It’s Nothin’ Dangerous, I Feel No Pain

Last Saturday it seems like all the stars aligned and everything worked out perfectly in my morning so that I could go to a workshop taught by Judge Dread in the afternoon. Hooray for me! Part of me thought that going to the workshop would be a good idea because Judge Dread is a big-time judge that I see often enough at competitions I sign up for, so getting in some face time with him in a non-competition setting would be a good political move. Dance Politics, am I right? Things turned out even better than that though, because the workshop also turned out to be both a lot of fun and relevant to the material I usually practice.

Judge Dread wanted to work on Foxtrot that afternoon, and he told the class that while the pattern he had in mind was built using figures from the International side of Foxtrot, a good dancer could also apply the choreography in an American Foxtrot if they wanted. He wanted to ease everyone into the steps slowly, so we started off with a bit of basic choreography from the Bronze International Foxtrot syllabus, then those figures were upgraded piece by piece until we ended up with the actual choreography Judge Dread had in mind.

The starting point is pretty simple if you’ve done International Foxtrot before: a prep step into a Feather, then a Basic Weave, and finally a Change of Direction. Judge Dread pointed out to all of us that the Feather was a four-count figure, while the Basic Weave and the Change of Direction were both six-count figures, so the pattern should fill a full four bars of music. That’s all well and good, but what if we wanted to attach something different to the end of the choreography? Then the six-count Basic Weave would throw off our phrasing. To fix that issue, Judge Dread had us add in an extra two steps to the Basic Weave to make it an eight-count figure, so now the figure fits into the phrase.

Doing that however makes the Basic Weave look really long and boring, so rather than just stay in the position that we got into when we started the Basic Weave, Judge Dread told the ladies that we were going to have them shift across the man’s body for steps four and five to get into Outside Partner position on the man’s left side. Some of you may have heard this called ‘Wing Position’ before. Extending the steps and shifting the lady like that in the middle of the figure actually changes the Basic Weave into a figure called the Quick Open Reverse with Left Side Run, according to Judge Dread.

Now that we had fit this new figure to the musical phrase and made it more interesting to watch, we were ready to look at the Change of Direction at the end and make it into something more interesting as well. The pattern of steps that Judge Dread showed to us was something that he said a famous dancer (whose name I didn’t recognize) taught to him back in the early 1980s, and he still sees high-level competitive couples using it to this day. According to him, it especially comes in handy in competitions if you get stuck by people on the floor, because it’s an interesting pattern that stays in a relatively small area for a few bars of music. On top of that, this pattern can be done in ANY International Standard style. Yes, even Viennese Waltz works when you use a bit of Canter Timing.

Each section listed next covers one measure in the music; since we were working on Foxtrot that day, we were doing it with a four count. This configuration started out by facing diagonal wall and going into the first two steps from the Change of Direction, as you probably already guessed. After those steps, instead of stepping forward on the left foot to complete the Change of Direction, Judge Dread had the men step backward and lead the ladies to do an Outside Swivel. Once back in dance frame after the Outside Swivel we would lead the lady into a Contra check that ended with a Natural Pivot on the left leg that would flip us around 180°. That covers the first three bars of music.

The last part of the grouping was something that Judge Dread called a “Rudolph Ronde” with Slip Pivot. Essentially the men would finish the Natural Pivot and take a step forward onto their right leg. Leaving the left leg behind you, we would rotate our bodies to lead the lady to ronde her outside leg before shifting our weight back to our left foot and then slipping and pivoting on the right. Depending on how you rotate your body, supposedly you can indicate to the lady whether you want her to ronde with her outside foot on the floor or in the air, but I wasn’t able to figure out the way to do that during class. After the Slip Pivot you should be back facing diagonal center, and four bars of music will have gone by without you having traveled a whole lot. After that was done, Judge Dread just had us go into normal a Reverse Turn (International or American, depending on how comfortable the lady is with Heel Turns) to keep traveling down the floor.

That class wasn’t the only dance-related thing I did last Saturday either! I also went out to a dance party that night that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall just to get out and be social for a little while. I may have gotten scolded for going to the dance party to mostly talk to people by a lady while I was there… I had a hard time trying to explain to her that I spend so much time on the dance floor lately while I practice my competition stuff, but don’t get much opportunity to talk to people. Apparently that wasn’t a good reason for her. It wasn’t like I was hurting anything though, since the ratio of men to women was almost even that night. If the ratio had been lopsided, I would have been on the floor more, I promise!

The party advertised a lesson beforehand on Bolero. It’s a style that I don’t really do too often, and I never picked up a whole lot of figures for it, so I thought that the lesson would probably be interesting. As it turned out, the instructor that had come in to teach the class only managed to cover figures that I already knew for Bolero. Plus, the guy teaching wasn’t very interesting to listen to. I don’t know what it was about the guy’s voice, but he seemed to drone on and on and I just couldn’t get engaged in what he was saying. So I ended up being a little bored while in the lesson. I maaaaaay have roped Sparkledancer into playing a game of ‘Quick Draw’ with me using finger guns while we were standing across the room from one another. I lost a lot, because my arms move slower. You know, from all the muscle. That’s where the real gun show is at. 😉

A large chunk of time at the beginning of the lesson was spent with the instructor describing the Bolero and how to do the basic steps for the dance. He only taught the class how to do the basic without rotation, though he demonstrated later in class how the Leader could rotate the basic if desired. After getting through the basic movements, he next showed everyone how to do the Cross Over Break (i.e. a New Yorker, depending on what syllabus you look at). We were told to link the two figures together by doing the front half of the basic movement followed by three Cross Over Breaks in a row. Once done with those, he showed the class how to do a Lady’s Underarm Turn on the man’s left side.

Rather than link back into dance frame after the turn, the instructor had the men take the lady’s left hand in their right with the arms wide. In this position we did Outside Breaks Forward, two of them normally and then a third that ended with the man stepping to the side without rotating his body. This wound him up to the right, allowing him to lead the lady to do Swivels in front of him for two measures. At the end of the swivels the man would pull the lady back toward him slightly as he went into the back half of the basic to close back into dance position to finish.

The Swivels were the figure that a lot of the other men in class had the hardest time with. Several of them stopped the instructor to ask how it was that they were supposed to lead the ladies to do them, and they didn’t seem to understand when he explained to them how they needed to leave their arms engaged and rotate their bodies to signal to the ladies to move. Having done this figure before lots of times in a couple of dance styles, it seemed so intuitive to me how the movement was supposed to work, so I had a hard time understanding how those guys couldn’t just feel the lead they were supposed to do when they tried the movement. I can’t remember if I had that much trouble getting it back in the day all those years ago when I originally learned how to do it myself. Maybe I did? I don’t know.

After the lesson was over, the party began. I admit to not being a huge fan of the DJ that was working the music that night. The DJ seemed to like playing Latin-style songs almost exclusively, with only a smattering of ballroom-style or swing-style numbers mixed in. If you like dancing Latin numbers more, I guess that wouldn’t bother you too much, but I prefer a more balanced mix of the three classes. I think it helps mix things up over the course of the party, which gets different people out on the dance floor as the class of song changes. But, to each their own, I guess.

Also, the DJ liked to go out and dance to a lot of the Latin-style songs, which is fine, but more often than not she would totally forget to watch what the music was doing while she was out on the floor. I’m not sure why she didn’t set up multiple songs to play on some kind of mixed playlist that she had chosen. Most music programs will let you queue songs like that. There were a couple of times when she would forget about what the music was doing, then the song would end and her computer would move on to another song of the same dance style before she managed to run back to abruptly change the song to something else in a different dance style. That was weird.

But the weirdest thing that happened during the dance party was that the DJ tried to play a Pasodoble for people to dance socially. At first, people were looking around, not quite sure what to do. Many of the social dancers had never even seen Pasodoble before, let alone learned any steps for the style. After a few bars of the song, two dance instructors who happened to be at the party convinced a couple of their students to go out and give it a try. It didn’t go super well, since Pasodoble is usually choreographed and isn’t done lead-and-follow, but when the DJ cut the song short and everyone cheered for them for giving it a shot. Hooray for them!

This past Monday night when I got to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class, I was sitting along the back wall with some of the others waiting for class to start. The ladies near me were talking about how tired they all were, and they were trying to figure out what they wanted to go over in class that night. They made a pact that they were all going to vote for Rumba, because even though what we’d likely cover in class might not be easy, at least it would be slower. Lord Junior wasn’t opposed to the idea, so that’s what we ended up doing. He decided that we should go through some exercises that emphasized Latin Walks, since he said that everyone can always work on making those better. Some of these exercises were done alone, some with a partner, and some were done first alone and then a partner was added in later.

We started out with just going over some single steps forward as Lord Junior discussed where we should be settling over the leg in order to initiate the movement, and how we should all think about the lines the legs create in each stage of the steps. After that, we spent time chaining steps together. First we did three four-count measures going forward (half starting on the right leg, half on the left). Next we did steps going forward that would rotate to steps going to the side. We only did two four-count measures of these steps so that we could have one measure starting out in each direction (forward-side-forward, side-forward-side). Like before, half of these were done starting on the right foot, and the other half starting with the left.

The next thing that Lord Junior wanted us to try ended up being kind of hilarious. His intention was for us to do Hand-to-Hands, but after replacing your weight to go back forward you were supposed to do a Spiral Turn that ended facing where your partner would be and then take a step to the side before rotating 90° to go into another Hand-to-Hand. You know how if you put your weight on one leg with the other behind you, you should only be able to rotate in one direction to do a Spiral Turn? Well… that didn’t seem to be the case in this class. For some reason, all of us (including me) at one point or another tried to rotate the wrong way, which just messed up everything after that.

After spending a few minutes laughing really hard at us, Lord Junior thought that we might be able to get through the turns properly if we worked with a partner, so the guys were paired with one of the girls and we tried things again. This is where I got messed up, because suddenly I was on the other leg and it threw me off for some reason. I think I had to go through two partners before I managed to work out my issues and get it down 100%. By that point though, everyone in class was so fired up that anytime one of us messed up and tried to turn the wrong way, it would set everyone else off laughing (including Lord Junior), so messing up didn’t feel so bad. Yes, we really were the ‘advanced’ class that night!

There was one final exercise that Lord Junior wanted us to try out that night. The idea was to start facing one wall, take a step backward and do a 180° pivot that went into a Three-Step Turn and came out as if we were a lady going into Fan Position. After going through this a couple of times, he decided to pair us off again so that we could work in partners. I spent a minute going through the step on my own using the opposite leg so that it wouldn’t throw me off this time when I had a partner with me.

When we ended while with a partner, we were essentially in Hand-to-Hand position. After watching us work through things with a partner a few times, Lord Junior had the brilliant idea of going from the ending back into the Hand-to-Hand with Spiral Turn action that we had done so spectacularly earlier. Yay…? The issue with trying to turn the wrong way during the Spiral came back with a vengeance, and it was still just as funny for everyone the second time around. Who says that technique-focused classes are boring? Not me, that’s for sure!

Finally, last night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior told us that we were going to work on some Tango, in honor of one of his students who was in class with us that night who would be moving away at the end of the week. Tango is her favorite dance style, so it was a fitting final dance for her, and we were all happy to oblige.

What Lord Junior failed to mention before class started was that the pattern that he was going to have us do was going to be super hard. Stupid hard, even. Normally I don’t have much problem picking up choreography, since there are so many women in class and I get to repeat the steps a lot more than they do, but this class it took me quite a while to feel even semi-confident with what my feet were supposed to be doing, so I didn’t switch over part way through to focus on other techniques. I’m not sure why that was. During most of the class my brain was struggling to just keep the steps straight, but now that I am home and sitting here on the couch writing this I can picture the figures perfectly. I bet if I had enough space in this room, and my cat was willing to dance with me, that I could get through it perfectly! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…

We started off with our partner facing down the line of dance in Promenade Position. To set up for the first difficult figure Lord Junior wanted to do, we did a basic Promenade with the man closing and a Natural Pivot attached at the end to turn us back around so that we were facing down the line of dance again, this time in closed dance position. Easy enough. The first difficult figure that we did was a Gold-level figure called The Chase, but we did it using the alternate ending to the figure where you come out with a Chasse to the Right and end with a Whisk that rotates you 90° to the right and puts you back into Promenade Position. This would normally be used to turn you around a corner.

The next figure confused a lot of people because it is a lot like the previous one, so doing both back-to-back was what made this choreography particularly hard that night. We did two Fallaway Whisks in a row. Because we had allowed the outside foot to come forward after the previous Whisk, to start the figure we had to take one slow step forward on the outside leg before the first Fallaway Whisk, which starts with the inside leg. If you get through the first Fallaway Whisk correctly, rather than let the outside leg come forward after the Whisk part at the end you would just push off that leg after it crossed behind to start the second Fallaway Whisk right away. Most people in the class that night weren’t good enough to keep both of these Fallaway Whisks going in a straight line, so we would curve them as needed – sometimes almost going in a complete circle. After the second Fallaway Whisk we finished the pattern by adding on a basic Closed Promenade at the end.

Now that I’ve finished writing all of this, I have to go find some band aids. My cat was not too happy about me trying to use her as a dance partner, so I got slightly scratched. Still worth it. Until next week!

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Life’s True Intent Needs Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s An Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life

Due to some rescheduling, my last week was surprisingly free. I managed to put in some extra time with dance practice because of that, but I didn’t really go off and see anyone for lessons. That won’t happen until tomorrow (Friday) night. Crazy, right? Then I leave on Saturday morning to go off to compete over the weekend. When I had first looked at the proposed schedule I was supposed to be dancing on Saturday afternoon, which is why I had set up my plans to head to the venue Saturday morning, but if the current schedule holds it looks like I will be dancing my rounds mid-morning on Sunday. What can you do…

So, moving my lessons to Friday night means the only real dancing I did this week was going to Latin Technique class on Monday night and Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It sounds like so little when I write it down like that, but having only a couple of things on my plate the week before a competition might have been for the best. Especially since this past week I changed up all of my workouts, so my body is a bit unhappy as it tries to acclimate. I swapped out my longer, mixed lifting arrangements meant to build muscle endurance for shorter, heavier lifting meant for building muscle mass, as well as trading out my kickboxing days so that I could go back to doing plyometrics. Good times, right? You probably don’t actually care too much, but I already wrote it so I’m not going to go back and delete it now.

Let’s go over the dancing I did get to do. Monday night was especially fun for me, because I got to do Pasodoble in Latin Technique class. I’m sure you’re all aware by now that Pasodoble is my favorite Latin dance style, so any Monday night class where we get to go over it is awesome to me. Some people who come to the class don’t seem to like Pasodoble too much, but they can just go off and get… gored by a bull? Is that the right term to use? Obviously I don’t get to spend a lot of time around bulls, so I’m only guessing here.

Because there was a different class going on at the same time Monday night at the Electric Dance Hall, Lord Junior built this bit of choreography to turn a lot of corners rather than traveling too far down the line of dance. That way we all stayed pretty far down at one end of the dance floor, giving the other class plenty of room to do their thing at the same time. If you want to try this combination of figures out for yourself, you need to start a bit far away from the wall because a figure later on in the middle of the short wall takes you several more steps toward the wall. If you don’t plan for that ahead of time, you’re liable to run yourself off the floor.

To start with, we faced down toward the back wall of the studio and did a Promenade and Counter Promenade run, but the Counter Promenade was turned to head 90° to the left so that we were heading down the short wall when finished. After that, we did a variation on the Coup de Pique where after the first step backward against line of dance, we would repeat the first half of the figure again rather than doing the series of steps backward against line of dance. If you can’t picture the figure by reading the name, the Coup de Pique has you rotating your lower body and pointing your right foot down the line of dance, then rotating back and bringing your feet together, then rotating your hips and taking a step backward against line of dance, and bringing your feet together again – and in our variation we repeated that twice. Hopefully that helps you visualize it.

When we finished the Coup de Pique variation we did a figure that is called the Left Foot Variation. It’s one of the few steps in the Pasodoble syllabus that starts with the left foot (right foot for the ladies), which is helpful when your previous figure combinations have a fake or syncopation in them and you end by closing your right foot to the left. The Left Foot Variation is the figure that I mentioned earlier that moved us even further toward the wall, which is why you needed to be slightly farther away at the beginning to give yourself enough room.

Turning to head down the short wall again, we did some Natural Pivots in Promenade Position. There were three of these in a row, with the first two being half a turn and the last one being a quarter of a turn, which allowed us to end as if we had just turned another corner, with the men facing down the new long wall. With a little time left before class was over, Lord Junior also had us do a Fallaway Reverse Turn. This one we started with a Slip Appel to turn us an eighth of a turn so that the figure would begin traveling toward diagonal center and close with the men back facing down the line of dance. Fun stuff, right?

In Standard Technique class last night I got to work on some Foxtrot. Yay! Both classes I went to this week focused on my favorite dance styles in each category! What did I do to deserve such nice things? Like finding lemon creme sandwich crackers. Oh. My. Glob. Let me tell you, one afternoon it was not quite time to leave work, and I was sooooooo hungry, so I decided to move up one of my evening snacks so that I could eat before I left the office to go do my workout. I headed down to the vending machine to get a pack of sandwich crackers. Usually I get the ones that are cheddar crackers with peanut butter filling (I’m sure you’ve had them before), but that day I saw a brand new option – they had some kind of cracker with lemon creme filling. Intrigued, I decided to get that instead, and it was pretty much the best snack ever. Seriously, I’m dreaming about those crackers right now, but I’m so far away from the vending machines at work. Sigh…

Anyway… now that I’ve made myself hungry, let’s talk about Foxtrot. That day in class Lord Junior wanted to have us work on figures where the ladies would be traveling forward while the guys were going backward. Usually if you only move like this for a couple of steps it doesn’t feel too weird, but if you do it for a couple of full figures it starts to mess with my mind. The footwork for me is easy when I’m going backwards, but the shaping takes a bit for me to figure out how to apply properly. The Reverse Wave in Foxtrot is just a backward Three Step, so the shaping and the side you lead with is the opposite. That sounds easy when you say it out loud, but I usually end up contorting myself in funny ways for the first few attempts until I figure out what the right way actually is.

Our progression of figures that night started out facing diagonal center and going into a normal Feather, then an Open Telemark with Feather Ending, and then an overturned Reverse Turn that started out heading diagonal wall and finished with the Leads backing diagonal wall. This is what set us up to start traveling backward for the next few figures. The first one we did was a Reverse Wave that curved after the first step so that the rest of our backward movements went straight down the line of dance. Then we added a Back Feather and then a second Reverse Wave, both of which that kept going in a straight line. At the end of those figures we had made it to the far corner of the long wall, so we put on an Open Impetus with Feather Ending that allowed us to turn the corner and start moving toward diagonal wall on the new line of dance.

This connection of figures is cool, but not exactly the most practical thing to do outside of a group class in a controlled environment. Normally you wouldn’t want to be moving backwards for so long, because that can become dangerous. Especially if you can travel as much as I can with each step you take, so that the nine steps backward that these three figures actually have you doing can cover almost the entire length of the floor. If you wanted to give this a try in a non-controlled situation, you would have to use the Reverse Turn beforehand to spot everything along the line of dance ahead of you to make sure it would be safe before you go.

At the end of class Lord Junior completely changed gears on us and had us look at a figure disconnected from the others we had just been doing. He said it would be called something like a Hairpin Turn Overspin, which is essentially a Hairpin that you may have seen before, with an extra Natural Pivot on the end. We ended up doing two of these right in a row, and then putting an Open Impetus on the end. With the Open Impetus essentially changing our direction, Lord Junior told us that he should have started our first progression with this set of figures – having us use them to cover the entire short wall and the Open Impetus setting us up to head toward diagonal center on the long wall, which would have set us up to do the Feather that we started the class with. Maybe next time, right?

I have only a vague idea of what to expect this weekend. I will be meeting up with Lord Dormamu for coaching tomorrow night, and then Saturday I will be heading out to a far off corner of the Dance Kingdom for a competition. This is the event that I mentioned weeks ago, where there probably won’t be any people dancing against me in the events I signed up for, but Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that we should still go to gain political points with the competition organizers. So… I’m probably guaranteed to place pretty well if I’m dancing uncontested, but I don’t consider that to be very meaningful.

Hopefully the event will still be fun, right? We’ll have to see! I’ll let you know next week, I promise.

And When I Start To Come Undone, Stitch Me Together

Lots of information this week. That tends to happen when I meet up with Lord Dormamu and he gives me all sorts of things that I need to remember. Hopefully this doesn’t end up running super long, but no apologies from me if it does. It’s all important, so I can’t forget to make note of it! But, to keep things easy to understand, let’s go through everything chronologically.

Last Saturday I agreed to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella so that the girls could use me again as a dance dummy. We spent the entire time looking at Tango. Most of the items that Lady Tella talked about were for Sparkledancer’s benefit, with very little information that was actually related to me. I took a few notes anyway, because it is useful to remember what your partner is supposed to be doing, right? Also, there’s always the off-chance that something that I write down will be helpful to someone else who may come across my notes, so it’s good to have information for both the Lead and Follow parts of the dance mixed in.

One thing that Lady Tella and I did spend some time talking about without Sparkledancer was the Back Corte. She had been working with Sparkledancer on how to improve her shape while we do the hold for that figure, and came to dance through it with me to demonstrate something. After we got through, she told me that it felt weird to her, so she wanted to do it again. We went through the steps three or four times so that she could figure out what felt off to her, and it ended up being that she thought that I was coming around too much on my first step, which was making it hard for her (and ultimately Sparkledancer) to create the shape she desired in that spot.

I told her that I had been given a couple of different theories on how to do that particular step, with no one ever giving me a final decision on what was best. I’ve had coaches tell me that if I start out facing the wall, my first step with my left foot should curve around my partner enough so that my toes are pointing backing line of dance. Other instructors have told me that the step should be to the side and slightly back, with my toes pointing toward the wall when finished. I had just been kind of taking a step that was between those two points, splitting the difference in case anyone ever stopped to look at it again.

After explaining that, I asked her two things: A) where does she prefer that my step end up to help create the shape she wants, and B) what does ‘the book’ say the correct foot placement is? I knew that there was a copy of the magic book of Standard Syllabus figures floating around the studio, so I wanted to know what it said in case anyone asked me in the future. I have a copy of the book at my house, but I’d never looked up the Back Corte in it before, since I had never had a reason to until that point.

The book said that taking the step around my partner so that my toes were pointing backing line of dance was the correct way of doing things. Lady Tella didn’t like that though, since she thinks that it makes the rotation too big. She prefers it when the step rotates around the side of my partner like the book says, but only until my toes are pointing backing diagonal wall. That’s what she and her professional partner do when they have Back Cortes in their competition routines, and she thinks that it feels the most comfortable. I told her that I could do that for her, at least until someone else comes along and gives me a good argument as to why I should do it a different way.

As for what Lady Tella and Sparkedancer worked on, they started off by continuing to talk about the best place to line up the connection point with my body. It’s funny when they talk about this, because I end up just standing there with my weight on my right leg while the two of them are pressing themselves into and wiggling against me, talking about where their ribs are and what direction their boobs are pointing. I guess that has to be the best way to describe getting into the right position, because they sure do mention it a lot. Either that or they are trying to see what it would take to make me blush. One of the two. These are the sorts of things that are considered ‘normal’ in the world of competitive ballroom dancing!

As for the other items they discussed, all I have are short notes: in the Back Corte, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to focus on keeping her elbows up as she opens away from me, and to watch the topline to make sure that her arms are mostly parallel with the floor; When getting into Promenade Position, she wanted Sparkledancer to swivel her back foot more; During the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside she told Sparkledancer to keep her hips back; In the Natural Promenade Turn (a.k.a. Promenade Pivot) Sparkledancer is supposed to focus on keeping her body out in order to keep the volume up; and finally, in the Right-side Lunge, Lady Tella noticed that Sparkledancer was taking her last steps before the first pivot weird, as if anticipating the turn. She told her to focus on taking all three steps straight toward me. She also wanted to see less head movement to avoid the chance of creating body movement, since the head movements are so fast, and to focus on emphasizing the left direction in the head flicks. Whew!

Monday night was a rough night for me. I had gone to my gym after I left the office that day, and decided that it was time to up the amount of weight that I used in a fair number of my sets, which meant that I pushed myself to failure quite a bit during my workout. Because of that, my upper body was a little burnt out, as you can probably imagine. When I went to Latin Technique class later that evening, I was really hoping that we would spend our time doing some Rumba just to make things a little easier on me, but that did not happen. We ended up doing Cha-Cha instead, much to my chagrin.

Much like the week prior, we had a lot of ladies show up for class that night. A LOT. Then, just before class started, those three young sisters who had come to class last week showed up again to join us, which added even more ladies. With so many ladies and only the two of us men, Lord Junior was nice enough to have a little pity on me and decided that we would work on some solo choreography again like we did during the last class. Yaaaaay. At least that allowed me to flail my tired upper body around on my own without worrying about wrecking anyone else’s steps. Hooray for that, I guess.

We broke things down into sections, with Lord Junior giving everyone one figure to add to the progression at a time. After looking at each new figure individually, he would have us go back and do the whole thing from the beginning. His focus with this progression was to have us all work on speed, which as many of you know, is a pretty important part of the Cha-Cha. To get us all moving, we started with a prep step on the left side and then went into a basic chasse action that went to the right. The first thing that we added on to that were two Outside Checks (that’s the name I learned for the figure waaaaaaay back in the day), one on the right and one on the left. This first section was done using basic Cha-Cha timing.

The next figure sped things up a bit as we added on both kinds of Cuban Breaks that I know of offhand. First we did the single version, checking to the right, then transferring to the left leg with no chasse and repeating. Immediately after those we did the double variety, the one where you do a checking action and then put your foot back out to the side and do a weird hip-bump before checking again. You’ve probably seen both varieties of these done before somewhere, if you haven’t done them yourself. Based on what I can find in the book, these are only Silver-level figures, so a lot of you have probably done them at some point or another.

To give us a brief break and change the dynamics of our movement a little, the next figure that we added on to the progression were slow Cuban Rocks. There were four of these total (two with each hip), and each one covered two beats in the music. We finished the whole progression by doing two Hip Twist Chasses, first to the right and then to the left. For some reason, that night I was having a much easier time doing the one that started off rotating the right hip back to bring the left foot forward than I did going the other way. Whenever I have had this figure in a routine in the past, or if I ever use it while dancing socially, I always seem to do the one that goes to the left, so I would have expected that side to be more comfortable for me. I guess not.

With music playing we ran through this progression a number of times, starting out slowly and then pushing the tempo up toward normal. Near the end of class, Lord Junior gave us a break from the progression to have us work with a partner to do some New Yorkers, also with a focus on speed. This was a simple exercise involving a prep step and then a basic chasse action going to the right, four syncopated New Yorkers that went back and forth, then one New Yorker at normal timing to give everyone a chance to slow down safely before finishing with a basic chasse to the left.

Once we had done a fair number of repetitions of this New Yorker exercise, Lord Junior had us all go back to the original progression right before class was over. He threatened us saying that he didn’t want to see anyone mess up the figures, and that if anything less than 75% of the class did the progression perfectly, he would make us repeat the whole thing plus increase the tempo of the music, and we would keep repeating and increasing until at least 75% of us got it right. I guess the threat was scary enough to motivate everyone because we only had one person mess up in the first run-through, so we didn’t have to repeat the exercise at all. Way to go team!

I ended up having to skip Standard Technique class on Wednesday night to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer to work on stuff. Since we are just a little more than two weeks away from the next competition I am supposed to be doing, that night Lord Dormamu had us go through our Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Quickstep routines for him so that he could get an overall impression of how they were going. I got a number of notes from him that night, so this might end up being a bit long…

We started off with the Waltz as I expected we would, but what we spent most of our time discussing wasn’t the material that I had actually been working on in practice this past week. The leg action that has been our focus lately is getting better, as we were told, but still needs more practice. Fair enough, that was pretty much how I felt about it before we started our coaching session. Rather than spend any time working on it with us though, Lord Dormamu started talking about how Sparkledancer and I looked while in frame.

So far, with the work that Sparkledancer has been doing with Lady Tella, Lord Dormamu thinks that we have been moving in the right direction and are looking good for a pair of Bronze dancers. That is actually what his problem is as well. He wants to have us immediately start working on moving things to the next level. I guess he has plans to get us signed up for some really high stakes competitions that will happen before he moves us up to Silver next Spring, so moving all these techniques up to ‘the next level’ (whatever that actually means) is his new goal for us.

To help us visualize what he wanted us to work on, he pulled out his phone so that he could show us a video. There was some recent post he had seen by some Amateur couple that is the current world champion of something-or-other – who also happen to be friends of his that he has coached – where the video clearly shows the two of them getting into frame. As they came together, he paused the video so that he could point out the differences between what their volume looked like and what we were doing. Once in frame, the lady was positioned in such a way that, if you looked straight at the Lead, her upper body was bent over far enough that you could see the Lead’s whole shoulder line, and his whole right arm down to his armpit. That is definitely a lot of space between their heads!

On top of that, the male had a slight curve in his back, which helped to give the illusion of increasing the volume between the two of them even further. Overall, when I looked at the way they were standing together, and the big open space their arms created, it really reminded me of the closed frame used in Paso Doble. I mentioned that, and Lord Dormamu actually thought that comparison was funny, but not incorrect. There are some obvious differences between ballroom and Paso Doble he said, but the idea behind that shape puts Sparkledancer and I closer to what he wants us to work on.

Sparkledancer is closer to my height than the girl in the video was to her partner’s height, so Lord Dormamu told her that if she could create the same shape as the girl in the video, people looking at the two of us would be able to see the top line of my shoulders for sure, but not my entire right arm down to my armpit. He was worried that if she tried to bend back that far so soon that she could hurt herself. However, he did mention that there was no limit to how much she should bend, so if over time she could work on her flexibility enough and bend so that people could see my entire right arm down to my armpit, that wasn’t a bad thing.

The rest of the time we spent looking at the Waltz was focused on hitting something as close to that position as we could when in frame, and then trying to move around while maintaining it. This was not exactly the easiest thing to do. I’m sure it will get better with practice, but I can’t say that it looked or felt good at all during this lesson. I guess that can be considered a good thing? Someone once told me that when something that you do often feels terrible, that’s when you know change is happening. If it always feels comfortable, then you are never really improving.

After Waltz we moved on to Foxtrot for a little while. Foxtrot is still our strongest dance according to Lord Dormamu, no question there. The two things that he pointed out to us that night that he wanted us to work on were creating and maintaining that same kind of volume in this style as we had worked on in the Waltz, and then the action of my legs as I accept the weight into them at the end of a figure in preparation for the next figure. That action is what I have been working on in practice for a while now, and it isn’t perfect just yet. It’s a lot better than it has been, so that’s good at least.

From Foxtrot we switched to Tango, which in Lord Dormamu’s assessment is our second best dance style currently after the Foxtrot. The frame in Tango is obviously different from all the others, so for the time being he didn’t want us to worry too much about the volume while we practiced that aspect in the other styles. One minor change that he noticed that he wanted us to put in was to the first Natural Twist Turn that we do. He wants me to adjust the end of the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside that is right before so that I end facing diagonal wall. That sets me up so that the Progressive Link that goes into the Twist Turn will have a full quarter of turn. Up to that point I had been told to end facing wall, so the Progressive Link only did an eighth of turn. Simple enough.

I also asked him about the Back Corte that I had looked over with Lady Tella that weekend, to get his perspective about the angle on the first step. After looking at us do it a couple of times, he told me that he was happy with what Lady Tella told me to do there, so I should use that angle until he tells me otherwise. Hooray!

Finally, we spent just a couple of minutes looking at the Quickstep right at the end. We danced through the whole thing once and then Lord Dormamu called us over to where he was standing. Before he even said a word, Sparkledancer apologized for taking a heel step at a wrong point near the end of a Backward Lock. Lord Dormamu said that he had seen it, and was going to point that out. Sparkledancer confessed that she had been thinking so much about trying to create and hold the volume the whole time that she just got it wrong.

Lord Dormamu seemed fine with that, but then he went off on a little tirade about how he thought that Syllabus-level Quickstep was just stupid. He told us that as long as the couple is on time with the music and the footwork is correct, there really isn’t much else that you can use to separate a good couple from a bad one beyond the way their frames look. Basic Quickstep doesn’t have any complex figures like Foxtrot or Tango, so when he’s judging a competition he finds those rounds to be boring.

He told us that all we needed to do whenever we practiced Quickstep was to split it into five rounds of two run-throughs with no music. The first time through the routine we should focus on the feet, making sure they are grounded to the floor and that the footwork is based on the action of the step, not just superficial heel or toe steps because we know we’re supposed to do those. The second time through the routine is where we focus on the volume. After five rounds of each of those two practice runs, we should then dance the routine once to the music, and then we are done and should move on to something more important.

At the end before we left, we spent a few minutes talking about an upcoming development that is going to impact us. I’m not sure if I can quite talk about it yet before I have all the details, but it’s going to happen. So… yeah. There’s that to start thinking about.

Man, I think that my weekend is going to be mostly free to do things that I want to do! Obviously I will have to set aside some time for practice, but since many of the instructors in the area are performing in a big show this weekend, there won’t be any private lessons for me to go to. I heard that Judge Dread is going to be in town running some workshops, so maybe I will take this opportunity to go to one of those instead! It seems like forever since I was able to do that, since my lessons with various instructors always seem to happen at the same time. Hopefully it will be fun! Maybe I’ll see you there.