The Quest Is Long And The End Is Near…

So I’m less than a week out from my next competition, which is the biggest competition I’ve gone to in a while, and do you know what happened? I got a text message from my coach over the weekend telling me that a visiting coach is coming into town and he has booked time on the guy’s schedule for Sparkledancer and I to meet with him. You know, a week out from competition… when I should be spending my time just running through everything rather than trying to cram more new knowledge into my head. No big deal, right?

Normally I don’t question my coach when he tells me to do these things, but as I finished up the coaching session on Monday night and walked out to my car to begin my drive home, I was having a bit of an existential crisis. I walked into the Endless Dance Hall that night thinking that this would be a coaching session much like the ones I had a few weeks ago, where I would just be meeting with this guy to make sure that he knows my name and would recognize my face in the future the next time he judges me somewhere.

It turns out that this guy is someone who my coach actually trusts with his students, who has deep philosophical knowledge about ballroom dancing that is useful. On top of that, he is also on the judging panel for the competition that I am going to this coming weekend. So… yeah, that meant that I couldn’t just write off everything he said like my coach told me to do with all the things the other judges told me when we finished up. At least, I didn’t think that I could. I’m really not sure anymore what is important to take away from these meetings.

My coach Lord Dormamu was there with us the entire time, teaching some of his other students on the opposite side of the room. When we got started, he gave the visiting coach a rundown of what we had been doing lately, and asked him to take a look at the way that I hold my frame while keeping my chest out, and Sparkledancer’s volume (which are the two major points he told Sparkledancer and I to focus on) to see if he had any other recommendations he could give us to improve those areas before going into the competition next weekend.

The visiting coach put on some music and had us dance through all of our routines in no particular order for ninety seconds each. When Sparkledancer and I finished and we all met back up in the middle of the room, the coach turned to Sparkledancer and told her that he already knew how he could help her create more space to look bigger, but it was actually going to be me that was going to have to change something to make that happen.

Can you guess what it was that he wanted me to change to help her out?

.

..

Yup, he wanted me to make an adjustment to my frame. Remember how I said something along the lines once about how you could ask ten coaches what the correct way to hold your frame was and you would get fifteen different answers back? This was another of those moments.

Specifically what I was doing with my right arm is what he wanted to have me change. Lord Dormamu has worked and adjusted me quite a bit, and somehow in all of that adjustment my right hand has ended up sitting just below the top of Sparkledancer’s left shoulder. This makes it easier for me to keep my right elbow up, which is a trouble point that Lord Dormamu is always concerned with when he watches me dance. There have been minor adjustments to where my hand has been placed over the 2+ years that I have been dancing competitively like this, but the hand has always ended up in roughly this place through that entire time.

However, this coach says that keeping my arm and hand up that high on her shoulder is actually preventing Sparkledancer from creating the space that she is being asked to create. Because keeping her legs under her forces her to keep her lower spine straight, the only option she has to create space is to bend herself up and over my right hand/arm. If I am keeping my hand up so high, the coach told me I am making it impossible for her to do that. Sure, that makes sense.

Also, he was worried that during any turning figures we do I might instinctively tighten my right arm as I rotate. Because my hand is near the top of her shoulder, if this action would unintentionally press inward with any force in my right hand I pretty much guarantee that I am going to fold Sparkledancer’s left shoulder toward my chest. The coach pointed out that while Sparkledancer may be strong, no matter how much she might try to fight against my right hand to keep her upper body away from me she would be no match for the strength in my arm.

His recommendation was to have me hold my right arm out straight, let her get into position with me, and then close my right hand to her body lower, so that my palm is basically against her lat muscle and my fingers are resting underneath her rear deltoid. Just dancing around like this doing some basic steps from our Waltz routine made life so much easier for Sparkledancer, and she was surprised how much of a strain that took off of her. That is a major point in favor of this change.

Sparkledancer excitedly asked if there would be a similar change to how I hold her for Tango, since that frame is slightly different. The coach told me that the idea is the same, except that once I close my right hand to her I would rotate my spine to bring my right side forward, allowing my right hand to slide toward her spine in the process. Other than that, everything else remains the same.

However… I had to stop and ask about this. In order to make the change he wanted, I am basically rotating my forearm to turn my palm upward. Rotating my arm like this naturally brings my right elbow down so that it looks (in my peripheral vision at least) like my right elbow is way below my left elbow. I can’t bring my right elbow up higher while my forearm is rotated like this without a painful sensation in my shoulder, which tells me that I shouldn’t be doing that. This coach told me that while he can see the elbow being down when standing at a distance, it isn’t as bad as I was making it seem.

I still wasn’t convinced that this was a good idea, since I have been yelled at so much to keep my elbow up and putting my arm in this position was guaranteeing that I wouldn’t be able to do that. He told me that when he is judging dancers in a competition, his first judgement is based on how the dancer’s spine looks. If the spine is straight, then he will move on to look at the arms. For me, he said, it is easy for him to see that my spine is straight and my shoulder and arm are naturally sitting in the position that he had asked me to be in, so he wouldn’t think twice about my right elbow being slightly lower than my left one. Especially considering that Sparkledancer is shorter than me, so my arm has to be down slightly to fit under her arm.

If I was forcing my arm to do something out of the ordinary, he would be able to see that my right shoulder wouldn’t be laying flat. He moved my arm around to demonstrate how the shoulder (especially one with as much muscle as mine) would stick up in funny places if I tried to make the arm do something that was against my anatomy. So this coach thought that the placement of my elbow in relation to the new placement of my hand wasn’t a problem. If he ends up judging any of my rounds at the competition this coming weekend, he has all but guaranteed that he wouldn’t mark me down for that.

That helped me feel pretty OK about everything by the time we finished up that coaching session. As I was about to head back over to where my street shoes were so that I could take off my dance shoes, I heard Lord Dormamu call my name. He waved me over and told me to grab Sparkledancer and hang out for a few minutes. He was almost finished teaching the other couple that he was working with, and when they were done he was going to have both of us run rounds (both of us will be going to the same competition next weekend).

Running those rounds was what made me stop feeling good about everything…

The coach I had worked with was sitting along the edge of the floor, Lord Dormamu was up at the front running the music for us, and I was on the floor with this other random couple who danced at a super high level. That part didn’t bother me so much, because even though they were much higher level and were doing all the fancy moves while flying around the floor, I was easily twice the size of the other guy. I caught eyes with him before we started in an attempt to give him a sense of camaraderie, but I think he might have interpreted me wrong because he stayed waaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell away from me after that. Did I scare him?

The issue I had was with Lord Dormamu yelling things across the room at the two of us during these rounds. As you might imagine, the thing he yelled to me the most was about bringing up my right elbow, which I physically could not do since I was holding it in the position that the other coach (who was also watching us dance this whole time!) had told me was going to be fine. That twenty minutes spent running rounds while getting yelled at to do something that I could not physically do really kind of… broke me.

After we finished, I said goodbye to everyone and walked out into the rain to head to my car. The rain felt kind of fitting at that moment. I was really questioning whether dancing competitively like this – working with so many high-level coaches who all tell me different things, playing the dance politics game to help garner favor in my results, paying so much time and treasure for this experience – was really something I wanted to do.

Full disclosure for a moment: I am not a competitive person by nature. Really, I actually have very little interest in competition against other people. I like challenging myself, but only against my own results. Like working out – I keep notes on what I do when I exercise, especially for weightlifting sets. Pushing myself to lift heavier or do one more rep (when I can do it safely) feels right for me. But I don’t go around bragging about my results when I do it, I just do it because I like the sense of improvement that I get from hitting a new level.

Stacking myself against other people like I have been doing when I go to all these dance competitions isn’t something I would normally choose to do. On my drive home that night, I began to wonder seriously if I have just been going along with what Lord Dormamu has been telling me to do since he thinks that I have whatever quality it is that a competitive dancer needs. And that’s great… except for the part where I wouldn’t normally choose to compete at all, which is a quality that I’m guessing a competitive dancer shouldn’t have. How much am I actually enjoying all this stress that Lord Dormamu’s demands and expectations are putting on me?

I never resolved that question that night. When I got home, I zoned out and did something mindless to forget about the evening. But I couldn’t just ignore those thoughts forever – especially since I was scheduled to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer again on Wednesday night for one final session with him before the competition this weekend.

Wednesday’s session made me feel a lot better about dance life than the ending of the session on Monday night did. There were three points that Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that he wanted us to focus on for this particular competition: keeping my chest out, keeping our topline calm the entire time that we move, and maximizing the amount of volume that Sparkledancer creates. Everything else he said was best left to muscle memory at this point in time.

Lord Dormamu also gave the two of us a promise that night. Once this competition is over he said, we will finally start work on moving up to the next proficiency level. After being bored out of my mind working on the same things over and over again for almost two-and-a-half years, we are finally going to get new routines, with new figures and techniques to challenge myself with. This certainly has sparked my interest. Maybe boredom is the reason that I was feeling so bad about how the night ended on Monday night – I have gotten so disinterested in doing the same steps in practice over and over again that I just don’t feel any drive to do those steps any more.

So in the end, once this weekend is over I will probably spend some time sitting at the ‘think about my life choices’ table to seriously consider how I really feel about competitive dancing at this level. I don’t think anything will change, but since these thoughts came into my mind I have to spend some time addressing them. After all, this is a really expensive (really, really, really expensive) hobby to be doing if I am not 100% committed to it.

Will the promise of getting new routines to work on reignite my drive and bring back the fun of dancing? Or will I find it to be the same kind of slog that I am in now, which just feels like work on many days when I go out to dance? I’ll figure that out in time.

First thing’s first – this weekend’s competition. Wish me luck!

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The Journey Seems Endless But I’ll Carry On

To make up for the lengthy post last week, I’m going to limit my stories this week to just two items. I’ll talk about Latin Technique on Monday, because that class brought a whole mess of drama with it, and then my lesson with my normal coach that I had on Wednesday night. The drama is… well, I was only dealing with it vicariously, but it still got weird. So bear with me while I work through that a bit.

So Monday night at Latin Technique class we looked at Samba. Lord Junior was having a lesson with his student Gatekeeper before class started, and there was a piece of her Samba routine that she was having trouble with as they were finishing the lesson. Rather than promise her that they would work on it the next time they got together, Lord Junior had all of us work on that same piece during class to help her out. I don’t know what part in this sequence that was giving Gatekeeper trouble in her lesson since she seemed to get through everything just fine when I danced through the section with her. Maybe the class magically solved her problem?

The sequence in question was pretty short. Lord Junior started us off with four Criss Cross Botafogos, which wasn’t actually part of the routine but he said it was an easy place to start us moving so we ended up in the right position. From there the ladies did a Solo Spot Volta while the men did a Stationary Samba Walk. As the ladies turned, we kept hold of their right hand with our left, and at the end we reached our right arm around the lady’s right side to take their left hand, putting us in Sweetheart Position. In this hold we did three Samba Walks heading down the line of dance. After the third we did a Rolling Off The Arm, then rolled the ladies back in as we faked a step to get into Shadow Position. We finished with a pair of Volta Movements down the line of dance, since we ran out of time to go any further.

That part of class was pretty normal, and though I never feel all that good when I do Samba, I managed to get through the sequence pretty well with all the ladies. What created the drama in this class was Seedling. I didn’t find out about this until after class was over, and it wasn’t really explained to me all that well, but at some point, either when getting the lady into Sweetheart Position or into Shadow Position (or both, maybe), Seedling got a little… handsy. Sparkledancer was in class that night, and was the one who actually told me about it happening to her, and she said that she also saw Seedling do the same thing to Gatekeeper.

I have no idea why his hand would have been up so high while trying to get the ladies into Sweetheart Position, or coming around the side of the lady at all when getting into Shadow Position, but as I was standing out in the parking lot in front of the Electric Dance Hall after class was over, Sparkledancer told me that his hand was definitely there – fingers grazing all over places that made her cringe. It got to the point that when dancing through the pattern with him, she started to cross her arms over her chest without even thinking about it to try to prevent his hand from getting to that point again.
Lord Junior was the one that noticed her doing this, and called her out on it. While dancing through the pattern with her, when he put his right hand out to take her left hand in Sweetheart Position, she didn’t grasp it like she was supposed to. He had to knock his hand on her right hip a few times to remind her to grab hold before they got to the Rolling Off The Arm. Trying to roll her out without a hand to hold on to would have caused all kinds of problems.

But it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that seemed to be crossing her arms over her chest rather than taking the hand in Sweetheart Position.. Three out of the four ladies that were in class that night were hugging themselves in this same manner, and when Lord Junior danced with them and they did this he would have to say something to get them to give him their hand before they hit the Rolling Off The Arm. There were times that I could think of when ladies in class had done the same thing to me and I struggled to get a hand as we were dancing.

Once Sparkledancer told me about what Seedling had done to her and how she thought it might have caused her to cross her arms over her chest protectively, it made me wonder if the same thing might have happened to the other ladies in class, which is why so many of them neglected to give Lord Junior and I their hand. Since Sparkledancer said she saw the same thing happen to Gatekeeper, it would make sense that she would unconsciously react the same way, and that might explain why she had missed the hand link a few times. Did the other two ladies go through the same thing?

When the shock of hearing what happened in class left me, the next thing that came into mind was the story that Seedling has told a couple of times about how his instructor at the franchise studio he goes to chewed him out for “inappropriate touching” while he was practicing with her. To me, one time something happens can be considered an accident, two times with two different people is a bit coincidental, but three times with three different people? Possibly more? That makes me think that something else is going on here. If Seedling hadn’t already left to head home after class, I probably would have considered having words with him to see what was going on.

Instead, Sparkledancer asked me if she should mention it to him. I thought about it for a second, and then replied that if it happened to her and she doesn’t say anything, then she is basically deciding that she is OK with what transpired – which I didn’t think that she was since she just finished telling me how weird the situation made her feel out in the parking lot, rather than just messaging me about it when she got home. Since Sparkledancer has a running conversation with Seedling most days via text, I thought she should let him know what he did, and how he can fix the issue going forward so that it doesn’t happen again – predominantly by lowering his hand so that it is near the lady’s hip rather than keeping his hand up anywhere near her chest.

It seemed like the right thing to do to me, but oh man did that advice take the situation all the way off the rails…

Rather than apologize for inadvertently touching someone inappropriately, Seedling’s reaction was first to deny that anything even happened because he “didn’t feel” anything during class, and then he turned the conversation around so that he seemed like the victim in all of this. After Sparkledancer reached out to Gatekeeper and got confirmation that Seedling had accidentally touched her in the same way, Seedling continued to deny that he had done anything wrong, even though there were now two ladies from class saying that they had clearly felt his hand somewhere that it shouldn’t have been.

This conversation between Sparkledancer and Seedling apparently continued late into the evening, until finally she got sick of Seedling telling her that she obviously couldn’t have felt his hand grabbing her breast because he didn’t feel that. She quit talking to him and went to bed. That wasn’t the end of things though, because Seedling wouldn’t let this perceived insult to his dance pride go, and he went back at the situation the next day.

His new approach on Tuesday was to tell her that if he really had done something wrong, any of the ladies in class who he had wronged should have said something at the moment so that he could have corrected the problem rather than “running away” from him after class. Also because Sparkledancer had talked to Gatekeeper about the issue, he was concerned that the two of them would start spreading rumors about something that he swore he hadn’t done to all the other ladies at the studio in order to turn all the women and also Lord Junior against him. All of this just because Sparkledancer tried to tell him to change where he was putting his hand to avoid any future problems.

Finally, Sparkledancer got fed up with all of this and told him that his reaction to her giving him helpful advice was inappropriate – there was no reason he should have been shifting blame and questioning if it happened. My phone started chirping on Tuesday morning as Sparkledancer forwarded me his response so that I could see firsthand what he told her in reply.

(This is all copy/paste; the spelling and grammar errors are not mine.)

“You two talked to each other and made your choice”

“Idk what was said..Or even when you had time”

“My reaction is my reaction.I am sorry that I accidentally did whatever you two thought I did.”

“Should I let myself get walked on?”

“Im not going to be told how my reaction should be.”

“Forced to do things”

“I just don’t like getting told that I’ve done something wrong that wasn’t intended. I don’t wrong people.”

“I take pride in not being an asshole..”

“But if feels from my perspective that everyone seems to think that.”

“No matter where I go.”

So… there’s sort of an apology mixed in there, but wow… There’s some hardcore victim mentality mixed in that mess. I’m beginning to understand why his instructor at the franchise studio might have chewed him out for accidental inappropriate touching. If his reaction to being told is to deny that anything happened and then turn the issue around so that he is the one being wronged, then it makes sense how that could have upset his instructor enough that she would yell at him. I want to yell at him for this, and he didn’t even stand close to me during that class! Sheesh.

Anyway… that’s all for that story. Let’s move on to something else – yesterday night I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with my coach. We are only a week-and-a-half out from the next competition that I plan on going to, so it was important to get together and go over everything at least once to make sure that Sparkledancer and I are in good shape for that event. I also wanted to spend a few minutes talking about the coaching that Sparkledancer and I had with the judges from the last competition.

As it turns out, according to Lord Dormamu I could just disregard all of the information that the judges I worked with gave me about changing how I danced. The whole reason that Lord Dormamu worked with the competition organizer to sign Sparkledancer and I up for those coaching sessions was just to get our faces in front of those judges. He told me that back when he was competing, he stopped keeping track of how much time and money he put into coaching sessions with judges that he had to do just to make sure the judges recognized him, not to actually learn anything. That is how the dance politics game is played, and he is trying to help Sparkledancer and I play it as best as he could.

So… that was a little disheartening. I understand the concept of stacking the deck in your favor, but there is a part of me that had hoped that somehow I could be good enough to get by on just my own skills, rather than playing intricate mind games to build a reputation with the people in power. I don’t like spending time networking, especially networking that I feel is pointless because there are no concrete results that I can point to in order to prove that the time spent was fruitful. Plus, it’s really expensive to do all of this if I can’t see any fruitful results. But I did agree to let Lord Dormamu choose my course through this competitive world since he is the expert, so if he says that it is a good idea that I do these things, then I will go out and do them.

Once we got that discussion out of the way, we got to dancing. That night we managed to look at Waltz, Quickstep and Foxtrot for quite a bit of time, and spent just a few minutes right at the end on the Tango before we had to stop because Lord Dormamu’s next students had shown up. Things were looking and feeling good that night overall, so the most important thing that we were given were overall thoughts that applied across the board, rather than any further corrections to specific figures.

The overall idea given to me that I needed to focus on before going into our next competition was my chest. Lord Dormamu wants me to take that broad chest of mine and work on having it stand out proudly as I move in all dances. The caveat to this is that I need to be sure to keep my head back while I keep my chest forward – if I don’t, then having my head out of place will destroy the look that he is trying to mold me into. The note for Sparkledancer was still that she needs to think about volume while moving. Nothing else fancy, just creating as much of it as possible will keep Lord Dormamu happy with her.
Otherwise we are looking pretty good. Since the next competition is so close and (based on the entries that we can see) looks like there will be a decent amount of competitors to challenge ourselves against, we aren’t going to try to change anything else between now and then. Once we finish that event we can come back around and start to make some more changes to the way that we execute figures. Based on the competition calendar, we will have a couple of months at least before the next competition, so we should be able to put in the time and effort to take everything to the next level. That’s the current working plan, at least.

Before leaving for the night, Lord Dormamu was telling me about a movie that he had gotten to go out and see recently, one that I had also gone to see a few weekends ago. There is another movie that is coming out in a few weeks that I am super excited about (I’m sure you can guess which one), so naturally he and I started talking about that movie as well. We were both speculating on what that movie would be like, and finally we just agreed that we should go see the show on opening night together – that way there was no chance that one of us would spoil the movie for the other. Going to see a movie with my coach will probably be hilarious.

All kinds of crazy stuff in the works for this month! What kinds of plans do you have on your calendar? It’s hard to believe that it’s already April. Where has the time gone?

Until Someone Moves Or Cares, Stay Captive

I had the unexpected addition to my dance calendar this past weekend of working with a visiting coach on Sunday afternoon. Lord Dormamu called me up late in the day on Friday and asked me if I would be available. The coach was a high-level female that he is friends with, and he wanted to have her spend some time working with Sparkledancer if possible, but he wanted me to be there as well so that I could play the Lead during the coaching session. Since I had nothing else planned for Sunday afternoon at that point, I told him I could be there.

This was one of those coaching sessions where the coach actually knew a lot about International Standard, so she had useful information to pass along to Sparkledancer, and even some for me as well. Other coaching sessions that I have done where I was just meeting with the coach for purely political reasons don’t usually give me many useful things to think about. I prefer the kind of coaching session I had last weekend, as you might imagine. It makes me feel like the money I spend on working with the coach gives me a better ROI.

First off, I want to relay something that I thought was funny. The coach was talking with Sparkledancer about something related to her left hand. I admit that I wasn’t paying much attention at first, since the way she holds her left hand doesn’t impact me too much, but after they talked for a bit the coach wanted to demonstrate to Sparkledancer, so they came over to where I was standing so she could use me as a prop. She asked me to stand there as if I was in frame and hold up my right arm for her to demonstrate with.

She started off showing Sparkledancer some change in the way she hooked her thumb around the front of my arm. Everything seemed fine until she started talking about how to hook the rest of her fingers over the arm… only to find that she couldn’t actually hook her fingers over mine. She stopped talking and fussed with her hand for a bit, and then looked at me with a funny look on her face. Looking back at Sparkledancer, she apologized and said that she’s never had to think about this before, because she had honestly never danced with someone who had an arm as wide as mine before.

Of course, I couldn’t hold back my laughter any longer after hearing that. I mean, obviously it did my ego good to hear her say that my arms were too big for her to demonstrate with, but it was just so funny to see how surprised she was by that fact. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt that afternoon, so it wasn’t like I was doing anything to hide my arm from her before she tried to wrap her fingers around it! That moment amused me quite a bit, so I thought I would share it here.

There was one point of information that the coach told me that afternoon that I thought was really profound, something that I had actually never thought about before. We were looking at the Waltz, and I had just led Sparkledancer through a Natural Turn when the coach randomly called out to me and asked me to stop and come back over. She had stopped me to ask why I was swaying so much during the Natural Turn.

I was a little taken back by the question. I told her that I’ve been told lots of times by various instructors that I should be arching my body as if I am pulling my left hip to the left while I close my feet on a Natural Turn, so that’s just what I do at this point. She said that was OK, but when we just did the Natural Turn a second ago, we had been looking at something else in the dance so we really hadn’t moved so much while going into the figure that would have caused me to sway like that.

That statement kind of confused me, and I guess she could see it on my face, so she told me a story. She said that once upon a time, deep in the history of ballroom dances like the Waltz, people used to dance without swaying. The topline was held level with the floor the whole time. She joked that this was also back in the days when the ballroom frame was much more loose, with the elbows held closer to the body, not wide and strong like it is supposed to look nowadays. A long, long time ago. This must have been like the ‘70s, or something. 😉

Anyway, when dancers started to move more as they danced, they found that they ran into an issue – driving yourself to move as much as possible in something like a Natural Turn while holding your topline level with the floor didn’t help you slow your momentum, so you would lose your balance in the figure and (potentially) fly off the floor. That was the whole reason that Sway was born. By arching your body away from the direction you are traveling, it shifts your weight toward the opposite direction which helps you arrest your movement and stop safely. That is the actual point of Sway she told me – to help stop your movements. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, going back to why she stopped me, she told me that I should only be swaying as much as my body naturally wanted to do, which is based on how much I drive myself along the floor. If I am just working on something and not moving a whole lot, than the sway shouldn’t be forced to look big, otherwise it seems really out-of-place. Whereas if I am flying down the floor in a Quickstep and I have a lot of momentum built up, going into a Natural Turn would naturally make my body want to sway a lot in order to bring my feet together and stop safely.

Her advice was to always let the sway happen naturally. Forcing it to happen or to be bigger than needed just made it look weird. Judges at competitions don’t like it when things look weird. I thought that was super interesting, and I had never thought about it like that before.

The other point that she gave me that I really liked was about my frame. At the beginning of the session she had us dance through our Waltz routine to music so that she could get an idea of what she was working with. Later on in the session she told me that she noticed places in the routine during my first run-through where my elbows were drooping a bit and not coming back up like she would have expected.

She told me that if I try so hard to hold my frame rigid, all I’m going to do is exhaust myself in the process. As my body moves around the floor, or even just breathes deeply she told me, judges would expect to see some subtle movements in my frame. That’s just how the human body works. Holding my arms completely rigid the entire time through multi-dance rounds would be impossible, and she thought it looked like I was trying to do that when I was dancing.

Her recommendation to me was to train myself to let my elbows rise and fall more naturally as I moved. In the Waltz for instance, I would work on lifting my elbows on every beat two in the music, and allow them to relax a bit at all other points. This will not only take the stress off my shoulders of trying to hold my arms in place the entire time, but it will also look more natural.

This coach really liked it when movements looked natural. Can you tell?

One other note that she told me along these same lines that was interesting was about taking steps. She said that as you are moving forward or backward, like when you are walking or dancing or running, your body naturally wants the width of your steps to be as wide as your shoulders. She called this a ‘universal principal’ of dance, a rule that many other rules in dance are expounded from.

Why was this relevant? Sticking with the Waltz as the example, I was told that when I am driving on the first step of each figure in the Waltz, I should always be moving forward or backward, and I should let my legs naturally take steps as wide as my shoulders. If I try to make the steps narrower, I run the risk of being unbalanced while I’m moving. If I open my leg up to step wider than my shoulder on either side, I will make myself turn in that direction whether I want to or not.

This tidbit of information came up because we were looking at one of the Reverse Turns in the routine. The coach thought it looked like Sparkledancer was having trouble getting around me, and she thought it was because I was stepping weirdly on the first step of the figure. Her advice to fix the problem was to step more naturally (surprise, surprise) and allow my leg to go straight back and only out as wide as my shoulder. That did make a difference, as Sparkledancer said afterward that the figure was much easier for her than it was than the way we had normally been doing it.

Working with this coach was good, and I enjoyed her unique perspective of how to dance properly using the natural movements of the body. Sparkledancer enjoyed the lesson quite a bit as well, and I know she mentioned to me that there were lots of points that the coach gave her that she is eager to put into practice. In the future if we get an opportunity to work with this coach again, I will definitely sign up for a time slot.

Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class. Class was pretty big that night, with some old familiar faces joining us for the evening. Ms. Possible has been coming to class on-and-off for the past couple of weeks, but this Monday both she and her amateur competitive partner Grampy Snaps decided to come out and join in the fun. With the diversity of competitors and non-competitors in class that night, there was some disagreement on what Latin dance style we should look at that evening, but the people who wanted to work on Samba won out in the end.

The pattern that Lord Junior gave us to look at that night didn’t consist of a lot of figures, but it could cover quite a bit of distance easily. We started off by doing three Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs, then we added on three Natural Pivots. Coming out of the last Pivot we did one more Promenade and Counter Promenade Run and then immediately stepped through a Volta and held the last two beats of the measure to slow down a little bit. To finish up we did a couple of twisting steps to work on rotational action in our cores, but the name that Lord Junior called the figure is really eluding me at the moment. Maybe it will come back to me later.

Things in class seemed to go alright for the most part while we were doing the figures slowly, but once Lord Junior had us do the progression with music and started to increase the tempo, I ran into an unexpected issue that I have never experienced before. The problem came during the Natural Pivots. The figure itself was fine, and I could get through them with no issues even at the fastest tempo we ran that day. My issue was actually with my partners. There were a couple of the ladies that freaked out while doing the pivoting action with me, and they just stopped dancing before we could go into the next figure.

I understand why it happened, but I’ve never actually had this issue really come up before. I will freely admit that I have a lot of mass (I admit it all the time, actually), so if I get my body moving it can be a lot to handle. Since I spend so much time moving myself, I know that I also have the control needed to stop my movement when I need to. I do it all the time, so I know what it takes and how to make it happen.

But when I start moving and my partner doesn’t know that I am in control of my own body mass, it can be a bit of a surprise. Especially if the lady is tiny and doesn’t weigh very much, like the ladies that I had the issue with that during this class. They weren’t driving themselves when they needed to, so rather than being a part of the movement that was happening, they were just holding on for dear life and the rotation of my body took them around where I was going. That freaked them out, so they stopped dancing as soon as the pivots were over, leaving me to move on into the next step all by myself.

I don’t really know if there is a good way to help with this. I tried to tell them that everything was under control, so they didn’t need to worry. Partners that I have danced with a lot (like Sparkledancer), or partners that were more… substantial (I’m sure there’s a more politically correct way to say this, but I can’t think of one at the moment) could get through the pivoting actions with me just fine. So… I don’t know. Pivots like this come up so infrequently during classes I take that I probably won’t put much thought into the issue this week. There are too many other things to think about right now.

In Standard Technique class on Wednesday night, we didn’t get to cover a whole lot of material. At my request, because I wanted to continue working on the items the coach talked with me about over the weekend, we looked at International Waltz. The figures that Lord Junior wanted to have us work on that night were very different from the ones we ended up doing. He had lofty goals for the progression he said he would cover, but all we ended up doing was a Natural Turn into a Running Natural Spin Turn, coming out into a Back Lock, and finishing with an Outside Spin into a second Natural Turn.

The reason that we didn’t get any further was because Seedling decided to join us in class again that night. This was his second foray into Lord Junior’s Standard Technique class, and he was in way over his head. So much so that Lord Junior had to pause class quite a few times to give Seedling extra assistance. Even simple things like how to do a Lock Step – which I know that Seedling had done with us during last week’s Latin Technique class – he struggled with during this class.

One of the people who joins us in Standard Technique class most weeks is an older lady. She loves to dance the ballroom-style dances, but her sense of balance isn’t that good and she gets dizzy easily if we do too many figures that spin in our patterns. Because Seedling was so unsure of his part during class this week, Lord Junior told this lady that she would only be dancing with either him or I, and she should skip over Seedling until he was more sure of his steps. He didn’t manage to get to that point before the end of class, so this lady never actually danced with him during the evening.

Unfortunately, that meant that the person who was asked to dance with Seedling through most of the class was Sparkledancer. Lord Junior paired the two of them up quite a bit because he knew Sparkledancer could help Seedling get through his part – essentially back-leading him as necessary to help him learn. Sparkledancer told me after class as we were walking out toward the parking lot that she felt like she didn’t get much out of class that night. She understood why she had been paired up with Seedling so much, but because he was so unsure of what he was doing she couldn’t use the rounds where she danced with him as time to work on her own part. That made me sad for her.

Hopefully over time Seedling will start to improve if he keeps coming to this class with us. I know that the franchise studio he normally takes classes at has not prepared him for this type of technical dancing, so for a while he will be working on acclimating to this kind of training. I wonder how long it will take for him to get through that phase? We certainly could use more Leads in both Latin Technique and Standard Technique, so the faster he can get comfortable the happier all the Followers in those classes will be!

This weekend is going to be a bit more than I originally bargained for. I was planning on going to a small competition on Saturday to dance. Last weekend I got a call from the competition organizers begging me to volunteer and help out during the competition as well. Now I am also going to be there most of the day doing who knows what. Maybe it will be fun? So far, after a few brief conversations with the people in charge, it appears like the competition is not very well organized (information-wise), and no one person can answer all the questions I have. When I needed to know things about what I’m doing this weekend, I have to talk with three different people to get all the information. That has been a bit of a hassle.

Can I help this event go off without a hitch? Tune in next week and I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it!

But Sometimes I Catch A Glimpse

It seems like it has been a long time since I’ve written about normal things. Let’s take this week to check in on the classes I go to during the week, shall we?

Monday night I headed off to Latin Technique class like I normally do. I had one of those ‘small world’ moments that night because there were a couple of young girls who joined us in class that night. Both of them were home this week while on some kind of break from college. One of those cool cats I actually recognized, because she happened to be the female half of the competitive couple that came in one place behind me at the last competition that I was in! Of all the people to randomly show up for Latin Technique class, I must say that I would have never even placed this girl on the list of possibilities.

On top of that, Seedling also showed up for class that night. Also, one of the female instructors that teaches on-and-off at the Electric Dance Hall happened to be there that night and after the lesson she was teaching was over she decided to jump into the class with us and dance the Lead part. All kinds of random people wanted to work on Latin Technique with us last Monday. Crazy!

Lord Junior had us start out by warming up doing Rumba Three-Step Turns from side-to-side. After a few minutes of turning slowly, Lord Junior decided we were all nice and warm and told us that what he had wanted to have us spend time on that night involved doing Lock Steps in Cha-Cha. He spent the next ten minutes or so going over the basic techniques needed for doing a Lock Step well, and had us all practice by going down the dance floor using repeated Locks Forward and Backward.

Once we had gone through Lock Steps sufficiently, Lord Junior had us look at the beginning of the Open Cha-Cha routine that he likes to give his competitive students. The combination of figures uses a number of Lock Steps, so it tied right in with what we had just finished practicing. The pattern is one I think I have seen before, but I can’t remember when that was. We start out facing our partner in open dance frame, holding on to her with our left hand, right leg pointed forward.

After a back check to start moving we go into a Forward Lock. At the end of that Lock we do a forward check and move our left arm slightly to the right to help rotate the lady to face away from us quickly before going into another Forward Lock, this time continuing the locking motion for an extra four beats. At the end of that we would do one last forward check and then move our left arm to the left to signal the lady to turn back to face us. The lady would do a normal Forward Lock here while the Leads did a smaller Back Lock, rotating the last step so that we were stepping to our left side, which allowed us to get our right arm back around our partner to close dance frame.

Now that we were together again, the guys would shift our weight to our right leg briefly and then go into a Telespin action to trade places with our partner. Once we were on her left side, we would move our right arm to take her left hand and release her other hand, then lower ourselves into our right leg so that we could lunge out to the left side. The ladies would bring their feet together on the right and bring up their right arm to strike a line here, which is where we finished up for the night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday night was a bit smaller than Latin Technique was. Most of the attendees that night were those of us diehards who come to Standard Technique all the time, but a few of the random people who came on Monday night decided to come back for this class as well. The two college competitor girls showed up, and then Seedling also decided to come back as well.

Before we started, Lord Junior had asked one of the college girls what she wanted to work on that night. She requested that we do Quickstep. I thought that was a good choice, since Quickstep is one of those styles I always feel like I need to work on. Unfortunately, Seedling had never done Quickstep before, so not only was this his first foray into Standard Technique, it was also his introduction into Quickstep. You might say that he was in a little over his head that night.

The pattern itself wasn’t too fancy. The girl who had requested that we work on Quickstep only competes in Bronze and Silver, so Lord Junior limited what he did to figures from those two proficiency levels for her sake, with a little fun variation at the end to give us some extra practice on one of the concepts that he thought was important. The pattern that we ended up with was a Natural Turn into a Backward Lock, then a Tipple Chasse to the Right, a Fishtail and finally another Natural Turn to close.

The checking action in the Fishtail was the spot that Lord Junior pointed out as the most problematic for all the students he’s ever taught the figure to. He mentioned that one time he changed his Quickstep routine specifically to work on that checking action, and then he had decided to give us that variation to try so we could get some extra practice. The new variation involved doing the checking action in the Fishtail like normal with the right leg and then doing the two steps after that, but instead of going into the Forward Lock you would do another checking action on the left leg. We did three checks in a row – right leg, left leg, and then right leg one last time before finishing the Fishtail like normal and going into the Natural Turn. Doing this variation in time with the music was pretty entertaining.

At the end of class I spent a few minutes talking to the two young girls before they left, because I wanted to ask them if they had any upcoming competitions planned where I might see them (or compete against them potentially). Both of them told me that they were planning on doing the small competition that is going on two weekends from now, one that Sparkledancer and I were also going to enter into. The world got even smaller! It sounds like I might be dancing against both of them during that event as well. I guess we’ll have to see how we all fare when the dust settles at that competition.

I’m going to keep this short tonight. There’s a lot of stuff going on at work for me, so that’s kind of where my head has been this week. Let’s hope that next week won’t be quite so busy. There’s a lot of practice that I need to fit in, and not a lot of time to get it all done. Work seems to get in the way of dance practice, doesn’t it? Silly work!