With Thunder We Ride, With Lightning We Strike

This past weekend was a competition for me. Overall, I think things went pretty OK. There was a lot about the dancing I did during the day that I am happy about, but there were just as many points that I was not happy with. That’s all good though – it’s a learning process, and I have some time before my next competition to work on correcting the issues that I have control over.

But I phrase it like that intentionally because there was an issue that I ran into at this competition that I don’t know if I can really fix. Yes, “ran into” – my problem that morning was that a lot of the other competitors on the floor during my rounds did not seem like they knew what they were doing, and I got run into a lot. A. LOT. I like to think that I have come a long way over the years with my floorcraft skills, but it seemed like almost every time I had to pull my own steps short to avoid running into someone who crossed into my path without looking, someone near me did not and then they ended up  smacking into me. Yeesh.

Hitting people is something I really worry about, and do my best to avoid if at all possible. People hitting me is a different story. I am very solid because of years and years of weightlifting, so depending on how my feet are set on the floor when I hesitate, I will barely budge when someone runs into me. Most of the people I dance against are not very big by comparison, which is why I go out of my way to avoid hitting them accidentally. I move a lot and I am pretty heavy, so I could really hurt them.

This competition made me wonder if I could also really hurt them if they are the ones doing the striking, and whether I should try to do more to help prevent that from happening. I haven’t quite thought of a way to do that yet, but the idea has been noodling around in my brain. Obviously I am unable to look behind me, since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, and Sparkledancer is doing a quasi-backbend when she is in frame that prevents her from looking over my shoulder as well. Maybe if I had a headband, I could fashion a rear view mirror for myself? I bet I could make it look classy if I tried.

While the idea of a dance rearview mirror sounds pretty awesome to me, I don’t think that my coach will be so eager to let me try it out. So, for now, I’ll have to file that idea away somewhere and try to think of a different one. Sigh…

Two of my rounds were very different, because they had no one participating in them. The first one had only two other couples on the floor besides Sparkledancer and myself, while the second one (which was Foxtrot and Tango) was basically a showcase performance for us all alone. I wonder why neither of the couples from the first round wanted to do Foxtrot and Tango? With no one in my way during that round, and to some extent the Waltz and Quickstep round with only the two other couples on the floor, I was free to move around as much as I wanted, and things felt pretty good.

What didn’t feel good in that instance was the floor. As soon as I had room to stretch my legs, I could really feel how slippery the floor was. It was like someone had gone out to wax the floor the night before and then never made a note about it, so the morning crew came in and waxed it all over again because they thought it hadn’t been done. During the Quickstep round there was a spot where my right foot slid more than I expected and I ended up rolling my foot all the way over onto the side. Luckily I didn’t put any weight on it when that happened so I didn’t get hurt or anything, but it threw off my momentum a bit until I managed to get to the end of the figure I was dancing and was able to pull back a little to reset.

Otherwise, the competition went good. The results were nothing to be ashamed about, there were just points in the dancing that I didn’t feel went as well as I wanted. Everything seemed pretty normal, all in all. Except for one thing… the strangest thing I want to mention about this competition actually happened after I was done dancing.

The events were all running really early, so I had time after I finished up to find a place to change back into my street clothes and go back to the ballroom and watch some rounds before I had to leave to make my trip back home. There were some people who I knew who were dancing that day, and I wanted to see if I could catch them on the floor and watch how they did. Sparkledancer decided to come hang out with me as well, and to chat with all the people at the competition that she knew. I’m not as popular as her, so I just stood there quietly most of the time.

While I was standing there though, a competitor that I did not know approached me. He introduced himself and shook my hand, and then told me that he thought I was a lot of fun to watch. That’s always nice to hear, nothing weird about that. But then he said (and I quote), “Your poise is very strong, and you do a great job of keeping her [gesturing toward where Sparkledancer was talking to someone] under control.” Then he excused himself to head up toward the on-deck area, leaving me standing there.

So. Many. Questions.

What in the world do you think he meant by that? I waved Sparkledancer down so that I could relay this brief conversation to her, and we both stood there scratching our heads to try to figure that out. I never feel like Sparkledancer is out of control, so I don’t know what that guy saw me doing that made it look like I was keeping her in control. Is it actually a good thing that I am keeping my partner under control? I have heard that ladies like to boogie away from you if you don’t hang on to them when you’re dancing… but that’s not really an issue in International Standard.

I didn’t know what to make of that comment, and since the guy was going on during the next rounds and I had to leave shortly, there was no chance for me to ask him to elaborate on that observation.Since that was the last notable thing to happen to me while I was in the ballroom at the competition, that little nugget of information has colored all of my thoughts about the event. Not to worry though – the more time that passes, the funnier that the comment gets, and I’m sure I will use this as an inside joke between Sparkledancer and I in the future. She won’t have much choice in the matter, since I am so good at keeping her under control, obviously. 😛

With that event out of the way, the next thing that I got a chance to go to this week was Latin Technique class on Monday night. Because Lord Junior and a number of his competitive students were still preparing for a competition (which they left Wednesday afternoon to head out to), in class this week we touched on techniques in several different Latin dance styles to help with their training. This was fun for me because one of the styles we got to look at this week was Pasodoble, and you know by now that Pasodoble is my favorite International Latin style.

But that was the style that we looked at last. To start with we worked on Botafogos from Samba. The point that Lord Junior really wanted to emphasize in this figure that several of his competitive students in class hated doing was the hip placement when you landed on the third step. As I’m sure you know, when you finish each Botafogo and you hold briefly before the next figure, you are supposed to have the non-standing leg’s hip lifted as much as possible. Lord Junior likes to describe it as being like a shelf that he could set his drink on.

My white-boy-hip syndrome really prevents me from looking good while trying to do this. Sure, I have the mechanics basically right, and my body parts are in the right place as far as I can tell, but when I look at myself in the mirror I think that I just look silly. I don’t know if I could ever fix that problem.

Next up we spent a bit of time looking at Jive. The figure that Lord Junior used for our exercise here was the Mooch, but he really only wanted to have us work on the kicking action from that figure, so we only did the rock step and the kicks and then switched to the other leg without traveling anywhere. I don’t do Jive too often anymore, so my kicks may have looked a bit more martial arts-esque than they should have for a Swing dance, especially when we were doing them super slow.

Finally we got to the Pasodoble, and this was the only style we got to work on with partners during class. Two of the ladies that were in the class that night had never done the Pasodoble before, so the figures that we did were pulled from the Bronze syllabus to keep things simple. We did a basic Promenade and Counter Promenade, and then went into a Grand Circle to finish.

Even though the figures were fairly simple, we ran into an issue because those same two ladies that had never done the Pasodoble before had also never done any ballroom dance styles before, so they didn’t know what ‘Promenade’ or ‘Counter-Promenade’ meant. Even after Lord Junior spent a few minutes demonstrating the differences, it took several repetitions of the figure for one of the two ladies to get the idea of what she was supposed to be doing. I didn’t mind though – more time on the Pasodoble makes me happy.

Finally, on Wednesday night I got a chance to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. This session started off with us spending twenty minutes or so going over our results from the competition. Through the wonders of technology and one of us remembering to bring our paperwork from the competition to the lesson with us, we got to review all of our results for each heat and see what went well and where we needed to focus on in preparation for the next competition.

A point that Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I based on the results actually had to do with the judges. We had the names of the judges who had marked our rounds available, and Lord Dormamu knew who all of them were (since he just knows everybody in the dance world somehow). He was able to point out a difference in our marks from judges who were formerly high-level competitors in International Standard or American Smooth versus the marks from judges that were former competitors only in American Rhythm or International Latin.

He told us that the judges who knew about ballroom dances would be able to see the difference in our quality of movement versus our competitors, which is why the marks we got showed that they had scored us really highly. Judges who had never spent much time studying ballroom dances gave us a more mixed bag of scores. One judge in particular Lord Dormamu didn’t like, because he was part of some faction of dancing that is out of favor with ‘the powers that be’ (whomever they are), so his marks we were told to just ignore entirely.

My obvious question for Lord Dormamu was, if we are always going to get marked better by judges who know more about ballroom-style dances, can we either A) go to competitions where all the judges for our rounds are ballroom experts, or B) do something that will make us look better so that even the judges who are experts in Latin and Rhythm will see us as the winners? Lord Dormamu laughed at me and told me that there is a competition where all ballroom-style dance events are judged only by judges who are experts in Smooth or Standard, but I am nowhere near ready to go overseas to compete in that yet (I’m sure you can guess which competition he was referring to).

So that leaves us with working on looking better so that even judges who are not experts in ballroom styles will see us as the best dancers in our rounds. Lord Dormamu’s initial suggestion was to look at volume for Sparkledancer, and posture for me. Sparkledancer’s volume is an ongoing thing, one that she is going to be constantly improving as time goes on. He can’t force her to bend more and create even more space between her head and mine. She has been working diligently on improving her flexibility, so the volume will continue to improve as she continues to improve over time. He did give her some suggestions on tweaks to her frame through certain figures, and they spent time working on how she looked in Promenade Position before the night was over.

But for me, things were a bit more difficult. Lord Dormamu was quick to admit that my posture is really improved, and out of all the events that he has been judging recently where he got to watch dancers at my level (including a few events where I was dancing), I stand out a lot because I not only am standing up tall and straight, but I also look imposing through my chest, shoulders and arms when Sparkledancer is creating enough volume that a judge can see me clearly. But he mostly sees me while I dance during our lessons, which may not be exactly what I do while on the floor at every competition.

His thought for me was that I may not be maintaining my posture the whole time I am out on the floor. We spent some time looking at this in the context of the Quickstep, where we had our closest call in the results from the competition. After dancing through the routine a couple of times, his impression was that we were moving with a lot of power, but there were places where he could see our topline wiggling a bit more than he would have liked.

What he told me that I should do to fix this was to continue to practice the idea that we had talked about during my last session, which was to allow gravity to drop my body at the points where I needed to lower, rather than trying to control the lowering action the whole time. Lord Dormamu thinks that when I am working to control the action rather than just let gravity do the work, that is what is causing the wiggling that he is seeing in my upper body. And anytime my upper body is wiggling, that guarantees that Sparkledancer’s upper body will wiggle too, since I weigh so much more than her.

Allowing gravity to do the work did significantly improve the way our Quickstep looked, so yay for that! I was a bit worried, much like I was the last time we had looked at this, since I thought that dropping myself so quickly was going to have a negative impact on Sparkledancer (I would be, I imagined, like an anchor dragging her down). Sparkledancer told me that what we were doing was working pretty well, and that she would let me know if my actions become too much.

So, since that seems to fix the lowering action in the Quickstep, I had to ask Lord Dormamu about the Waltz before we wrapped up for the night. Should I be doing the same thing and letting gravity drop me faster as I lowered in the Waltz, or should I keep controlling that action like I am currently doing? He told me that he would like to see me incorporate this same idea into my Waltz if I could over the week while Sparkledancer and I practice. Once he can see how I look dropping myself in this manner, he would tell me if it is too much and I need to pull back. He said that it is going to feel like the fall is happening too fast if I am dancing the Waltz to slowed down music, but when dancing at tempo it shouldn’t feel weird.

So that is what my plans are focused on for this weekend. Lots of practice, working on giving up control to gravity a bit more when I am dancing, and focusing on always maintaining a calm and strong topline while I move. We are looking at going to a small competition during the month of March where we can get some initial feedback on these changes, and then a larger event in April where hopefully everything will look perfect by that time.

I’m still moving forward – that’s always the right way to go.

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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.

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.