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!

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It’s An Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life

Due to some rescheduling, my last week was surprisingly free. I managed to put in some extra time with dance practice because of that, but I didn’t really go off and see anyone for lessons. That won’t happen until tomorrow (Friday) night. Crazy, right? Then I leave on Saturday morning to go off to compete over the weekend. When I had first looked at the proposed schedule I was supposed to be dancing on Saturday afternoon, which is why I had set up my plans to head to the venue Saturday morning, but if the current schedule holds it looks like I will be dancing my rounds mid-morning on Sunday. What can you do…

So, moving my lessons to Friday night means the only real dancing I did this week was going to Latin Technique class on Monday night and Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It sounds like so little when I write it down like that, but having only a couple of things on my plate the week before a competition might have been for the best. Especially since this past week I changed up all of my workouts, so my body is a bit unhappy as it tries to acclimate. I swapped out my longer, mixed lifting arrangements meant to build muscle endurance for shorter, heavier lifting meant for building muscle mass, as well as trading out my kickboxing days so that I could go back to doing plyometrics. Good times, right? You probably don’t actually care too much, but I already wrote it so I’m not going to go back and delete it now.

Let’s go over the dancing I did get to do. Monday night was especially fun for me, because I got to do Pasodoble in Latin Technique class. I’m sure you’re all aware by now that Pasodoble is my favorite Latin dance style, so any Monday night class where we get to go over it is awesome to me. Some people who come to the class don’t seem to like Pasodoble too much, but they can just go off and get… gored by a bull? Is that the right term to use? Obviously I don’t get to spend a lot of time around bulls, so I’m only guessing here.

Because there was a different class going on at the same time Monday night at the Electric Dance Hall, Lord Junior built this bit of choreography to turn a lot of corners rather than traveling too far down the line of dance. That way we all stayed pretty far down at one end of the dance floor, giving the other class plenty of room to do their thing at the same time. If you want to try this combination of figures out for yourself, you need to start a bit far away from the wall because a figure later on in the middle of the short wall takes you several more steps toward the wall. If you don’t plan for that ahead of time, you’re liable to run yourself off the floor.

To start with, we faced down toward the back wall of the studio and did a Promenade and Counter Promenade run, but the Counter Promenade was turned to head 90° to the left so that we were heading down the short wall when finished. After that, we did a variation on the Coup de Pique where after the first step backward against line of dance, we would repeat the first half of the figure again rather than doing the series of steps backward against line of dance. If you can’t picture the figure by reading the name, the Coup de Pique has you rotating your lower body and pointing your right foot down the line of dance, then rotating back and bringing your feet together, then rotating your hips and taking a step backward against line of dance, and bringing your feet together again – and in our variation we repeated that twice. Hopefully that helps you visualize it.

When we finished the Coup de Pique variation we did a figure that is called the Left Foot Variation. It’s one of the few steps in the Pasodoble syllabus that starts with the left foot (right foot for the ladies), which is helpful when your previous figure combinations have a fake or syncopation in them and you end by closing your right foot to the left. The Left Foot Variation is the figure that I mentioned earlier that moved us even further toward the wall, which is why you needed to be slightly farther away at the beginning to give yourself enough room.

Turning to head down the short wall again, we did some Natural Pivots in Promenade Position. There were three of these in a row, with the first two being half a turn and the last one being a quarter of a turn, which allowed us to end as if we had just turned another corner, with the men facing down the new long wall. With a little time left before class was over, Lord Junior also had us do a Fallaway Reverse Turn. This one we started with a Slip Appel to turn us an eighth of a turn so that the figure would begin traveling toward diagonal center and close with the men back facing down the line of dance. Fun stuff, right?

In Standard Technique class last night I got to work on some Foxtrot. Yay! Both classes I went to this week focused on my favorite dance styles in each category! What did I do to deserve such nice things? Like finding lemon creme sandwich crackers. Oh. My. Glob. Let me tell you, one afternoon it was not quite time to leave work, and I was sooooooo hungry, so I decided to move up one of my evening snacks so that I could eat before I left the office to go do my workout. I headed down to the vending machine to get a pack of sandwich crackers. Usually I get the ones that are cheddar crackers with peanut butter filling (I’m sure you’ve had them before), but that day I saw a brand new option – they had some kind of cracker with lemon creme filling. Intrigued, I decided to get that instead, and it was pretty much the best snack ever. Seriously, I’m dreaming about those crackers right now, but I’m so far away from the vending machines at work. Sigh…

Anyway… now that I’ve made myself hungry, let’s talk about Foxtrot. That day in class Lord Junior wanted to have us work on figures where the ladies would be traveling forward while the guys were going backward. Usually if you only move like this for a couple of steps it doesn’t feel too weird, but if you do it for a couple of full figures it starts to mess with my mind. The footwork for me is easy when I’m going backwards, but the shaping takes a bit for me to figure out how to apply properly. The Reverse Wave in Foxtrot is just a backward Three Step, so the shaping and the side you lead with is the opposite. That sounds easy when you say it out loud, but I usually end up contorting myself in funny ways for the first few attempts until I figure out what the right way actually is.

Our progression of figures that night started out facing diagonal center and going into a normal Feather, then an Open Telemark with Feather Ending, and then an overturned Reverse Turn that started out heading diagonal wall and finished with the Leads backing diagonal wall. This is what set us up to start traveling backward for the next few figures. The first one we did was a Reverse Wave that curved after the first step so that the rest of our backward movements went straight down the line of dance. Then we added a Back Feather and then a second Reverse Wave, both of which that kept going in a straight line. At the end of those figures we had made it to the far corner of the long wall, so we put on an Open Impetus with Feather Ending that allowed us to turn the corner and start moving toward diagonal wall on the new line of dance.

This connection of figures is cool, but not exactly the most practical thing to do outside of a group class in a controlled environment. Normally you wouldn’t want to be moving backwards for so long, because that can become dangerous. Especially if you can travel as much as I can with each step you take, so that the nine steps backward that these three figures actually have you doing can cover almost the entire length of the floor. If you wanted to give this a try in a non-controlled situation, you would have to use the Reverse Turn beforehand to spot everything along the line of dance ahead of you to make sure it would be safe before you go.

At the end of class Lord Junior completely changed gears on us and had us look at a figure disconnected from the others we had just been doing. He said it would be called something like a Hairpin Turn Overspin, which is essentially a Hairpin that you may have seen before, with an extra Natural Pivot on the end. We ended up doing two of these right in a row, and then putting an Open Impetus on the end. With the Open Impetus essentially changing our direction, Lord Junior told us that he should have started our first progression with this set of figures – having us use them to cover the entire short wall and the Open Impetus setting us up to head toward diagonal center on the long wall, which would have set us up to do the Feather that we started the class with. Maybe next time, right?

I have only a vague idea of what to expect this weekend. I will be meeting up with Lord Dormamu for coaching tomorrow night, and then Saturday I will be heading out to a far off corner of the Dance Kingdom for a competition. This is the event that I mentioned weeks ago, where there probably won’t be any people dancing against me in the events I signed up for, but Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that we should still go to gain political points with the competition organizers. So… I’m probably guaranteed to place pretty well if I’m dancing uncontested, but I don’t consider that to be very meaningful.

Hopefully the event will still be fun, right? We’ll have to see! I’ll let you know next week, I promise.

There’s No Need To Ask Directions If You Ever Lose Your Mind

Man, Saturday night… Saturday night… you know what? Let’s have a bit of a discussion for a few minutes, because some things from Saturday night are driving me a bit nuts.

Friday night and Saturday morning I was having kind of a grumpy time, so on Saturday I decided to get out of the house and go to a movie, get some dinner and then go to a dance party to try to turn things around. I went and saw a movie that was childish and hilarious to make myself laugh, and then ate a bunch of food that wasn’t exactly made out of items from my normal strict diet when I’m doing a bunch of weight training, and then I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall because I had heard that a party was going to be happening there that night. When I got there, Lord Junior had just started giving a class in East Coast Swing, and there were more women than men, so I changed my shoes quickly and jumped in the line to help out.

I didn’t recognize a lot of the women that I danced with during the class. I thought it was just me at first, since it has been a long time since I have been to a social dance like this, but when I started talking to the ladies I found out that many of them hadn’t been dancing for long, and more than a couple of them were just coming out for the first time that night. Then I didn’t feel quite so bad for not recognizing them. There were a lot of young, single, attractive ladies at this party, and I was actually quite surprised that HotDog wasn’t around that night. He always seems to show up for parties when young, single, attractive ladies are in attendance and then proceeds to be a creep trying to hit on them all night. I would have thought that his warning system would have been going off, telling him that he was missing out.

(What would he call his warning system? Babe-dar? Hottie-sense? I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere that I’m missing…)

But even though HotDog wasn’t there to bother these young ladies that night, there were two other culprits that were doing the bothering in his place. One of those men I have actually written about before. It took me a bit to find it, but remember Mr. Grouchy-Face? Yeah, he was one of the two. The other guy was actually given a nickname by a couple of the girls that night. They were calling him ‘Vader’ because he was really tall and they didn’t think he was very pleasant. I’m sure you can figure out the reference. The name was funny to me, so I’m going to use it here.

I don’t know exactly what it was that these two guys were doing, but it was creepy enough to make these young women avoid them. They were even hiding from them. Seriously! Let me tell you, there were several points during the few hours that I was at this party that I actually had women hiding behind me, as if I were a tree or something. Not just one or two women, but several of them used me as a shield to avoid one or the other of these two men throughout the evening as the guys were walking around looking for a partner to dance with when a new song came on.

Beast mode.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a part of me that felt really good being used like that. After all, A) that tells me that through all the heavy weight lifting I have done, I have gotten to be huge enough that women can hide from view behind me, which makes me feel like a total beast, and B) what man doesn’t like the white knight feeling of helping out a woman in need? But it also makes me feel terrible as a guy when I hear that other guys are making these girls feel this way.

It’s unfortunate that there are so many fewer men in the ballroom community than there are women, because that allows guys like these to develop a overinflated sense of importance through lack of competitive selection pressure. A lot of women will avoid directly confronting these men and telling them how they feel, because the women just want a chance to dance with someone during the evening rather than sitting out on the sidelines. I have heard the complaints from lots of ladies, because I can dance and talk to them at the same time (it’s a skill, like walking and chewing gum), and the women will tell me that there are some men that they don’t like dancing with very much. Yet I still sometimes see those same ladies accept dances with the men they complained about if offered.

Another complaint that I have heard about often over the many years that I have been dancing (I’m getting old, aren’t I?) is of older men who must feel like it is their duty to teach things to younger ladies at a social dance, even if the lady did not ask for the instruction. It’s one thing to repeat a figure that didn’t go so well if the lady asks you to try it again, but it’s something else entirely to pull her aside during or after a song to try to impart your knowledge to her, especially while her eyes are darting back and forth like a cornered prey animal that is trying to find an escape route.

The worst case of this I ever saw was a few years ago. An International Viennese Waltz came on, and people who wanted to do the dance started to pair off and take to the floor. One guy went over to a young girl and asked her if she wanted to do the dance with him. She said no, not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t know how to do Viennese Waltz. A pretty valid reason for turning him down, one would think. Right?

Wrong. Rather than go off to find another partner, this guy decided that he would show her how to dance the Viennese Waltz, and began to teach it to her right in the line of dance! He wasn’t following the line of dance however, just going back and forth on one of the short walls, stopping to talk to the girl when she invariably did the steps wrong. Other couples, many who were not all that good with floorcraft, were forced to try to go around the stopped couple to avoid having a collision. It was really a dangerous situation. Luckily no one got hurt, but that could have ended very badly.

I don’t want to stereotype here, but all of the times that I see this sort of ‘unrequested teaching’ occur, it always seems to be old men trying to teach young ladies things. I wonder why that is? Is it because these men feel good about themselves when they get to impart their knowledge to the next generation? Is it because the women closer to their age don’t allow these men to instruct them, while younger women will often naturally defer to their elders and just go along with it to avoid confrontation? Is there some kind of fantasy going on in the older guy’s head about having a hot young lady, who he would normally never be able to date, giving him her full attention for the duration of the song and possibly afterward until another man comes to take her away for a dance?

I’m a firm believer that a social dance is not a place to try to give instruction, especially if your partner did not ask for help. I might be able to spot you an exception if someone asks you to help them and the two of you retreat off the floor so that you can show them what they want to know, but the middle of a social dance floor should really be off limits. And if your partner doesn’t ask you for help, you shouldn’t put forth the effort to try and be a teacher. Also, if their body language says that they don’t want to be there with you, you should just leave them alone and go find someone else to dance with.

That last point… I cringe sometimes when I see young ladies dancing with a guy like Vader, and their body language makes it super obvious that they don’t want to be there anymore. One time I saw him trying to dance a Latin dance – had to be a Rumba or a Merengue – with two different young ladies at once. Both of them had a look on their face that was more like a grimace than a smile, and shortly after that dance was over one of those women left the party entirely.

Are a lot of men clueless about facial expressions and body language? It looked really obvious to me, but I don’t know how Vader missed that. Plus, there were two ladies giving those looks, so that means he had twice the number of opportunities to pick up on it! If I saw my partner making a face like that, I would have to ask them what’s up because I would know that something is not making her happy. After all, the three major rules about social dancing that I was taught were A) to keep my Follower safe, B) keep her  secure and C) keep her entertained. Body language is a great cue to tell me whether I am succeeding at rule C or not.

Doesn’t that feel like common knowledge? This makes me wonder if some people need classes on dance etiquette, where points like this would be discussed. Maybe something that seems like common sense to me just doesn’t cross other people’s minds. Even simple things like keeping your dance contained to keep other dancers near you safe. That seems like an obvious thing that I should always be doing at a social dance, but I know a few dancers who will do dangerous things, like always throwing out their arms behind them when doing New Yorkers no matter how crowded the dance floor is. Can they really not see that as a potential hazard? Should there be a class that tells you not to do things like that unless you know the space around you is clear?

Anyway… I got a bit sidetracked. What was I talking about before? Oh yeah… to top it all off (and this one’s a doozy), I was told a story at the end of the night on Saturday from one girl. For a little background, this girl had decided to start dancing only about two months ago, as she told me. Not being able to afford private lessons on her salary, she has been going to the newcomer group classes and picking things up as best that she can. She told me that dancing was something that she always loved to watch, and this summer she finally felt brave enough to go out and give it a try to see if she could do more than just watch from the sidelines. Good for her, right?

At the dance party that evening, Vader asked her to dance with him. I’m not sure what style they were doing, but keep in mind that this girl has only had two months of beginner classes at the Electric Dance Hall since she started dancing. The beginner classes that the Electric Dance Hall holds teach the same dance style for the whole month, and this girl has only gone to one class a week, so as far as my math knows, she would have had real experience with two just different dance styles from the beginner classes, plus that crash in East Coast Swing she got in the class right before the party that night started.

After the dance she did with Vader was over, apparently he told her as they were walking off the floor that the dance did not go well. He said that she needed to go home and watch some videos on the Internet to learn the basics of the dance styles before he would ever dance with her again.

Noooooooo… I can’t believe what I’m hearing!

Yeah. He really told her that. What. An. Ass.

Seriously, what in the world is going through his brain that made him think it would be OK to say that to any dance partner he has, let alone a young girl who is still a dance newcomer? Why in the world does he think that he is such a good dancer, and thus allowed to pass judgement on others at a social dance?

Ugh… he was lucky that the girl told me about this at the end of the night after Vader had already gone home. If he had still been around, I probably would have been tempted to go over and break off his robotic hand before frying him with some lightning… or something like that. Hopefully that joke works. I’m pretty sure that’ happened in the movie. Honestly, I think I was a teenager the last time I saw it, so I could be totally wrong. But please don’t yell at me if I’m wrong! My nerd credentials are probably very different from yours, and I’m OK with that.

Anyway… other dance stuff happened this week, but this has been consuming my thoughts since Saturday night. Writing it all out helps, so hopefully it will all be laid to rest now (at least until the next time some guy does something stupid that really bothers me). I did go back through and proofread this and added in a bunch of jokes that hopefully make this post sound less angry, because my first draft felt awfully bitter. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled discussion of dance events next week. Until then, keep dancing!

And guys – let’s all promise each other that we will be good Leaders this week. Maybe working together we can make up for these few bad eggs that are out there.

Blind Labors The Blind And I Am Unwilling To Uncover My Eyes

Last Saturday many of the Professionals that work in the Dance Kingdom were off at some competition, so there was relatively little going on. All of the people I normally work with on Saturdays were there, so I had only one item on my schedule. Of course, that one thing was still enough to make me nervous, since I was planning to spend some time working with the Princess. As I mentioned last week, she was one of the judges for the last competition I participated in, and she offered to go over her thoughts on how Sparkledancer and I did with us. As it turned out, I didn’t need to be so nervous about meeting with her, since what she spent the majority of the time talking about was Sparkledancer. That didn’t mean that I got off scot-free that afternoon, just that most of the notes I made for our session don’t directly relate to me.

The Princess wanted to talk about our Waltz and Foxtrot, but since the ideas that she wanted to relay to us were the same for both dance styles we spent the entire time working on Waltz that day. She wanted to start us off just by getting us into frame for a few minutes so that she could talk about how we looked. There was praise for Sparkledancer on the changes that she has been making while working with Lady Tella – the Princess clearly sees that Sparkledancer is on the right track to be awesome. She recommended that when we take frame, Sparkledancer needs to get comfortable taking the position right away. I believe she described it as being “specific and deliberate” when we come together. Right now, since we have been making changes there are a few moments of minor adjustments being made before we begin.

She also wanted to see Sparkledancer be less centered on my body and even more offset to my right to start with, almost wrapping around my right hip. But not actually wrapping around my right hip, since she said that Sparkledancer’s right hip should be closing to me. To help with this, the Princess told me that I need to watch my own right elbow and make sure that it is coming forward in front of my body as I put my right arm around my partner. During the competition she said that it looked like my right elbow was in line with my chest, which tends to pull Sparkledancer toward me and kill the volume we are trying to create. If I had to guess why I was doing that, I think that I was trying so hard to pull my elbows apart and expand my chest to create more of a presence that it was moving my right arm into the wrong place in the process. Whoops.

Now that we were in a position that was to the Princess’ liking, we began moving while applying those notes. She started by just having me walk through the first couple of opening steps. I guess during the competition, there were a couple of times in some of the heats where she saw me ‘stutter’ (as she called it), and she wanted to see if I would do it again while she was specifically watching for it. Of course, at that point I didn’t, probably  because I was so worried about doing it again and embarrassing myself that I focused specifically on not doing anything weird, so she couldn’t help me figure out why I did it during the competition and fix it. Ah well, maybe next time…

Going into the Natural Turn next, she wanted to see me stay down lower through the first step of the figure and into the second step, only starting to rise as I actually take the second step. On top of that, she wanted to see Sparkledancer keep her chest more towards me and the upper part of her left shoulder out as we reach the highest rise in the Natural Turn. This should help create a better shape for that momentary hold we do before we begin to lower for the next figure.

Next up we have the Underturned Natural Spin Turn. During this figure, she told Sparkledancer to initiate the turn by keeping her right shoulder down and pulling her left elbow up and around. On top of that, the Princess told me to make the shaping more distinct by bringing my right side up further as we go through the turn, then to neutralize as we come out and swap into a left side sway as we go into the next Reverse Turn. The shaping was kind of there in the competition, but I need to work at it more to make sure that it looks like I am actually doing the sway on purpose.

From there, we talked about the Double Reverse Spin a little. The Princess recommended that Sparkledancer maintain the left position longer, and to make sure that her right hip doesn’t open away from me throughout the figure. That led us right into the Progressive Chasse to the Right, where Sparkledancer was asked to pull her left elbow further to the left, and also create more volume. While we are traveling straight down the line of dance in a Waltz, having more volume is even more important than it is during rotational figures, since the judges who are standing behind our line of travel can really evaluate how the volume looks.

The last two figures that we managed to get through was the Outside Change and the Chasse from Promenade Position. During the Outside Change, the Princess asked Sparkledancer to hold her position longer before the transition into Promenade Position. This was especially for the position of her head. Once she arrived in Promenade Position, Sparkledancer was told to maintain her pull to the left and slide her foot out, allowing her left foot to cross under her body before she closes back to normal dance frame.

As you can see, most of the notes that we talked about that day were for Sparkledancer, so hopefully they are helpful to other ladies out there. One point that I did take a few extra minutes after our lesson was over to ask the Princess about was the placement of my right hand. I noticed that whenever the Princess got into dance frame with me, she always slid herself up my right arm so that my fingertips were almost crossing over her spine to her right side. I didn’t know if this was because my arm was in a different position with her than it usually is with Sparkledancer (the Princess is several inches shorter) or if I was actually holding Sparkledancer wrong, so I thought I should just ask while she was standing next to me.

Turns out that I was doing it wrong, as you probably guessed. I was placing my hand on the back of Sparkledancer’s shoulder, which was forcing me to try to control her with the hand itself. If I allowed it to come around Sparkledancer more so that Sparkledancer’s actually pulling herself left into my wrist/forearm instead, then the control point becomes the lower half of my arm rather than my hand. Taking all of the extra joints out of the equation will (in theory) make maneuvering my partner easier. It will take a bit to get used to the different feeling on my arm until I am able to do that easily, but with time hopefully that turns out to be the case for me.

Last Sunday afternoon I had a lesson scheduled with Lord Dormamu, but he ended up having to stay at the competition he was at on Saturday for an extra day, so he wasn’t able to make it. Rather than leave Sparkledancer and I with extra time to practice, Lord Dormamu had talked to Lady Tella and convinced her to work with us (i.e. mostly with Sparkledancer) that afternoon instead.

While this was a nice thing for him to arrange for us, it was kind of a mean thing to ask Lady Tella to do. See, she had been competing on Saturday at the same competition that Lord Dormamu was attending. When she and her professional partner Lord Bread finished up at the competition, they had to drive all the way back home from the competition so that she could be here for our lesson. From what she told us, she had only gotten home around 05:00 that morning, then crashed for a few hours before getting up to come to the Endless Dance Hall and work with Sparkledancer and I. Poor girl!

The first thing that we talked about with Lady Tella was working with the Princess the day before so that she had a basic idea about what the Princess and Sparkledancer discussed. After that, much of the time was spent with Lady Tella and Sparkledancer working on her position as we moved around, mostly in Waltz but we switched over to a little Foxtrot near the end. I got even fewer notes for myself from what was talked about in this lesson than I got from the Princess. It’s all good though. Dancing International Standard requires two people, so I’m happy to let Sparkledancer be the focus of the attention for a change.

There was one interesting point that Lady Tella asked of me that I am trying to figure out how to work into what I do. At several specific points during the Waltz routine she started asking me to allow the figure to ‘breathe’ much like she has been asking of Sparkledancer. Obviously I can’t shape in nearly the same way that Sparkledancer can, or else I might break our connection and cause us to get into trouble, but she wanted to see me expand up and back just a little more to try to make a visible difference.

The two points where she really wanted me to do this noticeably during what we were working on last Sunday were during the two chasse figures along the long wall (Progressive Chasse to Right and the Chasse from Promenade Position), and the Hesitation Change in the first corner. During those figures she also wanted to see Sparkledancer try to open up more away from me, so having me also open slightly at the same time should give the illusion of us having much more volume during those moments. I’m sure there are other places that we will come across where the recommendation will be for Sparkledancer to try to create more volume, so I should watch for those points and see if it is also an appropriate spot for me to try to do the same. If there is a 1:1 correlation, then I can start adding my own action in without being asked.

And that was all the dancing I did this past weekend! Hooray to me for mixing things up a little! The next dance related thing that I got into was Latin Technique class on Monday night. Only a few of us managed to gather out at the Electric Dance Hall for class that night. Supposedly there was some big event that was happening in the area on Wednesday that several people who normally attend Latin Technique were out preparing for. I guess I didn’t get the memo on that.

But for those of us who were still dedicated, we got to work on some Samba that night. For a bit of warm-up, Lord Junior was just going to have us dance through the Samba Line Dance that is popular in this part of the Dance Kingdom, but one of the ladies in class told him that she had never done the Samba Line Dance before, so the first twenty minutes of class turned into a crash course on how to do the line dance, and then how to do a few variations on the normal figures of the line dance to make yourself look cooler than everyone else near you.

The normal version of the line dance that I learned long ago has you doing four repetitions of a bunch of figures. You start out with four of the Basic Movements, then go into four Whisks, then four Traveling Bota Fogos Forward, and then finally four curved Voltas to the right that allow you to change which direction you are facing, finishing with four Voltas to the left that do not curve. Once you finish the last Voltas and are facing the new wall, you start all over from the top. I’m sure you’ve probably seen all of these figures somewhere if you’ve ever done Samba before, so you could use this information to give things a try!

Once we finished up working on the Samba Line Dance, Lord Junior wanted to have us go through another figure that the high-level Latin coach he had come to the Electric Dance Hall a couple of weekends ago spent quite a bit of time working through with him: the Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs. One of the points that the coach gave to Lord Junior which he found very interesting was the way she preferred to hold her arm while in this figure. The big problem that a lot of people run into is trying to keep their body twisted enough so that their back leg still has the foot turned out when they land during the Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs. If you don’t get it right, you end up with your foot in the wrong position, which will get you marked down during a competition.

The coach recommended to Lord Junior that he change the way he held his arm so that it was out in front of him rather than opened up to the side. Holding your arm in this manner helps to counter balance you so that turning out your foot in the back is less awkward. This subtle change really does make a difference, as long as you remember to actually hold your arm forward instead of opening it out to your side. I will admit to forgetting to make the change a few times as we practiced the figures that night.

As for the actual figures that we did, Lord Junior had us start off with the guys standing on their left leg, right leg pointed behind them, and the ladies right in front of them holding our left hand with their weight on the right leg and the left one pointed forward. From there we went right into the Promenade and Counter Promenade runs, with the guys taking three steps forward to start while the ladies turned to open up out to our right side. We did two more rounds where first the guys crossed over, then the ladies, ending up with the guys on the left side once again. Next we did a Ronde Whisk, which is basically exactly like it sounds. As you take a side step to start the Whisk, you then rotate slightly and do a Ronde with your free leg until it crosses behind the other and then do the Samba bounce action.

We rotated ourselves 180 in the process of doing the Ronde Whisk, so now we were facing against line of dance. Next we led the lady to do a Three-Step Turn across our bodies as we shifted weight between our legs. Catching her arm left arm as she went by, we got her to strike a line to the right at the end as we lunged out to our left. After that we led her to do another Three-Step Turn back toward us while we just shifted weight again, finishing in Shadow Position. That’s where we stopped for the night since we ran out of time, but Lord Junior said he probably would have had us do some kind of Samba Roll action from there if we had had more time.

Next up, Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. The class ended up being about Waltz again, because Lord Junior had seen a video of a figure that he had never done before for Waltz that he wanted to try out with some students to see how it went. That figure happened to be the Chasse Roll to Left, which is an Open-level figure for those of you who may be interested in fitting it into your own body of knowledge. Lord Junior told us that he has used the Chasse Roll to Right lots of times in routines with his students, but he had just never considered seeing if a Left version existed before until he stumbled upon it this week.

Before we got into that though, Lord Junior had us all back doing the warm-up exercise that we had done last week, where you do box steps over a nine count. I don’t know why people think that this exercise is overly difficult. Sure, it will put pressure on your inner thigh muscles if you are pulling your legs together properly, but it’s not that bad. I don’t think so, at least. The balance component shouldn’t really be an issue either because of how slow we were moving, but surprisingly others in class were complaining about that too.

Driving home after class, I started thinking about exercises that people could do to improve on the things they complain about that I seem to find simple. Maybe I should start toying with the idea of putting together a three-month workout regimen designed for ballroom dancers – something to help dancers get in shape for these sorts of exercises. I wonder if I could hand it over to some Professionals to have their students do and report back on the results. Hmm… something to think about if I find some extra time. I have nothing but free time, right? It should be no problem for me to sit down and design and document something like that!

Anyway… once we were all warmed up, we were given a short progression of figures to work on. To get things rolling, we started off with a prep step into a Natural Turn, and then added on a basic Natural Spin Turn. Coming out of the Natural Spin Turn set us up for the figure that Lord Junior wanted to work on with us, the Chasse Roll to Left, which looks a lot like a Curved Chasse to the Left with a Slip Pivot at the end if you look it up for yourselves. Once we finished the Slip Pivot, we led the ladies into a Oversway.

One of the ladies asked a question about the Oversway, which got us talking about that for a few minutes. Many of us had done a Throwaway Oversway before, but here was just the Oversway without any of the Throwaway. I had to ask whether that meant that you could do just the Throwaway without any of the Oversway as well. Lord Junior had to stop and think about my question for a minute, and pretended to dance through it a few times. He told me that you could probably do it, and that it was likely some super-high level Professional couple probably has at some point, but he thinks it feels weird to do just the Throwaway without the Oversway so he personally wouldn’t recommend trying it.

To come out of the Oversway we went back to the warm-up exercise that we had done and slowly dragged our left foot to our right (or right to left for the ladies) over two beats while rising up and rotating into Promenade Position, taking our first side step in Promenade Position on beat three. From there, to show us the differences in the two figures, he also had us do a Chasse Roll to Right with a Oversway attached at the end. This figure confused me with its name a little, because the footwork we did for the Lead part was more like a Curved Lock instead of a Chasse, but the Follow’s part looked more like a Progressive Chasse to Right, so I guess that’s what makes it work.

Getting out of this Oversway involved taking a small step to the side with your left foot and rising up for two beats and then dropping the right foot behind you for a Slip Pivot on the third, and from there we went into a basic Progressive Chasse to Right to finish. You want to be careful when you take the side step as you close. If you come around the lady too much, she may think that you are doing a Corte-like action and rotate her body improperly, which could cause all sorts of fun problems. I may know this because I may have accidentally done it… maybe. I’m not admitting that it was entirely my fault, but I may have messed it up once or twice. May. In May. 😉

That’s all I have got for this week. This coming weekend I am not entirely sure what I will be getting into quite yet. There is a big party being thrown by my Royal Dance Court group on Saturday, so much of my day had to be reserved for setting up for that event. I personally don’t think that the setup will take super long, so I may have tons of free time once it is finished. But because I reserved the afternoon for this, everything else I do on Saturdays got bumped, and I mistakenly never rescheduled those items. So… we’ll have to see what happens! Maybe I will have a ton of extra practice time! There’s a lot of stuff I should be working on perfecting, so it’s not like that is a terrible idea. I’ll let you know next week how things go!

Then again, if nothing else comes up, I could always spend that extra time drawing up plans for my dance workout program, right?