You’ll Get Scared If You Get Lazy

Here we go… one full week of dancing in 2018 all finished up! The year is new, which means that this is a good time to hit the big reset button on all sorts of things to get into a newer, better flow.

I started out this week of dancing with a lesson last Saturday morning with Sir Steven. He wanted to begin our lesson by having us run through all of our routines once for warm-up, like we usually do. I thought that things went pretty well, but Sir Steven wasn’t thinking the same thing. After we completed each routine, there were a lot of little things that he wanted to go back and have us go through again. The second time went better, but to have him point out and talk about things that we already worked on cleaning up in the past made me feel sad.

We also worked on Quickstep that day, continuing our plan to focus cleanly on this dance style for a period of time much like I had done with Waltz and Foxtrot, and was currently doing with Lord Dormamu on the Tango. By the time we hit the Quickstep that morning I was feeling better about my dancing. We didn’t find anything major that needed fixing here. There was one note about making sure that our lowering action on the last steps of all of our chasses were precise and waited until the other leg swung through that I did write down to spend a bit of extra time working on in practice.

Sir Steven also told me to keep working on the compression and rotation in my right hip along the short wall that helps the transition from the Progressive Chasse to the Right into the Backward Lock, and also from the Backward Lock into the Running Finish. This is not an action that I find particularly comfortable, since the muscles along the outside of my right hip and thigh do not like twisting in that manner. But I keep going, and I always know I am doing the movement right when those muscles are complaining to me, and slowly it is getting to be less painful.

At the end of the lesson, Sir Steven pointed out that the Fancy Dance Hall had hung posters around the dance floor about a competition they would be hosting the Saturday before Valentine’s day. This event was one that I had attended last year, so Sir Steven figured it was highly likely that we would want to do it again. He wanted to specifically point out to Sparkledancer and I that the organizers had decided to offer the event to amateur couples at a significantly reduced rate compared to Pro/Am couples, because they wanted more amateurs to sign up. That news made my wallet smile a little. I could feel it in my pocket.

Next up, Sparkledancer and I had a meeting with Lord Dormamu on the schedule. It was originally supposed to be a coaching session, but since this was our first time getting together in 2018, we spent much of the time talking about our strategy for the year ahead. Lord Dormamu even wrote as his first note on our lesson log that he keeps for that day “Strategy planning for 2018” so that we would all remember.

So what kind of fantastic strategy did we come to agreement on? First off, I asked him about the upcoming pre-Valentine’s Day competition that we had discussed with Sir Steven at the end of our earlier lesson. That event is now something that we are going to for sure enter, and with the reduced rate that they are giving to amatuers, this would be a good chance for us to dance quite a few heats to test our stamina during an actual competition. That’s one thing to start preparing ourselves for.

The weekend prior to that there is another competition going on that I have received several emails about over the last few weeks. This event is farther away, and is structured more like the last couple of competitions that I have participated in. Lord Dormamu thought that it was a good idea for us to consider if we could get our act together in the short period of time between now and then. That makes two weekends in February potentially booked for me already.

But the key point he made was that we needed to get our act together. Lord Dormamu could also tell that the time that Sparkledancer and I have spent since the last competition that we did has not been as fruitful as it could have been, and much like Sir Steven pointing out all the silly things to me earlier in the day, this made me feel like kind of terrible.

With the training that we had to give up to learn the showcase routine we opted to perform, plus all the time off that came from the holidays, my practice regimen over the last two months or so has been… less than optimal. I will admit that, and I feel bad that it had gotten noticeable enough that both Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu said something.

I guess that Lord Dormamu is worried that if we don’t shape up, Sparkledancer and I won’t be able to achieve his goals of becoming National Champions and moving out of Bronze quickly to get to more interesting things. He actually called those our goals, but I don’t ever remember saying that I wanted to be some kind of National Champion, so I think there might be some confusion there. Obviously I wouldn’t turn down the title if I could actually achieve it, but I am not a naturally competitive person, so it’s not like I am gunning for such a distinction.

Sparkledancer and I talked about this apparent goal of ‘ours’ over some random text messages later that night. We decided that if this is the way things are supposed to shape up, than we obviously have to feel like we are ready for it. To get there, we are going to rearrange our schedules to add in even more practice time. Based on my schedule availability around work, it’s probably going to end up that I am dancing in some significant way on every night but Friday every week. I need one day to myself to accomplish things for life, like grocery shopping and house cleaning, and Friday looks like the only day when that is going to work.

So much for having more of a social life in 2018, I guess… is this the sort of life that other serious competitive dancers lead, or is it just me (and my dance partner)?

On top of that, Lord Dormamu said that Sparkledancer was getting to a point in her training that she might need to start working with a female coach to go over things from a woman’s perspective. He freely admitted that even though he’s won all these national and international competition over his career, he would never be female, so there would always be some aspects of dancing the Follower’s part that will never look right when he shows them to her.

Some names were thrown around of various females that he knew that might be good for us to work with, from visiting coaches to various female teachers at studios around the Dance Kingdom. The most promising person mentioned a few times, who likely will also be the least expensive, is actually one-half of a Professional couple that has been studying International Standard under Lord Dormamu for some time. This lady is also Sir Bread’s partner, so let’s call her… Lady Tella.

There are a few reasons why Lady Tella was the most promising. First of all, she is nearby, so if Sparkledancer needs to see her a few times to impart knowledge, we don’t have to wait for any travel schedules to align. Second, she has trained with Lord Dormamu in International Standard herself, so when she imparts said knowledge, what she will relay will fall right in line with all the things that Sparkledancer will be doing with Lord Dormamu from a professional female’s perspective. And third, obviously, there is a cost factor. Training with yet another instructor, plus adding in additional practice time, could make 2018 expensive!

It looks like I am in for either a wild ride as the year plays out that may culminate in a national championship run, or I am in the running for some serious burn-out from having no quiet time to myself. No matter what happens, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it!

There was one final item that was brought up for discussion at the end of our session that day, where Lord Dormamu actually asked Sparkledancer and I if we would be able to help him. He is a leading figure in a charity that involves dance and children with disabilities, and they are working on arranging a huge fundraising gala in March. Knowing that Sparkledancer and I are members of the Royal Dance Court, Lord Dormamu asked us if we would be able to help out with the event and maybe even get others in the Royal Dance Court to contribute.

Of course I said I could (after all, I really have nothing else on my plate, right?). I brought up that I had been asked to go to a big meeting in a couple of weeks with the Royal Dance Court. This meeting was bringing together the leaders of all kinds of dance clubs in the Southeastern U.S., so if there was some kind of flyer or information packet about the event available, either Sparkledancer or I could present the information to these other club leaders to drum up interest. Lord Dormamu thought that was a great idea, and promised he would have something by the next time we all got together.

Even with this doubling down on my competitive training to try to progress faster, I made a decision to still go out to Latin Technique class every Monday night whenever possible. I know that the training for Latin dance styles will only be of limited use to me this year, but I also know that Lord Junior appreciates that I show up for class, as one of the few gentlemen who is advanced enough to participate. On top of that, it may be the one place where I get to see people and be relaxed enough to chat with them a bit every week, since my mind won’t be on training that night.

This past Monday night was a special treat for me, because prior to class starting one of Lord Junior’s competitive students convinced him to cover my favorite Latin dance style: Pasodoble. This student of his recently decided that she wanted to dance in a competition coming up in February and do a Bronze five-dance in Latin, so she is just being introduced to the Pasodoble. There were a couple of others who joined us for class that night who had never done Pasodoble before, so this class was an introduction for them as well. Yay!

Lord Junior kept the steps that we did mostly Bronze-level for these individual’s sake. For those of us who had done some Pasodoble before, he wanted us all to focus on trying to get through all of the steps without breaking from the strong Pasodoble frame, and even try to implement some of the characterization of the dance. The Gatekeeper was in class that night, and she had never danced the Pasodoble before. She thought that everything that we were doing that night was super hilarious for some reason. She couldn’t get through the figures with anyone without breaking into laughter.

Our progression that night began with us in frame with our partners as the music started. We held in place for the first four beats, and then did four Sur Place in place to finish the first eight count. The next eight count was four Sur Place that moved to the right, with us shifting our arms to the standard Counter Promenade Position frame for Pasodoble, and we finished the measure with a Drag.

For the next eight count, Lord Junior showed us a normal Promenade run to start with. This figure was one that his student was working on, so he threw it in for us to go through a couple of times to give her some extra practice. Once we all seemed to master that step, he upgraded it to a Promenade and Counter Promenade run. We changed the alignment on the Counter Promenade portion of the step to move toward diagonal center.

Apparently that is a Silver-level variation of the figure by the book – in Bronze the Counter Promenade just rotates to go straight toward center. In case anyone asks you why, I guess that it’s because if you over-rotate to go diagonal center, you are forcing the lady to do more turn, so that bumps the figure up to a new level. Weird. To end the last eight count of the progression before the first four count in the song, we added in a Grand Circle, which closed us up facing wall once more, ready for whatever came next.

In a strange turn of events, I got a text message from Lord Dormamu on Tuesday night as soon as I got home from work. He said that there were a group of people getting together that night to talk about the upcoming charity gala that he had mentioned to me on Saturday, and he wanted to know if I was able to attend the meeting. Oh, and the meeting was starting in an hour-and-a-half!

Sparkledancer sent me a message a few minutes later telling me that she got the same invitation, and asked me what I thought since we had planned on getting together to practice that night. Being the eternal people-pleaser that I am, I told her that we should probably go to the meeting, since having all the information about this event when we present it at our upcoming meeting was a good way to make Lord Dormamu happy. I sighed remorsefully as I looked at my workout calendar and shifted everything back a day to give up my off day on Saturday, and replied to Lord Dormamu to let him know that I would be there.

It turned out to be a rather interesting meeting. There were a few people there like me who were not members of this foundation, so we didn’t have any voting rights on anything that was discussed, but the group was happy to get our input on ideas to make the charity event better. As with every idea that Lord Dormamu comes up with, the initial plan for this fundraising gala is extravagant. He wanted to bring in all kinds of big name presenters and performers from all across the Dance Kingdom that he is personal friends with, and get them to put on a dance show to help raise money for the charity foundation.

The initial talk about prices for the tickets to the show seemed pricey to me. One of the points of contention that was brought up was that the date they had picked to hold the show conflicted with one of the Dance Kingdom’s social dance club’s monthly dance party. The leaders of that social dance club were at this meeting, and initially they were worried that holding this event would draw away attendees to their social dance party, leaving them lacking funds from the door fees for the dance to cover their expenses for the night.

But when Lord Dormamu started throwing out numbers for ticket prices, that concern evaporated, since the average social dancer in their club wouldn’t likely spend that kind of money on a ticket to a dance showcase, even if the performers are the best of the best that Lord Dormamu can get. We talked instead about tying in the show to that dance club’s dance party, using it as a location for the show’s “after-party” where everyone could go and dance the night away and have some refreshments. They thought they could also set up a box to collect donations from the dance party’s attendees who wanted to donate to the charity, even if they didn’t attend the performance.

I think an event of this scale will be tough to put together in just under two months time, but Lord Dormamu seems to think he can make it happen. He was telling all of us about how he was in talks with some friends of his (who are dancers on a famous TV show about dancing) about coming to the event. One of them has already agreed to be there and host the show for him, and he is really trying to get the other two to fit it into their schedule and perform that night. Apparently if he can work it out with them, he thinks people will pay buckets of money to come see the show, and maybe even some extra if there is the option for backstage passes to meet these individuals for pictures and whatnot.

Actual buckets, full of paper money. Not even buckets full of change.

Sparkledancer and I both thought that we could convince others in the Royal Dance Court to volunteer time for the event, to help with ushering or collecting donations, or other things as needed. We are all known quantities in the social dance community, so us being visible, showing our support and giving our time might inspire others in the social dance community to want to help or donate as well. Plus there’s that whole thing I mentioned earlier with going to that big meeting at the end of the month and giving out information on the event to everyone there.

Stay tuned for more on this… I have a feeling that I may have more to say about this event if everyone is going to get all the pieces into play by the date of this fundraising performance!

The final thing of note that I did this week was Standard Technique class last night, where I got to work on some Foxtrot. Lord Junior wanted to use the class as an opportunity to get the ladies to work on their Heel Turns, but told me to practice the Heel Turn action along with them since I use it occasionally. For a bit of warm-up, we did the ladies Heel Turn action, first in place with no rotation, and then with 90°, 135° and 180° rotations to both the left and the right, simulating a Reverse and Natural Turn.

Once Lord Junior felt pretty good about how everyone was turning, he upped the difficulty level and said that we were going to work on a pattern that used a Double Reverse Spin and a Double Natural Spin. Both figures are not native to International Foxtrot, as you may be aware, but can be used in Open-level choreography.

The pattern that we were given started moving toward diagonal center using a Feather, then went into the Double Reverse Spin with a Feather Ending. Next up we did a Three Step and attached the Double Natural Spin to the end of that. Because of how the Double Natural Spin rotates, the figure ends when you finish the turn (without any kind of Feather Ending). Lord Junior had us attach another Feather after the Double Natural Spin moving toward diagonal center again, which would allow us to repeat the sequence if desired.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I like to use Standard Technique class as an extra bit of practice time that I can do with an instructor watching. Normally Sparkledancer comes to this class too, so we can practice together whenever she rotates through the line of ladies to dance with me. Because the choreography is different from our competition routines, much of what I focus on in class is maintaining my posture and frame and ensuring that my footwork is right. When dancing with Sparkledancer I can also work on ensuring that we maintain body contact in our frame the whole time as well. With other ladies who aren’t used to dancing in body contact, I just do the best I can.

I mention this because normally I don’t really think that there’s anything special with trying to get in some extra practice this way, and I also assume that I am keeping things consistent when I dance with each lady in class while we rotate partners (other than the body contact thing I mentioned). On the nights when Sparkledancer is in class, I don’t think I am doing anything all that different with her compared to the other ladies, other than I am able to take bigger steps with her since we’re so used to dancing with each other’s stride.

Last night there was a lady in class that was standing next to Sparkledancer. This lady shows up for class once in a blue moon, and is super critical of herself even though she never does anything terribly wrong during class. As we were wrapping up yesterday night, Lord Junior put on some music and the ladies got in a line to rotate through dancing with Lord Junior and I (the only males in class that night) to practice.

This lady apparently told Sparkledancer that when she watched the two of us dance the progression together, it didn’t even look like we were doing the same dance that she was. She could clearly see the same figures that she had just learned that night, but Sparkledancer and I were also adding in the sway for the steps that felt natural, which would make Sparkledancer turn her head when the sway directed her to, we were maintaining close body contact the whole time we danced, and also covering twice the distance when we moved together than any of the other ladies were able to do when dancing with either Lord Junior or I. To her, what we were doing looked completely different from everyone else.

So… apparently I really wasn’t dancing the same way with all partners like I thought I was. I didn’t even realize it until Sparkledancer relayed this anecdote to me after class. I’ll have to think about whether it’s even possible for me to rectify this with partners that I don’t dance with very frequently. Hmm…

And that’s how I started off 2018! Changing up my normal habits for the first full week of the year is throwing me off a bit. I added in all this extra practice time, and also changed my workout focus and diet as well. Right now, I’m feeling a bit sore and thrashed because of all these changes. I fit in a bit of extra stretching time today before I headed out to get some dance practice in, but I’m hoping I can carve out some real time this weekend to stretch out properly to help with that.

I’ve been staring at my foam roller too. It’s one of those ones with all the spikes all over it to really help with myofascial release. There are some places that I think those spikes would make me unhappy if I tried to use it before I get some real stretching in, so I have been avoiding it right now. Maybe this weekend I will use it too… if there’s time. 🙂

Here’s hoping that your dancing is going well so far in 2018!

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Capable Of All That’s Imagined And All Conceivable

I promise that I’m not trying to jump on the cliché bandwagon, but I wanted to start off going over my thoughts on all the changes that happened in 2017. A lot of things changed in my dance world over the last year, and one change in particular is notably poignant. For this, my first post of 2018, I thought I would step back and just reflect for a bit, so bear with me.

Once upon a time I strongly argued that even though I would compete from time to time, I was nothing more than an “advanced social dancer.” I always thought that if I was talking to other people at dance parties, especially newcomers, this made me sound less threatening. Well, in 2017 I officially turned a corner and became a true competitive dancer.

So what has that meant? Well for one, it means that I dance a lot more than I used to, but I social dance a lot less. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth. One of the advantages of having an amateur partner is that I can practice in between my lessons for minimal cost (the dance studio where I normally practice asks me to pay a nominal floor fee for every hour I practice). I know a lot of Pro/Am students don’t practice nearly as much as I do because it requires them to either pay for time with their teacher, or to practice alone, which is a hard thing to do for some dance styles.

Because of this, the people who I know in the dance community have drastically changed. I used to go out to dance parties quite a bit, so I knew a bunch of other dancers and could talk with them about various aspects of their lives. Nowadays my dance partner Sparkledancer and I have tried to schedule our practice time at the studios when there aren’t many classes or lessons going on, so we can work on the movement aspect of all of our routines. That means that the people I run into and talk with the most now are mostly dance instructors.

If I now consider myself a competitive dancer and no longer an advanced social dancer, that obviously means that I chose to compete during 2017. By the count that I can think of off the top of my head, I entered five different competitions last year. Two of those competitions only gave me scores or feedback from the judges, and the results of the other three were based on placements among all the competitors on the floor. One of those three my partner and I danced unopposed all day, so although I obviously placed really well in that event, I don’t consider the results to be very meaningful.

The two remaining competitions went surprisingly well, and that’s what makes me think that I have to call myself a true competitive dancer now. Giving up American Smooth and Rhythm and International Latin competitively and focusing only on International Standard means that all my practice time can really make those five dance styles better, and the results I’ve gotten so far have been… well, impressive. It shows me that all my hard work might have actually accomplished something.

However, I still have the mindset that I am only an advanced social dancer, which is why I said that the competitions went ‘surprisingly well.’ In the past, I used to agree to compete once or twice a year as a way to get some feedback on how much I have progressed in my dancing in the interim. I never expected to score super high. On top of that, in all the competitions I was in during my first couple of years dancing my amateur partner and I always danced our championship rounds against all Pro/Am couples, so in those events we were guaranteed last place. Every time.

As you can imagine, competing as an amateur male against a professional male isn’t really a fair comparison. Logically, I knew that Sparkledancer and I were competing against these Pro/Am couples because there were so few amateur couples competing, and none of the others were even willing to try dancing in a championship round. Knowing that, I probably shouldn’t have ever agreed to sign up for the championship rounds. But my dance partner and I did anyway, and the result of that choice early in my dance career got me used to always being in last place when competing.

Those experiences are what make it surprising to me now when I place at or near the top of the rankings, even though I know the nature of those old competitions are worlds apart from the ones that I compete in now. When I get the chance to dance against all other amateur pairs dancing the same level that I am dancing, there is no question that the results will be different from the results I got when I danced against Pro/Am pairs who were dancing at a higher level than me. But even knowing that logically, I am still surprised when I do well.

There’s also that humbling voice in the back of my head that asks me whether I have done so well in the last couple of competitions I was in because I’ve actually improved, or if I was just better than the other competitors in those competitions. I chose to take part in some competitions that were put together by the same organization, and though the venues were a few hours apart, many of the people who did compete took part in both competitions. So it’s hard to say I would do as well in future competitions unless I find a way to test myself against a new group of competitors.

The obvious way to do that would be to sign up to compete in an event that is even farther away, right? I didn’t do that during 2017. I wasn’t confident enough that I had improved in my abilities yet to make that kind of financial investment in competing. Also, while coming up with money to travel and dance is fairly easy for me to do (I make stupid money compared to my low cost of living), it’s not quite as easy for Sparkledancer. We have been talking about doing a competition that involves traveling farther into the wilds of the Dance Kingdom soon, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on it quite yet. That’s an adventure to look forward to in 2018!

I guess I should mention the catalyst for my change from an advanced social dancer into a competitive dancer, which is also another pretty major change that happened in 2017. Early in the year, Sparkledancer and I were made an offer that took us down this new path. Part of the terms for accepting this offer was that we accepted having a new dance coach to work with regularly.

The story that I have been told about what instigated this offer was that our normal instructor (Sir Steven) approached our new coach (Lord Dormamu) to ask him if he could help push my amateur partner and I to the next level as competitive dancers. Lord Dormamu watched us discreetly for a bit to evaluate the two of us, and he thought that we had a lot of potential, so he agreed with Sir Steven to work on molding the two of us into true competitive dancers.

Agreeing to work with Lord Dormamu is what really changed my mindset on my dance career. As you can imagine, having lessons with him is much more expensive than lessons with any other instructor I’ve ever worked with. Even though I am splitting the cost of these lessons with my amateur partner, it’s still expensive, so I realized that if I was going to be shelling out this kind of money for a coach about every other week, I needed to take everything he says seriously. And taking it serious meant that I would actually have to start practicing regularly and earnestly to get what he told me in our lessons into my muscle memory.

But there is a good reason that his time costs so much. This man is a world champion many times over, so he knows all the things! ALL. THE. THINGS! He retired from competing two years ago, and told me that since retiring his job is to train new couples to be world champions like him. On top of that, he is really good about explaining all of those things he knows to me in a manner that I can easily grasp, so I learn quite a bit from him. The results I’ve gotten in the competitions I’ve entered have validated that this arrangement seems to be working.

In 2017 Lord Dormamu tore apart my International Waltz and Foxtrot completely and put everything back together in a manner that more closely matches the way that high-level professionals dance those styles. We also began working through the Tango to go through the same process. Based on the comments about the future that Lord Dormamu has given me, by the time 2018 is over he will have finished up the Tango, and gone through the same process with my Quickstep and Viennese Waltz.

Looking ahead to the future, Lord Dormamu’s long-term expectations, as I have been told, is that throughout 2018 he will continue to hold Sparkledancer and I at the Bronze level until he is done with this rebuild. After he is finished, we should walk through Silver and Gold very quickly and easily, because all the techniques we are mastering now are the same techniques we will be using at those levels. He seems confident that we could do this, and based on the results I’ve had so far I am inclined to believe that it is possible. I hesitate to say that it is inevitable, but I certainly say that it’s possible!

The other rabbit-hole that I wandered even further down during 2017 was the world of dance politics. I know it seems like a strange thing to even talk about, since this is dancing and by all accounts should be apolitical, but there is a lot of very political work that goes on behind the scenes in the ballroom dance world. I find a lot of it interesting on a theoretical level, but there are some aspects of it that are kind of depressing, and really show that major portions of what goes on, especially in competitions, is based on who you know… and who you know is influenced in large part by how much money you are willing to spend.

Some parts of the dance politics landscape aren’t that bad. If you have been following my dance notes for a while, you will know that I was voted in to be a member of the Royal Dance Court over two years ago now. Last May the leader of the Royal Dance Court nominated me to become the Keeper Of Records for the group, a position which I accepted. Then in November I was elected to continue on for another two-year term on the Royal Dance Court, so I guess the people feel like I have been doing something right over the previous two years!

The Royal Dance Court is what I consider to be the good side of dance politics. We work together to put on fun dance events for members of the dance community. We recruit local dance instructors to come and teach group lessons to help dancers of all levels improve and learn new, fun things. Sometimes we have to deal with issues that come up, but most of the time the work is purely to put together the fun aspects of ballroom dancing – the dance parties that the majority of dancers love to attend.

Now the flip side – Lord Dormamu is the one that introduced me to, and will freely admit to having me play along with, the dark side of dance politics. During 2017, there were a couple of instances where Lord Dormamu wanted me to take a coaching session from visiting instructors. Visitors like these are often seen in the competitive dance community, acting as judges at various dance competitions throughout the world and then teaching coaching lessons at a nearby studio before they fly back home.

While it was interesting to talk to these visiting coaches and hear their comments on the way that I danced, there were many things that they recommended that I do that Lord Dormamu told me to just ignore. His reasoning for why I should ignore these recommendations was that these judges all learned to dance and became champions many decades ago, and the way that they learned to dance competitively is not the way that dancers that become world champions now are doing things anymore.

I asked my Lord Dormamu why then I would want to take these lessons with visiting coaches like this, if he was going to tell me to throw out much of what they recommended to me. That seemed to me like a major waste of my time and money. I could use that money to take more lessons with him and actually learn useful things, couldn’t I?

His answer was that this was all part of the dark side of dance politics that everyone knows about, but many people avoid talking openly about. If I go to a competition where one of these people is judging, and I’ve taken a coaching session from them, they are more likely to remember me and the lesson that we had together. If I am dancing well at the competition, they will think that their coaching had something to do with how well I dance, and will mark me better for it.

Or if I am basically tied for a placement in that judge’s mind with another couple on the floor, and I have taken a coaching session with the judge and the other couple did not, the judge is more likely to bump me higher because of that. They may see me for only a few seconds on a crowded dance floor that they are judging, but that will remind them of the hour or so that I spent with them, and that familiarity tends to mean something.

So Lord Dormamu was basically admitting that you can do better in competitions if the judges know you, and they will know you better if you spend the money to take coaching with them, even if the things that they recommend to you to improve your dancing are not useful. This dark side of dance politics is a game that he had to play while he was competing to become world champion over and over, and now it is a game that he told me that he will help me play. That knowledge leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Dance politics… something, something, dark side… know what I mean?

One last thing: I know that the subject matter of my writings on this site have shifted dramatically over the last year as well. This site has always been the place where I keep my dance notes on all the things that I need to remember. Because I have been taking things so much more seriously over the past year, I have had to document all the things that I need to remember from my lessons, which right now involve a lot of technical points.

That’s probably something that will continue in 2018 as well, so I hope that it hasn’t gotten too boring for you yet! I am male and I dance the Lead part, so most of the notes that I write down are for how to do that side of the figures or techniques. There aren’t a lot of male ballroom dancers out there, so I know my material is useful to a much smaller audience than notes from a Follower’s perspective.

Still, I hope that some of the information that I’ve been told, filtered through my written voice, can be useful to someone out there. And, as always, if you have any questions about any of the things that I mention, please ask! I’m not a dance instructor, but I dance A LOT, so I can probably help, or point you in the right direction if I don’t know.

It’s 2018! That’s crazy! Let’s all make this an awesome year for dancing, however you choose to dance. I hope to see you out on the floor somewhere. 🙂

You Put Your Arms Around Me And I’m Home

I had thought that my life would relax a little as the holidays drew closer. It seems like I was totally wrong in that assumption…

When I got together with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer on Saturday morning, everything seemed to have finally fallen into place. Sparkledancer and I had been given the entire choreography for our showcase less than a week beforehand, and had only managed to meet up for an hour on the Thursday evening beforehand to run through the sequence to try to memorize everything, but we managed to get it all down. It helped that I had gotten a video of Sparkledancer and Sir Steven dancing through the routine from start to finish the night we got the routine. I watched that over and over again, which helped me know which figures I needed to lead in the right order. Hooray!

I also think that I have my costume done. To keep things rather simple and inexpensive, large chunks of what I am wearing are items that I already had at home. For instance, I am just planning on wearing a pair of my dance practice pants during the performance. The look I was told to go for was semi-formal, but I need to have full range of motion for my legs to be able to squat down far enough so that Sparkledancer can hop up on my shoulder. Normal dress slack have the right look, but are too stiff for me to bend down like that. My dance practice slacks do flex in that manner, so they are a great choice.

Also, I actually saw the Artistic Director at the Fancy Dance Hall this weekend! We didn’t really get a chance to talk much though… she came walking through right at the end as we were finishing up our lesson. Sir Steven had her stop to take a look at what the lift which ends our performance, to help her figure out how to cut the music and give us enough time to draw the lift out dramatically. I wanted to ask her about all kinds of things related to the acting pieces that I’m going to have to do, but I was told that those questions would be answered during the blocking rehearsal that was scheduled for Thursday night.

So much for getting any time to practice that part of the show…

All that remains now is to continue practicing the routine to make sure it is comfortable and hits the few marks on the floor that I have. The performances are a little over a week away now. I am feeling pretty good about how things are going, but I’ll admit that I still feel no attachment to this performance. I guess that it’s good that I’ll be portraying a specific character, rather than trying to play myself while dancing. Having to give up all my ideas for this performance really disconnected me from the dance, and I don’t think anything is going to change in that regard between now and the first performance date.

I also managed to make it out to the Waltz workshop that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall on Saturday afternoon. This workshop was being put on by Lady Lovelylocks, who is Lord Junior’s professional partner. Lord Junior was also there milling about in the back of the studio, practicing some choreography from the looks of things. He jumped in near the end of the workshop when we started dancing with partners. There were quite a bit more women than men, so it was nice of him to help even out the ratio a little bit.

It felt like we spent most of the workshop on just stretching. Lady Lovelylocks wanted us to all get warmed up and work on using all the various parts of our bodies isometrically, so she showed us all sorts of different stretches to help with that. First we did all the stretches slowly, so that everyone could learn what they were supposed to do. Next she put them into a pattern so that we could all do them in the same order with some rhythm. Finally, we did the pattern with some Waltz music playing. That sequence lasted for multiple songs.

When we were finally all super warm, Lady Lovelylocks got down to business and had us focus on our rise and fall. To do this, we started with normal rotating box steps on our own. The points we were given to work on while doing these box steps were to make sure that we kept things slow and use all of the music, and to make sure that we didn’t come crashing down from our rise on beat three. I had somehow gotten stuck in the middle of the floor with people all around me that took tiny steps, so I felt like my box steps didn’t move a whole lot while I was practicing them.

There was only a little choreography used at the end of class that we danced with a partner. We looked at some Open Natural and Open Reverse Turns in Shadow Position, and the Change Step to switch between the two. I think I’ve mentioned this before at some point, but the Change Steps that you do while in Shadow Position are actually just three steps forward or backward.

These are not like a Three Step in Foxtrot, however. Lord Junior yelled at me from across the room because he saw me at one point doing my footwork like a Foxtrot Three Step. I didn’t even realize that I had done it until he said something, so it was totally my fault. Slightly embarrassing! The footwork should be like a normal Waltz Change Step, so make sure not to do a heel lead on the second step, or else you’ll get yelled at like I did…

The remainder of the class was spent switching through partners and dancing through these figures. We started off in Shadow Position already and did two Open Reverse Turns, then a Change Step followed by two Open Natural Turns, and we could finish with another Change Step if we had the room before we hit the wall. As the ladies were asked to rotate through the guys to practice, I seemed to be forgotten quite a bit. I was in the front of the room, because I didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone while I was traveling down the floor. When we all lined up on one end of the room and the ladies paired off with a guy, I was constantly having to wave my arms at them to have a lady come dance with me. Were they afraid of me or something?

Last Monday night at Latin Technique class I got to work on Rumba. We started off the class by warming up using Lord Junior’s new favorite Rumba exercise that involves doing Three Step Turns from side-to-side. Once we had gone through that enough times to make him happy, he had us do some work looking at basic Rumba walks. We used four types of Rumba Walks to start with, which were: the Forward Walk, the Checked Walk (which is what everyone does when they do the basic Rumba movement), the Turning Walk (which has you take a step forward and then turn 180° without moving your feet), and finally the Backward Walk.

Lord Junior wanted to build us a sequence of figures that night that focused on all of these walking movements, plus the Delayed Walk, which is basically just a normal walk but with some different (i.e. ‘delayed’) timing. We started things off facing our partner with our weight on the left leg and our right leg pointed back, ladies on their right leg with the left pointed forward. Our starter step was a step forward on beat four. Next we did a delayed Check forward, holding the check until just before the next beat four, when the ladies then would step toward us while the men just switched their weight to the right leg and pointed the left behind them.

Next we wanted to get the ladies out to Fan Position, so the men would lunge off to the left while twisting their upper bodies to press forward with the left arm, which would lead the ladies to collect and turn 90° clockwise, and then the men did a chasse to the right as the ladies did a Turning Walk to get into Fan Position. To give the ladies even more practice with their Turning Walks, we next led the ladies to do an Alemana. The men would shift slightly to the left as the ladies did this so that we could close with the ladies on our right side.

The last thing that we did was to lead the ladies through Opening Outs. Making things more difficult, Lord Junior asked the ladies to do these using the Delayed Walk action, where after doing the rock step backward, they would point their leg forward without moving until the absolute last second, and then step and turn to go into an Opening Out on the other side.

This was probably the most difficult thing we did that night. As a guy, you had to be careful not to push the lady forward too much after letting her open out. It had to be a balance of pushing enough so she came forward to get on her leg and point her other toe, but not enough to actually step forward through both legs. We did two Opening Outs with this delayed action, and then a third where we brought the lady forward as normal and then led her into a Spiral Turn before sending her back out into Fan Position.

The last thing that I want to talk about this week was the coaching that I got signed up for last night. Lord Dormamu had a good friend of his, who much like Lord Dormamu is also a world-famous International Standard coach that many of you have probably heard of, in town on Wednesday. They were meeting up to discuss some business propositions about putting together a new competition in the Dance Kingdom. I’m sure this means that Lord Dormamu will tell me that I’m going to be competing in this event when they get it all up and running.

Since there was some extra time in the schedule between and after their business discussions, this gentleman offered to hold some coaching sessions for any students that were interested, and Lord Dormamu signed Sparkledancer and I up. Because I had things going on at work yesterday, I could only get to the Fancy Dance Hall late in the evening, so I ended up getting the coach’s last time slot of the day. In a way this worked out very nicely because there was no rush for us to complete our session so that he could move on to other students after us. Our lesson went waaaaay over the time it should have as we looked over all sorts of material together.

Once Lord Dormamu introduced us, he asked that we spend our time having the coach look over our Waltz and Foxtrot. With those marching orders, we got started, though we didn’t stick to the script we were given for the entire session. The lesson basically went like this: the coach had us dance through our routines once for him with music, and when we finished up we would talk about what he saw us doing through his adjudicator eyes. Throughout the night we were given specific notes about each dance style we completed, and by the end of the session I also had several overall takeaways that covered all dance styles universally that he wanted me to think about.

Let me start with the notes on the individual dance styles. Though we were told by Lord Dormamu to work on Waltz and Foxtrot, apparently our Foxtrot was pretty good so we didn’t spend much time going over it, and had time left over to look at Tango as well. Sparkledancer chose to start with the Waltz, so that’s what we received notes on first.

There were really only a couple of things specific to the Waltz that he picked on, and some of these may just be his particular preferences when he judges competitions. These were his notes:

  • He wanted to see us doing more distinct rise and fall during the Progressive Chasses throughout the routine. As we tried it out, I thought that it felt overdone, but he said that it looked better from where he was standing.
  • Next up, he thought that I was taking far too small of a step going into the Double Reverse Spins. I asked him about how I’d always been told to take small steps with early quick rise to lead a Double Reverse Spin, and he said that by the book that’s what I should do, but it looked like I wasn’t traveling anywhere on my first step when I did that.
  • The final thing he wanted to talk about was when going into the Whisk, it didn’t look to him like I was taking a complete step onto my left foot before rising up and taking a step to the side and slightly back onto my right foot. To make sure it looked the way it should, he wanted me to take the first step and have all of my weight over my left leg (almost to the point where I could stand on one foot) before moving to my right leg.

Foxtrot was definitely where I felt the strongest that night, and there were only a couple of items that he said looked out-of-place in his eyes (the last one is definitely a personal preference of his, since I have been specifically told by Lord Dormamu to do it differently):

  • I was told to put more emphasis on moving slower during the slow steps. He wanted me to really extend my legs and push myself as far as possible during those two beats before putting my foot down and going into the quick steps. It wasn’t that I was rushing when I danced it as he watched, he said, but I wasn’t using my timing to its full potential.
  • There were a few points, like on the first Feather in the routine, where he said that it seemed like I was rotating too much and Sparkledancer was ending up beside me rather than in front of me. He wanted me to lessen the rotation through my body to avoid that, and instead change the placement of where my steps were going to help keep her in front. If I feel like she is ending up beside me on my right instead of in front of me, I need to take my step slightly more to the left to compensate.
  • During the Weaves that we do, he wanted me to add shaping through the progression. On the Natural Weave for instance, Lord Dormamu has always told me that I would be shaping with the left side through the Natural Turn, then level out through the actual Weave, and then shape to the left again through the Feather Finish. The coach wanted me to shape to the right through the Weave to emphasize the difference in those steps. This I think may just be a personal preference thing, so I’ll run this item by Lord Dormamu before I work on adding it into my practice.

With some time left, the coach wanted to keep going and switch over to the Tango. Before we got started, Sparkledancer and I warned him that our Tango was still a work in progress, and it was what we considered the weakest of our dances. After we finished dancing through the routine once, he stopped us and said that he thought our Tango actually looked fairly good, which was nice to hear. There were a few points that we managed to talk about that he suggested we change:

  • He thought that we were too low in our Tango frame, which he said explained why we always had to air close our feet because our partner’s knee was between our own. I was told to bring my legs together and stand with Sparkledancer in front of me, with her legs also together. We then bent at the knees until we met resistance from each other’s legs. That was as far down he said we should be while dancing.
  • The coach specifically mentioned leading my partner to roll into Promenade Position through rolling my right hip forward slightly. This goes directly against what Lord Dormamu said last time we got together when he told me to stop doing exactly that. What…??? This is definitely something that I am going to have to discuss with Lord Dormamu.
  • We spent a bit of time looking at the Right Lunge in the corner. He wanted me to adjust the rotation in my upper body so that as my legs are lunging toward diagonal wall, my upper body is pointing more line of dance, and thus is pushing Sparkledancer to shape out more line of dance with her upper body as well.
  • Much like with the Foxtrot steps, he wanted me to make sure to slow down when bringing my feet together at the end of a figure. Usually the close happens over two beats in the music, but I am closing my feet immediately and then just hanging out. He prefers that I hang out with my legs still in their previous position and my body split-weight between them, and then close my feet at the end of the two beats.

There were some additional comments he made about our overall dancing as competitors that he’d like to see us work on. One note he told each of us was based on our positioning when dancing together. He told me that I needed to watch my right elbow, to make sure that I was not pulling it back too far. I was told to think about when dancing with a partner that there is essentially one-and-a-half people for my arms to get around. There’s the front half of my body, and then my partner’s body. To ensure that my right arm is capable of covering this distance, my arm needs to be bent enough so that my elbow is out in front of the front half of my body. I had never heard it described like that before, and I thought that was an interesting way of looking at things.

Sparkledancer was told that her upper body needs to lean on an angle more to the left. She has been working a lot lately on bending herself back to create more volume, but not as much on leaning herself to the left side at the same time. Leaning in this direction essentially presses her left lat muscle into my right hand as we stand in frame. This will probably be something that we will have to focus specifically on during practice, to move while having her lean to the left while bending backward instead of just one direction at a time.

The last thing that we talked about last night went off on a weird tangent that I had never heard anyone talk about before. It came up while we were looking at the Right Lunge in the Tango. At one point he wanted me to lead him through the figure. When I got into frame with him, he said that I was not holding him tightly enough with my right hand. Afterward, when I got back into frame with Sparkledancer, he said that I was also not holding her tightly enough as well. What gives?

He told us a story about how he once had a coach work with him back when he was competing. This coach wanted to have him demonstrate a figure with her, so she asked him to lead her through it and got into frame with her with a considerable gap between their bodies. This made him uncomfortable, as he had been told over and over again that the lead should come through his body, so having to lead her through the figure without body contact felt wrong to him. Then she asked him: why should it be a problem?

This coach explained to him that we need to use our arms to lead our partners properly, even in International Standard. They are an important tool that should be used to communicate with our partner. People who dance American Smooth have to lead like this all the time, because many of their figures obviously break body contact. Why should people who dance International Standard handicap themselves by trying to only lead with the body, she asked him. The trick is to learn to lead with your arms correctly, so that you can do it without your partner complaining that it feels like you are pushing and pulling her all over the place.

His suggestion for me was to get into the habit of having a more firm hold on any partner that I danced with. This would allow them to clearly feel what my right arm is doing around their back, and take away any confusion that could arise from the leads with my body. While I should be leading my partner to turn to Promenade Position through a roll of the hip, for instance, I should also be pulling back slightly with my right arm to make the implication for her to turn to Promenade Position unmistakable.

Learning to lead like this will be challenging after being told for so long to lead solely through my body. Even the coach admitted that it took him quite a while to learn how to lead certain figures after his coach told him to start using his arms. He said that as he started to lead like this, whenever he had a partner complain that they felt like he was pulling or pushing them with his arms, he would take that as a sign that he was doing it wrong and then have to reevaluate what his arms were doing and try again.

That was quite an interesting concept to end the night with, and I have been thinking about it on and off ever since. I’m not sure what exactly I would have to change to use my arms more in this manner, but it might be helpful that I started out dancing doing only American Smooth, so maybe some of that training will be useful here? I guess I’ll have to talk it over with Sparkledancer the next time we meet up to practice to see what she thinks too. After all, this will probably affect her more than it affects me.

It’s been a long night. I had the blocking rehearsal for the showcase performance tonight, to get everything mapped out before dress rehearsal next Thursday. I haven’t really had time to process that yet, so maybe I will talk about it next time. I have another super busy week ahead of me with all sorts of dance-related activities, so I’m going to leave it here for now, take a deep breath, and get some rest before jumping into it. I hope your week is just as fun!

Oh No, I Can’t Slow Down, I Can’t Hold Back

Early Saturday afternoon, I got to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for some coaching. Sir Steven had sent me a message earlier in the morning letting me know that he was sick and wouldn’t be in the studio, so this turned out to be my only lesson on Saturday.

The first thing that I did was talk with Lord Dormamu about our results from the competition on the 18th. If you remember, mentioned last week that I got a copy of my scores from all the individual judges, and it looked like one judge just scored us way off from where all the others did. To get some perspective on what I was seeing, I brought in my printout of the score sheet to show to Lord Dormamu and get his take on the matter.

Lord Dormamu flipped through the results for a minute, and then pointed to a different number than mine on the list and said that the person who had that number must be the outlier judge’s student. He made the case that outlier-judge had marked this other couple first, but every other judge had marked them either last or second-to-last, so it is entirely likely that he knew this couple well and could overlook their faults in a way that the other judges could not. That was an interesting way to look at the results.
Unfortunately, Lord Dormamu then told me that there really wasn’t a way to fix a situation like this. In smaller competitions like this one, there are no rules that say a judge can’t mark a student he/she has taught better than everyone else on the floor. There is also no rule that says he shouldn’t do something sinister like mark the best couples on the floor really low to try to eliminate the strongest competitors of any couples that had taken coaching from him. The scoring rank is all subjective based on the whims of the judge.

(Note: this is the major problem that you’ve probably heard the International Olympic Committee voice when talking about why they are still wary of allowing DanceSport in as an Olympic sport)

Lord Dormamu’s solution? He told me to get better overall. If I can improve enough so that I start getting first place in everything from all the other judges, then one judge marking me so different will get their score questioned by the organization running the competition. That is really the only good way to prevent this from happening to me in the future. Also, I have to get first place to make this effective. If I improve and get marked second place by all the other judges and last place by one, while it may still look abnormal to me, the organizers won’t question the decision nearly as much.

This is the crux of why I had been reluctant to really jump into competing seriously for many years. I was told something similar when I first started dancing back in the franchise world – that the scores I got for all the heats I danced were pretty relative and subjective, and finding out a reason why I was scored a certain way was next to impossible. Now that I’ve finally dived into this serious competitor pond, that same advice I was given years ago is still relevant, and it still makes me feel uneasy about being ‘judged’ on how I dance. What’s the point if there’s a chance that the judge can mark me poorly just because I’ve never taken a coaching lesson from them?

I have no good thoughts on how to fix it though. With ballroom dancing being a visual sport, and the need to have so many couples on the floor at once in order to A) keep the competition time to a minimum and B) evaluate the floorcraft of couples, implementing strict sets of criteria for each judge to evaluate each couple on becomes a daunting task for even seasoned judges. I guess I’ll have to live with this situation while I’m competing until someone or some group (or me) thinks of a more fair system to use for scoring these competitions.

Finished discussing the results, we turned back to the Tango. I got chastised by Lord Dormamu after our first run-through. He could tell that Sparkledancer and I hadn’t spent much time practicing the items that we had talked about during our last coaching session. I told him that once the competition had finished, I had dropped everything else on my practice list to focus on learning my showcase routine, but that wasn’t a good enough reason for not practicing what he told us to do in his mind.

Because of that, I spent a lot of time going over things that we had reviewed two weeks ago. There were only a couple of points that we talked about that were new this time around. The most painful one was the placement of my hip while I am in Promenade Position. I was trying to lead my partner to rotate to Promenade Position by rolling my right hip forward, which should theoretically turn my partner. Some coach that I can’t remember the name of told me to do that long ago, and I’ve done it ever since.

Lord Dormamu noticed because there was no space between my hip and my partner while we stood unmoving in Promenade Position. He told me to pull my hip back, so I stopped to ask him about how I was told to lead my partner to Promenade Position by rolling my hip. He watched as I demonstrated what I was told (Sparkledancer was nice enough to help), and then told me that while the lead through rolling forward was correct, I had been told to use the wrong part of my body to do it.

Now that I am dancing with much more advanced technique, I should be able to lead an experienced partner to Promenade Position solely through the slight roll of my body, and leave my hips out of the mix. Especially in the Tango, where I am trying to compress myself and I need to have my hips back, trying to lead by using my hips will cause real problems when I get to even more advanced figures than what is currently in my routine.

So from now on he said, when I am in normal dance position I need to have my hips back and my chest forward, and when I rotate to Promenade Position I need to emphasize pulling my right hip backward to maintain the space in that area. And let me tell you, trying to pull my right hip back as far back as Lord Dormamu wants is a fairly painful endeavor for me. My hips just don’t like bending like that!

…except when I shouldn’t keep my hip back, as I found out. There is a Right Lunge in the first corner of our routine, and in this particular lunge (and only that lunge – I asked just to make sure) I should be driving my right hip slightly forward to help Sparkledancer create the shape that she needs. Along with me leaning my upper body back a bit, this should help create the illusion of a massive amount of volume between the two of us, which is obviously more impressive. So right hip back, except in that corner where it is forward and then goes back again once I start moving. No problem, right?

We also spent some time looking over the Reverse Turn near the end. I had thought that I was doing better about taking the second half of the figure straight down the line of dance rather than curving myself toward the center of the floor to get out of my partner’s way, but Lord Dormamu thought that it looked like I was drifting toward the wall while I moved. To fix that issue, he gave me two suggestions. First, he said that I should think about aiming myself about 45° inward. Aiming more inward should help prevent me from drifting outward, in theory.

Second, he said that as I take the third step of the first half of the figure, I should be placing my left foot in line with my right one. I had been taking my leg straight back, which put my left foot on the outside. If I didn’t do this carefully and I end up with any space between my legs, that action would naturally pull me more toward the wall as I shift my weight onto that leg. If I crossed my left leg over slightly to line my feet up, that would prevent that portion of the outward drift from happening.

I got a change of pace on Monday night during Latin Technique class when someone suggested that we work on Jive, and things got a bit weird at the end… weird for me, but not for anyone else. I’ll get to that in a second though.

We began warming up by going through the basic steps really slowly, exaggerating the movements while moving so slow so that when we sped things up they would still happen as noticeably as possible. I remember back in the day, early on in my dance journey, when I used to think that Rhythm and Latin dances were really my forte. Now that I spend all my time working on ballroom dance styles, I personally think that I look like an awkward baby giraffe fumbling about when I try to dance Rhythm or Latin dances. Apparently other people think that I am pretty good at it, but I don’t feel that way.

Because we had one lady with us in class that night who had never danced Jive before, Lord Junior kept the actual choreography that we worked on fairly simple. I think the only figure that we did that was outside of the Bronze syllabus was the Miami Special, but that figure seems pretty simple to me since I’ve done variations of it in several different dance styles over the years.

What we ended up with started out with the partners already in Handshake Hold. From there we did one American Spin, catching the lady in Handshake Hold again at the end. We then went into the previously mentioned Miami Special. As the men came around the lady in that turn, we switched places so that when the arm slide was completed, the men were standing where the women started. For a little bit of fun, Lord Junior had us add in a Hip Bump here before having us continue on.

Once we finished up bumping hips, we did a Link to get back into dance position and then went into some Walks down the floor. We covered an eight-count with our walks – two triple-step movements, and four quick single steps. After the last Walk we skipped the rock step to go right into a basic movement with a Whip action, which is how we finished things off that night.

What was weird about this class was what I found out afterward. Sparkledancer and the Gatekeeper had been standing next to each other in class that night, chatting away when the guys were dancing with other ladies. As I was heading out to my car after class, Sparkledancer stopped me in the parking lot to tell me that the Gatekeeper had mentioned to her several times that she thought I was really good at leading in the Jive, and wanted to know if I had ever mentioned to Sparkledancer any interest in competing in International Latin at all.

Sparkledancer’s take on it was that the Gatekeeper was interested in asking me if I would compete with her, though she hadn’t come out and said that directly. I was a bit shocked by this, what with the whole looking like an awkward baby giraffe thing going on. Also, with my busy work schedule, and the amount of time I already spend practicing to compete with Sparkledancer, I don’t think I would have the time to bring my Latin Dancing up to a level worthy of competition. I guess if the Gatekeeper actually asks me about competing with her, I’ll have to think of a good way to decline politely.

I know… being in demand as an amateur dance partner is such a burden that a lot of people probably wish they would have. I shouldn’t complain. First-world problems, and all that jazz.

Tuesday night Sir Steven was feeling better, so Sparkledancer and I met up at the Fancy Dance Hall with him that night to work on our showcase. I’m happy to report that we have all of the important parts of the showcase mapped out now. Hooray! Now I just need to find enough matching free time in both Sparkledancer’s and my schedules so that she and I can practice the choreography until it is memorized. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Sir Steven spent the first few minutes of the evening talking about the ‘scene’ of the story that our dance number would be portraying. I didn’t realize before when he mentioned putting us in this scene how important to the storyline it actually was. Basically, the story centers around a character who is played by Sir Bread, a staff member of the Fancy Dance Hall. In this particular scene, he is recalling an event that happened when he was a young man, so what Sparkledancer and I are portraying is actually his flashback sequence.

Sir Steven already told me that when they discussed the story in their recent staff meeting, that someone pointed out just how much of a size difference there was between Sir Bread and I. He’s got to be at least six inches shorter than me, and he looks like… well, like a male dance instructor, which is a nice way of saying that he looks really scrawny when standing next to me.

I guess after they discussed the size difference between the two of us, they couldn’t figure out a way to fix the problem, so they decided to just make it obvious and crack a joke about it for the audience’s sake. Sir Bread will be discussing this flashback with another character in the next scene after Sparkledancer and I get done dancing, and that character is going to ask him why he remembers himself being so much taller in his youth. That should be good for a chuckle, I hope.
The parts that we didn’t go through that night were the pieces that are going to involve actual acting. Sparkledancer and I are supposed to enter the set during the previous dance number and mill about with the other people on stage, working our way toward our starting position. Then as the previous music fades and our song starts we would begin dancing. Our choreography now seems like it is twice as long with all the new material and changes to the existing material that Sir Steven gave us during our lesson, so I have quite a bit to try and memorize over the next couple of days.

At the end of the routine, I roll Sparkledancer out just slightly off-center of the middle of the room (to avoid being under the chandelier) so that we can do our fancy lift. I put her back on the ground, and the dancing is done. The next scene should start, and apparently Sparkledancer and I have to be on stage during part of that scene to do some more acting to finish up the flashback before we are finally allowed to make our way off the stage.

So that’s the actual plan! Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Well, what if I told you that the first blocking rehearsal with the full cast was going to be a week from tonight? How would you feel about it then? That’s the part that is making me a bit nervous. I think my entire weekend is going to be devoted to practicing Tango and making sure that I have this routine down. No time for fun for this guy…

The last non-practice thing I did this week was Standard Technique class yesterday. As we started class, Lord Junior said that he wanted to have us work on some Waltz, and do a Turning Lock. But since he normally has us look at the Gold-level figure (Turning Lock to the Right), this time he was going to go easy on us and have us do the Silver-level Turning Lock to the Left instead. That was so nice of him, don’t you think?

The configuration of figures we did was pretty easy to remember. Starting with some kind of starter step, you then go into a Natural Turn, followed by a Natural Spin Turn, and then add in the Turning Lock to the Left. Coming out of that, we did a Checked Natural Turn, which ends with a tiny Slip Pivot that would line you back up either facing line of dance or diagonal center, depending on where you feel comfortable starting a Double Reverse Spin..

Next up we did what was probably the most difficult figure of the night, which was a Double Reverse Overspin. This is an Open-level figure that is basically a Double Reverse Spin with an extra 180° pivot added on at the end. Turning so much over a three-count caused a lot of stumbling and bumbling the first few times through the turn with each partner as we got used to the spin. Obviously it’s slightly easier if you start this facing diagonal center, and slightly more difficult if starting line of dance, but both are possible. At the end, if we made it through successfully and maintained our balance, we would go right into a Throwaway Oversway to finish the progression in a fancy manner.

Do you ever feel like your weekends are already gone before they have even started? I’m feeling that way about this coming weekend. Let’s see… I promised to try to make it out to a dance party on Friday night, and I have a lesson on Saturday morning. There is a Waltz workshop that I was interested in attending happening on Saturday afternoon, but most of my free time on Saturday and Sunday will likely be filled with practicing my showcase routine and my Tango.

And that’s just this weekend! Next week feels crazy too! Aside from the classes I usually take on Monday and Wednesday, I have my initial blocking rehearsal for the showcase next Thursday night. I was also told that there might be a dance coach (whose name I actually recognized for once) coming in to teach at the Fancy Dance Hall on Wednesday night, and I might be able to get a coaching session with him. That could be interesting if it works out… but I would have to skip class for that.

So many things! I thought that December was going to be a quiet month with all the holiday stuff going on, but so far it looks like I will be totally wrong. If I don’t survive this month, someone should make sure to stop by my apartment and feed my cat for me. She would appreciate that.