I’ve Got To Take It On The Otherside

I had an interesting discussion with Sir Steven on Saturday in addition to the work we got through on our lesson. Where to start? Well, how about at the beginning. Like we sort-of do regularly, we started out by running our International Standard routines in order – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot then Quickstep. Finishing up those, we switched gears to look at our American Waltz routine. Sparkledancer and I ran through it once from beginning to end for Sir Steven. When we finished, he told us that he wanted some things to end up in different places than what we had originally learned, now that he had seen us do it a couple of different times.

The big thing was the placement of figures in the last two corners. What we had before was a Contra Check that is done about two-thirds of the way down the second long wall that he now otherside1wants to have us do in the corner instead. We have two syncopated Fallaways and a Curved Three Step right before the Contra Check, so I think with my long legs it should be easy enough to cover slightly more ground and put the figure in the corner. That means that the figures that come after are shifted onto the short wall. Because of that, Sir Steven wanted the back check step that I do while Sparkledancer does a Ronde around my right side to be the figure we use in the last corner.

There are still a few figures left after we come out of that Ronde, so if we do everything on the list we end up about a third of the way down the first long wall before we would repeat the routine from the top. This may end up being problematic in the future, since we have been really good about covering a lot of space with the figures on the first long wall to fill the floor from corner to corner, so taking out a lot of the floor means we will probably run out of room. We’ll see how it looks once the changes are really committed to muscle memory.

At the end we spent a bit of time looking at our American Tango routine. Because it always seems like at the end of the Viennese Crosses where we were closing our feet and then try to go into a Reverse Turn we would mess things up (i.e. I would mess things up, for some reason I would often go into a Progressive Link instead), Sir Steven changed the fourth figure in that set to be another Viennese Cross like the previous three. This continues the rotation, and makes going into the Reverse Turn feel much more natural. To compensate for the timing change that causes, he took out a similar Ronde-like figure like the one we have in Waltz that we had been doing at the end of the first long wall in Tango. We also talked about how he didn’t like the way the second long wall looked. He didn’t want to change anything about that right then, but he said he would think about what he wanted it to be instead and we would come back to it soon.

After we got done with our coaching session, Sir Steven and I got to talking about the competition he and the other instructors at the Fancy Dance Hall had put on the weekend prior. Somewhere in the conversation I asked him about whether they would consider allowing amateur dancer pairs to run heats at their competitions like they allow Pro-Am pairs to do. Believe it or not, I don’t mind competing, but I do it for more pragmatic reasons than probably anyone else you would meet. I liked to use competitions as an assessment of how I’ve improved in dancing. When I was dancing somewhere that allowed amateurs to run heats, it was nice because I could run each routine multiple times, and I’d get some kind of score back and a few notes from the judges that then I could take and compare to how I had done the last time I competed in those styles. The competitions I have found available for amateurs lately are all one-and-done style competitions, meaning you go out and run something like Viennese Waltz at some unspeakably early time of the morning if that is when you are scheduled, and if you mess up that was your only chance. At the end you get some placement between first and last place, and no other feedback about how you did. That sort of setup doesn’t really help me see how far I’ve come or get an outsider’s view of things I need to improve.

Sir Steven said that the crew at the Fancy Dance Hall has been having some interesting discussions about that. He told me that they have been cooking up ideas for recreating their Ballroom Boot Camp weekend sessions that they used to run at the Endless Dance Hall quite a while ago. They have discussed including a ‘lite’ version for amateurs that will include competition-style practice heats, workshops to cover important technical points everyone needs to work on, and having outside instructors standing around as pseudo-judges to watch and provide feedback to everyone who attends on what they should work on. That sounds like the kind of thing I was sort-of going for. Apparently they are thinking they can get something like this up and running around December or January, so there may be something else fun I can start doing in my dance career. We’ll have to see!

I did end up going out to that dance party last Saturday night over at the City Dance Hall that I mentioned last week. Since I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what kind of costume would work for the musical-themed party, I just went wearing normal clothes. That ended up being a good life choice, since the people who put together the event hadn’t put a lot of effort into the theme. There were some printed up playbills that they had stapled around the fake candles on each table, and a poster that someone had set up in the entryway, but that was all that I saw that had any relation to the chosen theme. I had at least hoped there would be some kind of dance rumble, like two competing line dances on opposite sides of the floor, to celebrate the theme. That would have amused me. Sigh… missed opportunity. Sometimes I wonder if it’s necessary for every dance club (club as in ‘group of people’, not venue) in the area to go through the effort of picking out a theme for every dance party they put on. Would people be turned off if we sent out a note that read ‘Hey! We’re having a party this weekend! The theme is dancing!’ and left it at that? Maybe that’s worth a discussion at some point.

The party this weekend started off with a Salsa lesson. As I mentioned last week, they really missed something by having a lesson on Salsa as opposed to Mambo, which I think would have been more thematically appropriate, but that’s just me. The steps that we covered in the Salsa class would certainly work for Mambo if you changed the timing, so that’s something. The class was also interesting because there were two people teaching, professional partners who I’m pretty sure I have seen at least the female teaching over at the Endless Dance Hall before. Before they started teaching, the guy gave a little speech introducing the two of them to everyone, and then they demonstrated what it was they hoped to teach that hour. The progression was really long – even the guy who was going to teach the progression acknowledged that it was pretty ambitious. So, we got to work.

The first thing that they did was ask everyone in attendance if there was anyone who had never done Salsa before. Two hands went up, so there was a quick overview of the Salsa basic. Once the two newbies to Salsa had that down, the instructor said he preferred to start off dancing Salsa using a side-to-side basic step more like a Whisk in Samba rather than the normal basic that everyone else does, so we began the progression with four of those before going into two normal basic steps. Next up we added on two Cross Body Leads, essentially turning us all the otherside2way around in a full circle. Now came the hard part – not a hard figure itself per se, but hard because it made some of the ladies uncomfortable. We were holding the lady’s right hand in our left, and he wanted us to reach with our right arm around her side to trade her hand behind her back. It was a weird hug-like position to get into, and some people were just uncomfortable with that. If you did it right, the men would rotate around the lady on her right side to roll her out into handshake hold facing the opposite direction from where you started.

Once we got past everyone being uncomfortable, we got to do some things that could be difficult if you tried to turn too early or in the wrong direction. Facing each other in Handshake Hold, we would reach under our right arm with our free left hand to take the lady’s left hand so that we were holding both hands with our arms crossed. From here we would do an Open Break and lead the lady through a Underarm Turn. As the guys would bring their feet together after the last rock step, we would turn 180° so that we ended up with the lady behind us (I’m not sure what you would call that. Reverse Shadow Position?), holding her hands over our shoulders. While in this position we would do four Cucarachas, breaking in the opposite direction (i.e. when we would go to the left, the lady would step to the right). If you were on top of the footwork, you could also do a fancy thing with the arms, crossing the right arm over your head, then the left, then uncrossing the left and finally the right.

And we still weren’t done after all that! In the next measure of the music, the Lead released the Follower’s hands and flipped around to face them on the first two beats, and then both partners were supposed to Shimmy for the last two beats. I can’t Shimmy to save my soul. I can use my shoulders to lift very heavy objects, but I can’t shake them quickly or gracefully, so I just raised my fists up to my chest and shook those instead. Next we would take the Follower’s right hand in our left again and lead them through another Cross Body Lead, this time overturning it a bit so that we could open up side-by-side. In this position we went back to the Samba Whisk-like movements like we had done at the beginning, doing two sets right then left (or left than right if you are doing the Follower’s part). The instructors gave us some variation we could do here, either adding in a saucy hip bump with your partner, or bringing the Follower’s arm up and over your head and letting their hand slide down your arm if you prefer that. Or both, if you were so inclined.

We finally got to the end section after that. After the second set of Whisk-like steps, we would link back up with the lady by doing a figure that looked almost like a Natural Top, rotating us around enough to face the wall we were looking at before the last Cross Body Lead. Then they had us do two measures of Cuban Breaks, which is something I’d only seen done in Cha-Cha up until then. After the last set of those, we would go back into a normal basic figure, rotating ourselves slightly to be facing one another at last.

Whew! Like I said, that was an ambitious plan to try to teach everyone. Several people dropped out during the course of the lesson, probably due to mental exhaustion. I’m surprised I even remember the whole pattern, writing it out several days later like I am now. To reward us for making it all the way through the class, the two instructors took to the floor and performed a Cha-Cha number that they had used for competitions they were in in the past. It must have been for some kind of solo performance, because the figures they used covered the whole room as they danced.

I felt good about the actual dance party afterward. Mostly because I made a point of dancing International Foxtrot instead of American in a social setting and it went really well. International Foxtrot, more than any other International style, has always seemed to be harder to get through on a crowded dance floor than American Foxtrot. That night though, I was on top of things, and it felt safe and traveled quite well through everyone else. That one point alone made my night, so I felt pretty good about everything else. Ms. Possible showed up to the party super late, with slightly less than an hour left before the dance would wrap up. She had come with a guy who has been trying to date her (he’s a dance teacher at some studio, I think), but she’s not totally interested in him. And yet, because he actually knows how to dance, she keeps leading him on. I’m not sure how this will end, but there’s a part of me that feels bad for this guy. I don’t know how I would feel pursuing a woman I meet at a dance party. I think that would be a weird dynamic, especially if we didn’t have much else in common. But that’s just me. To each their own, I suppose.

Skipping ahead, let’s talk about the thing I did last night that was probably way more entertaining to me than it should have been. Remember what I said last week about working on Spin Turns in Standard Technique class and Lord Junior switching roles with the ladies so that they could feel what it was like if they did and did not provide the driving force on the parts of the Spin Turn where they are moving forward? Well, Lord Junior wanted to get back to an idea from that class. Which idea from that class did we expand on last night? The idea where the guys and girls switched roles, having the ladies dance the Lead part while Lord Junior and I were dancing the Follow steps.

Whhhaaaaaaattt?

That’s right – I got to be such a pretty lady last night, though if I wanted to be prettier I’d probably need to go on an all salad diet for a while since my chest and shoulders are much broader than your average lady. Lord Junior’s explanation for us before we started was that way back in the day, early on in his teaching career, he could get by teaching the footwork for both halves of a figure, but it wasn’t until he really had to sit and learn the proper technique for the Followers part that his Leading really improved. Once he had an idea of what the ladies he danced with were trying to do and how they reacted to what he did, he could totally understand how his movements really affected them. So we were going to spend the evening dancing the opposite part to help us understand our partner, and in the process make us better dancers.

Lucky for us, we didn’t do any crazy steps. We kept with Waltz, like we had done last week, giving us a chance to start out super slowly and work our way up to a nice slow pace. The otherside3pattern we used was almost all Bronze-level figures. We started with a prep step to get moving and then a Natural Turn. Next up we did an Open Impetus into a Progressive Chasse to the Left, closing from Promenade Position on beat two. Next up was a Quick Open Reverse, which is just a regular Reverse Turn but you are starting on the wrong foot, so you have to take two steps for beat one to make up for that. At the end we had another Progressive Chasse to the Left, this one in normal dance frame the whole time, and ending with anther Natural Turn.

I have to say, believe it or not, that switching between one part and the other wasn’t too hard for me. It did help that I got to step through the Follower’s side of the figure once or twice before trying to do it with a partner so I could keep my footwork moving in the right direction while we worked. It seemed like the ladies in class were actually having a harder time with the switch than I was. Sparkledancer was thrown off by her left arm being out and her right arm being in – she said it felt all wrong to her. Veep kept cutting me off when we danced together, because she wasn’t used to having to give someone else the room. Bony had it the worst, I think. She was really unsure of herself, and didn’t like having the pressure on her to start moving. When she and I danced together, she would wait until I started moving on the first step in order to begin her own movements. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to be leading me – if I would wait for her to start moving before moving myself, we would just stand there awkwardly letting measure after measure of the music go by until I finally got us going.

At the end of class, we switched back to our normal dance roles and did the same pattern with each partner a few times. I have to say that I thought it made a bit of a difference. The ladies seemed to be more comfortable with providing the power on the parts where they are moving forward (like on the Open Impetus), and with both people really driving out of their standing leg with each step, we managed to run out of room on the floor using these figures. Plus it was weirdly amusing for everyone. Lord Junior said that this won’t be the last time he has us go through this exercise in this class, so maybe once a month now we will start switching places and using that as a way to improve our understanding and our dancing.

Also, he mentioned that while he has been working on building himself a bigger dance studio, he has been thinking that when the construction is completed he will start offering more beginner-level group classes, but rather than hiring a professional to come in and teach those classes he will open it up so that the higher-level students (like those of us who attend these technique classes) could teach instead. If we wanted to seriously do that, we would have to know both parts of each figure anyway, so really he is secretly training us for the future. How cool would that be, getting a chance to teach newcomers how to dance? I think it would be fun, and since I make enough money at my normal job for everything I’d ever want to do in life, I’d consider doing it for free from time to time. We’ll have to see what the future holds. I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it here if it actually happens!

This weekend is when the Royal Dance Court that I am a member of will be hosting our own monthly dance party. I think we are going to have a lesson in East Coast Swing before the party, so if you want to come and dance, let me know and we’ll have some fun!

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One Step Closer

I have to say that when I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer this past Saturday afternoon, I did not have much fun. For me, that is pretty sad. I am a firm believer that dancing should be fun no matter what I am trying to do. Sure, it can be a lot of work, difficult and frustrating, but it can still be fun at the same time. This lesson was not fun though. We spent much of the hour looking at International Foxtrot again, much like we did the last week. This time, our focus was on portions of figures where our normal dance roles were reversed, which basically amounts to times that I am moving backwards and Sparkledancer is moving forward. I thought things seemed pretty easy to understand at first, where I was supposed to move my leg back immediately to make room for Sparkledancer to step forward and pulling my ribs slightly back so that she would know that I am letting her drive forward. I guess I didn’t really understand the English that was being spoken, because just following those directions wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was Sir Steven was trying to get me to do differently.

Somehow in the process of all of this, Sir Steven thought that balancing on one foot was my athousandyears1problem, so he had Sparkledancer grab onto my right hand while he held my left and tried to get me to move my leg. This was weird for me, because I wasn’t having issues standing on one foot. I can hang out on one foot for long periods of time – it’s one of those things you learn to do if you go through the balance poses they teach you in Yoga classes enough times. So there I was being held in the middle of these two, trying to push my leg back farther to see if that was what he wanted, or twist my hip backward like I would do in Latin dances to see if that was it, all the while just feeling really awkward, until I had enough and shook my hands free and told them I could easily stand on one foot on my own. I still never figured out what he had been trying to get me to do, but we eventually moved on from that exercise to something else.

We got through things with Foxtrot and then we moved on to some Waltz, specifically the Natural Spin Turn in Waltz. I would have to say that I think if I could master doing Spin Turns, then I would probably make Sir Steven really happy. We seem to come back to this figure quite a bit, always adding on some new thing to think about when doing them. The whole time we were at the Fancy Dance Hall on that Saturday there was a children’s ballroom class going on, and when we got around to working on Spin Turns the class had just started running rounds, so we had to try to stay in the middle of the room while doing things to give them a track to use around the outside of the floor. That was harder than it sounds, since I have long legs and am capable of covering quite a bit of distance when moving. I figured that I was bigger than all the kids on the floor (considerably bigger than some of them), so they would be able to see me even if they were short enough that I couldn’t see them without I tilting my head down. Luckily we didn’t hit anyone while spinning around. I probably would have sent them flying across the room if I had, much to their parent’s chagrin.

Probably the most exciting thing I did this past week was attend another meeting of the Royal Dance Court. Well, to be honest, that started off a bit boring for me, but got better by the end. After the opening rituals where we sacrificed dance shoes as burnt offerings to the dance gods (am I kidding? I’ll never tell!), we began by looking at the listing of our future monthly dance parties, themes and instructors for 2017. Prez, the current leader of the Royal Dance Court, had gone through and changed some of the ideas that we had put down last time for party themes. No one really questioned why she had done that, and they just let her get away with changing things. I guess the rest of the members of the Royal Dance Court are used to being accessories for Prez’s one-woman show. I thought it was a bit strange, but then themes for parties and decorations are not really something that I find all that important (I’m a boy, so sue me), so I didn’t have anything to say about the things she changed either.

I had asked to have the questions that were brought up during the big meeting I went through back in October added to the agenda so that the entire Royal Dance Court could discuss them. athousandyears2Sparkledancer and I had spent a lot of time kicking the questions back and forth between the two of us over the last several weeks, but I wanted to get some input on the answers from everyone else as well. Unfortunately for me, the discussions about party themes and such went on for a long time, so it was pretty late at night by the time we got around to the questions. Many of the other members had already had several adult beverages by that time, and were getting antsy to head home, but I thought it was important to bring things up so that we could talk about them.

The one that several people seemed to come back to over and over again was “Why be a chapter of the organization?” I let the other talk, and tried to make a few notes about what they were saying rather than reading off the dissertation I had written up as my own answer. What scared me was that no one really had a good answer for why our group of people should be a chapter of the organization. They could see no benefits from being members that they could not get elsewhere, though likely for a higher price if they went on their own to procure services. That made me sad. I can see so much potential for this organization on a national level if we took a few steps to really promote ballroom dancing in a different way, steps that could really help to increase the number of dancers in studios across the country. But if the local chapters cannot see a reason to be a chapter, those steps that I can see wouldn’t be able to become a reality. After about twenty minutes of discussing my agenda item, the older people decided that they were too tired to stay any longer and so we adjourned, setting a date to meet up again in January.

A few days later, Prez sent off an email to everyone on the Royal Dance Court that had the questions all listed out, and asked everyone to write up some answers and send them back to her. She offered to compile everything and forward the answers on to the guy who had asked the questions so that it would look like our Royal Dance Court spoke with one voice.

In case you were wondering, I had compiled my answers to the questions using all the notes I had taken from my discussions with Sparkledancer (she was extremely helpful for me to bounce my thoughts off of), as well as some other interesting ideas I had for the organization, into a long email and sent it off to the guy as he requested. I think when I finished writing everything up, the document I was using on my computer was six single-spaced pages long (I had a lot of things to say). I didn’t turn my answers over to Prez or the rest of the Royal Dance Court members for them to read, since I had already sent the answers directly to the guy who had asked the questions long before Prez had asked that everyone send their answers to her. Surprisingly, I actually got an answer back! I think it was partly a form-letter, and partly a campaign email (this guy is running for a position on the national leadership team). Here’s what his letter said:

“Thank you so much for taking the time and deep thought you’ve put into this.  I truly appreciate it and take it seriously.   I love your enthusiasm and creativity!   I want to digest it some more and then I may get back to you some more.

It’s very valuable to me to have someone who takes a very serious and visionary approach to our organization.

When I become the [vice president of social dancing] I plan to work closely with the districts and chapters so that we can make [the Royal Dance Court] an outstanding organization.   I love the ideas, thoughts and comments that you bring forth.

I can tell you that even though dance sport get so much publicity the new and returning national officers are committed to the ‘social’ side of the organization and realize how important it is to our success.

Keep up the good work.  It is truly appreciated and respected.”

(The bracketed edits are mine to keep this pseudo-anonymous, though you could probably guess who this guy is if you’ve seen the ballot…)

Maybe someday I can work my way up to be on the national council. Wouldn’t that be cool? Then I could help dancers out all over the country with my ideas. I have some good ones… at least I think I do. Also, then anyone who reads my dance notes on this site could send me their ideas too and I could bring them up for serious consideration. I think it’s important that we younger people who have taken up ballroom dancing have some say in the way things work, to balance out the extreme number of older people who seem to be in charge of everything now. Together we can make dancing awesome for everyone!

When I got to the Electric Dance Hall on Monday night, it felt like it had been forever since I had gone to Latin Technique class, but it really hadn’t been that long. Last week Monday was Halloween, so class was cancelled, and the week prior I had a work thing going on, so I wasn’t there, so it had really only been a couple of weeks. Everyone in class was tired that night, which makes sense since we were still adjusting to the Daylight Savings Time changes, so we opted to do some Rumba that night. We had a girl from Lady Lovelylocks’ ‘Sexy Lady Formation Team Dance Club©’ join us in class that night. I guess she had missed the team practice over the weekend, and had opted to make up for that by coming to Latin Technique instead. Lord Junior had said he wanted to work on a figure he called a Switchback during class, but since the new girl had never done any dancing with a partner before, he opted to start things off a bit more simply for her so that we could work our way up to the more difficult figure.

We led off with the beginning of one of Lord Junior’s Open-level routines, which wasn’t hard footwork, but involved a lot of syncopated steps to keep things challenging. Starting with your weight on the left foot and right foot pointed behind you, step forward on beat four and hold for two beats. Next is another step forward on beat two, rock back to the right foot on beat three and then take two steps forward to land on the right foot on beat four with the left foot pointed off to the side and slightly back. Ladies would mirror the footwork, but at the end they would step forward to be off on our right side. On beat two the guys would lunge out to the left while pressing slightly forward with the left arm to turn the ladies toward us, and then we would do three steps (almost like a chasse) to the right while the ladies move across our location and out to Fan Position. Finally we would go into a Hockey Stick, with the first half being syncopated and the second half being normal.

We worked through the opening part of the progression until everyone felt comfortable with athousandyears3the steps and could do everything in time to the music and with a partner. Now we added on the Switchback, the figure Lord Junior actually wanted to work on with us that night. As the guys would check forward at the end of the Hockey Stick we would rotate the lady’s wrist a bit to get her to turn 180° and she would raise her left arm and point her left leg behind her. Seems like an easy thing to do, except the ladies would have to get into that line and only hold it for only one beat before we would come out of it. Moving that quickly suddenly makes the figure an exercise in balance. The end of the figure has us turning the ladies back around by rotating her wrist slightly again and taking three steps backward in two beats, while the lady take three steps forward in two beats.

There is a new class that they started offering on Wednesday night right before Standard Technique, so the last two weeks when I have gotten there early there have been a bunch of people I don’t know out on the floor. So what do I do? I stand there and watch them. I don’t know why. It’s supposed to be some kind of intermediate-level class, but so far the people who have shown up have all been beginners so everything they’ve done has been really basic. Sparkledancer was the next to show up for class, and then no one else came for quite a while. A few minutes before the class started, Lord Junior came over to where Sparkledancer and I were standing and watching the people on the floor and asked if there was anything we wanted to work on that night. I turned to Sparkledancer and asked her if she had anything in mind, and she just shrugged. I thought back to last Saturday and said that we should probably work on Spin Turns if she had no other ideas, because for some reason that’s what came to mind. Well, Lord Junior thought that was actually a good idea – you can always use some more practice with Spin Turns, he admitted, so that’s what we ended up doing.

We worked on Spin Turns in Waltz, because that is the most logical way to work on them. Lord Junior joked that we could work on them in Quickstep if we really wanted to, but that didn’t sound like a good idea. The thing Sparkledancer and I were most interested in was any tips for doing Spin Turns while maintaining body contact the entire time, which is what we were having athousandyears4issues with on Saturday. This led us down a path to where Lord Junior was focusing on the ladies and how they were supposed to be providing the power when it was their turn to move forward. He had us switch roles for a little while so that the ladies could feel what it was like to do the inside part of the turn in a Spin Turn both when your partner is helping to drive the turn, and when they are not. Once the ladies seemed to be on board with this concept, we spent a lot of time doing Spin Turns reeeeeeaaaaaalllllly slowly. Painfully slow, even. We would do the initial pivot on beat one and hold to make sure everyone was good. Then we would do the second rotation on beat two and hold while up on our toes at the high point of the rise, and finally when we were just about to complain about being on our toes so long we were allowed to take the third step (a side and slightly back step for me, diagonally forward for the ladies) and lower on the second half of beat three. Whew!

It was a good class, even though we didn’t cover any new material. In the last ten minutes or so of the night we added on a couple of other easy steps so that we could work through things to music without starting and ending awkwardly right at the Spin Turn. We used a prep step and went into a Natural Turn, then the Natural Spin Turn, closing with a Reverse Turn. We then did a Whisk into a Progressive Chasse to the Left, closing back to dance frame on beat two. That was it, all fairly simple Bronze-level steps that I’m pretty sure most of you have done before. I was in a good mood after class was over, feeling much better about things than I did when I walked out of my lesson the past weekend.

There is a dance party that I heard rumors about on Saturday night that has a strange theme related to a not-quite-public-domain musical about two rival gangs rumbling that I’m sure everyone is familiar with. I’m not exactly sure how to celebrate such a theme. The dance lesson they are offering beforehand is Salsa… not exactly Mambo, as would be fitting with what happened in the musical, but close enough. I’ll have to try to think of a costume that is appropriate between now and then. Maybe I’ll see you there!

We Back In The Club, With Our Bodies Rocking From Side To Side

When I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer this past Saturday afternoon at the Fancy Dance Hall, other people were practicing some things on the dance floor, so we were told that we were going to keep things contained to the back half of the room to avoid running into anyone. I have to say that I am quite happy with the way I was able to manipulate my routines djgotusfallininlove1to use the space without having to take tiny steps. As we have been doing recently, we started the afternoon off by looking at our International Standard routines. I threw Sparkledancer for a loop at first with the Waltz, since I took off and used the figures from the first long wall to cover two “walls” in our half-room, and then did the same with the figures from the next short wall, and so on and so forth. Doing so had us turning twice as many corners and covering twice as many ‘walls’ as the routine would normally, but this allowed us to do all the figures using our normal stride length. Once we got through the Waltz routine, Sparkledancer was on board with what was going on and was right there with me for the others as I tried the same thing.

The only routine that gave me a bit of trouble was the Quickstep, and that was really only because of the speed at which we were moving. I still managed to figure out how to make it work, but this one did not seem quite as smooth as the others did when I would get to a corner and have to turn more abruptly than I would have liked. After we had finished running through all of the International Standard routines once, we changed gears and spent more time working on proper swing technique in our steps. This time we worked on applying the technique in International Foxtrot and Quickstep rather than in Waltz like we had done last week. We spent most of the hour working on that, and it was not until right at the end that we switched over to quickly look at a few pieces of our American Tango and the new pieces of our American Waltz that we had added in last week.

This past Saturday night I was invited to go out with some people I often dance with to a non-ballroom dance club, just to screw around and dance for a while. I cannot decide if they invited me more because of the fact that I am a boy who knows how to dance, or because I do not drink so I am an easy pick to be the designated driver. Whatever the case, I ended up at a djgotusfallininlove2place I will call the Pendulum Dance Hall. I did not know it before heading out there, but even though it was the first day of October they were holding a Halloween costume party. Had I known, I would have thrown together some kind of outfit for the night instead of just being out there in my street clothes. I’m pretty sure that the only thing that saved me from being really out of place were my dance skills. People are able to overlook a lack of costume if you can dance.

I will freely admit that I am incredibly bad at trying to dance without using things I learned in my travels throughout the Dance Kingdom. I think no matter what lady I was dancing with or what song was playing, I was usually dancing something that was either a direct figure or some modified version of a figure I learned in a ballroom class somewhere. If I was dancing with Sparkledancer, then they were for sure real syllabus figures that I knew. Most of the songs that were being played that night lent themselves to using figures from either East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Cha-Cha, Mambo/Salsa or Rumba. Doing West Coast Swing was the hardest one that night because of how crowded the dance floor would get during some songs. The other styles I was able to keep contained to a small area on the floor, but I still gravitated toward dancing near a wall with my back to the crowd to protect my lady friends from the other people jostling around.

The dance floor was tiny compared to what I am normally used to, because much of the building area was reserved for the seating area or for the bar (things that actually make the place money, I’m sure). The booths and chairs were arranged so that people sitting could easily see what was going on out on the dance floor. Because of that, both Sparkledancer and I had a lot of people who approached us to tell us how much they liked the way we danced, and a couple of people even asked us where we learned the things we knew. There was even this one couple who approached me and asked if I could recommend a place to them based on where they lived in the Dance Kingdom that they could go and take some lessons too. I’m glad I remembered to bring my Dance Ambassador hat with me that night so that I could be helpful. I haven’t really worn that hat in a while, and it felt good to pull it back out and blow off all the dust. Maybe I’ll even see some of those people on the dance floor in the future!

On Monday night while I was out at Latin Technique class, we all decided to look at Rumba since we had not done that for a few weeks. We started out by warming up looking at Latin Walks in slow motion. As good as it is to practice doing Latin Walks that slowly, it is way more difficult to do things correctly when moving at that rate of speed than it is to go closer to actual tempo. Afterward a grueling ten minutes of slow walking, we put together a little pattern of figures to work on for the evening.

To force us to use the Latin Walks that we had just practiced, we started with the Leaders and Followers split apart about ten feet on the floor facing each other. To get together, we each took djgotusfallininlove3two steps forward to get close enough to clasp hands, and then the gentlemen took a third step to the side while the ladies took one final step forward . This set us up to transition easily into a Natural Top. To keep things fun for everyone, the first measure of the Natural Top was normal, then the second was in syncopated timing, adding in an extra step forward with our right foot at the end. We then turned the ladies around and went into an Opening Out action. When we lined back up into dance position, we had the ladies do a couple of side-to-side Swivels while the gentlemen just rocked back and forth in place. We did four such Swivels, and on the fifth we turned the ladies abruptly around while she was on our right side and she brought her left knee up (kind of like she was balancing in Tree Pose). We held this line for a few beats, and after the ladies brought their leg back down to stand on two feet again, we rolled her out quickly into Fan Position to finish the pattern.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday night started out a bit different from usual. Lord Junior actually had a video that he wanted to show the four ladies who had come to class of some super-high level dancers. He wanted them to see that all of the time he spends telling djgotusfallininlove4them about how they need to stay out to the left is not just because it amuses him, but that if they were to get better and ascend the ranks of dancers in the world that staying out to the left actually becomes a necessity. Lord Junior is on the technologically challenged side of things, so even though there is a big TV hanging in the studio, he did not know how to hook his phone up to it and project the video. The all gathered around on one of the couches to lean over the small device and watch. There was not a lot of room in that huddle, so I went out onto the dance floor by myself to spin around and wait until they wrapped up movie time.

Once everyone finished watching the video, they all came out to the floor so that we could start working on things. The dancers in the video had been doing Quickstep, so that was the dance style that we went with, giving the ladies a chance to emulate the things they had seen done. The pattern of figures we ended up with started out pretty simply, but got into a lot of super-fast footwork by the end. We started with a Natural Turn into a Natural Spin Turn – a pretty common and easy way to start any pattern. Then we looked at the V6 figure, first in its by-the-book form, but we ended up changing the last piece of it to make things slightly more complicated. Normally a V6 is a Backward Lock Step going into an Outside Change followed by a Forward Lock (for some reason if you string those three figures together, they are given a whole new name, even though each individual piece already has a name). Lord Junior had us take out the Forward Lock and instead do one slow step forward followed by a quick shift into Promenade Position to do a syncopated Progressive Chasse in Promenade Position.

But wait, the fun was just beginning to start there! At the end of the Progressive Chasse we did two Step Hops, which look exactly like how the name describes them. Hopping rotated us around slightly less than 90° in the process so that when we landed the second time the Lead’s back was to the wall. After that, we did another syncopated Progressive Chasse, this time one moving to the Right down the line of dance. At the end, we did a third Step Hop to turn a full 90° as if we had been in a corner and for good measure we tacked on one last Progressive Chasse, this time moving to the Left again. Because of the rate of speed we were going, Lord Junior decided to have us do this Progressive Chasse in Pepperpot timing rather than syncopated, which allowed us to put the brakes on our movement so that we could end the whole progression safely.

I am super excited for Saturday afternoon. There is going to be some big meeting that the Royal Dance Court (which I am a member of) was asked to come sit in on, allowing us to represent our dance constituents during the discussions. Since Sparkledancer and I are so much younger than everyone else who would be going to this meeting, we were both asked if we could make an appearance. Maybe to shake things up a bit, maybe to learn more about dance politics – I’m not entirely sure what we’ll end up doing. I find dance politics much more interesting than actual politics, so I’m pretty excited to go to this meeting and see what kinds of topics are brought up for the group to talk about. Who knows what kinds of exciting and crazy things will be discussed! I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!

I’m A Leading Man, And The Steps I Weave Are Oh So Intricate

I got to go out to a couple of social dances this past weekend, which was nice since this coming weekend I will probably end up at the office pretty much the whole time to take care of things. Last Friday night there was a party at the Eclectic Dance Hall. I got there a bit early while they were wrapping up the group class, and was seated along the windows putting my shoes on. Sparkledancer came over to talk to me while I was there, and while we were talking HotDog showed up. He didn’t come to dance at the dance party, since he said he was trying to save some money for something else, but he stopped by the studio after he left work to say hello to everyone. Things then got a little weird as he first hugged ThisAintAScene1Sparkledancer, and then wanted to hug me for some reason. He told me that people loved hugging him because he was cuddly and warm, which I thought was a really weird thing to tell another guy. After he left to go say hello to other people, I just looked at Sparkledancer quizzically, and she just laughed at me. Abracadaniel came over as well, and he laughed at me too. Some friends, right? Abracadaniel told me that he would hug me as well, but since we “weren’t that close” it would just be a quick side-hug, which is much less awkward. At that point, I’m sure my face was just beet red from being the center of all the excitement, and only part of that could be blamed on me laughing so hard. Once all that hilarity was over, we got to have fun dancing the rest of the night away.

Saturday night there was an open dance party at the City Dance Hall. A little bird had initially told me that the dance party that night was going to be somewhere else, somewhere much farther away, so I wasn’t originally planning on going out that night, but then I got a call telling me that things would actually be at the City Dance Hall (which is much, much closer to me), so I grabbed my dance shoes and headed out the door. There was a Cha-Cha lesson being held before the party, and I was pretty surprised to see that Lord Orange was the one teaching class. For those of you that may not remember, Lord Orange normally spends his time over at the Prime Dance Hall, and he has been known do some… interesting dance moves, even with his sister. Luckily, the Cha-Cha figures he went over were nothing like that. The crowd that arrived early enough to attend the lesson was very sedate for some reason, and no matter how much Lord Orange tried to get everyone ThisAintAScene2excited, he just wasn’t getting through to people. He even tried to have the ladies do Cha-Cha walks and locks in a Conga line to get people excited, but that didn’t really work either. The most complicated thing that he tried to have everyone do during his lesson was the Grapevine in Cha-Cha. I’ve seen the Grapevine in numerous other dance styles, and seeing it in Cha-Cha now just lends itself as more evidence that eventually all the different dance styles are just going to be blended together into one super dance style to rule them all. The trick with doing the Grapevine in Cha-Cha (and the reason so many people in the class were struggling to get it to work) was that several of the steps are done in the timing of the Cha-Cha chasse, so you had to move your feet pretty quick. He had us doing the Grapevine for twelve beats of the music, then we would go into a Cucaracha on the Lead’s left side, and then a basic chasse to the right. Even though we were doing Cha-Cha, and normally you don’t take huge steps (because you just can’t and still expect to move your legs fast enough), we could cover a good distance in twelve beats with the Grapevine figure. Some of the people standing near me kept stopping whenever they messed up, which would grind what I was doing to a halt to keep from running into them. After they did that to me a couple of times, I moved up to the front of the room so I could have some more space on either side of me. Most people in group classes don’t like standing in the front for some reason. Obviously I normally fall into that category. I wonder why that is…

When we wrapped up class and the dancing began, I ran over to go talk to someone who had shown up late to the party – the Heartbreak Kid had come, and brought along a date. I haven’t seen him in quite a while, so it was good to see how he was doing and get caught up on life with him. They also had deviled eggs as one of the snacks someone had brought for the dance. Normally I wouldn’t recommend eating something like that during an activity where you’re going to be getting into close contact with someone else (especially a member of the opposite sex who you may or may not know very well), but they looked so ThisAintAScene3good, and it had been so long since the last time I had had a deviled egg, I just couldn’t resist. I snuck away to a corner to have one, and then after sighing deeply in enjoyment from eating it, I stuffed several mints in my mouth at once and drank a bunch of water to cleanse my palate. It was totally worth it! During the evening, Sparkledancer and I tried again a couple of times to dance International Foxtrot socially. It’s still not as easy to navigate around people using the figures I know from the International Foxtrot syllabus, and you obviously can’t throw out figures like Passing Twinkles to weave through people, but it’s getting better. We are starting to stick with using International style longer before switching over to American style when we get stuck and can’t figure out how to get around people. International Waltz for some reason is much easier for me to use socially right now, so as long as I warn my partner beforehand whether we are doing American or International, I can choose one or the other and stick with it for the entire song. I hope to be able to do the same with Foxtrot someday soon.

This past Monday night at Latin Technique class was like a blast from the past, focusing on something that I hadn’t done or even thought of in a long, long, long time. As I’ve mentioned before, Lord Junior has been studying to get some kind of super high-level dance instructor certifications, so a lot of the things we have done recently in both of the technique classes I normally go to have been figures and techniques that Lord Junior is studying that week for those tests. Tonight he wanted to look at a figure in Cha-Cha that he said he never really liked – the Cha-Cha Chases. You’ve probably done them before if you do American Cha-Cha (it’s a Bronze-level figure in that style), or Mambo/Salsa. In the International Latin syllabus for Cha-Cha the Chase is actually a Silver-level figure. The big reason for the difference, as we were all told, is because in International Cha-Cha if you are doing the Chase according to the book, the Lead is doing a Fake right after the first Switch Turn, and then again before the last Switch Turn. In American Cha-Cha, the Leader and Follower are on opposite feet when they are doing the Chase, but in International style the Fake allows the Leader and Follower to be on the same foot while they are moving. That one little difference is enough to change things from Bronze-level to Silver-level somehow. For anyone who may not know, a Fake is basically when you either hold your motion for an extra beat of the music (or do some other kind of fancy foot thing for one beat) instead of taking a step like you normally would, allowing you to do the next movement on the same foot. It’s something you have probably seen Leaders doing as they go into Shadow Position with their Follower so that they end up on the same foot (so they can shadow their partner’s steps, as the position’s name suggests). This is not something that Followers have to worry about in International Latin styles. Since there is no way for a Follower to know that the Leader is trying to get on the same foot as them unless they have choreographed the movements beforehand, the Leader is always the one who will do the Fake to change feet. In class that night, our Fake was pretty simple – after we did the Switch Turn, we just tapped our foot on the floor to count the held beat before moving on to the next step. Not too fancy, but it got the job done.

For this week I actually met up for coaching with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer on Tuesday night because of all the work-related things I have going on this weekend. When we got together, we actually discussed how we were doing trying to use International Foxtrot in a social setting, and how we struggled with getting around people and often had to switch over to American-style figures and break frame. Sir Steven said that our last International Foxtrot routine used all the Bronze syllabus figures, but to help diversify things a bit he would start working with us on some of the Silver syllabus figures to give us some more weapons in our International arsenal that will hopefully allow us to more easily weave around people on the floor. The first thing we looked at was the Open Telemark. The Open Telemark is a lot like doing a Reverse Heel Turn, except instead of moving Backing ThisAintAScene4Line-of-Dance after coming around the lady for her Heel Turn, I rotate slightly less and we come out facing Diagonal Wall in Promenade Position and then finish with a Feather Ending. Sir Steven said this was a good way to smoothly change direction if there were people in front of us, so it should come in handy. But, we weren’t done there! He showed us one more Silver-level figure that was related to the Open Telemark. The figure we did was called (I am not making this up) an “Open Telemark, Natural Turn to Outside Swivel and Feather Ending.” I had to look things up online just to make sure Sir Steven wasn’t pulling my leg with that name, but that is actually what the figure is called in the book! You can probably guess how the figure goes – you do an Open Telemark and then go into a Natural Turn (not a Natural Heel Turn, but a normal rotation with passing feet at the end so that you come out with your right leg back). The Outside Swivel is probably the hardest part. I was pivoting around on my left leg to come out facing Diagonal Center, and Sparkledancer would come all the way around outside of me to end up in Promenade Position. The figure’s close is a normal Feather Ending, with the lady rotating back from Promenade Position on the second step to return to normal dance frame. If you can do all those pieces in that order, that is one Silver-level International Foxtrot figure. I was told that most of the pieces you could do separately in open choreography, except for the Natural Turn. Outside of this figure, you supposed to always use a Natural Heel Turn. Just something to keep in mind if you want to try this yourself.

So… I was hoping to have exciting news this week, but so far I haven’t heard anything about what I have been waiting for. You would think that they should have been able to get their act together by now. Hopefully I will find out soon, and then you will all find out soon as well! I’m still excited, if you couldn’t tell!!!