Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 2

Let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you are new here, be sure to go back and check out Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1 to get yourself all caught up!

Before I start in on anything new, I feel like I should reiterate the disclaimers that I posted last week, just in case anyone new here does not want to follow the above link and read them there:


DISCLAIMER #1: Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful. There is no shame in modifying your movements or using lighter weights if it helps you finish your workouts successfully.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple., which are the same rules I like to use for dancing:

  1. Safety – always rule number one. We want to get results, not get hurt!
  2. Form – form (a.k.a. technique) is crucial while exercising just like it is while dancing.
  3. Fun – having fun is what keeps you coming back to dance, right? If you apply that same line of thought to exercise, having fun will help keep you working out to improve yourself. Fun is important!

DISCLAIMER #3: Resistance training is important, even for ladies. ESPECIALLY for ladies that avoid doing resistance training altogether. You can do cardio workouts until you keel over, but it probably isn’t going to give you that toned look that you were going for. Adding in weight training will help.

If you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless your hormone levels are super messed up, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add lots of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. Period. Full stop. End of line.

Ladies can build a bunch of muscle, but to do so requires a much more meticulous level of eating than a male has to do in order to build muscle mass. Plus you would have to be eating something like one gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight you have in order to build muscle fast. And it would have to be real meat, not vegetable proteins like tofu, because eating a lot of meat will help increase your natural testosterone production, which in turn helps you develop more muscle.

Are you planning on eating that much meat? Or taking testosterone supplements? If not, you shouldn’t worry about gaining weight by building muscle through weight training. More often, women find that they lose weight through weight training because it can burn a lot more calories when you push yourself. If you find yourself gaining weight after a short period of weight training, most likely the problem is something in your diet, such as not actually sticking to your calorie goals.


With those disclaimers out of the way again, there are a couple of new areas of fitness that I want to talk about this week. I’ll start off by touching on core fitness, then spend a little time talking about balance, and finally I’ll give you some thoughts on eating to fuel all of this physical activity. Sound like a good plan to you? Let’s get started!

CORE

This is probably the area of the body that you thought I was going to do second, right? And for good reason – the core is really important for a whole lot of what happens in dancing any style. Plus, if you want to compete at high levels in Latin or Rhythm, where the guys wear shirts that seem to be unbuttoned down to their pants and the ladies wear dresses that seem to be made of little more than floss and sequins, having a strong and toned core can help give you the body confidence to throw on an outfit like that and hold your head high!

I might even be willing to make the argument that the body confidence could do more to help improve your dancing than anything else, but that’s probably a topic for a whole post all by itself…

The way a lot of people think (I was certainly guilty of this in my youth), they assumes that Core = Abs, so their instinct is to lay on the floor to do a million crunches to try and develop a six-pack. But I promise you that if you look in the mirror, you will notice that your core is shaped more like a rounded box, so to truly have a strong core you need to work on all four sides!  We already talked about the back separately, since I feel that it needs its own section, so let’s look at the other three sides of this hyperrectangle below your head, shall we?

Crunches, Et Al.
Most of the exercises that you will find to work on the front of your core (i.e. the abs) are going to be some variation of this movement, so I can’t really get away from mentioning it. Since I’m pretty sure that everyone has done at least one basic crunch before and knows what it looks like, let’s look at some more advanced variations to build on that baseline.

Remember last week when I mentioned taking a weighted plate from a barbell and holding it to your forehead while doing Cobra? How about your take that same plate and put it behind your head like a pillow and do a crunch! As before, increasing the resistance will help you build more strength than just using body weight alone.

How about you try doing crunches slowly to really feel the burn! Start off by doing three seconds as you crunch all the way up, and then three seconds to lower back down. If you’re feeling super strong, make it six seconds! Personally I wouldn’t make them any longer than that. Five crunches at six seconds up, six seconds down will already take you over a minute to finish, and you don’t want to be lying on the floor forever, right?

Oblique V-Ups
This movement is sure to work the sides of your core. Lay down on one side and bend at the waist like a V. Let your lower arm just rest on the ground – but be sure to keep it loose. Pushing up with the arm isn’t working your obliques! Take the fingertips of your upper arm and hold them at your temple so that your elbow is pointing toward the ceiling. Now bring your upper body and your legs up off the ground to try and touch your elbow to the side of your upper leg. If you can get it – great! If not, come as close as you can and try and do better each time you do this exercise.

Pause for a second at the top and then lower yourself back down to your starting position. In order to balance on your hip when you lift your upper body and legs off the floor, you may need to lean back some, and that’s OK! Just don’t lean back too far, or you risk rolling yourself onto your back. If you’re in public and you accidentally roll onto your back, try quickly rolling to your other side and starting the Oblique V-Ups – it will look like you totally planned it, and people will think you’re super smooth!

Plank Twists
This is a great movement for working your whole core. Holding a plank properly forces you to engage everything so that you don’t stick your butt up in the air, and bringing your legs underneath you really works your hip flexors and your obliques. Plus, this movement is more fun than just holding a plank without moving.
Start out by getting into a plank. Make sure it’s a good one, with your heels going back, your back and neck straight and your butt in line. Now, take one leg and bend it, raising your knee up as you twist your body to the opposite side of the leg that you are moving. Keep the leg off the floor the whole time, and try your best to get your upper thigh perpendicular with your body. Rotate the body back as you replace the leg – now you’re back in plank position. Repeat with the opposite leg, switching back and forth on each repetition.

Russian Twist
This is another move that is more synergistic in nature, working multiple sides of the core in one exercise. The rotational action here should feel really familiar to anyone who dances ballroom styles and uses figures with a lot of Contra-Body Movement (CBM).

There are multiple variations of this movement that you can do depending on your fitness level. The most basic involves sitting down, feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, and leaning backward as far as you can go while keeping your back straight and your feet on the floor. In this position, clasp your hands together like one big fist and then twist your body from side to side, striking the ground with your hands on each side as you twist back and forth.

If you feel like the basic version is too easy, the next step would be to lift your legs off the ground and hold them up so that your shins are parallel with the floor as you twist back and forth. When you feel like you’ve mastered that variation, it’s time to add some resistance. Go back to the basic setup, keeping your feet on the floor. Now take a single dumbbell and hold it in both hands. Keep the weight more toward the center of your body the whole time – the weight is used to make it harder for you to hold your body up on an angle as you twist, trying to bring your elbows as close to the floor as you can.

Once you get super strong, try combining both variations! Use the weight to add resistance against your upper body, and then lift your legs off the floor at the same time! If you get through this variation without breaking a sweat, you should feel pretty accomplished with your core fitness.

Misc.
There are lots of programs out there specifically designed to work on core strength. For example, Pilates focuses on core work quite a bit, as you might know if you’ve ever taken a class. But the amazing thing about core work is that it is incorporated into almost every workout that you do. Martial arts will help you work your core if you are doing the movements right. So does Yoga. So do even basic exercises like push-ups, where you really need to keep your core engaged the whole time to keep from having a bow in your back. You just can’t escape!

Like all other muscle groups though, you don’t want to destroy your core by working it super hard every day. It’s one thing to work the core in a secondary manner as a byproduct of working your other muscle groups – it’s another thing entirely to focus on a routine built specifically for core strengthening. Try to limit focused core work to no more than three times a week with at least a day in between to give your muscles a chance to recover.

BALANCE

I’ve been told often enough by various strangers over the years, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky that you have such good balance.’ That not really true – I had to work on it to make my balance look this good. And unless you have some kind of medical condition that upsets your body’s ability to remain stable, balance is something that you can work to improve as well.

The good news is that there are things that you can do to work on balance that aren’t as boring as standing around on one leg. I have done balance training in Yoga lots of times, but I found that a lot of the poses that they used were some variation of doing just that. Think about Tree pose, for example, or Warrior III, or Half Moon (if you don’t know what these poses are, you can find pictures online pretty easily). Holding poses like these can certainly help you improve, but as a dancer the first thing that you are usually asked to do is to be able to balance yourself while moving around. Creating the fancy lines where you are balancing in one place with little movement usually comes later.

That’s not the Tree Pose I meant!

So, I like to practice balance while doing other exercises that force me to move around! Last week I mentioned doing Single-Leg Calf Raises, which is a perfect example of this concept. You have to balance yourself on one leg, but then you are also moving your body as you perform the calf raise. Think about doing a Natural Turn in the Waltz, where you have to remain balanced as you plant one foot and rise up on your toes while drawing your other leg in to close. Tell me you can’t see the similarities!

Another exercise I mentioned previously that this concept works well with are the Lateral Raises for your shoulders. You can easily transition to standing on one leg while lifting your arms to your sides. In fact, a lot of common upper body exercises can be modified in this way – Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Shoulder Presses, and so on. Doing any of these movements while standing on one leg will help you improve the strength in your ankles and knees needed for balance, all while you also working on another body part at the same time! Plus, I personally think it is more entertaining than just standing there staring at a wall.

But balance is more than just how well the ankles and knees can hold you up – there is a lot that core strength can do as well to help improve your balance. If you stand up right now and lift one leg off the floor, do you find yourself engaging the muscles in your core to help keep your spine in one place over your standing leg? Training your core muscles to help keep your spine stable can do wonders for you!

One entertaining way that I’ve found to do this is actually through push-ups. In normal push-ups you have to keep your core engaged to help keep your spine straight while you raise and lower yourself. Now, as a challenge, how about you find a couple of medicine balls (the solid kind, not the squishy kind) and put one under each hand. That’ll make you keep your core engaged to keep from falling over!

Too easy for you? Make it one medicine ball under both hands, or find two more medicine balls for a total of four and put one under each hand AND one under each foot! If that’s still too easy, find yourself one of those bigger stability balls and try to do push-ups while gripping either side of that thing. If you’re a glutton for punishment, try putting your feet up on the stability ball while you put your hands on top of one of those medicine balls you thought were too easy earlier. Yeah, using your core to balance your body while your feet are on a stability ball and your hands on the medicine ball is hard all by itself, and on top of that I’m asking you to try doing push-ups at the same time! Not so easy anymore, is it?

My point from all this is that if you want better balance, you need to work on it, but you don’t have to be bored while doing it. Yes, Yoga certainly can be great for improving balance, and also helping you calm your mind as you get into the flow, but there are other options out there. Over the years I’ve done all of these – including Yoga – to continue challenging myself, and challenge is what helps me improve and break through my plateaus. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have good balance if you weren’t born with it – work on it and see how much better you can get!

NUTRITION

To get the results that you want out of any fitness regimen, you have to eat properly. Pure and simple. There’s no magic involved with being in shape – it’s all achievable through having a proper fitness plan and putting the right fuel into your body.

I’m going to start off by telling you the unpopular advice that you probably don’t want to hear: if you want to eat for the body you dream of, you have to eat right. That means that you should start today, go through your refrigerator and all your cupboards and THROW. OUT. ALL. THE. CRAP.

I know, it’s bad to waste food. If it makes you feel better, give it all away instead. If it’s unopened, donate it to a food pantry somewhere. If you have opened sweets, take them to work and pawn them off on your coworkers. Just get rid of it somehow. DO NOT EAT IT!

If you are looking to do something transformational with your body, like lose a large amount of weight or build up a lot of muscle, you have to eat for those results. Once you have those results you can have some of those ‘treats’ around, but until you achieve what you want it is better to not even have the temptation. Cake and ice cream? You don’t need it. Chips? How about no. Pizza? Don’t even go there. Beer, wine or liquor? Naught but empty calories. Get them all out of your house and don’t buy any more until you achieve the results you want! Even after you succeed, you should limit what you have in your house to avoid undoing everything you’ve worked so hard for.

Don’t tell me that it’s too hard. I do it all the time. I don’t eat donuts when someone at the office brings in a box to share with everyone for free. There is almost never any ‘snack foods’ at my house, even when I really want some. I will go out with friends to bars and only have water while everyone else has adult beverages. If I can do it, you can do it too! All it takes is a little willpower to make a huge difference in your dietary intake.
Now, once the crap in your house is gone, we have to do a little math. I know… not many people like math, but trust me – these are important numbers that you will want to have in mind constantly while you are training. These calculations are what works best for me, so I will be using myself as the example. If you find that these mock-up calculations don’t work for you, I would recommend seeing a specialist to get specific recommendations for your body.

The first thing we need to do is calculate your caloric baseline, or how many calories you should eat per day just to keep on keeping-on. The math is pretty simple:

If you live a sedentary lifestyle when not working out (desk job, lots of time in front of the TV), use (Current Weight) * 11

If you live a moderately active lifestyle when not working out (walk a lot, always park in the back of parking lots, play with your kids all the time), use (Current Weight) * 12

If you live an active lifestyle when not working out (never sit down all day, don’t own a TV or a couch because you are always traveling and sightseeing), use (Current Weight) * 13

For example: I have a sedentary job, where I am always at my desk or sitting in meetings when I’m at work. When I’m not at work though, I spend six days a week at the dance studio. For me, the moderate plan works best. My current weight is roughly 205lbs, so 205 * 12 = 2,460 calories per day is my baseline..

Now, we need to add in calories for your workouts. This is where it will be harder for me to give you guidance unless you are on some kind of regular workout plan where you can get approximate calorie burn estimates, but there are three principles that holds true no matter what you are doing:

  1. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn while working out (but not zero calories – you still need some fuel for the workout!).
  2. If you want to maintain your weight, you need to eat the same amount of calories you burn while working out.
  3. If you want to build muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than you burn while working out.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

My food intake for working out also factors in my rough body fat percentage (8%), and the fact that I work out six days a week with one day of rest. I am currently looking to maintain my current weight, so I am adding in 600 calories a day to fuel my workouts. 2,460 + 600 = 3,060, which I round down to 3,000 calories every day just to make my life easier.

Because I am working out six days a week, I eat the same amount of calories every day, including on my one day of rest (to give my body the fuel to repair itself). If you are not working out that frequently, your overall weekly caloric intake will look different from mine.

Now, let’s talk about what you want to eat. To make life easier, lump foods into three major categories:

Proteins – This is your primary nutrient for building muscle, because it is the only nutrient that the body can convert into muscle tissue

Carbohydrates – Carbs are not to be avoided, because these are what your body will use for fuel! Energy is essential for… well, for life. The problem with avoiding carbohydrates in your diet is that your body’s first response to get the energy it needs will be to start breaking down your muscle tissue, which is not a good thing if you want to keep those strength gains that all the exercise gives you!

Fats – another primary source for energy that your body actually requires. I know that talking about eating fats sounds terrible, but eating well does not mean eliminating fat entirely from your diet. You just have to be sure that you eat the right kinds of fats! Healthy fats will also help you fight inflammation, joint pain and muscle soreness – three problems that can keep a lot of people from going back to work out again day after day.

For me, lately my meal plans fall into two categories: a muscle building plan, and a body sculpting plan. When eating to build muscle, I have to eat a lot to fuel my cells to work hard and build back bigger. Even right now, when I am just trying to maintain my weight, I eat as if I am building muscle. My calories break down per day to roughly 25% Proteins, 60% Carbohydrates, 15% Fats.

When I finish up a phase of training and I want to burn off any excess fat accumulation to really give me that more defined look in my musculature, for a short period of time I will cut back on the calories to fuel my workouts (down to about 200 calories rather than 600) and change up my breakdown to 50% Proteins, 30% Carbohydrates, 20% Fats. This is only a short term change, usually no more than a month.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute – you’re currently eating 3,000 calories a day, and 60% off that is carbohydrates? I can’t imagine that you eat 1,800 calories worth of bread a day! That’s nuts!” Well, you would be right. The thing is, carbohydrates has to be further broken down into the major food groups that give you carbohydrates – obviously there are starches like bread, but this also includes legumes, fruits and vegetables.

These four categories should all be included in your calculations when you plan out your meals. If you only eat starches for carbohydrates, you will miss out on a lot of the dietary vitamins and minerals that your body craves! If you look at that 1,800 calories of “carbohydrates” I am eating per day, it’s actually more like 35% starches, 30% legumes, 25% fruits and 10% vegetables.

(I know that having only 10% vegetables seems really low, but if you realize that 2 cups of raw spinach, or 1 cup of raw carrots, or 1 cup of raw bell peppers is only roughly 25 calories, then you’ll see that I am actually eating a lot of plants just to hit that 10% mark every day!)

So how does this all work for you? Well, in all of the good diet plans I’ve used over the years to help fuel my workouts, the constant recommendations have always been that if you want to lose weight you want to eat a higher protein, lower carbohydrate and fat mix, and if you don’t need to lose weight and need energy to fuel your body through all your daily activities you need a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and fat mix.

If you are just starting out and have some fat to burn while you build strength, try starting off with a 40% Protein, 30% Carbohydrate and 30% Fat mix. That is a pretty safe starting range that will help you learn what how you feel. I would highly recommend going back and reevaluating your plan every 30 days. As you burn off the fat that you wanted, start converting to more carbohydrates instead of proteins. Don’t forget to recalculate your calorie intake if your weight has changed as well!

Of course, going back to my first point, that 40/30/30 mix only works if the food you’re eating is good. If you are still eating crap, even if you manage to fit the crap into the mix calorie-wise, you are not going to get the results you desire. Yes, that bag of chips on your counter is TECHNICALLY a starch, and thus a carbohydrate, but you don’t need all the extra salt and grease that’s also included in that bag! Just get rid of it!

Think about how much more satisfied you would be if you took that 300 calories from the bag of chips and instead made a salad with chickpeas (for your legumes servings) and spinach and some apple slices, with an ounce of shredded cheese thrown into the mix for a protein serving. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can sprinkle a tablespoon of crushed walnuts on top for one of your good fat servings for the day. 300 calories of a salad like that is a lot more food, so you will definitely feel more full when finished, and there will be less food regret afterward!


Sorry for making this so long again. Hopefully some of this information was useful for all of you out there. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me! If I don’t know the answer, I can usually at least point you in the right direction. I’ve been living this lifestyle for a decade now, so I’ve learned a thing or two in that time.

I’ll get back to talking about specific dance things next week, I promise. Until that time, <Insert the motivational workout tagline you like here>!
-stay with the fight
-don’t stop until you’re proud
-you don’t get the ass you want by sitting on it
-do your best, forget the rest
-keep pushing
-whatever it takes
-you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great

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Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1

It’s funny – remember last week, when I asked whether anyone would be interested in some pointers on fitness-type things for dance? Well, on Saturday evening as I was finishing my normal workout, I got a text message from a dance instructor at a studio where I go to practice a lot. He wanted to know if I would come out to the studio on Sunday afternoon to take a Pilates class with him. The studio was being rented out for an hour that afternoon to do a special ‘Pilates for Dancers’ class, and I think he wanted to make sure he wasn’t the only guy there.

Since I’m always up for any kind of physical challenge, of course I went! That felt like a sign to me that I needed to go through with writing all of these notes down for all of you. Before I start though, let me get some disclaimers out of the way before we talk about anything specific…


DISCLAIMER #1: Most likely I don’t know you, so I don’t know anything about your strengths/weaknesses/injuries/preferences. Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. For example, you wouldn’t try to do push-ups if you were born with no arms, right?

If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple. I also keep these same rules in mind while I am dancing, because they are just as meaningful in that context:

  1. Safety – please, please, please make sure to keep yourself and those around you safe when working out.
  2. Form – much like dancing, form and technique is super important while exercising. A few repetitions with perfect form will help you get results faster than a bunch of repetitions with crappy form.
  3. Fun – you just have to have fun! If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it! I don’t mean that every exercise you do is going to be fun. The workouts I do when I decide to push my limits and increase the size of the weights I use are always kind of terrible… but overall I still find the physical exertion to be fun, and the results I’ve gotten make it even more enjoyable!

DISCLAIMER #3: Yes, I am going to talk a lot about lifting weights. If you and I were to ever talk about fitness in person, I would always strongly recommend lifting weights, even for women. Cardio-type exercises alone are not enough to create the type of body that people usually describe to me that they want when they say they want to be “in shape.” Resistance training needs to be used in conjunction.

This disclaimer will emphasize this point right not – if you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless you have a major hormonal imbalance, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies, which is what helps men build muscle faster. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add pounds of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. It’s just not going to happen, end of story.

I could send you article after article about this if you don’t believe me. If you are starting to work out and you are putting on weight, the most likely reason is not that you are building a bunch of muscle. Period. End of story. To build a bunch of muscle you have to be lifting a lot of heavy weights, eating a lot more calories than you need to the point that eating is making you almost uncomfortably full, and taking the right supplements to encourage muscle growth. Are you planning on doing all that? I doubt it.

So if you want to add in a couple of days of weight training each week and you find yourself gaining weight after two or three weeks, we would need to go back and check your diet, because most likely that is the culprit. Usually we’d find that you are eating more than you think because you are suddenly hungrier with the increase in activity. That is why it is SUPER IMPORTANT to set a nutrition plan with at least a base calorie goal and macronutrient spread before you start any exercise regimen, and then STICK. TO. IT. Snacking on top of your meal plan is what causes the weight gain for most people.

Sounds so simple, right? We’ll talk more about eating later, I promise.


OK, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about exercise ideas that are, in my personal experience, most helpful for dancers. I’ll break this down by body sections to keep the groupings logical. Let’s start off by talking about what, in my opinion, are the most important body parts for dancing.

LEGS

Who really likes to work their legs? Not a lot of people. But since you are a dancer, you know that almost every action that you do starts with the legs. They are the engine of all your dance movements, which is why I believe that having strong legs is so important for a dancer. Think of strong legs like driving down the highway, riding around in a muscle car with a throaty V8. Having weak legs is more like riding down the street on top of your robotic vacuum cleaner. Which one would you prefer?

I cannot recommend enough spending at least one day a week on an all-around leg improvement workout. There are so many benefits to doing so. But for this post, let’s keep things simple and look at the two different categories of leg exercises you need for dancing: leg strength, and leg speed/agility.

Leg Strength: This is, simply put, how strong your legs are, which will definitely help you push off that standing leg as you move yourself around. Part of strength training should also be muscle endurance training, which will help your legs perform at a high level for longer periods of time. Don’t you want to do 50 heats at a competition without feeling wasted afterward instead of 20 ? How about 100 heats, or maybe more?

Leg Speed & Agility: This is how fast you can move your legs with precision. Really important for those faster tempo dances like Cha-Cha or Quickstep. It’s one thing to be able to move your legs fast, but you also need to be able to do it while placing the leg exactly where you want instead of just looking like your legs are flailing wildly.

Let’s get a bit more specific, starting with leg strength.

Note:
I like to keep it old-school when weightlifting. All the resistance exercises I will talk about going forward can be done using basic weights (barbels or dumbbells) and other simple pieces of equipment (a solid chair, weight bench, etc.) that should be easy to find. No complicated fitness contraptions will be required!

Calf Raises
Ladies, if you compete in Latin dances and wear the short dresses (like I often see at competitions), you should really want to have strong calves. Not only will they look nice when you do a press line, but strong calves will help you stand forward on your toes better in heels.

This is a simple exercise – take two dumbbells and hold one in each hand while resting them on your shoulders. Depending on the type of dumbbell and the weight of it, you might consider putting a towel down on your shoulders to protect your skin. With the weights secure, raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

We want to do three sets like this: first set with your toes pointed straight forward, second set with the toes turned out, and the third set with the toes turned in toward each other.


I guess I should quickly mention what a ‘Set’ would be for you. The general rule of thumb I like to use is as follows…

-To build muscle, you want to use as heavy weight as you can to complete 8 to 10 reps. You should start to feel the burn around number repetition number 6.

-To tone muscle and build endurance, you want to use lighter weights and do 15 reps. The weights can’t be super light, because you still want to feel the burn, but this time the burn should come around the 12th repetition.


Single-Leg Calf Raise
This exercise will help you work on balance as well as strength. If your balance isn’t that great right now, do this exercise near a wall so that you can put a hand up to steady yourself as needed. Don’t keep your hand on the wall the entire time though, or else you really aren’t going to do as much to build the strength in the ankle that would help improve your balance.

These are similar to the normal Calf Raises, but we are going to be standing on one foot. This time, take a single dumbbell and hold it in the arm that corresponds with the leg that you are standing on. Use lighter weights here if you need to because of the balance component. Put all of your weight on one leg and hook your other foot behind the ankle of the standing leg. Keep the arm with the weight hanging at your side with the weight in line with your body. Raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

Because we are standing on one leg, you only do these with the toes pointed forward. Make sure to do this with both legs! You don’t want to be lopsided, after all. 🙂

Forward & Backward Lunges
If you do any of the ballroom dances in American Smooth or International Standard, you should know that to properly travel you have to be able to accept the weight into your moving leg as you shift from one standing leg to another on a traveling step (‘traveling step’ being defined as a step where you are driving yourself forward/backward in a figure, as opposed to rotational steps or non-traveling steps in a figure). I have found that an exercise that really helps me work on transferring weight and accepting the weight into my new leg is by doing Forward and Backward Lunges.

From a standing position with your feet underneath you about shoulder width apart, take one weight in each hand and hold them at your side. To do a Forward Lunge, step forward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower the body until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your front leg backward to the starting position.

To do a Backward Lunge, step backward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs in the same manner. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your back leg forward back into the starting position.

Speed & Agility
There are a couple of different kinds of workouts that I enjoy using to help improve my own speed and agility. One recommendation I have is looking into Plyometrics, a.k.a. ‘Jump Training’ – literally doing exercises where you are jumping off the ground. This is a higher-impact type of workout, so make sure that you feel comfortable with that before you try it out, and only do the workouts somewhere where you have a padded floor. A gym with concrete floors would be a terrible life choice.

Plyometrics will really help you develop that explosive power in your legs that you need to move quickly, and learning to jump with targets will help you improve the precision in your movements. If you decide to give it a try based on my advice, I bet you will thank me when you are hopping around like a pro during your Quickstep routine!

If a high-impact workout like Plyometrics seems like a bit too much for you, the other recommendation that I have that can help improve the speed and agility of your legs is taking up some form of martial arts. This is something that I will probably reference quite a few times, because there is so much about training for martial arts that can really benefit you as a dancer. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time working toward gaining a black belt to get the benefits – any type of martial arts program that involves kick actions can help you build leg speed.

I am not an affiliate with any program, nor am I trying to sell you on anything, but since I am being specific about exercises that I like to do in this post… I used to live near a place that offered BodyCombat classes. I love BodyCombat. Seriously. Imagine doing various martial arts moves in time to awesome music – that’s what BodyCombat is. As a dancer, that sort of workout might be right up your alley. It’s certainly up mine. 😉

If there’s a place near you that offers live classes, drop in once and see if you like it. If you don’t have a place near you but you have an empty room in your house (with a well padded floor for jump kicks), the online classes they offer are also fun. Make sure you have good speakers on your computer though, because it’s so much more fun when you pump up the jams!

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Enough about the legs. Let’s move on to what I think is the next most important area of your body as a dancer. It’s probably not the one that you’re thinking, but I’ll cover that one in a bit.

BACK

Yeah, I’m going to pull the back muscles out specifically rather than group them in with the core muscles like other people do.

There is so much that having strong muscles in your back does to help you as a competitive dancer. Strengthening the muscles in your mid-back helps you stand taller, and all dancers know how important posture is when dancing competitively. I was always taught that any arm motions that I might do when dancing are supposed to originate from the muscles in my back, specifically the rear deltoids (‘delts’) and the latissimus dorsi (‘lats’). For example, when I dance competitively I always find myself keeping my frame wide by pulling my lats out to the sides.

Aside from the benefits to your dancing, strengthening the muscles in your back can help protect your spine better, allowing you to avoid back injuries. Back muscles are super important!

Reverse Flys
This is a really great exercise for strengthening your rear delts. The rear delts are a small muscle group, so when you do Reverse Flys you don’t need a lot of weight. There are two ways to do rear flys – one gives you the option to brace your upper body against something, which will allow you to use slightly heavier weights. But even braced, 20lbs is going to seem super heavy for most people, so be sure to choose the right weight and stay safe!

Standing Reverse Flys are done by setting your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your back flat and bending at the waist, pushing your glutes out behind you. You want to bend so that your upper body is at slightly more than a 45° angle, but not so much that your back is parallel to the floor – that’s too much.

Let the arms dangle down toward the floor with the elbows slightly bent and a weight in each hand. Bring the arms up until your elbows are in a straight line with one-another, pause for one second, then lower them back down. Be sure to lower the weights slowly and with control, otherwise you risk slamming the weights into each other at the bottom with your fingers stuck in between. Ouch!

If you have a weight bench available to you, you can raise the bench up until it is in the medium position and rest your chest against the bench while you perform the movement. As I said, this will help you brace your body, and can help you try the exercise with slightly heavier weights, but make sure you still stay safe!

Cobra/Superman
A simple pair of exercises that are really good for strengthening the muscles in your lower back. The only difference between the two is whether you leave your legs on the ground or not.

Start out lying on the floor on your stomach with your legs together. For Cobra you can place your hands flat on the floor next to your head; Superman obviously has to have the arms held straight out in front of you. Inhale and raise your upper body off the floor to do Cobra, and raise both the upper body and lower body off the floor as you inhale to do Superman. Make sure that you keep looking down at the floor while you do this to avoid any strain in the neck. Pause for a second when you’ve raised up as high as you can go, then exhale as you bring yourself back down to your starting position.

For a simple variation to help build more strength while doing Cobra, you can take a light weight (a barbel plate works great for this) and rest your forehead against it. Hold the weight against your forehead as you inhale and raise your upper body off the floor. This will increase the resistance that your lower back muscles have to lift while doing the exercise.

Overhand Pull-Ups
You’re probably all going to hate me for recommending these, but this is another super simple exercise that helps strengthen the muscles in the mid back. While doing Chin-Ups is also helpful, a lot of people tend to incorporate a lot of bicep work when they do Chin-Ups – we want to focus on the back muscles here, so I recommend making sure that you are wrapping your hands over the top of the bar before pulling yourself up.

The trick to Pull-Ups is to make sure that you are pulling from the muscles that run underneath your shoulders and in the middle of the back. If you are feeling a lot of the pull from anywhere else, you are probably doing the action wrong. Keep your hands on the bar at about shoulder width to start with if you don’t really do Pull-Ups right now. As you get stronger, you can try widening your grip to challenge yourself, or bringing your hands closer together if you want an even harder challenge!

If you are not strong enough to do a Pull-Up right now, bring over a chair to the bar and put your feet up on it. Taking the weight of your legs out of the mix will make the Pull-Up easier. Over time you can graduate to using only one leg, and then to doing one or two with no legs on the chair and the rest using the chair, and finally to not using the chair at all. As always, modify to be successful rather than avoid something you think is too hard!

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SHOULDERS AND ARMS

We’re going to attach these two muscle groups together (Ha! See what I did there?).

The shoulders and arms are used quite a bit while dancing. Are you holding some kind of frame with your partner? The shoulders and arms are involved there! Are you competing in American Smooth or Rhythm or International Latin, and while in an open position with your partner and you don’t want to have your free arm hanging down like a limp noodle? The shoulders and arms are involved here too!

One big complaint that I hear from instructors I know who compete in Pro/Am is that, after dancing a bunch of rounds, their partner starts to get tired and struggles to keep their frame up. As their partner begins to droop, they tend to put a lot more weight on their Pro, which can put the Pro under a lot of physical stress. These Pros work at keeping their own strength and stamina up to help alleviate this problem, but wouldn’t it be better if their Amateur took away some of this burden by improving their own strength and stamina to keep their frame up stronger for longer?

Upright Rows
If you don’t know by now, I personally compete in International Standard, so keeping my own frame up is critical when I am out on the floor in front of the judges. If you compete in American Smooth, especially in the Closed Syllabus levels, there are requirements for how much of your routine has to be in closed dance frame as well. For the ballroom-style dances in Smooth or Standard, I find that Upright Rows are the perfect activity to train me to keep my elbows up while under pressure.

These can be done using either a barbel or with dumbbells. A barbel can help keep your elbows level as you lift, but if you have wrist issues a dumbbell will allow you to rotate your wrist more freely with the weight to stay comfortable.

Standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent to protect your back, hold the weights down in front of you with your arms fully extended. Draw the weights up the front of your body, bending your elbows and pulling them back in the process. Pause at the top for a second when the bar/weights are under your chin, and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.

Lateral Raises
Here’s another exercise that helps you strengthen the muscles involved with bringing your arms up. This movement focuses more on the muscle at the side of the shoulders.

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Grab a pair of dumbbells (you want lighter weights here) and hold them at your sides. Bend the elbows slightly – locking the elbows during this exercise can be painful. Raise the weights up to your sides until the arms are in line with your shoulders. Pause for a second at the top and then lower the weights back down slowly.

Tricep Extensions
The triceps are the muscles at the back of your arms. A lot of people spend tons of time working on the biceps in the front of the arms, but the tricep muscles are actually underneath more of the surface area of the arm than the biceps, so why wouldn’t you want to work on improving the triceps as well?

These are also the muscles that you use to pull your lower arm out when you extend your arms straight, so strengthening them will help you with that action. Don’t you want to have amazingly toned upper arms when you throw your arms out for Crossover Breaks or New Yorkers while dancing the Rumba or Cha-Cha?

Like with the Upright Rows you can do these with either a barbel or with dumbbells. This exercise is done lying down, either on the floor or on a bench. Start off by taking the weights in hand and holding your arms up straight away from the floor. Keep your elbows in – if your elbows start to drift away from your chest, either fight to keep them in or use lighter weights.

Bend your elbows to lower the weights down. If using a barbel, you would be lowering the bar toward your forehead; if using dumbbells you are lowering the weights to either side of your head. Make sure to control the weights on the way down! Pause for a second at the bottom, then slowly extend the arms back to the starting position.

I shouldn’t really have to say this, but please don’t crush your face while doing this exercise…

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Man, I feel like I’ve gone on forever, and there is so much more that I could say! So many more exercises that I could recommend in each section! But, unfortunately, I am not trying to design an entire workout routine here, I’m just offering up some notable exercises that I like to do which help pinpoint muscles used in dance.

Because this is already super long… how about I cut this in half and we’ll go over part two next week? Stay with me, and next week I will go over exercises to help dancers with their core, we’ll talk a bit about balance work, and finally I’ll spend some time talking about eating to help fuel these sorts of workouts.

Stay tuned – there’s more to come!

Know When To Listen, Know What To Listen For

I did actually manage to drag myself out of the house last Saturday night and go to a dance party. Blankets were calling my name really hard when I got done working out that afternoon, and I was super tempted to just give in to that siren song and curl up in a big pile with them… but I didn’t! It’s a good thing that I went too, because I found out some kind of hilarious information, and it was so much better that I got to hear it all first hand rather than have to try to piece the stories together later.

A couple of people who don’t come around in the dance world very often anymore made appearances at the dance party this weekend, which is what generated all the humor. The first person to show up that I hadn’t seen in a really, really long time was HotDog. He looked… well, like he had seen better days. He didn’t talk about it much, but I the story I got from Points (who was the second person that I hadn’t seen in a long time that also showed up at the party) was that he had made some questionable choices in life recently, so things have not been going super well for him because of that.

The timeline on all this is pretty vague, since HotDog won’t give anyone the full story or will give each person who asks a slightly different story, but the general details are: about three months or so back HotDog either quit his job, or was fired from it (I heard from one person that he was also blacklisted by the employer… who knows what that means). Because of the job loss he also got kicked out of his apartment – or left his apartment by choice, no one knows for sure which – because he didn’t have money to pay the next month’s rent. The part of the story that we know for sure picks up when he called Points out of the blue one day around that time, and she could give us an actual account of what happened next.

While Points was out-of-town on a business trip, she got the call from HotDog. There was obviously something going on, but HotDog wouldn’t tell Points all of the details over the phone. Worried about his well-being, she told him that he could go crash at her house while she was out-of-town, and when she got back she would try to be a shoulder he could lean on as he tried to put his life back together. He stayed at her place for two days by himself, and then Points returned home and he stayed for one more day while she was there before she ended up telling him that he had to find a new place to stay because he was being a pretty terrible house guest.

During that short time, according to Points, he just went through and devoured everything in her house that was edible. Because she travels a lot for work, she normally keeps a lot of frozen food in stock so that she has things to eat that won’t spoil while she is traveling. HotDog ate most of what she had in her freezers – food that would have lasted her for months, just gone in the course of three days. Strangely enough, I guess he also spent the whole time sleeping on the couch rather than in the guest bedroom. Also, Points said that he destroyed the toilet in the guest bathroom in a pretty gross way. It was kind of funny to hear, but I won’t elaborate further to save you the gross details.

After three days of staying there, HotDog just up and left. He had met some random girl who lived in the city on a dating app, and this girl offered to take him in, so he just packed up what little he had and went to go live with a complete stranger. If that doesn’t sound sketchy enough, rather than going out to get a new job, he told all of us at the dance party that he was spending his free time (which, since he’s unemployed, is all the time) working on his ‘dream job’ – making a “million dollars or less” (yes, he really said that) by posting videos of himself online. How’s that going for him? Well… so far, since he created his channel two months ago, he has posted a grand total of three videos.

I guess that making videos to post online is hard, time-consuming work?

I get the impression that this girl who HotDog met on a dating app that he is now living with isn’t a romantic interest for him even though they met on a dating app. That night at the party there were a couple of ladies who showed up together. They were both recent arrivals from out-of-state who had moved in a few months ago. Back where they came from they had spent a lot of time doing some sort of line dancing, but since there isn’t a lot of line dancing-specific events in my neck of the woods, they both decided to give partner dancing a try, which is how they ended up at the party that night.

One of the girls was younger and more attractive than the other, and HotDog definitely took an interest in her early on in the evening. He spent a lot of time near her during the Salsa lesson that was taught before the party, and then once the party started he would often go to where the two ladies were sitting together and grab that same girl for chunks of dances – not just one song, but four or five in a row. He was doing his best to try to show her all the basics for all the different styles of dance that he knew, and only seemed to release her back to her seat when the DJ put on a song for a dance style that he didn’t know.

His actions were bordering on the creepy side, so during one of those chunks of songs when HotDog had the lady out on the floor I went to go talk to her friend briefly. I let her know that HotDog is usually pretty harmless, but if her friend needed a way to escape from him that they could just flag me down and I could step in discreetly and pull HotDog off to the side to chat. The friend laughed about that and thanked me, saying that so far her friend didn’t seem distressed, but the two of them were also having a lot of wine so that might also be keeping her relaxed about the situation.

Funny enough, while I was talking to the friend, Sparkledancer came over to tell her that she noticed that HotDog was spending a lot of time with the one girl, and said that if he was being a creep that she could just flag me down and ask me for help. We both laughed because I had just made that offer before Sparkledancer got there.

We didn’t actually have to worry too much though. HotDog didn’t stay at the party that night for very long, and it was after he left that Points told some of us the story of HotDog staying at her house. It was probably for the best that I heard that story after he had left. I’m not sure if I could have looked at him the same way after I heard about that whole ordeal.

Don’t get me wrong – it was good to see that he was still alive and kicking. He did promise that he wouldn’t disappear for so long again, saying that he would definitely try to come to the same party next month. We’ll have to check back in on him then to see how he’s doing. Who knows? Maybe he will have achieved Internet fame and fortune by that time. I’ll be sure to let you know if that happens!

Moving on… let’s talk about Latin Technique class on Monday night. Lord Junior is still working on preparing for a competition that he is going to with a bunch of his Pro/Am students in February, so in class that night we spent time focusing on figures from multiple dance styles that his students needed to work on. We did the same thing last week, pulling one figure from each of three different dance styles rather than focusing on one style for the whole class. Lord Junior told us as class got underway that night that he had so much fun doing class that way last week that he wanted to do it all over again!

We started off by looking at Samba. Last week we looked at Botafogos, and this week we looked at Samba Locks. This is a different figure in the Gold syllabus for Samba than the Cruzados Walks & Locks – the Samba Locks are distinguished by having straight legs versus the Cruzados Walks & Locks where the knees have flex in them the entire time. This figure we worked through on our own heading down the length of the floor for a while, then paired up with someone in class doing two-Lock sets that would move alternately away from and then toward our partner. I was only sort-of successful with these Samba Locks – I could get my hips to kind of make the right movements on the left side, but the right side was just a disaster that did not look good at all.

Next up we moved on to Cha-Cha, and this week we focused on Cuban Breaks, doing a set of them to the right and then shifting over and doing a set to the left. At the end Lord Junior threw in a Spiral Turn and Forward Lock Step. His reasoning was that we hadn’t worked on Spiral Turns in class in quite a while, so he was going to give us one for extra practice. Maybe it’s because there was a lot less rotational hip movement during this set of figures, but I felt pretty confident and comfortable while going through the Cuban Breaks, and my Spiral Turn into the Forward Lock at the end was spot on. Even when we did this to music and up to tempo I still felt good about everything. Hooray for me!

To close out the class, Lord Junior decided to have us work on a more difficult figure, one that he said that you almost never see anyone doing. It is actually a variation of the ending of the Aida called the Double Spot Turn. The ending variation is still a part of the Silver syllabus for International Rumba, but the variation is much more difficult to do properly, so most of the time you will just see dancers doing the normal ending that involves rocking in place before squaring up with your partner.

Calling the ending a “Double Spot Turn” was misleading – I expected it to be something like a double spin that you can lead in various Swing dances, where you do twice the amount of turn in the same amount of time. This was actually doing twice the amount of turn in twice the amount of time. That didn’t really make the thing any easier, but I just wanted to point that out. Over two measures, you are basically doing two Solo Spot Turns next to your partner. Starting in Aida position, the first measure you step and turn, then step and turn, then step and hold. Over the second measure you turn and step, then turn and step, then turn to face your partner and step to the side together to finish. Being over two measures of music does make the move slower, but turning like this is still really fast when done at tempo.

One last thing, then I’m done for the week. Yesterday night I actually got to go to Standard Technique class. I was supposed to have a lesson with Lord Dormamu, but he had to reschedule. Rather than stay home and take the night off, I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall for class. It turned out to be an entertaining choice for a couple of reasons. I thought the material that we covered in class was fun – we looked at some figures from the Waltz, a bit of a mixture between American Waltz and International Waltz.

On top of that, there was a couple that showed up at the studio just before class started. They were from out of state, visiting friends for the weekend, and had decided to do some dancing while they were here. They had seen advertisements for the other group class that goes on Wednesday nights at the Electric Dance Hall – there is some well-known lady who teaches classes for a few hours each Wednesday on a couple of different varieties of Swing dances. The lady from this out-of-town couple was really getting into the class that they were in, but the guy was more interested in the Waltz that we were doing. I saw him watching us from across the room a lot, sometimes forgetting that he was supposed to be participating in the class that he paid to be in until his partner poked him to get his attention back.

I thought that was funny to see. Men who dance have been doing fascinating things lately, haven’t they?

As for what the choreography that we actually ended up with in class looked like, it was pretty short when all was said and done. We started out facing diagonal wall and did a basic Open Twinkle, coming out heading toward diagonal center in Promenade Position. Next we went into a Quick Open Reverse from Promenade Position, and coming out of that we went into a Tumble Turn. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I had ever done a Tumble Turn in Waltz – I know that I’ve done it in Foxtrot a few times, but I can’t remember ever doing it in Waltz before.

After the Slip Pivot that ends the Tumble Turn, we split apart with our partner. The Leads would take one step backward and then one step to the side and hold while we led the Follow through a Underarm Turn out to our left side. The turn was overturned so that she would end in Side-By-Side position with us, and we held like that for a full measure allowing the Follow to stretch away from us and create a fancy-looking line for dramatic effect. Because we were running out of time in class when we hit this point, Lord Junior switched up what he wanted to have us do and instead we finished by doing two Grapevine movements in Side-By-Side position traveling down the line of dance.

That’s all I have for this week. As I said, my lesson with Lord Dormamu had to be rescheduled for this weekend, so I might have interesting things to say about that next time. I don’t know if I will be going out to do anything else besides practice this weekend. There are a couple of things that are going on, but I have some work I need to take care of at home which I have been procrastinating on. Maybe I should actually put some time into doing that…

Also, I have been reading the things other people have been writing about all the new exercising that they have been doing since we hit 2019, and it’s gotten me thinking about all the different things that I have put into my workouts and diet over the years to support dancing. You know, like different strength training sets I use to build up muscle groups that help me move while I dance, or balance training, or the calorie calculations that I use, etc.. I have been mulling over writing some of that down and sharing it with all of you dancers lurking here… but I’m not sure if anyone else would find that kind of information helpful.

What do you think? Would anyone out there want to see that? 🙂

Now I’m Here Blinking In The Starlight

Something funny happened over the weekend – on Sunday morning, as I was on my way out the door to meet up with Sparkledancer to practice for a while, I got a text message from Lord Dormamu. Getting a text message from him seemed a little weird since he was at a competition judging, so when my phone made the noise to tell me that I got a message from him, I was surprised. The message itself was terse, asking me if I could check a couple for him based on their competitor number and send him some information on who they were. The final line in the message was “We need to make u [sic] move more.”

After some minor Internet stalking, I was able to track down the name of the competition Lord Dormamu was judging at, and then I found the registrants so that I could pull the names of the pair dancing under the number that he sent me. Based on the events I saw their names in from past competitions, it looked like they were dancing in an age category well below me, so I wondered what it was about this couple that made him think of me for some reason. I sent the notes I made back to him, and hung around my house for a few more minutes waiting to see if he would reply. When nothing came, I started to wonder if he was in the middle of judging and had just decided to text me randomly while doing so, which just seemed really funny to me.

I took off to go practice with Sparkledancer. Once I had made it to the studio and was putting my shoes on, I finally got a reply from Lord Dormamu asking if Sparkledancer and I had danced against this couple before, which obviously we hadn’t since those kids were still dancing in the kids’ categories in the previous competitions that I had seen online. Sparkledancer decided to get into the Internet stalking game at this point, and she managed to pull up what they were entered in at the competition that Lord Dormamu was judging that weekend. It looked like the two of them were dancing in the 18+ group at this competition for the first time, which would explain why they might have flagged on Lord Dormamu’s radar.

We have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Wednesday night, so I imagine that I will find out more about this mysterious couple that he saw at the competition and what that told him about my movement specifically. Up until that text message, the running joke with Lord Dormamu was that he thought I moved too much and I needed to pull things back to fit my steps into any ballroom smaller than the Endless Dance Hall (which is all other ballrooms that I have ever been to in my life). So the idea of trying to move more just makes my brain pop a little bit. What if I start running off the floor at the Endless Dance Hall too? Where would I even be able to go and dance if that starts to happen?

Aside from that strange little incident, the second item on the “Notable Dance Things From Last Week” list was Latin Technique class on Monday night. It was notable because Seedling came back! I had questioned whether I would ever see him again, since he had told Sparkledancer that he was reluctant to leave his current franchise studio situation, and his original complaint about that situation was that it was more expensive than he was comfortable with. I guess he has more money sitting around than he let on, because he is apparently willing to continue to spend money at the franchise and then also take classes elsewhere.

Also showing up to class that night for the first time in quite a while was Tanya Tiger! I have to point her out specifically because the story behind her being there is pretty funny – Tanya used to come to Latin Technique class all the time back in the day, up until she became unhappy with her current career path and went back to school to move into a different field. She actually finished school quite a while ago, but never returned to take class again with us when that happened.

At her last private lesson with Lord Junior, she was apparently telling him all about how she was sad that Latin Technique class was so early in the evening, because on Monday nights her significant other is out working late, so she just sits at home all alone. Since class was so early, she couldn’t get there in time after she got out of work. Lord Junior looked at her confused, and told her that Latin Technique class didn’t start at the time she mentioned… apparently she had forgotten what time class was, even though that time has never changed in all these year!, Also, she used to come to the class all the time! Also, the monthly class schedule is always posted on the calendar at the studio! Ha!

So Tanya promised that she would start coming to class again to have fun with us. Welcome back! This is good for her, since she still competes with Lord Junior, and there is an event coming up that she is working toward. Actually, Lord Junior and quite a few of his Pro/Am students are deep into preparations for an upcoming competition that they are all traveling to at the end of February. Class this week was built as a medley of steps from different styles that his competitive students who were there that night needed to work on.

We started off by looking at Botafogos in Samba. Lord Junior had us do Botafogos going both forward and backward that night individually (without partners). The Backward Botafogos were new. I’ve seen them before at social dances where the technique didn’t matter, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to do them and actually care about what I look like. The forward ones went better for me, but I think that’s only because I’ve done them in Latin Technique class many times before. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Samba is not my favorite dance style. I just feel awkward trying to move my body in the ways that people who dance Samba competitively are supposed to. I believe that it’s part of the ongoing curse of my white boy hips.

Lucky for me Botafogos were all we looked at in Samba, and then we moved on to look at some Rumba. Here we specifically focused on the Closed Hip Twist releasing to Fan Position. This time we were able to work with partners, since the Closed HIp Twist works much better for the Followers if you can rely on your partner to assist with the movements. Lord Junior did have Seedling and I step through the Follower’s figures before we paired off, saying that knowing what the Followers were doing would help us lead the figures better.

Finally that evening we looked at the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward figure from Cha-Cha. We started these off facing our partner, went into an Opening Out and then did the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Right-Side Position. At the end of the three we did an Opening Out on the other side and came back with the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Left-Side Position. At the end we did one final Opening Out, then squared up with our partner for a basic chasse to the left. Nothing too crazy, but Lord Junior focused on pointing out things that everyone could improve on to make the steps sharper, faster and cleaner to keep up with the music when we got to full speed.

So… how do you think that Seedling felt about class this week? Lord Junior is really nice to people the first time they come to one of his technique classes, so during last week’s class he really didn’t call out Seedling for things he needed to work on. This week was a completely different story, and there were several times that Lord Junior stopped him to make corrections on what he was doing (like he does with the rest of us who have been coming to class for a while).

Do you think being corrected might have changed Seedlings views on Latin Technique class? Well, lucky for you, you don’t have to wonder! Seedling was quite willing after class was over to share his thoughts with Sparkledancer, and she thought some of them were funny enough to forward to me. And now, to continue to pay it forward, I’m going to put them here for you to see!

“My only complaint. I wish he would’ve stuck with one style of dance for the whole class. That samba preferably. It’s harder than what we do at my studio

Feel like 3 is way too much to make the technique stick”

“The Cha Cha and rumba didn’t give me much trouble except for the rumba timing and him enforcing it more than I’m used to”

“I mean it’s no [sic] enough

It’s a lot higher level and I will have to practice it to make it muscle memory

Right now I feel like I just walked into class for the first time”

That last line really brings back memories. That was pretty much exactly how I felt after the first time I went to one of Lord Junior’s advanced classes after only taking the ‘advanced’ classes at the franchise studio I started off at. I remember feeling like I had gone to all those classes, but the instructors must have been leaving out large portions of the material for some unknown reason.

Maybe, based on these musings from Seedling, he might be starting to see that dancing competitively outside of his franchise location is going to be a challenge for him. Maybe. Sparkledancer told me that she tried to explain to him that non-franchise judges like the ones at all the big-name competitions that he is dreaming of going to with his franchise instructor are not going to be forgiving to him if he focuses solely on figures as he competes through the syllabus and ignores the technique until he ‘finishes’ that. He didn’t seem phased by that at all at the time, and continued to think that his plan was flawless. But now, that last line… maybe he’s finally starting to see the light.

I guess we’ll have to see. I get the impression that Seedling will be back for more, so this probably isn’t the last time I will mention him. 🙂

Yesterday night I got to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. We started out having a nice long chat about what he witnessed while judging that competition over the weekend that he was texting me during (he really was texting me during the event, he totally confessed to that), and how it related to my dancing. He also told me all about the drama going on behind the scenes with the event and the organizers, which was fascinating to hear about. The world of ballroom competition organization is kind of cut-throat business from the sounds of it!

More importantly though, we talked about the couple that he had asked me about, and what they were doing that made him think of me at the time. He told me that he was watching them dance in a smaller heat, so he was able to spend a bit more time paying attention to what they were doing. What dawned on him while watching that couple was exactly what it was about my dancing that was so different and still needed to be improved: the dynamic aspect of my movement. The way that this couple was moving – the quality of their movement, if you will – was much more dynamic and impressive than everyone else on the floor dancing against them. That is what Lord Dormamu wants to work with Sparkledancer and I over the next several weeks to improve.

We also talked about the results of that competition, which was another fascinating insight that I need to remember for when I take the floor. Despite how good the quality of the movement of this particular couple looked to Lord Dormamu, they did not end up winning those heats. Another couple actually took home the first place stickers for those rounds. I was curious what it was about that other couple who actually won that was so much better, because I thought that I should know to also work on that aspect, since I think the goal Lord Dormamu has for Sparkledancer and I is ultimately to take the top spot.

He started to tell me all about the other judges that were watching the events with him. Most everyone else on the panel that day were formerly high-level Latin champions, so he told me that the way they look at people who dance American Smooth or International Standard is very different from how he and other high-level Standard champions would judge a couple in those events. Those judges, according to him, were likely focused on picking at various small technical points – footwork, connection, etc., because they didn’t know as much about how the movement should look in International Standard. One couple taking more heel steps in the wrong places than another is an easier thing for any judge to count up and mark down rather than evaluating the way that the couple was moving together across the floor in the particular style of dance being done.

The remaining judges on the panel were all apparently ‘old and blind’ according to Lord Dormamu. One judge that he name dropped to me is supposedly in his 80s and can barely see his score sheet if he holds it up in front of his nose as he marks each couple. To a judge like that, the quality of the movement or the technical points of the dance style don’t matter as much as which competitors are the ones moving the biggest – because the bigger the couple moves, the easier they would be for that judge to see.

So… with all of this in mind, I asked what it was that we needed to focus on going forward. Well, Lord Dormamu’s answer to me was that we needed to make sure that we were better at everything. You know, nothing too challenging, right?

To begin with, Lord Dormamu was going to start working with us on making sure that our movements were as dynamic as possible so that we could easily beat couples like the one that stood out to him if we come across them in competition. That is going to be the focus of our next lesson(s) until he is satisfied with that aspect of our dancing. The technical points he told Sparkledancer and I are actually something that should be a part of all of our practice sessions to ensure that all of the points outlined in ‘the book’ are perfect for each figure. He wasn’t going to spend his time with us focusing on that because those are all written down, but he would point out any spots that he saw when we were together if either Sparkledancer or I did something wrong.

As far as moving big to be noticeable to one of the ‘old and blind’-type judges that he mentioned, that was something that Lord Dormamu admitted that I actually had an advantage over. I already move really big, covering a lot of space with each figure that I cover. I am also a pretty large guy compared to most other male dancers we come across, so my musculature is actually an advantage here because it makes me more visible. But other than the quantity of my movement and my size, there isn’t really much else we could do here to help in this situation… so for now I’m going to just hope that that’s enough!

We spent the entire time we were dancing last night working with the Waltz as our tool to discuss quality of movement. Starting out, Lord Dormamu had us go through the dance once with the music before he started talking about any specific points. When he stopped us and had us come back over, he told the two of us that everything was looking a lot better than he was expecting. I guess the work that I have been doing trying to increase the flexibility in my back is paying off, because he mentioned that as one point that made it all look much, much better than last time we were together.

The biggest change that he asked us to work on starting that night was actually for Sparkledancer. He wanted her to start really focusing on getting herself out of my way when I am moving forward. The goal is that as soon as she feels my body begin to shift, she needs to move herself backward (obviously without breaking body contact). This will prevent me from actually pushing against her body when I am ‘driving through’ as so many people have called it over the last few years.

Having her do this kind of threw me off the first time Lord Dormamu had her try with me after he was done going through the change with her. Sparkledancer doesn’t weigh a whole lot, so it has never been much of an issue for me to move myself forward while she is in front of me. I chalk that up to having strong legs. But suddenly there I was pushing myself forward using the same amount of force that I normally use, and there was no weight at all in front of me holding me back! So that amount of force almost became too much. This is definitely a change that is going to require practice this week to feel more comfortable with, in all of the dance styles.

Also, as a side effect to not having any weight pushing against me as I move forward, I cover more distance. Just what I needed… I really am going to start running myself off the floor no matter where I am dancing. It’s a real problem for me!

Quality-wise, there is a lot of focus on the two of us moving this way, all while ensuring that we are completely grounded to the floor and really into the legs. In the Waltz, that means a renewed focus on the falling action to really show the swing through the dance. This is actually easier for me to do when I am bending my back in this banana-like shape – the curve forces me to ‘sit’ when I am lowering, almost like going into a one-legged Chair Pose in Yoga (it’s one-legged since the other leg is preparing for the next step). This subtle change actually helps me control the lowering a lot better, interestingly enough.

Aside from moving through each figure slowly to ensure that our swing and sway actions looked impressive (which is a bit boring to talk about, so I’ll save you from that tedium), the only other notable fix that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on was coming out of the Hesitation Change in the first corner and going into the Double Reverse Spin and a Reverse Turn. His problem was that the first step into the Reverse Turn looked weak, so we had to back up through the preceding steps until we found the source of the issue.

It turns out that as I was exiting the Hesitation Change, I was unintentionally squaring up my body, rather than leaving the left-side lead that I create while hesitating. Coming out of the Hesitation Change and leaving my body in the same position through the Double Reverse Spin and the Reverse Turn fixes the weakness with the first step  of the Reverse Turn that Lord Dormamu was seeing. So this was totally my fault. Now it should be fixed, and as long as I remember to always do it the right way, hopefully that takes care of that.

So yeah… that’s about it for this week. Practice is probably what I will spend much of my weekend working on, to try to get more comfortable with the changes that Lord Dormamu wants from me. Other than that, I think that a few people mentioned to me that there is a dance party on Saturday night… so I should probably make an appearance at that as well, but practicing the dynamics of my movement has got to be a priority. After all, we are only about a month off from my next competition. If I want to be ready to showcase improvement in these areas at that event, I’ve got to do the work!