You Aren’t Comprehending The Position That You’re In

Let’s have a taste of normality this week, shall we? Just to mix things up a bit from what I have been writing about lately…

This past Friday night I ended up out at a dance party at the Electric Dance Hall. These dance parties are an amusing escape for me from all the training for competitions that I have been doing lately, which I will freely admit can get to be tedious sometimes. On top of that, this is one of the few events that I go to that is purely for socialization. Because the Electric Dance Hall is the closest studio to where I live, I spend the most time here, so I might even claim to be friends with everyone I see there. Don’t tell them that though. If they knew I considered them friends, it would ruin my cool-and-mysterious guy image.

I try to only bring up pure social dances in my notes if something actually noteworthy happens at the dance… so you know that something happened here. Unfortunately, this tale is less informative or funny, and more scary. Good thing it’s already October, and Halloween is right around the corner, right? This is a cautionary tale for any guys who read this…

We’re all dancing along that night, with the party going well. Lord Junior is outside the front door, talking with one of the attendees about some new lights he is hoping to install along the front of the building soon (he’ll talk with anyone who will listen about all the cool things he wants to do with the studio). I notice a new guy come in through the back door, someone that I had never seen before. This doesn’t flag as strange to me at first, because I don’t usually dance with the guys so I’m just less likely to recognize men than women.

After the first few dances though, this guy really catches my attention – and not in a good way. Like a lot of older gentlemen, he went straight for the youngest and most attractive women attending the party that night to dance with first, and then while dancing he decides to start throwing in lifts – randomly picking these girls up off the floor and swinging them around haphazardly so that their legs and arms are flailing about through the air. What?!?

Now it would be one thing if he limited this activity to Swing dances or Latin dances, since he would be mostly confined to one place, but he did this in Ballroom dances too. The worst part was that he also wasn’t staying on time with the music, so he was moving a lot faster than the others on the floor. That meant that eventually he’d catch up with the other dancers who were trying to keep away from him so that they didn’t get struck with a random flailing limb!

One young lady, a girl named Curves who happens to be a personal trainer, was his primary choice for dance partner that night. I don’t think he was actually interested in her because he wanted advice on how to get into shape… anyway, I stopped to talk to her after one of these wild and crazy dances, and she grinned sheepishly at me and just shrugged. Curves told me that the guy seemed relatively harmless, and she’s had men get more handsy with her at work. Him picking her up during a dance was better than him trying to pick her up for a date, in her opinion. The exact quote she gave me was “It’s like riding a new roller coaster every time he asks me to dance. I never know what to expect.”

Sparkledancer was also there that night, and she did not fare as well as Curves did. The first time this guy asked her to dance, at the end he tried to roll her into a dip that she was not expecting. That move did not go gracefully, wrenching her back in a really painful manner, and she ended up having to sit out for a few dances because of that. Once she was feeling better and managed to get back on the dance floor, in between songs she would often run over to wherever I was to hide behind me from that guy, because she did not want him to ask her for a repeat performance.

So gentlemen, there’s a warning in here for you: I know you think that it’s cool to do lifts and dips in dances, and you think that all the hot ladies will be super impressed by how manly and strong you are, but just say no! Lifts are not an appropriate dance step during a non-choreographed dance where there are other people on the floor who don’t know to stay clear of you! And they are really not safe to do if the lady isn’t prepared for the move! If she doesn’t trust you enough to know that you will get her in and out of the move, something could go horribly wrong. Injuring your dance partner (or someone else’s competition partner) is not cool!

Doing lifts in a dance is a lot like lifting weights while working out, so remember the three major rules: Safety is always rule number one. Keeping your form is rule number two. And finally, having fun is rule number three. Never forget!

…it’s really convenient that I got to talk about what this gentleman did, because it is a really good setup for my next vignette…

Saturday afternoon I got together with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal coaching session. We started off talking about the competition we did last weekend, getting some overall feedback from Sir Steven on what he thought, and letting him know the things that we felt based on the score breakdown that Sparkledancer and I had seen.

The scores from each of the judges definitely showed exactly what we knew going into the competition – that Tango was our weakest style followed by Quickstep, and Foxtrot being our strongest. Since Sparkledancer and I had already made plans with Lord Dormamu to begin looking at Tango next once he felt good about our Foxtrot, Sir Steven didn’t want to worry about that too much for the time being.

Instead, he wanted to start worrying about the showcase that Sparkledancer and I had agreed to do in December. Oh yeah! I totally agreed to do a showcase in December, in case you didn’t know. I put down money on it and everything, so I am committed to that performance unless something crazy comes up that requires me to pull out between now and then.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Fancy Dance Hall has a different philosophy for showcases than most dance studios.They put these events together based around a central theme, with all the dance numbers and songs built around the advertised idea. When I originally started talking to Sir Steven about some thoughts for a showcase number, my idea was just something that I thought would be fun, but wasn’t even related to the theme of the show.

Because I was told that my original idea could work, but would need some modification, I’ve been reworking my original idea with Sparkledancer to change it into something that can fit the theme, and will be a stretch for us both to perform, forcing us to practice some aspects of dance we don’t normally work on. We had one song that we were going to use based on the original idea for the show, but with all the changes that we wanted to make we found a song that would work out much better. The problem is that we haven’t been able to meet with the Fancy Dance Hall’s Artistic Director yet to discuss our new song and our performance ideas with her, so that part is up in the air at the moment.

However, one thing that is not up for discussion that I wanted to make sure we had in our choreography no matter what we do would be some lifts (gasp!). I really feel like the audience enjoys seeing dancers perform lifts the most in any showcase performance, so I want to try and have some for the audience’s sake. Also, since I do so much weightlifting and Sparkledancer is so tiny, we can perform them pretty easily.

Plus, Sparkledancer and I have danced together for years, and are good friends at this point, so she trusts me not to drop her. That really helps too.

Lucky for me, Sir Steven was on board with my desire, and he wanted to start having me work on what would be the major lift in the choreography. The lift he was laying out for us would work no matter the song that we ended up using, the only difference would be how fast each section of the lift would move. One song is a much faster tempo than the other, so the lift would either be slow and dramatic looking with the one song, or explosive and fun looking if we used the other.

So that’s what we spent the whole hour working on. Sir Steven broke the entire thing down into three smaller sections for me so that I could get an idea of what’s going on. Sparkledancer and I will probably make some minor modifications to pieces so that she feels comfortable and supported the whole time, but if we can put it all together I think it will look pretty awesome. I’m super excited about this!

One funny note – at the end of our session that day, Sir Steven commented to me how he was really surprised that I wasn’t all sweaty. Normally during our coaching sessions when we are working on our competition routines, I get to be a gross sweaty mess, and he tends to make fun of me for that. I told him that today I wasn’t really working all that hard. Sure, we did a lot of practice with me picking Sparkledancer up to go over the pieces of this lift, but she’s not really all that heavy. Normally when I work out, I use much heavier weights and focus on one muscle group, but here I was lifting a fairly light weight, and doing it synergistically, so it wasn’t all that difficult for me. He just shook his head at that…

Monday night, like usual, I was out at Latin Technique class. I enjoy Latin Technique class because it tends to be amusing, but the last couple of months of class Lord Junior has picked on me less because of things that I do wrong. I know part of that has to do with the fact that I don’t actually compete in Latin dances like other students in class, so he tends to focus his attention on those students instead, but there are also a lot of nights where I end up being the only other male in class. I wonder if that makes him worry less about me, since I end up practicing the figures a lot more as I rotate through all the ladies.

We had a new lady join class this week, who was recommended by her instructor from a different studio (I know! That surprised me too!). We normally do Rumba when new students that Lord Junior doesn’t know show up; the slower dance allows him some time to evaluate their skill level and see how difficult he can make the choreography that night. To warm up, and get the new lady used to straightening her legs just before transferring her weight, we did a couple of sets of Rumba Walks with Spiral Turns down the length of the floor. Our new friend had never done a Spiral Turn before, so while the rest of us did the progression on our own, Lord Junior walked down the floor with her to help out.

The choreography we worked through was fairly basic that night, especially for Leaders, since all we did was shift side-to-side a lot, and take a couple of steps near the end. The one figure that Lord Junior specifically wanted to have the ladies work on was a Closed Hip Twist, so he spent a lot of time working with the ladies on making that look good.

We started by standing facing one another, guys on their left leg and ladies on the right, holding on with just the matching hand, and as we began we led the ladies through an Alemana, finishing with them on our right side. As we put our right hand around on the ladies shoulder, we turned them into an Opening Out action, doing a side break to the left in the process, and then closed them into the Closed Hip Twist so that their Press Line was pointed right toward us.

Next we rotated them 90° clockwise, allowing them to walk along in front of us for two steps before turning them 180° to lead them into Fan Position. Closing from there, we went into a Hockey Stick, adding in a full Spiral Turn in the last stretch instead of the normal half-turn so that they ended up facing away from us for the last step at the end of the line. For the last measure, we both checked forward, and the guys gently rotated the lady’s arm to turn her around to face us before taking two steps backward with the lady walking forward along with us. Nothing too complicated – I’m pretty sure everything but the Spiral Turns we did that night were from the Bronze syllabus, but I’m too tired to look that up right now to verify.

The last thing that I did this week was to head out for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior wanted to have us work on Foxtrot that night. In particular, there was a group of figures that he had just added into Veep’s Foxtrot competition routine that he wanted to have all of us look at – especially Veep, since going over things in class would mean that he wouldn’t need to spend as much time on the figures in her next lesson. That’s really convenient for her, huh.

All of the individual figures of this choreography I had seen before, so it wasn’t too hard for me to put them together in the given order. Starting with a prep step we went into a normal Feather, then added on a Bounce Fallaway. Rather than go into the Weave ending like you see in the book, Lord Junior had us do a Tumble Turn with a Feather Finish. That set us up facing diagonal wall where we added on a Reverse Wave, and finished everything with an Open Impetus.

The most challenging part of the whole routine that night seemed to be the Bounce Fallaway. Lord Junior was telling the ladies that, by the book, their head should stay to the left the whole time, even when we went into Fallaway position. This really threw off a lot of the ladies I danced with, and rather than take the first few steps in Fallaway position they would oftentimes try to close to normal dance frame with me. I ended up having to keep my left arm really rigid a number of times to really let them know that they needed to stay in the right place while we were dancing.

By the end of class when we were just running through the choreography repeatedly so that everyone could practice, I ended up having to alter the angles I was using on the Reverse Wave. Lord Junior and I were starting at the same time on one end of the floor, and he kept stopping behind me while I was trying to do the Reverse Wave, so I kept having to cut the figure at the last second and I would go into a Closed Impetus to keep my partner close and safe. I ended up changing things so that my Reverse Wave would head down the line of dance rather than toward diagonal wall, because then I had all kinds of room to travel without worrying about anyone behind me.

Hooray for normal weeks, right? Don’t get too used to this. I made other crazy plans for this weekend, so it will be anything but normal for me. I’m heading out to the Grand Dance Hall this weekend once again. Every year they have a whole weekend that they set aside to hold a couple of formal dance parties on Friday and Saturday night, along with some entertaining workshops during the day on Saturday. That’s where I’ll be this weekend! I’m hoping I’ll still be able to find some time for normal dance practice as well in the middle of all that. Will I be able to handle so much dancing in one weekend? We’ll have to see what happens!

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When We’re Dancing, The Night Begins To Shine

Forgive me for a bit of rambling this week. There are so many things jumbled around in my brain that I just need to get out so that I can sort through them. Bear with me on this…

Last Saturday I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to continue working on Tango. There’s not a lot I need to remember from the actual lesson – the more interesting discussion came after we finished dancing. The one thing that I jotted down as a note is something Sir Steven wanted me to start doing during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. I was told that, in order to make the figure look more dramatic, I need to rotate my body just enough to keep Sparkledancer on the outside for the first two steps, but to make sure that I am not rotating my body as much as I possibly can.If I do that correctly, I can dramatically snap my body the rest of the way when I take the third step, making the figure look really sharp.

The big thing to watch out for when I do this (as I found out that day) is that I have to rotate my body quickly to make it look dramatic, but not too quickly. I weigh a lot more than Sparkledancer, and if she’s in close body contact with me as I rotate my body with any amount of force, I can end up just flinging her body around. While it’s kind of funny to me when that happens, I can’t really say that anyone else finds it super funny. So the trick is to rotate quickly, but to do it lightly. Reminds me of Lord Dormamu’s comments from last week, about moving with power, but softly – like a gentleman. I told you that was a quote to remember!

As we were finishing up getting all the signatures in order for our lesson, the topic of upcoming showcases came up. From what I gathered recently, the Electric Dance Hall was planning on holding their fall showcase sometime around mid-October, and the Fancy Dance Hall is planning their winter showcase for mid-December. A couple of people on the Fancy Dance Hall staff have now mentioned to either Sparkledancer or I that the two of us should put together an act for their showcase. In hearing that, I automatically thought that if I was going to do it, I should have an act that could be performed at both showcases, like my last showcase number.

But… when the showcase came up this past weekend, I found out that the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is putting on will be like their recent summer showcase. That means that, rather than just being a collection of student performances for friends and family members to come watch, this ‘showcase’ will be more like a musical. There will be a story to follow, and all dance numbers need to fit the story, and the whole night will be arranged in a specific order that follows a plot. Rehearsals will involve not only making sure that performers can dance through their routines successfully, but also to choreograph transitions between performances so that everything runs together smoothly.

Also, it will involve having to do some acting, since the dances will be ‘performed’ by characters from the story. There won’t be speaking parts, but there are definitely characters that need to be embodied and presented so that the crowd can tell who you are.

So… that’s daunting. The story that they are planning on doing for the showcase is Christmas themed, as you can guess. It’s a pretty well-known story, so I was able to go back through the notes on the plot and think of ideas. I had one that I thought was pretty good, that could be rather dramatic and elegant and even, dare I believe, funny, but I’m not entirely sure how Sir Steven felt about my idea. It would be a ballroom style dance showcase. That’s a big leap of faith for me to take. I’ve always thought that ballroom showcases got to be kind of boring from an audience’s perspective – they tend to be slow and really limit the amount of exciting things that you can put in.

That’s why I also told Sir Steven that if we were going to do this, somehow we would have to put lifts into the routine. I think that audiences really enjoy seeing dancers do lifts while dancing, and I spend too much time on strength training to not do any. Plus, Sparkledancer is pretty tiny, so it hasn’t been much of a workout to pick her up during all of the other showcase numbers we’ve performed together. Sir Steven told me that he would look into some ideas for ballroom lifts and get back to me.

I’m sure I will have more to say about this in the near future. After all, we are less than two months from the possible performance at the Electric Dance Hall’s showcase, and less than four months from the Fancy Dance Hall’s performance date. If we’re going to be in the show(s), we’ve got to start working on things soon!

Last Saturday was also the night for the monthly dance party that is put together by the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. Yay! Someone had wanted to do a vaguely Summer-themed dance party that night, and we brought someone in to teach a Bachata lesson prior to the dance. While I’m sure that something like Salsa would have been slightly more Summery than Bachata, the guests to the dance seemed to enjoy the Bachata, so everything worked out great.

I will confess to not being all that well versed in Bachata. Afflicted with long legs and white-boy hips, I don’t think I’m all that good at any Latin dances, especially those of the Club Latin variety. That said, what the instructor covered that night was fairly basic, and with all the years of training I’ve had in making sure I have a connection with my dance partner, I could get a lady through the figures with ease. I had more than one lady tell me that I was the only guy besides the instructor that they managed to get through the steps with successfully. I even had one lady tell me that I must dance Bachata all the time with how easy it was for her to dance with me. When I told her that I really never dance Bachata, she looked right into my eyes and said “Well, then you must be a natural.” Huh.

Because only a handful of people in the class that night confessed to being good at Bachata, the instructor started things off just covering the basics. There was the side-to-side basic figure, and then the forward-and-back basic figure, and then Spot Turns for the ladies during the side-to-side basic. When the instructor felt like everyone had those basic figures down, he gave everyone a pattern of figures that they could do that got progressively more advanced as it went on, until he ran out of time in the class..

The pattern started out with a normal side-to-side basic. Then we did the same basic figure with the ladies Spot Turns added. Once we finished that, we took a wide two hand hold and the men led the ladies to travel forward on a diagonal path while he traveled backward, taking four steps diagonally back from right to left, then rotating the lady to do another four steps from left to right. We did four of these traveling diagonals so that when we finished we were on the right side once more with the left foot free. Then he had us do some leg flicks, pointing the leg to the side for beat one, flicking it up behind our other leg on beat two, taking a step to the side on beat three, and finally slowly sliding the other foot in over beat four. We did four of these as well, to keep the musical phrasing.

As we neared the end of class, he showed the ladies how to do Swivels, These were exactly the same as what you have probably seen in International Rumba, where the lady is in front of the man stepping and turning from side to side. This was a challenging step for many of the ladies I danced with. At first the instructor wanted the ladies doing one Swivel for each beat of music, but after a few minutes of practice when he saw that many were struggling to keep that pace he backed down and said that if they wanted they could do one Swivel for every two beats of the music. A lot of the ladies I danced with still wanted to believe they could do the fast ones, so I would let them try, and then if they struggled I would stop and get them to try it again slowly to be successful.

By the time the class had finished, more guests had shown up for the party to participate in the open dance. The ratio of men to women was pretty even that night, so I wasn’t really needed for dancing. That was probably for the best too, since I had to leave early to take care of some stuff for work. Also, the DJ made sure to play a fair number of Bachata songs, and I probably would have had to fake my way through those if someone had asked me to dance during one…

Keeping things on the slower side this week, we ended up looking at Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday night. On an interesting note, a lady whom I have met several times before ended up joining us that evening. We’ll call her the Gatekeeper, and she’s an… interesting case. For a long time, I used to think that she was reluctant to learn anyone about dancing from anyone other than Lord Fabulous, but apparently the two of them had some kind of falling out recently. Since then, I’ve seen her at the Fancy Dance Hall taking a lesson with Sir Steven, and now she showed up to take Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class. I’m not sure if this will become a regular occurrence, or if she and Lord Fabulous will reconcile their differences shortly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As we usually do when new people who Lord Junior doesn’t know very well join us for class, the figures we looked at that night weren’t super intense. If Gatekeeper sticks around for a few weeks, I’m sure that will start to change, but for the first night there she could get through the figures pretty easily. Starting in Fan Position, we took the ladies into an Alemana, with the guy shifting to the left slightly so that the lady ends her last turning walk on the Lead’s right side. Collecting her with our right arm, we turned her in a Natural Opening Out action that we over-rotated as we closed so that it melded right into a Reverse Top. We went around for three measures, releasing the lady in the middle of the last measure so that she would end up back out in Fan Position. Just as class was ending, Lord Junior was having us move from that Fan Position into a Hockey Stick, but we didn’t get any farther that night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday was pretty fun, in my opinion. The class was rather small compared to the number of people who usually show up. I think that with so many schools starting up again this month, many of the normal attendees are either getting ready to go back themselves or getting everything ready for their kids to go back. At least, that’s my theory – I could be wrong.

We looked at Waltz this time around. There were a couple of figures that we looked at that I don’t remember ever seeing before, which is always exciting to me. First off, when we started class, Lord Junior asked all of us if any of us had ever seen a Left Whisk. When everyone said no, he decided that we would definitely be using that figure during class. As you can probably guess, a Left Whisk is basically the same as the basic Whisk, only you are crossing the opposite foot behind. While the normal Whisk is a figure you learn in early Bronze International Waltz, a Left Whisk is a Gold-level figure for some reason.

Our pattern that night was rather short, and it doesn’t travel all that far because of the spin and lunge that we do after the Left Whisk. We started out with a normal Natural Spin Turn and then transitioned into the Left Whisk. With my right foot crossed behind my left, our next figure was to unwind with a Standing Spin while the lady walked around me. This Standing Spin felt a lot like a Natural Twist Turn from Tango. Once the lady got all the way around us, we rotated her body so that she was perpendicular to ours and then did a Same Foot Lunge, with the man lunging to the right and the lady stepping backward on her right leg and leaning backward in an Oversway-like line. If you were in the right position, you would almost have the lady sitting down on your right thigh when she was leaning back.

To come out of the Same Foot Lunge, the guys would stand the lady back up and pivot her around without moving yet (that’s how she gets back to being on the opposite foot from us). Once she was pivoted back into normal dance position, the guys could collect and do an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position heading toward diagonal wall. Lord Junior was going to add on something else at the end to give us a better closing than ending right in the middle of an Open Telemark, but we had spent a lot of time working on the Standing Spin and Same Foot Lunge that night, so we had to leave it there so that we could get in several practice rounds before class ended.

Remember how last week I mentioned feeling like my schedule was overwhelming without actually having anything out of the ordinary on it? I guess feeling that way wasn’t good enough for me, so I somehow got talked into adding more things to my schedule. There’s the showcase that I mentioned earlier that I’m fairly certain I will start working on. Just before that, I had already agreed to compete at the end of September, so not only do I have to find time to learn and practice a showcase routine, but I still have to continue working on my competition routines at the same time!

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I had volunteered myself to be part of this committee that will be making dance-related decisions on a national level. Well going along with that, my local Royal Dance Court group will have our quarterly meeting next week to talk about what we have planned for the rest of this year, and to start discussing the dance parties and events we want to host next year. There is this debate going on about themes for our dance parties – a few of the members of the Royal Dance Court really like planning themes for these parties, with decorations and a playlist of music that matches the theme. Others (like me) don’t see many of the dance attendees dressing up for the themes, or mentioning anything about the decorations, so we feel like having a theme every month is overkill without participation. That should be a fun discussion…

On top of that, my Royal Dance Court group was asked to send representatives for an upcoming regional conference, where a bunch of different dance groups in our region are coming together to discuss our successes and challenges in getting people into ballroom dancing in our respective areas. As you can probably guess, I was asked by Prez if I would tag along with her to that regional meeting. I’m pretty sure that she asked Sparkledancer if she wanted to go as well, and that the ladies will be getting a hotel room together to reduce costs and whatnot. Being the only guy, I have to find my own accommodations. There was talk of reimbursements if I saved my receipts, but I hate doing expense reports, and I make stupid money compared to my living expenses, so I can just eat the cost.

Anyway… why did I agree to go to this meeting? For starters, there are rumors that some of the people in charge of the national organization that I had signed up to be on that committee for might have a representative there to talk with all of these regional clubs, so I figured getting in some face time is a good idea. Also, I’m fairly certain that Prez asked Sparkledancer and I if we wanted to go because she wants our Royal Dance Court to stand out because of our respective youth. There is supposed to be a dance party that night after all of the meetings in the afternoon, and if Prez shows up with the two of us who also happen to compete together, and she can get us to dance in front of everyone else at the party… I’m sure that will score her some bonus points, and I’m willing to do that for her.

I could be wrong about that, but with what I’ve learned about Prez over the years, she likes to have power and status over people, and I wouldn’t put it past her to use me to that end. But knowing how dance politics works, helping her earn status points can also help me out too. If I can get to know the leadership of all these dance clubs in my region, maybe I will be able to present my ideas about how I think things should be done to them, and have some small influence on the way the clubs are run. On top of that, if I want to use my committee position to help solve big problems at the national level, I want these people to know who I am, and trust me enough to tell me about issues they come across. After all, if no one tells you about an issue, how can you help solve the problem?

So now my calendar is actually getting full. What is it about me that seems to be drawn to do all of these things, even knowing that I would much rather just have a quiet weekend curled up in bed with my cat, doing nothing but staring out the window? I must be crazy.

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?