Every Day A Rerun Of The Next

With the two competitions that I signed up to participate in looming on the horizon, I feel like my mind is totally focused on dance right now. There is a lot of stuff going on at work that I should be thinking about more, but while I am looking at work things my mind keeps wandering back to dance things. I’m starting to think that this may be a problem if I can’t find a way to rebalance my thoughts… but that can totally wait until after the competition is over, right? 😉

What have I done this week? Hmm… well, as usual Saturday was a busy day for me. It started out in the morning with a trip out to the Fancy Dance Hall for a lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven. Right before Sir Steven had us do anything else, I told him that Lord Dormamu had us change part of our Quickstep routine, so we should walk through the changes before dancing through the routine for him to avoid any surprises.

It turned out to be really good that I wanted to start with this figure – we ended up spending the first half of the lesson working on cleaning up the new pieces to make them look as good as the rest of the routine. We started everything off by dancing through the routine in totality once for Sir Steven to see, and then stepping through the new corner amalgamation slowly so that he could review what we were attempting to do in detail.

Sparkledancer and I had been spending extra time in our practice sessions over the last week working on getting these new figures to fit naturally with the rest of the routine, so being able to go through them while someone was watching was super helpful. We cleaned up the just a few minor portions that Sir Steven saw that didn’t look correct from the outside, like the rise and fall and the alignment of the last step into the Reverse Pivot, and by the time we were done the new figures felt much more solid.

Once we finished up with the Quickstep, we ran through the remainder of our routines as well. Overall Sir Steven was pleased with how we were looking, telling us that it was a big improvement over what he saw us do the last time we had worked together two weekends prior. That’s yet another point to add to the column of benefits that an insane amount of practice provides.

Near the end of our time, we were wrapping things up by looking at the Foxtrot. I was asked to spend some time going over the last corner in the routine, the one that has the Closed Impetus and Feather Finish. Sir Steven wanted to make sure that while I was doing the figure, that I wasn’t adding any sway, except for during the second step. By the book, as I was told, the first step should be level, the second step should sway to the left, and the third step should also be level. He said that it looked like I was attempting to add in the sway too early during the first step, and this was making it hard for Sparkledancer to do her part properly.

At one point a bit later, while Sparkledancer and Sir Steven were working off to the side and I couldn’t hear what was going on too well, Sparkledancer asked Sir Steven something about the movement of her head. Sir Steven, being full of wisdom about the lady’s part, told her she should “make it look pretty” without having much more information for her.

Lucky for Sparkledancer, the Princess happened to be walking through the Fancy Dance Hall at that time with a friend of hers. Sir Steven called her over and asked if she would be willing to watch us dance for a minute and help Sparkledancer out with her head movements. Being the wonderful princess that she is, she agreed. She pawned her friend off on Lord Latin, telling him to dance with her for a bit, and then told Sparkledancer and I to dance for her so that she could see what she was working with.

As we danced down the floor by her, the Princess stopped us and told Sparkledancer that a lot of her head movements looked “mechanical” – like she was doing them just because she was told to move her head during those specific figures. Sparkledancer nodded and said that was pretty much exactly what she was doing. The Princess told her that, in order to make it look ‘pretty’ and also more natural, the head movement should be initiated by the sway of our figures, but she should try to delay the movement as much as possible.

What she should see while watching from the outside is that as we are swaying Sparkledancer should keep pulling her head out to her left as much as possible. When the movement of the body finally gets to a point where she can’t fight against it with her head anymore, that’s when the head rotates to the other side. She will end up showing off the ‘pretty’ stretch of her neck if she does the movement this way, and the rotation will also look like it is supposed to be there, not like something that was added in cosmetically because she was told to do it.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Discussions like this just reinforce for me how nice it is that I’m a guy, and I don’t have to worry about these sorts of movements.

This past Saturday night my Royal Dance Court gang and I hosted our first dance party of the year. We wanted to start the year off with something fun and different, so we decided to call up Sir Digler and ask him if he would come teach a class before the party on line dancing. It’s one of those fun variations that we can do once in a while that everyone can be involved with, without having to worry about the ratio of Leaders and Followers.

Sir Digler covered three different line dances in the hour-long class. The first two I had seen before somewhere, but the last one he showed everyone was new to me, even though I found out later that that particular song and line dance have been around for about ten years of so. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to any weddings that had receptions with dancing, so that might explain why I had never heard that one before.

The first line dance that he showed to everyone was what he called the “Charleston Line Dance” because the basic pattern of the feet shuffling looked like something out of the Charleston. The challenging part of this line dance for most people was the speed – Sir Digler said that you would feel right at home doing this line dance in the middle of the room during a Quickstep song, or even a Jive number. I was a little worried when he told everyone to get out on the floor during a Quickstep if they weren’t actually dancing the Quickstep, but luckily no one tried it that night so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally running into someone.

Next up Sir Digler showed everyone a Tango line dance. This line dance was much more challenging than the last one for the class to master. I thought that it looked like people were getting the hang of things after he showed everyone the steps, but then Sir Digler asked the DJ to put on a Tango number, and things fell apart. Granted, the DJ picked out what sounded like the fastest tempo Tango song in existence, which didn’t help things at all, so that might have been part of the problem. Sir Digler had to go through the steps of this line dance several times, and then finally everyone was able to get through the dance with a different (slower) Tango song playing.

The final line dance of the night was the one I mentioned earlier, what I would consider more of a ‘club’ line dance. This was a set of figures that you do only when a specific song comes on. The song was by an artist that I had heard of, who actually has another line dance song that I am quite familiar with, but I had never seen this particular line dance before in my life. The steps weren’t too hard though, and the singer will tell you what you should be doing if you listen to the lyrics, so I have faith that many people could pick up this particular dance easily.

I mostly tried to be social during the dance party after the lesson finished up. There were a couple of new faces in the crowd that I tried to talk to, because I feel like that is an important thing to do. Ms. Possible also showed up at the dance party late, and I hadn’t seen her in months, so I had to check in with her and see how things were. Up until she walked through the door I had basically written her off as another dancer lost in the passage of time, so it was nice to see her back on the floor.

I also made a point to skip all other offers and try to dance all of the ballroom numbers that night with Sparkledancer, just to get in some extra practice with our routines and other dancers on the floor. We specifically set up our practice times at various studios around the area so that we run into the least amount of people, but working on our routines while utilizing some floorcraft is always a good thing to practice. I haven’t seen the lists for our competition yet, but I would hazard a guess that we are likely not dancing uncontested, so floorcraft will come into play somehow.

Monday night was Latin Technique class, and I did some Cha-Cha. Our options that night were either Cha-Cha or Samba, and most of us voted against Samba. Lord Junior did mention at the beginning of class that he had been working on a Pasodoble line dance and he was almost done with it, but he wasn’t happy with the ending quite yet. He promised that as soon as he was happy with everything that he would spend a Latin Technique class teaching it to all of us for feedback before premiering his work to social dancers at some party. That sounded exciting to me!

But until then, we were left with Cha-Cha to get through. The figures that we looked at during the class were all ones that I had seen before, just not in this order, so I was able to get through them fairly well. The men started with their weight on the right leg and the left leg pointed behind them, while the women mirrored that setup. We did a Forward Check into a Slip Chasse, while the women did a Backward Check into a Forward Lock Step. On the last beat of their Lock Step we led them through a Curl, and then collected them back into dance frame to do a Reverse Top.

Our Top spun around for two measures, and on the last beat of the second measure we led the ladies to do a Spiral Turn before taking them out into an Aida. Lord Junior gave us the option to do either slow or quick movements with our hips during the Aida, saying that the decision was up to each of us how we wanted to do things that night. I’m pretty sure that everyone opted to do the slow version, since that’s all I saw when I looked around.

Once finished with the hip movements, we did an Over-Rotated Switch Turn to come out of Aida position. Basically the guys would step forward onto their left leg and then turn 180° and point the right leg forward. That pointing action was what we counted as the delay before doing the actual Switch Turn, which also had us spinning another 180°. Once we finished the turning action, we linked up with our partner again and did a basic Chasse to the Right to finish up for the night.

Finally this week, let’s talk about Standard Technique class from last night. Lord Junior wanted to have us look at Viennese Waltz. We hadn’t done Viennese Waltz in class in some time because the last time we covered this dance style, things did not go so well for the ladies. All of them had really struggled with their alignments and turning for the proper amount of rotation in the previous class, which Lord Junior thought was really funny. This time around, he was hoping that everything went better, but was prepared for some amusement if things went about the same.

As it turns out, the exercises went much, much better for everyone in class this time around! I’m not sure if it was because we had so many more people in the class this time, so everyone who was unsure of their angles and rotation could watch someone nearby them to cheat a little, or if people actually knew what they were doing this time, but it all worked out. Lord Junior had us spend about half the class on drills with the Natural and Reverse Turns and Forward and Backward Change Steps, first doing the amalgamation as individuals and then dancing the same amalgamation with partners.

Because the basic syllabus for International Viennese Waltz contains so few figures, once Lord Junior was convinced that we had been drilled enough on the basics he switched gears and gave us some American Viennese Waltz for the second half of class. Based on the things that I see frequently from ‘high-level’ American Viennese Waltz, I’d swear that the dance entirely consists of Open Natural Turns and then switching into Open Natural Turns in Shadow Position. That’s really all I ever see advanced dancers do for some reason…

Our American Viennese Waltz progression that night was just a short snippet, and you can probably guess what half of it was based on my last comment. We started out in normal dance frame and went straight into a Twinkle and Open Natural Turn. From here Lord Junior wanted us to turn the ladies into Shadow Position, so the men did a Hesitation Fake. That basically had us stepping back on our left foot on beat one and collect the feet together while rotating on beat two then holding. We turned the ladies across our bodies at the same time we did that.

As the men finally stepped to the side on beat one of the next measure, we released the ladies into one last turn with our left hand and caught them around the ribs with our right to stop them from getting too far away from us.  Bringing the left hand up to hold the lady’s left forearm then put us in Shadow Position. As the next measure started, we did a Change Step in Shadow Position (which is really just three steps forward) and then went into Open Natural Turns. After a couple of those we stopped  so that the guys could run back down to the starting point and pick up another partner to start over.

I had all these crazy plans for the weekend to go to some big dance meeting… but the event got cancelled because the organizer of the meeting got sick. In some ways, it is good for me that I’m not traveling anywhere this weekend. After all, I am heading out next weekend to compete, so now I can spend this weekend on more practice time to make sure that I am ready. Hooray!

Even with the meeting being cancelled though, there are still a lot of things I have on my list to do this weekend. I moved my normal lesson with Sir Steven back to Saturday afternoon since I won’t be off somewhere else now. I was going to do that lesson tonight, but I went out to practice instead. Friday night there is some kind of dance party going on at the Electric Dance Hall, and Lord Junior specifically requested that I make an appearance there. I’m not exactly sure why, but I am never one to turn down a personal invitation like that, so I’ll be there.

And then there’s practice. More practice. Always practice. Hopefully it will be enough, and I can head out to the upcoming competition and crush it. But, we have a little over a week to go yet, so we’ll all have to wait and find out what happens later. Until then, let the dancing continue!


With The Slightest Little Effort Of My Ghostlike Charms

Last Saturday was the first time since the last competition that everyone’s schedules matched up, and Sparkledancer and I were able to meet up with Lord Dormamu for coaching. The first thing that he said to us as we got started that morning was that he was pleased with the results we got at the beginning of the month, but doing as well as we did doesn’t mean that we’ll do that well during the next competition, so we still have a lot of work to do. Our next competition happens to be on November 4th, by the way, so we have a very short amount of time to cram in a lot of work to start ironing out our weak points.

The big thing that Lord Dormamu wanted to start working on with us that day was Tango, which is something both Sparkledancer and I have been hoping to have him look over thoroughly for quite a while. Before we started in on Tango however, he wanted to have us go through our Waltz for him once so that he could point out a few things that he saw during the last competition that we need to clean up.

What he was unhappy with in our Waltz were our Double Reverse Spins specifically, but the problem with those were caused by the way that Sparkledancer was doing her Heel Turns in general. After he had Sparkledancer and I go through the Double Reverse Spin a few times, he took her aside and the two of them worked on Heel Turns without me.

Sparkledancer told me later that day that Lord Dormamu took all the issues and trouble that she has had doing Heel Turns over the last few years that she has been dancing International Standard, and fixed them in less than five minutes. All the issues! For the rest of that day, and again when she and I were practicing together on Sunday afternoon, Sparkledancer was telling me how much easier Heel Turns seemed now that he showed her what she had been doing wrong.

I guess that really goes to show you why Lord Dormamu was a multi-multi-multi-<etc, etc><etc., etc.=””>-time world champion. He knows all the things. All. The. Things.</etc.,>

We didn’t spend too much more time on the Waltz once Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu made their breakthrough. He told us that it would be a better use of our time to move on to Tango, and for us to practice the Double Reverse Spin and the other Heel Turns that Sparkledancer does in all of our routines later, during our normal practice time.

Obviously the first thing that he had to fix in our Tango was our dance frame. What Sparkledancer and I got into was basically the same frame as we use for all of our other dances, except my arms were held level with my shoulders, and our knees were bent more to put us closer to the ground. Lord Dormamu told us that we were actually too connected through the body for Tango. He made both of us roll our hips back so we were only connected at our ribs, and everything else was free. There was some additional maneuvering done to Sparkledancer to try to increase her volume, but that is really a constant adjustment for her nowadays. Our arms were in a good place already, so we at least had that going for us.

After we started dancing the first Back Corte, Lord Dormamu stopped us immediately. He saw the head flick that we had in the figure (something that Sir Steven had told us to put in way back in the day) and told us to throw it out. Much like what we had done with all the head movements in Waltz and Foxtrot when Lord Dormamu initially started looking at those dance styles, he wanted us to work on making the dance as clean as possible before we added in any styling movements. Let me say, it is a relief to not worry about moving my head for now, but I have also done that head flick for so long that I don’t always remember to take it out!

We made a pretty good start on the Tango. Overall we didn’t get very far into the routine – we only got through the first four figures – but it feels good to actually put the kind of work into Tango that we put into our Foxtrot. Lord Dormamu had me adjust the angles that a couple of these figures began or ended on so that we were facing what he said was the right direction, and to go through all the steps without either losing the position our bodies were in when we started, or rising up at all. We ran out of time that day, but Lord Dormamu promised that he would be looking at Tango again next time we got together.

Once Sparkledancer and I finished up with Lord Dormamu, we immediately had a lesson with Sir Steven to jump into. This lesson wasn’t quite so technical, so that was a nice break. We started out talking about how Sparkledancer and I have been coming on getting the lift down. I told Sir Steven all about where we were at, and how the sections that we were practicing weren’t quite comfortable enough yet to be done in a place where there wasn’t a cushion on the floor. I’m feeling OK about everything, but I personally want to make sure that I’m feeling way more than OK about things before we move from practicing the lift over a pile of pillows and blankets to practicing it over a dance floor. Safety first, right?

So we started looking other figures that Sir Steven wants to have us use in the showcase routine: Open Natural Turns. These are a fairly simple figure that I’ve done before, but because the showcase will end up using more colorful choreography that requires Sparkledancer and I to break frame, I had to take a moment to switch my brain over to American Smooth mode to get them right.

We spent a lot of time that day working on what Sparkledancer and I should be doing with our arms while we go through these figures. Arm motions are not something I worry about in International Standard, so the first few times I tried to gracefully roll my arms around they just looked awkward. After we worked out the arms, we looked at what the head should be doing next. Sir Steven wanted us to have some sway in our upper body as we moved, and the head should always be looking toward the side of your body that is sloping downward.

With those techniques out of the way, what we ended up with by the time we finished were: three Open Natural Turns where both Sparkledancer and I extend our left arms outward and link to each other using our right, one Open Natural Turn for me as I turn Sparkledancer so that she ends up in Shadow Position, four more Open Natural Turns in Shadow Position, and one more Open Natural for me as I spin Sparkledancer back around to end in Promenade Position.

That’s as far as we got that day with the choreography. There are still questions up in the air about what our showcase will look like and what song we will use, since there has been no confirmation from the Artistic Director of the show on what she thinks of our ideas. Supposedly she will be stopping by at some point to talk with Sparkledancer and I about the plan, but I have been given no date on that conversation yet. Hooray for flying blind! Good thing the performance isn’t until mid-December, right?

Later in the evening I was back out dancing again as my Royal Dance Court group hosted our monthly social dance party. We had planned something interesting and different this time around to mix things up a little and have some fun. One of the members of the Royal Dance Court was super excited about all of the Oktoberfest parties that he was planning to attend this month, and he thought it would be a lot of fun if we held a Oktoberfest dance party in celebration. The rest of us thought that sounded like a lot of fun, and after some thought someone else threw out the idea that there really is no better dance style to learn at a Oktoberfest party than… the Polka!

Because there are always more women than men at our dance parties, I was helping out during the class before our party to even up the ratio a bit. This was my first time ever dancing the Polka before, so I had to actually pay attention during the class to figure out what I needed to do. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a class where I had no idea how to do any of the figures being taught, even the basic step, so I thought that it was strangely fun.

Most of what we went through during that class were just variations on the basic figure for the Polka. The instructor showed everyone what he called the “Forward Basic,” the ‘Promenade Basic” and the “Curving Basic” to get around the room. He had everyone practice these figures for quite a while, because there were quite a few people who didn’t seem to get them after the first couple of tries.I think he would have had more luck if he had had the class switch partners a few times, which would have also let several more ladies have a chance to practice, but that’s just my take on how things went.

Near the end of class we were given one more, slightly more interesting figure to look at. This figure had no real name, but started out in the Promenade Basic, and during the second half having both partners open up to side-by-side position facing against line of dance. The man then turns the lady clockwise with his left hand, switching hands as she comes around, and then turning ourselves back to face the line of dance and grasping her right hand with his as the turn ends so that we are in a cross-hand hold with the left hand on top.

From this position, you can continue down the line of dance in a semblance of the Promenade Basic, or lead her through a turn counterclockwise and retake her hand over her shoulder so that you are traveling in something like Shadow Position with a double hand hold. After going down the line of dance for as long as you’d like in this position, you can use your right forearm to initiate another turn, getting her to spin counterclockwise again in front of you and from there you could link back up into the normal Forward Basic figure.

We didn’t go over any of the fancy jumping or hopping figures that you’ve probably seen before when people do Polka, but these steps we did cover exponentially increase the number of Polka figures that I know. Maybe next time I hear a Polka song being played, I will actually be able to go out onto the floor and participate. Yay me!

One other funny note about the dance party… one of the guests who came to the dance party actually showed up in an authentic German costume. Apparently he had taken a trip to Germany earlier in the month and had picked up the outfit there, knowing that we would be having this dance party a few weeks later. He had the whole get-up – the hat with feather, the overalls that were only slightly longer than shorts, the tunic shirt underneath… and what looked like a knife strapped to his ankle. That accessory threw me off a bit the first time I saw it.

Sparkledancer actually danced with this gentleman during the evening. Being curious, she asked about the knife. Apparently it was very real, and “authentic” as he was proud to tell her. This is the first time I have ever known anyone to bring a weapon to a dance party. I’ve seen people who were choreographing a showcase routine in the past that involved dancing with swords, but never anyone just casually dancing with a blade on them for no real reason. So that was a new experience for me. Way to commit to the costume, dude!

Onto a completely different topic now… one that actually made me kind of angry and sad at the same time. This is highly dance related, and comments like this should make everyone in the dance community feel something… rage? Sadness? I don’t know.. Let me tell you what happened.

So Sunday afternoon I went out to the Electric Dance Hall to watch the showcase performance that they were holding. Having been a performer in showcases past (and currently preparing to perform in a showcase in the near future), I know how important it is to go out and view the routines that your dance acquaintances have been working hard on, and show them lots of love in the process.

I had seen the lineup for this showcase earlier in the week, and I was a bit surprised by what I had read. Out of around thirty scheduled performances, there were only two that were unique, and the rest were evenly split between Lord Junior performing with some of his female students, and Lord Scarry performing with some of his. I know having a pair of amateur dancers performing is a rarity around the Dance Kingdom, but usually there are at least one or two acts put on by amateurs. Not this time, for some reason.

Anyway… here’s what got me all riled up: during the second act, as Lord Scarry took the stage with one of his students to perform, the DJ for the night was having trouble getting their song to work. As several people ran over to try to get the music straightened out, Lord Fabulous tried to entertain the crowd by asking Lord Scarry’s student questions about herself to pass the time. A spotlight interview, of sorts – I’m sure you can picture it in your mind. Most of the questions were pretty benign, but the last question was for her to tell everyone about when she started dancing.

As the girl was talking, Lord Fabulous interjected that this particular student had actually started dancing many years ago with her husband, but then (as Lord Fabulous put it rather proudly) she “kicked him out because he was holding her back.” The crowd of students that had come to perform with Lord Scarry and this students friends who were in the crowd all laughed and cheered at what I assume was supposed to be a joke, but I was shocked at hearing that bit of trivia proclaimed so happily.

See, I don’t know if any of you ladies have noticed, but men are in short supply in the ballroom dancing world. I certainly notice, because I go to group classes and oftentimes find myself being outnumbered by ladies all of the time. When the ratio is this lopsided, why would anyone be happy, or make light of the fact that we once had a brethren male dancer in this fight who is no longer with us because his wife thought he was holding back her progress?

This is not the first time that I have heard of this phenomenon happening either. Back in the day, shortly after I started my dance journey at the Land of the Loft, I remember Lord Fabulous performing a routine at one Friday night dance party with one of his female students. When Lord Fabulous introduced this student to everyone else in the dance hall, he told us that this lady had also started dancing with her husband once upon a time, but ended up dropping him as a dance partner ( the lady told us all she “voted him off the island”) so that she could continue dancing without him holding her back, because he was the weak link. Hearing Lord Fabulous make a similar joke again this weekend reminded me of that incident.

Why would anyone want to joke about this? Why would anyone be proud of this? That’s what really gets me riled up. With the obvious lack of men who dance in the Dance Kingdom, you would think that everyone would try their best to help keep these men dancing. You would think these two ladies in particular would really want their husbands to continue dancing with them, rather than having to go out to dance parties and hope that other men in attendance would want to take them out on the floor, right? How many of the other ladies at the party would be jealous (super jealous) that these two women have their husbands dancing with them all night long?

I realize that training a man to ballroom dance is harder in the beginning than training a lady to dance (that may be controversial, but I feel that it is true). You have to teach the guy all the footwork, then how to lead the figures, then help him figure out how to mix up the figures to keep things entertaining for his partner, then help him get experience in floorcraft so that he can keep his partner safe. And that’s all assuming that he already has a good grasp of hearing the timing of the music. If he has no musical background, you’d also have to train him to hear and follow the beat in the song playing, which is something I see new male dancers struggle with all the time when I watch social dances.

A lot of men drop out of the ballroom world on their own due to the frustration of feeling like a beginner, especially when they compare the way they are dancing to what the male dance instructors are able to do. I know that it made me feel like a terrible dancer back when I started. But from the sound of things, this student performing (and the one I remembered from the past) actively discouraged their husbands from dancing. That just seems so… wrong to me. For shame!

Grr… I could probably go on for a long time about how stupid that is, but I think you get my point. I’ll stop now.

Anyway… this weekend marks my favorite time of the year for dancing: Halloween! There are a whole slew of Halloween dance parties planned that I know about in the Dance Kingdom, but for some reason they are all happening on Saturday night. You would think that one of them would have chosen to do theirs on Friday night so that they didn’t have to fight for attendees, but no… they didn’t.

Which one am I going to? It’s a toss-up right now. I like the one at the Electric Dance Hall, because that’s the closest one to where I live, but the Fancy Dance Hall is hosting some kind of themed mystery event that also sounds like fun. So I’ll definitely be at one of those two. Hopefully whichever party I go to will have good Halloween candy for me to partake of as well. That’s the best part, right?

Happy Halloween everyone! Dance the night away with me, and enjoy this classic:

I Was Lightning Before The Thunder

Another busy weekend for me, though this time it was because I was actually competing. All of that work over the last several months getting me ready for this one day where… I actually didn’t dance a whole lot. We’ll talk about that later though. Let’s start with the stuff that I did the day before the competition first, just to keep the chronology intact.

I started out on Saturday having a coaching session with Lord Dormamu. Because this was the day before the competition, he wanted to deviate from what we have been working on so that he could have us dance all four of our routines for him to review. Before we started, he sat us down and told us that when we got on the floor for the competition, there was only one thing that each of us should try to remember. With everything else going on during a competition and the adrenaline of competing, trying to remember a bunch of important points would be too much for anyone, so he wanted to narrow everything down to one focal point for each of us.

For me it was posture. Lord Dormamu said that he didn’t care if I were to go out on the floor, throw out my routines and just do basic box steps down the floor – if I could maintain the best posture and frame, that would give me a better score than more than half of the competitors in that round, guaranteed. He said the best thing that I could do was to check my posture constantly. Each of our routines has points where we hesitate briefly, and those would be perfect opportunities to verify that I was still in perfect posture. That was my recommendation.

For Sparkledancer, the idea was volume. More than anything else, Lord Dormamu wanted her to try to create as much volume as possible between the two of us while dancing. Apparently any time she got into position and thought she had incredible volume, he wanted her to try to give more. He demonstrated by having her get into dance frame with me and then manipulating her to bend backward even further. Sparkledancer has told me that she been working on increasing her upper back flexibility for months so that she can bend like this, but it still makes me cringe to watch. My back would not be happy if I tried to get into that pose, since I have too much muscle mass in that area.

With those words of wisdom out of the way, we ran through each of our dances, with Lord Dormamu giving us his thoughts on each style when we finished. For Waltz he wanted me to try to make the rise and fall even more distinct if I could. In Quickstep he said that I needed to make sure to watch the footwork I was doing, because from where he was standing there were a few times he thought I was taking a heel lead when I should have been using my toe, or a toe lead when I should have been using my heel. Some of them were because my foot was closer to being flat against the floor, so it was hard for him to tell what I was really doing. He wanted me to make sure my steps were distinct.

Tango was up next. When we got through dancing the routine once, we talked about the idea of Tango as it relates to Sparkledancer and I. Lord Dormamu said that while it meant something that Sir Steven told us that Tango was our weakest, he had to be careful saying the same thing. Tango was his favorite of the International Standard dances, and also the one he consistently scored the best in when he competed. He said he will always think that our Tango looked weak until he can get me to dance Tango more like he does.

We then went over the suggestions that the Princess gave us in Tango earlier in the week. He liked all of them except one – the placement of my right arm. Lord Dormamu preferred me to bend my arm so that my right hand was further down toward the middle of my partner’s back. He told me that he knows the Princess prefers the arm to be up higher, as she in fact would ask him to move his hand up during the times he has danced Tango with her, but he personally liked the way it looked when the hand is down further. Other than that one change, he promised that after the competition was over, all of us would need to start looking at Tango specifically to fix a number of things, much like we have been doing with Foxtrot.

And that left Foxtrot as the last dance of the day. When we danced through the Foxtrot the first time, I felt like it went pretty bad when compared to the other three dances we had just done. When the song that was playing finished up, I rolled Sparkledancer out and we walked over to where Lord Dormamu was. He asked us what we thought our strongest dance was. Feeling bad about that particular Foxtrot, I said that I thought Waltz was the best of the four, and Sparkledancer nodded in agreement.

Lord Dormamu surprised me by saying that it was definitely the Foxtrot by a large margin. He thought that was good because, according to him, Foxtrot is the most difficult of the International Standard styles. That is why he has been working on it for so long with us, and the results were apparent that day. The only change that he wanted me to make was with the last Change of Direction figure. When I did the figure a few minutes prior, I had ended up between two tables on the floor, and he said that I looked unsure there because of that. He wanted me to make sure to did every step confidently, whether there were tables (or other dancers) around me or not, because I could be marked down if I wavered like that during a competition.

With that, Lord Dormamu finished up with us for the day. Sparkledancer and I had a lesson with Sir Steven scheduled next, so Lord Dormamu called him over to review what we had just done. He let Sir Steven know that he wanted our lesson to focus on making sure that our posture and volume were good, the footwork was correct, and overall our dancing was as clean as possible. We were to treat the lesson as a final supervised practice session before the competition.

For the next hour Sparkledancer and I ran through rounds with Sir Steven, focusing on all the points that Lord Dormamu had commented on. When we messed things up, we would go back to that section after we finished that round to step through it again correctly before moving on to the next dance. By the time we finished up that afternoon, I was feeling pretty good about how everything was looking. I still had some insecurities about the Tango, but I didn’t feel as bad about that style as I had before we had reviewed everything with the Princess.

Sunday was the day when all of the rounds I had signed up for at the competition were being held. That morning as I got up, I quietly thanked Lord Dormamu for telling me not to do Viennese Waltz this time around. Those heats were being held first thing in the morning starting around 08:00, so I would have had to get up hours earlier than I actually did at stupid o’clock in the morning. Someday I’m going to get to know the organizers of competitions, and have a long talk with them about why they feel the need to do Viennese Waltz so early…

I had offered to pick Sparkledancer up and give her a ride to the Dance Death Arena where the competition was being held that morning. She had told me that she was going to get ready at home, and didn’t want to worry about messing up her hair and makeup before dancing, so she was going to put her gown on and wear it to the venue. I thought it might be safer for me to give her a ride than for her to try to drive with the big, poofy gown billowing around her feet.

When we got to the front desk to check in, we gave the lady there our names and she scurried off to find our information packets. While we were waiting for her to return, the gentleman behind the desk asked Sparkledancer and I what college we were from. I paused, trying to figure out how to respond to an out-of-the-blue question like that. When I told him the name of the school I went to, I also let him know that I hadn’t been back there in years, since I had graduated quite a while ago. Sparkledancer told him the same thing, that she graduated from college some years ago as well.

The gentleman seemed truly surprised by that answer, saying that neither of us looked old enough to be out of school. When I told him that I was already in my mid thirties, he sat down on the desk and stared at me with his mouth agape. By then the other lady had found our packets and handed them to us so that we could be on our way. Sparkledancer thanked the man profusely for making her day by saying that she looked so young. I just laughed, because it was kind of funny.

What a strange way to start off a competition, huh?

Wandering around the Dance Death Arena after getting signed in, I didn’t recognize many of the competitors that were there. I did recognize many of the dance instructors that were hanging around with their students, and also many of the people who were either organizers of or volunteers running the competition. I guess my involvement in the world of dance politics introduces me to a very different part of the crowd that you see at events like this. I was a bit surprised by that.

There were a handful of competitors that I did recognize though, so I’m not completely out of touch with that side of the aisle. Two of those were Ms. Possible and her amateur partner, a gentleman named Grampy Snaps. As it turns out, they were actually dancing in one of the categories that Sparkledancer and I were also signed up for, so they would be on the floor with me for half my heats that day. The fact that we were directly competing didn’t seem to bother Ms. Possible that morning, and she was all hugs and smiles as we talked and waited for our first round to start.

Speaking of categories… as I mentioned before, I had signed up for the events in the four styles of Bronze International Standard of two different categories, which meant eight different events for me that day. My first two rounds of dancing were mid-morning, but then I had a really long break, with my other six rounds being stacked close together during what would normally be lunch time. There would be one pause to hand out awards in the morning covering my first two rounds, and then a second awards break mid-afternoon that would wrap up all my other rounds in one go.

Let’s get this out of the way now, since I know everyone is interested: things went really, really well for me that day. I placed much, much better than I had anticipated. Personally, I didn’t think that some of the heats I danced went super good, but apparently the judges didn’t see what I was feeling, because I still scored really high in those dances. Either that or my competitors just had worse rounds than I did. Yay?

The competition in one category I signed up for was significantly lighter than the other. During the rounds I danced where Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps were also on the floor with me, each dance we did was considered the Final because all competitors could fit on the floor at the same time. The other category had many, many more people dancing, with the rounds split into Semi-Final and Finals, and then the Semi-Finals also split into ‘A’ and ‘B’ sections because there were too many people to be on the floor safely at the same time in each Semi-Final.

After the first award ceremony in the morning when I found out I did really well in my first two heats and Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps found out they placed in the middle of the pack, Ms. Possible started to act frostier toward Sparkledancer and I. Before she was all hugs and smiles, but afterward the smiles started to fade and her words became more terse. That continued to get worse as the day went on. Part of that was due to Sparkledancer and I doing better than her and Grampy Snaps during the rounds where we were directly competing, but those two were also dancing in a lot of other categories that day, and in those rounds they ended up scoring in the middle of the pack as well.

She and Grampy Snaps train together under Lord Latin, and he was at the competition to support the group of his students who were all competing that day. I saw that Ms. Possible was monopolizing a lot of Lord Latin’s time, asking for advice and feedback in the hallways and practice room in between each of her rounds. I could see the frustration on the faces of Lord Latin’s other students because none of them were getting any attention with Ms. Possible eating up all of Lord Latin’s time. I heard later that things were made worse when Lord Latin, Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps were watching Sparkledancer and I dance in our other rounds, and Lord Latin was pointing out things that we were doing that he wanted Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps to emulate to improve their placements.


Judge Dread was also at the competition that day as a judge, if you can believe that! He was on the floor grading half of my heats that day – just the larger ones, I believe. That actually made me a little nervous. For some reason, dancing in front of and getting judged by a group of people I don’t know doesn’t really bother me, but dancing in front of a judge whom I have talked to quite a bit and who knows who I am does make me nervous. Based on how well I scored that day, I know that he can’t have marked me too bad, so I should just realize that it wasn’t a big deal, but still… I think that was the part of the day that gave me the most anxiety.

I found out after the competition was over that I probably didn’t have much to worry about as far as making the Finals in my larger heats. After the final awards ceremony was over and all the adrenaline had worn off of both Sparkledancer and I, we both realized that and neither of us had eaten in a really long time. Feeling good about our results, I suggested we stop down the street at a restaurant and get a quick lunch to celebrate before I drive her back to her place, which she agreed to.

While we were eating and talking about how things had gone, we saw four dancers come into the establishment that I recognized from our four largest heats earlier. After Sparkledancer and I had finished eating and were about to head out, we stopped to talk to them. We introduced ourselves and made some small talk about how the event had gone for each of us. One of the guys told me specifically that he wasn’t surprised that I had made it into the finals and then placed so well (he didn’t make the final round with his partner). He was amazed that I could dance, smile, and also engage with the crowd while dancing, all without messing up the figures in my routine.

Leaving the restaurant later, that comment really stuck with me. I know that part of the score that we get as dancers is for the ‘performance’ of the dance, which is pretty much all that gentleman was complimenting me on, but I didn’t think that what I was doing was all that extraordinary. After all, those skills – the smiling, talking, interacting with the crowd and just being mildly entertaining – that’s all stuff that I picked up from going out social dancing so much over the years. To me, that was the easy part of everything I did on the dancefloor that day.

So, to sum up the whole experience… how does this all feel? Honestly, I’m more relieved than elated at doing well. I’m not sure if anyone besides me remembers, but once upon a time I made a remark about how I didn’t consider myself a competitive dancer, but rather an “advanced social dancer.” When Lord Dormamu made the offer at the beginning of this year to direct my training and mold me into some sort of world-class competitive dancer because he saw a lot of potential in Sparkledancer and I, I went along with it mostly because I thought it could be fun, not because I actually wanted to compete on a world stage for any reason.

But I have really worked hard at improving since Lord Dormamu has begun pulling the strings of my dance life. I practice much more, and more seriously; I take what all the instructors I work with tell me to heart and really try to incorporate that advice into my dancing; when I do go out social dancing, I don’t really dance ballroom styles with anyone other than Sparkledancer anymore (if she’s there) to avoid falling back on bad habits, and if I do dance ballroom dances socially I use those opportunities with Sparkledancer to practice my routines while also working on the Lead-and-Follow of floorcraft that is essential for dancing safely during any ballroom style.

It has been ten months of work leading up to this competition, and doing as well as I did proves to me that all of that work I’ve done in that time really has made significant improvements in my dancing. That is where the relief comes from. I don’t feel like I need to celebrate doing well, or berate myself for all the things I know that I did wrong that day. I just want to acknowledge that I have actually and legitimately made progress while taking this trip down the ‘super competitor’ path. All of that time (and money, let’s not forget all that money) I’ve invested in this trip has not been in vain.

How’s that for an advanced social dancer?

I’m not the type of person to get into the “Post-Competition Funk” that I’ve read other dancers write about. A competition for me is just another day of dancing during this crazy adventure of mine in the Dance Kingdom. With this competition over, it’s time to get back to work.

After all, the next competition I was told I’m doing is less than a month from now!

I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

I didn’t do much this week. I started to feel kind of like crap on Sunday night, and since there was too much I needed to do at work to stay home and get better, I would suffer through taking medication to make me functional in the office during the day, and then go home and crash. After three days like that, I’m feeling mostly better, thankfully. I did sleep funny last night, so I’ve had this throbbing pain on the right side of my neck all day. Once I get this post all taken care of, I’ll probably go lay on the foam roller for a while to see if I can get some relief in my muscles. Cross your fingers for me!

Last Saturday I had a coaching session scheduled with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and we spent the whole time looking at Quickstep. Quickstep is one of those dances that I don’t entirely feel good about yet. I don’t feel as bad about Quickstep as I do about Tango though, which even Sir Steven admitted was still our weakest dance style, though we have improved greatly over the last month.

The big problem I have with Quickstep is the fact that it’s hard to practice well, much like Viennese Waltz. When Sparkledancer and I go out to practice during the week, we usually end up practicing in locations where  either A) the floor is smaller, so it is hard to really practice the movement of more than one figure at a time, or B) the floor is big enough, but there are a lot of other people using it, and none of them are doing the same dance style, so practicing Quickstep or Viennese Waltz up to tempo becomes dangerous.

For the most part, things felt pretty good while working on Quickstep that day. Our movement was really good, since Lord Dormamu has been focusing on movement with us. We spent time working on keeping our bodies rotated correctly during the Progressive Chasses that make up the majority of the long wall. Sir Steven told me that my part is easy, since I can pretty much keep my body rotated with a left-side lead after we finish up the Natural Spin Turn at the beginning up until we end with the Hesitation in the far corner. I love it when things seem easy! I’m sure that note will change later, but for now it’s simple to keep in mind!

After cleaning up some minor aspects and letting us run through all of the figures slowly for most of the hour, Sir Steven wanted us to run through the whole thing without stopping. Another instructor giving a lesson across the room was using the music at the time, so I just tapped out a tempo for Sparkledancer using my fingers on her shoulder so we could stay in sync. Just before he let us start dancing, Sir Steven went over to the couch where a different instructor for the Fancy Dance Hall named Sir Bread was sitting and asked him to watch what we were doing as well. That put the pressure on!

Once we finished the first long wall, Sparkledancer and I walked back to the middle of the room where Sir Steven and the other instructor were standing. When I raised my eyebrows in query to get some feedback, Sir Bread laughed and said that he asked Sir Steven after we started dancing why we were moving so fast and why there was no rise-and-fall, because apparently he thought we had been doing Waltz. It wasn’t until we got about halfway through that he realized that we were actually doing Quickstep, and then he felt stupid. We all had a good laugh at his expense, and then Sir Steven asked us to go do it again now that everyone was on the same page.

After the second run-through, Sir Bread commented specifically that our movement was looking really impressive. I may have done a little happy dance upon hearing that. Yay me! He saw a few points where it looked to him like we were rising up too much in the middle of a Progressive Chasse, so he told us to be aware of that. There were also a few points that he mentioned that we might have been breaking body contact, but those he wasn’t entirely sure about because he wasn’t close enough to see for sure, so the just told Sparkledancer and I to keep an eye on that during practice to make sure it isn’t happening.

I did manage to go out to one dance party on Saturday night, so my weekend wasn’t completely ruined by the hurricane passing through the area. Actually, it didn’t seem like we got any rain or wind until Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure why everyone was so freaked out about the storm where I live! Crazy people…

The dance party was supposed to be a semi-formal affair, but I went out to a different event before I made it to the party, so I was just dressed casually. When I got to the dance hall, I saw that Sparkledancer was there too, and she was up at the front talking to the DJ. I went to go put my dance shoes on and wandered over to where they were to say hello.

I found out that the two of them were having a fascinating discussion! Apparently, they both had joined a national ballroom dance-related organization, kind of like I did several weeks ago! They are in a completely different national organization than I am, so we probably won’t ever do anything together, but it was fun to talk dance politics with the two of them. As it turns out, neither Sparkledancer nor the DJ talked to each other before they joined this organization, but somehow the two of them ended up being placed on the same committee, so they would get to work together. How random is that?

Both Sparkledancer and the DJ mentioned that they had the same reservations about the national groups that they were a part of that I did about mine – the organization seems to be run by a bunch of old people who are really out-of-touch with the way that things are run nowadays. From what they told me, their national organization also has its priorities all out of whack, since they view the social dancers and the competitive dancers as two distinct groups of people, yet the membership dues that they collect from the social dancers are primarily funneled into the coffers for competitions that they host across the country instead of being put back into the social dance community.

That news obviously opens up a whole discussion can of worms that I’m not sure I want to process in writing at the moment. I’ll table that for another time.

We only got to talk for about ten minutes before the DJ had to start announcements for the party, but it was fun. They told me all about their group, and how their committee was going to focus on ideas directly related to outreach and communication with dancers. I told them all about the group that I joined, and how I would be working behind the scenes, making decisions that would shape tools and platforms that would be used by dancers across the country.

Even though the two of them are working for a different group with a different focus than I am, I think the three of us should continue to have these conversations and learn from each other as we move forward. After all, the more allies I have in my fight to shape the world of ballroom dancing in the U.S. into a more modern, unified world, the stronger my position will be, right?

Look at how political I sound! Man, I could run to be the President of Ballroom Dance someday if I keep this up! Do you think people would vote for me? Would you vote for me?

Anyway… Right before the dance party, there was a dance lesson that covered American Tango. When the instructor asked how many people in attendance had never done American Tango before, there were several hands that went up, so he decided to start things off from the beginning. Since the class actually had more men than women in it (which is unusual in my world), I decided to go sit out and just watch. Sparkledancer also came over to sit with me, because she was more interested in people watching than a beginners class in American Tango.

The instructor showed everyone the basic steps first, followed by the Reverse Turn. To practice the figures, he had everyone dance around the room rather than in straight lines up and down the floor. Most of the class had done some American Tango before, so some of the men were throwing in other crazy figures to show off, but there was one couple in particular that caught my eye. They were an older couple, and they had both raised their hands when the instructor asked who had never danced Tango before. They were struggling.

After the instructor split everyone up again and showed them how to do a basic Promenade into Fan, he had the class start practicing by dancing around the room again. This time, that new couple passed close to where I was sitting. I stood up and stopped them to ask how things were going, and the lady told me with a look of panic in her eyes that they were already so lost on the Reverse Turn, and then the Promenade thing also confused them, that they were thinking of just sitting out like I was doing. I offered to take them over into the nearby corner out of the line of dance and work with them to help them get the steps down correctly. I even offered to have Sparkledancer help me so that we could cover steps twice as fast.

I spent some time stepping through the guys part with the husband while Sparkledancer went through the lady’s part with the wife. Then Sparkledancer and I switched so that I could dance through the figure with the wife while she back-led the husband through his steps. He was still struggling a bit, so we switched back and I had him chant through the steps while we did them together to help him remember (forward-side-back, back-side-close). That seemed to finally help him get his footwork down.

After about ten minutes, we got them to the point where they were successful. Hooray! Sparkledancer mentioned one last note to the two of them that, if all else fails, they could just do the basic figure in a big circle all the way around the room if they wanted, rather than try anything they thought was too fancy. The new lady was really relieved to hear that, and said that they might try that out that night.

The two of them then rejoined the last part of class feeling much better, now with smiles on their faces. I lost sight of the pair during the party after the class, so I’m not sure how much dancing they did beyond the American Tango. However, I had to leave early that night to go take care of some things for work, and I caught sight of the lady and her husband on the far side of the dance floor on my way out. When I caught the wife’s eye and waved goodbye, the lady said something to her husband and then jogged over to where I was.

As she approached, she took hold of my forearm and I leaned in so that I could hear her over the music. She wanted to thank me for helping the two of them earlier. She said it was the highlight of her evening, especially after she had seen Sparkledancer and I dance together for one of the songs during the party (we were just screwing around with one of our routines, to work on dancing and using floorcraft at the same time). The lady told me that it was really nice that such high-level dancers would spend all that time during a class just helping her and her husband get a couple of figure right. Aww… that gave me warm fuzzies.

One final note: I happened to get something this week that I was expecting, but was surprised that it arrived so soon. Now I am officially the proud owner of some new clothes for my next dance competition. Yay… really, it’s probably not all that exciting to anyone besides me.

This outfit is a lot different from what I have worn in the past for competitions. I used to wear a three-piece suit that I own, the kind that most guys wear to church or job interviews. It was something that I already had in the closet, it worked for what I needed, and since I was competing so rarely I didn’t give it much thought before. Because I decided to change my dance focus this year and add more competitions to my schedule, it made sense to get some clothes that were specifically made for ballroom dancing. Seems logical, right?

The “dress shirt” that came with the set is interesting. It’s another one of those weird shirts that buttons up between your legs, which is always a fun thing to put on. I know that this feature helps keep the shirt from coming untucked while you move, but it just feels… weird. The material that the shirt is made out of is also this elastic-style fabric. The shirt is cut to be rather tight, so having the material stretched over my shoulders and arms just makes me look pretty muscular.

If that wasn’t enough, I decided to go with the coat-vest option rather than just a vest or a coat. This piece looks like someone took a long jacket from a tuxedo and then cut off the arms, so it’s not only perfect for a dance competition, but you can also wear it to any formal weightlifting events you attend at the local gym. Obviously you wouldn’t wear a shirt under the cut-off jacket to any formal gym parties, because you want to show off that you are super ripped AND super classy.

The pants that came as part of the outfit are pretty much the same as the practice pants that I wear all the time, except these have the shiny satin stripe that goes up the side of my legs. It’s a good thing that there is that noticeable difference too, that way I don’t accidentally get the two pairs of pants mixed up. My practice pants are not in bad shape, but they do get beat up and washed frequently, so if you are looking at them up close you can tell they are not in competition shape.

Overall, I think this look should help me with some things. For one thing, with the “dress shirt” being so tight and the cut-off jacket showing off my shoulders, you can see that my shoulders are fairly muscular. Especially if I were to stand next to your average dancer. I’m hoping that will help a judge to see that I am not sticking my trapezius muscles up when I am in frame… they are just that big. I think it looks fairly obvious in this new outfit, so we’ll have to see if a judge can see it as well.

Maybe I should bring my new clothes out to the Fancy Dance Hall sometime and have Lord Dormamu take a look. I know that he judges a lot of ballroom competitions, so maybe he can tell me if this getup helps him see that my shoulders are really just this size when they are rolled down. After all, these three articles of clothing were stupid expensive. Stupid. Expensive. If I don’t get positive feedback on them, is it even worth all the stupid money spent on them?

Sigh… expensive clothes are stupid. If I didn’t have to dress professionally for work, and I didn’t have to dress all fancy for ballroom dancing, I would probably only buy simple clothes that I would wear until they fell apart at the seams.

I’m not sure what’s going on this weekend yet. I do have lessons with both Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven lined up that I have to attend. Supposedly the Endless Dance Hall is having a free dance party on Friday night to celebrate the anniversary of their opening, so that might be fun (free parties are always fun, right?). My Royal Dance Court group is holding our monthly dance this Saturday, but I have a work thing I can’t get out of that I need to meet with some people and accomplish first, so I don’t know how late I will show up to that event, if I can make it at all.