has. Even though I have heard him say that he is a better dancer than her, so he isn’t sure that she can teach him a whole lot, secretly I suspect that because she is young and pretty, pays attention to him and praises him for everything that he is doing with a constant stream of high-fives and saying ‘Good Job’ instead of offering any criticism, he doesn’t want to leave her.

The young and pretty thing I know for a fact is something he likes – seriously, he was very eager to show me a picture of how pretty this girl was over the weekend for some reason. I didn’t even ask, he just started pulling up her pictures on some social media site on his phone right in front of me. It was a little creepy.

Overall, I think that Seedling’s weekend of adventure through the Dance Kingdom probably won’t change anything for him. I get the impression that he is set in his ways, even if he isn’t content with those ways. Change is hard. It’s daunting to look at a new path and convince yourself to take it knowing that you basically have to start over at almost the beginning to actually further your progress. I should know, I went through it before – both when I walked away from the franchise studio where I started out and had to adjust to dancing on the outside, and then again when I started to compete seriously under Lord Dormamu’s tutelage and he made me reset and go all the way back to the beginning in International Standard to rebuild my fundamentals into what they are now.

I don’t know when the next time I will see or hear about Seedling again will be. I suspect that this isn’t the last time he will show his face. I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens!

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Prepare The Laser-Beam

During this past week, I ended up going to work with my dance coach Lord Dormamu twice in a short span of time. He will be leaving to go run around the country doing things, so if I didn’t take the opportunity to see him now I would have had to wait two weeks before seeing him again. I think he said that he was going to go give coaching lessons for a couple of days in two different major cities, go to a big competition to compete with a couple of his Pro/Am students, and also go be a judge at another big competition. All of that with no time to come home and rest in between! Sometimes I think that guy is crazy for flying around the country so much, but he seems to enjoy it.

Let’s start off by talking about the first session I had with him that was last Saturday afternoon. That day we started out by looking at the Waltz again, but this time we did manage to move on and look at a second dance style rather than getting stuck on Waltz the whole time, which was a nice change of pace. I know that our Waltz is coming along quite nicely, but sometimes you just need some variety in your life, right? For me, that variety ended up being Tango.

The main point that we spent a lot of time talking about for the Waltz that afternoon was balance. Lord Dormamu could see the effects of all of the practice that Sparkledancer and I have been doing in our Waltz going really slow, but in his eyes it looked like something was off about the first step in a number of the figures. He told us that it was as if the second and third step were solid and grounded and had substance to them, but the first steps seemed to move too fast, almost like it was floating across the floor. What he told us was that we needed to make sure that all three steps had the same look of substance to them, as if they were balanced.

I thought about it for a minute, and then I asked Lord Dormamu if what he was seeing was happening on the first step of every single figure, or if it was just happening on the first steps of figures that came after previous figures where I had held the second beat longer than the music and thus was moving faster through the third beat and the first beat of the next measure to compensate. He told me that could have been part of the problem so he would keep an eye out for that next time, but even if I was moving faster through some of the steps, I should still be able to do them in a manner that makes all steps look connected to the floor.

So can you guess what his recommendation to fix this was? Yup, it was more practice doing the steps stupidly slow. The only difference would be that now we would want to be thinking the whole time about having the same effort for all three steps of each figure to help promote that look of balance. Or four steps I suppose, in the case of chasses. Yeah, can you feel my excitement? It’s not really there. I think I’m going to develop repetitive stress injuries in my ankles from doing all of this super slow movement all the time.

The second point that came up while we were talking about the Waltz, but is really something that applies across the board for me, was my back. Last time we had gotten together, Lord Dormamu had asked me to start working on pulling the upper half of my body away from Sparkledancer while we were in frame. Remember how he compared the look he wanted us to show to a funnel? As you might guess, I have been working on this, but I still can’t bow my back as much as he wants me to, so he was pushing me to do more. I guess I am going to have to find some way to work on that safely. I used to be able to get into Wheel pose in Yoga, but I don’t think I can anymore. Hmm…
Before we finished with the Waltz we took a minute so that Lord Dormamu could review my progress with the changes he asked me to make with the Whisk. Overall the figure looks much more like he wanted – all the steps I am taking progress nicely in the same direction, giving the figure continuity from start to finish. One subtle adjustment he asked me to add to what I was doing was to rotate my upper body more as I transition into Promenade Position on the third step. I felt like I was rotating myself a lot already, but he wants me to twist up to the limit of my flexibility. That’s easy enough to figure out – twist until I can’t. Sounds so simple!

With that we got to move on to the Tango for the remainder of our session. After going through the routine once, there were a couple of overall points Lord Dormamu wanted to make about how we danced. First off, much to my chagrin, like in the Waltz earlier I was told to bow my back further when in frame for Tango. Secondly, he told both Sparkledancer and I that it looked like we were sliding a lot while we danced through the routine, and it was breaking the sharp and staccato look that Tango is known for.

His diagnosis was that he thought that we were trying to move too big through the steps, like we normally do in a Waltz or Foxtrot, and because of that there were places that we would literally slide across the floor because of the momentum that we would build up as we moved. There were a few spots where the sliding was more noticeable than others. For example, at the end of the first Natural Promenade Turn we go into another Closed Promenade. That Closed Promenade starts moving toward diagonal center and we close facing diagonal wall. As we closed the Promenade on our run-through, even after we closed our bodies and I was facing diagonal wall we still moved toward diagonal center somewhat before we came to a halt.

To that end, Lord Dormamu told me something that some famous coach he had worked with when he was young had told him about Tango (I didn’t recognize the guy’s name, but Sparkledancer did). He said that he was taught that his steps should be no wider than his shoulders. After saying that, he made a joke that obviously I would still be taking bigger steps than him if I did that because my shoulders are much wider than his are, and then punched me in the shoulder a few times while laughing.

Sometimes I think that Lord Dormamu likes to hit me because he is amazed at how solid I am. He really does hit me a lot just for fun. You can ask Sparkledancer – even she has mentioned to me before that she thinks Lord Dormamu likes to hit me a lot!

Anyway… we walked through the routine again keeping that in mind. It did help make all of our steps sharper, and surprisingly we didn’t really cut out any distance in our movement by taking steps of that size. I had thought that for sure we would, but we ended up in the same spot along the back of the floor when we finished the first long wall. Weird.

Next up he wanted to have us work on making our rotational movements, like when we would close from Promenade back into normal dance frame, sharper as well. That was another action that Lord Dormamu said sometimes he saw us gliding along the floor as we did. We went back to the figures that we talked about earlier to work on this, with the Closed Promenade after the Natural Promenade Turn. He told me that I needed to think about not traveling at all when I closed the Closed Promenade, almost like I was locked between two points as I squared up to Sparkledancer.

For some reason, when he had me try it out dancing with her, a picture of a door closing popped into my head. So that’s what I tried to do – I planted my right foot and let the left side of my body ‘close’ to Sparkledancer at the end of the Closed Promenade. Lord Dormamu came over and told me that it looked perfect, so whatever I did I should always repeat that action. I was surprised that it worked so well, so I told him about the thought that popped into my head. He grinned at me and said that a door closing was a perfect analogy, and he was going to remember that for the future. Hooray for me! Sometimes I can be super smart!

One item that he mentioned for Sparkledancer that I made a note about was that he wanted her to work on pulling herself even more around me when we are in Promenade Position. If she does so, it will really increase the distance between our heads when you look at our position either from the side or from straight on. That way, no matter what side of us a judge happens to be standing on, the amount of volume will appear to be super impressive.

One last thing that I thought was funny – at one point in our lesson, Lord Dormamu suddenly thought about laser tag, weirdly enough, so he was telling Sparkledancer and I about how much fun he remembers having the last time he went and played. That’s something I haven’t gone out and done, or even thought about, in probably… like fifteen years. Lord Dormamu then decided that going out and playing laser tag in the near future would be a lot of fun. There is a guy that he knows who also teaches dance at the Endless Dance Hall, a high-level Latin competitor that I’ve met a few times, who Lord Dormamu said he was going to talk into playing laser tag too, and then he told both Sparkledancer and I that if he was going to go, the two of us should come as well.

So… there’s a chance in the near future that I could go out and play laser tag with my dance coach. When I try to picture this happening in my head, it seems so surreal that I think it would be hilarious. That’s the crazy thing about the stuff that happens on my dance adventures – I can’t even make up stuff that’s half as funny as the stuff that actually happens. Laser tag, of all things! What in the world even brought that up in the first place?

When I went in for my second coaching session with Lord Dormamu on Wednesday night, I happened to run into the Latin instructor that Lord Dormamu said he would be inviting to play laser tag. I spent a few minutes talking to him because I thought it was funny that his name came up the last time I was at the Endless Dance Hall, and then he appeared the next time I went there. I wonder if that trick would work with anyone that I talked about at the Endless Dance Hall, or if I would specifically have to talk about a dancer in order for that person to show up. Hmm… I’ll have to try to do some science next time I am at that studio to answer that question.

Lord Dormamu hadn’t told the guy about how he was going to play laser tag at some point in the future, so that was news to him. I did hear all about how the two of them have been spending a lot of time together lately because he was helping Lord Dormamu rip apart rooms in his house and re-finish them. It started with his office, where they tore the whole thing apart down to the studs and joists, then put it all back together with new wiring, a new floor, new walls and a new ceiling. He showed me the pictures – it is a nice looking office now.

The two of them were so happy with the results that they decided to do the attic in Lord Dormamu’s house next, and then they have plans to tear apart the back wall of his house this summer to attach a whole new patio that will connect the back of the house to the edge of the pool. Just for fun, apparently. I know so much more about the design of Lord Dormamu’s house now than I could have ever imagined that I would. Who ever said that you only learn about dance when you’re at a dance studio?

Our lesson with Lord Dormamu that night focused on more of the same as the one we had on Saturday, with time spent on Waltz and Tango. I had only managed to find time to go out and practice with Sparkledancer twice between the two lessons, so the points we had worked on during the lesson on Saturday were still works in progress to me.

One item that was different that we spent time talking about at the beginning of the lesson was our upcoming competition calendar for the next couple of months. Originally, we had been planning on doing a medium-sized competition at the end of this month, then a smaller competition in March and a large competition in April. Sparkledancer had been looking over the entries for the event in January though, and based on what she could see it looked like all the people signed up for that competition were the exact same people that we had danced against when we had done the competition last year, which didn’t necessarily make it seem worth the money and the time we would have to spend driving out to the venue.
Because of that, we changed our plan to take out the event this month and replace it with a different event next month. This other competition is going to be larger and is also farther away, so we would have to fly out to get there. The advantage of this event is that, because it is in a completely different area of the Dance Kingdom than we have ever gone to before to compete, it should pit us against a completely different set of competitors. That should make for a better test of how we’re doing than going to the one this month and dancing against all the same people we’ve danced against before. So I’ll take care of booking my flight and whatnot for that this weekend. Fun times ahead, right?

One item that we worked on a lot in the Tango that evening was trying to bow my back even more while I was moving. We had talked about this on Saturday, and between the two lessons I had gotten to spend some time on my stability ball at home, trying to gently increase the amount my spine is able to bend in that manner. But I could only do so much in just a few days. No matter how much Lord Dormamu wanted me to bend yesterday, I was just hitting my physical limit.

At one point he asked Sparkledancer and I to try out something different – he had me plant my feet for the start of our routine, and then bend myself to the extreme so that my chest and head were facing toward the ceiling while putting my arms out straight to the sides. Then he had Sparkledancer come stand in front of me and wrap her arms around my neck to hold on as we started to dance.

This… was an interesting way to try to move. A lot of the steps were fine for me after a bit of adjustment in my center of balance. The place where we ultimately had to stop and reset was when we got to the first Natural Promenade Turn. As you might have guessed, it is nearly impossible for Sparkledancer to rotate around me when my arms are sticking straight out to the sides like Lord Dormamu had asked me to do, so everything we were doing just fell apart at that figure.

The point of this exercise was to show me the feeling that I was to be going for when I am finally able to spend time increasing the flexibility in my spine. Obviously I won’t be bending in quite the same way at that time, since my head needs to be upright to see where I am going when Lord Dormamu isn’t following me down the floor to keep the other dancers out of my way, but the feeling should be similar. After a couple of times dancing like this, he had me come back to the start and bring myself back upright, bowing my spine as much as I could on my own and still pulling my shoulders back somewhat so that my head was looking upward toward a point closer to the ceiling.

It wasn’t an impossible position for me to hold, but I can’t say that it was the most comfortable position I’ve ever tried to dance Tango in. Even though I felt like I was bending my spine up like a snake, Lord Dormamu told me that the look I had from his point of view was that I was standing straight and powerful. My advantage over other dancers, he said, was that I have a much bigger chest than most male dancers because of all the muscle I have. If I can bend in the way that he wants while dancing Tango, it will put all that muscle on display and look really strong and solid. So, I guess that’s the goal I am working toward. With that as a goal, in some ways it will be kind of nice that Lord Dormamu will be gone for a while. That will give me time to practice and work to get better at what he is asking.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be out doing other things in that time period! This coming Saturday is actually shaping up to be rather busy for me as far as dancing goes. Sparkledancer’s new friend (the franchise studio guy that she met on New Year’s Eve) has been begging her to go with him to any kind of dance events outside his studio. He has finally worn her down, and she has agreed to do so this weekend. As you might have gathered, she begged me to go with her so that she can pawn this guy off on me if he gets to be too much. Sigh…

As far as what I’m going to end up going to – Judge Dread will be in town on Saturday giving workshops at the Endless Dance Hall, so I will be going to hang out there. After that, there will be a social dance at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. The group running that event is having someone come in and teach a lesson in East Coast Swing before the party starts, which sounds entertaining.

And, as always, on top of that I’m sure I will try to get some practice in on Saturday, since that is a day I try to use for practicing. It all should be a lot of fun. If you’re around this weekend, I hope to see you at one of those events!

But Oh, How I Changed And Oh, How I’ve Grown

**I feel like I’ve had this song in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it. It may be my current favorite song.**

Here we are! It’s 2019 already! Would you look at that. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school, dreading the thought of deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had the chance, I would totally go back in time and tell my young self that nothing I was worrying about at that time would matter, because somehow 20-ish years later I will be spending most of my free time training to be a competitive dancer. The look on my young face would be priceless I bet.

How did you end up ringing in the new year? I did it the same way that I’ve done it the last few years of my life – out on the dance floor! I spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Dance Hall having fun with a bunch of people, dancing the previous year away. It’s one way to make sure that I get to start the year off on the right foot!

(Actually, the left foot, since, you know, that’s how I usually have to start…)

I like the way that Lord Junior runs his New Year’s Eve parties. It’s basically the kind of party that he would hold at his house for all his friends – if his house were a big dance hall. He had cut off a section of the dance floor in the back by moving up a line of chairs. In the segregated area he set up a bunch of tables for various games that people could play if they needed to give their legs a rest throughout the evening. Which was good, because he was planning on letting people dance all night long! Of all the dance parties I saw on the calendar for New Year’s Eve in my area, Lord Junior’s was the one that was open the longest – he started the night off at 8:00PM with a basic dance lesson for all the newbies, and the party was slated to go until ‘?’. I left the studio pretty late, shortly after 1:00AM I think, and there were still a fair number of people hanging out and having fun at that time.

There were a bunch of faces that I didn’t recognize at the party that night. Many of them were brand new to dancing and out looking for a different way to party on New Year’s Eve. As I said, at the beginning of the evening Lord Junior offered a dance lesson for everyone, and spent the hour covering really basic American Rumba and American Foxtrot. He promised all the newcomers that the DJ would play a fair number of these throughout the evening so that they could all get out on the floor and mess around with the steps he was showing them.

Somehow the class ended up with more men than women, so I opted to sit out so that others could take my place. Lord Junior convinced his wife (who was hanging around in the back of the studio) to come join the class, which made the number of men and women even. I wasn’t too sad about sitting out, believe it or not. See, I had stuck to my normal workout schedule just before I came to the party that day. I’ve switched back to doing heavy weight training after taking a couple of months off to let my body recover, and it was leg day that day, so I was definitely feeling my legs protest by that time. Having an hour during the class where I could just sit down and give my legs a chance to rest before dancing was actually really nice for me.

Once the class was over, everyone was released to have fun for the rest of the night. I think I spent much of the time that night alternating between dancing with people I knew and helping out newcomers with dances they didn’t know. Later on in the evening, Lord Junior roped me into going over to play one of the games with him that needed more people. He was super excited about playing the game (I think he had a bit of the champagne by that time), so of course I couldn’t let him down! That was a lot of fun.

At some point in the evening after the class finished up, I was looking out over the dance floor, and I was surprised to see that a familiar face that I hadn’t seen in a really long time had shown up. It was Young Dave! Yeah, that guy! That takes me all the way back to my days dancing at a franchise studio! I’m not entirely sure what brought him out to the party that night. Quite a while ago he disappeared from the dance world as the franchise studio gobbled him up with plans to turn him into a dance instructor. I heard later that those plans didn’t work out so well for him, and then he injured himself and basically gave up dance entirely. But I guess he’s back! Maybe this is a good sign – I assigned him one of the funniest Lego figures back in the day, and I was sad when he stopped showing up so I didn’t get to use that figure in pictures anymore.

While I’m on the subject of young dudes who came to the New Year’s Eve party, I think that Sparkledancer might have made a new friend that night. She had come to the party, but I didn’t see her for much of the night as she was bouncing around, dancing with her husband and talking to various people who wanted her attention. There was this one guy that I had never met before that kept going over to talk to her. I was introduced to him at one point by Sparkledancer – I think she did it so that he would talk to me for a while so she could run off and get a break. I don’t think he came to the party with anyone… or even knew anyone at the party before he showed up. That might explain why he latched on to Sparkledancer to talk to all night. She’s kind to strays like that. After all, she has kept talking to me for all these years. 🙂

Funny enough, I got a couple of texts from Sparkledancer the next day about this same guy. At some point during the night, she had exchanged phone numbers with him. From what I could gather from her story, he was a franchise studio student who was looking to branch out into the wider ballroom community. Partly that seems to be due to the high costs of the franchise studio which he didn’t want to pay any more, but also because it sounds like his old instructor left his studio, and this guy thinks that he knows more than the new girl who the franchise paired him with. So Sparkledancer offered to help be his guide to the wider ballroom community, and got his contact information for that reason.

She texted me on New Year’s Day to tell me that he was sending her a lot of messages to talk about dance and where he was hoping to go in the dance world. He has been dancing for two years now, and has had three different instructors at the franchise studio. He says that he wants to get into competitive dancing, but the franchise studio he is at doesn’t offer many competitions throughout the year and he isn’t sure if his franchise instructor would go to outside competitions with him. But he also told Sparkledancer that he doesn’t really want to work to be a competitor in the normal way. He wants to start going through and learn the figures so he can compete in Bronze, Silver and Gold, but he doesn’t want to worry about learning the technique until he finishes getting through all that. Huh.

But competing, much like taking lessons at his franchise studio, is also an expensive option, so he was asking her all about the cost benefits of having an Amateur partner for competing instead of trying to do Pro/Am, like she and I are doing. The creepy thing that Sparkledancer was telling me that I guess the guy was mentioning over and over is that he seems determined to find a dance partner and then also make that girl his life partner, so he wouldn’t stop asking Sparkledancer where he could go to meet all the young ballroom girls. I think she told me that he said he was 26 or 28, so he is looking for a girl who is between 20 and 24 who is also single.

To that end, it appears that he had developed a weird interest in Lord Junior’s current intern at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior has this girl who I think is in her mid-twenties that he has been training so that she could become a dance instructor someday. She helps out at the studio with running the front desk and cleaning in return for free lessons from Lord Junior toward that end. The new guy met her at the New Year’s Eve party, and I guess she made a big impression on him. Probably because she was dressed to party in tight leggings and a crop top. Intern girl is funny sometimes – she’ll dress like that, which seems to imply that she wants attention, but if you spend any time talking to her you would find out that she is super shy and tends to avoid attention. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, new guy asked Sparkledancer several times about Intern girl, trying to pass off his inquiries as questions about what level she is and whether the two of them were the same so that they could start training together. That would be one thing, but Sparkledancer was texting me and saying that he was throwing out leading phrases to try to get Sparkledancer to give him personal information about Intern girl. That… sounded kind of creepy to me. Funny, but creepy.

(Also, as an update, I saw Intern girl tonight when I was at the studio practicing. She said that the guy had found her on some social media site, and had sent her a couple of messages. I guess it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that he was using to find out information – he also went right to the source! Intern girl, as you might guess, thought it was strange that a dude that she met only once was asking her all kinds of things, so she just deleted the messages he sent.)

So that was the fun dance related stuff that brought my previous year to a close and ushered in the new one. Good times all around!

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Now that the year is all over, I sit here staring at this page, trying to look back over the last year I had in dancing to think about where it’s taken me. Let’s see…

2018 saw me really embrace the competitive side of dancing and all but walk away from social dancing in that pursuit. Throughout 2017, when I first decided to start seriously competing, I tried to maintain the same level of social dancing that I had been doing up until that point. It got to be a lot, and the social dancing wasn’t really helping me remove all of those bad habits that the social dancing had caused me to develop in the first place. Throughout the past year the amount of time that I went out was cut back more and more, and by the end of the year I got down to only going out to dance parties maybe once or twice a month. That’s probably pretty apparent if I were to flip back through my notes and compare the types of things that I have been talking about lately with what I was talking about at this time the year before.

That doesn’t mean that I have been dancing any less though. If anything, the sheer amount of time that I spend at a dance studio per week has increased dramatically because I am out trying to get in more practice time. That is one of the downsides of dancing Amateur that most people who dance Pro/Am don’t even consider – I have to practice a lot to ensure that I can do everything correctly without even thinking about it, because I don’t have a Professional who could cover for any mistakes I might make.

Note: I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing. My coach admitted to me earlier this year that there are times that he hates competing in Pro/Am competitions. He is a retired World Champion (the real kind, where he won titles in major International competitions, not just the kind from the competition circuit in this country where they call their winners ‘World Champion’ for some weird reason even if all the competitors dancing are from the same state). His Pro/Am students are paying him for his expertise as a retired World Champion. If his students get tired during a competition, or do their techniques incorrectly, he has compensated for them so that those ladies will still win their competition. He told me that doing that sort of thing – leading and adjusting his student’s actions with his frame so that they always look good and always win their rounds – is really hard on his body. So yes, a Professional admitted to me that he will go out of his way to cover for mistakes his students might make.

I’m not saying that Pros have to do that for all students, just that (as an Amateur) I don’t even have that possibility. If my partner or I screw up, we both are getting judged for what we do, so there isn’t someone in our partnership who could cover it up… anyway, this is getting way off from the point that I was trying to make. Let’s circle back around again…

Also, in order to keep up with the high pace of improvement and change that my coach desires of my partner and I, practicing so much to make sure that any changes we make in our coaching sessions becomes muscle memory is not really optional for me. I must have things down before the next time I see him, so that I don’t let him down and so that we can continue moving forward. So I practice a lot now – much more than I did throughout 2017. I have actually been thinking about moving so that I am closer to one of the dance studios that I practice at in 2019 because I spend so much time practicing. Getting rid of the drive time would be great! Then I could spend all that extra time doing more practice, right? Right!? Sigh…

But the results of all the work over the last year have been better than I expected. I went to a lot more competitions than I thought I would when the year started (I think I did seven or eight of them – but don’t quote me on that). I placed a lot higher than I was expecting to in most of them. There were even a couple of competitions that I did where my coach was one of the judges, so aside from getting back placements I was also able to get back direct feedback on what I needed to improve while competing from him, which is super helpful. We’ll see if all the hard work in 2018 pays dividends for the competitions that I do in 2019.

I also worked with my coach to play the dance politics game from a very different side throughout last year. For example, one competition that I was told to go to earlier in the year I didn’t actually dance against anyone, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the event. The organizers of the competition are important judges in the circuit, so I was told to make a showing there to help create some name recognition for myself with them. On top of that, there were several coaching sessions that I took with visitors who also judge competitions, for the same name-recognition reason. This side of dance politics is kind of an expensive game to play, and I don’t really like it all that much. But my coach thinks that it is important, and he hasn’t steered me wrong about anything yet, so I will keep following his recommendations. I’m sure there will be more political games for me in the year to come.

Based on how last year went, I have been wondering if I like being a true competitive dancer more than what I was doing before that, where I was mostly a social dancer who would get talked into competing occasionally. I’m not entirely sure. There are aspects of being a competitor that I like, but there are also a lot of pieces that are frustrating. Maybe I will spend some time in the future writing specifically about the trade-offs and detriments I see now that I am spending all my time focusing on competing instead of focusing on having fun as a dancer. That might be interesting. I’ll make a note about that so that I don’t forget.

Anyway… enough about that. 2018 was good in reflection, and I am looking forward to seeing where the adventures take me in 2019. There’s the potential for lots of crazy things if I end up doing all the things that my coach has been trying to talk me into doing. Bigger competitions, overseas competitions, training camps, meeting more people. He even talked about taking Sparkledancer and I to go to some dance event in his home country, and while we were there he would take all his students to his parent’s house so that we could experience his mother’s traditional cooking. I don’t know if I will end up doing all that next year, because theoretically I will only be competing in Silver at that point and it seems like a bit much, but there is potential so I’m not going to flat-out say no. We’ll have to see what happens!

Are you ready? I am! One more deep breath, and then let’s take off into 2019!

I’m super excited because tomorrow is my first ‘off’ day since changing out my workout schedule at the beginning of the week. The schedule I chose to take up is a five-on, one-off mix, which means I’m still technically working out six days a week, except for that one magical week down the road where the stars all align and then I will have an off day on the first day of the week, then five days of workouts, then a second off day on the very last day of the week! Calendar craziness!

My plan for tomorrow is that I’m going to use the time I normally reserve for my workouts to just stretch for a while. Since I made such a dramatic shift in the types of exercise blocks I am doing, my body is telling me that it’s a little unhappy – but in that good way, where your muscles are just complaining because you had been doing the same thing for several weeks and they had adapted to doing that, and now you are forcing them to work hard and adapt to something completely new. It’s the kind of pain that I love, because it tells me that I am working hard. Even so, a nice, quiet hour of stretching everything just sounds magical to me, so I am looking forward to it.

I imagine that there might be some people out there that are feeling the same way as I am – or maybe worse than I am – if they decided that regular exercise was their chosen resolution for the year. Obviously this feeling of soreness is something that I am used to, since I do this to myself fairly regularly to help avoid getting stuck at plateaus in my fitness. Exercise isn’t a resolution for me obviously, it’s just part of my normal lifestyle.

For people who didn’t really exercise very often and may now be trying to exercise frequently, I would guess that they are much worse for the wear than I am. You don’t necessarily want to follow my plan of action – I prefer to use stretching to alleviate any soreness I cause myself. I tend to stay away from drugs, even common pain relievers, unless I have no other recourse but to take them. So your mileage may vary.

To anyone out there trying their best to improve their fitness in 2019, I want to say that I am proud of you for making that choice. I hope that you not only reach, but then surpass any goals that you have set for yourself. And I believe that you can do that as long as you stick with it. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that the first week is always the hardest. Don’t run away from the pain and soreness that you have right now – embrace that feeling, because it means that your body is changing! And wasn’t that what you were going for in the first place?

Let’s do awesome things this year. Whatever it takes!

If Seeing Is Believing, Then This Heart Has Never Been Beating

This is going to be a much shorter post than last week. I didn’t go out and do much dancing this past week, as you might have guessed. Not because I didn’t want to, but because of the way all the holiday days fell on the calendar. A lot of things got cancelled for this week since everyone was out visiting with family. So rather than go out and have interesting dance adventures that I could write about, all I had were mental dance adventures… and some time with ice wrapped around my ankle. I don’t know what I did to it, but it has been bothering me. I think I might have landed on it funny when doing some plyometric training, but I can’t say that for sure.

Anyway, last weekend I did get to have a lesson with Lord Dormamu, so I have that to write about. Hooray! As we started off that afternoon, Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that he wanted to check on our progress in the Waltz, but then we would move on to work on something else. The check on our progress somehow ended up taking the whole time from start to finish though… I don’t even know how that happened. One minute he was telling us how much he can see the improvement in the actions that we were told to practice last time we met, and then he starts going over all these other bits and pieces he wants us to incorporate to make everything look slightly better. Before I know it our time was already up!

There were a couple of points of note to mention so that I remember them. First off, I was told to make yet another adjustment to my frame. Just when I start to think that I have been getting the hang of the last adjustments that I was asked to make, I get told to adjust things again. Why does he keep doing that to me? Now I’m being told that I need to work on having a slight backward tilt to my posture once again. Last week I was supposed to keep my spine as long and straight as possible – now I have to keep it as long as possible, but with a slight kink in it in my upper back as I pull my shoulder line slightly away from my partner.

The visual that Lord Dormamu gave me to help explain what he was going for was useful to put the idea into terms that I could wrap my brain around. He told me to picture Sparkledancer and I having a funnel in between us. She is already pulling her upper body up and over my right arm when she gets into frame with me. Now I need to do something similar. When both of us shape like this, as we rotate our bodies around it should stay wide at the top and then come inward toward the point where our right sides meet in body contact, just like a funnel. Can you picture it?

When doing this, it felt like I was contorting my back a lot to hold the position he was asking for. However, according to Lord Dormamu, when he watches from the outside as we travel around, it makes my posture look even straighter and stronger. I’m not exactly sure how me pulling my shoulder line away from my partner makes my body appear even straighter, but I will take his word for it. He is the one who is able to watch me from multiple angles while I dance after all. Not even recording myself can give me that kind of feedback.

The other point of note – after working through that change for a while to make sure both Sparkledancer and I were comfortable, we went back to look at the Whisk figure again. Lord Dormamu told me that he had been thinking about it, and he finally figured out a good analogy to use to describe to me what he sees as being ‘off’ about how I do the figure. I was expecting to have a serious discussion about this, since the figure seems to come up quite a bit, but the whole thing devolved into something kind of silly. Extremely useful for me, but silly. Maybe that’s actually the best way to get points across in my brain?

Lord Dormamu told me that the problem he has is that he normally pictures me as this huge, muscular fellow. When I’m dancing, I give the impression that I have a lot of power (because I actually do have a lot of power) in my legs. So he watches me and imagines that I am just this huge guy that is breaking through walls as I drive forward. He started to demonstrate this by pretending to punch through imaginary walls as he danced down the floor like something out of a movie.

Sparkledancer watched this, and then she laughed and said that I should start yelling “Oh yeah!” with every forward step I take. Yup, she totally went there.

Anyway… when it comes to the Whisk however, Lord Dormamu said it looks to him like I am running into a wall that I cannot break through. Like an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The third step of the figure looks almost like I am bouncing off backwards, which completely breaks the perception of power that I normally give off while I am traveling. That, he has finally determined, is what has been bothering him when he sees me do a Whisk. Oh no!

To counter this, we talked about a couple of things. First off, Lord Dormamu said that I can try thinking about the third step where I cross my foot behind as still traveling forward in the same direction as my second step, rather than being a step backward to cross behind. This should help keep the figure from appearing as though it breaks the frontal plane. I also asked whether I was taking too big of a step when I place my left foot behind my right. My thought was that if the left foot was too far apart from the right, when I transfer weight on it to put my heel down so I can push into the next step it will look like I am shifting backwards. Lord Dormamu told me he hadn’t noticed the step looking too big from his perspective when he watched, but that could certainly do it if that was in fact the case.

So I tried my best to think about moving forward when I take the third step and also keeping my legs as tight together as possible when I cross my foot behind. That slight change (it wasn’t much of a difference between what I was doing before, just fractions of inches) seemed to be all I needed to fix everything. I was told after we finished running through it two or three times that these were the best Whisks that I had ever done in my whole life. Hooray for me! Now all I need to do is remember all of that and do it every time and the figure should no longer be an issue for me from here on out. Oh yeah!

And that’s… all the all the important notes I made about the dancing I did this week. For real! Sparkledancer went off on vacation the day after our lesson with Lord Dormamu, so I didn’t even go out and practice with her during the week. In some ways it was kind of nice to take a break. It’s given me time to get caught up on other things in my life, and hang out with my cat, and the aforementioned icing of my ankle.

Before I finish up though, I do have one last item I want to mention: for those of you who read this and are also members of the Ballroom Village, I have once again made some changes site links. You might say that I went through the list and checked it twice… OK, maybe not quite like that. There were two new sites I added and one dead link that I removed. Since I have been sort-of unofficially maintaining this list now that the original creator has disappeared from the face of the Internet, feel free to copy the changes I made to update your own lists. And, as always, if you know any other sites that should be added just let me know and I can square that all away.

Next week should be a bit more entertaining, since there will be New Year’s Eve dance parties that I can attend and write about, and after that normal dance events should return. Plus, next Thursday will be my first post for 2019, so maybe I will be feeling reflective and ramble on about where the time has gone. That makes me sound like I’m getting old, doesn’t it? I promise, I’m not that old yet! I’m still young and spry enough to chase you around the dance floor. Just let me find my cane first… I can never remember where I set that stupid thing down… crazy kids and your rock’n’roll music, and my lawn, and the weather. Why, back in my day…!

Oh yeah. 🙂