Morning Comes And Morning Goes, Now It’s Me Against The Sun…

Oh man, what a crazy weekend. Where do I even begin? There’s a lot to say, so I will probably split this into a couple of sections, so that you may digest this all properly. So now, here is part one: the ballroom section.

There was over 14 hours of dancing. I did 75 heats (more than I had expected, or even signed up for), plus two championship rounds during the whole day. I also ate way more candy during the day than I probably should have, but only because it was sitting at the table where all the spectators from our “home” studio had gathered. Despite everything going on, this competition didn’t make me nervous like the last one had. I guess the last one, being the first sort-of “real” competition I had ever done as a dancer, I was bound to be nervous going into it. This one felt much more at ease and relaxed, even with all the energy and adrenaline happening every time I took to the floor. Sometimes, when I was out there, I was having so much fun that I barely even registered the fact that someone was watching what I was doing and grading the performance.

IfIRun1
Don’t ask me why I’ve made the judges sad clowns. Ask the judges why they all remind me of sad clowns!

Speaking of grading… our last judge, Miracle Whip, wasn’t in attendance for this competition. In his place we had another tall, vaguely foreign man who also was one of the Princess’ dance partners. Just to keep with the theme, we’ll call him Hellmanns. The MC went on and on about Hellmans’ dance credentials at various points throughout the day, but I don’t know how much of that I actually paid attention to, so I can’t impress you with how much I know about him. I imagine that Miracle Whip picked him out personally to carry the judging torch for this event, because to me it makes sense that all the people who are licensed to judge events like this would hang out together.

This competition was limited to just students from the Dance Kingdom. As was explained to me later in the day, because the Dance Kingdom is starting to expand as a franchise studio, they are going to turn these events into regional competitions for the franchise studios to compete against each other. Right now there are just the three Lands in the kingdom that are eligible to compete, but that number is expected to start expanding rapidly over the next year if the King has his way. I didn’t really see anyone that I hadn’t met before competing during the day, but the next competition they talk about will be held near one of the new Lands that the kingdom recently acquired in a different realm, so there should be new blood to test ourselves against at that point.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself… the morning started out with the smooth dances. Despite my preference for the rhythm category, I felt really good about all of the smooth dances on Sunday. Even the Viennese Waltz felt really good. The floor was a bit weird, because it was like a bunch of tiles that were connected together, so there were seams that ran between them that weren’t entirely flush, but that didn’t seem to cause problems during the smooth dances. It messed up some of the Latin dances (which I’ll get to later), but the smooth ones felt really solid. There was one heat in the morning with the Viennese Waltz where someone hit my foot, and after that my footwork was all messed up for the rest of that wall. I couldn’t find a way to fix it without getting off time, so I just stuck with it to stay on time until I got to the corner where I could pause briefly and collect myself. It may not have been perfect, but I never had to stop, and I am really proud of that. After proving to myself that I could perform a dance of that speed and complexity, maybe next time I can put some effort into mastering Quickstep and add that dance style to the rotation. Watching some of the better students perform during the Quickstep heats with their instructors, seeing how they practically bounded across the floor like rabbits, it looks like a lot of fun to me.

The Foxtrot by far I feel the best about. I don’t know what it was about practicing it during that last dance field trip we took, but somehow during IfIRun2that event I nailed down all the issues I had previously been having with that routine, so it just felt really solid to compete with that style every time Sparkledancer and I took to the floor to perform the routine. I think I even managed not to mess up taking all my heel steps while doing it. There were a few times, mostly during the Waltz, when I would catch myself up on my toes. That technique is one I have the most trouble with, since I normally walk on the balls of my feet. Things felt pretty good on Sunday though, and I hope I was at least consistent about how I stepped when the judge was watching me.

One of the Viennese Waltz heats I did not participate in that day showed me just why I was so apprehensive about doing that dance. During that heat, as I was standing in the little section of tables that all the Land of the Loft students had claimed and talking with one of the onlookers, suddenly a gasp went up from others in the crowd. I looked up to see one of the participants lying on the floor. Her dance partner was helping her get quickly to her feet as others were approaching, but luckily the DJ ended the heat when he saw what happened and no one got dangerously close. They left the floor and went to sit against one of the walls in the back for a few minutes. I could see her fiddling with one of her shoes before taking it off and setting it off to the side. My next heat was fast approaching, so I lost track of her as I went to the on deck area, but when I saw her again later she was wearing completely different shoes. As it turned out, the straps on the front of her shoes snapped during that Viennese Waltz routine, and she could not shed the momentum in time as it happened, so she just went crashing down hard. Luckily she didn’t get hurt, and had a spare pair of ballroom shoes with her. When talking with Sparkledancer about this later, she said that was a good reason to think about breaking in a second pair of dance shoes and start keeping them in her car in case something like that happened to her. She usually uses one pair for everything, and if they had broken she would have been out of the competition for the rest of the day. I had two pairs of shoes, one for Rhythm and one for Smooth dances, so if I broke one I could make do with the other. Still… that’s a lesson I will make sure to remember when and if we end up competing again.

There were only two smooth routines I did with Lady Q – Waltz and Foxtrot. After spending all that time during the last several weeks learning the routines she wanted to do for those, it turned out that the routines were more like… suggestions. All the heats I danced with her seemed to have more couples on the floor than during the ones I did with Sparkledancer, so I IfIRun3had to modify the routines to work my way through the crowd. Luckily she admitted to me that she had so many routines going on during the day that she couldn’t keep them all straight, so she just followed my lead rather than trying to stay on routine. That was something I was worried about, since she knows enough about what is going on and could have potentially tried to back-lead. It was a lot of fun dancing with her. She and I don’t get to do that very often, as she is usually tied up with her own students. The steps for these routines were much simpler that the ones I had practiced to do with Sparkledancer, so we would sometime chat idly while moving around the floor.

One of the things we talked about – and the thing that actually kept me smiling during most of the day while I was on the floor – was just how absurd this all seemed. I know that sounds weird, but if you step back and look at what I was doing, it really seems absurd. I was dancing. I was doing it competitively. I was surrounded all day by men and women wearing fine outfits and covered with an almost obscene amount of rhinestones and glitter. It is sort of a surreal world when you look at it logically. Sometimes I have tried to explain this hobby of mine to people I work with, and it is difficult to do without having pictures. There is no way words can really describe this world properly. And it makes me laugh thinking about it. It’s also one of the reasons it is so fun.

In trying to do the heats at about a minute-and-a-half to two minutes apiece, the morning ran well over the scheduled time. Originally they had planned on being done with the ballroom style dances by the time lunch rolled around, which would give all the dancers a break to sit and eat and get their outfits changed for the afternoon rhythm section. That didn’t happen. They started rolling out lunch around 1:00PM in the hall behind the ballroom and made an announcement that any of the audience could feel free to make their way back there to get something to eat, and the heats would continue during lunch. It was nearly 2:00PM by the time we were done with all the smooth dances. They finished the set with only the three-dance championship rounds (which include Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango) and then dismissed all the dancers to get a quick bite and go change to prepare for the afternoon. They wanted to start with things again around 2:30PM to try and get the day back on schedule.

So, we grabbed a little of what was left of the lunch buffet (most of it was gone by the time I finished my last heat and could eat something), and changed clothes. The four-dance American Smooth championship round, which is the one we were slated to be in, would be put off until after dinner, so I would eventually have to change back. But for now, it was time to start in on my favorite portion of the day – the Rhythm dances.

Join me for part two of this later on: the rhythm section!

Out On The Edge Of Glory

Time sure seems to be flying. I remember back when I started working on preparing for this competition, and I kept thinking “man, it’s like four months away, so there is tons ofEdgeOfGlory1 time to get everything ready!” Now here we are, with only a little more than a week to go, and there seems like there is not enough time. I feel like I am so close to having everything down, but there are just some things that elude me a bit yet. The second Cha-Cha routine that I know all the steps for, but I don’t always put them in the right order. The Foxtrot that I can step through so easily in my head, but always seems to hit a wall (literally and figuratively) when I practice it with someone. When I think about it, I think it feels like I am just on the precipice of mastering these things, so maybe ten days will be enough to push me over that edge.

On the other hand, sometimes I think that my routines are at the point that there won’t be much that will change between the way I dance each routine today and the way I dance each routine during the competition. With so little time left, and the butterflies starting to creep into my stomach when I think about getting out on that floor, there is really no way I can do anything different during the dance without quitting my job and focusing on running the routine full time to change the muscle memory I have developed for said routine. Little things might change, but then only if my brain thinks about them in time for me to stop my reflexes from doing it differently. Bolero is a good example – there is a part where we do these crazy shadow walks, and when we stop and turn to go back in the opposite direction somehow I always end up with my hand underneath hers, even though it should be clamped on the side. I know in my head the correct way to do it, and the last couple of lessons I have taken Sir Steven has told me to “do it better,” but it’s one of those things I never really noticed I was doing until a couple of weeks ago, so now it is going to be a hard habit to break. With time to practice dwindling, the ROI from running the same step over and over to fix that little thing is low, and it takes a lot of the fun out of dance practice. Over time, I will naturally fix it the more I think about it, but I don’t want to kill my enjoyment trying to make it happen forcefully right now. Competing is supposed to be about fun, not necessarily about winning anything. As I have discussed with Sparkledancer, going into this competition, we have no illusions about winning anything, we just want to do better than we did last time we were competing while still having fun.

So that’s where it stands right now. I know everything mentally at this point, and the body is feeling pretty good about doing what the brain knows. Sometimes I do get routines mixed up if I have more than one for the same dance style, but that doesn’t happen too often. It’s just a performance thing – you never really feel like you are fully prepared to go out and perform until after you walk off the stage when the performance is over. Right now it seems like everything that I am working on fixing are all little things that are cleaning up limb placement, or putting more energy into certain steps (while taking energy out of others). Nothing earth shattering. It feels like a lot of things though, even though it isn’t. And even when I mess up, I am at the point that I will just keep going and work my way to getting back on step or on time without making it obvious that anything went wrong.

I do need to make a point of working with Sir Steven on what to do for the smooth dances if I have to start on the short wall. My main Waltz and Foxtrot routines are really designed with a specific starter step that doesn’t work so well when you start on the short wall. Good thing I just made myself a note here to ask about it…

He and his shadow...
He and his shadow…

As it turned out, the rumor circulating that Young Dave was going to start training to be an instructor were true. I’m happy for him – for a young man who has no idea what he wants to do with his life after graduation, this could give him a direction to go towards, or at least a source of income as he tries to figure out what he wants to do as a career if this turns out not to be it. It’s kind of weird to see him wandering about the studio now, clad all in black, following Lord Fabulous around shadowing his lessons and the group classes he is giving, demonstrating things to people, or standing off against the wall practicing the female variation of the steps he has to learn. Some of the ladies have told me that there has been a noticeable change in his demeanor since taking on this role, and the superiority complex that he exuded before has been pulled back. That’s really made the difference, I think. Really, none of this has affected me so far, considering he is male and I never dance with him, so I am just seeing this from the outside as an observer. But as I’m sure many of you know, when the ladies at the studio are happy, the whole tone of dancing is happier.

This Saturday there is actually another dance field trip planned. Bony found a ballroom in the city that is having an event Saturday night, and was asking a bunch of us if we would attend the event with her. I’m always game for things, so I’ll be there. Sparkledancer and I will be using the opportunity to get together on a real dance floor and run through our routines for extra practice. We’ll see if we do better running through things when complete strangers are watching what we do. Friday night I will have to pull her aside and talk about what I should wear to something like this – I don’t think she would wear her performance outfit to an event like this, but I don’t want to skip wearing mine if she wants to treat it more like a dress rehearsal than a night out with dance friends. The dress code says “semi-formal” but that term has never meant too much to me. I basically take that to mean I don’t have to wear a tie. If it’s not going to be a dress rehearsal, I’m thinking it might just be gray slacks and a black dress shirt, but that might change depending on how fancy the people I’m going with will be dressing. So it should be a fun way to practice for the upcoming competition without actually getting judged. All the extra practice I can log helps.

EdgeOfGlory3 The King and Princess are hard at work putting the finishing touches on the competition stage, and all the competitors are putting the finishing touches on before they will brush off their dance shoes and take to the floor. Only 10 days left until the big day. Soon we will taste either the sweetness of dance glory, or the tartness of dance disappointment. Are you as hungry now as I am?

Another One Bites The Dust

Bites1Flexy has been banished from the Dance Kingdom.

This came as a bit of a shock to us, but in hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have. A few notes about Flexy: as I’ve said, she was Lord Fabulous’ most prized disciple that he acquired after joining the Land of the Loft, and he was quite proud of showing off her skills. She had been a gymnast in the past, so she was quite flexible, and one of his favorite things was to take her through Waltzes and have her do kicks where she would put her foot up over her head. She also adored him, and hung on his every word and followed his every command… some of the time. This gave him the kind of attention that he fed off of, so they developed this quasi-symbiotic relationship over her time studying under him.

The things that became her downfall were that she was, at her core, a spoiled teenager who got bored easily, and on top of that she always demanded that she be the center of attention. During group classes, if there wasn’t anything going on that would challenge her mentally and physically, she would let her focus drift, and often it drifted onto the person standing closest to her whom she would engage in conversation to entertain herself. This quite often became a distraction for the rest of the class. For months the Lords of our studio would put up with it. Lord Fabulous had convinced her when she started that in order to get better, she would have to attend every group class offered, and she followed that advice religiously – even continuing to attend every newcomer-level class that she had long since outgrown. Because of this, she never really had any reason to push herself to nail down her form and technique. Aside from her private lessons with Lord Fabulous and the few time during the week she would attend the higher level classes where I would see her, none of the other men in those low level classes knew what they were doing (since most were in the class for the first time, unlike her), so she grew tired of dancing with them. This caused her to develop the bad habit of never putting much effort into her dancing. Even while in the higher level classes when she would dance with me, her form was almost always really sloppy, and her technique was hit and miss, depending on how entertained she was on that particular day.

After a time, she would complain about being bored so much, that Lord Fabulous suggested that instead of complaining, she should also try studying the male part of the dances, so that she would understand what her dance partners were going through. A few months ago, during all the newcomer and Bronze I level classes that she took where Lord Fabulous was teaching, she took to only doing the male part. She wanted to do it in all the other group classes as well, but when Sir Steven was instructing, he refused to let her do that.

So, bringing this back to current events… during the last Friday night East Coast Swing class and the social dance afterward that Flexy attended, she had a bit of a meltdown. Something (that even to this day, I’m still not sure what it was) set her off, and she became all sullen and despondent. For parts of the class, she attempted to sit out on the floor, and she was moping and acting very dejected. Sir Steven tried continuing on without breaking stride in class, but she started to be obstinate toward him. When class finally finished, she rushed out into the hallway and didn’t return. Some of the other ladies who were there that night (my competition partner and Bony chiefly) went out there to try and bring her back in to have fun, and try and liven up the mood of the studio a bit, but she never took. When she started acting like this, it felt as though a dark spell had been cast over the area, making everyone within its radius feel ill at ease. She finally came back in, collected her things, bade us farewell for now, and said she was going to go get ice cream early with Bony and we could meet her there when the social dance was over. Even after her departure though, the vile magic continued to hover, and even the jokes I told to lighten the mood were met with forced laughter.

Meeting up at the ice cream parlor where we have been congregating over the last several weeks, we found Bony and Flexy on a bench, with Flexy wrapped in a blanket being miserable. We tried to cheer her up, but her complaining (and all she wanted to do was complain!) brought down the mood in this venue as well. After a while, when no one could take the sadness for much longer, the rest of us began conversing about other topics that had to do with our lives. When no longer the center of attention, Flexy fell silent.

This was going to be her last night dancing for a while anyway, since she was going in at the beginning of the next week for some kind of medical procedure, and would be required to take three weeks off to heal. From the story related to me about how this went down, it appears that because of the events that happened, and her attitude leading up to that night, the King was brought into the discussion about her behavior with the Lords and Lady of our studio. They all came to the conclusion that she would be offered an ultimatum: shape up and participate in dancing with the others who want to be there or she could opt to be let out of the remainder of her contract that she had signed with the Dance Kingdom and move on to another land.

She chose the latter.

Bites2So, with that, Flexy joins the ranks of all the other students I have met over my time in the Dance Kingdom who have passed through without making this a permanent home. There have been many who have left, but I think this is the first person I have ever heard of who was banished. Most of the others I hear about tend to drop out because either a) they didn’t realize that it was an expensive hobby when they started or b) they can’t keep up with the demands on their body that this kind of activity asks for. I don’t know if she will attempt to maintain contact with us now that she has gone on. I know that she has maintained contact with other students who have left, so it is possible we will see her in the future. Maybe she will drop by our (new) Friday night traditional ice cream outing. Maybe she will join another studio in the area and we will see her during competitions. Only time will tell. I’ll let you know if I ever find out.

The Royalty

When one thinks about a kingdom, probably the first thing that people associate with it would be a monarchy. Well, lucky for you the Dance Kingdom has one. The ruler is a King, who watches over his realm from a position of strength and financial fortitude. He is well versed in the various business acumen that is required of a successful leader, allowing him to keep the lands safe and strong without taxing the constituents into hardship. It has also been shown that he is not afraid to get his hands dirty, lovingly building the wooden floors that these dance halls require, and painting rich colors onto the walls. You might think of these halls like the grand halls of a castle, but they have more windows for natural lighting, and there are no tapestries hanging on the walls to keep them warm (you can also thank modern heating and cooling for that).

There was an event that we attended hosted at the Great Dance Hall by the Lake. During the event, the people lauded the King. It seems he had put in many an overnight stay at the hall, doing the remodeling and updating that the hall needed. The Princess made sure to point out to all the subjects that he had done all the woodworking by hand, so that they might appropriately gaze upon it in awe and wonder. While he is quite capable of dancing the night away like all the nobility in the kingdom, the King can often be seen at parties standing off to the side, watching over his subjects and maintaining peace and stability.

King

The Dance Kingdom, much like the Mushroom Kingdom or the Candy Kingdom, has a Princess. I believe that of all things, she is the primary reason that the Dance Kingdom even exists. She is wife of the King, which one would think would elevate her to a queen, but she prefers to be known as the Princess. Obviously she is a professional dancer by trade; having won awards and esteems, and is well known in the community for various outreach programs. She is easy to spot at all the dance events I have attended, wearing quite dramatic dresses that set her apart from the others on the dance floor, and using her vast training to show off those outfits as only a professional dancer would be able.

As royalty though, the Princess is far from intimidating. I have seen her mingle casually with the crowds of people who are a part of her kingdom, and stop to dance with newcomers whom I know at the time hadn’t taken more than a handful of lessons. She is approachable and energetic, often clapping the loudest in celebration of her subjects’ performance. Truly a Princess loved by all who meet her.

Princess

Assisting the King and Princess in ruling the kingdom is their hand-picked nobility. They are the instructors, who spend their days toiling with the subjects, training them in the mystic arts of ballroom dancing for any occasion. Often the first people that new immigrants to the land meet, the lords, ladies and knights of the kingdom embody the skills that they impart to others, barely even taking time out during the day to do menial tasks like eating. I’ve met several of the noble class, and there are a few you will need to know about so that things make sense. We’ll go over three of them tomorrow…