Well I’ve Got One Foot On The Platform

Last Friday night I was back in pre-competition preparation mode, and I met up with Lord Dormamu for one last run-through of everything before the weekend’s event. There were only a few things that Lord Dormamu pointed out that he wanted to see changed that night, because he knew that we would have very little time to practice before actually taking the floor in front of the judges. Mostly these points were items to file away and begin work on once we get back from the competition, to help improve our dancing going forward.

The big overall note that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on changing was the connection point that we had while in frame. He wanted to see Sparkledancer up higher, and pulled around my right hip a bit more. The changes that Sparkledancer had been making with Lady Tella were obvious to him, and he was quite pleased with the difference it was making in the amount of volume that we showed while moving, but he personally preferred the connection point to be in a different spot than what Lady Tella had been recommending. Next time that Sparkledancer gets together with Lady Tella to look at her positioning, we’ll go over the changes requested with her to see what her take on the matter is.

I also discussed with him the note that Lady Tella had given to me about trying to look more ‘haughty’ and ‘arrogant’ while I’m in frame. He thought about that for a few minutes, then told me that he understands what Lady Tella is trying to get at, but he doesn’t want me to worry about trying to convey one of those emotions through my frame and posture. Instead, he wants me to hold myself as tall as possible, but not do any weird tilting of my head, just look normal. That was quite the relief to hear, let me tell you. Have I mentioned that I don’t know how to be haughty? 🙂

After that, we ran through everything in the order that we would be doing the routines during the competition, got a few notes back on things to look at, and then ran through the dance style again before moving on to the next. Starting with the Waltz, the big item that he pointed out was the Hesitation Change. He liked the way that Lady Tella had moved Sparkledancer and gotten her to grow the volume over the course of the hesitation, but he wanted to see us put a lot of sway into the figure. A lot. When he was moving me into the position he wanted to see, I felt like my left elbow was almost going to touch my left thigh!

Aside from the Hesitation Change, he also told us that he wanted to see us slightly extend out closes at the height of all our Natural Turns to really emphasize that “perfect, beautiful moment” there. In the Double Reverse Spin he wanted to see Sparkledancer create a diagonal line from her foot to her elbow on the second step, and also have us be sure to step out of the Double Reverse Spin straight down the line of dance. Some of these notes would be easy to remember for the competition, but there was really no way to repeat them enough to make them muscle memory, so I am writing them down to work on in practice later.

Quickstep was next, and that style didn’t have much in the way of notes. As I’ve mentioned several times, our routine is pretty simple, so there isn’t a whole lot of fancy technical points we could do to make it look any different. We were told to continue working with Lady Tella so that Sparkledancer can increase the volume during the dance style even more, and hold it more consistently, but that was about it.

Our Tango had only one point, but it was kind of a big item, at least in my opinion. Somewhere along the way, with a couple of different instructors emphasizing the staccato nature of the dance and how I should always wait until the last possible moment to bring my feet together, I have taken to closing my legs with a lot of power before moving on to the next figure. Lord Dormamu told me that what he actually wanted to see was still for my feet to close together at the last moment, but they would do that because the closing action should have very little energy, moving much more slowly than I was doing. So no more ‘slamming’ my feet together – now it’s nice and gentle, while the steps before and after are sharp and fierce.

We finished our runthrough with Foxtrot, and this one, like Quickstep, didn’t have much going on that Lord Dormamu wasn’t happy with. His told us that the Foxtrot was the most obviously changed dance he can see from how things looked when we started working with him a year-and-a-half ago. That makes sense, since he told us long ago that International Foxtrot is the hardest of the Standard styles, which is why we’ve spent the most time working on this style with him early on in our competitive career. I believe the way that he phrased it during this lesson was that our Foxtrot was looking well beyond Gold level, so now we can work on making sure all our other dances are like that. If the hardest dance style is already looking that good, the rest should be easier, right?

Let’s talk about competition weekend. All of my rounds that I had signed up to actually compete in were on Sunday morning, but I was also out at the competition venue on Saturday as well. My primary reason for going there was to see if I could test out the floor a little before having to dance on it in front of the judges. Different floors have a different feel to them, which sometimes makes my shoes respond differently, so I wanted to know what I would be dealing with. Around lunch the organizers had scheduled a break so that the hard-working judges could get a little food, which was a perfect opportunity to meet with Sparkledancer in the actual competition hall to try dancing a bit.

Some of the other competitors who were there practicing talked with Sparkledancer and I and told us the same thing that I was feeling – that the floor was unusually sticky for some reason. This was one of those snap-together dance floors that you sometimes see, where they click together a bunch of wooden squares to make a floor of any size desired. Usually what I worry about when I see floors like that is getting a heel caught by one of the seams, but every seam that I tested in numerous parts of the floor was smooth and flat, so lucky for me that was something I didn’t have to contend with this time around.

Sliding my feet along the floor was a worry though. A fellow competitor that I talked to described the floor as being “one of the slowest floors” they had ever danced on, and I like that description. I could get my feet to move, but it took a lot of force to cover the same distance that I am used to covering in practice. Rotational figures were also tricky. When Sparkledancer and I tried dancing together in practice hold to test things, I started off with the Waltz, and on my first Natural Turn my left foot stuck to the floor on the second step so the figure was pulled short, and my right foot closed to my left a lot faster than I wanted because all of my momentum seemed to transfer to my right leg when my left stopped moving. Yikes! It was really good idea to head out there a day early to figure out how to work on this floor. If I hadn’t done that, I think things would have gone terribly on the day of my actual rounds.

I said that this was my primary reason for going out to the venue both days this weekend, but it wasn’t my only reason. The competition organizers had also invited a well-known West Coast Swing competitor and judge to come in and teach a class that was free for all registered competitors of the competition, and I wanted to go to that as well. What? Two back-to-back weekends with fancy West Coast Swing classes? Unpossible! But it’s true, it totally happened.

The instructor for this class spent some time showing everyone a progression of figures, and talking about his ideas on how to make the dance more interesting. The way he liked to do it, as he explained to all of us, was to always think of figures to use in West Coast Swing as multiples of two. Almost all the figures you will ever see start with the same action on beats one and two, and finish with the same action that covers the last two beats. If you keep the beginning and ending of your figures constant, you should be able to dance with most partners and be successful.

But in the middle of those two pieces, almost anything is possible, as long as you always use a number of beats that is a multiple of two. Do you want a slow and dramatic turn for the lady? You can change it from a two-beat turn to a four-beat, or an eight-beat, or a thirty-two beat turn if you want (though the lady might get bored if the turn is that slow…). That was how he thought of dancing West Coast Swing musically. It’s a different take on things from the idea I got about musicality in the last West Coast Swing class I went to, but it is still an interesting and valid point, so I thought I would mention it.

The amalgamation of figures he used to show the class these ideas was built around a basic idea, where each figure uses what most people would call its “normal” timing, and we were also shown some variations that could be thrown in if you wanted to extend the figures by two-beat increments. I’ll just list the basic figures, since there were so many variations demonstrated by the instructor for many of the figures that I could go on for pages and pages just trying to describe them all.

This pattern started off with a basic Sugar Push just to get moving. From there the man would lead the lady to do a Left-side Pass, with or without a turn thrown in depending on how advanced you were. The tricky part was that at the end the men would also turn themselves through a Waist Roll, changing hands in the process to be in Handshake Hold for the Anchor Step and beyond. The Waist Roll that the guy does needs to add in at least two more beats to the figure, so at a minimum the whole thing becomes an eight count, but you could hotdog it if you wanted and make it longer.

From there we did what the instructor called a “Surprise” Tuck Turn, which was really just a basic Tuck Turn while in Handshake Hold where the partners don’t change places in the slot. As the lady finishes her spin from that turn, the guy needs to catch her right hand with his left underneath your other arm so that now you are in a Crossed-hand Hold. In this hand position the instructor had us do what he referred to as the Hustle basic without the butterfly-arm action – basically the partners changing places in the slot with no lady’s turn for the first three beats. We repeated this Hustle basic action for the second three beats of the figure, but this time we turned the lady to unwind our arms as she moved down the slot to our former location.

The men actually didn’t change places with the women as we unwound them here, we just stepped out of the slot to the left and stayed there while we turned the women. That put the ladies into a position perpendicular to us on our right side. Now we could take the next two beats (or four, or more – however many you wanted to use, as long as it was divisible by two) to let go of their hand with our left hand and slide our right hand down to pick up their left. This would allow us to use the arm to lead the lady through a Free Spin across the slot while we moved to get back into normal dance position with her for the Anchor Step of the figure, which is where the instructor ended the pattern for the day.

On Sunday I was back at the Dance Death Arena early in the morning. My rounds weren’t the first scheduled that day, but I was in the fifth or sixth one, so I was on the floor pretty early, which is never fun. I got up at the buttcrack of dawn that morning so that I could eat some food, get ready to compete, drive out to the venue, and still have some time to stretch out and warm up with Sparkledancer before the day’s events began. That was probably the least fun thing about the day.

Overall, my rounds felt good. The results I got once the judges’ scores came back were pretty good too. I didn’t manage to sweep the results and get first place from every judge in every dance I did, so obviously I still need to work on improving my dancing and my prowess in dance politics, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the numbers that I got back I can analyze the data, along with the data from my previous competitions, and refine my practice focus and my work with my instructors to get closer to that goal.

If you’re interested in the brief version of the analysis of the results I got for this competition compared to the scores that I got at the last competition, I can tell you that I definitely show a specific area that I need to improve in – the Waltz. That is definitely the style that the scores show the most weakness in when compared to the other International Standard styles. Foxtrot is still definitely my strongest, without question. That is completely understandable though, since that is the style that Lord Dormamu has worked on the most with Sparkledancer and I, as I mentioned earlier.

The other two styles that we did in the last couple of competitions are kind of a toss-up. Tango has definitely been improving, so it has been very strong recently. Prior to that, when we didn’t work on it at all, it was obviously much worse. Quickstep just… is. We do fairly well in the Quickstep, based on the aggregate scores that I see over the last few competitions that I have pulled up here in front of me. That is good, considering that we don’t put as much time into working on the style with any of our instructors as we have with any of the other dance styles, but that also means that there is likely room for improvement in there somewhere.  The scores across the board haven’t gotten better or worse over the last few competitions. Like I said, it just is what it is. I should probably spend some more time working on Quickstep and getting some feedback on improvements I can make if I want to see any change in these scores next time I compete.

Moving on… I also want to mention briefly that I skipped Monday night’s Latin Technique class this past week to go to a different dance-related meeting. I maaaaaaaaaaaaaay have gotten myself roped into helping out with another dance nonprofit endeavor. This one is very different from the Royal Dance Court group that I am also a part of, since this dance nonprofit has a focus on helping out children, but the two definitely have similarities, which is why I think that I was asked if I would help out.

In reality, I was probably asked to help because I know a bunch of the people who are helping to run this nonprofit. Lord Dormamu works with this group, as does another dance instructor friend of mine, Indiana. You may remember her as being a part of the Royal Dance Court in the past, but then having to leave because other dance commitments took up her time? Well, this was one of those other dance commitments. Also Sparkledancer is a part of this group. And now I guess I am too, since they officially voted me in at the meeting on Monday night. Hooray for me?

What does this mean for me? I’m not sure. So far, in the meeting that I was in this past week, I just threw out some ideas I thought would be useful for the projects that they are already working on. There is a new project that Lord Dormamu wants to start for this group that he said that I am going to help him with. Because it sort-of directly relates to my non-dance career, I am considered the ‘expert’ for this project. He and I are going to have a dinner meeting next week to draw up an outline of what he is thinking for this new project, and then I can take a look at his ideas and figure out if it is even going to be feasible. That could be fun, right?

Man, I just get pulled into helping with all kinds of dance things. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to end up with my fingers in so many different aspects of the Dance Kingdom that my real name is going to be well known in the dance community soon. That’s actually kind of a scary thought. I prefer to help out and work on things in the background, and let other people take the fame. Am I going to be able to keep that up if I’m going to get really involved with every new club/group/nonprofit/council/board/gang that comes to ask for my help? Will I long for the days of anonymity in the future? We’ll have to see…

This weekend will be focused on reviewing our results from the competition and putting together a plan for going forward toward the next competition on my calendar, which I think is going to be in August. I have a lesson scheduled with Lord Dormamu, and then Sparkledancer asked me to meet up with her and Lady Tella so that they can continue working on improving her positioning and volume. I don’t know if I’m going to make it out to any other dance events this weekend though. I have some work that really needs to be done on my house, which I wasn’t able to do last weekend because I was competing, so I was hoping to make that a priority for this coming weekend. But it’s always possible that I’ll be talked into going out dancing somewhere. Apparently I’m easy to talk into doing dance-related things…

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I Speak To You Like The Chorus To The Verse

All of my lessons, and all of my practice time over the last two months have been focused on preparing for the competition that I went to this past weekend. And you know what? It was… underwhelming.

This particular competition did not have as many people sign up to participate as they have had in years past. On top of that, the majority of the people who did sign up were only dancing Newcomer or Bronze (or both). While that did give me a fair number of competitors to dance against in two of the four rounds that I signed up for, the other two rounds had no one in them. Not. A. One. This meant that for half of the events I danced in last Saturday, Sparkledancer and I were on the floor by ourselves. The organizers didn’t even have other events for different age groups or skill levels in International Standard that they could put on the floor at the same time to be more efficient.

The rounds where I did have other competitors to test myself against weren’t much of a test either. Most of the people who signed up for those two rounds primarily danced American Smooth, and no one had ever really told them the changes that they would have to make to the way they danced to do International Standard. Sparkledancer and I swept the field pretty handily because we had actually been practicing International Standard, so we knew what the judges would be looking for.

But… I kind of feel terrible about that. Like, winning in this way wasn’t really meaningful.

Other than that bitter taste from the results of the competition, the event was actually a lot of fun. I was able to get to the Dance Death Arena early enough so that I could run through my routines a couple of times on the floor there, and adjust (i.e. pull back) the length of my stride so that I would fill the floor from corner to corner in each routine. I happened to know two of the judges, so I got real feedback from them on how things looked while I was competing. One of the judges was Lord Dormamu, which was why Sparkledancer and I had signed up for the competition in the first place (because he told us we should). Another judge that was supposed to be there that day ended up getting sick, so the organizers called the Princess for help and she actually showed up to be a judge too.

I wasn’t super worried about how the results would turn out after meeting the competition. In fact, I may not have taken things as seriously as I probably should have. Case and point: during one of the events that Sparkledancer and I danced unopposed, a Waltz number, we spent the whole time talking about what kind of dessert foods would be good to eat at that moment. Apparently Sparkledancer doesn’t like cake batter. I think that cake batter is delicious, though it’s not something that I have sitting around in my house to eat like… ever. Luckily she agreed with me that cookie dough would have been pretty good, so we would have been able to find something to eat. Not exactly a normal thing to discuss in the middle of a dance competition, but that totally happened.

After we had finished dancing in our session and the awards for the International Standard rounds were handed out, Sparkledancer and I had both signed up to volunteer at the competition for a few hours to help. I changed out of my competition outfit and put on something slightly more comfortable, and then I ended up out at the front registration table. Unfortunately, because the rounds that were scheduled for that day were already half over, and not too many competitors had signed up overall, there wasn’t much for me to actually do while I was there. I answered a few questions, checked in a couple of competitors who showed up a little late to the party, and directed a lot of people to the restrooms. Super exciting work, right?

Just as Sparkledancer and I were finishing up our volunteer shift at the front desk, we could hear the emcee making announcements about some upcoming events that they were looking for more people to join in for. I guess they had scheduled two ‘fun’ rounds, which ended up being for Hustle and West Coast Swing, but they had very few people who had signed up for them. The emcee was telling everyone that they were still allowing people to join, so they should go sign up at the front desk if interested at all.

As we were counting down to those rounds, some of the braver young couples were trying to decide if they could do the dance styles. The hallway next to where the front desk was became a sort of impromptu practice ground for undecided competitors to see if they could hack it. There were a few boys who seemed to know how to Hustle, and they managed to pair off with a couple of ladies who knew the steps well enough to get by, so they all signed up for that round.

The West Coast Swing was a different matter entirely. After the Hustle kids left, some new kids took over the hallway and were trying to figure out if they could do West Coast Swing or not. One girl who told everyone that she knew West Coast Swing kind of took charge of the situation and was trying to explain the Sugar Push basic to a couple who were debating on signing up… but she was telling the guy the wrong steps, and they kept messing up. After watching this in my peripheral vision for about ten minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left the front desk and took over the situation.

I maaaaaaay have caused some trouble in doing so, however. See, I started trying to help out the guy who was trying to learn the West Coast Swing basic, pointing out the problems in his footwork and getting him to do it correctly. The girl who had been trying to teach the couple before found out I was there, and then she wanted me to show her how to do it too.Another couple of competitors stopped by to watch what we were doing, and soon they were trying to pick up the steps at the same time. Then the girl who had been trying to teach everyone before I showed up started asking questions about the female part. I tried to explain as best I could, but it had been a long time since I had learned that part of the steps, so I ended up flagging down Sparkledancer to have her come over and help.

As Sparkledancer and I were demonstrating the steps and explaining things to all of these interested ‘students’, we ended up drawing in so many people that we were blocking off the hallway. Eventually, someone on staff for the venue had to come and disperse everyone because they needed to keep the walkways clear for safety reasons. Oops… my bad.

In demonstrating to these competitors just how much they didn’t know about West Coast Swing though, I think I ended up discouraging some of them from entering the event that was going to happen. By the time that heat came up, the emcee made an announcement that only one couple had signed up to participate, so they were throwing open the floor to anyone that thought they could dance West Coast Swing, whether they had a competitor number or not. The emcee managed to goad the organizers of the competition into dancing, and then managed to convince the competition DJ and her husband to get on the floor as well.

Sparkledancer told me that we should do it too, seeing as how we had just scared away all the other kids. I was no longer wearing my competitor number and neither Sparkledancer nor were wearing dance shoes anymore, but I agreed. So, I stripped down to a t-shirt and took to the floor in my tennis shoes to try to dance. By the time I got on the floor, they were up to eight couples. We were told that they would do this in two rounds: in round one, each of the six judges would go tap one of the competitive couples who they wanted to see dance in the finals. Round two, all six judges would deliberate and assign each of us a placement.

Somehow Sparkledancer and I managed to make the finals. I didn’t actually do anything fancy, since I couldn’t turn myself all that well in tennis shoes, and Sparkledancer’s street shoes weren’t all that great either, but I guess that we managed to impress one of the judges enough with the few moves that we did do to get chosen to move on to the next level. Hooray!

You can probably guess how the final round went though. After dancing for about 90 seconds, the judges deliberated briefly and awarded first place to the competition organizer and his wife. No surprise there. Second place went to the DJ and her husband. Also no surprise there. But third place… third place went to Sparkledancer and I! What in the world…?

Of all the results that I got from this competition, that is probably the one that I am most proud of. One of the judges even gave me a third place ribbon so that I could commemorate this victory for all time. I’m going to put up a special hook just to hang this ribbon on my wall, so that anyone who comes to my house can see it and be amazed.

I’d like to dedicate that pseudo-victory to Joanna and Shawn. Deep down inside, I know that you two made it all possible. 🙂

Once the afternoon rounds finished up, there was a brief break to allow everyone to get dinner, and then other festivities were planned in the evening. First off, the organizers had convinced one of the judges to give a group class to all competitors who wanted to stay for the evening and any other dancers/spectators who wanted to pay a $10 entry fee, and then once that was done they were going to turn the DJ loose to spin some tunes so that everyone could just dance the night away for fun. I decided to stick around for both events.

A funny thing happened while I was waiting around for the class to start – I was hanging around along the side of the dance floor exchanging superficial pleasantries with other people who wandered by that I recognized, when suddenly Sparkledancer walked over toward me and turned her back to all the other people in the room. She proceeded to tell me about how she had just been in the bathroom, and there had been two girls in there with her who had been in the competition earlier that day. Apparently they had danced a few rounds in International Standard (two of those rounds against the two of us, as it happens), and both girls and their partners did not do super well.

During a break in the afternoon, both ladies decided to approach Lord Dormamu and ask him why it was that they had placed so poorly. As soon as Sparkledancer said that, I thought to myself, ‘Oh man, that probably did not go well for them.’ See, Lord Dormamu is a super nice guy, who is very charismatic and loves to joke around… unless you are talking dance with him. That is his passion, and if you are doing things wrong, he won’t hesitate to tell you about it.

These girls apparently called him an ass because he told both of them that their frame and posture needed work if they wanted to do better in International Standard. That answer didn’t sound so bad to me, because based on the work that I’ve done with Lord Dormamu, frame and posture always need work, since that is the foundation for everything else you do. Those girls had been told by whoever their regular dance instructor is that when competing in Bronze International Standard, the only thing that matters is their footwork and technique in dancing, and that frame isn’t a big deal.

When Sparkledancer said that, I had to stop and scratch my head a little. How could that instructor say that ‘footwork and technique’ are the only things that matter in Bronze Standard, but then say that frame doesn’t matter? The frame and posture are one of the most basic techniques, pretty much underlying everything. How in the world could this person make a distinction like that?

Both of the girls walked through the room at that point, and Sparkledancer pointed them out to me so that I would know who she was talking about. I didn’t remember dancing against them earlier in the day, but both had obviously changed out of their competition gear, so not recognizing them wasn’t too surprising.

Then the organizer of the competition took to the stage to make an announcement. They were waiting a few more minutes for people to finish up dinner and change back into their dance shoes, but the plan was to start the group class shortly. And, he was really excited to announce that the person that would be teaching the group class was… Lord Dormamu!

Suddenly the conversation that Sparkledancer told me became twice as hilarious.

I’ve never seen Lord Dormamu teach to a crowd before. Obviously with his level of success in the dance arena over the years, the man can take on students and be paid a ridiculous amount of money for his time in private lessons, so teaching group lessons is probably not something he does very often. This class that he gave was interesting, though it was all things that I have heard before in working privately with him. But based on my estimation of the average skill level of the competitors and social dancers that attended the class, the information that they received was worth its weight in gold.

I’m not just saying that because Lord Dormamu happens to be my coach either. I have been in group workshops like this that are taught by judges before. Judge Dread happens to give them all the time around where I live. In those other workshops I’ve seen, usually the judge-person goes over different patterns of figures, and throws in a little bit of technique on top of that for the more advanced students. Pretty standard fare I’m sure you’ve also experienced before.

Lord Dormamu gave something more like a lecture, where he laid out what it is that he sees as a couple of the most important points of dancing International Standard, and used a basic amalgamation of figures in Foxtrot as a demonstration tool for the points he was making. I happen to think that these sorts of discussions about dance philosophy are much more interesting than learning figures, but maybe that’s just me.

In the past I’ve mentioned what Lord Dormamu told me were the five major points that I need to be thinking about when I am competing: 1) posture/frame 2) connection 3) footwork 4) timing and 5) alignment. In this class he wanted to talk to everyone about just three of those point that he saw a lot of competitors doing incorrectly while he was judging (footwork, timing and connection), but he had to touch on the other two briefly in order for the information that he was conveying to truly make sense.

Being regular students of Lord Dormamu’s, Sparkledancer and I got dragged into the spotlight during class, though it was worse for her than it was for me. Obviously to truly give people an idea of what he was talking about, Lord Dormamu needed to do some dancing and demonstrate with a partner, so Sparkledancer got to play Dance Dummy for the majority of the class. This actually came back to haunt her during the social dance later, unfortunately. I was singled out a few times when Lord Dormamu couldn’t think of the correct word to use in English. I’ve gotten pretty good at following his train of thought during my lessons with him, so when he couldn’t figure out the right word he would turn to me and see if I could help him finish his sentences.

What was the most fun for me though was watching the progression of facial expressions on the two ladies that Sparkledancer had pointed out to me before the class started. When Lord Dormamu first took the stage, there was a look that seemed more like anger or disgust. By the time that the class ended, the look they were giving him bordered on wonder, and they were laughing along with all of his jokes like everyone else in class. Maybe after getting a more thorough explanation of what he was looking for while judging they had changed their tune about his answer for why they placed so poorly during the International Standard rounds.

That just left the dance party on Saturday night to celebrate, and then I would finally get to go home. I got the impression early on that many of the competitors I saw at the dance party that night didn’t really go out social dancing very often, if at all. There’s a good chance that if the DJ hadn’t started playing songs right away as the group class ended, many of those people would have left the event, never to be seen again.

At the beginning of the party, the competitors refused to mingle all that much. I saw many of them only head out to the floor to dance with their competitive partners, or just hanging around the edge of the dance floor with their competitive ‘team’ members from their home studios. That worried me a little. I think the DJ saw this too though, because after the first couple of songs she made an announcement that she was going to play a Foxtrot and make it a mixer dance to help people meet other dancers that they didn’t know. This tactic really seemed to break the ice, and afterward the dance floor was filled with many more dancers and people were beginning to rotate through partners as I would have expected. Genius!

Earlier I mentioned that being used as Lord Dormamu’s dance dummy didn’t end up being a good thing for Sparkledancer. During the dance party, I had been wandering around the hall, just talking to people, going out to dance occasionally, and mostly trying to blend into the background just to observe. Sparkledancer came and found me at one point and told me that she was having a hard time getting other guys at the party to dance with her. When she would ask them, they would either refuse her, or while they were dancing they would be extremely tense and apologize profusely every time being tense caused them to mess up.

She was worried that being used to demonstrate so much in the class with Lord Dormamu made the guys at the party afraid of her, as if they thought she was better than them. That made me feel terrible for her, so I did my best to dance with her more through the rest of the evening. It’s so weird that guys will act like that. After all, if we had a female teaching the group class, and the female instructor had used me as a demonstration tool, I probably would have had more women seek me out for dances later in the evening. It’s funny that men seem to avoid dancing with women that they view as better than them, but women gravitate toward men that they think are better to dance with. What a weird way for our brains to be wired!

And that… was my weekend. I think I have rambled on long enough on just this topic, so I’ll leave things here for now. Until next week, keep on dancing!

Here I Go, Playin’ Star Again

For all sorts of reasons, I didn’t do too much that was noteworthy this week. Hooray! If I spend a lot of time practicing all the things I’m supposed to be remembering, then there is less new stuff to write about that I have to try to remember later! I know some people would think that working on new material all the time would be pretty awesome, but it helps me remember everything better when I have a week or two to do nothing but review.. Still, there were a couple of things I did get to this week. After all, in the Dance Kingdom, there’s always something interesting going on that I somehow manage to get myself involved in…

First off, I did have my normal standing lesson with Sir Steven this past Saturday. In a complete turn of events from what we have been doing lately, Sir Steven asked us to pull out our International Tango routine and show him how that has been going. Sparkledancer and I got ready while he put on a random song, and we danced through the whole routine from start to finish.

When we walked back across the floor to meet up with Sir Steven, he told us that there was one really obvious issue with our Tango, but otherwise it was good. Still, the one problem we have is kind of a huge deal – our steps were right, our movement traveled quite well, but our Tango flowed way too smoothly. He described it as ‘dancing figures from the Tango syllabus with Foxtrot smoothness’ which of course makes sense since Lord Dormamu has us spending the majority of our practice time lately working on our Foxtrot. So instead of doing anything else that day, we spent the whole time going over the first five or six figures in our Tango routine to try to make them look more like Tango.

What are the takeaways I have to remember from this session? Well for starters, dancing Tango really slowly for a long time makes my knees feel weird. Who was it that thought that dancing like this looked good, or felt comfortable? Bending my knees in toward each other before taking steps, or constantly trying to turn my legs to step in a semi-pigeon-toed manner is not comfortable in the least, and I really don’t understand how anyone watching from the outside would think that it looks good either. So who decided that this was the best way to dance Tango? If anyone knows, let me know so that I can go have a few words with that person…

More specific things to remember: during the opening Back Corte, I am supposed to do a sort of head flick at the same time Sparkledancer does her own. I have to remember not to allow my head to turn too far to the left when I do this. I can turn my head with a lot of force if I’m trying to turn it fast, and letting it go too far is rather painful, so I actually need to make sure to kill the momentum from the head turn before I hit that painful point of rotation. Normally it’s not a huge deal to remember, but if I’m going to be going through the Back Corte figure over and over again in practice, it’s important to keep this in mind.

After the two Curved Walk steps there is a Progressive Link. For some reason, I’ve always done the first step of the Progressive Link curving along the same path as the preceding Curved Walk steps, but if we use the Progressive Link to go into Promenade Position heading toward diagonal center, I’m not really taking a step with my right foot during the Progressive Link. My right foot is usually already in the right spot, so all I would do is turn my toes to point the right way. Sir Steven wants me to actually take a step with my right foot though. Instead of taking the first step of the Progressive Link curving , I need to make sure to make it travel straight ahead. This way I have to take a step with my right leg to get it into the right place as I turn to Promenade Position.

Otherwise, generally I need to make my steps snappier, which will take the smoothness out of the dance. This primarily means waiting until the last second to move my feet on steps that cover two beats. Usually this is done by beginning to move the spine and the knees, but leaving the feet in the same spot until the very end. The first step in Promenade Position after the Progressive Link is a good example of this – I need to make sure to bend into my front knee and push it forward while bringing my spine a bit forward. Once I start moving my feet, the rest of the steps should look like they are all quick. When I get to the end of the Promenade and am about to go into the Open Reverse Turn, the same thing happens on the two beat step that occurs there, and theoretically along down the line (until I am told otherwise, that is).

So that officially adds items in Tango to my list of stuff to practice along with Waltz and Foxtrot. I’m starting to think that the amount of time I have set aside for practice each week is going to run out rather quickly at this rate. Maybe I’ll have to find something in my life to give up to free up more practice time. What could I even do without? Work pretty much has to stay, since that’s how I afford to dance in the first place, so what’s even left? Eating food outside of work hours? Going to singles events occasionally? Spending a bit of time at night on the couch with my cat writing or studying? Sleep? Working out? Grocery shopping? I don’t really do much in my life right now besides those things and dancing.

Man, that list makes my life sound kind of boring…

Let’s talk about this week’s Latin Technique class next, to make things a bit more exciting. This week we looked at Cha-Cha. Apparently they had also looked at Cha-Cha last week while I was having my lesson with Lord Dormamu, but since only one person who was in class this week had also been in class last week, and she didn’t even remember the figures they looked at in class last week, Lord Junior thought that it was safe to look at Cha-Cha again. We started out with four ladies to two men that night, but about twelve minutes after class had started one more lady who had been sitting in her car in the parking lot talking on her phone decided to come inside and join us.

The figures that we looked at that night weren’t that hard for me. Seriously, the Lead’s part was ridiculously easy compared to the Follower’s part. Most of what I did that night was just to shift my weight and rotate in place while the ladies did all kinds of traveling spins that were super fast at normal Cha-Cha tempo. The thing that we spent most of the class working on, as you can imagine, was the turns for the ladies, to make sure that everyone could accomplish them correctly both with and without a partner.

At one point while working on the turns, Lord Junior was helping out one of the ladies who was having trouble maintaining her balance while turning fast. He stopped to ask the whole class “What’s the main reason that ladies lose their balance when turning?” The lady who had shown up late for class that night enthusiastically raised her hand and shouted out “My boobs!” Everyone stopped talking and turned to stare at her. Then she shrugged and said “What? They’re really big, and they throw me off sometimes.” I lost it at that remark and broke out laughing, which made several other people in class start laughing too. Lord Junior, ever the professional, shook his head, and said “OK, that may be so, but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for…” and changed the subject to try to get the class back on track.

Funny business out of the way, let’s talk about what I danced that night. I started out facing diagonal wall with my weight on the right foot, left leg pointed back (ladies with the opposite setup) holding on to the lady’s right hand with my left. I would then check forward on the left leg, then rotate 90° and do a small chasse to the left while the lady does a Forward Lock Step, bringing our right hand around behind her shoulder as she passes in front of us. Over beats two and three of the next measure we did a Telemark, or possibly a Telespin – one is where the lady comes around the guy, the other is where the guy comes around the lady. Lord Junior didn’t want to go look up which one this figure actually was in the middle of class. He thought the lady was coming around the guy during the move, which would make it a Telespin, but I was definitely going around the lady which would have made it a Telemark.

Either way, once we get done coming around each other we were both facing center and we held in place like that for the first half of beat four. Then we changed hands with the lady to take her left hand in our right as the Leads lunged out to the left and the ladies stepped to the right and brought their feet together and their right arm up, strike a line. From that position we did a figure that reminded me of the Roll In, Roll Out figure that I learned long ago in Hustle. We would turn the lady inward across our right arm until she is standing in front of our shoulder, then turn ourselves face the opposite wall and roll her back out along our right arm.

After two of these that turned us in a complete circle, we rolled the lady back in one last time and took her right hand in our left and released the other side. The Lead then lunged out to the left again while the ladies stepped to the right and struck another line, raising the opposite arm straight up. After that we brought the lady back toward us, turning her one-and-a-half times in the process so that she ended up facing diagonal wall and then the Lead did a Forward Lock Step while the lady did a Backward Lock Step. If you did things correctly, these final Lock Steps should be traveling along the same line as the first Lock Step the lady did while the Lead did a chasse alongside her.

Before I move on: in case you’re wondering, the correct answer that Lord Junior was looking for to why ladies usually lose their balance during their turns is because they don’t keep their core muscles engaged.

In Standard Technique class this week I got to work on Viennese Waltz, which was fun. Specifically, we spent time looking at the rest of the original post-Bronze syllabus for International Viennese Waltz last night. I know I’ve mentioned before, but back in the days before high-level competitors started to complain that International Viennese Waltz was too ‘boring’ (whoever those crazy people are), the entire syllabus for the dance was a total of seven figures. Bronze students learned the Reverse Turn, the Natural Turn, the Forward Change Step and the Backward Change Step. Silver students would get to add in the Reverse Fleckerl, and when you hit Gold you finished things off with the Natural Fleckerl and the Contra Check. Nowadays they’ve been adding in all sorts of pivots and other things into the mix, but these seven figures were the entirety of the dance for a long, long time.

I think this is the third time that I have gotten to work on doing the other three figures from the original starting lineup, and I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable with where my feet should be going at what time while I am rotating. The epiphany that I had the last time I worked on Fleckerls where my foot crossed behind on the fifth step of every Fleckerl really helped me in this class, and feeling good about what I was doing meant that I could focus more on helping to keep the rotation stable and balanced rather than wondering if my feet were in the right place. I hope that helped the ladies I danced with feel more confident in their steps by extension.

The progression we did was pretty simple, and is a really useful for practicing everything in Viennese Waltz except the Change Steps. We did one Reverse Turn followed by two Reverse Fleckerls, then a Contra Check to transition into two Natural Fleckerls, exiting with half of a Natural Turn to head back toward the line of dance. This setup does go through a lot of spinning, and we had one older lady in class that night that was getting dizzy from turning so much. As we practiced in class, Lord Junior had me take out one of each Fleckerls when dancing with her to cut the rotation in half to see if that would help reduce her dizziness. Even after taking out the Fleckerls, when we got done dancing I still let her hold on to me as I walked her back to the desk in the corner and she would use that to steady herself while Lord Junior and I danced with the others.

As I said, I was feeling much more confident about going through all the figures this time around. I tried to go through things with Sparkledancer a bit more seriously to make sure she felt really good about everything. She’s really the only person I ever dance Viennese Waltz with outside of classes like this, so she would likely be the only person I actually practice these figures with in the future. Bony was in class that night, and she was just trying to make sure her feet were crossing correctly for most of the class, and as I said the older lady who was also there with us was having trouble with dizziness, so she and I never transitioned out of practice hold. At this point, I think with a bit more practice this figure could easily become something that I could use with Sparkledancer anytime that we do an International Viennese Waltz.Yay!

OK, one last thing I really, really, really want to mention, though it’s still in the formative stage: I’ve joined a group that is a decision-making part of a national ballroom dance organization! I’m not sure how much I can say about what it is and what I will be doing quite yet – during the interview process, someone mentioned that there is likely to be some confidentiality agreements that will be mailed out for all the new members of this group to sign before anything can actually get started. So… yeah. At some point in the future, my input on some matters that affect portions of the ballroom dance world in the whole U.S. could affect you, if you do ballroom dance-related things in the U.S.!

How cool is that? I still have a hard time believing that they would select me of all people to be a part of things at a national level. Although…, I’m a little wary about what I might have gotten myself into. On the one hand, I applied to be a member of this group because I really feel like the kinds of decisions this group will be making shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of a bunch of retired people, with no one in my age range or younger having any say in matters. On the other hand though, I have a lot of things going on in my life, and since I’m not nearly old enough to retire yet, I can’t devote endless amounts of time to yet another part of the ballroom dance world. I am kind of worried that this could end up being like a second job for me, which would seriously cut into my dance practice time that I mentioned earlier I already feel like I don’t have enough time for…

So, stay tuned for more news in the future on this new ballroom dance-related adventure I’m going to embark on!

How’s that for an ending?

Speaking My Lesson From The Brain

This past Friday night I ended up at a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. Based on the messages I saw floating around online, there was a bigger dance party with some sort of special surprise that was going on at the Fancy Dance Hall that night as well, but I didn’t want to make the drive all the way out there when there was a less crazy party going on at a dance hall much closer to my house. Besides, as I see it, as a male dancer I can pretty much go to whatever sort of dance event I want and always be useful, so I knew that whatever I chose would be end up being fun for me.

I arrived at the Electric Dance Hall a few minutes after the party had started. Lord Junior stopped what he was doing to come over and greet me, and he made a specific point of telling me about one lady who was at the party that he wanted me to go dance with at some point that evening. She was relatively new to dancing, having first started taking lessons at the Electric Dance Hall in November, but now she was starting to feel confident enough in her abilities to show up at these social parties. I made a point of dancing with her a couple of times, sticking to slower dance styles like Waltz or Rumba to try to figure out what she was comfortable with.

Somehow that night I also ended up dancing a Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks. As a general rule I really try my best to avoid dancing with instructors or professionals, since there are always other amateur ladies I could be dancing with, but that night as the song started Lady Lovelylocks walked right up to me, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the dance floor. The song that was playing could have been either a Cha-Cha or a Hustle, and since I knew that Lady Lovelylocks spent a lot of time competing professionally in International Latin and I didn’t, I made a point of asking her if she knew Hustle as we got started. With the music being so loud, I’m not exactly sure what she said to me, but she was smiling about it, so I took that as consent to do what I wanted.

The dance did not go as well as I would have liked. Part of the problem I have with dancing with instructors or professionals at social dance parties is that I always feel like it is some kind of test. Logically I know that this is incorrect, and these people just want to have fun sometimes just like me, but in the back of my brain I still worry about screwing up steps while dancing with them, so I’m really on edge for the entire song. The other problem was that Lady Lovelylocks felt kind of out-of-control when I was dancing with her, which was a bit unsettling, and that made me worry about what I was doing even more.

I’m sure that you’ve thrown a punch before, so I’m going to use that as a comparison – have you ever pulled a punch? Where you try to hit something really hard but then stop your arm short at the last second? There’s tension that you get when you pull your arm back that comes from your triceps, right around the lower half of your arm going toward your elbow. I associate that feeling with cancelling the movement in my arms quickly, to prevent my fist from accidentally hitting anything (or anyone if I’m in a kickboxing class). Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You can try throwing a punch and stopping your arm before it completely straightens if you want to give it a try.

Well, as I was dancing this Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks, she was putting a lot more power into her turns than I have ever felt anyone use during a Hustle before. I know this because when I did figures that would require me to stop her to change her direction, like a Triple Spin or transitioning from Open Dance Position to Closed Dance Position, I would put up my right arm and she would slam into it. She doesn’t weigh a whole lot, but she was running into my arm hard enough that I was getting the same feeling in my triceps when stopping her body that I would get when pulling a punch. That’s crazy!

I know that’s a bit strange to mention, but that was a really memorable note for me from this dance party. Other than that, it was a fairly normal night where I got to talk with people who I knew and dance the night away. I tried my best to keep dancing that night for as long as the Dance Robots kept dancing, but near the end of the party most of the unattached ladies had either gone home or were changing their shoes, so there wasn’t much I could do for the last couple of songs, while the two of them kept going right until the end. Maybe next time…

With Sparkledancer being out-of-town the last few days of last week, we had to reschedule our weekend lessons to a time when all of us would be around. That meant that I ended up meeting with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven out at the Fancy Dance Hall on Sunday morning instead of our usual Saturday time slot. I got to the studio a bit early as usual to warm up a little, and found that there were a couple of people hanging out who were setting up furniture for some function that was starting at noon. They didn’t leave us much room to work that day, since they had set chairs up in a big arc around a small center point against one long wall. There was a very thin strip of floor behind the chairs that could be used for dancing, but it wasn’t quite wide enough to do much more than travel in a straight line.

Sparkledancer showed up a short while after I did, and Sir Steven a bit after that. He took one look at the room and told the people setting up for the party that we were going to move the chairs back to widen that strip of floor behind the chairs enough for us to work, so the three of us pushed everything up so that we had a lane about ten feet wide. That gave us slightly less play between the chairs and the wall to work with than I would have liked, but we made do for our time there.

Sir Steven had us work on our Waltz routine. We danced through it a couple of times, since the first time I danced was mostly used to get used to dancing through the lane without hitting any chairs on one side, or the wall on the other. We only got through the long wall, as you can imagine, because we couldn’t go down the short wall without moving more of the furniture around. Since no one else was dancing at the same time that day, when we got down the long wall to the far end, we just turned around and danced back the other way. That kind of messed with my head the first time we tried to do it, but I managed to get through once I got started.

Given the limitations on space, Sir Steven decided to have us spend time working on the two chasses along the long wall, since they traveled in a straight line, which helped us avoid running into any furniture. Let me tell you, even though a Progressive Chasse to the Right is only four steps, they seem like the worst four steps in the world when you go through them at painfully slow speeds. We made micro adjustments to the length of our strides, the angles of the steps, then moved on to the Outside Change and did the same thing super slow, and ended with the Chasse from Promenade Position getting the same treatment. At the end we strung all three figures together and ran them at a slightly more reasonable rate of speed, which felt like such a relief after going through everything so slowly beforehand.

On Monday night, in place of going to Latin Technique class, I ended up back at the Fancy Dance Hall to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. It had been two weeks since we had all gotten together, and with Sparkledancer being out-of-town on Saturday and Lord Dormamu leaving on Tuesday for an overseas trip to some exotic country to do dance things, we had no other choice but to get something in on Monday night or miss out for a while.

In a massively surprising turn of events that night, Lord Dormamu actually wanted to get started on our lesson early! Normally he continues working with his students until he finishes up whatever concept he is trying to teach them, which quite often has him running his lessons over their scheduled time slots. If he schedules multiple lessons in a row with no break in between, one lesson ending late puts the next lesson behind when starting, and if that lesson also ends late the next lesson is even more behind when starting, and if that one ends late… it’s a terrible cycle! To come in and be told that we could start early for once was a real surprise, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be asked if we would be willing to change our lesson like that again.

We went back to Foxtrot again, just as I expected. Because it had been two weeks since our last meeting, we spent a little time reviewing all of the things we had been practicing in Foxtrot over the last two weeks first so that Lord Dormamu could evaluate how our practice sessions were going. Overall he was pleased, which made me feel good. There were a few spots that we went back to in order to fix a few things, and one new change that he wanted us to start adding in when we danced through the routine. Let’s start with the things that we’d touched on in the past that he wanted me to continue working on:

  • As always, he reminded me to stay down the entire time while I am dancing. I guess he still sees me coming up higher when taking certain steps, even though I feel like I am staying super low the entire time.
  • We went back to dance through the Three Step really slowly again. Just like when we had done the chasse figures in Waltz slowly with Sir Steven the day before, going through the Three Step super slow is pretty terrible. This time, he wanted us to do it so that Sparkledancer could work on taking bigger steps. As Lord Dormamu told her that night, he wanted to “unleash” me during the figure but he couldn’t do that if she didn’t take bigger steps.
  • Apparently he can tell when I am not rotating myself enough during the first Reverse Turn in the routine. If I do not have enough CBM during the first half of the figure, apparently my steps backward tend to go off on a bit of an angle. This may or may not have happened that night because there was another instructor and her student standing in the middle of the floor while we were going through that figure, but Lord Dormamu told me that I should just dance through them if they are going to be silly and stand in my way.
  • Finally, Lord Dormamu also didn’t think that I was pivoting myself enough during my first step of the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. If you remember, he told me how he has always done a Closed Impetus with the first step I take being a curved step backward to the left that I then pivot on, instead of  taking a step straight backward that begins to turn to the right which is how the book tells you to do the figure. He wanted me to pivot even more on that first step of mine to make sure that we are getting around even more.

As for new things, we looked at the second Reverse Turn in the routine that night, which is in the corner at the end of the long wall between a Natural Weave on the long wall and Basic Weave on the short wall. Up until that point, we had been doing the Reverse turn while heading toward diagonal wall the entire time. This Reverse Turn ends with a checking action instead of a Feather Finish, which allows us to change our alignment easily between heading toward diagonal wall on the long wall to heading toward diagonal center along the short wall.

Instead of turning the entire 180° during the second step of the Reverse Turn, he wanted to make this Reverse Turn more like the first Reverse Turn we have in the routine where there are two distinct parts. The first half would mirror our first Reverse Turn, where you only do about ⅜ of a turn on the second step so that the third step would now be heading toward the wall. The fourth step, which is just that checking action, is where we will now be completing the other ⅛ of the turn to give us the full 180° we had before.

However, Lord Dormamu wanted us to take this fourth step in a very specific manner. There will be distinct rise on this step so that it actually looks almost like I am popping up while taking it (the sort of action he told me earlier in the evening that I should always be staying down to avoid). Also, he now wants me to rotate my head here as I do the sway for this checking action – I will be looking over Sparkledancer’s head when doing this check. I know, I know, this set off all sorts of bells and whistles in my head too, since he just recently told me that I was allowed to start keeping my head to the left again, and before that I was supposed to keep my nose in line with my sternum. Moving my head is going to throw all kinds of things off, I just know it.

Practice makes perfect though, right? I’ll probably have to go over this quite a bit to make sure that I can remember to move my head and then put it back at the right times. Sigh… one more thing to add to my list of items to practice.

Since I didn’t make it to Latin Technique class this week, I made sure to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It was a good thing that I did too, because we ended up with seven ladies in class and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. I don’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t been there, but it probably wouldn’t have been pretty!

We ended up going through some things in Waltz that night. The first figure we did was the only one that I hadn’t seen before, and was by far the most interesting of the figures used that night. Lord Junior called the figure a ‘Checked Natural Turn’ which is also a pretty good description of what you do during the steps. We started with a prep step and then took the first two steps of a Natural Turn. However, as we placed the left foot down, we didn’t completely transfer our weight to the left leg like we would in a normal Natural Turn. Instead, we used partial weight to create a checking action, and then pushed back onto our right foot to do a small Slip Pivot that would rotate us to face down the line of dance.

This variation on a Natural Turn seems like it can be pretty useful, allowing you to quickly change direction if need be. The pivot on the third step could obviously be rotated even further if we had wanted to, but we only used an eighth of a turn because of what Lord Junior wanted us to do next. The key to remember, as I found out the hard way, is not to drive yourself backward on that third step. It is a small step, just under your body, which allows the ladies to position themselves in front of you when they do their pivot. If you push that third step backward, you risk leaving the lady standing far away from you as she pivots herself around the point where your body used to be.

The rest of the progression was fairly simple. Having pivoted to line ourselves up facing the line of dance, we added on a Double Reverse Spin that did a complete turn, and then seemingly to make Sir Steven happy we did a Progressive Chasse to the Right, which brought back memories of working on the same figure on Sunday. Finally, to wrap things up Lord Junior wanted to do another syncopated figure that traveled in a straight line but had different timing and different rise and fall when compared to the Progressive Chasse to the Right. This was a Quick Backward Run, where the syncopation was during the first two steps before the rise, instead of during the second two steps in the middle of the rise like the Progressive Chasse to the Right uses.

At this moment, I’m hoping that this coming weekend is pretty quiet. I feel like I should head out and spend some extra time practicing serious things. I’m not even sure why. Yet there’s always a chance that I will allow myself to be talked into going out and doing other, more fun things instead of practicing. Sigh… more than anything I hope that I get a chance to sleep in for a few extra hours this weekend. I feel like I need some extra rest for some reason. We’ll have to see whether I accomplish any of my desired tasks next week!