I swear, I’m going to try really hard to keep this post slightly shorter. I feel like I have gotten to be absurdly verbose lately, and I need to rein it in just a little. Let’s see what I can do…
Saturday was definitely the day when most of the noteworthy stuff that I did this week happened. To start things off, I had a coaching session with Lord Dormamu scheduled in the morning. We had planned to meet up at the Endless Dance Hall that day, and the place was crazy busy when we got there. By the time our coaching session started, there was a group of people at one end of the floor that were doing some sort of dance fitness class, and they had commandeered the music for their purposes (and had the volume turned up super loud, making it difficult to talk about anything), there were also a few other private lessons that were trying to take place at the same time.
Judge Dread happened to be one of the people giving one of those private lessons – he usually comes down to the Endless Dance Hall once a month to give coaching and teach some workshops, and I didn’t realize that last Saturday was the day he was scheduled to do that. His first workshop class started before our coaching session with Lord Dormamu finished, so we ended up having to dance around them as well. Coincidentally, the first workshop that Judge Dread was teaching that day was on Foxtrot, which is the dance style that Sparkledancer and I worked on with Lord Dormamu that morning, so we had quite a few people from Judge Dread’s class stopping to watch us dance very intently because the Foxtrot we were doing did not look like the Foxtrot they were doing.
There were a few notable points to take a way from what I went through that morning. The first thing we discussed after we ran through the Foxtrot for Lord Dormamu were all the figures where Sparkledancer has to do a Heel Turn. In practice, since we have been working on extending our legs to drive through all figures, Sparkledancer asked me to take smaller steps when leading her into a figure with a Heel Turn because she was having trouble bringing her feet together if the steps were big. Lord Dormamu said that taking these smaller steps were interrupting the flow of our Foxtrot, and he wanted us to move into figures that have Heel Turns using steps that were the same size as the other figures. This does make things harder on Sparkledancer, so making sure that each step is not rushed and giving her as much time as possible to close her feet is essential for success here.
Next we talked about the Three Step. Lord Dormamu wanted to further refine the shaping that Sparkledancer was doing in the middle of the Three Step. He explained that the Three Step, in his opinion, is actually the hardest figure to do properly in International Foxtrot. It doesn’t sound like much – it’s just three steps forward (or backward, if you’re the Follow), but making it look perfect takes a lot of work.
To do this properly, he threw down a new challenge for us: every time we do a Three Step in practice, he wants us to stop and hold as my foot hits the ground on the second step. When we hold, we should be able to review the position that we are in. There should be a clear right-side lead from me, and my left leg should be fully extended behind me so that my left foot is rolled forward and only the tip of my big toe is left on the ground when we stop. Sparkledancer should be using my body like a wall in order to shape herself off of, creating even more volume than she has when we are in normal dance frame just for that one step. If we hold that pose for a few beats and everything feels correct, we can then continue on.
Balance is a tricky thing to get when stopping like that, especially if you are going into the Three Step from another figure with a lot of movement, like a Basic Weave. If you don’t take that second step properly, you can end up fighting to hold yourself up. I’ll confess – the toes on my right foot hurt after we finished our session that day from gripping the ground so hard to maintain a balanced look. I guess that what we were doing was working though, since Lord Dormamu told us that our Three Steps were looking fantastic when we would hit that position, better than he’s ever seen them before. Now all we have to do is make them all like that consistently, and then be able to hit that pose without stopping every time, and we’ll be golden! No big deal, right?
We also talked about the Basic Weave that we have in the routine that day. The Basic Weave is the first figure that we do on the first short wall of the routine, and it goes right into a Three Step. Lord Dormamu told us that the Three Step we do there never looks as good as the other Three Steps we do in the routine. I hypothesized that it was because of all the momentum that we build up in the Basic Weave traveling toward diagonal center, which might not be bled off properly by the Feather Finish when we try to start the Three Step heading toward diagonal wall. After running through the two figures a couple of times, Lord Dormamu agreed with my assessment.
His analysis of the situation was that we weren’t properly using the slight pivot that is between the Basic Weave and its Feather Finish to halt our progression toward diagonal center. To improve this, he suggested that we practice doing just that by forcing ourselves to stop there. Once we hit the pivot point, we should get used to coming to a complete stop before taking the last two steps in the Feather Finish, which should train us to use the pivot to bleed off the momentum. If we can get used to that feeling, he is confident that we can go through the whole thing without breaking continuity and get rid of the pull toward diagonal center that is making the first step of the Three Step look awkward.
Finally, we talked about the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish again. While the figure is looking much better than it used to, Lord Dormamu is still not completely pleased. There were a couple of additional points he wanted to have us work on in practice to help. The first was that he wanted Sparkledancer to be the one actually doing the turning. His thought was that there are times I go through the figure where I don’t think that we are going to make the turn, so I attempt to force it by moving my upper body, which pulls Sparkledancer around, but also throws off our frame until I reset it during the Feather Finish. He wants me to stop thinking about turning entirely and just worry about bringing my heels together. That of course means that Sparkledancer will have to drive with slightly more power as she comes around me to do the turn for both of us.
He also suggested that we alter the angle of the Natural Turn preceding the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. If we end the Natural Turn so that I am backing diagonal wall instead of backing line of dance, that means that the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish has to turn an eighth of a turn less, which makes the turn easier on everyone involved. Of course, that will put us closer to the wall when we end the figure, so we will have to be careful not to end up off the floor if we are dancing in a smaller space.
Later that afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for even more coaching. This week we opted to work on Viennese Waltz, which of late has been the International Standard style that I spend the least amount of time on in practice. In fact, with everything else I have been working on in Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Quickstep, I can’t remember the last time I dedicated any real practice time to Viennese Waltz. That will have to change, I guess.
The majority of our time was spent on just getting into frame. Now, before I write any more, I will have to say that I am not a huge fan of this opening sequence that we go through to get into frame. It’s different from all of our other routines, and I find the whole experience to feel awkward. Normally I am totally cool with being awkward in any situation, especially when people are watching me, but I just don’t like the awkwardness here. We don’t compete with Viennese Waltz with any regularity yet, so I haven’t really had to worry too much about how I feel doing this opening jig. Spending a ton of time on it in one of my lessons though, that makes it super apparent how much I don’t enjoy doing it.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, imagine this: we start out with me facing center and Sparkledancer a few steps away facing me. Each movement covers one three-count bar of music, so on the first we both step forward and I take her right hand in my left. On the second we both step to the side (left for me, right for her) and raise our held hands while throwing out our opposite arm. We bow to each other on the third, and originally on the fourth bar we were supposed to step to the side (left for me, right for her) and wind up a bit to go into a Natural Turn to begin traveling.
There were a bunch of things that Sir Steven wanted us to change about this opening progression after he watched us go through it. First of all, as you can probably imagine, he wanted me to work on how I was moving my arms. Apparently I looked like I was flailing when I moved them. Maybe that is a sign that I should think about switching to dance styles that don’t require me to move my arms around? 😉
Sir Steven went into this whole thing about moving my arms using rotation from my upper body as the catalyst, bringing Sparkledancer and I over to the mirror to watch what we were doing as we practiced. Trying to move my upper body gracefully enough to initiate movement in my arms wasn’t working too well for me though, because when I tried I still looked pretty goofy. Based on where he wanted my arm to start off and where he wanted it to end up when I was finished moving it, I tried moving my arm instead as if I were doing a chest fly while holding a weight. That is a movement I am very familiar with, and as luck would have it, the movement produced a result that Sir Steven approved of. As long as I keep my mouth shut, he can believe that I am using his advice on how to move my arm to make it look like he wants. It will be our little secret.
The last thing that Sir Steven wanted us to change in this opening sequence was the timing. As I mentioned, each movement we do covers one three-count bar of music, and there are four movements in total. Sir Steven thought that our opening would work better if it could cover a full eight-bar phrase of music, so he wanted us to do the first three movements as normal, hold for four bars, and then do the step to the left on bar eight so that our first Natural Turn would be on bar one of a new eight-bar phrase. If I wasn’t already feeling awkward about this whole opening progression before, adding in all of that stillness made sure to fix that. If I was in a competition and Sir Steven wasn’t around to watch, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t do any of this starting progression. We’ll have to see if it gets any better with time, patience and practice.
After that, the rest of the session was spent working on Natural and Reverse Turns. There was nothing too fancy here, we spent time making sure that there was a lot of drive on every first step by extending the time for that step slightly and then doing the last two steps of each turn at normal speed. In some ways it felt more like dancing Viennese Waltz in a ‘slow, quick, quick’ rhythm rather than in three equally spaced steps. Working on the drive of each turn also helps to emphasize that Viennese Waltz is a traveling dance, not just a spinning dance like a lot of people tend to think. This emphasis is something we are just doing to practice the feeling and drive we want, but in an actual competition we would not purposely try to change the timing of the steps from what they should be.
Last Saturday was also when my Royal Dance Court group had planned to hold our monthly dance party. Before I arrived at the venue, I had been a bit worried that the party might be smaller than usual since it was St. Patrick’s Day after all, but my worries appeared to be unfounded. We still ended up with over fifty people coming out to dance the night away, and we weren’t even serving drinks! There were a number of people who showed up a bit late to the start of the party, saying that they had gone out for dinner beforehand and the restaurants they visited were swamped, but better late than never, right?
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day we had opted to bring someone in to teach a lesson in East Coast Swing before the party started. That person was Sir Steven! I saw him twice in one day, at two different places. How weird is that? Anyway… when the class started we had a couple more women than men who wanted to take the lesson, so I ended up joining in to try to even out the numbers a bit. What we did in class was fun, but none of the figures Sir Steven showed everyone were new to me. That gave me an advantage, and I used it to help out a number of ladies that I danced with who were having trouble with their steps initially.
I didn’t actually do much during the open dance portion after the lesson. By the time class finished, we had an even number of men and women, so I spent most of the night keeping on top of little things to make the patrons happy rather than dancing, like a good party host would. I did find out later that apparently there was one guy making a hubbub about the party and how there was some unnamed individual(s) wearing jeans there. Scandalous! I happened to be wearing jeans that night, since I wasn’t really expecting to dance so much that I needed the full range of motion for my legs, so maybe this guy was talking about me. Of course, I also didn’t really dance that night, so I don’t know if I even registered for this gentleman.
Sigh… I never really get to wear jeans anymore, so if I was really the one he was talking about who made him unhappy, he can bite me. I have to be dressed formally for work every day of the week, and when I’m out practicing or taking lessons for dance I wear a pair of practice slacks, so sometimes it’s nice just to dress casually. I don’t do that too often nowadays, so I make no apologies for deciding to wear jeans to a dance party that I helped organize and host. How does the saying go again? Something something my party, something something dress how I want to, right? Close enough.
Finally, I’ll mention Standard Technique class from yesterday for a couple of reasons. First off, we worked on some Tango, which is always a fun thing to do. After class was over last night, it may have dawned on me that I no longer think that my Tango is terrible anymore. Remember how I used to say that it was my weakest International Standard style? I might now think that it’s one of my strongest, after Foxtrot of course. Secondly, the new ‘instructor’ girl who I mentioned was in Standard Technique class with me last week actually did come back, and I got to talk to her a bit more about life and dancing. I’m such a good Dance Ambassador!
The progression of figures that we worked on in class wasn’t very long, but the transition between figures two and three could be a challenge if you didn’t anticipate what was to happen. We started off facing diagonal wall and did two basic Curved Walk steps, with enough curve to end with us facing diagonal center after the second one was done. Next we did a Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, transitioning from that directly into an Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. We closed our feet at the end to set us up for a Back Corte, and then finished up with a Progressive Link into a Natural Promenade Turn.
The Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot gave me the most trouble that night, because most of the time when we went through the figure the ladies wouldn’t go into Fallaway Position on the second step. That made the next two steps difficult to get through without some force on my part. I think Lord Junior was so busy going over the footwork with the ladies that he inadvertently forgot to tell the ladies they would need to be in Fallaway Position, but I don’t know for sure. Also, all the steps for the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot are quick, as are the first two steps of the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside, so you really have to keep yourself under control as you come to the first slow step in the Open Reverse Turn or else you will just float through. Floating doesn’t look very staccato, as you can imagine.
New dance ‘instructor’ girl told me last night that we were going to be stuck with her in class, because even though she was frustrated that she is having to relearn large portions of what she thought she knew, she still likes it. So, maybe she really does need a name. How about… I call her Silver. When she actually starts teaching, I suppose I’ll have to promote her to Lady Silver, but for now she is just training, so Silver will be good.
Anyway… Silver still seemed frustrated with the figures in class, much like she was last week. There were a few times I danced with her and she messed up her steps, and rather than continue on she just stopped dancing and walked away from me. I did offer to go through the figure again with her when she messed up, but she didn’t often take me up on that. The frustration was easy to see, even for someone like me who is kind of terrible at reading cues from ladies, but this week she didn’t look like she was going to break into tears, so I see that as an improvement.
Going through the Progressive Link really surprised her. Here is a figure that is probably one of the most common steps people do in Bronze International Tango, and she said that she had never been shown how to do it before. Hearing that really made me wonder about who was teaching her International Standard at the franchise studio where she used to work before she got to the Electric Dance Hall. Whomever that was probably needs a talking to about what they are covering. Do you think I should find them and let them read my copy of The Book? 🙂
Well, it looks like I failed miserably at trying to keep this short. Sigh… maybe next week I can do better.