Life’s True Intent Needs Patience

Oh man, so many things! Do you have weeks like that, where there is too much packed into a measly seven days, and you have trouble trying to keep track of all the important things that you saw and did? That has been happening to me a lot more in the last year or so. I’ve been starting to wonder over the last couple of weeks whether I’m getting a little burnt out with everything or not. Have I considered stopping yet? Well, maybe a little. But I don’t want to avoid doing things that could be fun and then regret it later, so I keep going.

I’ll try and keep this brief, with just the highlights that are worth remembering. What to talk about first? Well, last Friday night I met up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu so that we could go over everything before the competition that I was in this past weekend. It was a good review, and I was sad that the lesson had to end early because another group class had started up that ended up attracting so many people that they used almost the entire floor. So we set up a time to get together again in a few days after the competition to review the results and continue going over points that needed work. I won’t go into much more detail about this lesson so that I can move on to talk about more interesting notes.

Obviously the most important thing that I did this weekend was going to that competition. Well… I guess ‘important’ is relative – I ended up dancing unopposed, so while it is always a good thing to have experience getting on the floor in front of the judges, the results that I got back from the event are only mildly meaningful. I personally don’t like dancing unopposed. I like it even less when they put you on the floor all by yourself if you are unopposed. Lucky for me, at this competition they put some older age group on the floor with us at the same time, so at least I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb.

So why did I even go to this competition? Well, Sparkledancer and I were told that sometimes the important part of going to a competition is participating in the political game. We were sent to this event specifically to put in some face time with the competition organizers. Both of the organizers of this competition are also sanctioned adjudicators, so the idea is that if we support them by going to their competitions and make a point of talking to them, then if they see us dancing at a competition they are judging then they will have a better initial impression of us before they even see our legs start moving. Dance politics is not exactly a field that I want to participate in, but Lord Dormamu really recommended that we do this, so I just went along with it.

After arriving at the venue and tracking down Sparkledancer, the two of us didn’t have to do much searching to find the organizers. They were right near the registration desk, so we got to sign in and pick up our packets for the competition and also say hello to the organizers all in one trip. I love convenience! I made a point to tell them that Lord Dormamu said hello, because he told me to and also because then the organizers would know that we were there representing him at the event. They were nice enough people to talk to, and were really excited to mention that they were working on putting together a new competition next year, one that is at a place even farther away from my home than this one was. I guess that means I have to look into going to that event next year as well, right? Sigh…

Since I got to the event early Saturday afternoon and the rounds that Sparkledancer and I were in weren’t until first thing on Sunday morning, once we got done talking to the competition organizers we had some time to kill, so she and I decided to go looking around for a late lunch. The food they were offering at the venue was really expensive, so I pulled out my handy-dandy phone to look for something cheaper within walking distance. We found a sandwich shop that was only a half-mile away, so we agreed to go out for a walk to get sandwiches.

Now, this competition was in a part of the Dance Kingdom that I had never been to before. Based on the information I can find, supposedly I was in a pretty big city, but man… there was no one around. During the fifteen minute walk I took to get to the sandwich shop, I didn’t see any other people walking around, and there were almost no cars on any of the roads within my viewing radius. I saw sparrows eating food out of the middle of the road I was walking along – that’s how few cars were going down that street. It was a bizarre experience for a Saturday afternoon, nothing like what I would see walking around in the big city where I am from. Where were all the people on that Saturday?

Then, much to my surprise, this sandwich shop that we walked to was actually in a public dining area in a children’s hospital, so that was kind of a depressing meal to eat, as I’m sure you could imagine. Unfortunately, once we discovered this, we tried to find another place to get food, but the next closest place was another half mile from the competition venue in the complete opposite direction (so a mile from where we were standing at that moment). I don’t have any kids, so I think that this was the longest amount of time I’d ever spent in a children’s hospital in my life. I tried watching the people walk around while I was eating for a little while, but that just made me sad, especially when they were wheeling the patients around in the hall nearby. When I gave up on that, I spent the rest of lunch eating and talking with Sparkledancer while looking down at the table. The sandwich was good though, and I even picked up another one to take back with me so I could eat it for dinner that evening.

I went down to the dance floor in the evening on Saturday to watch some of the high-level competitors dance in their rounds. I managed to get there before the session started so I could claim myself a seat, and I saw Sparkledancer off on the side talking with a couple of people, so I headed over to say hello. The people that she was talking to were a couple of youth competitors that we see around all the time when they take lessons from various coaches. They are both teenagers now, but they have been dancing for many, many years, so they make me look terrible by comparison. The mother of one of the teens was there too. She’s a nice lady when she talks to me, but she is incredibly hard on her child. I get that she just wants her child to do really well, but sometimes I wonder if the mother is more into the dancing and competing than the child actually is.

Anyway, I was talking with all of these people for a while up until the two teens had to go out onto the floor to try to warm up before their rounds. I stayed in that spot once they left, just chatting with Sparkledancer about the people who were out on the dance floor. After a minute or so, a woman who was sitting behind me leaned forward and asked me if one of those two teens was my child. That… really made me feel old. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t old enough to have a kid that age, but then I did some math and I realized that it was entirely possible that I could have if I had actually had a kid in my late teens. Boy, I should pay more attention to how old I’m getting…

The high-level rounds were interesting to watch for a couple of reasons. For one, the two kids I knew did super well against their challengers, so it was nice to be there to see that. But the thing that stuck with me the most was actually what I noticed while watching the older senior-age competitors dancing. These were all competitors who would have been ten to twenty (or more) years older than me, and I managed to stick around for the rounds in both American Rhythm and International Standard. Watching them dance was rather enlightening, I must say.

It struck me right away during the American Rhythm rounds I saw first. Looking from couple to couple, they all looked… almost robotic. Obviously these couples were the best-of-the-best, dancing at the top of the proficiency ladders, and I’m sure they train and practice at least as much as I do (probably more). But I was watching them, and I couldn’t see any connection between the person dancing and the movements they were doing, if that makes sense.

It looked like their bodies were just moving because these were the routines that they had practiced for so long, over and over again. The movements were as big as the body could make it while maintaining control, the smile, if it was there, was plastered on the face but not touching the eyes, the eyes were looking off toward the crowd but focused on nothing… it just seemed so ‘off’ to me as I was watching. It was actually distracting me away from watching the technical aspects of their dancing. Instead, I found myself drawn to watching a guy who was standing off to the side of the dance floor across the room from me.

I found out later that the guy I was more interested in watching was a dance instructor who was there to compete in some of the Pro/Am events with his students. During these high-level rounds that evening, he was standing off to the side, just wiggling and grooving along with the music that was playing. At one point during the East Coast Swing number, I swear I saw him humping the air with a silly look on his face. That guy didn’t look robotic at all while he danced, and it was quite obvious that he was mentally connected to what he was doing, and he was quite clearly having fun while doing it. That helped me to realize what looked so ‘off’ about the competitors on the floor – none of them looked like they were having any fun!

Once I figured out what looked wrong about it, I started to ask myself if I looked like that when I danced through any of my routines, and I got worried. I don’t think that I would be fun to watch, either for a judge or for someone in an audience, if I was just going through the motions. I want to be connected to what I am doing, to actually enjoy it, and to be able to do it in such a way that people can get that feeling from me when they watch what I am doing. If I stop enjoying what I am doing, if it no longer is fun and I am just going through the motions because that’s what’s expected of me, then what’s the point? In essence, I do not want to be a robot.

…although, being a cyborg could be cool. I would want to have a cool fake arm that has super strength, and would also have a device that could pop out of the forearm and launch freshly baked cookies at people. You know, the kind that are only like half-baked, so they are super soft and gooey in the middle? I would be super popular at parties if my arm could do that. 😉

Anyway… that was my interesting observation from Saturday night. Sunday morning I actually got to dance. The schedule that they set up for Sunday was a bit weird to me. They had heats for Amateurs in International Standard, but mixed into those were heats for Pro/Am International Latin for some reason. I’m not sure why they built the schedule that way. That’s the first time I’ve ever been to a competition with a schedule like that.

My heats went fine, for the most part. The dance floor at the venue was tiny compared to other competitions I’ve been to, so I had to pull my steps a lot to avoid running off the floor. That caused Sparkledancer and I to bump legs a few times unexpectedly during the first few events. I think I’m going to have to figure out a way to start practicing how to dance on small floors, because this seems to happen from time to time. When I am used to dancing on a floor the size of the Endless Dance Hall, it is hard to adjust to dancing on something that isn’t even half that big. By teaching me how to move so much when I dance, Lord Dormamu has inadvertently made my life difficult at times.

During the first dance of our first event, one of the other ladies on the dance floor lost part of her hair! I’m not sure how, but she had some kind of fake hair piece that was attached to her head fall off on the far side of the floor, in the middle of the line of dance. I saw it when I got close and thought it was funny, so I mentioned it to Sparkledancer. Dancing around it wasn’t an issue for me, but other competitors kept looking at it a bit nervously. When the music kept going with no end in sight, finally one of the judges ran down to the end of the floor to pick it up and move it to a table that was off to the side for safety. That was a pretty amusing moment.

One other interesting thing from the competition came from the Pro/Am International Latin rounds that also took place that morning. One of the students in particular stood out over all the others. There was a much, much older lady – she looked older than my grandmother at first glance – who was dancing Latin. She wasn’t just dancing the three-dance rounds, not even the four-dancerounds… no, this lady went for it all, doing the five-dance Latin events. It was amazing to hear the crowd respond while watching her do Jive and Pasodoble like a champion.

After my events were over, Sparkledancer and I were standing off to the side and watching the other rounds while waiting for the awards presentation to begin. This lady happened to come by, so we ended up getting to talk to her for a few minutes. As it turned out, she really was older than my grandmother! She confessed to the two of us that she was almost ninety years old already! And get this – she hadn’t even started to dance until she was eighty – incredible!

Apparently she really only dances Latin as well. She knows other styles that she will dance socially with people, she told us, but when she decided to compete, she really liked the strict rules and techniques that Latin has in it. The way her instructor showed her the American Rhythm styles didn’t offer her that kind of challenge, so she decided against it, even though most people in the area she lives dance only American styles.

Talking to her was super cool. It makes me think that when I get a little older like her, maybe I can still be dancing. You know, because I’m so old, based on that lady asking me if I had a teenage child…

Tuesday night I ended up back out at the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu to work on things. That night we ended up focusing solely on Tango. There were a few important notes that I wrote down afterward that I will have to start adding in when I practice. Probably the craziest thing that came up that night is that somehow, even though I have only practiced Tango enough in recent weeks to keep it fresh, I seem to have suddenly become able to move enough during the figures to overrun the length of the dance floor in the Endless Dance Hall. That’s… a real problem.

I mean, sure it’s pretty impressive, and it’s a huge change over how I was moving back when I decided to go down this serious competitor track, but it’s a serious problem because no competition floors I have danced on are anywhere near as big as the floor at the Endless Dance Hall, and if I am now traveling more than the length of that huge floor, I am creating issues for myself. I mean, I had just been at a competition with a tiny floor, and having to rapidly adjust and pull my steps in short caused me to bump legs with my partner. It’s a real issue! Lord Dormamu just thinks that it is funny, and tells me not to worry about it. I am worrying about it though. Sigh… me and my strong legs.

Anyway… I was told that night to try to alter where I am holding my left arm a bit. Lord Dormamu wants me to push my forearm on my left arm farther out away from my body in order to help Sparkledancer hold her frame wider and more round on top. She will also be rotating herself slightly farther around my right side to improve the look as well. It feels a bit weird, because there were times I felt like I was literally pulling Sparkledancer to the left with my left arm (she is really light, so pulling her around is really easy for me if I’m not careful). This is probably going to be a major focus in practice this coming weekend to help me get used to the way that feels.

I was also told that when I am holding myself on one leg while my other leg is resting on the ground, that I should roll my resting foot up onto the toe instead of letting it sit on the ball of the foot. Like if I am in Promenade Position before moving for example, and my weight is all the way over my right leg and my left foot is out to the side and slightly in front of me. He thinks that having my foot up more on my toe gives me a better looking leg line for that brief moment I hold the position before moving.

One last change I need to remember: during any Twist Turn I do from this point forward, he also wants me to start doing a flick with my head as I settle onto my right leg after the twist is over. Apparently our Twist Turn was starting to look pretty good, so Lord Dormamu wanted to give me something to spice it up even more. I’m not sure how turning my head from side to side really fast makes anything spicy, but I didn’t question him. I just need to remember to start doing it.

Finally, I went to Standard Technique class last night and had a lot of fun. When I showed up, Lord Junior stopped me at the door and asked me what dance style I needed to work on the most based on the results from the competition this weekend. I told him that since I was uncontested, I didn’t really get any results, but Waltz has been the style that I have been focusing on in practice a lot lately. He told me that he would go over Waltz for me then, and put together some figures from the Silver-level syllabus to help me get more practice with them, since he assumes that Lord Dormamu will let me move up to competing in Silver in the near future. Yay! A whole class focused on practice for me!

Lately we have been starting class while on one of the short walls, which means that a lot of the choreography Lord Junior gives us lately in class ends up turning the corner somewhere in the middle. This class was no exception. We started out facing down the short wall on one end of the studio, and he had us do a Progressive Chasse to the Right going into a Back Lock, traversing the whole short wall. In the corner we did an Outside Spin that went into a Natural Turn to change walls. From there we did a Natural Spin Turn and then went into a Turning Lock, closing the whole thing up with another Natural Turn.

I know, that seems like a pretty short combination of figures compared to what we’ve done in previous weeks, but this week there were a lot of ladies in class, and many of them really struggled to make the Outside Spin work. That meant that Lord Junior had to spend a lot of extra time going over what to do and what not to do to try to help them get through the figure successfully. The biggest issue that more than one of the ladies did was failing to close their feet together as they spun, which made it difficult for either Lord Junior or I to step around them on the second step of the figure. Most everyone managed to figure out the issues by the end of class, so that was good.

This ran really long, so that’s all I’m just going to wrap things up here. There should be a lot less traveling this weekend, so that should make life a bit calmer for me. There is a dance party on Saturday night that I will be attending, plus I will probably end up hanging out in one studio or another on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons to put in some extra practice time. Being at a competition last weekend meant that I had to skip doing real practice because there wasn’t enough room for me, so I’m sure I’ll be making it up over the course of this weekend somehow. We’ll see what happens when I tell you all about it next week!

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It’s An Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life

Due to some rescheduling, my last week was surprisingly free. I managed to put in some extra time with dance practice because of that, but I didn’t really go off and see anyone for lessons. That won’t happen until tomorrow (Friday) night. Crazy, right? Then I leave on Saturday morning to go off to compete over the weekend. When I had first looked at the proposed schedule I was supposed to be dancing on Saturday afternoon, which is why I had set up my plans to head to the venue Saturday morning, but if the current schedule holds it looks like I will be dancing my rounds mid-morning on Sunday. What can you do…

So, moving my lessons to Friday night means the only real dancing I did this week was going to Latin Technique class on Monday night and Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It sounds like so little when I write it down like that, but having only a couple of things on my plate the week before a competition might have been for the best. Especially since this past week I changed up all of my workouts, so my body is a bit unhappy as it tries to acclimate. I swapped out my longer, mixed lifting arrangements meant to build muscle endurance for shorter, heavier lifting meant for building muscle mass, as well as trading out my kickboxing days so that I could go back to doing plyometrics. Good times, right? You probably don’t actually care too much, but I already wrote it so I’m not going to go back and delete it now.

Let’s go over the dancing I did get to do. Monday night was especially fun for me, because I got to do Pasodoble in Latin Technique class. I’m sure you’re all aware by now that Pasodoble is my favorite Latin dance style, so any Monday night class where we get to go over it is awesome to me. Some people who come to the class don’t seem to like Pasodoble too much, but they can just go off and get… gored by a bull? Is that the right term to use? Obviously I don’t get to spend a lot of time around bulls, so I’m only guessing here.

Because there was a different class going on at the same time Monday night at the Electric Dance Hall, Lord Junior built this bit of choreography to turn a lot of corners rather than traveling too far down the line of dance. That way we all stayed pretty far down at one end of the dance floor, giving the other class plenty of room to do their thing at the same time. If you want to try this combination of figures out for yourself, you need to start a bit far away from the wall because a figure later on in the middle of the short wall takes you several more steps toward the wall. If you don’t plan for that ahead of time, you’re liable to run yourself off the floor.

To start with, we faced down toward the back wall of the studio and did a Promenade and Counter Promenade run, but the Counter Promenade was turned to head 90° to the left so that we were heading down the short wall when finished. After that, we did a variation on the Coup de Pique where after the first step backward against line of dance, we would repeat the first half of the figure again rather than doing the series of steps backward against line of dance. If you can’t picture the figure by reading the name, the Coup de Pique has you rotating your lower body and pointing your right foot down the line of dance, then rotating back and bringing your feet together, then rotating your hips and taking a step backward against line of dance, and bringing your feet together again – and in our variation we repeated that twice. Hopefully that helps you visualize it.

When we finished the Coup de Pique variation we did a figure that is called the Left Foot Variation. It’s one of the few steps in the Pasodoble syllabus that starts with the left foot (right foot for the ladies), which is helpful when your previous figure combinations have a fake or syncopation in them and you end by closing your right foot to the left. The Left Foot Variation is the figure that I mentioned earlier that moved us even further toward the wall, which is why you needed to be slightly farther away at the beginning to give yourself enough room.

Turning to head down the short wall again, we did some Natural Pivots in Promenade Position. There were three of these in a row, with the first two being half a turn and the last one being a quarter of a turn, which allowed us to end as if we had just turned another corner, with the men facing down the new long wall. With a little time left before class was over, Lord Junior also had us do a Fallaway Reverse Turn. This one we started with a Slip Appel to turn us an eighth of a turn so that the figure would begin traveling toward diagonal center and close with the men back facing down the line of dance. Fun stuff, right?

In Standard Technique class last night I got to work on some Foxtrot. Yay! Both classes I went to this week focused on my favorite dance styles in each category! What did I do to deserve such nice things? Like finding lemon creme sandwich crackers. Oh. My. Glob. Let me tell you, one afternoon it was not quite time to leave work, and I was sooooooo hungry, so I decided to move up one of my evening snacks so that I could eat before I left the office to go do my workout. I headed down to the vending machine to get a pack of sandwich crackers. Usually I get the ones that are cheddar crackers with peanut butter filling (I’m sure you’ve had them before), but that day I saw a brand new option – they had some kind of cracker with lemon creme filling. Intrigued, I decided to get that instead, and it was pretty much the best snack ever. Seriously, I’m dreaming about those crackers right now, but I’m so far away from the vending machines at work. Sigh…

Anyway… now that I’ve made myself hungry, let’s talk about Foxtrot. That day in class Lord Junior wanted to have us work on figures where the ladies would be traveling forward while the guys were going backward. Usually if you only move like this for a couple of steps it doesn’t feel too weird, but if you do it for a couple of full figures it starts to mess with my mind. The footwork for me is easy when I’m going backwards, but the shaping takes a bit for me to figure out how to apply properly. The Reverse Wave in Foxtrot is just a backward Three Step, so the shaping and the side you lead with is the opposite. That sounds easy when you say it out loud, but I usually end up contorting myself in funny ways for the first few attempts until I figure out what the right way actually is.

Our progression of figures that night started out facing diagonal center and going into a normal Feather, then an Open Telemark with Feather Ending, and then an overturned Reverse Turn that started out heading diagonal wall and finished with the Leads backing diagonal wall. This is what set us up to start traveling backward for the next few figures. The first one we did was a Reverse Wave that curved after the first step so that the rest of our backward movements went straight down the line of dance. Then we added a Back Feather and then a second Reverse Wave, both of which that kept going in a straight line. At the end of those figures we had made it to the far corner of the long wall, so we put on an Open Impetus with Feather Ending that allowed us to turn the corner and start moving toward diagonal wall on the new line of dance.

This connection of figures is cool, but not exactly the most practical thing to do outside of a group class in a controlled environment. Normally you wouldn’t want to be moving backwards for so long, because that can become dangerous. Especially if you can travel as much as I can with each step you take, so that the nine steps backward that these three figures actually have you doing can cover almost the entire length of the floor. If you wanted to give this a try in a non-controlled situation, you would have to use the Reverse Turn beforehand to spot everything along the line of dance ahead of you to make sure it would be safe before you go.

At the end of class Lord Junior completely changed gears on us and had us look at a figure disconnected from the others we had just been doing. He said it would be called something like a Hairpin Turn Overspin, which is essentially a Hairpin that you may have seen before, with an extra Natural Pivot on the end. We ended up doing two of these right in a row, and then putting an Open Impetus on the end. With the Open Impetus essentially changing our direction, Lord Junior told us that he should have started our first progression with this set of figures – having us use them to cover the entire short wall and the Open Impetus setting us up to head toward diagonal center on the long wall, which would have set us up to do the Feather that we started the class with. Maybe next time, right?

I have only a vague idea of what to expect this weekend. I will be meeting up with Lord Dormamu for coaching tomorrow night, and then Saturday I will be heading out to a far off corner of the Dance Kingdom for a competition. This is the event that I mentioned weeks ago, where there probably won’t be any people dancing against me in the events I signed up for, but Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that we should still go to gain political points with the competition organizers. So… I’m probably guaranteed to place pretty well if I’m dancing uncontested, but I don’t consider that to be very meaningful.

Hopefully the event will still be fun, right? We’ll have to see! I’ll let you know next week, I promise.

And When I Start To Come Undone, Stitch Me Together

Lots of information this week. That tends to happen when I meet up with Lord Dormamu and he gives me all sorts of things that I need to remember. Hopefully this doesn’t end up running super long, but no apologies from me if it does. It’s all important, so I can’t forget to make note of it! But, to keep things easy to understand, let’s go through everything chronologically.

Last Saturday I agreed to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella so that the girls could use me again as a dance dummy. We spent the entire time looking at Tango. Most of the items that Lady Tella talked about were for Sparkledancer’s benefit, with very little information that was actually related to me. I took a few notes anyway, because it is useful to remember what your partner is supposed to be doing, right? Also, there’s always the off-chance that something that I write down will be helpful to someone else who may come across my notes, so it’s good to have information for both the Lead and Follow parts of the dance mixed in.

One thing that Lady Tella and I did spend some time talking about without Sparkledancer was the Back Corte. She had been working with Sparkledancer on how to improve her shape while we do the hold for that figure, and came to dance through it with me to demonstrate something. After we got through, she told me that it felt weird to her, so she wanted to do it again. We went through the steps three or four times so that she could figure out what felt off to her, and it ended up being that she thought that I was coming around too much on my first step, which was making it hard for her (and ultimately Sparkledancer) to create the shape she desired in that spot.

I told her that I had been given a couple of different theories on how to do that particular step, with no one ever giving me a final decision on what was best. I’ve had coaches tell me that if I start out facing the wall, my first step with my left foot should curve around my partner enough so that my toes are pointing backing line of dance. Other instructors have told me that the step should be to the side and slightly back, with my toes pointing toward the wall when finished. I had just been kind of taking a step that was between those two points, splitting the difference in case anyone ever stopped to look at it again.

After explaining that, I asked her two things: A) where does she prefer that my step end up to help create the shape she wants, and B) what does ‘the book’ say the correct foot placement is? I knew that there was a copy of the magic book of Standard Syllabus figures floating around the studio, so I wanted to know what it said in case anyone asked me in the future. I have a copy of the book at my house, but I’d never looked up the Back Corte in it before, since I had never had a reason to until that point.

The book said that taking the step around my partner so that my toes were pointing backing line of dance was the correct way of doing things. Lady Tella didn’t like that though, since she thinks that it makes the rotation too big. She prefers it when the step rotates around the side of my partner like the book says, but only until my toes are pointing backing diagonal wall. That’s what she and her professional partner do when they have Back Cortes in their competition routines, and she thinks that it feels the most comfortable. I told her that I could do that for her, at least until someone else comes along and gives me a good argument as to why I should do it a different way.

As for what Lady Tella and Sparkedancer worked on, they started off by continuing to talk about the best place to line up the connection point with my body. It’s funny when they talk about this, because I end up just standing there with my weight on my right leg while the two of them are pressing themselves into and wiggling against me, talking about where their ribs are and what direction their boobs are pointing. I guess that has to be the best way to describe getting into the right position, because they sure do mention it a lot. Either that or they are trying to see what it would take to make me blush. One of the two. These are the sorts of things that are considered ‘normal’ in the world of competitive ballroom dancing!

As for the other items they discussed, all I have are short notes: in the Back Corte, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to focus on keeping her elbows up as she opens away from me, and to watch the topline to make sure that her arms are mostly parallel with the floor; When getting into Promenade Position, she wanted Sparkledancer to swivel her back foot more; During the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside she told Sparkledancer to keep her hips back; In the Natural Promenade Turn (a.k.a. Promenade Pivot) Sparkledancer is supposed to focus on keeping her body out in order to keep the volume up; and finally, in the Right-side Lunge, Lady Tella noticed that Sparkledancer was taking her last steps before the first pivot weird, as if anticipating the turn. She told her to focus on taking all three steps straight toward me. She also wanted to see less head movement to avoid the chance of creating body movement, since the head movements are so fast, and to focus on emphasizing the left direction in the head flicks. Whew!

Monday night was a rough night for me. I had gone to my gym after I left the office that day, and decided that it was time to up the amount of weight that I used in a fair number of my sets, which meant that I pushed myself to failure quite a bit during my workout. Because of that, my upper body was a little burnt out, as you can probably imagine. When I went to Latin Technique class later that evening, I was really hoping that we would spend our time doing some Rumba just to make things a little easier on me, but that did not happen. We ended up doing Cha-Cha instead, much to my chagrin.

Much like the week prior, we had a lot of ladies show up for class that night. A LOT. Then, just before class started, those three young sisters who had come to class last week showed up again to join us, which added even more ladies. With so many ladies and only the two of us men, Lord Junior was nice enough to have a little pity on me and decided that we would work on some solo choreography again like we did during the last class. Yaaaaay. At least that allowed me to flail my tired upper body around on my own without worrying about wrecking anyone else’s steps. Hooray for that, I guess.

We broke things down into sections, with Lord Junior giving everyone one figure to add to the progression at a time. After looking at each new figure individually, he would have us go back and do the whole thing from the beginning. His focus with this progression was to have us all work on speed, which as many of you know, is a pretty important part of the Cha-Cha. To get us all moving, we started with a prep step on the left side and then went into a basic chasse action that went to the right. The first thing that we added on to that were two Outside Checks (that’s the name I learned for the figure waaaaaaay back in the day), one on the right and one on the left. This first section was done using basic Cha-Cha timing.

The next figure sped things up a bit as we added on both kinds of Cuban Breaks that I know of offhand. First we did the single version, checking to the right, then transferring to the left leg with no chasse and repeating. Immediately after those we did the double variety, the one where you do a checking action and then put your foot back out to the side and do a weird hip-bump before checking again. You’ve probably seen both varieties of these done before somewhere, if you haven’t done them yourself. Based on what I can find in the book, these are only Silver-level figures, so a lot of you have probably done them at some point or another.

To give us a brief break and change the dynamics of our movement a little, the next figure that we added on to the progression were slow Cuban Rocks. There were four of these total (two with each hip), and each one covered two beats in the music. We finished the whole progression by doing two Hip Twist Chasses, first to the right and then to the left. For some reason, that night I was having a much easier time doing the one that started off rotating the right hip back to bring the left foot forward than I did going the other way. Whenever I have had this figure in a routine in the past, or if I ever use it while dancing socially, I always seem to do the one that goes to the left, so I would have expected that side to be more comfortable for me. I guess not.

With music playing we ran through this progression a number of times, starting out slowly and then pushing the tempo up toward normal. Near the end of class, Lord Junior gave us a break from the progression to have us work with a partner to do some New Yorkers, also with a focus on speed. This was a simple exercise involving a prep step and then a basic chasse action going to the right, four syncopated New Yorkers that went back and forth, then one New Yorker at normal timing to give everyone a chance to slow down safely before finishing with a basic chasse to the left.

Once we had done a fair number of repetitions of this New Yorker exercise, Lord Junior had us all go back to the original progression right before class was over. He threatened us saying that he didn’t want to see anyone mess up the figures, and that if anything less than 75% of the class did the progression perfectly, he would make us repeat the whole thing plus increase the tempo of the music, and we would keep repeating and increasing until at least 75% of us got it right. I guess the threat was scary enough to motivate everyone because we only had one person mess up in the first run-through, so we didn’t have to repeat the exercise at all. Way to go team!

I ended up having to skip Standard Technique class on Wednesday night to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer to work on stuff. Since we are just a little more than two weeks away from the next competition I am supposed to be doing, that night Lord Dormamu had us go through our Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Quickstep routines for him so that he could get an overall impression of how they were going. I got a number of notes from him that night, so this might end up being a bit long…

We started off with the Waltz as I expected we would, but what we spent most of our time discussing wasn’t the material that I had actually been working on in practice this past week. The leg action that has been our focus lately is getting better, as we were told, but still needs more practice. Fair enough, that was pretty much how I felt about it before we started our coaching session. Rather than spend any time working on it with us though, Lord Dormamu started talking about how Sparkledancer and I looked while in frame.

So far, with the work that Sparkledancer has been doing with Lady Tella, Lord Dormamu thinks that we have been moving in the right direction and are looking good for a pair of Bronze dancers. That is actually what his problem is as well. He wants to have us immediately start working on moving things to the next level. I guess he has plans to get us signed up for some really high stakes competitions that will happen before he moves us up to Silver next Spring, so moving all these techniques up to ‘the next level’ (whatever that actually means) is his new goal for us.

To help us visualize what he wanted us to work on, he pulled out his phone so that he could show us a video. There was some recent post he had seen by some Amateur couple that is the current world champion of something-or-other – who also happen to be friends of his that he has coached – where the video clearly shows the two of them getting into frame. As they came together, he paused the video so that he could point out the differences between what their volume looked like and what we were doing. Once in frame, the lady was positioned in such a way that, if you looked straight at the Lead, her upper body was bent over far enough that you could see the Lead’s whole shoulder line, and his whole right arm down to his armpit. That is definitely a lot of space between their heads!

On top of that, the male had a slight curve in his back, which helped to give the illusion of increasing the volume between the two of them even further. Overall, when I looked at the way they were standing together, and the big open space their arms created, it really reminded me of the closed frame used in Paso Doble. I mentioned that, and Lord Dormamu actually thought that comparison was funny, but not incorrect. There are some obvious differences between ballroom and Paso Doble he said, but the idea behind that shape puts Sparkledancer and I closer to what he wants us to work on.

Sparkledancer is closer to my height than the girl in the video was to her partner’s height, so Lord Dormamu told her that if she could create the same shape as the girl in the video, people looking at the two of us would be able to see the top line of my shoulders for sure, but not my entire right arm down to my armpit. He was worried that if she tried to bend back that far so soon that she could hurt herself. However, he did mention that there was no limit to how much she should bend, so if over time she could work on her flexibility enough and bend so that people could see my entire right arm down to my armpit, that wasn’t a bad thing.

The rest of the time we spent looking at the Waltz was focused on hitting something as close to that position as we could when in frame, and then trying to move around while maintaining it. This was not exactly the easiest thing to do. I’m sure it will get better with practice, but I can’t say that it looked or felt good at all during this lesson. I guess that can be considered a good thing? Someone once told me that when something that you do often feels terrible, that’s when you know change is happening. If it always feels comfortable, then you are never really improving.

After Waltz we moved on to Foxtrot for a little while. Foxtrot is still our strongest dance according to Lord Dormamu, no question there. The two things that he pointed out to us that night that he wanted us to work on were creating and maintaining that same kind of volume in this style as we had worked on in the Waltz, and then the action of my legs as I accept the weight into them at the end of a figure in preparation for the next figure. That action is what I have been working on in practice for a while now, and it isn’t perfect just yet. It’s a lot better than it has been, so that’s good at least.

From Foxtrot we switched to Tango, which in Lord Dormamu’s assessment is our second best dance style currently after the Foxtrot. The frame in Tango is obviously different from all the others, so for the time being he didn’t want us to worry too much about the volume while we practiced that aspect in the other styles. One minor change that he noticed that he wanted us to put in was to the first Natural Twist Turn that we do. He wants me to adjust the end of the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside that is right before so that I end facing diagonal wall. That sets me up so that the Progressive Link that goes into the Twist Turn will have a full quarter of turn. Up to that point I had been told to end facing wall, so the Progressive Link only did an eighth of turn. Simple enough.

I also asked him about the Back Corte that I had looked over with Lady Tella that weekend, to get his perspective about the angle on the first step. After looking at us do it a couple of times, he told me that he was happy with what Lady Tella told me to do there, so I should use that angle until he tells me otherwise. Hooray!

Finally, we spent just a couple of minutes looking at the Quickstep right at the end. We danced through the whole thing once and then Lord Dormamu called us over to where he was standing. Before he even said a word, Sparkledancer apologized for taking a heel step at a wrong point near the end of a Backward Lock. Lord Dormamu said that he had seen it, and was going to point that out. Sparkledancer confessed that she had been thinking so much about trying to create and hold the volume the whole time that she just got it wrong.

Lord Dormamu seemed fine with that, but then he went off on a little tirade about how he thought that Syllabus-level Quickstep was just stupid. He told us that as long as the couple is on time with the music and the footwork is correct, there really isn’t much else that you can use to separate a good couple from a bad one beyond the way their frames look. Basic Quickstep doesn’t have any complex figures like Foxtrot or Tango, so when he’s judging a competition he finds those rounds to be boring.

He told us that all we needed to do whenever we practiced Quickstep was to split it into five rounds of two run-throughs with no music. The first time through the routine we should focus on the feet, making sure they are grounded to the floor and that the footwork is based on the action of the step, not just superficial heel or toe steps because we know we’re supposed to do those. The second time through the routine is where we focus on the volume. After five rounds of each of those two practice runs, we should then dance the routine once to the music, and then we are done and should move on to something more important.

At the end before we left, we spent a few minutes talking about an upcoming development that is going to impact us. I’m not sure if I can quite talk about it yet before I have all the details, but it’s going to happen. So… yeah. There’s that to start thinking about.

Man, I think that my weekend is going to be mostly free to do things that I want to do! Obviously I will have to set aside some time for practice, but since many of the instructors in the area are performing in a big show this weekend, there won’t be any private lessons for me to go to. I heard that Judge Dread is going to be in town running some workshops, so maybe I will take this opportunity to go to one of those instead! It seems like forever since I was able to do that, since my lessons with various instructors always seem to happen at the same time. Hopefully it will be fun! Maybe I’ll see you there.

To Make It A Place Worth Fighting For

Kind of a quiet dance week this week for me. There only ended up being two things of note that I feel I need to write down. Can I keep this post from growing to be verbose? We’ll have to see…

The only dance-related thing that I did on Saturday was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for a coaching session. We continued to look at the Waltz this week, picking up right where we left off last time. He had us run through our routine for him once with music playing, then brought us right up in front of the mirrors so he could watch us go through a few repetitions of the exercises that he gave us to work on last weekend. After about five minutes of that, he stopped us so that he could give us his impression of how our practice had gone over the last week.

Overall he said that he was much happier, and he was definitely seeing an improvement. He called it a ‘30%’ improvement, but when he throws out numbers like that while smiling, I can’t entirely tell whether he’s just making up numbers to be funny or if he’s being serious. Specifically he said that the actions that we were doing from beats one to two and two to three were much more in line with what he was looking for, but the action from beat three to the next beat one still needs work. Based on that assessment, you would think that we were doing 66.67% better, right? I mean, that’s how the math works in my head…

I brought up the fact that it would make sense that the actions from beats one to two and two to three would show improvement, since the exercises we had been given really focused on those actions. The one exercise I was thinking about which would specifically help was the exercise where we would extend the box step to a six count, taking steps one and two with normal timing and then closing our feet together slowly over the remaining four beats. So, I asked, were there any exercises that we could do which would help with the action where we still needed work?

As it turns out, there is… sort of. It’s really the same exercise, but you just change the timing of the steps. Rather than slowing down after the first two steps to practice the action of closing your feet, you could take the second and third step of the box at normal timing and slow down the next step for a four count to focus on the transition of lowering into the next box step. So now, in addition to the exercises we were already told to do, we have to add in an additional two minutes of working on the action between beats three and one. Can you feel my excitement about this?

I suppose, theoretically, you could also do the same idea and take the third step of the box and the first step of the next box in normal timing, slowing down the second step for a four count to work on the middle action. There is a variation available for everyone! Well, really there are only three variations, but you get my point, right? Sigh… math again…

Once we got through looking over the practice exercises, we turned to looking at things in the actual routine that needed some attention. One concept in particular that Lord Dormamu spent some time discussing with Sparkledancer was the amount of volume she was creating while in frame… or actually the lack of volume. Sparkledancer was telling him that while he was having her to do all this work on how her legs were moving, she was totally forgetting to think about anything else, which is why the volume appeared to be decreased as we were dancing.

Lord Dormamu told her that he was more concerned during our sessions with him with how our leg action was progressing, since that was the key to bringing our Waltz up to the next level. His advice to her was (for the time being) to focus on practicing the leg action while working with him, and to focus on her volume and position while working with Lady Tella. Eventually the two techniques will have to be put together, obviously, but for the time being he wanted to make her life a bit easier. He’s such a nice guy, isn’t he?

There were a couple of figures that he wanted to cover at in particular that day based on what he saw during our initial dance-through. The first one was the Hesitation Change in the first corner… again. It seems like there are so many things about this simple figure that Lord Dormamu really wants to be different, doesn’t it? This time he told me that he didn’t like the way that the backward step I take from the Natural Turn right beforehand looked. We went through a number of changes to try and fix it, with me dancing with Sparkledancer, or by myself, or with him, as he assessed what was going on and tried to think of a way to make me look the way he wanted. The lowering action was what he decided was causing the problem – something about the way that I was lowering from the Natural Turn and going into the Hesitation Change seemed out of sorts.

We moved off the Hesitation Change for a little bit, but came back to it again later after he had some time to think. This time he asked me to try to just lower straight down before taking the step into the hesitation. This was a surprising request, because we have been working so hard over the last couple of weeks to make sure that none of the figures that we do are lowering straight down, but rather lowering while continuing to travel forward/backward (depending on the step). So I gave it a try, and apparently that did the trick.

He said that watching from the outside, the brief pause at the height of the Natural Turn and lowering straight down before taking the step into the Hesitation Change made the transition between the two look clean and precise finally. For the time being, he wants me to practice stopping and lowering like that between the two figures to work on control, and once that improves he’ll go back with me and start to reintroduce the lowering on an angle while moving aspect.

The other figure that we looked at quite a bit was the Whisk. For this particular figure, it wasn’t the steps themselves or any of the actions that he wanted to have me adjust, but rather the angle. I had been coming out of the previous figure and generally aiming the Whisk straight down the line of dance for pretty much the entire time I’ve ever done this routine. Lord Dormamu wants to change the angles so that I finish the previous figure facing diagonal wall, then take the first two steps of the Whisk heading towards diagonal wall, rotate to Promenade Position on the small step that crosses behind while pointing my Promenade toward diagonal wall, and continue to travel in the Promenade Chasse that follows in that same direction.

Now this made a lot of things weird. First of all, as I said I had been taking the Whisk down the line of dance for forever, so trying to turn it like this fights against all of the muscle memory that I have built up in all of that time. Secondly, the amount of rotation when I move my upper body to Promenade Position that is required to get Sparkledancer into her correct placement is a lot, and my upper body is not particularly happy with rotating that much. That’s something I can fight through with practice, but it’s not the most pleasant thing to do.

The biggest issue with this change though is that now we are traveling straight toward the wall. With the amount of movement that we usually get during the Whisk and the Promenade Chasse attached, we just ran out of space the first few times we tried this. That was an easy enough fix while working specifically on this figure because we could just back up away from the wall far enough to fit everything in. Easy-peasy, right?

But (I’m sure you saw this coming), when attaching the Whisk heading in this new direction to the rest of the routine, we were still too close to the wall. The Whisk is a part of the first short wall in the routine, and with the way that the short wall was built, most everything travels laterally down the line of dance. Even when I rotated the three figures prior to the Whisk so that they were moving solely toward diagonal center, I still couldn’t create quite enough room to fit in the Whisk and Promenade Chasse heading toward diagonal wall. You know, because the wall was in the way and whatnot. Silly wall!

Am I the only person you know who talks about issues with moving too much?

This means that, in order to make this change fit, I have to remember to purposefully short my steps a bit on the first long wall so that when I finish the first corner, I am starting the first short wall farther away from the edge. That’s really the only way I am going to be able to fit everything in properly. This was something that felt OK while we were working on things in the Endless Dance Hall. The floor there is huge, so cutting down six to eight feet on a long wall doesn’t make my steps look short. But what happens when I have to try to do this on a much smaller floor? I’m afraid that it will make my steps look teeny-tiny!
Who knew that being able to move so much while dancing would cause me so many issues?

Latin Technique class on Monday night was entertaining, but full of a bunch of stuff that made me feel like a terrible dancer. Those are two wildly conflicting emotions, I know, but that’s how the class went for me. When I first got to class, I thought that I was in for a rough night since there were five ladies sitting there, waiting for class to start, and no other men besides Lord Junior. A few minutes before class, he walked by all of us and said that we would be working on Samba that night, so that was red flag number one for me. Of all the Latin dances, Samba is my least favorite. For some reason I always feel wildly uncoordinated while dancing Samba, and I know I doesn’t look very Samba-esque while doing it either.

As Lord Junior continued to talk with us, he said that he was considering doing a bunch of stuff in Shadow Position, which would give him and I a little bit of a break since there were so many ladies to dance with. However, there was supposedly one more person who had mentioned coming to class that night, so he wanted to give them time to show up. Rather than get started early we all just hung out and talked amongst ourselves.

When the front door did finally open, it actually ended up being more than just one person who showed up… it was actually three. And they weren’t ladies, but girls, each of them being probably twelve years old or less. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but I know that they were all super young. These girls were sisters, and the youngest of them was barely half my height, if that helps put it into context. I felt like a giant standing near her, and I knew there was no way I would be able to dance in Shadow Position with someone that small. It would have been easier for me to just hold the tiny girl off the floor by her arms in front of me and dance! Luckily, Lord Junior had only been expecting the tallest of the sisters to show up, so he modified his plans for the night and threw out all of the partner work in favor of having us all work on exercises by ourselves to accommodate. Whew!

Totally would have worked perfectly.

Since there were so many of us now, Lord Junior had us line up in three lines so that we could travel down the floor in sets. The first section of figures that he gave us to work on was two Cruzados Walks, two syncopated Locks, and then two more Cruzados Walks, which should fill an eight-count bar of music. The first couple of times I went down the floor, Lord Junior made a point of telling me that I looked really good… if I was dancing Foxtrot. My Rhythm Bounce action left quite a bit to be desired. I will freely admit that. What can I say, I only compete in International Standard, and we don’t do crazy bouncing actions with the hips and core in any of the figures I’ve seen so far!

Adding on to that section of figures, the next eight-count bar of music was one more Cruzados Walk (to put you on the right leg), then repeating Samba Locks for the next three-count. At the end you need to pull your right leg in quickly because you go right from moving forward in the Samba Locks to moving backward for a couple of Batucadas. The Batucadas were pretty easy for everyone to get through while we were doing the figures slowly, but the transition between the Samba Locks and the Batucadas threw a lot of the ladies off. When we sped up the pace, you could collect your right leg to the left before taking the step backward, but personally I found that action just took too long, and then I was off time. I found it worked best to just bring my right leg up close to my left leg where it would go for the first step of the Batucada and then just transfer my weight on beat five. That worked best for me – your mileage may vary, of course.

For the last few minutes of class, to give us a break from struggling with the Batucada movements at tempo, Lord Junior had us all work on Body Rolls. I have only ever gone through the Body Roll action a few times in my life. I can’t say that I’m all that good at it… but I’m not as terrible as you might think. With all the exercise I do regularly, I have a lot of strength and control over the muscles in my core, so bending myself like I was being asked to for a Body Roll wasn’t so bad. Granted, we didn’t do this action very fast, so things could change if I was told to try it out to the tempo of your average Samba, but I could probably do it to a Rumba song and not look terrible. 😉

I do lack some of the flexibility in the middle part of my back when compared to all of the women that were in class with me that night (especially those really young girls, who could bend like they had no spines), but I wasn’t as bad as you might think. It’s really twisting actions where my muscularity holds me back the most, and there is no twisting in a Body Roll so I was able to get through it pretty OK. Yeah, pretty OK indeed.

Maybe having so many ladies in class on Monday night wore Lord Junior out, because Standard Technique class was cancelled on Wednesday. You would think that I would have used that extra time that I wasn’t expecting to have to do something productive. I was actually going to get some studying done for some new material I am trying to learn for work, but as soon as I sat down on the couch my cat came and curled up in my lap, and then I couldn’t reach my computer without disturbing her, so I ended up just sitting there quietly for over an hour letting her rest on me. Silly cat…