Some Balls Are Held For Charity And Some For Fancy Dress

I went to two different dance parties this weekend. Two very, very, very, very, very… (I think you get my drift) different dance parties.

Last Friday I went to a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. I hadn’t originally planned on being there that night, but Bony was asking a bunch of us if we would go since she was going to be there, and I couldn’t say no to her. She asks so little! It turns out that the only reason that she was going was because some lady that Bony is friends with was going to be out of town, so she had asked Bony to go to the dance party to meet her husband and be her husband’s dance partner for the night since she couldn’t be there. Since Bony had recruited friends to join her at the party that night, those ladies all ended up taking turns keeping the older gentleman out on the dance floor. Pretty good deal for him, right?

Me, I guess I was just asked to be there for moral support, or something. After all, that guy probably didn’t want to dance with me, even if I am super fun to dance with. There were plenty of other ladies for me to dance with throughout the night, so I never actually had to sit out for a dance unless I actually wanted to. The party broke up earlier than I expected, with most of the attendees leaving to go home before ten-thirty even though the party was scheduled to go until eleven. When there was no one unpaired ladies left for me to dance with, I took off as well.

Then there was Saturday… I don’t even begin to know how to describe this, so just bear with me for a moment as I start at the beginning.

Saturday afternoon I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for an hour or so to get in some practice time, like we usually do. She got to the studio as I’m stretching out my legs. Once she spotted me she got this hopeful look on her face, and she comes over and asks if I would do her a huge favor. There was going to be a dance party that night, and she wanted to go to it. She had asked her husband to go, but he had told her he wasn’t interested. Even after that, she still wanted to go, but she didn’t want to go by herself, so she wanted to ask if I would be a pal and go with her.

That didn’t seem like such a huge deal, so I said that I could probably clear up my schedule and go out for a few hours that night. I told her to send the details of which studio we would meet at and what time and I would let her know after I had a chance to go home after practice and move things around and I was sure I could make it. Then she looked at me hesitantly and told me that the party wasn’t actually at a studio…

Turns out that this party that she was interested in attending was a Victorian-era Christmas Ball… and they were advertising that they would give you a discount on the cover charge if you made an attempt at dressing in Victorian period attire. Also, the group that was hosting this event was known for teaching people the Waltz… but not the style of Waltz that I necessarily knew. The flyer that she showed me promised that the event would feature the dances from the Victorian era “including but not limited to quadrilles, polkas, waltzes, and those lighthearted games known as ‘Germans.’” (Yes, that is really what it said!)

Suffice to say I just kept looking back and forth between Sparkledancer and the flyer for a bit, totally unsure what to make of the whole thing. It wasn’t exactly the kind of party that I was expecting to go to, and my first thought was that I wasn’t sure that I had anything that would even vaguely resemble period attire that I could wear. So I backtracked a bit and said that I would think about it and let her know later, and we got to practicing.

When I got home that afternoon, I dug through the closet where I have been storing all the crazy outfits that I have collected over the years because of dancing to see if I had anything that would work. I did manage to find an old top hat and a cravat that I had worn for a showcase performance I had done years ago, and I figured that if I coupled that with a plain white dress shirt and a vest that it was probably the best that I could do for anything even close to period attire. But the question I was still asking myself was whether I really wanted to go to an event like this or not. So, I did what I usually do when I can’t make a decision as to whether to do something or not – I consulted the unbiased opinion of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Since I’m writing out this whole story, you can probably guess that he told me I should go.

My man!

This particular dance adventure was… well, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. This ended up being way outside of my comfort zone. I’m not even really sure why. I do a lot of dancing, of all kinds of different styles. I’ve gone to lots of costume parties over the years because of dance. I’ve even gone to a number of strange dance parties that were completely unrelated to ballroom dancing just so that I could dance at them. But this party… for whatever reason I was just not comfortable being there. Even days later as I write this, I still really don’t know why.

That being said, it was a fascinating party to attend from a people watching perspective. Utterly fascinating. Many people not only dressed in period attire, but attempted to speak and act as if they were from the period as well. I would liken it to being at a Renaissance fair, except it was the Victorian era instead of the Renaissance, and a dance party instead of a fair. I’ve only been to Renaissance fairs like twice in my life so I’m not really an expert on what goes on at those, but that is the closest approximation that I can make to try to help you understand what was going on at this event.

The big problem I ran into once I was there was the expectations that I had built in my head before I arrived at the venue. Even after reading that flyer with the crazy description that I quoted earlier, I had built it up in my head to be some sort of old-timey Waltz party. I am not usually keen on going to parties where they do one style of dance all night, but this particular party had other factors going for it that made it seem like it could have been amusing. What I found when I got there was that they didn’t ‘Waltz’ – at least, not in any sense even close to what I think of as Waltz. In fact, I counted only three songs in the first two hours that were even in some form of triple time (¾, ⅜, 6/8 or the like). I don’t really see songs that are not in triple time as being Waltzes, so why did I imagine this to be a Waltz party?

Most of the dances that they did that evening were what I would actually consider line dances. Everyone would form a big line (or two big lines or a big circle) and all do the same steps. There were a few dances that were more like Square Dancing, where the hostess would call out the names of figures and then everyone would do them. And then there were the weird “Germans” games that had been mentioned in the flyer… those were weird.

Let me mention one of those games that thoroughly confused me. Everyone got split up by sex, The men were arranged into a big circle facing inward, holding up our arms and touching our palms together, leaving space between us on either side. The ladies just lined up on one side of the room. As the game started and the music was put on, the lady at the front of the line would come forward and enter the circle of men. One man would then back out of the circle to be ‘it’ for that lady.

The game was described as being like ‘cat and mouse’ – the lady would run around inside the circle and try to duck out and back in between the men. The ‘it’ man would run around the outside of the circle and try to touch her somewhere on her body. If the guy managed to tag the lady, she stopped running and they would do some kind of dance together of the man’s choosing around the outside of the circle. He would drop her off at one of the chairs in the room after completing their circuit and return to the circle. If the guy was having a hard time catching the lady, the circle of men would take a step inward, slowly closing the circle and making it harder for the lady to get between us. Once the lady in the circle was tagged and she started dancing with the ‘it’ man, the next lady in line entered the circle and the process began anew.

This. Went. On. FOREVER. Since the game was only played with one woman at a time and there were A LOT of ladies at the party, giving every lady who wanted to play a chance consumed well over a half-hour of the party. After the first half-dozen ladies, I was totally bored. Whether I got to be the guy who was ‘it’ or not, I was bored. Maybe it was my fault. I guess my attention span has been shattered by going to normal ballroom social dances, and now I can’t focus on the same dance style for longer than one normal song anymore without getting antsy to switch things up.

Another weird thing about that night was how much the hostess liked to use the word ‘frisky’ to describe parts of the dances she was teaching. I’m sure that she was using the word to try to get a chuckle out of the attendees, but there was a side effect to her use of that word that I’m not sure if she intended. Attending the party that night were many younger people – younger than me, which makes them pretty young. Whenever the hostess would describe a part of the dance as being ‘frisky’ these younger people always seemed to take that as meaning they were allowed to be out of control for some reason.

For example, one of the dances that we did was a pretty simple quadrille where one couple would march over in time to stand in front of the couple on their right, then bow to them, then you would take hands with the new person in front of you and spin for an eight count around before marching back to your starting point. On the next eight count you were supposed to pick someone else to spin around with a few times and make it back to your spot, and then your turn was over and the couple to the right would take over and start the pattern all over. Pretty simple, right? I bet that when you picture this in your head, you are picturing a pleasant, slow dance that would have been enjoyable to Victorian-era nobility. That’s how I was picturing it as we were being taught the steps.

Well… the hostess described the spinning portions of the dance as being ‘frisky’, so suddenly the younger men at the party took the dance from a pleasant quadrille to a death-match style contest to see who could spin their lady around the most times before the eight-count was over. That made things dangerous. The floor at this venue wasn’t a nice wooden floor like they would have at a dance studio, so anyone who was wearing shoes that were more costume-appropriate didn’t have a lot of traction. My dance shoes (which I brought with me, because I had pictured the dancing being different that night) were sliding all over the place too. So we had people spinning as fast as they could while sliding all over the floor. It was nuts!

Another example was a line dance that we did where people paired off and formed two lines facing one another. The line of Followers would step toward the Leaders, then back, then go between the Leaders on their right, then the Leaders would flip around to face them. Then came the part that the hostess described as ‘frisky’ where the two Leads and two Follows at the head of the lines would take hands into a big circle and spin around a few times, then the Leads would stand in place side-by-side at the head of the line while the two Followers marched in a circle around their Lead two times. When the Follower finished marching the second circle they were supposed to take the Lead’s hand and sashay down between the lines of Leads and Follows to take their place at the end of the line, and everyone else moved up in line.

Again, it sounds nice and gentle and pleasant, and you can imagine watching people do this in a Victorian-period movie, right? Well, because the hostess used the word ‘frisky’, the circling that the two couples at the head of the line did turned into a race. First they would see how many times they could spin when all four people were holding hands. Then the ladies would run around their Leads to see who could complete their two circles the fastest. Finally, when the lady grabbed the guy’s hand, many of them ended up sprinting (not sashaying, actually sprinting) down to the end of the line as fast as they could. Nuts!

Kids these days, right?

One other interesting note about the party – unexpectedly, there was one girl in attendance that I hadn’t expected to see. She was a younger girl who has joined us out at the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique and Standard Technique classes for the last several years. When we finally had a few minutes to talk, she came over to say hi to Sparkledancer and I. She seemed to be at the party all by herself, so Sparkledancer asked her how she had found out about the event (turns out that she had seen the same flyer that Sparkledancer had shown me). What she said was kind of remarkable.

It turns out that this was what she had always dreamed of doing – this kind of Victorian-era reenactment dance party with all of the old-timey dancing. In fact, the whole reason that she had originally started to take ballroom dance lessons was because she had wanted to go to parties like this, but there weren’t any going on that she could find, so ballroom dancing was the next best thing. As the girl was telling Sparkledancer this, she started to get teary eyes and choke up a little, because she was so happy that she had finally found a group that held events like she had dreamed about. She had already talked to the hostess about joining their lessons during the week, and was thinking about ways to improve her costume to make it even more period appropriate. So that was really cool. I’m really happy for her that she finally found what she had been looking for. Hooray!

As for me… I can’t say that I would go back to another of these parties. It was certainly interesting, and entertaining for an evening, but it’s just not my cup of tea. As I said, I get bored doing the same dance style for long periods of time (even if the dance style is line dances), and all the dances they did that night seemed to go on forever and ever. I know that was because they wanted to give everyone a chance to participate, but it just bored me silly. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve never put a lot of energy into learning dance styles like Salsa or Argentine Tango to go to clubs where they dance those styles, because that’s all they will do all night long. I’m really happy for people who love to do that, but I’ll stick with ballroom-style social where they switch up the dance styles after every song.

So the next time someone asks me to go to a Victorian-era Ball, I’m going to have to turn them down. I did it once and got the stories out of it. That’s good enough for me!

Enough about that. Since I’ve already said a lot this week, let me finish up quickly by talking about last night’s Standard Technique class that I went to. I’m not exactly sure what was going on last night, but there were very few people hanging around at the Electric Dance Hall compared to what I usually see on a Wednesday night. For one thing, the West Coast Swing class that goes on every week only had three people in it, when usually there are at least ten or twelve. And then the only other student besides me to show up for Standard Technique was Sparkledancer. Where was everyone else last night?

In a way though, it was nice that it ended up being just the two of us – it was kind of like getting a private lesson from Lord Junior for the much, much, much lower cost of a group class. To keep things interesting for all of us, once we had decided on a dance style to work on that night (Foxtrot), Lord Junior basically pulled out the syllabus guide and started running Sparkledancer and I through the list of Silver-level figures for Foxtrot. After all, the Silver figures are more interesting than the Bronze ones, and at some point in the next few months we are going to be moving up to that level anyway, so he thought we might as well start memorizing all the figures now.

We managed to get through six of the figures during the course of the class. They were (not in this order) the Closed Telemark, the Open Telemark and Feather Ending, the Top Spin, the Hover Feather, the Hover Cross, and the “Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending” (yes, that is all one figure). All but two of these figures I have done at some point or another in my life – probably in other Standard Technique classes, if I had to guess. I really don’t know where else I would have gone through them besides in this class.

The two figures that I can’t say that I’ve seen before that night were the Hover Cross and the Closed Telemark. Of those two, the Closed Telemark sounded the easiest – it’s just a Telemark where you finish the turn in normal dance position instead of shifting to Promenade Position like you would in an Open Telemark. Once I had tried it out, I could see why I’ve only ever done the Open Telemark before – it’s hard to turn a full 270° while remaining in dance position the whole time. I managed to get through it successfully a couple of times by the end (hooray for me!), but if I end up having to use this figure in the future I will need to put in some more practice to make it look presentable.

The Hover Cross was a different matter altogether. Unlike the Closed Telemark, where I had a basic understanding of what to do since I have done Open Telemarks in the past, I had nothing to compare the Hover Cross to mentally, so I was learning the footwork on the fly. My first few tries failed because I took the wrong steps. My next few tries failed because the sway that I was trying to do looked funny. By the ninth or tenth time I managed to figure out what I was doing to make the figure look passable, but it still felt funny to me. Maybe that was just because I didn’t really know the figure, but who knows? We moved on once I managed to make it through OK to look at something else. I’m sure I will see this figure again at some point in the future.

I’m going to leave it there for the time being. I did have a lesson with Lord Dormamu tonight, but I think if I tried to put all my notes from that lesson into this post it would get to be much too long even for me. So I’ll probably start with those next time!

This coming week has a few highlights to look forward to. There is a workshop I heard about on Saturday morning that sounds like it could be fun, and then I am going to another holiday dance party Saturday night (a normal holiday dance party, not like the one I went to last Saturday). This is probably the last specific holiday dance party I am going to go to this year. There will be other holiday parties I’m sure – since it is that time of year I would guess that all parties are vaguely holiday themed – but if I end up at one of those it will be a last-minute decision, unlike the party I’m going to this weekend which I bought a ticket to weeks ago to ensure I would have a place reserved.

Will I see you there? I hope so! If you find me, come give me a high-five. That is a less common form of greeting, so I’ll know how you found out about the party if you greet me like that. It will be our secret code.

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Lightning Strikes In The Dark

A lot of people seemed to be missing this week. I would guess that the holiday today probably has something to do with that… but what do I know? All that turkey I ate must have gone to my head, stuffing it with crazy ideas. I apologize in advance if any of my words tonight end up sounding stupid. My normal high bar for proofreading before posting might not be crossed tonight.

I only did two notable dance-related things this week. The first was on Monday night when I went out to Latin Technique class. Class was smaller than it has been in recent weeks, with only four ladies showing up. One of the ladies was joining the class for the first time that night, and she was… interesting (more on that later). Four ladies is actually a pretty good ratio of women to men for Lord Junior and I to dance with, so everything we looked at in Rumba that night was done with a partner.

The choreography that we looked at that night seemed pretty familiar to me, almost like I had done it before. I could probably find out if I actually have if I wanted to go back through my notes here and see, but that sounds like it would take a lot of time, so I’m just going to leave that question a mystery. We started off by facing our partner in a one-hand hold, with the ladies pointing their left leg forward and the guys pointing the right leg back. From there we took a step forward and went into a syncopated forward check action – holding the check for half a beat longer before coming out and taking a step to the side. This put both partners parallel to each other facing inward, with the ladies off to the guy’s right side with their weight on the right leg, and guys with their weight on the left.

Next we did a set of Cuban Rocks, using them to transfer our weight to the other leg. Right at the end, the guys would do a slight rotation of the lady’s wrist to lead her to turn away from us, then we would do another forward check. Before replacing our weight the guy would use the lady’s arm to lead her to spin around quickly and face us, then bring her to step toward us while putting up her left arm. The guy would just replace his weight onto his right leg then point the left off to the side instead of taking a step, which would let the lady get into an awkwardly-close position to our bodies, that was even more awkward to be in with one lady in particular than it was with the others.

Since the guys had their left leg free, that let us lunge out to the left side while rotating our bodies so that we could use our left arm to lead the lady into a Hip Twist. As the guy stands up, he does a small chasse to the right while leading the lady to step across our body and out into Fan Position. We then led the lady into an Alemana that ended with the lady outside of us on our right. From here we released the lady’s hand and went into one Sliding Door to finish for the evening.

So the new girl… and I mention this only because it was pretty funny in hindsight… new girl was tiny. I mean, if this woman was five feet tall I would have been surprised. She was super tiny. Except in one… area… of her body. And she was wearing this sleeveless flannel shirt that had a lot of the top buttons undone so make it very clear that her ‘assets’ were quite oversized for her body. This was super awkward the first time I tried to dance with her and I had to bend my head down to look her in the face, and there was a prominent display going on when I looked from that angle. Then we did that move where the ladies come forward and stand super-close to the guy while raising their arm and it was like ‘WHAM!’ – there they were, right up close and personal.

I thought I was going to break my neck with how fast I turned my head to look away the first time that happened, and also that my cheeks might melt from how much I was blushing. At first I thought that it was just something that was unintentional – maybe she wore the same thing to class that she wore earlier in the day, and didn’t think anything of it… and just didn’t think about fastening a few more of her buttons while trying to figure out what was going on in class. You know, completely innocent, right? But later in the evening, I watched as Lord Junior assisted her with one of the figures she was having trouble with, and the lady made it very clear that this was all intentional.

As they finished that up and Lord Junior went back to addressing the rest of the ladies in class, I watched as new girl readjusted her shirt. It had moved off to one side, covering her goodies up for the first time all night. So what does she do? She moves it back to center and opens it back up to put everything on display once again. Yeah, so she was totally putting everything out there all on purpose. There was no two ways about it. That made it feel even more awkward when I danced with her…

Anyway, it seems funny to think about that now. Maybe I’m the only one who will think it’s funny. But you know what? These are my notes, so I can write down anything that I find even mildly amusing. Hooray for me!

The only other dance-related adventure I went on this week (other than practice) was to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. Since it was the day before a holiday I thought that I might be the only person to show up for class, but actually a fair number of people actually came out for both Standard Technique and the West Coast Swing class that goes on at the Electric Dance Hall on Wednesday nights. Apparently some of us are just crazy, and would much rather spend the so-called ‘biggest bar night of the year’ learning and practicing dance…

Also surprising, guess who decided to join us in class that night? Miss ShortDress! I haven’t seen her in a really long time. It actually took me a while to remember what her name was when I saw her – I will freely admit that, I am terrible with names. She won’t ever see this, so it’s safe for me to write down that I didn’t know who she was at first. I guess that she was home from college for the holiday, and rather than spend the evening hanging out with her family she decided to come and hang out with us in class. Good for her! Dance family is way better than real family, don’t you think? 😉

Since Miss ShortDress has been studying and competing in Silver (Lord Junior asked her before class started), we did a bunch of stuff in Foxtrot that is part of the Silver-level syllabus. The choreography itself wasn’t all that many figures, but you could use it to cover a whole lot of the floor if you know how to move (like I do).

Starting out facing diagonal wall, we did a prep step into a basic Feather, than an Overturned Reverse Turn. This Reverse Turn flipped around 180° to put us backing diagonal wall before we went into a Reverse Wave. Next up we did a Back Feather, which is actually part of the Gold-level syllabus for Foxtrot, but isn’t too difficult to do if you’ve done normal Feathers enough times. After the Back Feather we went into another Reverse Wave, then flipped around by doing an Open Impetus with Feather Ending. To finish everything up, Lord Junior had us do a Top Spin at the end. The Top Spin is actually a misleading name, because it’s more like a check so you can abruptly change directions, with no spinning at all. I wonder where the name came from?

At the end of class, while I was changing back into my street shoes, I overheard Sparkledancer talking to Miss ShortDress. Apparently Miss ShortDress has been to a couple of the competitions we’ve done recently with her college ballroom team, and she’s seen us dancing. She never came over to talk to us at those events, because she didn’t think that we would remember her (which would have probably been correct for me at least, based on how well I remembered her before class started). I guess she’s been promoted this year to be the leader of her college ballroom team, so she felt it necessary to tell Sparkledancer that she and I need to “stop terrorizing her kids.” That’s a strange thing to say, right?

Well that’s all I’ve got this week. This weekend should have more exciting things going on than last weekend. There’s a dance party on Saturday night that I’m sure I’ll end up at, and I have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Saturday morning. Plus lots of practice… there’s a big event coming up a few months out that I need to be in top form for, so practice is important to get in.

I hope your holiday was fun and that you get a chance this weekend to dance off all those extra calories. Until next time!

From Where I Stand I See

I’m going to start off this week with an update for you on something I mentioned last week: over the weekend I managed to convince Sparkledancer to bring her competition shoes with her to one of our practice sessions so that she could test them out. Turns out that the shoe that the girl stepped in at the competition did get stretched out pretty badly, and nothing Sparkledancer tried that day as we practiced managed to make the shoe feel stable again. After testing it for about an hour, she told me that she might feel comfortable using them occasionally for practice, but to put them away again and try to rely on the shoes to function well during a competition would be a bad idea.
So, after a lot of arguing and a brief and hilarious scuffle, I managed to steal one of her shoes and look at the size printed on the inside. I went ahead and ordered her a new pair. Despite what she will tell anyone else, I personally feel like it was my fault that I didn’t get us away from those other kids on the floor, so I will take responsibility for that other girl sticking her heel into Sparkledancer’s shoe and damaging it. Plus, I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get paid enough to afford to do random things like this, so it’s really no skin off my back.

One thing that I did learn is that the shoes Sparkledancer uses are stupid expensive. Holy cow, those are the most expensive pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my whole life! I thought I paid a lot when I got my own super-fancy shoes that I use for practice (and the second pair I have in my closet that I only use for competitions), but those shoes seem cheap by comparison. Do you think that it’s because there are so many more female ballroom dancers than men, so men’s shoes are just less expensive because of the disparity in demand? That would be an interesting peek into the economics of ballroom dancing.

Anyway, once the new shoes show up the problem will be corrected. I still feel bad that anything happened in the first place, but being able to fix the problem eases my guilt quite a bit.

Enough about shoes, let’s talk about dancing. This past weekend, aside from practicing, I managed to get myself out of the house on Friday night to head out to the Endless Dance Hall for their party. It was the biggest party scheduled in the Dance Kingdom – many other dance studios cancelled their own Friday night parties so that they could join the fun out at the Endless Dance Hall. Why would they decide to do something crazy like that? Well, they all knew that they just couldn’t compete with the Endless Dance Hall. For one thing, it does have the biggest dance floor available anywhere within a few hours drive. For another, they had hired the best ballroom DJ to come play the music that evening, and that always draws in a fair number of people.

But the real coup de grâce was the fact that they made their party free to everyone who showed up.

Yeah, free parties do tend to attract people more than parties that you have to pay for. Especially parties that also have a dance lesson being offered (for free, of course) and prizes up for raffle (also free). What’s not to love? So it totally makes sense that all the other studios in the surrounding area cancelled their Friday night parties and encouraged their students to go over to the Endless Dance Hall. Heck, I even saw some of the instructors from other studios in the area at the party that night, weirdly enough. There’s no question in my mind that it was the place to be! That’s why I went!

I didn’t get there early enough to take part in the lesson. I mean, I’m sure I could have jumped in right at the end to help out since there did seem to be a few more ladies than men on the floor, but as I stood watching what was going on for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The lesson was on Cha-Cha, I did get that much, but there were a lot of people I had never seen before in the lesson, and most of them appeared to be lost on what to do, so trying to glean the steps that were being taught from them wasn’t working for me. The instructor had a microphone, but with the noise from the crowd going on I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. So, I just stayed on the sidelines and watched instead.

But I didn’t have to stay on the sidelines long! Soon the lesson finished and everyone in class was released to do what they wanted. I spent my time that evening between dancing and talking with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a while. I don’t know if my number was ever called in the raffle – I ended up giving my ticket to the Dance Robots. The prizes looked nice, but I didn’t really need anything, and those two always make me happy when I see them.

I danced a lot that night, and because of that I didn’t manage to hit up the snack room until way late in the evening – like half-an-hour before the party ended late. As my luck would have it, a lot of the good snacks were already gone, which made me kind of sad. I don’t know why it is that I don’t feel hungry until so late at night. I mean, I do have a tendency to make sure to eat dinner before I go to parties like this, which probably has a lot to do with it. Do other people just not do that? Is that why they always plow through all the snacks before I feel like having something? Just a weird thought I had that night…

Monday night in Latin Technique class we continued with the trend that we started last week of working on simple figures to help the new ladies that joined class improve their basics. This makes two weeks now for these new ladies. I wonder if they’ll stick around long enough for me to give them names? I’ve had this terrible luck lately where when someone does something notable enough that I decide to break down and come up with a name for them, they disappear almost immediately afterward. That’s why lately I’ve really only come up with names for the notable dance instructors I meet rather than the students, because instructors are less likely to disappear (though it still happens). Fingers crossed that these ladies in Latin Technique will prove to be interesting and hang around for a while.

This week’s class was all about Cha-Cha. Mostly slow Cha-Cha. I’m pretty sure that Lord Junior said that he had lowered the tempo of the songs he had us practice to down to 65% for much of the class, which felt really slow to me. The figures that we worked on we did end up dancing with partners, but the material was all designed so that the partners were just mirror images of each other. That allowed some of the ladies to pair off with each other. There were six ladies in class that night, and just Lord Junior and I trying to work the crowd would have left a lot of people standing around waiting if he hadn’t designed things so that they could work together.

The pattern that we were doing was short and simple, at least in my opinion. I’ll go through this from the Lead’s perspective – so if you want to do the Follower’s part just mirror what I say. We started out facing our partner and doing a basic chasse action to the right. At the end we went into a basic New Yorker on the right side. Coming out of that, rather than squaring up with our partner again we instead did a 180° pivot and went into a Three-Step Turn heading to the left, letting go of our partner as we started to turn.
At the end of the Three-Step Turn we squared up with our partner again and went into a basic New Yorker on the left side. Coming out of that we went into another 180° pivot to do a Three-Step Turn heading back to the right. At the end of the turn we would reconnect with our right hand, facing our partner with our weight on the right leg, ready to move into something else. That’s where the pattern ended for the night. As I said, pretty basic and simple if you’re comfortable with the basics of Cha-Cha.

To amuse himself, as the newcomers in class got more comfortable with the figures, Lord Junior started to increase the challenge factor. First off, he had us start using our arms. I never think that using my arms looks good (which is part of the reason I have stuck with Standard for so long), but I managed to get through. Next, as you can imagine, he started to speed up the music, first by 5% intervals, then 10%. We did actually make it up to full speed that night by the end, which surprised me. The ladies who hadn’t done much Cha-Cha before were struggling to keep up when the song was at tempo, but they were laughing about it and having a good time, so it didn’t seem like it was traumatic for them. Hopefully that means that they’ll be back for more next week!

Instead of going to Standard Technique class on Wednesday, I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu to finally discuss what he saw while judging us at the competition we were in a couple of weekends ago. The session was enlightening, as you might have expected, and definitely gave me a number of points that I will need to work on in preparation for the next competition I decide to do. Incidentally, that topic came up briefly as well during the lesson, and it looks like the best option for our next competition will be in January at another event that Lord Dormamu is also going to be judging. That sounds really convenient, don’t you think?

After a brief discussion at the beginning of the lesson about what Lord Dormamu saw from us while we were on the floor competing, it was clear to me that I am not one of those magical individuals that does better dancing in a competition than I do during practice. I honestly didn’t think that I was, but this confirms it for sure. There were things that he saw me do that I didn’t think that I was doing, and techniques that I thought I was doing a lot of that he said were barely noticeable. I guess I need to start recording myself more often when I practice if I want to see these things with my own eyes.

One of the most interesting notes that Lord Dormamu said that no instructor has ever told me before was about the incident with Sparkledancer’s shoe. We obviously had to tell him that story about the shoe incident, and how things looked funny while Sparkledancer was trying to get her shoe back on as we danced. He said that in a situation like that, we should have just stopped, separated briefly so that Sparkledancer could put her shoe back on, then come back together and continued. According to him, no judge would mark us lower for doing something like that if it was required to stay safe. Good to know for the future.

Lord Dormamu also noted a similar take on dancing through a contested field. I guess there were points that he saw me moving where I was weaving through the other competitors on the floor. The way he interpreted it was that I was doing it in order to keep moving through my routine and not show any downtime in my dancing. This can be a good thing to do sometimes he said, but there were points where he noticed that moving between other dancers affected the way that I held my frame, or the volume that Sparkledancer was trying to create. If people are too close together, volume is something that obviously contracts if you try to squeeze through people.

I was told that when the floor is crowded with competitors, it can actually be more impressive to a judge if I just stop and hold in place, even if I end up holding for long periods of time while waiting patiently for the floor in front of me to clear up and become safe to continue dancing. Doing this allows me to show that I am calm, confident, and in control of the situation way more distinctly than forcing my way through a crowd ever could. This is especially true while we remain in the closed syllabus rounds, where many of the other competitors will be nervous and fidgety, especially if they are not used to navigating a crowded dance floor. Being calm and poised will set me apart from all the others in the eyes of the judging panel that is comparing all the competitors to each other.
With those overall notes out of the way, we looked at our Waltz and Foxtrot routines that night. The first comment that I got after dancing through both of them the first time was that none of the issues that he saw us doing while dancing in the competition were present now. So, I guess that means that I somehow have to find a way to compete more to figure out how to keep the way I dance in competition and the way I dance in practice the same. Sounds so easy, right? Sigh…

The overall takeaway in the Waltz that Lord Dormamu gave me was that I needed to work on lowering more. He thought that the lowering action was not enough during the competition while I danced the Waltz. To fix this, he wants me to work on lowering even more during practice. That way, when I naturally lower less during a competition, it will still look low enough. You know, overdoing it under control to make it look normal if I ease off. The joke that Lord Dormamu told me was that he wanted me to work on destroying my knees by lowering so much in practice.

I happen to like my knees, so I probably won’t go that far… but I can see what he is trying to imply with that joke.

As for Foxtrot, I was told that there were points during the competition where he could see me pushing off my legs to move. While in some ways this is good, because it shows that I am clearly using my legs to drive through the steps, it is bad when it happens in such a way that it can be seen clearly by someone watching. For example, if I am driving through the step and I give it one last push as I switch from one leg to the other, that action might make me (and then Sparkledancer, because I’m heavier than her) bobble a bit during the transition between legs. Trained eyes pick up on little movements like that!

We went back to talking about the overall vision for Foxtrot – ideally, the dance will flow smoothly from start to finish. Little bobbles that are noticeable will detract from this look that we are trying to achieve. Lord Dormamu said that he wants me to think of the dance as if there were a wire strung along the floor over my route while dancing, keeping everything smooth and level. The only change in elevation should be kept to the sides of the frame as we sway through the steps, while the center of our frame remains smooth and level the whole time (I know it’s not physically possible to do that while swaying properly, but that’s the idea to shoot for).

During the lesson we walked through a lot of the pieces of both routines to make sure that we understood what the end goal was, but a lot of this is going to come down to practice between Sparkledancer and I – repeating everything endlessly to make sure that moving in this nature is a fundamental part of who we are. I know it doesn’t sound super exciting, but that’s how we continue to do well while competing and keep on improving overall at the same time. There are talks about us going to some kind of championship dance competition during 2019, and Lord Dormamu obviously expects us to win, so getting these points that he saw in our last competition straightened out is imperative if we are going to meet that goal he has laid out for us.

Those are my dance notes for this week. I think that it’s going to be a rather quiet weekend in my world. As probably many of you are aware, there’s a big competition going on this weekend in another area of the Dance Kingdom. Like, really big. I won’t be there, since they don’t offer much for amateurs to do at this competition, but I know quite a few people who are going. Lord Dormamu, as you might expect, is going to dance with a handful of his Pro/Am ladies. Lord Junior is also going to compete with what sounds like a whole contingent of his students. That should be some crazy road trip for them!

To everyone competing in that event this weekend, good luck! More than that, have fun! A wise man once said that if you’re not having fun, then it’s really not worth it. Aside from having fun, I hope that any of you reading this who might be dancing blow all of your competition away… unless you are competing against one of my friends, then I hope that you come in second. I mean, that’s only fair for me to hope, right? No hard feelings. 🙂

A Momentary Maniac With Casual Delusions

Man there are a lot of interesting notes about dancing this week! So many! This post could end up being a bit long. I’ll try my best to stick to only the most interesting of interesting details, but I’m laying out that warning beforehand just in case. Deep breath…

The first thing that I should talk about was the competition I was in on Saturday. This was actually my second time signing up to be in this particular event – the first time being last year – so when I got up in the morning to make my way to the Dance Death Arena to sign in I actually knew which room they were using. I met with Sparkledancer in the parking lot so that we would be able to sign in together. As the two of us were getting out of our cars and grabbing our stuff, a lady who had parked nearby saw us. We were both wearing formal attire, so we kind of stood out in the midst of all the other people milling about in the area.

This lady walked over to where we had parked and asked us if we happened to be part of the dance competition that was going on. We told her yes, and she said that she had guessed that was the case because of our outfits. Apparently her son was also taking part in the competition, and she had driven in from out-of-state to watch him dance but had no idea where she to go after she had parked her car. Lucky for her, I knew right where to go! She decided to tag along with Sparkledancer and I as we made our way into the building and up to the room that was set aside for the competition. The lady parted with us as we reached the check-in desk to wander into the room and search for her boy. I hope that she came back and bought a spectator pass at some point later…

I was signed up for the same set of rounds this year that I did last year at this competition, and like before there were two rounds that were packed with other competitors and two rounds with almost no one else in them. The two rounds that had people sign up made me really happy – after competing uncontested in the last couple of competitions I’ve been in, being in these rounds more than made up for that. There were a bunch more couples signed up this year than there were last year! So many more in fact that they had to split the rounds one additional time over what they did the year before. This time, we had an extra ‘first round’ (that’s what they called it) we danced before the Quarterfinal rounds. I ended up dancing a lot more on Saturday morning than I had originally expected.

Just to get it out of the way early, let me say that the competition went really well. The only part where Sparkledancer and I had an issue was in the final Tango and the Foxtrot of the day, which were the last two dances that we did that day. Something unexpected happened that caused those dances to go a little off track, but I’ll talk more about that later. Overall the competition went great – much better than I expected it to.

The most nerve-wracking part of the whole competition experience was having Lord Dormamu as a judge that day. I felt like I had to put extra effort into everything that I did in order to live up to his expectations. I wonder if anyone else was feeling like that because he was judging? Maybe it was just me. Probably Sparkledancer too, since he’s obviously her coach as well.

Funny thing about Lord Dormamu being a judge: as I was waiting in the on-deck area for my first round of the day to start, the girl in line right behind Sparkledancer and I was talking to her partner about Lord Dormamu. She was super excited that he was there that day. I guess she has gone to some of his ‘Master Classes’ in the past, and even got a chance to dance with him at some social party a few months ago. She then proceeded to sound almost offended that he hadn’t gone out of his way since arriving at the event to come over and say hello to her… because obviously there was no way he could have forgotten who she was after that dance they had shared at a social! I had to work really hard at keeping a straight face when hearing her go through her line of reasoning.

Early rounds of dancing all felt really good, and Sparkledancer and I made it through the ‘first round’, Quarterfinal and Semifinal rounds to get on the slate for the Finals in all four dance styles we were doing that day. After the Semifinals, the organizers had put in a few other rounds of different dances just to mix things up a bit. Two of those extra rounds were the other rounds that I was signed up for, the ones that had only Sparkledancer and I and one other couple signed up to dance in. To make better use of the floor, they also rearranged other parts of the schedule to have some of the Mixed Proficiency rounds on the floor at the same time.

The first round of these smaller heats for me took a sideways turn – not in the dancing I did, but from an organizational standpoint. I’m not sure what went wrong, but for the first dance in the round they had us all take the floor and get ready to Waltz, and then let us go. Everything seemed to be going fine, but as the music wound down the judges were all huddled together along the side and were talking. That’s never a good sign… all of the competitors were standing around watching, starting to fidget a little bit. After a few more moments the emcee came back to the microphone and said that since our Waltz was so good, they were going to have us do another fifteen seconds of it so that the judges could see a little more. The music started again, we danced a little more, and then stopped.

Whatever was going on still wasn’t good, so the emcee came back and said that they were going to have to reset and have us do the whole dance again! So, once more I got to go through that Waltz number. I thought that everything went well this time around and we’d actually be able to move onto the next dance style… but alas, ‘twas not to be. After a few more minutes the emcee came back to the microphone and finally admitted that they were having some kind of technical difficulty, so while they worked that out they were going to put on a few songs for general dancing, and then when everything was fixed all of the competitors would get to come back and do the Waltz one last time. So I got to dance a lot more Waltzes that day than I expected.

Finally we got to the Finals for my highly contested rounds. First two dances (Waltz and Quickstep) go great. Everything feels strong and in control, and I can’t think of any points that I would have wanted to go back and do better. Then we got to the third dance… the Tango. In the middle of the second Back Corte along the first long wall, something happened where another couple of competitors got too close to us, and somehow the female in that pair put her heel into Sparkledancer’s right shoe! That obviously got her foot all caught up with the other girl, so she tripped over her feet a bit at that moment, and that made me trip up a bit (luckily no one fell), so coming out of that Back Corte as you can imagine was rough and it took a few steps to recover… or so I thought.

The incident made things much worse for Sparkledancer than I knew about at the time. She couldn’t tell me until after the Tango was over, but one of the results of the girls sticking her heel into Sparkledancer’s shoe and pressing down was that she pulled the shoe almost all the way off of Sparkledancer’s foot! For quite a while after that happened, Sparkledancer was desperately trying to keep from losing her shoe. She was spreading her toes as wide as possible to hold onto the shoe, and slamming her foot down onto the floor to try to get the shoe back over her heel so that it would stay in place. Obviously these movements would have made her footwork look a bit strange if any judges were watching closely enough.

When the Tango ended and we had a moment to recover before the Foxtrot, Sparkledancer finally managed to pull her shoe all the way back on properly, but it seems like the force of the girl putting her heel in there also stretched out the side of Sparkledancer’s shoe. I guess it was stretched out enough that her foot was wobbling around inside of the shoe instead of feeling secure. That made going through the Foxtrot a strange new experience for her as well.

I felt terrible about this after we got off the floor and Sparkledancer had a chance to tell me (and show me) what actually happened. Absolutely terrible. I didn’t think I had gotten too close to the other competitors on the floor, but I guess I misread the signs of where that one couple was going to be moving, and that allowed them to get close enough to us for this accident to happen. The worst part is that the shoe got stretched out badly enough that it doesn’t feel secure for her anymore. She told me that she is going to look at it and see if anything can be done to repair it, which may involve her drilling another hole into the strap that goes across the shoe so that she can pull the buckle tighter.

If nothing works, I’m going to have to find a sneaky way to figure out what size her shoes are and order her a replacement pair. I feel responsible since I was the one leading, so if need be I’ll be the one to pay to fix things. I know that Sparkledancer will probably read this and then call me or text me to argue this point… but she really can’t fight me over it. After all, I’m bigger than her, so she really can’t stop me. Plus, if I just buy the shoes and then give them to her husband, he’ll make sure that she uses them for me. One way or another, I’ll win.

Anyway… once we got all our marks back from the judges for the finals, it was clear that the last Tango and Foxtrot got marked a little lower than all the other Tango and Foxtrot rounds we did that day. That’s OK, it’s what I would expect. We still did really well all things considered, but I would bet that we would have done a little bit better without the shoe malfunction. So yeah… there’s really no way you can practice to recover from an unexpected event like that, so I don’t know if there’s anything we need to do to change the way we practice because of these particular results. The notes that we get back from Lord Dormamu on what he saw while judging us will be the areas that we’ll focus on instead, and I’ll just write off this incident as a fluke.

On Sunday afternoon, instead of staying home and relaxing I decided to head out to the Electric Dance Hall to watch the showcase performance that was scheduled for that day. Since I end up out at the Electric Dance Hall off and on to practice, I have seen quite a few of these performances throughout their stages of development, so I thought it would be good to go and support everyone, and also see the polished final products. It was actually a lot of fun for me to just sit and watch everything and talk with some of the people I recognized. There was some social dancing scheduled between acts, but I didn’t even bring my dance shoes with me to the party this time around. It was a nice little break for me!

(Just so you know, I did meet up with Sparkledancer earlier in the day on Sunday to practice, so it’s not like I didn’t also do some dancing on Sunday…)

This showcase had a vague theme that was outlined on the flyers for the event, and when I got to the Electric Dance Hall I saw a couple of people who were sort-of dressed up to fit with that theme, but the overall impression that I got from the performances was completely unrelated. So I’m not really sure if the theme had any real meaning for the day, or if the original plan called for the performances to be more theatrically appropriate, but that fell along the wayside somewhere.

Aside from the handful of performances that were group numbers, all of the other dances were done by Pro/Am pairs. That’s not really super meaningful one way or another, but it’s just something that I noticed. Usually during showcases I see one or two Amateur pairs performing, but there were none signed up this time around. The person who performed the most that day was actually Lord Junior for once. In the last few showcases I’ve been to that he’s hosted at his studio, usually there are other instructors signed up for a ton of dances. This time it was his students who had filled most of the slots. Good job Lord Junior!

You know who I did unexpectedly see performing again that day? Pompadour guy. Yeah, he showed up again, still giving off his strangely creepy vibe. I’m going to call him Sir Zippy just to make things easier. Actually, I got to see him earlier in the day before the show too. When I met up with Sparkledancer for practice, we had been dancing for about twenty minutes when Indiana showed up at the studio randomly. That was unexpected in and of itself, but then Sir Zippy also showed up! The two of them were going to be performing together at the showcase, doing the same number that they had danced during the last showcase when I first say Sir Zippy, so they were meeting up to get in a little practice before the event.

I did try to talk to Sir Zippy a bit that morning, to try and see if the creepy vibe coming off of him was all in my head or if he was actually a creep. However, I discovered that English is not his first language, so our conversation was… almost nonexistent. That didn’t help change my impression of the guy. Indiana had nothing but nice things to say about him, which kind-of helped… aside from the “funny” story she told me about how she was riding around in his car with him and the brakes apparently decided to quit working properly. He started to drive a bit erratically, but didn’t tell her anything was wrong until they got to their destination safely. Obviously they both managed to get out of that situation unharmed, which was great, but I just couldn’t see any humor in that. Maybe she needs to try telling me the story again with more animal puns? That might make it funny.

Other than Indiana and Sir Zippy performing together, there were a couple of other notable acts to mention. Indiana had brought her group of kids with her, and they performed one of the numbers that I saw them perform last month. I got to watch from a different angle this time, so that was fun. The Professor showed off a dance number with a bunch of ladies from his dance fitness class. I think the performance was intended to promote his class, and wasn’t put together specifically for the showcase. That guess is just based on all the repetitions of the same movements that they did during the song, which is something I would expect from a fitness class’ choreography, not a showcase performance choreography.

There were a couple of numbers that Lord Fabulous did with a few of his students. These were notable for a very different reason – which I noticed while he was dancing, and it was pointed out to me by another person watching the performance, AND was also pointed out to me by someone else before the class I went to Monday night. That’s how you know what he did was notable.

So what was it? Well, Lord Fabulous was being really, really, really forceful while leading those ladies through the performances. Like, to the point of being almost uncomfortable to watch. One of his students that he did a couple of dances with during the show was a much older woman who looked to be all skin and bones, and he was just shoving or pulling her roughly through every turn and rotation. There were a few points where it looked like he had used so much force that it caused her to over-rotate, and then she would get this confused look on her face as she tried to figure out on-the-spot how to recover properly.

I’m not sure if he was dancing like that at the show because of the adrenaline of performance or what. Sparkledancer has told me in the past that Lord Fabulous has an extremely forceful lead even during casual social dances, so maybe this was just the first time I really paid attention to how he dances from the outside. Crazy.

After all that, Monday night I got back to a bit of normalcy and headed out to Latin Technique class for the night. There were a couple of new faces that joined us in class – both of them were members of Lady Lovelylocks’ ‘Sexy Lady Formation Team Dance Club’ group that had performed at the showcase. They wanted to continue to improve at being Latin dancers, so they are going to start coming to Latin Technique to help out with that. Hooray!

One of them had asked Lord Junior if he could go over some basic Samba in class that night to get them started, and since he is such a nice guy he agreed. It was a little repetitive for me since we had just gone through Samba last week, but since Samba is one of those styles that I freely admit that I am not at all good at, I didn’t offer up any resistance to the idea. As it turned out, we didn’t do any partner work that day anyway, so I was able to work on trying to control my poor white boy hips in the back of the room all by myself without worrying about offending anyone else.

Interestingly enough, for a warm-up Lord Junior had everyone work on isolation exercises. They were just simple movements, like leaving your feet and shoulders still while moving your hips back and forth, or leaving your lower body still while moving your shoulders back and forth – all the ones he had us look at that night were core related, leaving the legs and arms out of the equation. He made a few remarks about how important these sorts of exercises were for dancing and improving flexibility, and how he really should make us all do more of them, but since they aren’t all that exciting he told us we should find a way to do them on our own time. I didn’t think that the exercises were all that challenging, but then again I do a lot of core exercises on my own time already. After all, that six-pack doesn’t maintain itself!

Once we finished up with that, Lord Junior moved us on to look at Whisks. For the new girls in class, he mentioned the basic forward-and-backward actions that is the actual Samba basic, but said that you rarely (if ever) see anyone doing those once you move beyond the basics since they are super boring. He likes to have his students think of the Whisk as the basic action instead, because it’s more fun. After the Whisk, he moved on to show the ladies the Botafogo, since in the Samba line dance that is popular in my neck of the woods that is the next figure that you see. Finally we looked at the Volta action, which is what we spent all kinds of time on in last week’s class. As class was winding down, we combined all three figures to run through everything slowly a few times with slowed down music.

Whew! I’m got tired all over again just typing all of these stories out. We’ll just call it good there for this week. I’ve already written much more than the self-imposed word limit I try to hold myself to (I fail at it a lot…). Until next time friends – keep on dancing!