From Now On Our Troubles Will Be Out Of Sight

Maybe I can actually keep this short this week. After all, I didn’t really do a whole lot, so there shouldn’t be much to say, right? I guess we’ll see how wordy I get by the time I finish. Let’s get started.

First thing is just a short story – Saturday afternoon I was out at the Electric Dance Hall since Sparkledancer and I had decided to meet there that day for practice. Things were going along OK for the most part, but the floor was randomly sticky in parts which made dancing super slowly while practicing our Waltz almost impossible if we happened to hit one of those sections of the floor. I guess the floor had been cleaned earlier in the day before we got there, and it must not have dried completely by the time we started. Seriously, it felt like I had to stop to re-brush my shoes a million times that day, because if I accidentally went over one of the sticky sections then my shoe would stick to the floor from then on no matter where I moved to. Sigh…

Anyway, that’s not really the interesting story, unless you like to hear about my struggles during practice. Do you? Probably not, I imagine. Near the end of our practice time Indiana arrived at the studio. She has recently worked things out with Lord Junior so that she could start teaching lessons there, so she has been trying to build up a client base around the Electric Dance Hall over the last few weeks. A new couple was meeting her there that afternoon for their first lesson, so she had come by a bit early to get everything set up for them.

Indiana and Sparkledancer got to talking a little bit while Indiana was waiting and I was off brushing my shoes (again). When I came back over to where they were standing, both of them were looking at me with big eyes, so I knew something was up that I probably wasn’t going to like. I’m sure all of you ladies know the look they were giving me – lots of ladies I’ve been friends with or dated over the years have given that look to me when they wanted something, so I assume that all ladies know how to use that same look. I’m such a sucker for it, too.
Apparently Indiana has recently started her own dance-related non-profit group. She is in the middle of putting together a show that will be kind of like a showcase performance, to use as a fundraiser for the non-profit. I’m sure you can see where this is going… Indiana has been trying to find people who would be willing to donate their time and perform in the fundraiser, and had asked Sparkledancer if she and I had anything that we would be able to perform. Oh yeah, and the show was going to be happening two weeks from that day.

This information set off all kinds of red flags in my mind, so I started to object and say that I didn’t really know any choreography that was show ready for an event in two weeks. Indiana countered and said that it would be cool if we just did one of our competition routines. I had to reject that idea, because those routines are actually super boring to watch – there is a lot of repetition because of the limited figure set they are built from. Sparkledancer asked if we could use one of our older showcase routines, which would save us from having to learn anything brand new. I thought about it, and said that idea might be possible, but I didn’t remember any of those routines off the top of my head so I would have to see if I had one on video somewhere that was a high enough quality that I could transcribe the figures from it.

When I got back home, I dug through my archive of old dance videos from both my lessons and performances. I could only find one video that was done with high enough quality where I could figure out the figures with a bit of trial and error. I sent Sparkledancer a text to let her know what I had found, and to see if she had found anything different that she had saved. She replied that she didn’t really want to do the routine that I had found, but she had some videos from the lessons on a different routine. It wasn’t anything close to the full routine, just a smattering of pieces, so she wanted to know if I had the rest. Unfortunately, using the date range on the videos, I didn’t have any pieces saved at all. All I had was a video of the performance, but it was a really grainy capture from someone’s cell phone where I couldn’t even see what was going on half the time, so that was going to be no help.

So I don’t know whether that was unlucky or lucky, but I won’t be performing on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. As I’m writing this, I actually feel kind of relieved since I know I have a lot of other things I’m supposed to be practicing. I have no idea where I would have found a bunch of extra time to work on this. Maybe next time, right?

Next up, let’s talk about Latin Technique class on Monday night. We ended up looking at Jive for the first time in a long time. Nothing that we covered that night was all that complicated, because there were two ladies in class that had never done any Jive before. In fact, a large chunk of the class was spent with Lord Junior making all of us go over the basic figure for the dance. He really wanted to emphasized the point for both the two ladies who had never done it before and the rest of us that Jive was not just East Coast Swing done fast. I’ll admit freely – that’s pretty much how I’ve always ended up doing it when I dance Jive. That’s one reason why I stopped competing in International Latin long ago.

Going over the basic in Jive really slow is always a fun exercise. The timing difference between Jive and other Swing dances is easy enough for me to nail, especially at slow speeds. Chanting “three-quarter, quarter, whole” in my head helps me remember while I’m doing it. Raising my knee up high when I’m supposed to is also pretty easy for me. I’ve got strong legs, after all. What really throws me off every time is when I start to do the lowering action with the opposite leg as I raise my knee up. For some reason, as soon as I try and combine those two movements for dance purposes, the figure just falls apart. Hilariously. I’m serious, I’ve been laughed at as people watch me try and do it, even if I’m going really slowly to try and get it right.

I like to believe that I’m fairly coordinated, so I don’t think it’s a coordination issue. I’m sure putting in some practice would help, but if I have time to practice I’m sure my coach would frown upon me using it for Jive. So, for the foreseeable future I expect that either I will continue to look hilarious, or I will leave out the lowering action so that I look passable. Or, even easier, I can just fall back to doing it like fast East Coast Swing, right? 😉

After amusing himself by watching us do the basic for a while, Lord Junior gave us a short pattern that we could work on instead to liven things up. He had us start out with a Change of Places Right to Left (which is just a Tuck Turn – why does Jive have stupid names for the figures?) followed by a Change of Places Left to Right (an Underarm Turn). At the end of the chasse to the right after the Underarm Turn, we did a checking action to start a Simple Spin. Once we connected with our partner again after the spin, the Leads would draw the lady back into Closed Dance Position and go into a Whip, which is where we finished for the night.

I’ve seen all these figures before in some variation or another over the years, so I managed to get through everything pretty well (if you ignore how funny my basic steps looked, of course). The two ladies who had never done Jive before… not so much. One of them got frustrated because she kept inadvertently adding in an extra step before the SImple Spin, putting her on the wrong foot. After the third or fourth time she did it, she started making growling noises whenever she messed up. They were loud enough for the rest of us to hear, which of course made all of us laugh. Latin Technique class is where all the funny people hang out, I guess!

Finally, yesterday night I was supposed to have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu, but I got a message from him earlier in the day letting me know that he was sick, so I got to go to Standard Technique class instead. In an odd turn of events, that night Lord Junior wanted to look at some figures from American Waltz instead of International Waltz. At the beginning of class he was telling all of us about how he had seen a lot of professionals lately adding Pivots in Shadow Position into their American Smooth routines, and though they sound easy to do, they are actually super hard. He was thinking of having all of us try some of those that night just for fun.

That never actually happened, since it was a struggle for some of the people in class just to get through the figures that led us into Shadow Position, so Lord Junior abandoned the thought of trying to do the Pivots in Shadow Position in favor of something slightly less challenging. All in all it was still a fun bit of choreography to go through, even if I never did figure out what to do with my arms when they weren’t being used to hold up my frame. There were several points where I’m pretty sure I just let my arms dangle loosely, because doing anything different with them just seemed so unnatural.

We started off in normal closed frame, then did a prep step into an Open Natural Turn. After that, the Lead would take a step back and then one to the side and hold position on the right leg while we led the Follower through a Three-Step Turn, putting them out on our right side. Next we shifted our weight to the left leg to lead the Follower to roll back in along our right arm as we rotated 180°, then rolled them back out. Lord Junior said that this Roll-In, Roll-Out move was exactly the same footwork as a figure from Cha-Cha, just adapted to Waltz timing. From here we rolled the Follower back across our right arm as the Leads brought our feet together and stepped out on our left leg behind them, putting us into Shadow Position.
It took us a while to get all the ladies comfortable with the figures just listed so that we could get into Shadow Position, which is why (as I mentioned earlier) Lord Junior didn’t even want to try having us do the Pivots in Shadow Position. Instead we did just a couple of figures to finish up the pattern. We started out with two normal Open Natural Turns, and began a third one. During the third the Lead would use the Follower’s left hand to lead them through an Outside Turn, placing that hand atop our right arm in the process to let them know we were going back into normal dance frame in Promenade Position. Once we secured their right hand in our left, we finished up by doing a Promenade Chasse, and closed with a basic Natural Turn.

Writing all about last night’s class really gets me thinking… remember when I thought that American Smooth was my thing, and I was so sure that I was super awesome at it? That seems like a million years ago now when I go through classes like this. Opening up out of frame just feels so wrong nowadays, like I have no control over what my partner is going to do as soon as I let go. I wonder if I was crazy back in the day… 🙂

This next week should be fairly quiet. A lot of people won’t be around because of the holidays, so there won’t be much dancing of note for me. I will have my coaching session with Lord Dormamu this weekend (assuming he is feeling better), so that is something to look forward to. Otherwise I should have some free time for more practice. Or studying. I have a bunch of material I have been studying for work that I could spend the extra time on. Doesn’t that sound like fun???????

So, to all of you out there – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyous Kwanzaa, etc. etc. etc.. I hope you manage to get a few days off to celebrate with people you like. Maybe even people you love, but at least with people you like.

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Life’s True Intent Needs Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh No, I Can’t Slow Down, I Can’t Hold Back

Early Saturday afternoon, I got to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for some coaching. Sir Steven had sent me a message earlier in the morning letting me know that he was sick and wouldn’t be in the studio, so this turned out to be my only lesson on Saturday.

The first thing that I did was talk with Lord Dormamu about our results from the competition on the 18th. If you remember, mentioned last week that I got a copy of my scores from all the individual judges, and it looked like one judge just scored us way off from where all the others did. To get some perspective on what I was seeing, I brought in my printout of the score sheet to show to Lord Dormamu and get his take on the matter.

Lord Dormamu flipped through the results for a minute, and then pointed to a different number than mine on the list and said that the person who had that number must be the outlier judge’s student. He made the case that outlier-judge had marked this other couple first, but every other judge had marked them either last or second-to-last, so it is entirely likely that he knew this couple well and could overlook their faults in a way that the other judges could not. That was an interesting way to look at the results.
Unfortunately, Lord Dormamu then told me that there really wasn’t a way to fix a situation like this. In smaller competitions like this one, there are no rules that say a judge can’t mark a student he/she has taught better than everyone else on the floor. There is also no rule that says he shouldn’t do something sinister like mark the best couples on the floor really low to try to eliminate the strongest competitors of any couples that had taken coaching from him. The scoring rank is all subjective based on the whims of the judge.

(Note: this is the major problem that you’ve probably heard the International Olympic Committee voice when talking about why they are still wary of allowing DanceSport in as an Olympic sport)

Lord Dormamu’s solution? He told me to get better overall. If I can improve enough so that I start getting first place in everything from all the other judges, then one judge marking me so different will get their score questioned by the organization running the competition. That is really the only good way to prevent this from happening to me in the future. Also, I have to get first place to make this effective. If I improve and get marked second place by all the other judges and last place by one, while it may still look abnormal to me, the organizers won’t question the decision nearly as much.

This is the crux of why I had been reluctant to really jump into competing seriously for many years. I was told something similar when I first started dancing back in the franchise world – that the scores I got for all the heats I danced were pretty relative and subjective, and finding out a reason why I was scored a certain way was next to impossible. Now that I’ve finally dived into this serious competitor pond, that same advice I was given years ago is still relevant, and it still makes me feel uneasy about being ‘judged’ on how I dance. What’s the point if there’s a chance that the judge can mark me poorly just because I’ve never taken a coaching lesson from them?

I have no good thoughts on how to fix it though. With ballroom dancing being a visual sport, and the need to have so many couples on the floor at once in order to A) keep the competition time to a minimum and B) evaluate the floorcraft of couples, implementing strict sets of criteria for each judge to evaluate each couple on becomes a daunting task for even seasoned judges. I guess I’ll have to live with this situation while I’m competing until someone or some group (or me) thinks of a more fair system to use for scoring these competitions.

Finished discussing the results, we turned back to the Tango. I got chastised by Lord Dormamu after our first run-through. He could tell that Sparkledancer and I hadn’t spent much time practicing the items that we had talked about during our last coaching session. I told him that once the competition had finished, I had dropped everything else on my practice list to focus on learning my showcase routine, but that wasn’t a good enough reason for not practicing what he told us to do in his mind.

Because of that, I spent a lot of time going over things that we had reviewed two weeks ago. There were only a couple of points that we talked about that were new this time around. The most painful one was the placement of my hip while I am in Promenade Position. I was trying to lead my partner to rotate to Promenade Position by rolling my right hip forward, which should theoretically turn my partner. Some coach that I can’t remember the name of told me to do that long ago, and I’ve done it ever since.

Lord Dormamu noticed because there was no space between my hip and my partner while we stood unmoving in Promenade Position. He told me to pull my hip back, so I stopped to ask him about how I was told to lead my partner to Promenade Position by rolling my hip. He watched as I demonstrated what I was told (Sparkledancer was nice enough to help), and then told me that while the lead through rolling forward was correct, I had been told to use the wrong part of my body to do it.

Now that I am dancing with much more advanced technique, I should be able to lead an experienced partner to Promenade Position solely through the slight roll of my body, and leave my hips out of the mix. Especially in the Tango, where I am trying to compress myself and I need to have my hips back, trying to lead by using my hips will cause real problems when I get to even more advanced figures than what is currently in my routine.

So from now on he said, when I am in normal dance position I need to have my hips back and my chest forward, and when I rotate to Promenade Position I need to emphasize pulling my right hip backward to maintain the space in that area. And let me tell you, trying to pull my right hip back as far back as Lord Dormamu wants is a fairly painful endeavor for me. My hips just don’t like bending like that!

…except when I shouldn’t keep my hip back, as I found out. There is a Right Lunge in the first corner of our routine, and in this particular lunge (and only that lunge – I asked just to make sure) I should be driving my right hip slightly forward to help Sparkledancer create the shape that she needs. Along with me leaning my upper body back a bit, this should help create the illusion of a massive amount of volume between the two of us, which is obviously more impressive. So right hip back, except in that corner where it is forward and then goes back again once I start moving. No problem, right?

We also spent some time looking over the Reverse Turn near the end. I had thought that I was doing better about taking the second half of the figure straight down the line of dance rather than curving myself toward the center of the floor to get out of my partner’s way, but Lord Dormamu thought that it looked like I was drifting toward the wall while I moved. To fix that issue, he gave me two suggestions. First, he said that I should think about aiming myself about 45° inward. Aiming more inward should help prevent me from drifting outward, in theory.

Second, he said that as I take the third step of the first half of the figure, I should be placing my left foot in line with my right one. I had been taking my leg straight back, which put my left foot on the outside. If I didn’t do this carefully and I end up with any space between my legs, that action would naturally pull me more toward the wall as I shift my weight onto that leg. If I crossed my left leg over slightly to line my feet up, that would prevent that portion of the outward drift from happening.

I got a change of pace on Monday night during Latin Technique class when someone suggested that we work on Jive, and things got a bit weird at the end… weird for me, but not for anyone else. I’ll get to that in a second though.

We began warming up by going through the basic steps really slowly, exaggerating the movements while moving so slow so that when we sped things up they would still happen as noticeably as possible. I remember back in the day, early on in my dance journey, when I used to think that Rhythm and Latin dances were really my forte. Now that I spend all my time working on ballroom dance styles, I personally think that I look like an awkward baby giraffe fumbling about when I try to dance Rhythm or Latin dances. Apparently other people think that I am pretty good at it, but I don’t feel that way.

Because we had one lady with us in class that night who had never danced Jive before, Lord Junior kept the actual choreography that we worked on fairly simple. I think the only figure that we did that was outside of the Bronze syllabus was the Miami Special, but that figure seems pretty simple to me since I’ve done variations of it in several different dance styles over the years.

What we ended up with started out with the partners already in Handshake Hold. From there we did one American Spin, catching the lady in Handshake Hold again at the end. We then went into the previously mentioned Miami Special. As the men came around the lady in that turn, we switched places so that when the arm slide was completed, the men were standing where the women started. For a little bit of fun, Lord Junior had us add in a Hip Bump here before having us continue on.

Once we finished up bumping hips, we did a Link to get back into dance position and then went into some Walks down the floor. We covered an eight-count with our walks – two triple-step movements, and four quick single steps. After the last Walk we skipped the rock step to go right into a basic movement with a Whip action, which is how we finished things off that night.

What was weird about this class was what I found out afterward. Sparkledancer and the Gatekeeper had been standing next to each other in class that night, chatting away when the guys were dancing with other ladies. As I was heading out to my car after class, Sparkledancer stopped me in the parking lot to tell me that the Gatekeeper had mentioned to her several times that she thought I was really good at leading in the Jive, and wanted to know if I had ever mentioned to Sparkledancer any interest in competing in International Latin at all.

Sparkledancer’s take on it was that the Gatekeeper was interested in asking me if I would compete with her, though she hadn’t come out and said that directly. I was a bit shocked by this, what with the whole looking like an awkward baby giraffe thing going on. Also, with my busy work schedule, and the amount of time I already spend practicing to compete with Sparkledancer, I don’t think I would have the time to bring my Latin Dancing up to a level worthy of competition. I guess if the Gatekeeper actually asks me about competing with her, I’ll have to think of a good way to decline politely.

I know… being in demand as an amateur dance partner is such a burden that a lot of people probably wish they would have. I shouldn’t complain. First-world problems, and all that jazz.

Tuesday night Sir Steven was feeling better, so Sparkledancer and I met up at the Fancy Dance Hall with him that night to work on our showcase. I’m happy to report that we have all of the important parts of the showcase mapped out now. Hooray! Now I just need to find enough matching free time in both Sparkledancer’s and my schedules so that she and I can practice the choreography until it is memorized. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Sir Steven spent the first few minutes of the evening talking about the ‘scene’ of the story that our dance number would be portraying. I didn’t realize before when he mentioned putting us in this scene how important to the storyline it actually was. Basically, the story centers around a character who is played by Sir Bread, a staff member of the Fancy Dance Hall. In this particular scene, he is recalling an event that happened when he was a young man, so what Sparkledancer and I are portraying is actually his flashback sequence.

Sir Steven already told me that when they discussed the story in their recent staff meeting, that someone pointed out just how much of a size difference there was between Sir Bread and I. He’s got to be at least six inches shorter than me, and he looks like… well, like a male dance instructor, which is a nice way of saying that he looks really scrawny when standing next to me.

I guess after they discussed the size difference between the two of us, they couldn’t figure out a way to fix the problem, so they decided to just make it obvious and crack a joke about it for the audience’s sake. Sir Bread will be discussing this flashback with another character in the next scene after Sparkledancer and I get done dancing, and that character is going to ask him why he remembers himself being so much taller in his youth. That should be good for a chuckle, I hope.
The parts that we didn’t go through that night were the pieces that are going to involve actual acting. Sparkledancer and I are supposed to enter the set during the previous dance number and mill about with the other people on stage, working our way toward our starting position. Then as the previous music fades and our song starts we would begin dancing. Our choreography now seems like it is twice as long with all the new material and changes to the existing material that Sir Steven gave us during our lesson, so I have quite a bit to try and memorize over the next couple of days.

At the end of the routine, I roll Sparkledancer out just slightly off-center of the middle of the room (to avoid being under the chandelier) so that we can do our fancy lift. I put her back on the ground, and the dancing is done. The next scene should start, and apparently Sparkledancer and I have to be on stage during part of that scene to do some more acting to finish up the flashback before we are finally allowed to make our way off the stage.

So that’s the actual plan! Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Well, what if I told you that the first blocking rehearsal with the full cast was going to be a week from tonight? How would you feel about it then? That’s the part that is making me a bit nervous. I think my entire weekend is going to be devoted to practicing Tango and making sure that I have this routine down. No time for fun for this guy…

The last non-practice thing I did this week was Standard Technique class yesterday. As we started class, Lord Junior said that he wanted to have us work on some Waltz, and do a Turning Lock. But since he normally has us look at the Gold-level figure (Turning Lock to the Right), this time he was going to go easy on us and have us do the Silver-level Turning Lock to the Left instead. That was so nice of him, don’t you think?

The configuration of figures we did was pretty easy to remember. Starting with some kind of starter step, you then go into a Natural Turn, followed by a Natural Spin Turn, and then add in the Turning Lock to the Left. Coming out of that, we did a Checked Natural Turn, which ends with a tiny Slip Pivot that would line you back up either facing line of dance or diagonal center, depending on where you feel comfortable starting a Double Reverse Spin..

Next up we did what was probably the most difficult figure of the night, which was a Double Reverse Overspin. This is an Open-level figure that is basically a Double Reverse Spin with an extra 180° pivot added on at the end. Turning so much over a three-count caused a lot of stumbling and bumbling the first few times through the turn with each partner as we got used to the spin. Obviously it’s slightly easier if you start this facing diagonal center, and slightly more difficult if starting line of dance, but both are possible. At the end, if we made it through successfully and maintained our balance, we would go right into a Throwaway Oversway to finish the progression in a fancy manner.

Do you ever feel like your weekends are already gone before they have even started? I’m feeling that way about this coming weekend. Let’s see… I promised to try to make it out to a dance party on Friday night, and I have a lesson on Saturday morning. There is a Waltz workshop that I was interested in attending happening on Saturday afternoon, but most of my free time on Saturday and Sunday will likely be filled with practicing my showcase routine and my Tango.

And that’s just this weekend! Next week feels crazy too! Aside from the classes I usually take on Monday and Wednesday, I have my initial blocking rehearsal for the showcase next Thursday night. I was also told that there might be a dance coach (whose name I actually recognized for once) coming in to teach at the Fancy Dance Hall on Wednesday night, and I might be able to get a coaching session with him. That could be interesting if it works out… but I would have to skip class for that.

So many things! I thought that December was going to be a quiet month with all the holiday stuff going on, but so far it looks like I will be totally wrong. If I don’t survive this month, someone should make sure to stop by my apartment and feed my cat for me. She would appreciate that.

Set An Open Course For The Virgin Sea

Another busy weekend for me last weekend. I swear, one of these weekends I will purposefully not do anything dance related, just so that I can write about the dance things that I do during the week without making these posts ridiculously long. I swear I’ve been trying to keep them shorter! It helps me out when I try to go back over my notes if they aren’t super long! But there’s just so much that I want to remember…

Let’s start with Friday night. I was convinced by a number of people who I know to head out to the Fancy Dance Hall last Friday night because they were holding a dance party to raise money for hurricane relief efforts. All the door fees collected that night were being donated, and almost all of the instructors who usually teach at the Fancy Dance Hall were letting people sign up for dances for a $5 donation. Because the staff wanted to let people choose the style of dance when they donated money, the set list for the night had been predetermined, so everyone knew that the first dance was a Foxtrot, the second a Cha-Cha, the third a Salsa, and so on and so forth.

What really convinced me to go out that night was the fact that there was going to be a live band playing the music for the party. I’m a sucker for a ballroom dance party that has live music. If the band is good, and they have played for ballroom dancers before, I think that it is way more fun dancing than you get listening to canned songs. There is also an element of randomness that you get with a live band, since the music is played at whatever tempo the drummer wants that night (for good or for bad). If the band has never played for a ballroom dance party before, this can sometimes lead to difficult tempos for the chosen dance style.

The band that was playing that night… did alright. They didn’t play any original material, just covers of classic rock songs and standards – stuff that everyone knows all the words to sing along with. After the first couple of songs, it was fairly obvious to me that they had never played for a ballroom dance party before, because the tempos that they used for many of the songs were more conducive to dancing in a bar, as opposed to fancy dancing in a ballroom. I’m pretty sure that the dance styles that were selected to go along with each song on their setlist were chosen based on the tempo of the average recorded version of the songs.

That made the night kind of entertaining though. I danced slow Waltzes that were not-quite Viennese tempo, a Jive that seemed slower than an East Coast Swing, and Tangos where I had to be really careful turning my partner to Promenade Position because the tempo was so fast (and I’m fairly strong) that I’m pretty sure I could have sprained her neck. Halfway through the first set, I noticed that when the male instructors were dancing with older ladies, they were purposefully dancing at half-tempo. This made the dances even more interesting, because then you had two tiers of dancing going on at the same time.

Overall, it sounded like the night was a big success. When I had my lesson with Sir Steven the next day, he told me that they had raised a couple thousand dollars that night with just the door fee donations and the instructor dance donations. The band even donated their time for the event, so the fee that they would have been paid was thrown into the pot as well. Hooray!

My coaching session with the Princess that had been scheduled for Saturday morning had to be rescheduled. The Princess called me early on that morning and told me that some important Dance Kingdom business had come up and, since she’s the princess, she had to take care of the situation. I conferenced in Sparkledancer on the phone, and the three of us decided that Tuesday night was the earliest timeslot we all had available for rescheduling. Once I got off the phone, I breathed a sigh of relief, since that actually made my Saturday less crazy

I still had a lesson with Sir Steven early that afternoon planned out. When I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, the plan for the day was to run rounds, much like we did last time. This was less exciting than it sounds, but it was probably the best thing that we could do to get ready for the competition that is next weekend.

Sir Steven set up the music to just play through a setlist of songs at a minute-and-a-half a piece and let us dance. He grabbed a notepad and wandered around one side of the room watching us as we went through everything, taking notes about things to touch on when we completed the entire set. None of the notes were really anything groundbreaking – he pointed out places where it looked like Sparkledancer or I let our frame slip, and places where I accidentally let my head drift out of position, and spots where he thought that Sparkledancer and I lost body contact. Once we finished going through his notes, we danced through another set, with Sparkledancer and I trying to fix the issues he noted from the previous set.

After the first couple of dances that morning, I noticed that I was breathing overly heavy when we finished the dance and prepared to start the next. I wasn’t sure why that was – I get through all my hour-long kickboxing classes without getting that winded, so dancing for a minute-and-a-half shouldn’t have been bothering me that much. When I started to pay attention, I found out that I was holding my breath for large portions of the routine for some reason! I don’t even know why I was doing that!

So on top of trying to remember all the fine points of dance technique I had been taught, it seems like I also need to remember to breathe throughout the whole dance as well. You’d think that I would know how to breathe properly at my age, but I guess I still have a ways to go yet…

By the end of our coaching session with Sir Steven, I was feeling pretty alright about things. Overall, Sir Steven thinks that our Waltz and Foxtrot are definitely our strongest dance styles, while Tango is still the weakest. It’s not terrible according to him, it just doesn’t look nearly as strong as our Waltz and Foxtrot, or even our Quickstep. He told us that he is definitely going to focus more on Tango once the competition is over. That will be on top of learning our new showcase routine that we will be starting as well. Hooray!

I’m not sure what that means as far as the competition is concerned this weekend, but I can’t say that I’m all that worried. What I really want is scores from my heats this weekend to show marked improvement over the last competition I was in. I know full well that I still have a ways to go, but as long as I can see that I’m moving forward from where I’ve been, I’ll know that I’m making progress.

You may not remember, but about two years ago I went out dancing on a boat one evening. Well guess what? On Saturday night I did it again!

This time around was very different for me than how it went down two years ago. For one thing, this boat trip was something put together by the Royal Dance Court. Two years ago when they held this event, I wasn’t a member of the Royal Dance Court, but now I am, so that meant that I was sort-of working that evening, helping everything run smoothly.

Much like the trip two years ago, there was a basic dance lesson held on the deck before the boat cast off, which was used as a way to get everyone used to how the boat would shift in the water while people were dancing. I did not join this lesson, because I was down below deck helping to lay out the spread of food that we were providing the guests during the party. Based on what I could hear going on over my head, and the way the boat was swaying, I might be able to make guesses as to what figures they were practicing above me.

I did get some time to dance that night, even though I spent much of the evening helping out and trying to make sure that our guests didn’t make too much of a mess during the ride. Much like last time, the DJ stuck to Swing and Latin dance styles primarily, since those were easier to contain to small spaces. There were a few ballroom-style dances that were danced in a big oval going from bow to stern. Those were my favorite, because I thought it was rather funny to rub elbows with people traveling in the opposite direction. I’m easily amused, what can I say?

The most fun part, at least in my opinion, was one of the line dances that the DJ played. I was standing near the back wall of the deck watching the dancers in the middle of the boat while this all happened. Whenever the crowd rotated to face either the bow or the stern and then they all took steps together to the right or to the left, it was enough to cause the boat to lean to whatever side the crowd was marching toward. I did my best to get more people to join the line dance to increase the weight shifting the boat to side to side while the song played. I was having more fun than was probably called for during that song.

It was really late by the time I got home. I stayed after for quite a while to help the crew clean up the boat, and help the DJ take down all the musical equipment and bring it back onto the shore to be loaded into the car. The boat’s captain was super happy that I stayed behind to help even after the rest of the Royal Dance Court members took off. He invited me to come back the next day if I wanted. Apparently the boat was chartered for a wedding reception or something, and he said that if I wanted to come back and help clean up after that was over he would let me join the trip for free.

Maybe I missed my calling in life. Maybe I could live a life of working on the high seas. That would certainly help me get a good tan for dance events, right? My current office job doesn’t give me much time to be out in the sun during the summer days…

One more note: the weirdest thing that I saw that night was a guy riding a jet ski who was making a big, slow circle around our boat, holding up his phone the whole time. I think he was making a video of the dancing that he could partially see from his jet ski. That struck me as super odd. If it was a teenager on a jet ski making a video of the dance party, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look, but this was some middle-age gentleman. What was up with that guy?

Tuesday night was my rescheduled night to get beat up by the Princess. Let me tell you folks, she may be all fun and games, and super sweet and friendly when you see her at various places around the Dance Kingdom, but if you schedule a time to work with her, she will WORK you. I was sweating so much that night, it kind of offended me. Some of that was because she makes me nervous, but I also worked hard. And I was smacked a lot. Apparently since I am so durable, she thought the easiest way to get me to recognize when my body parts were out of alignment was just to smack them.

Sparkledancer and I had decided prior to our lesson that we were going to ask her to look over Tango with us. Sir Steven has told us over the last couple of weeks that Tango is our weakest dance, so it seemed like the best place to get in some world-class advice on how to make it… not the worst. Unfortunately, there was so much that she wanted us to change to make it better that by the time I walked out of the studio that night, my head was spinning! Let’s see if I can remember all the things she told me were the most important.

First off, she wanted me to change the way I held my frame in Tango. To make her happy, she wanted to have my left arm completely in line with my shoulder all the way down to my wrist, and my left elbow pulled back as far as it would go. My right arm needs to be wrapped further around my partner than in other ballroom dances to create the more romantic Tango hold, but she told me that pointing my arm downward so that my right hand ends up in the middle of my partner’s back makes my right elbow look weird. She recommended that I actually bring my hand up to the level it would normally sit if I were dancing Waltz or Foxtrot, just wrapped further around so that my fingertips end up touching my partner’s spine.

Next up, she wanted me to add more rotation into my body, to pull my left side toward my partner. Adding the changes to my arms to that rotation, I really felt like you would see me bent into this weird ‘Z’ shape if you looked down on me from overhead. I mentioned this to the Princess, but she said that she didn’t care if it felt weird. Making this change stick, more than anything else that she wanted me to change in the routine, would improve the overall visual quality of my Tango immensely.

She even went so far as to tell me that if there was only one thing that I could practice for Tango between now and the competition, this change in my frame would be it. Because I am so much bigger than Sparkledancer (and, let’s face it, most of the other competitors on the dance floor), I am the easiest thing for the judges to see. If I can dance Tango and look strong and maintain this hold for the whole dance, that is what the judges will walk away remembering.

I guess that is the one disadvantage of being so muscular – I can’t really hide behind anyone. Everyone knows where I am on the dance floor.

There were some other minor changes that the Princess recommended that altered the way figures rotated to make them look more dramatic. The Back Corte, for instance – I was told in the past that when I do this figure, I am supposed to step to the side and slightly back with my left foot. The Princess wants me to keep doing that, but to rotate my body considerably before taking the step, so now my foot is heading down the line of dance instead of toward diagonal center when I step back and to the left.

In the Promenade Pivot that we do, she wants my first three steps to travel in a straight line before pivoting, taking a small fourth step with my right foot to help me stop. Before I had been told that my third step I should be starting to curve around Sparkledancer, more like a Natural Turn in Waltz or Foxtrot, but apparently coming around like that on the third step makes the Princess unhappy.

In the right-side lunge that happens in the corner, the Princess told me that being split weight is wrong. Lunges are never split weight. I should have all my weight on my right foot and only be using my extended left leg to balance myself. In addition, she told me that when I step into the lunge, I need to make sure to step toward my partner’s right leg. If I focus on stepping to my right to create the lunge, I throw my partner off, but if I aim at stepping toward her right leg, I should always end up in the right place to create a stable platform for my partner to shape off of. In addition, she wants me to make sure to hold off on rotating my head to look at my partner until the last possible second when I am stepping with my right leg.

How many of these changes will I likely have in muscle memory before the competition? That remains to be seen. These four that I have written down are the most important changes I was told to focus on, in this order. If I can only do one, it has to be the change in my frame. If I can get two, the rotation in the Back Corte is next (we do that figure or variations of that figure a couple of times through the routine), and so on and so forth. So, now I have to find some time to practice more Tango specifically. Here’s hoping that all my other plans for Friday and Saturday night get cancelled!

Well, Sunday is the big day! I will be heading out to the Dance Death Arena once more to compete. I do have some final coaching sessions with both Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu scheduled for Saturday to get in some final notes from the two of them before the competition. Other than that, I will be sure to remember to breathe. That is the most important thing I can do during the whole competition!