This Cat’s Shakin’ On A Hot Tin Roof

Last weekend was… exhausting. It was really good, but really exhausting.

The Princess came to join us first thing Saturday morning for Lady Q’s new fitness class. We spent the class stretching for the most part, HotTinRoof1which I think is a much better way to start the day than the Pilates class we had up until last month. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Pilates class, but I prefer working out later in the day (I’m really not a morning person), so stretching early in the morning helps wake me up in a much gentler manner. That is, of course, if you are actually gentle with the stretching you are doing. As all of us found out later in the evening, the Princess was a little… enthusiastic with her neck stretching during the class, so she ended up skipping the 1920s party later that evening to stay home and ice her neck. In her defense, she did show up after the class had already started, so she missed Lady Q’s introduction to the class where she implored us to feel the stretches, but not to overdo any of them and hurt ourselves.

At the behest of Lady Q and Lord Fabulous, everyone who was in the fitness class stuck around afterward for the newcomer-level class that the Princess was teaching. A handful of other people showed up to attend right as class was starting, but of everyone there only two people were actually what I would consider newcomers. The rest of us were there to experience a class taught by the Princess. And what an experience it was! That girl has so much energy and enthusiasm, it tired me out just watching her. I half expected her to break out into a song and dance number that would draw the rest of us and random passersby into it, like something out of an animated movie. During the class, she went over one style out of each category of dance, introducing the basic movements for fifteen to twenty minutes and then having someone demonstrate something more advanced for the class to see what the basics could evolve into with some practice. We started with the ballroom category, and went over the basic Foxtrot forward and back walks. When we finished up the basics, she personally demonstrated some more advanced steps, playing both the male and female parts by herself. She said that she couldn’t use a partner to demonstrate, since she couldn’t trust that the partner would do the steps that she wanted.

For the Latin category, the class was scheduled to go over the Rumba, but the Princess asked the King (who had come with her to photograph the morning events) if she ranked high enough within the company to change the schedule at whim. He told her no, but she decided to teach Cha-Cha anyway. After going over the basics, she made Lord Fabulous go back to the computer several times to change the songs for everyone to practice with until he found her a song that she deemed “fun enough” to dance to. Once we finished up rotating through partners, she actually singled out Sparkledancer and me to demonstrate some more advanced Cha-Cha for everyone. Not expecting to be put on the spot so early in the morning, I completely blanked on the International Cha-Cha routine that the two of us had been working so hard to perfect lately, so I reverted back to our American Cha-Cha routine from the September competition. It went more or less fine, but with everyone was standing in the middle of the room confining us to one side, eventually we covered enough ground that I accidentally caught my foot on the molding of the wall, and I couldn’t recover from that gracefully so we just kind of ended things rather abruptly. It was not one of my finer moments, I must say…

The last category she went over was the Swing dances, and so we HotTinRoof2went over the Hustle. Because she wasn’t paying attention to the time, the class was running well beyond when it was normally supposed to run, so we went over just the very basic steps. Before releasing the class, she convinced the King to come out and show off more advanced Hustle with her. Because Hustle is his favorite dance, he agreed, picked out a song that he liked (one that the Princess wasn’t too thrilled about), and proceeded to throw her around the room in a much more complicated manner than she had originally anticipated. By the time they finished up, the two of them were laughing and we were all cheering them on.

Class had run over quite a bit, intruding into the time that Sparkledancer and I had scheduled for our coaching session. As everyone who had attended the group class was gathering up their stuff and making their way out, Lord Fabulous turned the two of us over to Lady Q for a bit so that he could work with the King and the Princess on a few items before coming to join us. Lady Q asked us to show her the work that we had been doing with our Pasodoble routine. We went through it a couple of times with music, refining a few points here and there, adding in some shaping with a couple of the steps, and discussing what to do next. It turned out that she had some time open next weekend after our session with Lord Fabulous, so we had her add us to her schedule so that we could finally go over the second half of the routine. If there is time, she told us that we could also start work on our Samba routine that she was putting together.

Once the royalty and Lord Fabulous finished up their housekeeping tasks, he and the Princess came over to work with us. With her, we spent the time looking at the Waltz, using it as a device to talk about the dance frame that we had been using and steps that we could take to improve on it. For me, the big takeaway I got was that I really need to stop looking at my partner while I am dancing. This is something I have a habit of doing no matter who I am dancing with or what dance I am doing. For some reason I always seem to glance over at my partner, to make sure they are doing alright, or to tell a joke, or something equally silly. The Princess told me that I really HotTinRoof3needed to turn my head even farther to the left than I had been and work on keeping my eyes that way to evaluate where I am going. My dance partner would follow me where I was going, she said, whether I was looking at them or not. She told me that if I wanted to look at my partner, I needed to be doing a more romantic dance like the Bolero, where it was part of the character of the dance to be looking at the girl – but not during ballroom-style dances when it was more important to see where I was going. So, that’s what I have to work on now. It’ll be a hard habit to break, but I’m going to try.

I got a few hours break after the lesson, and then I had to go out again to meet everyone from the Land of the Loft for dinner. As per our usual pre-dance field trip routine, we met up at a restaurant nearby the venue so that we could all get something to eat before the party, and then all arrive at the event together. People in the restaurant where we all met were rather amused to see us all wandering around in our 1920s-themed costumes; I’m guessing that’s something that doesn’t happen at that eatery very often, though you would think that with their proximity to the Great Dance Hall by the Lake they would have been used to dance people stopping in there frequently.

After leaving dinner, we were all among the first to arrive at the party. The party was billed as a friends and family friendly event, so people were able to bring guests with them if they desired. The evening started off with a huge group class that covered basic Foxtrot and Jitterbug steps, giving the guests who had no dance experience some knowledge to help them get through the evening. There were so many people that I danced with during that class, I couldn’t even tell you what half of their names were. On top of that, many of the girls were dressed in such a way that I didn’t even recognize them, though I had met many before that night. The group class was extremely entertaining to me for some reason. I’ve been a part of really large classes like that before, but never where we tried to rotate through partners quite like we did that night. One girl told me that I was by far the most animated person that she had danced with during the class, which made me feel good. Even though we were trying to keep all the movements contained because of the number of people on the floor dancing, I was trying to have a good time and get my dance partners into the dance party mood.

When the class was over, we all swarmed the floor and proceeded to dance the night away. The actual dancing part of the night went nothing like I originally expected. In the days leading up to the party, I had been reviewing Jive technique and had asked Lord Fabulous to teach me some fancy stuff so that I could feel cool while HotTinRoof4I was at the party, but it turned out that there were far too many people on the dance floor to really do anything. For all the swing dances, I mostly stuck with Jitterbug and a handful of simpler, more contained figures to avoid running into other people. Some of the more advanced students were out doing Lindy Hop every chance they got, but they had a tendency to go a little crazy with the kicking so it felt dangerous to be near them. On top of that, with all the fast-paced, energetic songs and the sheer number of people in the building, it got warm quickly. Every couple of songs I would go stand outside for a while, allowing the cold January air to refresh me so that I could go back in and dance a couple more numbers. Most of the evening I rotated dancing with people that had come with me from the Land of the Loft, but I also found a student who had come from the Great Dance Hall who had come with her friend and tried to dance with each of them a couple of times. Even with all the instructors collected in one place for the evening, we had far too few men to go around.

It was a good time though. There were two performances from the professionals, one Lindy Hop routine performed by a pair of instructors from the Great Dance Hall by the Lake, and a Foxtrot routine performed by Hot Tottie and his partner. Sparkledancer was really excited about the Foxtrot number, because a couple of times (once on each side of the room) Hot Tottie picked up his dance partner so that she could do these incredible kicks. Perhaps if I can get him to show me that technique, we could include it in our next Foxtrot routine. It would be a good way to get other people on the floor to give us some space. There was also a contest for the best 1920s-style costume, which The Heartbreak Kid actually won. I totally missed the judging for that contest. As the evening wound down, everyone from the Land of the Loft all got together for our usual after-party set of pictures as well. I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m sure they’ll show up online at some point.

Now, imagine if the girl figure actually had legs that could be kicking...
Now, imagine if the girl figure actually had legs that could be kicking…

At the end of the night, I drove home in the cold night, really sweaty and really tired. With this event over, next major event to look forward to will be the showcase. What kind of crazy dance adventures will happen between now and then?


Hit Me With A Hot Note

This week during the Saturday coaching lesson Sparkledancer and I have, we decided to switch things up a little. Rather than focus on stuff for the upcoming competition, we asked Lord Fabulous to go over some swing-style things with us to help get us ready for the upcoming 1920s Swing party. We spent some time discussing some of my thoughts about Jive vs. East Coast Swing vs. West Coast Swing, and Lord Fabulous gave me the impression that if I could do it in East Coast Swing then I should be able to do it in Jive as well. With that in mind, he put on an East Coast Swing song and told us to just dance and show him what we actually knew for East Coast Swing so he could see where we were. I think this was the first time that we had actually looked at swing with him since he took that initial video of our West Coast Swing routine weeks ago so that he could figure out what he could add to that. When we finished the freestyle dance, he told us that it looked like we knew a fairly large amount of swing figures, and that everything I had done would be able to work between Jive and East Coast Swing so long as I kept the correct technique for each style.

Then, so that we could be cooler than everyone else, he taught us a couple of fancier new swing moves that we could pull out during the party to try and impress. The first was something he called the Simple Turn, which must be named that because the guy’s part is so easy. Seriously, as long as I don’t miss when I “throw” the girl’s hand HotNote1from my left to my right hand, I don’t really have a lot to worry about. That is one of the nice things about being a guy – but before all you ladies go looking into gender reassignment surgery, remember that no one is actually watching the guys even when we do turn, so it’s OK for you to have the more difficult and exciting-to-watch figures. The second figure we worked on is something that he called the Promenade Run. This move, as I was told, is something that not only translates between Jive and East Coast Swing, but also Samba. We also worked on hip isolations, much like we did in the Jive group class that I have been taking this month. I don’t know why everyone seems to want me to practice hip isolations when so many people are around watching. I could go home and work on them where it’s quiet and no one is there to laugh at me because of how funny I look when trying to move my hips like that. Seriously, I know I mentioned it before, but I have white-boy hips. They will probably never look like anything else, no matter how much I practice moving them gracefully.

At the end we also went back to our Pasodoble routine once again. We seem to be ending every coaching session by going through that one at least once or twice. This week though, as we were finishing up, Lord Fabulous turned to me and randomly asked “How well can you jump?” Looking at him quizzically, I told him I could jump just fine, so he told me that he had something that he wanted Lady Q to add in at the very end of our routine if I could do it. He proceeded to demonstrate what he called the tour jete, which I believe is actually a ballet move, followed up by taking a knee with the arms spread wide. The move itself looks really impressive, but I was wearing jeans at the time so I didn’t have full range of motion while everyone was watching. Still, both Lord Fabulous and Lady Q seemed amazed that I could pull it off. With a little more practice (and a different pair of pants), it should look even better. If everything works out, Sparkledancer and I have talked about finishing up the other half of the routine with Lady Q on the last weekend of this month.

As the week progressed, it became obvious that it was no longer the holiday season. All the people that had been missing have finally returned, so the Land of the Loft HotNote2now feels much fuller as the group classes are run. It was especially obvious during the Thursday night classes I usually attend. During the Rumba class with Hot Tottie, we started out with three times as many women as there were men. Even part of the way through class when Lord Fabulous stepped in to assist, that made four of us to work with the nine ladies that had come that night. We didn’t go through much in the way of figures or technique, because just allowing all the women to rotate through the line all the way through once for each figure so they could practice turned out to be an ordeal. Some of the women devolved into anarchy, having conversations and missing the rotations down the line and screwing up the people waiting behind them. By the time class was over, I was glad to get a moment to stretch and catch my breath.

After the Rumba class, almost everyone stayed around for the new fitness class that Lady Q was teaching. This one was supposed to be the standardized syllabus that would replace the Pilates class that was being held on Saturday mornings, so everyone had their mats out and we were all packed tightly on one side of the studio. Hot Tottie had a lesson with Corte during the class and he wanted to work on some Foxtrot, so we tried to leave them as much room as possible. Even with cramming everyone together, they ended up doing the Foxtrot going up and down in a line along one of the short walls. I probably wouldn’t have stayed for the class if I didn’t get such a hard time for skipping it last week. The Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were very excited to get feedback on these new routines that they had worked on putting together for their fitness offerings. It was a little weird, since I ended up getting stuck in the middle surrounded by a bunch of women, and I felt like I was being watched the whole time. Jack was the only other male in class with me, so we really stood out. At some point, I know Lord Fabulous got up in front of the class and was taking pictures of everyone on their mats on the floor to send to the Princess.

Speaking of the Princess, there are only a couple of days until she’ll be here. She is going to be teaching the newcomer level class that goes on between the fitness class and my coaching lesson on Saturday, so I think I may just hang around and join the class rather than disappear and reappear during that time period like I usually do. I’ve never taken a class with her, so I figure it will introduce me to the way she looks at things before she sits in on my coaching lesson. That should help to calm my nerves a bit. I don’t know why having the Princess around makes me so nervous, it really shouldn’t. I guess it’s kind of like the reaction people at large companies have when the CEO shows up at one of their meetings – sure, they are just people like everyone else, but they have that unspoken authority that makes you sweat a bit when they are watching you.

Once that’s all over, then I get a short break to go home and take care of everything else I would normally do before heading back out to the Great Dance Hall by the HotNote4Lake for the party. That night is going to be exhausting. The way I see it, even if I stick with dancing with the ladies from the Land of the Loft only, I still won’t get much of a break that night. Maybe I’ll hope for cold weather that night, just this once, so that I can go outside every couple of songs and cool down quickly before the next dance. I should probably eat a million calories too, just to make sure I have enough energy to keep going all night. It’s going to be fun; I’m really looking forward to it!

You Do Your Body Work

Last weekend Lady Q was out of town, so the task of teaching her Pilates class fell to Lord Fabulous. Rather than try and teach Pilates (he has tried in the past, and it didn’t go so well…), he spent the class period teaching a surprise course that went over movement of body energy – how the body stretches and flows in the direction your movement is trying to flow. Since the class was smaller than normal (and it’s an early morning class on a Saturday, so it’s already a small class), Lord Fabulous thought it was a good opportunity to try out teaching this material since it really didn’t fit into any of the already scheduled classes they have going right now, and to see how we would all react to learning it. There was one crazy activity BodyWork1that exemplifies what I took away from the class – we were told to pretend that we had a ball of energy in one of our hands, and we were moving our whole bodies to move that ball of energy around. This started off as a solo exercise, but as the class progressed we paired off and were told to place our hands against our partners to “share” the ball of energy and move the other person without “moving” them, but rather allowing the energy of the movement to signal to the other person how they needed to move their body. Sometimes this turned into a flexibility and strength test, where we would push each other just to see how much movement the other person could handle just for fun. One partner I had got a bit carried away near the end and was convinced that she could knock me over by shifting her weight forward unexpectedly so that I would falter trying to hold her up.

It was an interesting class to go through. I’ll admit that I missed Pilates a bit. Even though it is early on a Saturday, it does help me get out of bed and get warmed up and stretched out for the rest of the day. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, so I probably would have gotten more out of the class had it been offered later in the day when I was more awake. Lord Fabulous seemed pleased with how the class went, so I’m sure we will go through something like that again someday.

Want to know a secret? I think I really like the Pasodoble. I think I may have to put some significant effort into learning that style. There is something so ridiculous and dramatic about it, it never fails to bring a smile to my face. And no matter what else is going on, if anyone starts dancing in that style, everyone seems to turn and look. Last night, Chanel, Sparkledancer and I were standing in the middle of the studio after the Tango class and were discussing the funny cape-like movement that the ladies had learned. When we started practicing that movement, you could feel all the eyes in the room turn to watch us. Later on in the evening, Sir Steven was showing Sparkledancer and I some new movements for fun, and the group class that was going on in the other half of the room stopped and every head turned to watch what we were doing (I could see them all in the mirror, so none of them can deny it). Every time I see the people stopping to watch, it makes me laugh. I don’t know if I could keep a straight face while doing a Pasodoble routine, but I think I am going to have a goal to try and add one to my competition repertoire. It would be worth the effort, I believe.

Our Friday night outings have gotten much larger the last couple of weeks. After the Friday night social dance at the Land of the Loft, we have still been going out for ice cream. What started as a small group of us in the beginning has turned into… well, everyone. The last two weeks we somehow had everyone who had been at the studio for the dance (save for the staff, who aren’t allowed to fraternize with us outside of the business) meeting with us to get dessert and talk afterward. As you can imagine, a lot of the talk centers on dancing, since it is the one thing all of us in this rather motley crew have in common. In some ways, it’s nice to be able to all go out as one big “dance family” and spend time together, but it seems like the more people that show up, the less we end up talking as a group and the more we end up talking in several smaller groups. It will make it much harder to talk with everyone and make plans if we decide to go off on an adventure together.

Speaking of adventure… this weekend there will most likely be another dance field trip. This one wouldn’t be just random ballroom-style dancing at a random dance club, but actual ballroom dancing with an actual orchestra playing in an actual ballroom. I’m not sure if anyone will actually go with me, but I think that Sparkledancer has expressed interest. That’s probably mostly because the place is offering some dance lessons during the afternoon before the evening social dance, and she likes to go to all the classes I go to so that we can continue to dance at the same level when we compete. If it happens, I’ll be sure to tell you all about how awesome it is.

In other dance field trip news, it will only be a little over a week before denizens from all over the Dance Kingdom will be gathering at the Great Dance Hall for the Halloween dance party that they host every year. This one is an officially sanctioned dance field trip, hosted by the King and the Princess. I went to this party last year, and it was a lot of fun. In many ways, it’s a lot like going to a dance competition – everyone gathering together, wearing some kind of costume and dancing for a long time. Last year they had some game to try and encourage people to dance together socially. Being new to the Dance Kingdom when I went last year, I didn’t get very far in the game, because I was so unsure of my dance skills that I mostly stood on the outside of the room and watched what everyone else was doing, only venturing out onto the dance floor with other people who attended from the Land of the Loft that I already knew.

BodyWork2 The few of us left at the Land of the Loft who were here for that party last year have been telling everyone that they all need to get dressed up and go with us this year. It will be so much more fun if we all go together, kind of like our Friday night ice cream outings, except we can actually dance since we won’t be on concrete. It’s also rumored to be a friends and family welcome event, so if any of you are in the area, find yourselves a costume and join us for the night!

Step Up To The Streets

Last weekend… oh boy, it was exhausting. Both of the dance field trips that I had talked about last week actually happened, and they were both a lot of exhausting fun.

A few weeks back during our normal Friday night post-dance ice cream run, Amazon was talking about how she had found a place hosting a Stop Light Party. She sounded pretty excited about it, and that was enough to make the rest of us excited about going. We started gathering people and making plans, even letting Sir Steven and Lord Fabulous know that we would be leaving Friday night after the group class but before the social dance to go to this event. Originally we had planned on having a group of ten of us, but in the end four of them bailed on us (including Amazon, the progenitor of this idea). So it was just me, Sparkledancer, Jack and Diane and the Ski Bums that went. While making plans to go, we all decided to wear yellow to the Stop Light Party, since it amused us and also made it sort-of clear that we weren’t really there looking for any dates.

Arriving at the bar where the event was being held, we took to the dance floor before anyone else really joined. Going out in Charlotte in the past, I’ve found that usually the night life doesn’t pick up until after 11:00PM anyway, so being on a fairly empty dance floor wasn’t really a surprise. We spent the evening on the floor, playing around with a mixture of Cha-Cha and Rumba, East and West Coast Swing and Hustle. Speaking of Hustle, the Ski Bums are Hustle masters. In talking with StepUp1them, I found out that they had learned how to dance Hustle back when they were younger, so they certainly made the rest of us look amateur while we did it. They have only been learning to dance with us for a couple of months now, so they are pretty new to everything else that the other four of us were doing on the dance floor, but they made up for it with sheer enthusiasm.

As the night progressed and the other denizens of the bar had imbibed enough liquid courage, the dance floor filled up quite a bit. That made it much harder to clear room to dance how we were accustomed to dancing. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when we started to run out of room, I couldn’t switch out of ballroom mode. There’s something about having danced for so long in such a refined manner that doesn’t allow me to dance like everyone else on the floor, like there isn’t an Off switch for that sort of dancing anymore. So the more the party picked up, the more all six of us started to get confined in the crowd, and eventually we decided to call it a night when we just couldn’t move around very much. Plus, we had promised Lady Q that we wouldn’t miss her Pilates class in the morning even if we were staying out late to attend this event, so there was some pressure to go home and get some sleep so we could all get up early the next day.

Saturday night Diane had invited a number of us to go with her to a “Salsa In The Streets” party that was happening on a street corner in downtown Charlotte. This time, Amazon actually decided to come along with us, meeting up with us at the corner and even bringing along the Heartbreak Kid, one of Lady Q’s male students. When I StepUp2arrived at the location, I saw that Jack and Diane had already arrived and, rather unexpectedly, Flexy was already there with them. This event was being put on by a local Salsa dancing club, mostly so that they could hand out fliers and invite people to join them. We chatted off near one of the buildings behind them for a bit, then we all went down and started dancing on the sidewalk with them. One of the members of the club came up to talk with us (and give us fliers), but she said that it was pretty obvious that we had learned ballroom-style Salsa dancing. I’ll admit, after watching the people they brought with them dance for a while, I couldn’t tell if there was any real difference between ballroom-style and whatever style they had learned – a lot of the moves that I saw them do I either knew how to do or had seen someone at the Dance Kingdom doing at one point. There could be a stylistic difference, but I guess I don’t know enough about Salsa to really tell what that was.

Most of the dancing that I did with people that night was just things I had learned in Mambo classes starting on the downbeat instead of the backbeat. I remember in the past, Sir Steven had told one of our group classes that Salsa was essentially ‘sloppy mambo’ because of the timing difference. With that in mind, I felt pretty comfortable dancing with everyone else there, aside from the sidewalk being difficult to dance on. The corner that we occupied wasn’t entirely flat, and wasn’t smooth by any stretch of the imagination. Trying to turn in sneakers on concrete and bricks was challenging, much like the times I have gone out to practice smooth-dance routines on the street. It really makes me appreciate the way the dance shoes that I have work on a wooden floor, even though at this point my shoes have been well worn and are starting to fall apart.

Dance field trips like these really help me keep things fun. With all the practice and all the intensity put into learning competition routines, and all the time spent at the Land of the Loft in classes learning, it’s nice to take a break and go do things that embody the whole reason I started on this journey in the first place: having fun. Sure, a lot of the time it is fun to me to be learning more and more complicated things, and it’s a lot of fun to be elegant and impress the ladies with mad dance skills that I’ve picked up, but sometimes… sometimes it’s really nice to take all that proper form and technique, and shove it aside just to be a bit crazy and laugh about what’s going on for an evening. It also helps reinforce the fact that even though I’m not a very good dancer when compared to other people who study in the Dance Kingdom, I look like a really good dancer when out amongst the population at large. That boost of self-confidence helps put me back in the right frame of mind to start buckling down and work on competition stuff again.

Speaking of competition – we are less than two months left to the competition now. At this point it looks like I will be doing 35 heats divided amongst 10 dance styles with my dance partner, and then another 35 heats with completely different routines in I-don’t-know-how-many styles with Lady Q, and one championship round with my dance partner again. When discussing these new routines with Sir Steven, he promised me that he would teach these different, secondary routines to both me and Sparkledancer, so that we could work on them together during our normal practice meetings, even though we won’t be performing them together when the competition comes around. That makes me feel slightly better about things, since then I wouldn’t have to try and fit extra lesson time in with Lady Q to practice with her in order to learn them properly. This feels like a pretty intense way to jump into the world of actual competitions for dancing. I hope I can step up to the challenge successfully.