Meet Me In Outerspace

My Amateur dance partner and I happened to choose the Electric Dance Hall as the location for where we were going to practice last Saturday afternoon. When I showed up there at the time Sparkledancer and I chose, Lord Junior was hanging around the studio, cleaning thing a little bit while waiting for his next student to show up. He waved at me when I walked in the door and told me that he was having someone come in the next day to teach a Pilates class. It wasn’t really an informative statement he was giving me, it sounded more like a note to let me know where I was going to be the next day.

And that’s the story of how I ended up doing Pilates randomly on a Sunday afternoon.

Pilates is not something that I do very often. Sure, I have done it quite a few times over the course of my life (most of those times being at some dance studio or another), but I don’t really go out of my way to join classes unless someone else I know is going and they ask me to go with them. It’s not that I dislike Pilates or anything – I know all the benefits a number of Pilates exercises have for dancers – it’s just that all the Pilates classes that I get invited to go to don’t end up being all that difficult for me. I like a higher degree of difficulty in my core workouts.

Please don’t take that the wrong way – I don’t mean that to sound arrogant, it’s just that I have worked on my core strength for a long, long time, and the exercises that I am asked to do in the average Pilates class don’t really challenge me because of all of that work I have done for the last decade. Holding my legs up in the air and my shoulders off the ground while wiggling my arms up and down (I think the move is called the Hundred?) is really not a big deal for me. Later that same day I was doing slow crunches with a four-second count up and down while holding 60lbs over my chest, because that’s the kind of thing I do to get that good burning feeling in my abdominal muscles when I work them. Plus I think it’s fun. I’m weird like that.

But, since Lord Junior specifically mentioned it to me, I showed up and did the Pilates class with him. I am not one to shy away from a physical challenge so I was right there on the floor with everyone else. There were actually three guys in this class: myself, Lord Junior, and then Seedling. I guess he had been telling Sparkledancer for weeks how he wanted to try and get into shape and he needed to lose forty or fifty pounds because he has dreams of becoming a champion Latin competitor and also ballroom instructor someday, so when she heard about the class from Lord Junior telling me on Saturday she told Seedling that he should also go. Sparkledancer was also there, because she wouldn’t just challenge someone else to go and not show up herself.

I put my mat down in the back row for class, and ended up being right next to Lord Junior. He actually struggled with things as class went on, and I felt really bad for him. A couple of weeks ago, I guess he was doing some outdoor activity and ended up getting hit in the chest pretty hard, which may have bruised or cracked a rib. His doctor told him that he would have to take it easy for a few months until things healed enough. Ribs usually take a long time to get better.

He thought that he was going to be fine through this class since the incident was weeks ago, but any of the exercises where he had to curl his body up around that side of his rib cage ended up being a lot more painful for Lord Junior than he had anticipated. Gritting his teeth helped him get through things at the beginning of class, but by the time we got halfway through he started having to keep his back on the mat because it hurt too much. By the end of the hour Lord Junior was really only getting in work through his legs and trying to leave his entire core out of it. Poor guy.

Lord Junior was no longer feeling pain in his core on Monday night thankfully, so Latin Technique class went on as scheduled. Before class started, Lord Junior told all of us that he had promised one lady a few days ago that we could work on Samba in class, but she wasn’t there yet. I guess the last time she came to class she was ten minutes late, so he said that we could get started with warm up exercises and see if she showed her face before deciding what we wanted to work on. We did two different exercises, Batucadas – which Lord Junior said was good for everyone to do whether we worked on Samba that night or not – and Three Step Turns going from left to right.

Once we finished up those and the lady he had promised a class on Samba to still hadn’t shown up, Lord Junior decided that he should save Samba for her another time and work on some Rumba instead. He asked everyone if they could think of anything we hadn’t worked on in Rumba for a while. The first thing that came to my mind was the Rope Spin figure, but I didn’t say anything about it. There were a lot more women than men in class that night, so I didn’t want to pick something since I was in the minority. I’m not sure where the other guys who had been coming to class lately were (Seedling and Apollo for instance), but I sure could have used some help that night.

After a long pause, Veep, who was standing to my left at the time, ended up being the first person to speak up. Do you know what she suggested? Yeah, you guessed it: the Rope Spin. I thought that was really funny, as if she had read my mind or something. I leaned to my left and told her that I was just thinking about that figure too, and so we high-fived. Since the two of us seemed pretty happy about the Rope Spin, Lord Junior said that we would go ahead and work on it this week.

The progression that he had us work on was fairly short, which was good because there were a lot of ladies for Lord Junior and I to rotate through so that everyone could try it with a partner a couple of times. We started off with the lady out in Fan Position, closing her back to us to lead her through an Alemana. Once she finished the three steps for the Alemana, she did a Spiral Turn and then went into the Rope Spin. When she got to the Lead’s left side, she did another set of three turning walks (which is all an Alemana is) to end up on the Lead’s right side. Rotating ourselves 90° to the right, we took her into an Opening Out action on the right side, with the Lead faking the last step to stay on our left leg. That allowed us to finish up by taking the lady through a Telespin.

Finally this week, last night I managed to make it out to Standard Technique class. When I got to the Electric Dance Hall, the parking lot was pretty empty and it was raining really hard. The other class that usually goes on Wednesday nights had been cancelled, so those of us who were brave enough to face the rain to come out to Standard Technique class had the whole studio to use. Some of us started to talk about what we wanted to look at that night since we had all kinds of space to work with. Sparkledancer, Veep and I were leaning toward Quickstep, possibly to get in some extra work on the Running Right Turn just for fun.

However, there was one pair of students that were going to join us in class that night that had never been to Standard Technique before. The two of them had come for the other class that had been cancelled, and since they had driven a long way to be there they didn’t want to just turn around and go home quite yet. Lord Junior let them stay for his class for free because he’s such a nice guy. The pair were a husband and wife, and they only dance socially, so going to a class that was supposed to be for working on dance technique was a new experience for them.

Since we had been talking about doing Quickstep in class that night, we asked the two of them if they had ever done that style of dance before. Neither one of them had, so that idea got thrown out for their sake. Lord Junior then asked if the two of them had ever done Viennese Waltz. They both said that they had done a little bit, so Lord Junior said that would be good enough, and thus the decision was made. To make things easier on them, Lord Junior kept the tempo that we were working at below the normal speed for American Viennese Waltz. The fastest we got that night was 90% of the American style tempo, and that was only for a few rounds right before the end of class.

To evaluate how much the newcomers to class actually knew about Viennese Waltz, we spent several minutes working on just doing Reverse Turns going down the length of the floor, first with everyone dancing by themselves and then with Leads and Follows paired up. The two of them seemed to do OK, with only a few minor corrections needing to be made. The lady didn’t cross her left foot in front of her right on the front half of the Reverse Turn until told to do so. I guess she had never been told to do it that way before, which is weird. The guy needed to make some minor adjustments to his frame, most noticeable of which was that he was told to stop looking at his partner while he danced, because it was pulling his body to the right when he did so.

The bit of choreography that we were given to work on was something that would be pretty familiar to anyone who does American Viennese Waltz. There were one-and-a-half Reverse Turns followed by a Backward Change Step where the Lead actually took a larger step than the Follower while sliding his right hand down her left arm to put some space between the partners. That allowed the Leads to take one step back on the left foot and hold as the Follower did a Développé over the rest of the measure of music.

Coming out of that, the Lead would turn the Follower across his chest as he took two steps back in Canter timing so that we ended up in Shadow Position. From here we stayed in Canter timing and did four Canter Grapevine actions down the line of dance. Once we finished with those we wrapped the progression up by doing two Open Natural Turns that were allowed to curve off to the left as if we were going around one of the corners in the room. Most everyone in class could use the short progression to cover the length of the dance floor and actually do the Open Natural Turns around the far corner, except for the two newcomers who were more focused on getting their footwork right and thus didn’t travel as far as they took their steps.
Would you look at that? Another week has already passed by! We are getting close to being halfway through all of 2019 already! Holy cow! I guess time flies when you are having fun, or when there is just a ton of stuff going on, right?

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Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 2

Let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you are new here, be sure to go back and check out Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1 to get yourself all caught up!

Before I start in on anything new, I feel like I should reiterate the disclaimers that I posted last week, just in case anyone new here does not want to follow the above link and read them there:


DISCLAIMER #1: Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful. There is no shame in modifying your movements or using lighter weights if it helps you finish your workouts successfully.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple., which are the same rules I like to use for dancing:

  1. Safety – always rule number one. We want to get results, not get hurt!
  2. Form – form (a.k.a. technique) is crucial while exercising just like it is while dancing.
  3. Fun – having fun is what keeps you coming back to dance, right? If you apply that same line of thought to exercise, having fun will help keep you working out to improve yourself. Fun is important!

DISCLAIMER #3: Resistance training is important, even for ladies. ESPECIALLY for ladies that avoid doing resistance training altogether. You can do cardio workouts until you keel over, but it probably isn’t going to give you that toned look that you were going for. Adding in weight training will help.

If you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless your hormone levels are super messed up, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add lots of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. Period. Full stop. End of line.

Ladies can build a bunch of muscle, but to do so requires a much more meticulous level of eating than a male has to do in order to build muscle mass. Plus you would have to be eating something like one gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight you have in order to build muscle fast. And it would have to be real meat, not vegetable proteins like tofu, because eating a lot of meat will help increase your natural testosterone production, which in turn helps you develop more muscle.

Are you planning on eating that much meat? Or taking testosterone supplements? If not, you shouldn’t worry about gaining weight by building muscle through weight training. More often, women find that they lose weight through weight training because it can burn a lot more calories when you push yourself. If you find yourself gaining weight after a short period of weight training, most likely the problem is something in your diet, such as not actually sticking to your calorie goals.


With those disclaimers out of the way again, there are a couple of new areas of fitness that I want to talk about this week. I’ll start off by touching on core fitness, then spend a little time talking about balance, and finally I’ll give you some thoughts on eating to fuel all of this physical activity. Sound like a good plan to you? Let’s get started!

CORE

This is probably the area of the body that you thought I was going to do second, right? And for good reason – the core is really important for a whole lot of what happens in dancing any style. Plus, if you want to compete at high levels in Latin or Rhythm, where the guys wear shirts that seem to be unbuttoned down to their pants and the ladies wear dresses that seem to be made of little more than floss and sequins, having a strong and toned core can help give you the body confidence to throw on an outfit like that and hold your head high!

I might even be willing to make the argument that the body confidence could do more to help improve your dancing than anything else, but that’s probably a topic for a whole post all by itself…

The way a lot of people think (I was certainly guilty of this in my youth), they assumes that Core = Abs, so their instinct is to lay on the floor to do a million crunches to try and develop a six-pack. But I promise you that if you look in the mirror, you will notice that your core is shaped more like a rounded box, so to truly have a strong core you need to work on all four sides!  We already talked about the back separately, since I feel that it needs its own section, so let’s look at the other three sides of this hyperrectangle below your head, shall we?

Crunches, Et Al.
Most of the exercises that you will find to work on the front of your core (i.e. the abs) are going to be some variation of this movement, so I can’t really get away from mentioning it. Since I’m pretty sure that everyone has done at least one basic crunch before and knows what it looks like, let’s look at some more advanced variations to build on that baseline.

Remember last week when I mentioned taking a weighted plate from a barbell and holding it to your forehead while doing Cobra? How about your take that same plate and put it behind your head like a pillow and do a crunch! As before, increasing the resistance will help you build more strength than just using body weight alone.

How about you try doing crunches slowly to really feel the burn! Start off by doing three seconds as you crunch all the way up, and then three seconds to lower back down. If you’re feeling super strong, make it six seconds! Personally I wouldn’t make them any longer than that. Five crunches at six seconds up, six seconds down will already take you over a minute to finish, and you don’t want to be lying on the floor forever, right?

Oblique V-Ups
This movement is sure to work the sides of your core. Lay down on one side and bend at the waist like a V. Let your lower arm just rest on the ground – but be sure to keep it loose. Pushing up with the arm isn’t working your obliques! Take the fingertips of your upper arm and hold them at your temple so that your elbow is pointing toward the ceiling. Now bring your upper body and your legs up off the ground to try and touch your elbow to the side of your upper leg. If you can get it – great! If not, come as close as you can and try and do better each time you do this exercise.

Pause for a second at the top and then lower yourself back down to your starting position. In order to balance on your hip when you lift your upper body and legs off the floor, you may need to lean back some, and that’s OK! Just don’t lean back too far, or you risk rolling yourself onto your back. If you’re in public and you accidentally roll onto your back, try quickly rolling to your other side and starting the Oblique V-Ups – it will look like you totally planned it, and people will think you’re super smooth!

Plank Twists
This is a great movement for working your whole core. Holding a plank properly forces you to engage everything so that you don’t stick your butt up in the air, and bringing your legs underneath you really works your hip flexors and your obliques. Plus, this movement is more fun than just holding a plank without moving.
Start out by getting into a plank. Make sure it’s a good one, with your heels going back, your back and neck straight and your butt in line. Now, take one leg and bend it, raising your knee up as you twist your body to the opposite side of the leg that you are moving. Keep the leg off the floor the whole time, and try your best to get your upper thigh perpendicular with your body. Rotate the body back as you replace the leg – now you’re back in plank position. Repeat with the opposite leg, switching back and forth on each repetition.

Russian Twist
This is another move that is more synergistic in nature, working multiple sides of the core in one exercise. The rotational action here should feel really familiar to anyone who dances ballroom styles and uses figures with a lot of Contra-Body Movement (CBM).

There are multiple variations of this movement that you can do depending on your fitness level. The most basic involves sitting down, feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, and leaning backward as far as you can go while keeping your back straight and your feet on the floor. In this position, clasp your hands together like one big fist and then twist your body from side to side, striking the ground with your hands on each side as you twist back and forth.

If you feel like the basic version is too easy, the next step would be to lift your legs off the ground and hold them up so that your shins are parallel with the floor as you twist back and forth. When you feel like you’ve mastered that variation, it’s time to add some resistance. Go back to the basic setup, keeping your feet on the floor. Now take a single dumbbell and hold it in both hands. Keep the weight more toward the center of your body the whole time – the weight is used to make it harder for you to hold your body up on an angle as you twist, trying to bring your elbows as close to the floor as you can.

Once you get super strong, try combining both variations! Use the weight to add resistance against your upper body, and then lift your legs off the floor at the same time! If you get through this variation without breaking a sweat, you should feel pretty accomplished with your core fitness.

Misc.
There are lots of programs out there specifically designed to work on core strength. For example, Pilates focuses on core work quite a bit, as you might know if you’ve ever taken a class. But the amazing thing about core work is that it is incorporated into almost every workout that you do. Martial arts will help you work your core if you are doing the movements right. So does Yoga. So do even basic exercises like push-ups, where you really need to keep your core engaged the whole time to keep from having a bow in your back. You just can’t escape!

Like all other muscle groups though, you don’t want to destroy your core by working it super hard every day. It’s one thing to work the core in a secondary manner as a byproduct of working your other muscle groups – it’s another thing entirely to focus on a routine built specifically for core strengthening. Try to limit focused core work to no more than three times a week with at least a day in between to give your muscles a chance to recover.

BALANCE

I’ve been told often enough by various strangers over the years, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky that you have such good balance.’ That not really true – I had to work on it to make my balance look this good. And unless you have some kind of medical condition that upsets your body’s ability to remain stable, balance is something that you can work to improve as well.

The good news is that there are things that you can do to work on balance that aren’t as boring as standing around on one leg. I have done balance training in Yoga lots of times, but I found that a lot of the poses that they used were some variation of doing just that. Think about Tree pose, for example, or Warrior III, or Half Moon (if you don’t know what these poses are, you can find pictures online pretty easily). Holding poses like these can certainly help you improve, but as a dancer the first thing that you are usually asked to do is to be able to balance yourself while moving around. Creating the fancy lines where you are balancing in one place with little movement usually comes later.

That’s not the Tree Pose I meant!

So, I like to practice balance while doing other exercises that force me to move around! Last week I mentioned doing Single-Leg Calf Raises, which is a perfect example of this concept. You have to balance yourself on one leg, but then you are also moving your body as you perform the calf raise. Think about doing a Natural Turn in the Waltz, where you have to remain balanced as you plant one foot and rise up on your toes while drawing your other leg in to close. Tell me you can’t see the similarities!

Another exercise I mentioned previously that this concept works well with are the Lateral Raises for your shoulders. You can easily transition to standing on one leg while lifting your arms to your sides. In fact, a lot of common upper body exercises can be modified in this way – Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Shoulder Presses, and so on. Doing any of these movements while standing on one leg will help you improve the strength in your ankles and knees needed for balance, all while you also working on another body part at the same time! Plus, I personally think it is more entertaining than just standing there staring at a wall.

But balance is more than just how well the ankles and knees can hold you up – there is a lot that core strength can do as well to help improve your balance. If you stand up right now and lift one leg off the floor, do you find yourself engaging the muscles in your core to help keep your spine in one place over your standing leg? Training your core muscles to help keep your spine stable can do wonders for you!

One entertaining way that I’ve found to do this is actually through push-ups. In normal push-ups you have to keep your core engaged to help keep your spine straight while you raise and lower yourself. Now, as a challenge, how about you find a couple of medicine balls (the solid kind, not the squishy kind) and put one under each hand. That’ll make you keep your core engaged to keep from falling over!

Too easy for you? Make it one medicine ball under both hands, or find two more medicine balls for a total of four and put one under each hand AND one under each foot! If that’s still too easy, find yourself one of those bigger stability balls and try to do push-ups while gripping either side of that thing. If you’re a glutton for punishment, try putting your feet up on the stability ball while you put your hands on top of one of those medicine balls you thought were too easy earlier. Yeah, using your core to balance your body while your feet are on a stability ball and your hands on the medicine ball is hard all by itself, and on top of that I’m asking you to try doing push-ups at the same time! Not so easy anymore, is it?

My point from all this is that if you want better balance, you need to work on it, but you don’t have to be bored while doing it. Yes, Yoga certainly can be great for improving balance, and also helping you calm your mind as you get into the flow, but there are other options out there. Over the years I’ve done all of these – including Yoga – to continue challenging myself, and challenge is what helps me improve and break through my plateaus. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have good balance if you weren’t born with it – work on it and see how much better you can get!

NUTRITION

To get the results that you want out of any fitness regimen, you have to eat properly. Pure and simple. There’s no magic involved with being in shape – it’s all achievable through having a proper fitness plan and putting the right fuel into your body.

I’m going to start off by telling you the unpopular advice that you probably don’t want to hear: if you want to eat for the body you dream of, you have to eat right. That means that you should start today, go through your refrigerator and all your cupboards and THROW. OUT. ALL. THE. CRAP.

I know, it’s bad to waste food. If it makes you feel better, give it all away instead. If it’s unopened, donate it to a food pantry somewhere. If you have opened sweets, take them to work and pawn them off on your coworkers. Just get rid of it somehow. DO NOT EAT IT!

If you are looking to do something transformational with your body, like lose a large amount of weight or build up a lot of muscle, you have to eat for those results. Once you have those results you can have some of those ‘treats’ around, but until you achieve what you want it is better to not even have the temptation. Cake and ice cream? You don’t need it. Chips? How about no. Pizza? Don’t even go there. Beer, wine or liquor? Naught but empty calories. Get them all out of your house and don’t buy any more until you achieve the results you want! Even after you succeed, you should limit what you have in your house to avoid undoing everything you’ve worked so hard for.

Don’t tell me that it’s too hard. I do it all the time. I don’t eat donuts when someone at the office brings in a box to share with everyone for free. There is almost never any ‘snack foods’ at my house, even when I really want some. I will go out with friends to bars and only have water while everyone else has adult beverages. If I can do it, you can do it too! All it takes is a little willpower to make a huge difference in your dietary intake.
Now, once the crap in your house is gone, we have to do a little math. I know… not many people like math, but trust me – these are important numbers that you will want to have in mind constantly while you are training. These calculations are what works best for me, so I will be using myself as the example. If you find that these mock-up calculations don’t work for you, I would recommend seeing a specialist to get specific recommendations for your body.

The first thing we need to do is calculate your caloric baseline, or how many calories you should eat per day just to keep on keeping-on. The math is pretty simple:

If you live a sedentary lifestyle when not working out (desk job, lots of time in front of the TV), use (Current Weight) * 11

If you live a moderately active lifestyle when not working out (walk a lot, always park in the back of parking lots, play with your kids all the time), use (Current Weight) * 12

If you live an active lifestyle when not working out (never sit down all day, don’t own a TV or a couch because you are always traveling and sightseeing), use (Current Weight) * 13

For example: I have a sedentary job, where I am always at my desk or sitting in meetings when I’m at work. When I’m not at work though, I spend six days a week at the dance studio. For me, the moderate plan works best. My current weight is roughly 205lbs, so 205 * 12 = 2,460 calories per day is my baseline..

Now, we need to add in calories for your workouts. This is where it will be harder for me to give you guidance unless you are on some kind of regular workout plan where you can get approximate calorie burn estimates, but there are three principles that holds true no matter what you are doing:

  1. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn while working out (but not zero calories – you still need some fuel for the workout!).
  2. If you want to maintain your weight, you need to eat the same amount of calories you burn while working out.
  3. If you want to build muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than you burn while working out.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

My food intake for working out also factors in my rough body fat percentage (8%), and the fact that I work out six days a week with one day of rest. I am currently looking to maintain my current weight, so I am adding in 600 calories a day to fuel my workouts. 2,460 + 600 = 3,060, which I round down to 3,000 calories every day just to make my life easier.

Because I am working out six days a week, I eat the same amount of calories every day, including on my one day of rest (to give my body the fuel to repair itself). If you are not working out that frequently, your overall weekly caloric intake will look different from mine.

Now, let’s talk about what you want to eat. To make life easier, lump foods into three major categories:

Proteins – This is your primary nutrient for building muscle, because it is the only nutrient that the body can convert into muscle tissue

Carbohydrates – Carbs are not to be avoided, because these are what your body will use for fuel! Energy is essential for… well, for life. The problem with avoiding carbohydrates in your diet is that your body’s first response to get the energy it needs will be to start breaking down your muscle tissue, which is not a good thing if you want to keep those strength gains that all the exercise gives you!

Fats – another primary source for energy that your body actually requires. I know that talking about eating fats sounds terrible, but eating well does not mean eliminating fat entirely from your diet. You just have to be sure that you eat the right kinds of fats! Healthy fats will also help you fight inflammation, joint pain and muscle soreness – three problems that can keep a lot of people from going back to work out again day after day.

For me, lately my meal plans fall into two categories: a muscle building plan, and a body sculpting plan. When eating to build muscle, I have to eat a lot to fuel my cells to work hard and build back bigger. Even right now, when I am just trying to maintain my weight, I eat as if I am building muscle. My calories break down per day to roughly 25% Proteins, 60% Carbohydrates, 15% Fats.

When I finish up a phase of training and I want to burn off any excess fat accumulation to really give me that more defined look in my musculature, for a short period of time I will cut back on the calories to fuel my workouts (down to about 200 calories rather than 600) and change up my breakdown to 50% Proteins, 30% Carbohydrates, 20% Fats. This is only a short term change, usually no more than a month.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute – you’re currently eating 3,000 calories a day, and 60% off that is carbohydrates? I can’t imagine that you eat 1,800 calories worth of bread a day! That’s nuts!” Well, you would be right. The thing is, carbohydrates has to be further broken down into the major food groups that give you carbohydrates – obviously there are starches like bread, but this also includes legumes, fruits and vegetables.

These four categories should all be included in your calculations when you plan out your meals. If you only eat starches for carbohydrates, you will miss out on a lot of the dietary vitamins and minerals that your body craves! If you look at that 1,800 calories of “carbohydrates” I am eating per day, it’s actually more like 35% starches, 30% legumes, 25% fruits and 10% vegetables.

(I know that having only 10% vegetables seems really low, but if you realize that 2 cups of raw spinach, or 1 cup of raw carrots, or 1 cup of raw bell peppers is only roughly 25 calories, then you’ll see that I am actually eating a lot of plants just to hit that 10% mark every day!)

So how does this all work for you? Well, in all of the good diet plans I’ve used over the years to help fuel my workouts, the constant recommendations have always been that if you want to lose weight you want to eat a higher protein, lower carbohydrate and fat mix, and if you don’t need to lose weight and need energy to fuel your body through all your daily activities you need a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and fat mix.

If you are just starting out and have some fat to burn while you build strength, try starting off with a 40% Protein, 30% Carbohydrate and 30% Fat mix. That is a pretty safe starting range that will help you learn what how you feel. I would highly recommend going back and reevaluating your plan every 30 days. As you burn off the fat that you wanted, start converting to more carbohydrates instead of proteins. Don’t forget to recalculate your calorie intake if your weight has changed as well!

Of course, going back to my first point, that 40/30/30 mix only works if the food you’re eating is good. If you are still eating crap, even if you manage to fit the crap into the mix calorie-wise, you are not going to get the results you desire. Yes, that bag of chips on your counter is TECHNICALLY a starch, and thus a carbohydrate, but you don’t need all the extra salt and grease that’s also included in that bag! Just get rid of it!

Think about how much more satisfied you would be if you took that 300 calories from the bag of chips and instead made a salad with chickpeas (for your legumes servings) and spinach and some apple slices, with an ounce of shredded cheese thrown into the mix for a protein serving. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can sprinkle a tablespoon of crushed walnuts on top for one of your good fat servings for the day. 300 calories of a salad like that is a lot more food, so you will definitely feel more full when finished, and there will be less food regret afterward!


Sorry for making this so long again. Hopefully some of this information was useful for all of you out there. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me! If I don’t know the answer, I can usually at least point you in the right direction. I’ve been living this lifestyle for a decade now, so I’ve learned a thing or two in that time.

I’ll get back to talking about specific dance things next week, I promise. Until that time, <Insert the motivational workout tagline you like here>!
-stay with the fight
-don’t stop until you’re proud
-you don’t get the ass you want by sitting on it
-do your best, forget the rest
-keep pushing
-whatever it takes
-you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great

Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1

It’s funny – remember last week, when I asked whether anyone would be interested in some pointers on fitness-type things for dance? Well, on Saturday evening as I was finishing my normal workout, I got a text message from a dance instructor at a studio where I go to practice a lot. He wanted to know if I would come out to the studio on Sunday afternoon to take a Pilates class with him. The studio was being rented out for an hour that afternoon to do a special ‘Pilates for Dancers’ class, and I think he wanted to make sure he wasn’t the only guy there.

Since I’m always up for any kind of physical challenge, of course I went! That felt like a sign to me that I needed to go through with writing all of these notes down for all of you. Before I start though, let me get some disclaimers out of the way before we talk about anything specific…


DISCLAIMER #1: Most likely I don’t know you, so I don’t know anything about your strengths/weaknesses/injuries/preferences. Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. For example, you wouldn’t try to do push-ups if you were born with no arms, right?

If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple. I also keep these same rules in mind while I am dancing, because they are just as meaningful in that context:

  1. Safety – please, please, please make sure to keep yourself and those around you safe when working out.
  2. Form – much like dancing, form and technique is super important while exercising. A few repetitions with perfect form will help you get results faster than a bunch of repetitions with crappy form.
  3. Fun – you just have to have fun! If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it! I don’t mean that every exercise you do is going to be fun. The workouts I do when I decide to push my limits and increase the size of the weights I use are always kind of terrible… but overall I still find the physical exertion to be fun, and the results I’ve gotten make it even more enjoyable!

DISCLAIMER #3: Yes, I am going to talk a lot about lifting weights. If you and I were to ever talk about fitness in person, I would always strongly recommend lifting weights, even for women. Cardio-type exercises alone are not enough to create the type of body that people usually describe to me that they want when they say they want to be “in shape.” Resistance training needs to be used in conjunction.

This disclaimer will emphasize this point right not – if you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless you have a major hormonal imbalance, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies, which is what helps men build muscle faster. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add pounds of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. It’s just not going to happen, end of story.

I could send you article after article about this if you don’t believe me. If you are starting to work out and you are putting on weight, the most likely reason is not that you are building a bunch of muscle. Period. End of story. To build a bunch of muscle you have to be lifting a lot of heavy weights, eating a lot more calories than you need to the point that eating is making you almost uncomfortably full, and taking the right supplements to encourage muscle growth. Are you planning on doing all that? I doubt it.

So if you want to add in a couple of days of weight training each week and you find yourself gaining weight after two or three weeks, we would need to go back and check your diet, because most likely that is the culprit. Usually we’d find that you are eating more than you think because you are suddenly hungrier with the increase in activity. That is why it is SUPER IMPORTANT to set a nutrition plan with at least a base calorie goal and macronutrient spread before you start any exercise regimen, and then STICK. TO. IT. Snacking on top of your meal plan is what causes the weight gain for most people.

Sounds so simple, right? We’ll talk more about eating later, I promise.


OK, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about exercise ideas that are, in my personal experience, most helpful for dancers. I’ll break this down by body sections to keep the groupings logical. Let’s start off by talking about what, in my opinion, are the most important body parts for dancing.

LEGS

Who really likes to work their legs? Not a lot of people. But since you are a dancer, you know that almost every action that you do starts with the legs. They are the engine of all your dance movements, which is why I believe that having strong legs is so important for a dancer. Think of strong legs like driving down the highway, riding around in a muscle car with a throaty V8. Having weak legs is more like riding down the street on top of your robotic vacuum cleaner. Which one would you prefer?

I cannot recommend enough spending at least one day a week on an all-around leg improvement workout. There are so many benefits to doing so. But for this post, let’s keep things simple and look at the two different categories of leg exercises you need for dancing: leg strength, and leg speed/agility.

Leg Strength: This is, simply put, how strong your legs are, which will definitely help you push off that standing leg as you move yourself around. Part of strength training should also be muscle endurance training, which will help your legs perform at a high level for longer periods of time. Don’t you want to do 50 heats at a competition without feeling wasted afterward instead of 20 ? How about 100 heats, or maybe more?

Leg Speed & Agility: This is how fast you can move your legs with precision. Really important for those faster tempo dances like Cha-Cha or Quickstep. It’s one thing to be able to move your legs fast, but you also need to be able to do it while placing the leg exactly where you want instead of just looking like your legs are flailing wildly.

Let’s get a bit more specific, starting with leg strength.

Note:
I like to keep it old-school when weightlifting. All the resistance exercises I will talk about going forward can be done using basic weights (barbels or dumbbells) and other simple pieces of equipment (a solid chair, weight bench, etc.) that should be easy to find. No complicated fitness contraptions will be required!

Calf Raises
Ladies, if you compete in Latin dances and wear the short dresses (like I often see at competitions), you should really want to have strong calves. Not only will they look nice when you do a press line, but strong calves will help you stand forward on your toes better in heels.

This is a simple exercise – take two dumbbells and hold one in each hand while resting them on your shoulders. Depending on the type of dumbbell and the weight of it, you might consider putting a towel down on your shoulders to protect your skin. With the weights secure, raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

We want to do three sets like this: first set with your toes pointed straight forward, second set with the toes turned out, and the third set with the toes turned in toward each other.


I guess I should quickly mention what a ‘Set’ would be for you. The general rule of thumb I like to use is as follows…

-To build muscle, you want to use as heavy weight as you can to complete 8 to 10 reps. You should start to feel the burn around number repetition number 6.

-To tone muscle and build endurance, you want to use lighter weights and do 15 reps. The weights can’t be super light, because you still want to feel the burn, but this time the burn should come around the 12th repetition.


Single-Leg Calf Raise
This exercise will help you work on balance as well as strength. If your balance isn’t that great right now, do this exercise near a wall so that you can put a hand up to steady yourself as needed. Don’t keep your hand on the wall the entire time though, or else you really aren’t going to do as much to build the strength in the ankle that would help improve your balance.

These are similar to the normal Calf Raises, but we are going to be standing on one foot. This time, take a single dumbbell and hold it in the arm that corresponds with the leg that you are standing on. Use lighter weights here if you need to because of the balance component. Put all of your weight on one leg and hook your other foot behind the ankle of the standing leg. Keep the arm with the weight hanging at your side with the weight in line with your body. Raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

Because we are standing on one leg, you only do these with the toes pointed forward. Make sure to do this with both legs! You don’t want to be lopsided, after all. 🙂

Forward & Backward Lunges
If you do any of the ballroom dances in American Smooth or International Standard, you should know that to properly travel you have to be able to accept the weight into your moving leg as you shift from one standing leg to another on a traveling step (‘traveling step’ being defined as a step where you are driving yourself forward/backward in a figure, as opposed to rotational steps or non-traveling steps in a figure). I have found that an exercise that really helps me work on transferring weight and accepting the weight into my new leg is by doing Forward and Backward Lunges.

From a standing position with your feet underneath you about shoulder width apart, take one weight in each hand and hold them at your side. To do a Forward Lunge, step forward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower the body until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your front leg backward to the starting position.

To do a Backward Lunge, step backward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs in the same manner. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your back leg forward back into the starting position.

Speed & Agility
There are a couple of different kinds of workouts that I enjoy using to help improve my own speed and agility. One recommendation I have is looking into Plyometrics, a.k.a. ‘Jump Training’ – literally doing exercises where you are jumping off the ground. This is a higher-impact type of workout, so make sure that you feel comfortable with that before you try it out, and only do the workouts somewhere where you have a padded floor. A gym with concrete floors would be a terrible life choice.

Plyometrics will really help you develop that explosive power in your legs that you need to move quickly, and learning to jump with targets will help you improve the precision in your movements. If you decide to give it a try based on my advice, I bet you will thank me when you are hopping around like a pro during your Quickstep routine!

If a high-impact workout like Plyometrics seems like a bit too much for you, the other recommendation that I have that can help improve the speed and agility of your legs is taking up some form of martial arts. This is something that I will probably reference quite a few times, because there is so much about training for martial arts that can really benefit you as a dancer. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time working toward gaining a black belt to get the benefits – any type of martial arts program that involves kick actions can help you build leg speed.

I am not an affiliate with any program, nor am I trying to sell you on anything, but since I am being specific about exercises that I like to do in this post… I used to live near a place that offered BodyCombat classes. I love BodyCombat. Seriously. Imagine doing various martial arts moves in time to awesome music – that’s what BodyCombat is. As a dancer, that sort of workout might be right up your alley. It’s certainly up mine. 😉

If there’s a place near you that offers live classes, drop in once and see if you like it. If you don’t have a place near you but you have an empty room in your house (with a well padded floor for jump kicks), the online classes they offer are also fun. Make sure you have good speakers on your computer though, because it’s so much more fun when you pump up the jams!

*    *    *

Enough about the legs. Let’s move on to what I think is the next most important area of your body as a dancer. It’s probably not the one that you’re thinking, but I’ll cover that one in a bit.

BACK

Yeah, I’m going to pull the back muscles out specifically rather than group them in with the core muscles like other people do.

There is so much that having strong muscles in your back does to help you as a competitive dancer. Strengthening the muscles in your mid-back helps you stand taller, and all dancers know how important posture is when dancing competitively. I was always taught that any arm motions that I might do when dancing are supposed to originate from the muscles in my back, specifically the rear deltoids (‘delts’) and the latissimus dorsi (‘lats’). For example, when I dance competitively I always find myself keeping my frame wide by pulling my lats out to the sides.

Aside from the benefits to your dancing, strengthening the muscles in your back can help protect your spine better, allowing you to avoid back injuries. Back muscles are super important!

Reverse Flys
This is a really great exercise for strengthening your rear delts. The rear delts are a small muscle group, so when you do Reverse Flys you don’t need a lot of weight. There are two ways to do rear flys – one gives you the option to brace your upper body against something, which will allow you to use slightly heavier weights. But even braced, 20lbs is going to seem super heavy for most people, so be sure to choose the right weight and stay safe!

Standing Reverse Flys are done by setting your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your back flat and bending at the waist, pushing your glutes out behind you. You want to bend so that your upper body is at slightly more than a 45° angle, but not so much that your back is parallel to the floor – that’s too much.

Let the arms dangle down toward the floor with the elbows slightly bent and a weight in each hand. Bring the arms up until your elbows are in a straight line with one-another, pause for one second, then lower them back down. Be sure to lower the weights slowly and with control, otherwise you risk slamming the weights into each other at the bottom with your fingers stuck in between. Ouch!

If you have a weight bench available to you, you can raise the bench up until it is in the medium position and rest your chest against the bench while you perform the movement. As I said, this will help you brace your body, and can help you try the exercise with slightly heavier weights, but make sure you still stay safe!

Cobra/Superman
A simple pair of exercises that are really good for strengthening the muscles in your lower back. The only difference between the two is whether you leave your legs on the ground or not.

Start out lying on the floor on your stomach with your legs together. For Cobra you can place your hands flat on the floor next to your head; Superman obviously has to have the arms held straight out in front of you. Inhale and raise your upper body off the floor to do Cobra, and raise both the upper body and lower body off the floor as you inhale to do Superman. Make sure that you keep looking down at the floor while you do this to avoid any strain in the neck. Pause for a second when you’ve raised up as high as you can go, then exhale as you bring yourself back down to your starting position.

For a simple variation to help build more strength while doing Cobra, you can take a light weight (a barbel plate works great for this) and rest your forehead against it. Hold the weight against your forehead as you inhale and raise your upper body off the floor. This will increase the resistance that your lower back muscles have to lift while doing the exercise.

Overhand Pull-Ups
You’re probably all going to hate me for recommending these, but this is another super simple exercise that helps strengthen the muscles in the mid back. While doing Chin-Ups is also helpful, a lot of people tend to incorporate a lot of bicep work when they do Chin-Ups – we want to focus on the back muscles here, so I recommend making sure that you are wrapping your hands over the top of the bar before pulling yourself up.

The trick to Pull-Ups is to make sure that you are pulling from the muscles that run underneath your shoulders and in the middle of the back. If you are feeling a lot of the pull from anywhere else, you are probably doing the action wrong. Keep your hands on the bar at about shoulder width to start with if you don’t really do Pull-Ups right now. As you get stronger, you can try widening your grip to challenge yourself, or bringing your hands closer together if you want an even harder challenge!

If you are not strong enough to do a Pull-Up right now, bring over a chair to the bar and put your feet up on it. Taking the weight of your legs out of the mix will make the Pull-Up easier. Over time you can graduate to using only one leg, and then to doing one or two with no legs on the chair and the rest using the chair, and finally to not using the chair at all. As always, modify to be successful rather than avoid something you think is too hard!

*    *    *

SHOULDERS AND ARMS

We’re going to attach these two muscle groups together (Ha! See what I did there?).

The shoulders and arms are used quite a bit while dancing. Are you holding some kind of frame with your partner? The shoulders and arms are involved there! Are you competing in American Smooth or Rhythm or International Latin, and while in an open position with your partner and you don’t want to have your free arm hanging down like a limp noodle? The shoulders and arms are involved here too!

One big complaint that I hear from instructors I know who compete in Pro/Am is that, after dancing a bunch of rounds, their partner starts to get tired and struggles to keep their frame up. As their partner begins to droop, they tend to put a lot more weight on their Pro, which can put the Pro under a lot of physical stress. These Pros work at keeping their own strength and stamina up to help alleviate this problem, but wouldn’t it be better if their Amateur took away some of this burden by improving their own strength and stamina to keep their frame up stronger for longer?

Upright Rows
If you don’t know by now, I personally compete in International Standard, so keeping my own frame up is critical when I am out on the floor in front of the judges. If you compete in American Smooth, especially in the Closed Syllabus levels, there are requirements for how much of your routine has to be in closed dance frame as well. For the ballroom-style dances in Smooth or Standard, I find that Upright Rows are the perfect activity to train me to keep my elbows up while under pressure.

These can be done using either a barbel or with dumbbells. A barbel can help keep your elbows level as you lift, but if you have wrist issues a dumbbell will allow you to rotate your wrist more freely with the weight to stay comfortable.

Standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent to protect your back, hold the weights down in front of you with your arms fully extended. Draw the weights up the front of your body, bending your elbows and pulling them back in the process. Pause at the top for a second when the bar/weights are under your chin, and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.

Lateral Raises
Here’s another exercise that helps you strengthen the muscles involved with bringing your arms up. This movement focuses more on the muscle at the side of the shoulders.

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Grab a pair of dumbbells (you want lighter weights here) and hold them at your sides. Bend the elbows slightly – locking the elbows during this exercise can be painful. Raise the weights up to your sides until the arms are in line with your shoulders. Pause for a second at the top and then lower the weights back down slowly.

Tricep Extensions
The triceps are the muscles at the back of your arms. A lot of people spend tons of time working on the biceps in the front of the arms, but the tricep muscles are actually underneath more of the surface area of the arm than the biceps, so why wouldn’t you want to work on improving the triceps as well?

These are also the muscles that you use to pull your lower arm out when you extend your arms straight, so strengthening them will help you with that action. Don’t you want to have amazingly toned upper arms when you throw your arms out for Crossover Breaks or New Yorkers while dancing the Rumba or Cha-Cha?

Like with the Upright Rows you can do these with either a barbel or with dumbbells. This exercise is done lying down, either on the floor or on a bench. Start off by taking the weights in hand and holding your arms up straight away from the floor. Keep your elbows in – if your elbows start to drift away from your chest, either fight to keep them in or use lighter weights.

Bend your elbows to lower the weights down. If using a barbel, you would be lowering the bar toward your forehead; if using dumbbells you are lowering the weights to either side of your head. Make sure to control the weights on the way down! Pause for a second at the bottom, then slowly extend the arms back to the starting position.

I shouldn’t really have to say this, but please don’t crush your face while doing this exercise…

*    *    *

Man, I feel like I’ve gone on forever, and there is so much more that I could say! So many more exercises that I could recommend in each section! But, unfortunately, I am not trying to design an entire workout routine here, I’m just offering up some notable exercises that I like to do which help pinpoint muscles used in dance.

Because this is already super long… how about I cut this in half and we’ll go over part two next week? Stay with me, and next week I will go over exercises to help dancers with their core, we’ll talk a bit about balance work, and finally I’ll spend some time talking about eating to help fuel these sorts of workouts.

Check out part two of this topic in next week’s post!

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?