Pumpkins Grin In Their Despair…

Oh man, it’s Halloween. Did you hear something about a Halloween dance field trip going on last weekend? Because there was one! That seems like a good story to tell on a night like tonight, doesn’t it?

Because many of the people from the Land of the Loft had never actually attended an event held at the Great Dance Hall before, those few of us whom had been there AllHallowsEve1before invited everyone that was going to the party that night to meet us outside the building an hour before the party started. There was a place to eat within walking distance, so we decided that we could all go get dinner together, and then all go to the party together. So, clad in our costumes, we met up to eat, getting some laughs from the other people in the restaurant, and then made our way over to the party.

This year’s party theme invoked the haunted ghost towns of the Wild West. The Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were all dolled up as old-fashioned saloon girls, and the Lords were all cowboys. All the students were told to just come in costume, and it didn’t necessarily have to be a costume that matched the theme, but many people did. When everyone started arriving, they had cordoned us off in the downstairs ballroom of the Great Dance Hall so that they could finish preparing everything in the upstairs ballroom where they would soon present us with some kind of skit to get the party started. People had come bearing treats – various spooky looking desert and snack items, all to be entered into a contest to see who had brought the most holiday-themed food. As we all wandered about, mingling with people from the other lands within the Dance Kingdom, a hush fell over the crowd as the King came and stood in front of the door to the upstairs so that he could address his subjects.

The King talked with everyone for a while, giving everyone in attendance the rundown on the Halloween party. He started by asking everyone in attendance to raise their hands if they had attended each of the previous year’s parties (this being the 8th year that they had thrown one). There were many people present that had attended last year (myself included), and then the numbers dramatically decreased going back farther into the past. The farthest back we got was one couple who had attended the third annual party, but no one there had been members of the Dance Kingdom before that time. Then he went over the game that he had created, the game that they have played every year during the Halloween party (more on that later). When he was finished describing the rules, he had been informed that everything was ready upstairs. With that, he opened the door to everyone, instructed them to quietly head up and stand along the striped wall, and the festivities began…

The first year, when the Princess and the King talked of throwing a big Halloween party, the King had a brainstorm. He came up with a game based on Clue that incentivized everyone to dance together and have fun. The game he invented could AllHallowsEve2be modified to fit in with each year’s theme. This year there was a skit put on by all the Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom that told the story of the murder that everyone would be trying to solve. The sheriff (played by none other than Lord Fabulous) set the scene in a saloon, where the cowboys were trying to impress the saloon girls. One lady (played by the Princess) was being favored by two cowboys (played by Hot Tottie and Lord Bradley). During a tap dance number the two cowboys put on to impress the lady, a fight broke out amongst the gentlemen in the back playing cards. The fights spilled over into the tap dancing cowboys, and soon all the men were involved in the mix. During the fight all the lights went out, and when light was restored we found that the lady had been murdered. As the sheriff explained, it was up to all of us to figure out who was the murderer, where the deed had taken place, and what the weapon was that the killer had used.

As he talked, the saloon girls wandered through the crowd and handed out a card to each person, and the game began. The game was simple enough: your card identified one of the options for one of the three categories (person, place or thing). When you danced a song with a partner, you got to look at their card and they got to look at yours. Each of you could then cross that item off your list. If you danced with enough people, eventually you would cross off four out of the five items in each category and you would be left with the answer to the sheriff’s questions. Just like Clue, for those of you who have played that. First person to get the correct answer and report it to the King without cheating would receive a prize. With that, we danced!

Since they had put out tables for food in the downstairs ballroom, all the dancing remained upstairs, and with all the people who had shown up it was really warm up there. The only person whom I don’t think minded the heat was Sir Steven. I swear that man does not sweat. But we had a good time. There was a lot of Latin dances and very few ballroom-style dances, which I would also attribute to the amount of people on the floor. It was much safer to do dances that did not travel as much. The ballroom at the Great Dance Hall, while bigger than the one at the Land of the Loft, is smaller in size than the floors we would be on for a competition, so there wasn’t much to work with. I did do a particularly dangerous Waltz number with Sparkledancer during the evening, so I can testify to that. I will tell you that I did not win the Clue game they were playing – didn’t even come close. The group that I had come in with had taken up refuge at a table in the back by the windows, and with everyone so close by we were just having fun switching amongst ourselves and a few other random people who got too close and were pulled into our midst. I don’t think I even crossed off any of the items on the list I was given except the item on the card that I was personally handed.

In the middle of the evening they had a costume contest to pick out who was dressed the best out of everyone whom was there. Lord Bradley led everyone AllHallowsEve3around the room in a pseudo-conga line that marched in tempo to the music playing up at the front of the line, but moved really slowly at the end of the line. Other Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were spread around the room to be judges, and Lord Bradley wound everyone around all the people standing still for almost twenty minutes. Everyone in line was laughing pretty hard by the end, losing the ability to take the contest seriously. When the judges had reached their decision, everyone lined up along the striped wall once again and they announced the winners of all the contests. The costume contest was won by the Ski Bums from the Land of the Loft, who were both conveniently dressed as skiers for my picture!

…no, not really, they were dressed as something much more thematically appropriate to the party. But wouldn’t that have been convenient?

There was a second mixer game that was played in the evening that I put much more effort into participating in. The game went like this: the DJ played an East Coast Swing tune. After a while, the music would pause and Sir Steven would yell out one or more of three commands. Once command would make you freeze in place, the other forced you to change partners, and the third had the gentleman drop to one knee and the lady sat down on his other knee. The last couple on the floor to follow the command would be taken out of the game, until only one couple remained. Things started off pretty easily – the music would pause and one command would be shouted out. I stayed off to the side near some other people so it was easy to switch partners, and focused on just doing simple East Coast Swing steps so as not to miss anything. As more people were taken out of the game, Sir Steven started chaining the commands together two at a time so that you would have to do the first command and then the second. As we got down to the remaining few people, I hadn’t been eliminated yet, but then they started throwing in sets where all three commands were used. There were only two couples left on the floor, myself and Tall Steven plus two of the female students. We were pretty evenly matched for a couple of rounds, both of us managing to get everything done quick enough that no one could tell who was slower. In the end though, I ended up losing because I had the girl on the wrong side of my body when they paused the music and I couldn’t bring her to sit on my right knee fast enough and we just kind of tumbled for a few seconds too long.

After that was over, I needed to take a break to let the adrenaline flow out of my bloodstream, so I headed downstairs for a while. Almost all the attendees from the Land of the Loft, including Sir Steven and Lady Q, were all standing in a big circle AllHallowsEve4talking with the Princess. We had a nice long talk with her as she told various stories about things like how the King came up with the idea for the Halloween party and the themed game they played every year, how they really put some thought into the design of each of the lands in the Dance Kingdom so that each would have its own personality, and also about all the time and effort they put in when they bought the Great Dance Hall. The building is really old, so they remodeled a lot of it while saving some of the more historic pieces like the brick finish to the walls in the downstairs ballroom and the original flooring in the upstairs ballroom from a now-endangered type of tree that could not be replaced. You could hear her get a little choked up when she talked about how the Lords and Ladies (“the kids” as she called them) all signed their names beneath the floorboards before they laid them, and how hard it was for her to move from their old building into the Great Dance Hall. She said that on moving day she couldn’t bring herself to help, so she just sat in the middle of the dance floor in the old building and cried. The King told all the Lords and Ladies to just keep packing and moving things and just leave her there – he said he would be able to get another princess if she didn’t want to go with them.

When the talk wound down, it was getting pretty late. We all headed back upstairs to dance the last several songs of the night, and then the party was over. Everyone left meandered downstairs to collect their things, change their shoes, take a whole bunch of last-minute pictures and say goodbye to everyone. After a long night full of dancing, we all slowly stepped out into the cool October night, mostly to go home and collapse in bed. After all, there would only be a few days until we would all be back at the Land of the Loft to do more training!
AllHallowsEve5 Happy Halloween all! I hope you had a spooky night!


Rotating Endlessly Might Not Look Bad

I keep thinking about the Bolero routine. Halfway through we do a shadow walk move (I have yet to nail down the actual name of it, but that’s a good description of it) which causes us to end up about two large steps down the floor from where we started. At the end of the routine, Sir Steven told us to do two rotating basic steps, so we start again facing the same direction. The problem with that became that as my partner and I practiced in a confined room, we started getting closer and closer to the opposite wall from where we started. I realized that, in taking these two large steps and never doing anything to compensate by taking large steps in the opposite direction, we were just going to keep drifting over time.

In an empty room, it wasn’t a big deal. I’ve never done Bolero in a room with more than one or two other couples on the floor (and all doing the same thing in the same direction), so I wasn’t sure if it was good to drift like that. After hemming and hawing about it for a week, we brought it up to Sir Steven at our last meeting with him. He said that we could just continue to rotate until we faced the opposite direction from where we started, and then do the routine going the opposite way, essentially keeping us confined to a rectangular space on the dance floor.

This works great, in theory. In practice, as we went over this a couple of times, I am starting to think it looks a little… weird. When we end the routine, and get to the part with

Sure to cause dizziness...
Sure to cause dizziness…

the rotating basic steps, we are already facing the direction I want to go. So to do the rotating basic steps, I have to do four 90° turns to end up facing the same way I started before moving on to the next step of the routine. It seems like a bit much to me. Having never been to a competition like this, nor watched on being performed, I’m not sure if that is weird or not. It just feels like too many of the same steps in a row before adding in variation. This weekend, when I asked that question, we did not do the changed routine in front of Sir Steven, so he has never seen it with all these rotations. I think this coming weekend I am going to have to start by showing him how it looks, and see if it is just me that feels weird doing the same thing repetitiously like that, or if others will think it looks uncouth as well.

Other than that, I am feeling pretty good about all of these routines. My dance partner was having trouble with some turns that were added into our Waltz, and was getting frustrated with them. We practiced them over and over using normal, slow songs, and she still struggled. I switched it over to a much quicker tune (Kiss From A Rose, in case you were wondering). As soon as she didn’t have time to over-think the turns and just had to follow my lead, it was beautiful. We’ll have to try it again later, a bit slowed down, but I feel pretty good about that.

Only one weekend left before the big day. Then we all will descend upon the Great Dance Hall, the seat of power for the kingdom, and compete in these great dance games for laud and honor (and perhaps, maybe even some sort of dance scholarship…). Are you ready for this? Am I ready for this? I really have no idea what to expect. There will be a celebration after the games are over, which (as you can imagine) takes the form of a dance party. It looks like it could be an exhausting, but very exciting day.

The Nobility, Part II

NobilityIIThere are a few other instructors of note that I have seen since getting in to this realm. As an aside, the notable ones are male. That’s not because the female instructors aren’t worthy of note – indeed, they are just as professional and talented as their male counterparts. I personally saw one of the ladies perform a high-energy lindy-hop routine after recently spraining her ankle.  No, it’s because there are just more male instructors than there are female. From what I have seen, the primary demographic that this sort of business attracts is older, middle-class women who have watched a lot of a-certain-dancing-reality-show-featuring-stars, followed by engaged couples who are learning a routine for their wedding dance. A male instructor can take on all these students: single female and couples of any sort. Female instructors can teach couples, but it’s not recommended for them to teach single women. Single men do come in looking for lessons, but it is much rarer. That’s why there are twice as many male instructors at our studio. And at the other lands in the kingdom, the Lords also outnumber the Ladies as well.

The first outside instructor we came into contact with was Tall Steven. He came to our studio one Friday night many months ago to do a performance with one of the ladies. Easily spotted out on the dance floor, he is fairly tall (if you hadn’t guessed). This man, though not Hispanic himself, has an incredible grasp of Latin dance technique. One time, during a Samba group number that they were teaching at the late-night dance, he and Sir Steven were both standing in front of the class by the mirror. When they both started doing the Cuban rock with their hips, I swear I saw a gravitational singularity forming in between them because of the power of their hip motions, and I feared for my life a little.

Tall Steven is a great guy though. From what the female subjects I know have TallSteventold me, he is a bit intimidating to dance with (though they say that about most of the male instructors), but he is very polite and kind. However, I have been warned that he is a ruthless competitor. Sir Steven told me that if I ever got stuck next to him during a competition heat, and I was too close, he would just bowl me over to continue his dance. That just shows you that you can never let your guard down in this world.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to tell you about Lord Bradley.

This man rules over the Great Dance Hall, which would seat him squarely underneath the royalty. For good reason, too. Let me tell you what I have personally witnessed – the last dance show that the realm put on, Lord Bradley personally danced his way through over a third of the acts. So not only was he dancing in front of people with a large number of his students for hours, but he did it without breaks, since he took the time between each of his dances to change costumes. All without getting the routines mixed up, and after having done almost the same number of dances in the morning during the rehearsal. That is what made him the leader at the Great Dance Hall.

It is rumored that his days are often spent like this, pushing his body to such limits to excel in his craft. As he tires, and heads home for the evening, he lays himself down on a bed made of all the young maidens hoping to be selected to be female instructors in the kingdom. Since he rules over the main portion of the Dance Kingdom, he has power to choose whom he wants at his side to lead the subjects. So, the lasses stay close at hand for him, practicing their own dances while he is working, and soothing him to sleep every night, in hopes that by assisting him he will move them up from the rank of mattress-girl to blanket-girl, and then to pillow-girl, and finally they are allowed to graduate to be a dancer under his charge.
BradleySo there’s that! That concludes all the major figures in the Dance Kingdom that I think you should be aware of right now. Along the way, we will meet other students, and practice our skills, and maybe someday be decent dancers ourselves. So join me, and let’s see what happens in this crazy world!

The Nobility, Part I

Our own quest to learn to dance is based out of the Land of the Loft, which is the closest studio to where we live. It has much better lighting than the usual dungeon that people quest in, which makes for a more pleasant learning environment. The studio is the home of three of the nobles, the ones I promised I would tell you about yesterday. These individuals are: Lord Fabulous, the man in charge; Sir Steven as his head instructor; and Lady Q as the female lead.

Lord Fabulous is the most recent addition to our troupe. He originally hails from the Great Dance Hall by the Lake, and still goes back there every-other week to maintain a relationship with some of the subjects he formerly worked with. Some time back he became ruler of our area, through some kind of dealings that involved either promotion or monetary exchange with the King, I’m not quite sure which. Now he rules over the roost with a glittery fist, welcoming almost all the new students, encouraging people to participate in the events or the kingdom, as well as taking on his own set of people to teach throughout the day. Currently, he is often seen in the company of his prize pupil Flexy, whom he uses as a demonstration prop and a gossip buddy. I often wondered how Flexy knew so much about the other students, until she confessed one day that Lord Fabulous told her everything.

LordFabulousThere is an air of mystery that surrounds this young lord. Rumors fly about, speaking tales of how he once danced professionally for Celine Dion, or he owns a few nightclubs in greater Charlotte, or he was 40 years old (we found out later that he is actually younger than we are). Whatever the truth may be about this elusive figure, I don’t think I’ll ever know.

The second instructor whom we met after joining the studio was the harsh Mistress. Hailing from the northern lands overseas, she was very intent on teaching perfection for every move. So much so that her dance style was technical and functional, but sometimes… not beautiful. She did not stay long, and was replaced by Lady Q.

LadyQThis girl is what most boys dream about when they want to start dancing: tiny, flexible, sweet, good looking, and talented. She also has this almost magical ability to make everyone feel like they are doing awesome at everything they do with her. As expected with that kind of power, Lady Q is the one who taught all the fitness classes that were offered at the studio. That is, until Lord Fabulous arrived. He now takes on some of those classes for her, since he taught them while at the Great Dance Hall by the Lake. One other noteworthy thing that Lady Q told everyone during a class once was that she hasn’t really had feeling in her big toes for years, due to wearing the high-heeled shoes for dancing all the time.

But the first instructor that we met when we decided to start this journey was Sir Steven. Sir Steven, as I see it, is really the embodiment of dance. This man is younger than us, we have calculated, but seems to have this old soul – preferring a more classical style of music more like rock opera to the popular new tunes that are played by Lord Fabulous and Lady Q. He seems to know so much about dancing and dance technique, and though he is Caucasian, his hips can wield this Latin rhythm in a style that would make Ricky Martin do a double take. Sir Steven was the lord of the Land of the Loft before Lord Fabulous came into the picture. He is also our personal instructor, so I’m sure he will come up a lot.


So those are the three nobles that we know the best, the three that will probably come up the most. There are a few other notable nobles in the land, people we have seen at the great gatherings that are hosted in the kingdom or have heard about while talking with our nobles. I will tell you about a few of them next time.