But I’m Not Convinced By Your Costume

I didn’t actually get out last Friday night. Silly work! But that’s OK, because I did get to go out on Saturday night, and I had a grand old time. My costume was amazing if I do say so myself, and came together splendidly to make everything I did on Saturday more entertaining throughout the night. Of course it also made everything much warmer anytime I was moving around, so I had to take parts of it off and let my body cool down when I got too warm. That’s OK though, because it was still totally worth it to me. If you weren’t there to see me in costume, then you really missed out.

On Saturday night the party that I chose to go to was out at the Electric Dance Hall. We got to start off the evening with a short lesson taught by Lady Lovelylocks that went over some American Rumba. There was a large contingent of newcomers in the class, so the entirety of the pattern she taught was pretty short and none of the figures were really all that complicated. All the ladies that I danced with seemed to do everything well for the most part. There were a few that had jumped into the class late who were a bit behind the others when I rotated through, but I managed to help them get to the end with only minor issues.

As for the pattern itself (in case you want to try it), we started off with a full basic without rotation. After that we did another half of a basic with an additional step to the Lead’s right afterward to get us in position for a Cross Over Break on the right side. Coming back from that we went into two Solo Spot Turns for both the Leader and the Follower, first on the left side then on the right side. As the Lead steps across back to the left, he’ll takes his partner’s right hand and go into an Aida, a figure from the Silver International Rumba syllabus. Lady Lovelylocks had us do a simplified version, just using the Aida as three steps backward with little to no focus on technique.

At the end of the Aida we opened up slightly more to get to a kind of back-toward-back (yes, exactly that) position with our partner. Here we did a measure of Cuban Rocks, pivoting to face one another just after the end of the last one, and then to finish the Lead just did a rock step backward while leading the Follower through a Underarm Turn. As I said, it wasn’t too difficult to get through, and I’m sure any more experienced dancers reading this can picture the whole thing in their mind without even having to stand up and try it. Fun stuff!

The lesson didn’t really end, but rather just melted into the dance party. There were a few of the newcomers who were having trouble with the figures, so Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping them as class time was winding down. The DJ had put on some songs that were Halloween-themed which kind-of worked as American Rumba songs – I mean, if you ignored the feeling that the rhythm section gave you and just counted the straight timing of the music, or sometimes you could kind of get the feeling if you put your finger in one ear and only listened to the notes that would have been marked in the treble clef, or something like that. People started off trying to practice the progression of figures, but when Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping others and stopped making everyone switch partners every couple of minutes, people ended up just pairing off and doing whatever they wanted.

After the third song, Lady Lovelylocks managed to pull herself away from helping people long enough to thank everyone for coming out and officially kick off the party, giving the DJ free rein to change to other styles of music. This particular DJ was brought in to play at the party not by Lord Junior, but by a generous donation from a member of the dance community. I’m not sure what the instructions were that the DJ was given for the party, but her music choices were… not very varied. There was SO. MUCH. CHA-CHA. It became a running joke between a few of us at the dance, trying to guess whether the next song would be another Cha-Cha or something different for a change. There were really a lot. I gave up trying to dance any of them after a while because I felt like I had gone through my whole repertoire of Cha-Cha figures and I was running out of ways to keep the dances interesting.

I went back and forth with wearing my complete costume and dancing without parts of it throughout the party. I know I should have just left the pieces off once I took them off, but I was so excited about wearing it that I kept going back and putting everything back on once I felt my body temperature regulate again. Inevitably I would have to take the pieces off once more after two or three dances, but those two or three dances made me super happy. Sigh… I am such a kid at heart sometimes. If the neighborhood where I lived believed in Trick-or-Treating, I would have stayed home all night on Halloween, gotten dressed up in my awesome costume, and handed out candy until the wee hours of the morning. I would have even bought awesome candy for everyone who showed up. Full bars! Crazy! But alas, ‘twas not to be…

One of the dances that I did that night was the only Quickstep number that was played. Sparkledancer came and found me (since she’s really the only person I am comfortable dancing Quickstep with). The interesting part was that the song was rather upbeat, and it attracted a group of ladies out onto the floor. They weren’t on the floor dancing Quickstep, rather they were all standing in a big circle and just wiggling around for fun. Their circle took up a lot of room, going from the wall all the way past the middle of the floor on one of the long walls. On top of that, there were so many ladies and they were standing so close together in the circle that you couldn’t cut through in between them either.
Every time I went down that long wall I had to abruptly change direction and go around the outside of their circle. Of course, since they were past the middle of the room, I had to hesitate a bit to make sure that there was no one coming down the opposite way on the other long wall. I’m pretty sure that this was more of a problem for me than for anyone else dancing the Quickstep, since Sparkledancer and I can move a lot more than your average social dancer can when we dance together. I must have done five or six laps around the room by the time the song was cut off, going around the group every time. It was kind of nutty!

Monday night, as you might have guessed, I was out at Latin Technique class. Since we had done Rumba and Cha-Cha in class over the last two of weeks, this week we looked at Samba. Much like the last two classes, the material that we covered in this class was also related to notes that Lord Junior had gotten from a visiting coach that he and some of his Pro/Am ladies had worked with when the coach was in town several weekends ago.

One of the ladies who joined us for class that night had only briefly touched on Samba in her dance training so far, so Lord Junior wanted to start off with something simple to get us warmed up a little before diving into anything harder. The warm-up ended up being work on Volta actions. We did them very slowly, which is considerably harder than trying to do them fast. First we did them heading to the right, then going to the left, then with a bit of curve to them as if we were traveling in a large circle. When we managed to get through the sets, we sped them up a bit to work on them at a faster pace. We never quite reached full speed, but this was just a warm-up exercise so that wasn’t the end goal.

After finishing the warm-up, Lord Junior had us look at a section from his Open Samba routine that started out with Voltas, just to give us some continuity of mind. We started out facing the wall in Shadow Position with our partner, going into four Rhythm Bounces to get moving. Next we did four Voltas that took us in a semi-tight circle for 270°, setting us up to face a new wall as if we just went around the corner. Here, to change up the dynamics of the movement a bit, we did a couple of faster syncopated steps. Our feet were already situated in a Cuban Cross as our bodies were turned slightly to face diagonal wall, so on the next two steps we switched our feet into the opposite side Cuban Cross while rotating our body 90° to face backing diagonal wall.

Coming out of the twist was where the Leads and Follows separated from Shadow Position and started to do different steps. The Lead would untwist and take a step forward like a Cruzados Walk. The Follower went through a Four Step Turn, ending by pivoting their whole body around to face the Lead once more a few feet us. Here we went into a single Promenade Run, with the Lead just taking three steps forward to begin with while the Follower took a small step backward then turned to step to the side before stepping forward with the Lead. After the Promenade Run, the Lead would cut in front of the Follower quickly to go into three Natural Pivots – trying their best to take all of them down the line of dance if possible – before releasing the Follower to repeat the same single Promenade Run action we did before the pivots. That was where we ended things for the evening since we ran out of time to cover more.

Latin Technique was the only group class I went to this week. Since Wednesday was Halloween, Lord Junior decided that spending time with his young kids was going to be more fun than having class with the rest of us. I like to think that I am pretty fun to hang around with, so I’m going to pretend like Lord Junior totally missed out! Instead of class, I ended up going out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice. We’re down to the last couple of days before our next competition, so I figured it was a good idea. Unfortunately, that meant I had to leave my costume at home. Even though my costume doesn’t impede all of my movement, it does lessen it slightly, so I thought that practicing in it would be a bad idea. Sigh… I just miss out on all the fun.

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that I am competing this weekend? I can’t remember if I did before or not (and I’m too tired to go back and read my previous notes to see if I did). This competition should be exciting for me for a couple of reasons. First off, if the list of events I saw online is to be believed, I won’t be dancing unopposed at this competition. Hooray! Secondly, Lord Dormamu is one of the judges. Hoor… that’s actually scary. I don’t know why it makes me nervous dancing somewhere where he is judging but dancing against other competitors actually makes me happy. You would think my reactions would be the opposite!

I did get together with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for one last look at everything tonight before I head off to compete this weekend. All of our dances seem to be on track right now to do very well in this weekend’s event. Some things that we talked about which are points for us to start thinking about, but not necessarily points we will need to have down for this weekend, are:

  • In Quickstep, we want to start moving toward making all of the quick steps much sharper. This means that we are almost delaying the start of the steps a bit – extending the slow step beforehand as long as possible to get a much more staccato movement in the quicks
  • In addition to that, any place that we are adding in additional sway in the Quickstep he wants the transition going into and coming out of the sway to be faster, almost like snapping into place. This was something that worried me a bit, since I feel like I am whipping Sparkledancer around a little, but she told me that the movement doesn’t hurt her, so at this point I’m the only one worried about doing it. I’ll get over that with a little practice (I hope)
  • In the Foxtrot we are going to start talking about blurring the lines between the quick and slow steps in the figures to even them out, making the dance flow more and look much more legato. Exactly the opposite of what we are doing in the Quickstep – more like dancing a Waltz to a song in 4/4

But that’s about it! I’m heading out tomorrow night to drive out toward the city where the competition is being held. Some people I know are getting up early to drive out on Saturday before the event starts, but since I am not a morning person I am just going to get there on Friday night and stay in a hotel nearby. To me, the cost of the room is a small price to pay for not having to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning. I’ll let you know how everything goes next week!


Everyone Hail To The Pumpkin King Now

So many things. Spooky things. And even a little candy this time around. What more could you ask for? Dancing? Oh yeah, I got that too…

Let’s start things off with the two things that I did last Saturday – the first one being work, the second being fun. In the morning I headed out to the Fancy Dance Hall to meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekly coaching session. We had planned on continuing work on our showcase routine this time around.

Before we got started working on choreography, I had to ask about the song again, and Sir Steven actually had an answer for me this time! It turns out that the Artistic Director had listened to the second song that Sparkledancer and I had suggested, but was having trouble fitting it into the mix with the other songs that were being used. I’m not sure what that means, but that’s what I was told. The Artistic Director and Sir Steven had found a different song that was along the same line as what Sparkledancer and I had suggested, and this song would fit in with their mix, so Sir Steven threw out the name to us to consider.

I had never heard of the song before, so he tried to pull up a recording of it on his phone for us all to listen to. There was a lot of activity going on at the Fancy Dance Hall that morning, so it was difficult to even make out the melody of the song while on the dance floor. Sir Steven sent Sparkledancer and I a link to the song so that each of us could listen to it later when we were somewhere that was quieter. That would allow us to review the song, discuss it among ourselves if need be, and let him know what we thought.

With that, we got to work on the new portion of the choreography that he had wanted us to hit on that morning. It wasn’t a whole lot of the choreography – there was a Throwaway Oversway, and a couple of the figures to get into it and how to get out of it, and that was it. I have seen the Throwaway Oversway in a couple of different dance styles before in Standard Technique class, but this is the first time that I will actually be using the figure in any kind of routine, so that’s kind of exciting.

Once we finished up working on choreography for the day and got a video so that Sparkledancer and I could use it for review while practicing later, both Sparkledancer and I took off. In the parking lot, my car was the closest to the front door, so we headed there and got inside, which gave us a fairly quiet place to pull up that song Sir Steven sent us and actually listen to it. The song wasn’t bad – it doesn’t exactly give me the feeling that I had been shooting for, but it’s not terrible. Both Sparkledancer and I agreed to give it a go, so I sent Sir Steven back a message to let him know that the song would work before I left Sparkledancer and headed back home.

It will work… but I don’t know if I am really emotionally invested in this showcase yet because of all the changes that have been made to it so far, just getting it to fit into the theme of the show. Maybe by the time we have everything mapped out I will feel more excited about what it will look like, but right now… I’m just unsure. Is that a bad sign?

I didn’t take much of a break from dancing that day to go home and relax before I headed back out to dance some more. After all, it was Halloween weekend, and my favorite dance parties of all time are Halloween dance parties! This year I had opted to go celebrate the festivities at the Fancy Dance Hall, so for the second time that day I made the drive out there to don my dance shoes and take to the floor.

To get everyone warmed up for the party, a brief class was offered. This class was used, like many other Halloween dance parties I’ve gone to, to teach a well recognized Halloween line dance to everyone. I would guess that many of you went through a similar class if you went out to a Halloween dance party in your area. After much shambling, clapping and laughing, I was feeling more silly than scary, so it was obviously time for the real party to start.

The Fancy Dance Hall made their Halloween party, like everything else they do, into a big production. All of the guests were entreated at the beginning of the party to a show put on by the Fancy Dance Hall’s staff, which laid out a mystery for all the guests to solve. A murder mystery! Spooky… a member of the staff then went around and handed out a slip of paper to everyone in attendance with a clue on it, and a worksheet that could be used to keep track of your results.

The object of the game was to dance with everyone at the party. Once you danced with someone, they were supposed to show you what clue they were given and then you were to cross it off your worksheet. If you crossed off all the clues that were handed out, the leftover items on the worksheet would be the answers needed to solve the mystery. Yes, it did work exactly like that board game that you are thinking of. The first person to solve the mystery would then get a prize for being so smart and so social.

I did not win, so I never figured out what the right answer really was. I got fairly close, but based on what I was told by some of the other people at the party, the staff at the Fancy Dance Hall also had clues and you were supposed to dance with them to find those clues out. Since I actively avoid dancing with instructors, I never found out those answers, which is probably what I had missing on my sheet. Oh well…

I may have avoided dancing with the Fancy Dance Hall’s staff that night, but I did end up dancing with the Princess at one point, weirdly enough. After one song ended, I had gone over to get a glass of water, and when I had finished and looked around the room it seemed like every lady had already found a partner. Thinking that I would get a brief respite, I almost missed the girl who sidled up next to me. I didn’t recognize her at first because she was in a costume, but then I did a double-take and saw that it was the Princess! Apparently she was out party-hopping around the Dance Kingdom that night, and just happened to be at the Fancy Dance Hall to see how everyone was doing at the exact time when I was free for that dance. How lucky was I…?

The song was a Foxtrot. To try to not get judged to poorly, I decided to throw the Princess a curve-ball and tell her that we were going to do American Foxtrot. The Princess holds all kinds of awards and world champion titles for International Standard, so I thought I might be safer going with American Foxtrot. As it turns out, I probably didn’t need to worry all that much about dancing with her at all. There were so many people on the dance floor that I ended up having to hesitate repeatedly whenever some couple would change their angle and dance right in front of us. I kept making jokes whenever that would happen, and the Princess laughed, so my dancing probably wasn’t that bad.

Along the short wall I got stuck behind a large group of people, so to stay in one place and allow the swarm to break up a little bit I went into a figure that I learned as the Run-Around, or Whirlpool (I also heard someone once call it a ‘Horse and Cart’ but I’m not sure about that name). You’ve probably seen it before, where you use your right arm to hook around your partner’s upper torso and then you both turn around a central point. Well, the Princess thought this move was super fun, and she started to turn faster… and faster, and faster, and faster!

Soon the two of us were whipping around in a circle faster than I thought was safe for a social dance. I even ended up pulling in my left arm so that I didn’t accidentally clothesline anyone while spinning. The Princess was laughing so hard and so loud the whole time, and I swear people were stopping to watch the two of us spin. After a few measures of turning at that speed, I decided to reign her in, so I put one of my feet down and used the weight of my body to slow her. She’s a lot smaller than me, so my body was made a good anchor. Once we slowed down enough to get back on time with the music, I did a Back Twinkle to change direction and continued down the line of dance as if nothing had happened.

Crazy, huh?

One last funny thing, and then I’ll move on, I promise – late in the evening, the DJ played the song that everyone had learned the spooky line dance for during the class before the party. It’s a really long song, as it turns out, if you are trying to dance a line dance for the entire duration.

I was on the edge of the group, near the front door. During the third rotation or so, suddenly I had some girls I had never seen before join in near me and attempt to fumble through the steps. They were young, and wearing costumes that were covering a lot less of their bodies than most of the other women at the dance party. Also, they were clearly a few sheets to the wind already. I saw a couple of guys wander in through the front door, talking loudly and stumbling a bit, clearly following these ladies around.

I think these people were just out drinking and wandered into the dance party, which is a strange thing to do. They must have come from the restaurant that is a couple of doors down from the Fancy Dance Hall, since not much else was open at that time of night for blocks around. I never found out though, because as mysteriously as they appeared, they all also left once the line dance was over and the song transitioned to a Waltz (the confused look on one girl’s face told me that she probably didn’t know how to Waltz). Halloween is just full of all sorts of tricks and treats!

Sunday morning I was back out at the Fancy Dance Hall for a lesson with Lord Dormamu. Sparkledancer and I were entered into that competition the first weekend in November, so we had scheduled one last session with Lord Dormamu before that to work on things. We started off by reviewing the Waltz, going over what we all had discussed last weekend so that Lord Dormamu could see how well our practice was coming along. He was pleased with Sparkledancer’s improvement in Heel Turns, which is good to hear since she and I had spent a lot of time just repeating those over and over again during our practice to help her nail those down.

But what we spent most of the time on that day was Tango, and there are two very important and useful things that I came away from that lesson with. He had us start off by just dancing through the beginning of the routine, up through the point where we had stopped last week. I could hear him making noises of disgust behind my back while I was doing this, so I knew something was going to have to be fixed. When he stopped us and had us come back down to start over, he spent a good amount of time manhandling the two of us to fix our frame, so that must have been what was offending him before.

When he was finally satisfied he had us start dancing again. This time, after the first few figures he was exclaiming words of praise in his native language to the others in the dance hall. That caused me to laugh, which broke everything so we had to stop. Luckily, Lord Dormamu thought that was funny, so he told us to get back into that position and start over. As I struggled to manipulate myself, I made an offhand remark about how this Tango frame felt really awkward, and asked who it was that ever thought this was a good way to dance.

That rhetorical question actually made Lord Dormamu stop and talk to me for a few minutes about why Tango was the way that it was, which was actually turned out to be a really helpful explanation for me. He said that back in the day, Tango was danced in a frame that was more like what you see in Argentine Tango now (kind of like dancing while hugging). As competitors tried to move their bodies faster and more dramatically, this frame kept impeding their movements, so they began to adjust their frames gradually to accommodate the types of athletic movements they wanted to make.

What they attempted to create was a frame where you could move your legs freely while staying grounded to the floor more so than in any other ballroom dance, and also to have the lady create as much volume as possible to help make the topline look large and catch attention. This is actually what the frame is designed around. In order to compress and expand like this, you have to essentially become like an accordion – your head is back, your chest is forward, your hips are back, your knees are forward, and your feet are slightly back.

This folded design is what allows an accordion to compress and expand itself and retain its shape, and that same folded look is essentially what you are trying to create in Tango to compress yourself (and retain your shape). The head creates volume, the chest becomes where my lead comes from, because the hips are now back so that you can bend your knees more without driving them into your partner’s knees. With the hips back and the knees bent, your feet then have to be slightly back behind your knees to maintain balance. From top to bottom, this gives you a folded look, like the center of an accordion.

Hearing the frame described in a way that I could actively picture the mechanics is actually what clicked with me. Suddenly it was much easier to figure out where each part of my body was supposed to be positioned, and I could get into frame with Sparkledancer quickly with very little adjustment from Lord Dormamu afterward. It’s still a weird position to be in, there’s no way to change that, but now that I understand why I have to be like this it really helps me recreate the position with ease.

The other thing that we spent quite a bit of time discussing was keeping my shoulders level the entire time that I am dancing. This is something that needs to be done in every dance style, but it is particularly noticeable in Tango because there really shouldn’t be any sway while I am traveling in any of the figures that we have in the routine. That means that, for all intents and purposes, my shoulders and arms should be parallel with the floor almost the entire time. To pull this off, I was told that I should spend my time thinking about… toothpaste.

For real?

According to Lord Dormamu, while I am dancing I essentially have an anchor attached to my right side in the form of a dance partner. I know, most ladies I dance with are tiny compared to me and are not strong enough to slow me down in any real manner, but stay with me on this… having a partner there should effectively keep you grounded on your right side. The problem that Lord Dormamu sees quite a bit with many of his male students is that there is a tendency to compensate for this weight pulling you down on your right side by lifting yourself up on the left side, which will make your shoulder line appear to slope down to the right.

I was told that rather than allow my shoulders to act like a seesaw, where a weight on one side causes the other side to rise up, I instead need to think of my shoulders more like a tube of toothpaste. For your average tube of toothpaste that is pointed from right to left, if you put weight down on the right side, the toothpaste will push outward on the left side. That is what Lord Dormamu wants to see me doing at all times – grounding myself (i.e. pushing down) on my right side, which causes my left elbow to press outward as far as possible. This expands my chest and my back muscles, making my frame appear even bigger. Pressing outward like this should effectively keep my shoulders even with each other, and parallel to the floor.

So that is how we spent our time that day, with Sparkledancer and I dancing while Lord Dormamu yelled at us from across the room about either accordions or toothpaste. And, strangely enough, that really seems to work for me. By the end of the lesson, after Sparkledancer and I had finished our last run-through, Lord Dormamu nodded at us and said that our Tango looked “30% better” than it had looked at the beginning of the hour. 30% feels like a lot of improvement to make after just one hour!

Since my ramblings have gotten to be kind of long, let me spend a minute talking about what I did last night in Standard Technique class before finishing up, just so that I don’t forget. There were a couple of fun figures that I want to remember from class, so I’m going to write them down here. There was even one I have never seen before, which is always fun.

Lord Junior wanted to look at five different figures in the Waltz, all of which can travel quite a bit if you know what you are doing. If done well, you could take these figures from one corner of the long wall to the other if you wanted to. During our class there was someone giving a private lesson on one end of the floor, so we ended up using the third figure to turn a corner and bank the last two figures down a different wall, giving them some room. We’re nice like that. 🙂

Not wanting much fanfare at the beginning, Lord Junior started the progression off using an Open Impetus and went straight into a Basic Weave. Presumably you could use a starter step and a Natural Turn to get into the Open Impetus, but Lord Junior didn’t want to waste time on those, so we just went right into the Open Impetus. Coming out of the Basic Weave we added on an Open Natural Turn, setting us up backing line of dance in Outside Partner position for what came next.

The next figure was the one that I had never seen before. Lord Junior told us that it was an Open-level figure called ‘Chasse Roll to the Right.’ Basically you do a Progressive Chasse to the Right, and on the last step you do a Natural Pivot. Our pivot was what we used to turn the corner because of that other lesson going on, so we started traveling down the line of dance on one wall and ended the pivot with me backing diagonal wall on the new wall. If that lesson hadn’t been there we could have pivoted enough to come out backing line of dance on the same wall if we wanted.

The last figure we tacked on was a Running Natural Spin Turn. This is also an Open-level figure, a variation of a Natural Spin Turn as you probably guessed. Basically the change involves staying lowered down during the first beat of the measure and doing two 180° pivots before stepping out and rising on beat two, with the third step lowering as normal.

The first two pivots build up a lot of speed turning that quickly, so it is important to keep your core engaged so that you can stop your turning as you step out on beat two, otherwise you can end up flailing around out of control. This figure, like the Chasse Roll to the Right, is something that can be led if you are a fairly experienced Leader and your partner has a good idea of the mechanics of pivots and chasses, so give it a try sometime!

So hey… there’s a competition on Saturday. I don’t know how to feel about this one. This competition offers more than just going out and running heats in front of some judges. This event has basically taken over my whole weekend. I have to be there on Saturday morning to dance for the judges, and then I get a few hours off in the afternoon, and then I have to be back that evening for some sort of dinner event, and possibly some more dancing. There’s also some sort of Pro show. Then on Sunday morning there is a ‘Dance Camp’ where all the competitors will get classes/lectures/S’mores from the judges (I really don’t know what to expect).

I don’t feel anything about this competition at the moment. Like the last competition I was in, there are no nerves or excitement, I just feel like it is one more item on my schedule to get through related to my dance training. Maybe the day of there will be some nerves before taking to the floor. In any case, I’ll be sure to tell you all about the event next week!

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:

The Dead Start To Walk In Their Masquerade

Ah, Halloween. The best holiday of the year, I would argue. Do you remember being a kid and getting all dressed up and going out to get free candy? That was super fun to me, and I’ve always loved Halloween ever since then. Sure, as an adult you tend to get less free candy from your neighbors, but you can still often get free candy from your coworkers or friends, or you go to a Halloween party and there is inevitably candy around that you are allowed to have. For me, over the last few years, all of the Halloween parties I have gone to have been dance related, so there is also a party activity that gives me an outlet to burn off the sugar rush gotten from eating a chocolate and peanut butter pumpkin. It’s a wonderful combination, and I hope everyone else had the same opportunities I had to go out and dance and eat some free candy. You know, to keep with the holiday spirit.

This past Friday night I went to the Halloween party at the Electric Dance Hall. Originally I was a bit worried about my chosen costume – I thought it might be a bit weird because it had a chest piece that was not entirely soft, and there was a back piece that hung down almost like a cape, but it turned out to be really good. The cape apparatus made it very dramatic when I did ballroom dances, especially when I did a Viennese Waltz and it flowed nicely around me as we turned about the floor. The only time it got a bit in the way was when I did a Hustle, and it kind of tangled around my arm a little, but it wasn’t so intrusive that it made me want to take it off. I danced with one girl at the party who was dressed up like what I would call a barbarian, and she had these shin guards on that had foam spikes on them. When we did a Rumba together, I could feel those spikes poking me. They weren’t sharp, but they did surprise me a little the first time they stabbed me. There had been a dance lesson before the party started where everyone who was there worked on learning a Halloween-themed line dance. They didn’t cover the one that most people do for Halloween (I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about), and I hadn’t Thriller1been there for the class, so when they performed the formation later in the evening I got to stand off to the side and watch. That was a lot of fun for me, since I got to rhythmically shake in time with the music and be disruptive and obnoxious (all in good fun though) to try to get people to smile. Everyone was being so serious while trying to remember their steps! I just couldn’t let them stay like that. One of Lord Junior’s serious competitor students had come for the party. I don’t get to see her very often, so to be friendly I asked her to dance a couple of times – once for a Rumba, and another time for a Hustle. The Rumba that was played had a pretty fast clip to it (for a Rumba), so I asked her before we started if she knew American Rumba, since that’s what fit with the song. Turns out that she didn’t really know any American-style dances at all, so I talked her through things as we went along and tried to make sure to use figures that I knew were common for both American and International Rumba. The Hustle was a bit easier, since it is pretty easy for a guy to lead someone through almost any Hustle figure without them knowing the figure beforehand, so that one I didn’t have to tell her what I was going to do before I did it.

When I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven on Saturday afternoon to work on things, it was like a ghost town at the Endless Dance Hall, which is unusual. The front door looked barricaded shut, so I had to go around to the not-so-secret side door to get in. The lights were dimmed a bit, and with the front door blocked there Thriller2was almost no natural light filtering into the building, so it was kind of creepy. We worked on our International Foxtrot and International Tango routines that day. I would say what we were doing was more-or-less successful. Sparkledancer had injured her back earlier in the week, so she was kind of gritting her teeth and just being there. Sir Steven had me spend a lot of time emphasizing the rotations in figures like the Reverse Turn in Tango, making sure that my first two steps would go straight forward, and as soon as both of my feet were planted after the second step I had to rotate almost half a turn on the balls of my foot so that my third step would go straight back. It was a bit of an over-exaggeration of what I should normally be doing, but the overcompensation drives the point in better. Much like how I was told to bend my legs even further when doing the Tango, and keep them bent that much the whole time so that my body stays level. I almost felt like if I had bent my legs just a bit farther, I would be dragging my butt on the ground while I danced, which is a pretty uncomfortable position to stay in for long periods of time. But me complaining about being uncomfortable is stupid. When we got done dancing that day, I could tell Sparkledancer was just making it through. I asked her how she was doing, and she said she was OK, but she almost broke down into tears a couple of times while we were working on things, and she was planning on going home and icing her back once we wrapped things up there. I felt super bad about that. Had I known it was that bad before we started, I would have told her to just stay home and take care of herself. There are plenty of things that I could work on by myself, and I really don’t want her to break herself trying to get through things with me.

Then Saturday night there was a bigger Halloween dance party being held at the Endless Dance Hall. This one was much different from the party the previous night. The event was being held as a fundraiser to support some scholarship funds in some upcoming dance competitions, so they were “selling” dances with some of the dance teachers in the area. For a nominal fee, you could pick out one of the teachers and pick out a dance style that you wanted to do. When the party started, each of those teachers had a dance card and they were only allowed to dance with the people who had signed up for dances by paying the fee. It was an interesting concept, one that I’ve never seen before. Due to the sign up allowing people to pick out a dance style, the playlist for the party had to be fixed for the evening to incorporate all the dance slots people signed up for, so they told everyone they wouldn’t be able to take requests for dance styles throughout the evening at all. Since I’m a guy, I didn’t ‘purchase’ any dances that night. In fact, they only had two female instructors who people could sign up to do a dance with, but there were over half-a-dozen male ones. Sir Steven was one of those on the menu that night. He was telling me about the preparation for this event, and it was funny because he said there were several of the other instructors who came to him because some people had signed up to do American-style dances (like Hustle and West Coast Swing), and they didn’t know any steps for those styles since they exclusively competed in International styles. So Sir Steven ended up giving mini-group classes to these instructors during the week leading up to this party on the basics of some of the American Rhythm styles so that they could have some tricks up their sleeves at the party.

It's like a hidden picture! Can you find the skeleton with a carrot, the scarecrow, the goth girl and a guy in a gorilla suit?
It’s like a hidden picture! Can you find the skeleton with a carrot, the scarecrow, the goth girl and a guy in a gorilla suit?

During Monday night’s Latin Technique class we ended up doing Samba. I really wanted to look at either Jive or Pasodoble since it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to work on either, but I was outvoted. Lord Junior pulled out a set of figures we could look at that worked on Samba Walks – not the Cruzados walks, but just normal, Bronze-level Samba walks of several flavors. Out little pattern started with Two Whisks just to get moving, then one Samba Walk forward and a second to the side. From there we started doing things where the lady wasn’t just a mirror of the guy anymore. The guys did a Stationary Samba Walk while turning the ladies in an underarm turn and catching her in sweetheart position. This was kind of awkwardly-amusing position to try to get into with a couple of the ladies in class that night. I am fairly tall, and three of the five ladies in class were rather short standing next to me. While in Sweetheart Position the guys were supposed to reach around and grab the lady’s left hand (which she was crossing across her Thriller4chest) with our right. The trick with the shorter ladies that I ended up doing was to slide my hand across the back of their right shoulder so that when I reached around their side to where their hand was supposed to be, they would have their hand in the right place and I wouldn’t accidentally get a handful of… other parts of their body. We’re all friends in that class, but I wasn’t that close with any of them, so I wanted to make sure there were no awkward accidents (sometimes it’s hard being a boy…). Once we successfully linked up in Sweetheart Position, we did three more Forward Samba Walks together, then the guys did a Whisk and unrolled the ladies off of our right arm to get them out in a straight line with us. After that we were going to bring the ladies into Shadow Position, so we let the girls roll back into us with a Three-Step Turn while we just took two steps to put us both on the same foot. The ladies put their arms out in either direction, and we put one hand on their right shoulder and took their left forearm in our other hand. That was as far as we got with the pattern that night. Lord Junior said that we would be for sure adding on to this next week in class, so everyone who was there has to come back to see what we will add on next.

In Standard Technique class this week, we ended up working on Waltz at someone’s request. Lord Junior was excited to go over that style. He said he was watching one of the international competitions recently and he saw one of the professional couples doing a double Turning Lock to the Right, which he had never seen done before. He thought looked really cool, so he wanted to show us all how to do it. We started out by going through an Overturned Natural Spin Turn, which supposedly is what you would see most often to get into the double or single version of the Turning Lock to the Right, and then we did the single version just to make sure that everyone would know what was going on before we doubled the turns. Once everyone felt pretty comfortable running through the single Turning Lock to the Right with everyone else in class, we doubled the turn. The real difference (if you are a guy) is that instead of coming out of the first Lock into Promenade Position heading diagonal center, you would swing around the lady to get in front of her again, so that you’re heading backing line of dance. If you do things correctly, you should end up in the same position you started from as if you just finished the Overturned Natural Spin Turn. Then you just do a normal Turning Lock to the Right, ending as the book says in Promenade Position heading diagonal center. Give things a try yourself! Supposedly the normal Turning Lock to the Right is a Gold-level figure in International Waltz, so the double version would be considered open choreography, but once you have the feel for it there doesn’t really seem to be any reason you couldn’t get through it during a social dance. As long as you don’t turn into Promenade Position at the end of the first turn, the lady would know that something else is going on with the figure.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone else actually tries out any of the patterns or figures I list in these posts. I know I go back to refer to them later for my own memory, but do any of you find these useful? I’m just curious.