Losing The Feeling Of Feeling Unique

Do you ever feel like sometimes, even when you are not doing anything out of the ordinary, your schedule is still overly full? I’ve had that feeling all week, even though I haven’t been doing anything crazy. I get up at the same time every morning, but this past week I have felt like I don’t have enough time to get everything done before I have to leave the house. I leave the office at the same time every day, but all this week I’ve felt super rushed to try to get home and accomplish basic life things before I have to leave the house again. Hopefully this weekend I will have a chance to spend an hour or two to just unwind a bit. Right now, sitting on the floor and staring at a wall for a while sounds like a lot of fun.

Also, I really need a haircut. I know! Maybe if I go out for a haircut, I’ll find out that there are a lot of people signed up to get their hair cut in front of me. Then I could just sit quietly in the waiting room for a while. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I would even hazard to count that as multitasking.

I am so smart sometimes.

This past Saturday I had another two lessons scheduled, first one with Sir Steven and then one with Lord Dormamu. With Sir Steven, we picked up where we left off the week before looking at Tango. After dancing through the routine once, Sir Steven seemed pleased enough with how the section that we had looked at last week looked, so we moved on to look at the figures from a different section. This time around, Sir Steven wanted to look at the figures in the corner connecting the first long wall and the first short wall.

Starting with the Promenade Pivot, he wanted us to make sure that we did a couple of things differently. First off, once the pivot comes around and we are back to Promenade Position facing diagonal center, he wants us to be sure and stop completely. No pivoting and then floating through until the momentum dies on the turn, but a distinct stop once we are facing the right direction. Next, Sparkledancer was told to really throw herself around me as we pivot. I obviously have to be sure to keep her in place and stop her, but in order to make the transition from the Promenade to the Pivot and then back to Promenade again look good, it has to move with power. Finally, as we close the Promenade that exits the pivot, he wants to have us close with me facing more toward diagonal wall instead of facing wall like I am doing now.

This set us up to look at the next Progressive Link that goes into a Promenade with Right Lunge in the corner. Here, instead of lunging out far, he wanted me to bring my legs slightly closer together as I step into the lunge, and then once I have landed solidly on both feet I will drive my right hip toward Sparkledancer. Pushing forward in this way will allow me to be more grounded between my feet, and allow Sparkledancer to work on extending herself away from me even more. This should have the effect of making the lunge appear more voluminous without me having to make it bigger by widening the space between my feet.

We finished off that afternoon by looking at Viennese Waltz. We didn’t actually do much dancing in Viennese Waltz – instead, Sir Steven wanted to look at how we started out Viennese Waltz routine. Rather than get into dance frame like we do for every other dance style and then do some sort of starter step before dancing, Sir Steven wanted us to start doing this funny three measure sequence to get into frame before our first Natural Turn. This is a sequence I will have to try my best to remember. I prefer to start dancing Viennese Waltz with a Reverse Turn if left to my own devices, so anything that leads me into a Natural Turn to start just feels wrong in my opinion.

The pattern starts with me taking a step forward on my right leg for a three-count, with my left leg pointed to the side, extending my left hand. Sparkledancer will then step forward on her left leg for another three-count, with her right leg pointed to the side and taking my extended hand with her right. On the next count of three we both take a step to the side with a bit of a flourish, and on the next three-count I do a small bow while Sparkledancer does a courtesy. The next three count has us coming up and taking a step toward each other to get closer and start to take frame, and the final three-count has us in dance frame, taking a step to my left/her right and winding up a bit so that we can start the next measure of music with a Natural Turn.

OK, so writing it down like that makes it seem less funny and more straightforward. Now all I need to do is remember to do this sequence anytime I want to start a Viennese Waltz, and I will be good. We’ll have to see how that goes for me…

Sparkledancer and I got about an hour break between lessons that afternoon and then we got into things with Lord Dormamu to work on Foxtrot again. He put on some music for us and then had us dance through the entirety of our routine so that he could see how our practice was coming along. After the first runthrough, he turned the music down and came over to where we had ended up on the floor to talk about what it is that he saw during our first try. Nothing was overly terrible that time he said, and our movement is looking much better overall. Because his work with us on Foxtrot has really been to focus on the movement of the dance, that was good to hear!

After giving us his overall impression, he wanted to go over the routine with each of us individually. I got to go first, so he had me get into position, took my elbows, and then had me lead him through the figures up until we finished the first Three Step. As we were heading back, he told me that he could really tell when he danced with me that my consistency of movement was much better – overall, I had smoothed everything out so that the dance was flowing continuously, without any of the stuttering, choppy feeling that I had back when we had started working on Foxtrot. Hearing that gave me a definite sense of accomplishment. Yay me!

There were a couple of points he still wasn’t completely enthused about, because they gave the illusion that the movement wasn’t completely smooth even if it felt that way when he danced with me. The transition from the end of the Reverse Turn with Feather Finish into the Three Step was the big one he wanted to start with. Watching from the outside, he said it looked to him like I was coming up quite a bit at the end of the Feather Finish and then trying to lower back into the Three Step abruptly, making the first step of the Three Step appear to bounce. He told me that to learn what I should be doing, he wanted me to practice staying low in my knees during the Feather Finish and then try to lower even more going into the Three Step.

He pointed out before I gave it a try that dancing this way would make me look like I was stuttering during the transition between the two figures, but the stutter that I would be intentionally introducing this time around would bounce the opposite direction – falling instead of rising. If I could practice the exercise enough to help me get used to canceling out the rise I was unintentionally putting into the Feather Finish, I would hopefully cure my problem and then I would be golden.

I tried it out once on my own, and afterward he just stared at me and told me that doing it like that actually made it look exactly like how he wanted – smooth and even the whole time while I was traveling. He had me try doing it again just to verify that what I did the first time wasn’t a fluke, and sure enough he saw the same results. I then had to try it once with Sparkledancer just to make sure that she was comfortable with the change and everything still looked right with her in the mix. So, since that seemed to fix everything, from now on that is how I am supposed to think about moving through that section. Weird.

We also looked at the Reverse Turn in the corner for a few minutes. At first he wanted to make sure that when we did the check in the corner where I am supposed to rotate my head to look over Sparkledancer that we weren’t ‘breaking’ our sides as we did the necessary shaping. Then he got on my case to make sure that I was moving through the step using my standing leg to drive, but that I wasn’t rotating my body with such force that it would throw Sparkledancer off balance during the turn. I am so much heavier than Sparkledancer that if I put any sort of power into rotating my body, she just kind of goes along for the ride whether she is supposed to or not.

His exact words to me were: “Drive with power, but softly. Like a gentleman.” That right there is a quote to remember for life.

Before finishing that day, Lord Dormamu wanted to spend time going through the figures on the short wall, since we usually only spend time working on the long wall. The only point that he really had a problem with was the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. He thought that the footwork we much better, but from where he had watched us go through it the first time it looked like my head was bending toward the right when I went through the figure. I didn’t think I had moved my head at all, since I had spent so long working on fixing that issue, so I was disappointed to hear that he thought I had done that.

When we danced through the figure again and I made sure that I didn’t move my head at all, he told me that it still looked wrong. I told him that I was focusing specifically on keeping my head in the same place this time through, so I knew that it didn’t move that time. He had us dance the figure again, but this time he moved to watch what I was doing from a different angle. From that vantage point, he could see that my head wasn’t moving at all, but it still looked wrong, so that meant that I needed to change things in my body to fix the problem.

So for the time being he told me that when I take my step backward to go into the Natural Closed Impetus, I need to make a point of leaning my upper body to the left as I go through the figure. If I keep my head where it should be and lean my upper body to the left, that will make it look like my head is leaning to the left if you are watching me from the outside. At this time, I was told to make the lean pretty extreme to really get the feeling into memory, but next time I see Lord Dormamu he will evaluate how I am doing and (assuming things are better) I will start to ease back on the leaning a bit. So we’ll see how that goes this week!

Monday night’s Latin Technique class was a rough night for me. Based on how things have been arranged on my calendar, it just so happens that this week and last week, and for at least the next couple of weeks as well, my normal leg workouts will end up on Monday. So after I finish up pushing myself to lift heavy weights with my legs for about an hour, then I only take a short break before heading off again to do some heavy Latin dancing for another hour. This is not the most pleasant thing to do on a Monday night, especially this past Monday night when we worked on Samba.

This class on Samba wasn’t about going over some progression of higher-level figures to help us improve, or working on a section from one of his students’ routines either. This week we worked on drilling in the technique for a basic Samba movement that everyone knows and loves: the Volta. Apparently Lord Junior often sees people doing Voltas wrong, so he wanted to make all of us shining examples of how to do them right. We mixed in all kinds of Volta movements for practice that night – some that traveled straight, some that curved, some that rotated, some that were continuous, some that paused, etc. etc.. At the end of class we also worked on doing some with a partner, and since we had twice as many women as men that night I got to do twice as many steps as the ladies. By the time I climbed into my car to head home, my legs were just worn out.

We started with a progression of simple Voltas that used the basic timing that most everyone will recognize. There were four of the original recipe Voltas that moved in a straight line, then four more that curved a total of 90° by the time you finished the fourth, and finally four Spot Voltas to finish things up. We were told to shoot for turning at least 180° for each Spot Volta, but Lord Junior encouraged us to turn more if we could do more. We did this pattern several times going to both the left and the right, ensuring we could do all of these different Volta movements starting from both feet.

The second pattern of Voltas we did all traveled in a straight line. This time we focused on variations in the timing of the figure. We once again started off with four normal Voltas using the basic timing. Next up we did two Voltas where the first two steps used the basic timing but then we held ourselves in place for the remainder of the measure of music, making these Voltas super slow moving. Lastly we did these four step pseudo-Voltas that moved very quickly and had a lot of rotation in the body. If you are traveling to the left, you would take a step and then cross your right foot behind the left, rotating your body to face diagonal wall against the line of dance, and then step out of that on the left foot and finish by crossing your right foot in front in a Cuban Cross, with your body now facing diagonal wall. We did four sets of these, covering another two measures of music.

At the end of class Lord Junior had us do some practice dancing together with a partner. We kept going with the final pattern of Volta movements that had the differing timings, but added on beforehand to give us a nice transition into the pattern. The whole thing started out with the lady standing in front of the guy, with our left hand taking her right hand and our right leg back while her left leg was forward. We then went into three Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs, the first one having the lady come around the guy. At the end of the third run, rather than hold the final step for a moment the guys would slide their hand down from the lady’s shoulder to grasp her forearm and we would go right into a Volta, using that to transition into the pattern of Volta movements discussed previously.

Finally this week, last night was Standard Technique class, and I got to work on Tango again (deja vu?). I kind of co-opted the class to try to get more practice in on something that I have been working on as soon as Tango was brought up. All of us who had shown up for class that night had congregated in one corner while Lord Junior was finishing up the paperwork for the private lesson he just finished teaching. When he came to join us in the corner and asked us what we wanted to work on that night, Sparkledancer said that it had been a while since we had done Tango in class. I didn’t think it had been all that long, but then I remembered that Sparkledancer wasn’t in class three weeks ago when we last covered Tango, and then it made sense.

When Lord Junior asked if there was anything specific in Tango that anyone wanted to work on, no one else brought anything up, so I asked if we could work on making sure our Tango actually looked like Tango. He looked at me quizzically for a moment, so I explained that a complaint that I had gotten last week from Sir Steven was that my Tango moved a lot like a Foxtrot, so I had been trying to make the two dance styles more distinct. He laughed at my confession, but agreed to putting some Tango figures together that could help me out.

We started with a simple Progressive Link, because Lord Junior said that there aren’t many other steps in the syllabus that really embody International Tango quite so well. We worked on making our Progressive Link sharp and precise for a while, using a basic Closed Promenade afterward to end a little more naturally. Satisfied with how we looked, Lord Junior had us add on a Back Corte to the progression. We rotated the last three steps of the Back Corte enough so that we could move around a corner from where we started. Now facing diagonal center on our imaginary new wall, we added on the first half of an Open Reverse Turn with Lady In Line. This is the less common variation of the Open Reverse Turn – most of the time you will see people doing the Pre-Bronze version that has the lady in outside partner. In the middle of the Open Reverse Turn we put in a set of Left Foot and Right Foot Rocks just for fun, and closed with the second half of the Open Reverse Turn.

We spent the majority of the class practicing that full progression. The figures themselves were fairly basic, so to end class Lord Junior wanted to give us all something a bit more challenging to close out the night. We looked at an Open-level choreography figure that he called the Promenade Step Taps. This is a figure that I’ve seen before a couple of times that travels pretty quickly down the floor. In Promenade Position, after taking the first slow step with your outside leg, you then take a quick step onto the other foot and then bring your outside leg up and rotate it so that you can tap the point of your shoe onto the floor for half a quick, before bringing the foot back down and repeating the process. For our practice we did two taps before we closed the Promenade by squaring up with our partner.

My night magically cleared up. I had a lesson planned for tonight, but then it had to be rescheduled. I had everything all ready to go with this so that I could post it quick when I got home but now… I feel like I should go back and rewrite sections of it, but I don’t think I’m going to. Maybe I’ll go back and edit it later, but probably not.

There’s a wall calling to me. Time to get some staring in before bed. 🙂

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!

To The Window, To The Wall

 When I finished up my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday morning, I felt… surprisingly good about my dancing.

  Things just seemed to start off on the correct foot that day. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall early, as usual, to warm up. Sparkledancer and I decided to spend most of our time that morning warming up with Waltz, even though we both were pretty sure that when Lord Dormamu finished up with his current lesson he was going to come over and have us work on Foxtrot. That was a correct assumption, so we ran through our entire Foxtrot routine for the first time that morning while under the scrutinizing eye of Lord Dormamu. Turns out that he thought our first run of the routine was the best that he’s ever seen us dance a Foxtrot. He even had us run through it again and got Sir Steven to stop teaching the other student he was with for a few minutes to watch us.

  I didn’t think it felt all that different from what we normally do, but Lord Dormamu was so excited! I even got one extremely positive comment that gave me something to look forward to – as I mentioned, when we started working on Foxtrot with Lord Dormamu, he was telling me that when I danced he wanted me to stay extremely low, almost like getting into a Yoga Chair Pose and then trying to dance. A month and a half ago I had compared dancing Foxtrot in that position to doing the prisyadka, and I still find that comparison to be accurate. During our lesson that day, Lord Dormamu was once again telling me that I needed to get down into the lowest squat I could while still being able to move my legs and dance the routine.

  After a couple of times running through the first part of the routine that day with Lord Dormamu pushing on my shoulders to lower me even further toward the floor, he gave me a break for a minute and told me that no matter what anyone else said about how weird it looked to be dancing Foxtrot in this manner, I needed to keep working on this technique for the time being to make my movement in Foxtrot better. He compared the technique to what he had me do with my head back in March, telling me to keep my nose in line with my sternum to ‘reset’ all the bad habits I had of moving my head around while dancing. It took a few weeks, but after he considered me to be reset to a new default, I was then told to start putting my head in the right position.

  Lord Dormamu’s comment that day was that dancing while being so low to the ground in Foxtrot is not the correct way I should dance. He knows this to be true, other judges will know this, so if I hear instructors make comments about me looking weird, they aren’t wrong. He told me that this exercise is like a doctor giving me medication to cure a sickness. Sure there might be a side effect that no one likes (i.e. me being so low to the ground), but once the sickness is cured then I won’t have to be on the medicine any longer and the side effects will go away, meaning that I will get to come up to a more reasonable height while dancing.

  That is definitely something to look forward to for me. Also… since the ‘sickness’ that he’s curing is the movement of my Foxtrot, does that make it… motion sickness?

  Why yes, I totally did just high-five myself for typing that.

  After Lord Dormamu got us through our movement drills (or got tired trying to fight against my strong legs when he was pushing me down), he had us focus on the Three Step for quite a while. He said that although it is one of the first steps in International Foxtrot that anyone learns, and it is only three steps down the line of dance, the Three Step is one of the hardest figures to master. What he asked us to do was to go slow and pause and balance with every step, giving him a chance to adjust our position if needed and really lock in the feeling of each position before moving to the next step.

  This… was harder than I would have thought. I will admit that working on the isometric portion of Yoga is not my favorite thing to do for a lot of positions. I enjoy the flow and the movement, but holding really uncomfortable positions for long periods of time is something I will actively avoid if I can get away with it. Dancing through the Three Step slow like we were was a lot like only doing the isometric portion of a Yoga routine.

  The second step was really what caused us all the problems. Lord Dormamu wanted me to work on sliding my left foot forward as much as possible in the step, so I would end up with both my left and right legs almost completely straight, still low to the ground, and also trying to twist my upper body to create the right-side sway I should have. Then on top of that, he wanted me to hold that position, maintain my balance, and add in Sparkledancer to the mix and allow her to make micro-adjustments to her position to get in her proper place without knocking me over!
  We worked on this for probably twenty minutes. Ten minutes in, Lord Dormamu got a phone call he had to take, so he left us to work on it on our own for a little while. That was probably for the best, since it allowed me to curse about what we were trying to do without him listening. When he got back and continued to watch and comment on what we were doing, he told us that this was something we should set aside time to work on during our practice sessions. He made sure to say that he realized what we were doing was terrible when going so slow (he had to go through this exercise quite a bit himself over the years), but going slowly is really the best way to practice everything.

  Finishing up, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I meet him in the office to sign the paperwork for our lesson and schedule our next session. As we were each going through our calendars to find a time that worked for all three of us, Lord Dormamu called Sir Steven in to the office as well. He took some time to go over with Sir Steven what we had just done, and told him to continue to avoid working on Foxtrot for the time being. That day he specifically wanted Sir Steven to spend time with us focusing on getting Sparkledancer to extend her body even further out away from mine to create as much volume as possible. The slight look of panic on Sparkledancer’s face when she heard that comment was enough to let me know that she was super excited about that.

  As soon as we finished with all the paperwork, Sparkledancer and I were back out on the floor to work with Sir Steven. He decided to have us work with the Waltz while working on Sparkledancer’s position while in frame. I think my Saturday was all about fun times while moving slow…

  One of the notes that I made after the lesson was over was about a story that Sir Steven told me while working on Sparkledancer’s position. Sir Steven said that I really needed to make sure that I kept myself as straight as possible when Sparkledancer is trying to create volume with her frame, and not to try to ‘help out’ by pulling my upper body away from hers. He has seen me doing that before, so he wanted to squelch the behavior before he sees me doing it again unintentionally. This behavior was something that he himself got yelled at for doing in the past, so he knows firsthand that I shouldn’t be doing it.

  The story goes that some undisclosed time ago, Sir Steven was working with the Princess on his own dancing as he was getting ready to do a competition with his professional partner. In the middle of the dance, the Princess stopped him to ask him what he was doing. Not knowing what she was talking about, he just stared at her blankly until she pointed out that he was leaning his upper body away from her during the figure they were dancing. He said that he was just trying to increase their look and volume during the step, and she just stopped him and said “We can’t both be flowers. I’m supposed to be the pretty flower opening up away from you. Are you a pretty flower?”

 From then on, the Princess would make fun of Sir Steven whenever she saw him start to lean his upper body away from his partner. There would be times he and his professional partner would be practicing, and the Princess would be in the studio doing other things and would yell out across the floor “Sir Steven, who’s the pretty flower?” to remind him to keep himself straight. And for the amusement of everyone else, I’m sure. So the warning I was given that afternoon was to keep my own frame strong and straight if I don’t want to be yelled at by the Princess when she’s around.

  One figure that we focused on in particular that afternoon was the Outside Change that is between our Progressive Chasse to Right and Chasse from Promenade Position. I guess that the way we were coming out of the Outside Change into the Chasse from Promenade Position didn’t look quite right to him. He spent some time making sure that Sparkledancer was heading straight down the line of dance for her first two steps instead of curving off to her right as I was stepping to the right to get out of her way. I spent a lot of time just standing in the position I was in at the end of the Progressive Chasse to the Right as Sir Steven went over the step with her.
  Let’s talk about Latin Technique this week instead of Standard Technique, like I did the last week. I’ve gotten particularly verbose lately when writing these posts, so I’ve decided to try my best to keep them as controlled as I can. There are just so many dance-related things that I want to remember!

  Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class as usual. Our favorite fierce Latin cat Tanya Tiger was there that night, having finally finished up her long-running obligation that had kept her away on Monday nights. To celebrate, she got to pick what we worked on that night, and she picked Samba. I personally don’t think that is much of a way to celebrate, but that’s just my personal opinion.

  The big reason that I wasn’t having much fun that night was because of my dance shoes. I have one pair of Latin shoes, and lately I only wear them for this class. I got them quite a while ago from some website that had a pair of really nice Latin shoes on clearance for 25% of normal price. The problem was that the closest size that they had of these clearance shoes was a half-size smaller than what I usually wear for my ballroom shoes. Since the deal was too good to pass up, I ordered them anyway. The left shoe fits just fine, but the right shoe is too tight. I spent the week after they showed up using all sorts of things like sticks and ice and shoe stretchers to stretch out the right shoe just a little so that it fit, but over time it slowly shrinks until one day I put on the right shoe and my big toe hurts. Then I have to stretch the shoe all over again.

  Monday night it was fairly obvious that the shoe had reached the breaking point that my foot could handle, so I need to stretch it out again. I’m kind of sick of doing this just to make the shoe usable, so I’m contemplating breaking down and ordering new Latin shoes. What holds me back is that I really only use the shoes once a week, just for Latin Technique class. They aren’t like my ballroom shoes which get used all of the time, so replacing them when they have issues is a necessity. I think that it’s finally time to bite the bullet and just order a pair in the right size though. Who knows? Maybe if my shoes fit well I will be more inclined to compete in International Latin again someday. Maybe. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that though.

  What we worked on in Samba was a set of figures that Lord Junior is starting to fit into his Samba routine with Tanya Tiger, but he modified it slightly so that we could all dance the progression without partners that night. I think he did that so that Tanya would end up with an exercise that she could use to practice without him that would help her directly with her routine. We started the progression on one end of the long wall, and those of us who really pushed out of our standing legs could get all the way to the other side when we finished so we could just turn around and go back.

  We began with a Three Step Turn to the left, ending in a sort of lunged-forward position on the left leg. From there we did some Cruzados Walks and Locks, with the Lock Steps being syncopated to make them more interesting. After two sets of the syncopated Lock Steps on the right side, we did three Samba Locks on the left side with no pause in between each one, ending once again in a lunged forward position on the left leg. We held that position for two beats of the music to allow the musical phrase to finish before the next steps.

 Here Lord Junior wanted us to do a non-syllabus figure to make things more interesting. He called the step a ‘Merengue Twist’ so that’s what I’m going to go with. It was a lot like doing a Hip Twist in Rumba or Cha-Cha, where you twist your body so that one leg ends up forward in a press line with the back foot turned perpendicularly. Lord Junior initially told us that he wanted everyone to try twisting as much as possible, so that’s what I was doing, but I felt like I was twisting so much that my front foot was crossing too far in front of my back foot, making it hard to do that step a second time. He watched me go through it once, laughed at what he saw, and told me that I was twisting waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. I backed off to where it was more comfortable and then the step was much easier. We finished up the progression after those Merengue Twists by adding few more repeating Samba Locks on the left side.

Waaaaaaaay too far, for sure.

  It’s summer, so it’s time for me to do some out-of-the-ordinary dancing. I plan on making the hour drive out to the High Five Dance Hall to attend one of their parties. I know that doesn’t seem like much of a drive for some people who have to take long trips every time they want to dance, but I have all of these other dance studios within 20-30 minutes of my house, so going to one that is twice as far doesn’t usually seem necessary. Still, I’ve been trying to get out there at least once a year to help support them and see all the dancers in that area.

  I also saw an email go out that some dance hall I have never heard of before in the area is having an Intermediate/Advanced West Coast Swing class that sounds interesting to me. It is tonight, which is why I am posting this earlier than normal so that I don’t have to worry about trying to get home after this class to finish this post up. Summer dance adventures, here I come!