With Thunder We Ride, With Lightning We Strike

This past weekend was a competition for me. Overall, I think things went pretty OK. There was a lot about the dancing I did during the day that I am happy about, but there were just as many points that I was not happy with. That’s all good though – it’s a learning process, and I have some time before my next competition to work on correcting the issues that I have control over.

But I phrase it like that intentionally because there was an issue that I ran into at this competition that I don’t know if I can really fix. Yes, “ran into” – my problem that morning was that a lot of the other competitors on the floor during my rounds did not seem like they knew what they were doing, and I got run into a lot. A. LOT. I like to think that I have come a long way over the years with my floorcraft skills, but it seemed like almost every time I had to pull my own steps short to avoid running into someone who crossed into my path without looking, someone near me did not and then they ended up  smacking into me. Yeesh.

Hitting people is something I really worry about, and do my best to avoid if at all possible. People hitting me is a different story. I am very solid because of years and years of weightlifting, so depending on how my feet are set on the floor when I hesitate, I will barely budge when someone runs into me. Most of the people I dance against are not very big by comparison, which is why I go out of my way to avoid hitting them accidentally. I move a lot and I am pretty heavy, so I could really hurt them.

This competition made me wonder if I could also really hurt them if they are the ones doing the striking, and whether I should try to do more to help prevent that from happening. I haven’t quite thought of a way to do that yet, but the idea has been noodling around in my brain. Obviously I am unable to look behind me, since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, and Sparkledancer is doing a quasi-backbend when she is in frame that prevents her from looking over my shoulder as well. Maybe if I had a headband, I could fashion a rear view mirror for myself? I bet I could make it look classy if I tried.

While the idea of a dance rearview mirror sounds pretty awesome to me, I don’t think that my coach will be so eager to let me try it out. So, for now, I’ll have to file that idea away somewhere and try to think of a different one. Sigh…

Two of my rounds were very different, because they had no one participating in them. The first one had only two other couples on the floor besides Sparkledancer and myself, while the second one (which was Foxtrot and Tango) was basically a showcase performance for us all alone. I wonder why neither of the couples from the first round wanted to do Foxtrot and Tango? With no one in my way during that round, and to some extent the Waltz and Quickstep round with only the two other couples on the floor, I was free to move around as much as I wanted, and things felt pretty good.

What didn’t feel good in that instance was the floor. As soon as I had room to stretch my legs, I could really feel how slippery the floor was. It was like someone had gone out to wax the floor the night before and then never made a note about it, so the morning crew came in and waxed it all over again because they thought it hadn’t been done. During the Quickstep round there was a spot where my right foot slid more than I expected and I ended up rolling my foot all the way over onto the side. Luckily I didn’t put any weight on it when that happened so I didn’t get hurt or anything, but it threw off my momentum a bit until I managed to get to the end of the figure I was dancing and was able to pull back a little to reset.

Otherwise, the competition went good. The results were nothing to be ashamed about, there were just points in the dancing that I didn’t feel went as well as I wanted. Everything seemed pretty normal, all in all. Except for one thing… the strangest thing I want to mention about this competition actually happened after I was done dancing.

The events were all running really early, so I had time after I finished up to find a place to change back into my street clothes and go back to the ballroom and watch some rounds before I had to leave to make my trip back home. There were some people who I knew who were dancing that day, and I wanted to see if I could catch them on the floor and watch how they did. Sparkledancer decided to come hang out with me as well, and to chat with all the people at the competition that she knew. I’m not as popular as her, so I just stood there quietly most of the time.

While I was standing there though, a competitor that I did not know approached me. He introduced himself and shook my hand, and then told me that he thought I was a lot of fun to watch. That’s always nice to hear, nothing weird about that. But then he said (and I quote), “Your poise is very strong, and you do a great job of keeping her [gesturing toward where Sparkledancer was talking to someone] under control.” Then he excused himself to head up toward the on-deck area, leaving me standing there.

So. Many. Questions.

What in the world do you think he meant by that? I waved Sparkledancer down so that I could relay this brief conversation to her, and we both stood there scratching our heads to try to figure that out. I never feel like Sparkledancer is out of control, so I don’t know what that guy saw me doing that made it look like I was keeping her in control. Is it actually a good thing that I am keeping my partner under control? I have heard that ladies like to boogie away from you if you don’t hang on to them when you’re dancing… but that’s not really an issue in International Standard.

I didn’t know what to make of that comment, and since the guy was going on during the next rounds and I had to leave shortly, there was no chance for me to ask him to elaborate on that observation.Since that was the last notable thing to happen to me while I was in the ballroom at the competition, that little nugget of information has colored all of my thoughts about the event. Not to worry though – the more time that passes, the funnier that the comment gets, and I’m sure I will use this as an inside joke between Sparkledancer and I in the future. She won’t have much choice in the matter, since I am so good at keeping her under control, obviously. 😛

With that event out of the way, the next thing that I got a chance to go to this week was Latin Technique class on Monday night. Because Lord Junior and a number of his competitive students were still preparing for a competition (which they left Wednesday afternoon to head out to), in class this week we touched on techniques in several different Latin dance styles to help with their training. This was fun for me because one of the styles we got to look at this week was Pasodoble, and you know by now that Pasodoble is my favorite International Latin style.

But that was the style that we looked at last. To start with we worked on Botafogos from Samba. The point that Lord Junior really wanted to emphasize in this figure that several of his competitive students in class hated doing was the hip placement when you landed on the third step. As I’m sure you know, when you finish each Botafogo and you hold briefly before the next figure, you are supposed to have the non-standing leg’s hip lifted as much as possible. Lord Junior likes to describe it as being like a shelf that he could set his drink on.

My white-boy-hip syndrome really prevents me from looking good while trying to do this. Sure, I have the mechanics basically right, and my body parts are in the right place as far as I can tell, but when I look at myself in the mirror I think that I just look silly. I don’t know if I could ever fix that problem.

Next up we spent a bit of time looking at Jive. The figure that Lord Junior used for our exercise here was the Mooch, but he really only wanted to have us work on the kicking action from that figure, so we only did the rock step and the kicks and then switched to the other leg without traveling anywhere. I don’t do Jive too often anymore, so my kicks may have looked a bit more martial arts-esque than they should have for a Swing dance, especially when we were doing them super slow.

Finally we got to the Pasodoble, and this was the only style we got to work on with partners during class. Two of the ladies that were in the class that night had never done the Pasodoble before, so the figures that we did were pulled from the Bronze syllabus to keep things simple. We did a basic Promenade and Counter Promenade, and then went into a Grand Circle to finish.

Even though the figures were fairly simple, we ran into an issue because those same two ladies that had never done the Pasodoble before had also never done any ballroom dance styles before, so they didn’t know what ‘Promenade’ or ‘Counter-Promenade’ meant. Even after Lord Junior spent a few minutes demonstrating the differences, it took several repetitions of the figure for one of the two ladies to get the idea of what she was supposed to be doing. I didn’t mind though – more time on the Pasodoble makes me happy.

Finally, on Wednesday night I got a chance to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. This session started off with us spending twenty minutes or so going over our results from the competition. Through the wonders of technology and one of us remembering to bring our paperwork from the competition to the lesson with us, we got to review all of our results for each heat and see what went well and where we needed to focus on in preparation for the next competition.

A point that Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I based on the results actually had to do with the judges. We had the names of the judges who had marked our rounds available, and Lord Dormamu knew who all of them were (since he just knows everybody in the dance world somehow). He was able to point out a difference in our marks from judges who were formerly high-level competitors in International Standard or American Smooth versus the marks from judges that were former competitors only in American Rhythm or International Latin.

He told us that the judges who knew about ballroom dances would be able to see the difference in our quality of movement versus our competitors, which is why the marks we got showed that they had scored us really highly. Judges who had never spent much time studying ballroom dances gave us a more mixed bag of scores. One judge in particular Lord Dormamu didn’t like, because he was part of some faction of dancing that is out of favor with ‘the powers that be’ (whomever they are), so his marks we were told to just ignore entirely.

My obvious question for Lord Dormamu was, if we are always going to get marked better by judges who know more about ballroom-style dances, can we either A) go to competitions where all the judges for our rounds are ballroom experts, or B) do something that will make us look better so that even the judges who are experts in Latin and Rhythm will see us as the winners? Lord Dormamu laughed at me and told me that there is a competition where all ballroom-style dance events are judged only by judges who are experts in Smooth or Standard, but I am nowhere near ready to go overseas to compete in that yet (I’m sure you can guess which competition he was referring to).

So that leaves us with working on looking better so that even judges who are not experts in ballroom styles will see us as the best dancers in our rounds. Lord Dormamu’s initial suggestion was to look at volume for Sparkledancer, and posture for me. Sparkledancer’s volume is an ongoing thing, one that she is going to be constantly improving as time goes on. He can’t force her to bend more and create even more space between her head and mine. She has been working diligently on improving her flexibility, so the volume will continue to improve as she continues to improve over time. He did give her some suggestions on tweaks to her frame through certain figures, and they spent time working on how she looked in Promenade Position before the night was over.

But for me, things were a bit more difficult. Lord Dormamu was quick to admit that my posture is really improved, and out of all the events that he has been judging recently where he got to watch dancers at my level (including a few events where I was dancing), I stand out a lot because I not only am standing up tall and straight, but I also look imposing through my chest, shoulders and arms when Sparkledancer is creating enough volume that a judge can see me clearly. But he mostly sees me while I dance during our lessons, which may not be exactly what I do while on the floor at every competition.

His thought for me was that I may not be maintaining my posture the whole time I am out on the floor. We spent some time looking at this in the context of the Quickstep, where we had our closest call in the results from the competition. After dancing through the routine a couple of times, his impression was that we were moving with a lot of power, but there were places where he could see our topline wiggling a bit more than he would have liked.

What he told me that I should do to fix this was to continue to practice the idea that we had talked about during my last session, which was to allow gravity to drop my body at the points where I needed to lower, rather than trying to control the lowering action the whole time. Lord Dormamu thinks that when I am working to control the action rather than just let gravity do the work, that is what is causing the wiggling that he is seeing in my upper body. And anytime my upper body is wiggling, that guarantees that Sparkledancer’s upper body will wiggle too, since I weigh so much more than her.

Allowing gravity to do the work did significantly improve the way our Quickstep looked, so yay for that! I was a bit worried, much like I was the last time we had looked at this, since I thought that dropping myself so quickly was going to have a negative impact on Sparkledancer (I would be, I imagined, like an anchor dragging her down). Sparkledancer told me that what we were doing was working pretty well, and that she would let me know if my actions become too much.

So, since that seems to fix the lowering action in the Quickstep, I had to ask Lord Dormamu about the Waltz before we wrapped up for the night. Should I be doing the same thing and letting gravity drop me faster as I lowered in the Waltz, or should I keep controlling that action like I am currently doing? He told me that he would like to see me incorporate this same idea into my Waltz if I could over the week while Sparkledancer and I practice. Once he can see how I look dropping myself in this manner, he would tell me if it is too much and I need to pull back. He said that it is going to feel like the fall is happening too fast if I am dancing the Waltz to slowed down music, but when dancing at tempo it shouldn’t feel weird.

So that is what my plans are focused on for this weekend. Lots of practice, working on giving up control to gravity a bit more when I am dancing, and focusing on always maintaining a calm and strong topline while I move. We are looking at going to a small competition during the month of March where we can get some initial feedback on these changes, and then a larger event in April where hopefully everything will look perfect by that time.

I’m still moving forward – that’s always the right way to go.

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And The Muscular Cyborg German Dudes Dance With Sexy French Canadians

Last weekend wore me out. I spent pretty much all day on Saturday at the Endless Dance Hall. It was a lot more than I had originally planned on when I agreed to do the competition there last weekend, but it was mostly fun. To be available to do everything on Saturday, I had gotten up earlier than I wanted to so that I could get a few things done in the morning and head out to the Endless Dance Hall. I didn’t sleep too well that night – there were a lot of things going on, and I just couldn’t get my mind to quiet down, so I was awake on-and-off throughout the night. So the day started off with me already being tired.

Originally I was going to just dance in the competition, and my heats were going to be held late in the morning, which would have given me the rest of the day free. Then the organizers decided to have a dance party that evening in conjunction with the competition. Normally this would be something that I could skip if I was tired, but the week before the competition I had been asked if I could help set up and run the dance party because of my capacity as a member of the Royal Dance Court. At the time I agreed to do it to be helpful, since I am pretty easy to convince to volunteer for dance-related things.

Then the competition itself had some of its volunteers back out because another commitment that they couldn’t avoid came up, so I was asked if I could also come and help during the day. That’s why I ended up at the Endless Dance Hall well before my rounds were scheduled to start. In fact, I got there before any of the other competitors so that I could help set up the last-minute decorations, some of the technical equipment for the scrutineer and the DJ, and also help check people in once other competitors started arriving.

Helping out all day wasn’t really all that bad, but I also had some things for work that I had to get done that day. Since I was at the Endless Dance Hall all day long and well into the night once the cleanup from the dance party finished, I didn’t get home to start on my work items until after 11:00PM. By the time I finished working and crawled into bed, I had been up for almost twenty-four hours, so I ended up locking my cat out of my room overnight so that she wouldn’t walk all over me while I’m sleeping (she enjoys doing that for some reason) and passed out. I didn’t end up going out to practice on Sunday because I had kind of burned myself out on dancing Saturday. I feel a little bad about that, but not bad enough to apologize for doing it.

Anyway… there were only four of us working at the competition that day. One was a lady who was one of the two organizers of the event, and then there was also Sparkledancer and my friend Indiana who had been talked into volunteering for the event like I had. The competition was fairly small compared to others that I have gone to, but since the three of us were such novices at running an event like this, that turned out to be advantageous for us. We managed to get through the day with very few issues, and all the problems that did come up one of us was able to work out in very little time to keep everything running smoothly. I am quite proud of that accomplishment.

The rounds that I actually danced in that day turned out to be a bust though. I had thought that there would be people for me to dance against at this competition, but the people who had signed up for my rounds all scratched out at the last minute. Were they afraid of me or something? So that guaranteed that I got first place in everything that I danced, which in some ways is disappointing. I really hate dancing unopposed. Like, really hate it. It bothers me a lot.

Aside from the ribbons that I got for the events I danced in, I also got a medal. It was for being such an awesome volunteer and running everything so well. At least, that’s the story I will actually tell anyone who asks. The truth is slightly funnier than that, but only one other person gets to know that story. I am going to cherish it forever. Or give it to my cat to wear, because she definitely is first in my house. Either of those options would make me happy.
I did get a short break after the competition rounds were all finished up for the day while the staff at the Endless Dance Hall cleared up all the furniture that had been put out for the competition and cleaned up the floor for the dance party that night. When I got back to the venue, I switched on my full Royal Dance Court party host mode and got to work. I think I ended up doing a little of everything that night – collecting money at the door, engaging in small talk with guests that I had never met before, making sure that the snacks and drinks were filled, playing gopher to deliver messages between the DJ, the venue staff, and various volunteers as needed, and filling in to dance with ladies who were sitting out on the side since there were more women than men in attendance. That’s right, you can think of me like a Jack of all Trades for dance parties. I’m cool with that designation.

The party ran smoothly as well, like the competition earlier in the day. There was only one portion that I consider to be a bit of a hiccup – apparently over the last week or so prior to the event, the details of the party had been posted to a number of different locations, and some of those places listed the start and end times differently. That wasn’t really an issue that I had any hand in or that I could fix while helping to run the party, but I still consider it a hiccup to how well the event ran. There were a handful of people who showed up to the party an hour after we had actually started, because they had gotten their information about the party from a note someone had posted that listed the start time wrong. Because of that, we ended up running the party later than we had originally planned, giving those people who showed up late extra time to get their dance on before closing things down for the night.

However, being nice like that meant that I didn’t get out of there to go home until quite a while after I had originally planned. Also, there was one couple that had come to the dance that just would not go home! They were hanging around long after the music ended and we were trying to clean up. That would have been fine if they had offered to help us clean up, but they were just wandering around, getting in the way, trying to talk with the other volunteers and the DJ so that those people couldn’t finish the tasks they were working on… it got to be a little annoying to me. I was specifically waiting around for the DJ to finish disconnecting everything so that I could help move around the heavy equipment that was part of the sound system, but because that couple kept talking to the DJ I didn’t get to finish that when I wanted. Sigh… people.

Monday night I tried to get back to a bit of normalcy by going out to Latin Technique class. I had gone out after work to work out my legs, so when I got to the studio I was really hoping that we would end up doing Rumba to give them a little break. Unfortunately, I only had one other person agree with me that Rumba was the best way to go. Several of the other ladies wanted to do Samba, which I REALLY didn’t want to do! Lucky for me, a couple of ladies convinced him to work on Cha-Cha, which was still not going to be great for me to do with tired legs, but I could fake it better than Samba.

A fair number of ladies had shown up for the class that night, so Lord Junior said that he would have us work on some solo choreography rather than try to partner up. The choreography we were given was kind of short and was built to repeat, so you could use this to warm up or work on fast movements if you wanted. There is even something thrown in for people who want to do Samba, just so that those crazy people don’t feel left out.

We started out on a diagonal with our right foot forward. On beat two we would to a rock step and then go into a basic Forward Lock. Next we did three Open Box Steps, which is actually a figure that I learned a long time ago in Mambo. Each of these Open Box Steps should rotate you a quarter of turn over the three steps. At the end of the third one you would immediately take your right foot back to go into two Batucadas (the figure from Samba). Doing these in Cha-Cha timing seems harder to me than trying to do them in Samba timing, so good luck if you want to give them a try!
Once you finish the Batucadas, you would take a step back on your right leg, then pull your left leg in until your feet are together and do ⅜ of a turn and step forward on your right leg again. I know that kind of sounds like a heel turn, but trust me, it is not. To make the next step easier, we held in that position for most of one beat, then took two steps to the right on the next ‘& 1’ in the music so that you are standing on your right leg with the left pointed to the side. In that position we could go into two Cuban Breaks with ease. After the second one, we would stop halfway through a third with the left leg crossed in front of the right, do a Spiral Turn, and come out back into a Forward Lock like we had started the progression with so you could repeat everything.

After going through this slowly a few times, Lord Junior wanted to have us try to add arm motions to the mix. I was sort of able to do them while we were going slowly, but they just got to be wonky when he started to speed up the music on us. At that point, the biggest thing I had to spend a lot of effort focusing on was taking small steps as I moved. My default at this point is to try to push myself off my supporting leg to take as big of a step as I possibly can, which is a terrible thing to do during Cha-Cha. By the time we got around to dancing to full tempo music, I had dropped my arms out completely to help me remember to take small steps. I managed, though I’m sure that it didn’t look the prettiest while I did it.

Tuesday night I had to attend a meeting of my Royal Dance Court group to discuss dance business. There were so many topics that came up, it’s hard to sort through them and make any sense of it all! But above all of it, there was one topic that came up, one that was even listed on the agenda for the meeting for the night, that took up more of the discussion time than anything else that was talked about…

Mr. Grouchy-Face.

All I could think about when I got the agenda for the meeting a few days before was ‘Oh man, what did that guy do now?’ This is not the first time that we have spent time during our planning meetings to discuss things that Mr. Grouchy-Face has said or done, so my mind was rapidly trying to imagine all of the worst-case scenarios on things that he might have done this time which would warrant us spending even more time talking about him.

But all of my speculation was for naught, because Mr. Grouchy-Face was back on the agenda for a reason that we had already discussed before, albeit with a slightly new twist. It would seem that Mr. Grouchy-Face had decided that the best use of his time in his retired life would be to start writing letters to all sorts of people. Letters to my Royal Dance Court group’s president. Letters to various national dance organizations. Letters to friends, that he then would also post on his social media pages where anyone could read them. So many letters! Some of those letters even formed words! 😉
Jokes aside, the main topic that Mr. Grouchy-Face was writing about so much was a practice that he is really against, one that you’ve probably seen at dance parties you’ve attended: dance hosts. For those of you who never go social dancing, a dance host in my part of the Dance Kingdom is a dance instructor that is hired by a person or a group of people to go with them to a dance party and dance the night away. All the dance hosts I’ve ever seen have been male dance instructors hired by ladies, but I’m sure somewhere out in the world there are female dance instructors being hired by male dancers too. I’ve just never come across that in my travels.

Mr. Grouchy-Face does not like dance hosts. Does. Not. Like. Them. One. Bit. Based on what I found out about the content of his letters, for some reason he thinks that they are ruining social dances for all the men already in the Dance Kingdom, making dancing at social dances dangerous, and also preventing new men from stepping up to attend these parties and have fun with everyone on the dance floor. Yeah, those are his thoughts.

A bit of explanation, in reverse order:

  • Preventing new men – Mr. Grouchy-Face believes that new men are intimidated when they are at a social dance where a dance instructor is among the crowd of participants on the dance floor. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, trust me, I had the same thoughts, but Mr. Grouchy-Face believes that having dance hosts around who look more impressive on the dance floor makes it less likely that men who are new to dancing will come back to dance again.
  • Making social dancing dangerous – it is his belief that the dance hosts, when they are out on the floor with the ladies that hire them and doing ‘competition figures’ (as he calls them) make dancing dangerous because they bump into other dancers when they execute those moves. In truth, several ladies who are in my Royal Dance Court group have danced with Mr. Grouchy-Face and said that he is actually the one that is not very good at floorcraft and has run them into other dancers, but Mr. Grouchy-Face believes that the problem lies with the dance hosts.
  • Ruining social dance – according to the letters that he wrote, Mr. Grouchy-Face says that ladies who have hired dance hosts no longer want to dance with other men at the social dances they attend, which makes it hard for the other men to find willing partners. There was no mention of the fact that nine-out-of-ten dance parties (a statistic I just made up) have more men than women, so there always seem to be a plethora of other partners to choose from. No, somehow these dance hosts who only dance with the (anywhere from one to three) ladies that hired them for the evening make it impossible to find a lady to dance with.

I know, some of the positions he is presenting seem a bit… extreme, but those are his concerns that he has been spelling out in writing all these letters.

One of the groups that he had been writing letters to got sick enough of receiving them to actually start work on a response. They called someone they knew who lived close by, and asked that person to attend a large social dance that they knew was going to happen that month and take notes to see if the behavior Mr. Grouchy-Face was writing about actually happened. From what I was told at the meeting, the person took lots of notes, compiled some sort of report, and then passed that along to the people who had been getting Mr. Grouchy-Face’s letters. They are still ‘reviewing’ the report, which may just be management talk for ‘sitting on it until the problem is forgotten about.’

When Mr. Grouchy-Face was informed that someone had taken the time to come and investigate his concerns, he seemed pleased. Listening to all of this, I couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, this group would actually be able to do about the so-called issue. Each social dance in the area is run by a different group; like individual studios running their own parties, ballroom fan club groups hosting events, and my Royal Dance Court group. While each of those groups that are in close physical proximity to each other try to arrange our events so that we don’t step on each other’s toes,  we all have different leadership and rules for our events. So even though one outside group decided to come see what was going on based on Mr. Grouchy-Face’s letters, no changes to the practice that he has problems with could possibly happen until he convinced the leadership of all of the actual groups hosting these social dances in the area to change for him.

I don’t think that most of the social organizations that are near me would even consider making changes for him. I know for sure that my Royal Dance Court group isn’t going to. Our reasoning is that we constantly have more women than men attending our dance parties, so if a few ladies want to attend our party and bring someone they hired with them as a dance partner for the evening, that helps increase our attendance numbers without wrecking the male/female ratio. All the dance hosts that are hired to attend our parties are dance instructors, and all of them are good about keeping their movements contained while on the floor (I’ve watched), so the dance hosts don’t bring up Mr. Grouchy-Face’s concern for safety in my view. Because of this, we see no reason to tell ladies they can’t hire someone.

While we spent quite a bit of time discussing this issue during the meeting on Tuesday, it was more of an informative discussion than one where we tried to come up with a resolution. After all, Mr. Grouchy-Face is just one guy, and so far he’s the only person I know of who has complained about dance hosts. Even though he does so quite vocally, and apparently also in writing quite frequently, unless we have more people step up and join in the chorus with him, I doubt my Royal Dance Court group will move to any action, and just continue to observe from the outside to make sure that everyone plays nice. Who knows? Maybe getting the response that generated a report from one group will be enough to placate him for a little while. We’ll have to see. I’m sure if I hear about changes to this situation, I will be writing about it again, because it’s a little amusing to me to document the history of this silliness.

I’m going to wrap things up here for the week, since I went off on that subject for much longer than I originally intended. Time to clear our minds and get ready for the long weekend ahead! Are you doing any fun dance things during your holiday? I’m pretty sure there are a number of things on my plate to look forward to. Couple that with an extra day to sleep in, and I am going to be a happy man. I hope your weekend is just as fun and productive as mine looks to be. I’ll tell you all about it next week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beast mode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madness Is The Gift That Has Been Given To Me

I feel like I did a lot of dance things this weekend, but not much actual dancing. And then I did not do much else the rest of this week, because I got sick. Poor, sad little me. 😦

Last Saturday was the day that my Royal Dance Court group holds our monthly dance party. This month we had decided to put together a big formal affair instead of our usual low-key social dances. I’m talking everyone getting dressed up, a full meal served beforehand, fancy decorations – the whole enchilada. Most of my day on Saturday was actually spent putting this event together, so I didn’t have any lessons that day. Because everyone was busy on Sunday with a different event (which I also went to), I didn’t have any lessons that day either. What? Crazy! But it’s true.

My Royal Dance Court group had actually rented out the Endless Dance Hall for our event, since that is the biggest dance venue in the area. We were all told to meet there around noon to get the place set up for the dance party that night. I spent most of the setup time doing manual labor, leaving the actual ‘decorating’ part to the ladies. As you can probably guess, my forte is lifting and carrying heavy objects, not arranging flower centerpieces and choosing which color tablecloths to put on each table. I could do those things if I absolutely had to, but the arrangement would be less ‘artistic’ and more ‘logical’ then I’m sure some people would have liked. What can I say, I understand things better if there is an order to them.
The hardest part of moving around all the tables and chairs was the fact that there were still dance instructors teaching at the Endless Dance Hall while we were trying to do this. I felt bad for them, since they were just trying to do their jobs and make some money, so I did my best to stay out of their way. I can’t say that all of the members of my Royal Dance Court group did the same, though. Luckily, we all managed to get through our work without too much trouble, and the arrangement of tables and chairs that we opted for left plenty of room on the dance floor in the middle for students running through ballroom routines. The instructors naturally migrated their students into the center and worked around the tables almost like we had choreographed the whole thing. If they had been singing along with music playing in the background, I might have thought I was in the middle of some kind of elaborate musical number!

The party itself went off without any hitches that I heard about. There was only one person that was not able to make it, but everyone else who bought a ticket showed up. I think there was even one extra person who showed up, but I can’t be sure. I saw her when she walked in about an hour into the dance party and stood by the check-in table. When I went over to go talk to her, she told me that some guy had already picked up her ticket and was holding it for her. I just so happened to know what table that guy was sitting at for some reason, so I pointed her in that direction and sent her on her way. Whether she had a real ticket or not I never found out, but dinner was already done at that point so having her there just to dance didn’t hurt anything, I figured.

Personally, I didn’t think that the dinner was super good. I know a lot of other people liked it, but I thought that it was kind of lacking. I had opted to have the pasta dish for my entrée, but they gave me the tiniest amount of pasta ever, so I felt sad. Luckily there were leftover dinner rolls after everyone ate, so there may have been one or two more of those in my belly by the end of the night. Also, I ate a cupcake. I can’t remember the last time I ate a cupcake. Or any other cake that wasn’t baked in a cup, for that matter. Huh… that sounds pretty sad when I write it out.

We had just under a hundred people who bought tickets to our formal that night, so there were a lot of people on the floor dancing. As I’ve delved further and further into the world of competitive dancing, I’ve started to have mixed feelings about going out social dancing like this (which you may have noticed, because I write about dance parties a lot less than I used to). On the one hand, going to social dances is the only real way I have to practice my floorcraft skills, which is an important thing to practice. I don’t think that I can give up social dancing completely for that particular reason.

But I also feel… stifled, for lack of a better word, when I am out trying to dance during a social. I’ve spent so much time learning how to move while I’m dancing – covering great distances with every step that I take is kind of how I roll now. Dancing with social dancers, especially people much older than me who take tiny steps while dancing, really limits how much I can travel. It feels… disappointing to dance small.

I might be able to avoid this problem if I decide to only dance Rhythm- or Latin-style dances during dance parties. The problem with that is, I’ve spent all this time over the past year-and-a-half studying nothing but International Standard, so I feel like I have forgotten a lot of the figures I used to know in all those other dance styles. That means that if I try to dance a Rhythm- or Latin-style dance, I end up repeating the same few figures that I do remember over and over again while wracking my brain trying to think of others. I worry that the lady I happen to be dancing with at the time is getting bored, and then the dance starts to be less fun. It’s a weird progression of ideas to go through in a short two-to-three minute period.

Anyway… Sunday afternoon the big event scheduled in the Dance Kingdom was a showcase performance over at the Electric Dance Hall. I actually went out to the Electric Dance Hall early in the day to meet up with Sparkledancer for some practice, since the studio was open. When I first showed up, there were only a couple of people around setting things up for the performances later, so we basically got the dance floor to ourselves for practicing, which was totally awesome. I even got control of the sound system, so I could put on whatever music I needed for the dance styles Sparkledancer and I were practicing, which made it even more productive. Woo hoo!

After about an hour-and-a-half though, others had shown up and were starting to rehearse for the show, so we lost most of the space. We ended up calling it quits shortly after that because I kept having to stop myself or change my routines to avoid running into people, so practice was becoming less productive. Plus, since all of these people were going to be performing later in the day, I thought that they should get the first crack at the space they needed, so I was always the one changing things to go around them. I couldn’t help it, I know what it’s like to perform, so I didn’t want to bother them.

I ran home to try to get a bunch of stuff done in the couple of hours between my practice and when the show was scheduled to start. I managed to get back to the Electric Dance Hall fifteen minutes after doors were scheduled to be opened, but that turned out to be super late. The parking lot was packed! On top of that, the parking lots nearby that weekend parties at the Electric Dance Hall usually overflow into were mostly packed as well! So many cars! When I finally managed to park and walk over to the building, it was standing-room only, and even then I had to fight for a place to stand where I could see what was going on. Even though that was mildly inconvenient to me, I am super happy that Lord Junior managed to get so many people to come out and watch the showcase.

Personally, I thought that this showcase went better than the last one that I attended. Last time it seemed like the whole show was pretty much just performances by Lord Scarry and some of his students. This time around, they had limited him to only eight different numbers out of the thirty-some that were on the schedule, so while he was on ‘stage’ for a lot of the event, other people got opportunities to perform as well, so the whole show seemed more… varied. I mean, I know that it’s hard to choreograph a routine, but each instructor has a certain preferred set of moves that you can pick out if you watch performances that they put together, so a lot of performances in one show all choreographed by the same instructor makes the performances start to bleed together.

The beginning of the show was where they had scheduled all of the Amateur couples to perform. There were four of them, I believe, and they were all relatively new to dancing, so it was one of those “AWW ADORBS INFANT DANCERZ” moments while watching them. Seriously, it reminds me that I was like that once when performing. Full of nervous energy, arms all akimbo because no matter how much I practiced with them they still didn’t want to work right while being watched, and seriously trying to smile for the audience to show them that I was having fun even though I wanted to grit my teeth the whole time in terror. That’s what it’s like for an amateur performer. I know that Pro/Am shares some of those insecurities, but you would think that at least the Professional-half of the partnership wouldn’t feel like that, right?

One performance that was particularly notable was a routine that was done by Sir Digler and one of his students. This lady was much older than all of the other performers that day, so the times that she was on the floor moving her arms and legs you could see that she was a bit shaky and couldn’t move very quickly. To work around that, she and Sir Digler had put lifts into the routine. So many lifts. It was almost as if every other move they did involved him picking her up off the ground. It was incredible.

What made it so incredible, if the information someone else told me isto be believed, was that this lady was like 90 years old. That’s right – Nine. Zero. And the lifts that they were doing weren’t just ones where he would pick her feet up off the ground slightly either. He did ones where he held her over one shoulder while she was in a plank position, or lifted her completely off the ground while she struck a pose, or twisting her around his body and ending with her sliding between his legs. The amount of core strength that this 90-year old woman must have had was incredible. I mean, I have that kind of core strength now, but imagine maintaining it for the next fifty-some years! Super awe-inspiring.
Excuse me for a minute… I suddenly feel the urge to do a hundred sit-ups for no reason.

Other than that one overly inspiring performance, everyone else did a good job as well. On top of the performances, the party was also set up to be a bit of a social dance. The acts were divided into two halves, and between the sets there was social dancing. Not many people actually came out to the floor and danced with me though, they were too busy in the back area demolishing the snack table. Seriously, I had been standing by the snack table while watching the first act, since that was a spot where I had a decent vantage point, and there was tons of food. When I got back to that spot to watch the second half, there was barely anything left on the table! Crazy! It looked like a gang of sharks had descended on the table after I had walked away!

After the performances were done there was supposed to be open dancing as well, but not much of that actually happened. I tried to do a couple of things with a few ladies, but there were so many people from the audience standing around on the dance floor talking with the performers or other friends that it made dancing kind of dangerous, so I gave up after a few songs. I have lots of body mass, and I worry about running into people and seriously hurting them, and then there would be ambulances, and police, and questions, and dirty looks… and I hate dirty looks. So I do my best to avoid situations that could be dangerous.

That’s really all I did this week. If I had to guess, I must have caught something being around all of those people on Sunday afternoon, because Monday through Wednesday this week I was feeling miserable, and ended up spending all of my non-work time either on my couch staring at a wall or in bed sleeping. I had taken all of this cold medication to make it through my days at the office in a semi-functional state, but cold medication always leaves me feeling a little loopy, so ended up suffering for it in the evenings. Sigh… being sick is dumb. Hopefully that is all past me now and next week can be more fruitful.

I think I even get Monday off of work, so I can use that time to get caught up on all the  things I didn’t do while I was sick. Like dance practice! Hooray for that!