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!

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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.

Yeesh.

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!