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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come On Now, Follow My Lead

For a little bit of a change of pace this week, let’s reflect on a bit of dance drama that is going on in the Dance Kingdom at the moment. I am not a part of it, but I have been hearing a lot about it from a growing number of people. Plus, it’s on my mind at the moment, so I want to talk about the problem. This isn’t necessarily a brand new problem we’ve been having – parts of this drama have come up during a couple of different quarterly meetings I’ve been to for my Royal Dance Court group, so the issue has been going on for at least six months. I personally did not see it as being a big problem initially, certainly not an issue worthy of discussion at multiple different meetings, but since the issue now seems to be spreading into conversations with even some non-Royal Dance Court members, I don’t feel so bad spending a little time writing about what’s been going on.

It all starts with one elderly gentleman, whom for this exercise I’ll refer to as Mr. Grouchy-Face. Now, Mr. Grouchy-Face likes to dance, and when he goes to dance parties he is an unattached male, so he’s the kind of person that all of us in the dance community like to have around. Followers like him because usually there aren’t enough guys at any dance party, so having one more guy around who doesn’t bring a dance partner with him increases their chances of getting to dance. Other Leads like him because having another Lead around means that occasionally they might get to have a break during a song to go get some water or snacks, or even (gasp!) say hi to their friends.

This guy…

But Mr. Grouchy-Face is not like other dance Leads in that way. Mr. Grouchy-Face does not rejoice in the arrival of all other dance Leads at the parties he goes to (and occasionally at parties he doesn’t even attend). Mr. Grouchy-Face seems to have something major against a specific subset of Leads, and he likes to make sure everyone knows about his feelings regarding these gentlemen. It used to be that he would occasionally make off-hand comments during dances about these Leads at parties, but lately it seems he has taken to writing up long-winded ranting posts complaining about these men online. These rants of his are things that I have seen because lately they’ve gotten copied and emailed around when others take offense to his messages. Mr. Grouchy–Face goes back and deletes his writings after a day or so, so the only record we really have are these copied versions that are passed around… but if you wait until another dance party comes along, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see another message on the same theme be posted by this gentleman.

See, what we have going on in the Dance Kingdom is this process where sometimes a couple of ladies in the community will get together and, to make sure they have a dance partner during a dance party they want to attend, they hire a male dance instructor for the evening. These instructors essentially act like Dance Hosts, like you would see on a dance cruise. From what I’ve been told about the process, there are a handful of younger male dance instructors in the Dance Kingdom that are willing to give up their Friday or Saturday evenings to make some extra money, and if you split that fee amongst two or three ladies it doesn’t cost a whole lot. If the dance instructor has two ladies, each lady gets to dance every other dance, if there are three, they get to dance every third dance, etc. etc..

The return that the ladies get for the price is incredible. I have been to many parties where male instructors have been hired out in this manner, and these guys really get a workout during those evenings. They dance pretty much every song, and I’ve seen times where the only rest they take is during line dances or mixer dances, and during the break in the middle where the host of the party gives a few announcements. These Dance Hosts rival only the Dance Robots for how much time they spend on the dance floor during your average party!

Mr. Grouchy-Face does not like this practice. Not even a little bit.

The first time I heard about Mr. Grouchy-Face’s issue, it was described to me during a Royal Dance Court meeting as a patron of some of our dances being concerned about the hired dance instructors coming in and doing all kinds of “fancy moves” all over the dance floor, which Mr. Grouchy-Face said was a safety issue. When I heard that, I think I just stared at the person relaying the story, blinking slowly. That concern about a ‘safety issue’ is what brought about the speech I gave about floorcraft at the beginning of our dance party last month (note: I didn’t give a repeat speech this month because we had a much smaller crowd this past weekend, as I feared we would).

And that’s the point that brings Mr. Grouchy-Face back into the light this week… this past weekend I did help host another monthly dance party with my Royal Dance Court crew. There weren’t a ton of people who came by – it was a fair amount, but nothing like the crowds of the months prior. Mr. Grouchy-Face was not one of those that came out that night to dance with us. His name was not on the sign-in sheet, and I did not see him out on the floor, so I know for a fact that he wasn’t there. Yet even though he had no first-hand knowledge of the party, he chose to complain about what he thought happened that night. The next day someone showed me a copy of another long-winded rant that he had composed all about things that ‘happened’ at our dance party.

The Internets are serious business!

Living in this modern world like we do, a couple of the attendees at our dance party had taken a number of pictures of the event and posted them online. Mr. Grouchy-Face looked through all those pictures and decided to write up something all about how the party looked like a lot of fun and he wished he had gone, but it was probably better that he didn’t because it appeared, based on his personal count, that 85% of the pictures taken of the party were centered on these hired Dance Hosts. When I read through this message that was forwarded to me, I thought someone was pulling my leg! There was only one instructor that I saw who came to the party that night because he was hired as a Dance Host! One!

Now, to be fair, there were a couple of other instructors that were there at various points throughout the night – we (the Royal Dance Court) had hired an instructor to come in before the party and teach an American Waltz lesson, and he had stayed for the party afterward to dance with ladies and possibly drum up new business for himself. Lord Junior had been in the area that night, so he had stopped by to say hi to people he knew, and he ended up staying for an hour or so to dance a little… but no one paid him to be there, and the Royal Dance Court member running the check-in desk let him in for free since he has helped us out with a lot of things in the past. And finally there was a guy who came to the party that I am pretty sure teaches lessons at the Endless Dance Hall, but I can’t swear to that, so maybe he was counted as an instructor. This gentleman actually paid the cover charge to get into the party, and spent the evening dancing with ladies socially without causing much of a fuss, so I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

I had to actually get out my computer after doing that mental checklist of the dance instructors at the party so that I could look at the pictures that Mr. Grouchy-Face was talking about. As I flipped through them and took count for myself, there were nowhere near 85% of the photos being centered on the dance instructors (and that was counting the few instructors who were there that weren’t hired as Dance Hosts for the evening). I then went through and took another count of the photos where you could see one of those individuals in the background of the pictures. The venue we use isn’t super huge, so if you take a picture that isn’t facing the wall you can get a large portion of the dance floor in the shot. Counting that way you might be able to make an argument for 50% of the pictures having a dance instructor in them, but that is still a far cry from 85%.

But the part that really confuses me the most? I think it comes down to this statement that he made:

“The [Royal Dance Court] feels so strongly about hosting as the norm for “social ballroom dancing” that some of their [Court] members don’t even show up and participate in the club’s own group lessons. It’s the same [Court] members who arrive with a dance host only after the lesson and rarely dance with their own club’s members. When these [Court] members manage to dance with someone other than a pro (their “host”), it takes a “real” man away from everybody else. Essentially, the [Court members] ensure that they dance every dance—even when it leaves other (member) ladies sitting out.”

(Note: this is a direct copy from the statement Mr. Grumpy-Face wrote that I was forwarded. The italicized words in brackets change the names he typed to protect the innocent)

This is what throws me for a loop – if Mr. Grumpy-Face is so concerned about ladies sitting out during these dance parties, don’t you think he would be excited to see these instructors acting as Dance Hosts out on the dance floor? If the Dance Hosts take care of a couple of the ladies throughout the night, that frees him up to take care of other ladies who are “sitting out” so that more people can dance during each song! I mean, I don’t see it as being any different from what the Dance Robots do. They are not married, but they always come to dance parties together, and they very rarely dance with anyone else during the evenings. If the female Dance Robot decides to join in during a mixer dance while the male Dance Robot goes off to eat snacks (or cause trouble, which he thinks is funny), you could make the same argument that the female Dance Robot is taking a “real” man away from the other ladies attending the party too, couldn’t you? If that’s true, then you could say the same about the handful of older married couples we see coming to the dance parties who don’t often switch partners during the evening too!

I don’t think this concern for ladies sitting out is the whole reason that Mr. Grumpy-Face dislikes the Dance Hosts so much. I think a lot of it has to do with some dance jealousy. Take a look at this statement he made in an earlier rant he wrote about another event:

“’Hosting’ was going on last night, so it looks like this was about a 7:1 opportunity for the ladies to dance with someone better than the ‘members’.”

What am I even reading here…?

That’s what I personally think the real heart of his problem is. Dance jealousy. It’s fairly obvious that these dance instructors that are hired to dance with ladies know more than the amateur male dancers at the parties. After all, they are dance instructors! If they didn’t know more than the amateur male dancers, then they probably shouldn’t be teaching, right? But rather than watch these instructors dance at the parties and get inspired by what he sees, and then go out and learn how to dance better himself, Mr. Grumpy-Face chooses to complain about their presence at the dance parties instead. Because obviously complaining online takes much less work than going out and practicing his own dancing so that he can become better… which is something that he could totally do, since he is retired and thus has lots of time during the day he could devote to dance practice!

Another weird thing that Mr. Grumpy-Face has made comments about that he doesn’t like is an upcoming fundraiser dance that is being held in the Dance Kingdom this summer. To raise money for one of the children’s ballroom clubs, there is this adult ballroom club in the area that is holding a fundraiser dance party. They talked a whole bunch of local dance instructors in the Dance Kingdom into donating a few hours of their time that night, and people are allowed to “purchase” a dance with those instructors during the party, with all the money for those dances being donated to the children’s ballroom club. It’s a neat idea, and I’ve been to a party like this in the past, and everyone who was there seemed to really enjoy themselves and the event raised a sizable amount of money for the cause. Who wouldn’t like that?

Mr. Grumpy-Face saw the announcements posted for this upcoming charitable dance party, and he is not a fan. He thinks that a better idea would be to have the group of people who is putting together this dance be the ones whom people will donate money to dance with. I’m not sure how he thinks that will differentiate this event from a normal social dance that these people attend where other attendees can dance with them for free. You would think that he could see that, logically, more people would be interested in attending a dance party to dance and socialize with these local professionals, many of which do not often attend social dances, versus donating money to dance and socialize with the party’s organizers, whom I see all the time at various social dances around the Dance Kingdom and could dance with at any of those events. Especially since several female dance instructors have signed up to donate their time for the fundraiser, which you almost never see happen because there is usually a glut of female attendees at social dances. So that night even Mr. Grumpy-Face could hire a dance host to dance with if he wanted to!

Sigh… OK, I think I’ve got that out of my system. I apologize for showing you a part of the seedy underside of the Dance Kingdom. Being elected as a member of the Royal Dance Court exposes me to these things. This issue has started to take on a life of its own lately, so I thought I could use this as a way to get my incredulous thoughts off my chest so that I can remain calm and collected during the future discussions about this issue that I’m sure will come up. You can bet that there will be more to the story the next time I get together with my Royal Dance Court group, even if I see them informally.

Thanks for sticking with me through this. Until next time – keep on dancing!

If We’re Dancing All Alone Or In A Crowded Room

Last Saturday morning I headed out to the Fancy Dance Hall for my scheduled coaching session with the Princess. I must say, by the time I finished up with that lesson, I was not feeling very good about how I danced at all. It wasn’t even like we really covered anything all that different from things I had heard from other people before or anything, she just wanted to emphasize different techniques that morning than the techniques that I have been focusing on in my other coaching sessions of late.

So what things did the Princess really want me to work on with her that day? The biggest thing was she wanted me to really use my body connection with my partner to drive my steps. She also wanted the lead to be coming mostly from my hips, just like Lord Dormamu had told me. I got to go through the semi-uncomfortable demonstration again where I had my hands put on the front of the Princess’ hips and had to hold them there while she went through some figures in Waltz. It was less uncomfortable for me this time around than it was when Lord Dormamu made me put my hands on his hips while he danced – I’m not sure if it was because I had already had to go through this weird exercise with a dance coach once already or if it was because she was female, and thus the threat of my hands accidentally slipping was less awkward to me (luckily I have gotten good at keeping my hands in one place).
  She also told me several times I needed to bring my left side more toward her when we got into dance position. I guess this is something that I am going to need to worry about with any partner I dance with. When I open my arms to allow the lady to walk toward me and get into dance frame, I keep my body in a neutral position with no rotation in my hips. I guess I was assuming that my partner would get into frame with me in the correct place without me having to rotate at my hips to adjust at all… but apparently that is the wrong assumption. So that’s something to keep on my list to look at adjusting before I even start dancing now.

There were several points that I also got called out for my head being in the wrong place. I know, this is a constant struggle for me, and even when I feel like my head is leaning slightly to the left I guess from the outside it sometimes looks like it is leaning slightly to the right. The Princess had this tendency to use her pointer finger to push against my head when it was in the wrong place to make me fix it. Several instructors I have worked with have done this before, but unlike those coaches the Princess has long fingernails that felt rather sharp as they were digging into the side of my neck. That wasn’t really the most pleasant thing to experience, especially when she decided to poke me like that when we were in the middle of dancing.

So yeah, there was nothing really earth-shattering from that lesson. We spent half the time working on Waltz and half on Foxtrot. The Princess was nice enough to tell me at the end that I have noticeably improved, but I still need to work on keeping things consistent and to fix some of these minor things to take it up to the next level. I don’t know why the constant starting and stopping to go back and fix things made me so unhappy with my dancing that day, but it did. I ended up leaving and heading off to go work out and burn off some of that negativity so that I could be in a better frame of mind before I went out to host a dance party later that night.

As I mentioned at the end of my post last week, I was out and about hosting another monthly dance party this past Saturday night with the rest of the gang from the Royal Dance Court. Well, I say “the rest of the gang” but really it was only about half of the group. Being a holiday weekend, many of the members of the Royal Dance Court were out of the area visiting with family. I had expected that we would see the same thing with all the dancers who would otherwise attend our party, leaving us with just a small crowd that night. As it turns out, since all of the other dance parties that would have otherwise happened that night were cancelled or rescheduled due to the holiday, ours was the only ballroom dancing event in the whole Dance Kingdom last Saturday night, so we had quite a large turnout instead. Hooray!

To begin the night’s festivities, we had invited a local instructor to come by and teach a class on American Cha-Cha for anyone interested. From what I was told, this instructor regularly teaches classes and lessons at the City Dance Hall, but I don’t remember ever seeing him there in all the times I’ve been to that location. That could be because I don’t often pay attention to the other male dancers when I am there since there are usually a lot more ladies than men, so my attention is needed elsewhere. He was a fun instructor though, and English was clearly not his first language, so some of the phrasing he used when explaining things was unintentionally funny. When class started, we initially had the same number of men and women, so I was hanging out along the edge of the floor keeping an eye on things.

A couple of ladies showed up about ten minutes into the class, so I ended up joining in at that point to help keep things as close to an even ratio as possible. I ended up in the front row next to the instructor because all the other men chose to stand in two rows behind him; I’m guessing so that they could watch what he was doing during class. Since I hadn’t seen anything new to me in the ten minutes I was standing along the side, I figured I could be right in front as well so that people could watch me too if needed. The pattern that was taught that night wasn’t that difficult in my mind, but there were a couple of parts that surprised the ladies that I danced with in class. Several ladies told me that the other men besides me and the instructor guy next to me were doing things differently – which was kind of a scary thing to hear from the ladies, since the progression we went through ended up being rather long. None of the men complained that they didn’t understand the figures we had gone through, so the instructor guy just kept adding on more until we ran out of time for the class.

We started out with what I consider a normal starter step for any Cha-Cha: a side step to the left on beat one followed by a backward rock step. After that we did a normal chasse to the right followed by a Crossover Break (or, in International Cha-Cha, a New Yorker). From there we did a figure that I had learned long ago as a ‘Snap’ but I’m not sure if that’s its real name – coming out of the Crossover Break, we rotate back to face our partner, but instead of doing a chasse to the left we stop her by putting up our right hand and then turn to do another Crossover Break to the right. This second Crossover Break led to the first piece that many of the ladies I danced with struggled to get through frequently: In the middle of the Crossover Break, you needed to pivot on your front foot (left foot for the Leads, right for the Follows) to go into another basic chasse to the right. This is an easy transition to lead, because if the guy has a good connection with his partner and rotates at the right time, the lady has no choice but to turn. From what I gather though, many of the men weren’t doing this correctly.

After the second chasse to the right, we went through the second figure of the evening that the ladies I danced with didn’t really understand until I went through things with them. This one actually surprised me though. All we were supposed to be doing was a basic Solo Turn to the right (a Solo Turn is where both the man and the woman turn at the same time – also called a Walk Around Turn). Many of the women I danced with just kind of stood there and watched me awkwardly when I turned, even though I was pushing against their left arm to try to get them to turn with me. Once I stopped to talk them through what should be happening, and let them see the instructor guy next to me leading the lady through the same figure, they seemed to catch on. Several of them told me that the men they danced with in the rotation prior to me weren’t doing anything like what I was trying to lead them through, which is why what I was doing was confusing them. I don’t know what to make of that figure causing so many problems though. I had thought that was a fairly common step that pretty much everyone knew.
  Coming out of the Solo Turns, rather than go back into normal dance frame we went into a wide two-hand hold so that at the end of the chasse we could do Cuban Breaks – one set to the left and then one set to the right. As we finished the Cuban Breaks and shifted our weight back to the left leg (right leg for the ladies), the men did a rock step backwards while leading the ladies through a normal Spot Turn. This led into our final chasse to the right of the evening, after which the instructor checked the clock and saw that there was still a bunch of time left, and asked everyone if they wanted to keep going. Most of the class agreed enthusiastically, so he added on two final figures. The first was a Fifth-Position Break on the right hand side, which set us up for the final figure. The final figure was essentially the Promenade Walks from East Coast Swing, modified to fit to Cha-Cha timing. I’m fairly certain this figure isn’t on the Cha-Cha syllabus anywhere (at least, not anywhere I can find), but if you’ve done Promenade Walks in East Coast Swing before you can easily do them in Cha-Cha as well.

Once the class was over was my big moment to step into the spotlight for a minute. As I mentioned a while back, there had been a few complaints from some gentleman who attended our social dances about dance hosts doing ‘fancy’ moves on an increasingly crowded dance floor. In order to combat these issues, I had been elected to start giving out a few pointers on floorcraft before our dances began, to help improve the floorcraft of our attendees, and thus improve the dance floor safety of our parties. I said I would write up a whole speech and present it here for you all to see, but I never got around to that. Instead, since I have become accustomed to talking to random people at these sorts of events, I decided to just wing it. After a brief introduction of myself and an overview of why I was giving this speech, I laid out three random floorcraft points from a list I had made prior to that evening:

  1. When we are dancing ballroom dances, there should be two different tracks. An outer track for those who take larger steps and move ‘faster’, and an inner track for those who take smaller steps and move ‘slower’. This leaves the center of the floor for people not moving or dancing a completely different dance style.
  2. To tie things back to the lesson, I reminded everyone that when doing New Yorkers or Crossover Breaks on a crowded dance floor, they shouldn’t not fling their arms out fully extended. Instead they should keep their arms at their side with their hands on their hips. I did make a joke about ladies dancing near a certain individual being allowed to throw their arms out to smack that person, which got a laugh.
  3. The biggest point I emphasized that night was that people who didn’t know Viennese Waltz or Quickstep should not be on the floor during a Viennese Waltz or Quickstep. I pointed out that a social dance, especially one on a floor the size that we had to use, was not a place to learn either of those dances. After my speech was over, the DJ also reiterated this point.

I closed my short speech with the three points about floorcraft that I had learned from Judge Dread, that the Lead’s job is to keep his Follower safe, keep her comfortable, and keep her entertained. These three points have stuck with me over the two years since I took that class, so I thought it would be a good line to close with. If I really do end up giving a speech like this every month before our Royal Dance Court dances, I think I will close with this line every time.
  For the first part of the dance, I mostly hung out in the back of the room to watch what was going on. There were a pretty even number of men and women at the party, so I didn’t want to get in the way of everyone else having fun. I did have one lady stop by during one of the first Cha-Cha numbers to ask me if I could show her the pattern that everyone had gone over during the class. She had missed part of it, and wanted to make sure she knew what was going on in case some gentleman tried to lead her through this new progression. I took her over to a mostly empty corner of the dance floor to step through it slowly with her, and she seemed to understand once we finished.

The most unexpected part of the dance happened early on in the night, right after the first Foxtrot number was played. I had been standing in the back during that Foxtrot, as I mentioned, just watching people, and making friendly conversation with the few people who came within range of me. After the dance was over and the DJ changed over to a different song and dance style, an older gentleman made his way off of the dance floor and over to where I was standing. My spider-senses started tingling immediately as I noticed his approach – this gentleman was the guy whom had made the complaint that led to me giving the short speech on floorcraft in the first place. I put on my best welcoming smile and braced myself for whatever might happen.

When he was close to me, he reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and pulled slightly so that I would lean down so he could speak in my ear. He told me that next time I should make a point to emphasize that the instructors that show up as dance hosts should watch out as well. Apparently one of the dance hosts that a group of ladies had hired to dance with that night had done what he called a “fancy move” on the dance floor, and he was near the guy when it happened, and it caused him to have to change his steps to avoid what was going on. I bit my tongue to not say too much in response to that, instead just nodding and agreeing until this gentleman was satisfied and wandered off. I really wanted to tell him that I was less worried about what those few instructors serving as dance hosts for the evening were doing than I was with the other social dancers who I see doing all sorts of crazy things on the dance floor, but I didn’t think that the middle of a dance party was a good place to get into that kind of dance philosophy discussion.

Sigh… I’m sure that this will come up again at our next Royal Dance Court meeting.

I missed out on Latin Technique class this past Monday because of things going on at work, but I did manage to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. We ended up working on Quickstep that night, focusing quite a bit on footwork that required you to be up on your toes for long periods of time. Without knowing that we were going to be doing this during class, I had unfortunately worked my legs really hard during my normal workout before class, so my calves were kind of unhappy before we even started dancing. I managed to grit my teeth and get through things, but I was happy when class was over and I got to go home and rest my legs for the night.

We began class warming up with chasse-like steps down the long wall. All of the steps were meant to be done while up on our toes, and we did several variations of timing, with a few runs that had some twists to keep things interesting. We began with normal Quickstep Progressive Chasse timing, then switched to chasses in Pepperpot timing, then did a few where it was Pepperpot timing with a 180° rotation on a slow step between the chasses, and to finish things off we changed over to Lock Steps in Pepperpot timing. The Lock Steps and the Pepperpot timing were good to end the warmup with because we used those in the actual progression we worked on for the rest of class.

Our progression was pretty basic overall. We started with a Natural Turn into a Natural Spin Turn, ending with a V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn was used as the first step of the V6 to make sure everything flowed together properly. We used the Lock Steps that you have in the V6 to work on the timing and footwork we had started in the warm-up. First we were doing the V6 with Lock Steps that had normal timing, and then we changed things so that the first Lock Step was normal and the second used Pepperpot timing, and finally we did both Lock Steps with Pepperpot timing. At the end of class when we were running through the figure for practice, we kept switching up which timing we were using just to keep everyone on their toes (ha ha! Unintentional humor…).
  I know there are several dance parties going on this weekend, but as of right now I’m feeling like kind of a stick in the mud, so I don’t know how much effort I will put into going to any of them. Staying home and curling up with my cat sounds like a grand idea. We’ll have to see what happens. I’ll let you know all about what I end up doing next week.