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!

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Turn And Face The Strange Changes

I don’t know about you, but so far 2017 appears to be shaping up to be an interesting year…

Early Saturday morning I got a text from Sparkledancer about meeting her a half-hour early at the Fancy Dance Hall so that we could run through some things she wanted to work on. When I got there, I found that not only was she waiting for me, but so were Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu. Sir Steven had told Lord Dormamu about the questions that we had asked him the previous Wednesday night, and he wanted to have a chance to go over our questions with us personally to make sure we were on board. So, Sir Steven excused himself to run out and grab a quick bite to eat, leaving the three of us all alone in the big empty ballroom to talk.

As Lord Dormamu sat there staring at the two of us expectantly, I racked my brain trying to remember what it was that we had asked Sir Steven on Wednesday. The most notable thing that I talked with him about was the issue with my upper body flexibility, and whether that was going to be something that held me back or not. He told me that right now I look like I spend a lot of time lifting heavy things, so that is all the flexibility my body thinks it needs. As we work to train for dancing, my body should naturally adapt over time so that I can more easily get into the shapes I need. He also said that as I go down this path, I should probably give up going to the gym and lifting weights, and instead take up exercise that would help with my dancing if I felt the need to exercise to stay in shape. His suggestions were to focus on Yoga and Pilates for flexibility, and running and swimming for cardio endurance.

So that’s already one piece of advice I think I am going to throw out. I happen to like being strong and solid, and my flexibility isn’t that terrible as long as people aren’t yanking my limbs in weird directions. I also happen to think that looking the way I do is an asset when I occasionally find time to go out to meet ladies in non-dance settings. Maybe this will be an issue in the future that holds me back, but I’m not going to sacrifice something I happen to enjoy for dancing. I already sacrifice a lot of other things for dancing, so I should be allowed to keep this one thing, right? Plus, having the upper body strength can be helpful in dancing when I get talked into doing showcase routines, since audiences love it when they see performers doing lifts during the routine. At the moment, that’s something I am quite good at. I’m sure any partner I have will really appreciate me continuing to do all sorts of resistance training when I reach over to lift her off the ground!

We talked for twenty minutes or so, and Sparkledancer and I were still feeling pretty good about giving this a try, so Lord Dormamu decided to take us one at a time into the back office to changes1draw up the dark manuscripts that need to be signed in blood which turn over all your spare cash, time, and I think maybe even the paperwork mentioned something about the rights to my first and second born children, to make all of this official. Now, as my bank card screamed in my ear about what it was just put through, he got Sparkledancer and I back together in the same room to schedule our first coaching session with him. We both didn’t have anything going on the following Saturday morning before our normal lesson with Sir Steven, so that’s when we set all this madness to begin.

No matter what happens, this will be another set of adventures to write about, right?

Once all the secretarial work was done and we were back on the dance floor, Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu had a short conversation out of my earshot, and then Sir Steven came over and we got to work. And we really crammed a lot of work in, I’m guessing because of whatever Lord Dormamu told him beforehand. We pulled out all of our International Standard routines and stripped out a lot of pieces so that they were back to being basic Bronze-level routines, and he also had us cut them in half so that they would repeat after the first long and short wall. The only one we didn’t go over was Viennese Waltz, but that’s because Bronze-level International Viennese Waltz is only the four figures (Natural Turn, Reverse Turn, Forward Change, Backward Change), and I was told that as long as I make sure to start with a Natural Turn and stick to those four figures, it could be left to my discretion. Yay me!

We went through Waltz, Tango and Quickstep first so that we could end with and spend the most time on Foxtrot. This also allowed us to continue working on the techniques that we had been going over the last couple of weeks, really putting emphasis on me being able to lead everything from just my core. At one point, I can’t decide if he thought I was doing pretty good changes2or really terribly with this, so he ran off into one of the back rooms and returned with a piece of paper in one hand and a small plastic cup in the other. He then proceeded to set Sparkledancer and I up so that the piece of paper was wedged underneath our ribs on the right side of our bodies, and the cup was pressed between my left hand and her right (not gripped, just pressed against our flat palms). With those tools in place, we then had to walk up and down the floor, moving between ‘normal’ frame and Outside Partner without losing either the paper of the cup. That was fairly easy to do when I was the one going forward, but was not quite as successful when I was the one moving backward since I generally avoid traveling that way if I can help it. Looks like I have the first thing on my list of ‘important stuff I have to start really focusing on.’

On Sunday afternoon I headed up to the White Dance Hall because there was going to be a combination open dance party and showcase going on there, and I wanted to go support the people I knew who would be performing that afternoon. At the beginning of the event, as I was sitting at one of the tables in the back talking with people, I began to hear Bony and Sparkledancer calling my name from the other side of the room. I turned around to see the two of them attempting to wave me over to where they were standing. Standing with them was (much to my surprise!) Lord Fabulous! Shocked by what I saw, I got up to head over to where they were and see what was going on.

When I got there, Lord Fabulous had a huge smile on his face and gave me a big hug. It was kind of an awkward hug, which lasted a lot longer than I was comfortable with, and I swear he was evaluating my back muscles with his hands while he was hugging me. Why do so many people like to feel me up? After I managed to disentangle myself from that, I asked what was up. Bony and Sparkledancer had called me over because Lord Fabulous was going to tell a story, and they brought me in so that he wouldn’t have to repeat himself later.

Since I had last seen Lord Fabulous (which was a while ago), so many things had happened. He changes3and Lord Scarry had finally settled down and gotten married (Lord Scarry was out on the dance floor entertaining some ladies while we were talking). Ownership of the two dance studios where both men used to teach primarily (the Land of the Loft and the Great Dance Hall by the Lake) had changed hands a few times, and no matter what the King tried to do he couldn’t get the owners to work out the issues. Finally in the last couple of weeks, both dance studios had been closed down and the doors were locked without any warning given to the staff and students beforehand. Supposedly there is some paperwork in the works to get the Land of the Loft yet another new owner and reopen it soon, but the Great Dance Hall by the Lake has no potential reopening yet on the horizon.

With nowhere else to go, Lord Fabulous and Lord Scarry started to look around for places to rent floor space so that they could continue teaching some of their longtime students. As you could probably guess, they found the Electric Dance Hall. After talking with Lord Junior and explaining the situation, Lord Junior was nice enough to let them rent floor space from him whenever they needed. Lord Fabulous evaluated his life during his time away from teaching dance as he looked for a new place to teach in, and decided to take this opportunity to work toward becoming full-time at his other career, and only teach dance part-time, rather than being a full-time dance instructor and a part-timer at his other job like he is now. Lord Scarry wants to remain a full-time instructor. So it sounds like there’s a chance I will start running into these two when I am out at the Electric Dance Hall if they happen to be teaching at the same time, or if they decide to come to other dance events that I am attending as they start wandering around the Dance Kingdom to pick up new students and forge new relationships with other dance halls where they could rent floor space.

That was a totally unexpected tale to hear that day.

The showcase event that I had actually come to attend was a lot of fun. Much like the others that Lord Junior has coordinated in the past, he kept the amount of acts down to a decent number so that people wouldn’t get bored just sitting and watching others dance. There were about six acts in the first half, then a break so that the audience could get up and do some dancing of their own, another six acts in the second half, and then the floor was opened up for another two hours of dancing for anyone who wanted to hang around. I spent much of the last couple of hours over on the side of the dance floor talking with Jem, who was back in town for a couple of weeks and had come out to the party. Her job has been keeping her overseas quite a bit lately, so no one gets to see her very often.

As the party was winding down, Lord Junior wandered over to where I was standing and started talking about how he had had a few drinks, and he just had a great idea about changing things up so that instead of doing Summer and Winter showcases, which a lot of studios seem to do and are often interrupted by weather extremes or have low attendance due to people taking vacations, he wants to push his back to be Spring and Fall. I told him if he did a showcase in the Fall a bit before Halloween, then he might be able to get people to do awesome Halloween-themed acts. He got excited about that and told me that if he finishes putting together a new building for the Electric Dance Hall at the end of summer, he would totally do the next showcase in the new building in October, and then I would have to come up with an “awesome and super funny” routine to perform.

Good thing I have some time between now and then to try to plan something that is both awesome and funny out, right?

Lucky for me, class on Monday night Latin Technique class was far more normal than anything that happened that weekend. We got to go through some Cha-Cha that night. What we did wasn’t anything overly fancy or complicated, but the ladies in class were being kind of funny, and that was exasperating Lord Junior in the process. As an example, right as we were supposed to be beginning class, I was standing on one side of the room with Lord Junior (the boy’s side of the room), and we were facing the ladies. He was trying to start showing them the initial figure to look at, but they all kept talking to each other, and any time one of them wanted to make a joke, she would say it loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, even if she was just talking to one specific person. After a couple of tries to get their attention, Lord Junior looked at me and rolled his eyes, and decided to start by looking at the guys steps instead, hoping that the ladies would be paying attention when we finished.

What we ended up putting together that night was a pretty simple pattern that revolved around working on doing New Yorkers. We began with a side step and rock step to the left before going into a normal chasse to the right. Then we did our first New Yorker, a basic one turning to the right, coming back with a Three Step Turn to the left. Next up the ladies got to do another New Yorker, this time on the left side, while men did a lunge to the right and reached over with our right hand to grasp the ladies left forearm. This kept her from falling forward if she pushed a lot when going into the New Yorker, since we could counterbalance her.  The guys would then stand back up from our lunge, pulling the ladies back onto her back leg in the process and turning her. Guys did a normal chasse back to the right side while the ladies did a second Three Step Turn.

Back on the right side we collected our partner’s hand, and then both of us did another basic New Yorker on the right side. We came out of this one by doing a Ronde into a Press Line, and then a three step change of direction that is a lot like the footwork you do at the end of a Hip Twist Chasse, before going back into another New Yorker on the right side. This one was not basic. We held that position for three beats, which is a long time when you are running the pattern to music that is slowed down, but only allows you to take a deep breath if the music is at normal tempo.

After the hold we released our partner and we both took two circular steps away from each other, which rotated us 180° in the process, and then we did a Lock Step heading to the left. Finally we took another two steps which turned so that we were heading back toward each other, after which the ladies would do a chasse forward, giving us their hand as they passed us by which we would use to turn them at the end, stopping them with our hand on their back. The men would just take two steps forward (no chasse) and hold in place as we turned and stopped the lady. We didn’t get any farther than that, since we needed to take some time to run things and get everything up to full speed before class was over.

This past Wednesday night we had a pretty large crowd for Standard Technique class. Luckily, we also had more men than usual turn out for class, so the ratio of men to women was pretty good. Since we had done Foxtrot and Waltz the last two weeks, we opted to look at some Tango this week. Lord Junior wanted to work on a figure that he had recently added into the routines he does with two of his students who were in class that night, a figure known as the Double Chase. The Double Chase is exactly what it sounds like, which is two of the Gold-level figure that is called ‘The Chase’ done back-to-back. We started class by looking at the original figure first, just to make sure the people who had never seen the figure before were on board with what we were going to attempt to double.

The whole progression we worked on that night could cover quite a bit of distance, which changes4makes things a lot more fun in my book. We started out already in Promenade Position and did a Promenade with the man closing, but added in a Natural Pivot at the end to flip us around to face the line of dance again. Then we did the Double Chase. The tricky part of the figure was the transition between the two, ending the first Chase by rotating slightly more than normal to face line of dance again, and making sure that you come out by stepping between the ladies feet as you start the second. Sometimes I would have to move my foot a bit weirdly around where the lady had left her foot to do this properly, but I never kicked or stepped on anyone so I count that as being successful.

After the Double Chase we ended facing center with two beats left in the measure, so we added on a Progressive Chasse to the Right to fill that time and continue traveling down the line of dance. We did this with the assumption that if you put this figure into some kind of routine, the end of the Progressive Chasse would put you into the corner, though when practicing that night, some people ended in the middle of the room based on how we were staggered. After the Progressive Chasse we used a Whisk to put us back into Promenade Position and rotate 90°, lining us up to head down the next wall. Here we did an Open Promenade in that direction, which is a Promenade that ends with the men passing their feet instead of closing them. We stopped our movement at the end with the men stepped forward in Outside Partner next to the lady. She flicked her leg up as the guy held there, then we led her to do an Outside Swivel before collecting her back into normal dance frame.

Well, hopefully this weekend turns out to be fun, and gives me an idea of what I’ve gotten myself into. I have two lessons scheduled for Saturday, the first in the morning with Lord Dormamu and then immediately after that another one with Sir Steven so that we can pick up where we left off last weekend, or change things to work on what Lord Dormamu thinks we should focus on after he sees us. Also this Saturday is the monthly dance party I help host as a member of the Royal Dance Court. We are planning on having someone teach a Foxtrot lesson beforehand, so fingers crossed that there are more Foxtrots played than anything else that night at the party afterward. I’ll let you know if that is true next week!

Oh My Quad…

So I’m going to deviate a bit from my normal ramblings this week, because this weekend marks the end of my fitness experiment of seeing how much muscle mass I could add on to my frame in three months, and I’d like to talk about that for a bit. I can tell you that I have been able to successfully add on about ten pounds of muscle from the challenge. It doesn’t sound like much, but adding that amount of mass took a lot of work (and a lot of eating), and is having some fairly interesting impacts on my dancing life. The reason I want to talk about this a bit is to help give some perspective for anyone else who might be thinking of trying out something like I just went through. There’s a lot of people I talk to when I’m out and about, and you can find a lot of things written online from all kinds of people, who talk about how they got into dancing or are using dancing as a way to help them with losing weight. I’ll admit, most of what I hear on that topic comes from a female perspective, since I don’t really dance with men too often, and I haven’t met very many men like me who got into dancing for reasons other than ‘my significant other is making me do it’. So this may be the first, and possibly the only time, you ever see anything written about dancing from the point of view of a male who worked really hard to actually gain weight. So, in reflection…

What is most impactful, and the thing that people notice when they see me, is the fact that my upper body is just physically bigger than it was before I started, in some pretty noticeable ways. After all, that ten pounds I gained has to be stored somewhere, right? It’s not at the point where I need to go out and buy new shirts quite yet, but all of the ones that I own are noticeably tighter fitting around my frame than they were before. The most visible gains, and the ones that have been causing LookAtThemLegs1me the most problems with my dancing, has been the added size in my traps and my lats (which, for those of you who haven’t studied anatomy recently, are basically the muscles on the top and bottom of my shoulders). This has been what prevents me from keeping my shoulders rolled down very far or pulling my elbows back as much as my teachers want nowadays. If I stand in frame, someone can move my arms into the desired position, but I cannot hold them like that without discomfort, and I certainly can’t get them into that position on my own. It’s not as big of a problem when I dance Rhythm or Latin styles, but this is something that keeps coming up in Standard and Smooth, much to my chagrin. I knew there would be some loss of my flexibility with the addition of more muscle, but I didn’t think it would be quite this bad. The other pretty noticeable change in my upper body that affects how I dance has been the added power in my arms. There have been several times recently when I have been dancing with Sparkledancer at parties, just having fun, and she has mentioned really feeling what I thought was just a subtle nudge to tell her to turn. It happens the most in fast dances like Jive or Salsa, and it’s mostly my fault since it seems like I am trying to turn people fast and I just forget about how much stronger I am than these ladies I am dancing with. So, I’m holding myself back a lot now, and I’m not keeping my frame in quite the right position anymore when left to my own devices. Dancing shouldn’t be uncomfortable for anyone, so if it is better for me to keep my shoulders in a place that is not quite right but doesn’t cause me discomfort, and to hold myself back when I am turning ladies so that they can maintain control and not spin so fast, then that’s what I have to retrain myself to do.

And let’s not forget the differences in my legs that I have achieved! Since I didn’t really want to be known as a guy with chicken legs, I put in the hard work and heavy lifting to add some serious power in my lower body. My legs were already OK before I started, since I had spent years working on moderate leg strengthening exercises and plyometric training, but this time around was much more work. Now we run into a problem when I am told to push off my standing leg in order to drive myself down the floor: I can push myself pretty hard, which feels like I am pushing myself right through any dance partner I might have who can’t push herself that much. It is fine when I dance on my own – last night, for instance, when I was in Standard Technique class, we were looking at Viennese Waltz. When we practiced things without partners, I could drive myself and get almost completely to the other side of the room with just two full rotations. When we practiced the same things with partners, I did not even try to cover that much ground. Sparkledancer is fairly tall for a lady, so when I danced with her I could drive more, but someone like Bony is much shorter than me, so I held back a lot. So that’s been a fun change to try to adjust to.

So the last few weeks I have been relearning parts of my dancing because of these changes. Now that all my intense weight training is finishing up, I have been mulling over what to do next for my workouts. I have to say, I like the results I’ve gotten, so I’m not looking to give them up anytime soon. To help with my dancing though, I think I’m going to go back to doing Yoga again, at least once a week. Doing Yoga is how I gained all the flexibility I had before, so the hope is that I can use it to regain some of what I’ve lost. I’ll probably change up the weight training I’ve been doing, but not give it up entirely. Right now I am doing resistance training six days a week, so I’ll probably drop that down to three or four days a week, depending on the week. That should help me keep this figure for the foreseeable future. Several weeks ago I made a joke about wanting to do a showcase dance that was nothing but me doing lifts with my dance partner. There’s a part of me that has been thinking about seriously looking at doing something like that just to see how much easier it would be to pick her up and toss her around now. That could be fun, right? Plus, doing lifts is always a crowd pleasing move during any showcase performance. The more elaborate the lift, the more air time the lady has, the more the crowd likes it. Isn’t there a style of dance that is almost completely lifts? I thought I saw that once before, but it escapes me what they called that style. It was on some ballroom show that I saw. Maybe I can look at taking some lessons in that style if I can remember what it was called.

Whew… enough of that. Just a couple of other things of interest and then I’ll call this done.

Last Saturday night I went to a dance party to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the Electric Dance Hall. Lots of people showed up, and many were dressed up really nicely for the affair. I showed up a bit late to the party, and I just wore things I would normally wear to any other dance party, but I have enough confidence in myself to get away with that. The night was a good chance to do some dancing, talk with people I knew, and have a lot of fun. Someone brought their kids with them to the party, and they were running around through the people LookAtThemLegs2haphazardly, sometimes screaming. It was kind of funny. Luckily their mother was good about keeping them off the floor when things would have been dangerous, like during a Quickstep or Viennese Waltz. Early on in the evening I danced an East Coast Swing with one new lady who was being a wallflower. She apologized repeatedly during the dance, saying she kept messing up even though I thought she didn’t do too bad. When the dance was over I told her not to be so hard on herself, and that I would come find her again later so that we could do it again and she could see she hadn’t messed up at all. So, about an hour later another East Coast Swing came on and I tracked her down again so that we could try things out, and it went just fine for her, much like I thought. I got conned into leading another line dance, though this one was a fairly easy one and I don’t think I was even really needed. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in the world knows how it goes, so I was just hanging out in front for no reason. It was a fun and relaxing evening, a good way to celebrate the birthday of this place that I spend a lot of time at. This coming weekend is another ballroom birthday of sorts, and I’ll have to compare this party to the upcoming grand opening party at the Fancy Dance Hall to see how they measure up to each other.

As I mentioned earlier, in Standard Technique class this week all of the stars aligned and we got to work on Viennese Waltz. Not many people like to spend time looking at that style, so usually the crowd who shows up for class votes to do something else. This time, Lord Junior didn’t give us a choice, and just decided that Viennese Waltz was what he wanted to do. None of what we did was all that difficult per se, but it was a challenge and it also turned out to be rather amusing. To start with, Lord Junior put down a long line of blue tape on the dance floor. Coming off of that line he added some angular lines that were going the direction that people should be facing as they did their rotations down the line. We used this line to work on the angles of our rotations going down the floor, emphasizing the amount of turn each rotation should achieve in order to get things to work correctly. Lord Junior gave a long talk about how he sees people fall apart during Viennese Waltz, and usually it’s because they are either over or under turning their rotations, and then all the steps that come afterward just get more difficult unless you do something to stop and correct. So we did turns, and we did them on our own before attempting them with a partner. Once we got through the Reverse and Natural Turns we added in the Change Steps, and he had us cover all varieties. We looked at the Forward Change from Reverse by doing two Reverse Turns (one full circle), then a Change Step going into a Natural Turn. We did the Backing Change from Reverse by doing three Reverse Turns, a Change Step and then a Natural Turn. Then we did the same to look at the Forward Change from Natural and Reverse Change from Natural. The Change Steps was what ended up being really funny. For the guys, the Change Steps weren’t really a big deal, but the LookAtThemLegs3ladies had a hard time figuring out which way they were supposed to be moving when they came up. All the ladies said that they don’t really think about Change Steps, they just do things automatically when they guy leads one, so trying to figure out where to go when they were dancing on their own was hard. They would do the first rotations and then stop and stand there. You could see the gears turning in their heads as they tried to sort out which way to rotate next, and quite often they ended up choosing wrong and Lord Junior would go down and help them. Once we partnered up and did things, that problems disappeared altogether.

Lots of things planned for this weekend! Tomorrow night is going to be the official grand opening party at the Fancy Dance Hall, and rumor has it that it’s going to be a free dance lesson and party, so if you’re around you should come along. Then Saturday night there are a couple of things that I really want to do, but they are all right on top of each other, so it may be a mad dash for me to attend both events I really want to go to. I hope you have just as much dancing on your docket as I do. We’ll compare notes next week!

The Secret Of The Fox, Ancient Mystery

Last Saturday afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our regularly scheduled coaching session. We spent most of the time that day working on Foxtrot, with a bit of Tango thrown in at the end for a change of pace. I’m not going to lie – this lesson was particularly uncomfortable for me. Apparently my shoulders are just not bending the right way anymore, and the constant yanking of them to put them into different places is starting to get a bit painful. I’m not sure if I can rapidly increase the flexibility in my shoulders to avoid this. We may have to sit down and discuss that I have been enjoying the challenge of trying to build up the strength in my shoulders, so the sacrifice of some of my flexibility is just going to have be accounted for. If I can hold the position (uncomfortably) once you push my arms into place, that’s great and all, but if I cannot put my own arms into that position without help, then we’re going to have to work with what I can do. Sigh… anyway, things were good otherwise though. We continued working on improving our Three Step in International Foxtrot, and making sure that our quick movements in International Tango were very staccato, while the slow TheFox1movements were slightly more smooth. Near the beginning of our time, Lord Dormamu was running around the Endless Dance Hall, very excited to show everyone the pictures on his phone of his new studio that was finally completed. As he came over to show Sparkledancer and I (Sir Steven had already visited the place), he told each of us that we were more than welcome to come by and “join the family” there, as he put it. It is always intriguing to me to go to new dance studios, so when Sir Steven asked Sparkledancer and I if we would be interested in actually having our next session there to take a look at the place, I was excited about it, and she agreed. I’m not sure I would want to take lessons there all the time (it’s farther away from me than other dance halls), but getting a chance to go dance there before the grand opening party was just too good to pass up. So, that’s where I will get to be next week! Are you excited?

As a side note, there are only a couple of weeks left in this physical challenge I gave myself. Once over, I can change up my workouts again, and add back things like Yoga and agility training rather than just doing straight weightlifting if I want. That should help, though it will take some time. Also, getting my diet back to normal so that I am not just eating a very calculated, mostly protein diet with very little of anything else, is something I am really looking forward too. You really don’t know how much the carbohydrates you eat give you long-term energy throughout the day and also keep you feeling full until you all-but eliminate them from your diet…

Later in the evening, I went to help out at the dance party that my Royal Dance Court was putting on. We had chosen to do a Foxtrot-themed party this time around, and had convinced Lord Junior to come in and teach the lesson for us beforehand. When I got to the venue, those of us who had gotten there early spent some time putting out a few decorations and setting up a table with snacks on it for people to enjoy. I was surprised that some people who were not members of our Court also showed up super early, and then just sat around watching all of us TheFox2awkwardly while we worked. President Porpoise had shown up early as well, since he likes to come to these events to help out as a dance host, but he must have been super tired since he ended up laying down on a couch in the back of the room and taking a nap until it was time to get ready for the party. I’m surprised that he managed to sleep through all the preparations we were doing – the DJ was getting her equipment set up and tested by playing some songs fairly loud, and all of us were talking about things that needed to be done, and not being very quiet about it, but President Porpoise just slept through all of that. Just before we started the pre-party class was when the majority of the attendees showed up for some reason, so we had to hold the class up for a few minutes so we could get everyone checked in. The class didn’t cover any super-difficult material, and Lord Junior gave everyone plenty of time to practice at the end. He showed everyone the Quarter Turns, Three Step and Feather Finish figures. To have everyone practice, since there were so many people there, Lord Junior had the men line up in the back of the floor in three lines, and then had the women line up in one long line along the right-hand side. The women would then come out, three at a time, and go down the floor with the first guy in each line. When they got about halfway down, the next three women would go out with the next three guys, and so on and so forth. To keep the ladies moving (and avoid confusion), Sparkledancer positioned herself at the head of the line of ladies and directed them where to go. It reminded me of the time I got to direct traffic in the same way when we tried to do a mixer like this in the past. This strategy seems to work pretty well for a mixer dance, so long as someone’s directing people where to go. Left to their own devices, people start going about things chaotically, which causes people to run into each other while going down the floor. Madness!

The dance afterward had much less madness involved. I made sure to do my best and wander around and dance with people I found sitting out if I could. There were a lot of people who showed up to the party that night, so I’m not sure if I even got close to dancing with all of the ladies who were there, but it seemed like I got to go out with a lot of them. It was nice to see Ms. Possible at the party too. I hadn’t gotten to see her in quite a while. She asked me during the evening if I would be willing to go out and do a Waltz with her, since Lord Junior had just started to go through the Waltz basics with her and she wanted to practice. I managed to get through the whole song using International Waltz socially without accidentally switching over to American Waltz, so I was pretty proud of not messing that up. I also worked the crowd to try to convince people to come to our formal party in April. I think I got a few people interested, so hopefully they sign up to come party with us. During the announcements in the middle they also surprised someone with flowers for her birthday, which was nice. The DJ didn’t make everyone sing for her – since this was a dance party, she put on a song and let the birthday girl choose whomever she wanted to dance with and dance for a bit by herself before allowing people to slowly join the couple on the floor. It was a much more thematically appropriate way to celebrate a birthday than singing, don’t you think?

This week’s Latin Technique class focused on Rumba again, since there were two people who hadn’t really done more than a few Club Latin classes joining us. They were a nice couple I had never seen before – the guy was rather quiet, and the girl was over-enthusiastic, and had really long hair that would whip me whenever she spun around. The pattern we covered was still rather challenging (for the ladies, at least), even though neither of the new people had any Rumba experience. To warm up, Lord Junior started with us looking at Rumba basics, to kind of gauge where he could go with things. Once everyone was comfortable with the closed Rumba basic, we switched things up to start with an open basic where we did one rock step before turning the lady to the left into Shadow Position as guys brought their feet together. Then guys then did a back rock step while ladies do an in-place basic before doing they did a full 360° turn to the right. This was the first thing that night that caused some trouble. The new lady didn’t have real dance shoes, so to turn herself all the way around in the heels she was wearing, she had to put a lot of force into her turn, often throwing herself off-balance in the process. After watching this a few times, Prez went looking through the spare dance shoes that Lord Junior TheFox3keeps in the back, found a pair that seemed about the right size, and let her try them out to see if they would help. The first couple of times with the new shoes on, she still put a lot of energy into the turn which managed to turn her even further around than before since now her shoes were suede bottomed, but she was pleased with the results. Once the shoes were straightened away, we went back to our pattern and added on an Opening Out action in Shadow Position, with the guys stepping forward diagonally to the left and the ladies stepping backward diagonally to the right. After bringing the lady back in front of us, the guys released them so that the ladies could do a Three-Step Turn (or Alemana, depending on what you like to call it) while the men did a back Cucaracha, and then we come back together into normal dance frame to finish up, or start all over if we wanted. After class, Lord Junior spent some time showing the new people how the same figure could be used in Salsa, since they had said that Salsa was one of the styles they had done before we started. Turns out they didn’t actually know Salsa too well, so everyone spent some time closing out the night by just dancing some basic Salsa for fun, without trying to throw in any more advanced figures.

And then at Standard Technique class we worked on Waltz. Lord Junior decided that night that we would have a workout day with our Waltz, to really spend time working on calf and ankle strength and balance to help everyone not lower from the rise in each figure we did earlier than we were supposed to. This meant that sometimes as we were dancing the steps, he would have us stop and hold the rise at the end of the figure for an extra three or six count before we could lower and go on to the next step. Our pattern that night started with a Prep Step going into a Natural Turn. From there we went into a Natural Spin Turn, coming out using a turning Change Step that crossed our feet at the end. The Leads crossed our right foot behind our left, while the Followers crossed their left foot in front of their right, which made us ready to travel forward straight down the Line of Dance. We next did an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position travelling toward diagonal wall. The Promenade we went into Promenade curved to the left and used a Forward Lock just to make things more interesting. We finished things by using a right-side lunge, remaining in Promenade Position for a three count and then opening up into an Oversway line over the final three count. Mostly simple steps, but now imagine at any point you are told to stop while on your toes on the three count of a figure and stay there, without moving or shaking or dropping your heels, for another three beats before finally bringing your other leg through so that you could lower the heel. It was kind of a fun game in a way. Some people struggled with things more than others – one of the ladies in class, if she was dancing her steps on her own, wasn’t able to bring her feet together and keep herself up on her toes. She always had her feet spread in more of a horse stance to keep herself from falling over. It was an interesting thing to witness. At the end of the class we ran through the pattern to music just to get some repetitions in for practice. When everyone had gotten through the line to dance things a couple of times, the song had repeated again and was only about halfway done. TheFox4Lord Junior decided to finish the song by having everyone face the mirror, bring their feet together as much as possible, and then rise up onto their toes and just hold themselves there until the end. For the first minute everyone was OK, but as time wore on I started to hear the moans of everyone around me, and some people started to shake a little or drop their heels down and quickly pick them back up. I thought it was a lot of fun, so I was just wiggling in time with the music while holding myself up (I used to walk around more on my toes than on my whole foot, so standing like that for long periods doesn’t really bother me).

Well, it’s sort of a holiday weekend coming up. I don’t have to go to the office tomorrow (hooray), and I think there are some dance parties to choose from on both Friday and Saturday night. Should be fun. Plus, there’s the excitement of getting to go to that new studio on Saturday afternoon, which I’m looking forward to. What will it be like? I’ll tell you all about it next week!