A Break In This Routine

This past week, I tried to fit in a couple of different activities to break up the routine of doing the same things over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun with the training (for the most part) and the practicing constantly (again, for the most part), but I have to try to keep this hobby as fun as possible in order to justify the stupid amounts of money I spend on it. Sometimes you just have to go out and do things that are out of the ordinary to keep life interesting, right?

First of all, last Thursday I posted all my dance notes early so that I could go out to a West Coast Swing class that was being held. This class was at a dance studio, but it wasn’t a ballroom dance studio, which is why I had never heard of the place before. I saw their calendar on the wall when I got to the studio, and they didn’t seem to have any classes on traditional ballroom styles listed, and as I waited for the West Coast Swing class to begin there was a class in Balboa finishing up out on the dance floor. I had never seen anyone dancing Balboa before, but it looked vaguely interesting. I’m not sure where I would ever use the dance style during my normal travels, but maybe I should make myself a note to learn the basics of Balboa next summer just for fun. Maybe.

It was a good class to attend for me. I learned a figure in West Coast Swing that I think I might have seen once before, but I can’t be entirely sure so I’m going to say it was new. The instructor was also a pretty goofy guy, so the class was definitely amusing. He started the class off by having everyone warm up first by walking up and down the length of the dance floor, and then had the men and women pair off to dance through the Sugar Push basic several times with each partner.

At one point during the warmup he was saying that we could start doing some fancier moves with our partner if we wanted, but for some reason he got stuck on doing what he called the ‘Sunshine’ move instead of just adding in some simple turns. This ‘Sunshine’ move is basically bringing your hands up before doing the last triple step in the Sugar Push basic and drawing them in an arc over your head – like making a rainbow with both hands. That became a running joke for the rest of class – we were told many times during class that if we messed up our steps that the ‘Sunshine’ move was an appropriate substitute for the actual figures we were supposed to be doing.

So what did we actually cover? Well, starting from handshake hold, the men lead the lady into a Left Side Pass, but at the end we rotated her so that she ends up in something that resembled Shadow Position with our arms going over her shoulders to take both of her hands. In this position, we led her through four Sailor Shuffles going from left to right. At the end of the last Sailor Shuffle we would lead the lady through a Underarm Turn while spinning ourselves around, bringing her right arm up and over our shoulder as we turned and letting it slide down our arm to our left hand to get back to dance position. It wasn’t anything overly difficult, but it is something I didn’t know, so that adds one more West Coast Swing move to my repertoire. Hooray!

On Friday night, I headed out early to make the long trip from my house out to the High Five Dance Hall. It had been about a year since the last time I headed out there, so I figured it was about time to make another pilgrimage. After all, as a member of the Royal Dance Court, I feel like I should visit all these places on a semi-regular basis. The flyer that I had seen told me that they were planning on having a lesson on American Tango before an open dance party. Since getting to the studio is such a time commitment for me, I made sure to get out there with enough time to attend both.

Let me mention something about the High Five Dance Hall before I get into what happened at the lesson: the High Five Dance Hall is a social dance studio. As far as I can tell, they have one instructor who rents floor space who teaches students to dance competitively, but all the other instructors just teach their students to dance socially. Going back to metaphor that I used before which compared dancing to language, the instructors teach their students a lot of dance vocabulary, but only the minimum amount of dance grammar they need so that their students can be understood by partners in their classes.

With that being said, let’s talk about what happened during the American Tango lesson I attended. The progression that was covered was relatively simple, but pretty long. We started with two normal Tango Walk steps forward, and then the men would do a forward check and release the lady out into Fan. From there the men would do another check going backward while rotating the lady to come into Shadow Position.

In Shadow Position, we did another two Tango Walk steps forward, then alternating Forward Rocks before releasing the lady while turning her to the right as the men did the three-step ending of the Closed Basic (a.k.a. the “Tango close”), and we got back into dance frame with both partners doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic. With some time left over in class the instructor had us add a Link going into a Promenade Basic with the lady closing, finishing by doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic twice in a row (like the ending of an Argentine Walk).

That all seems pretty straightforward, like something that you might learn at any other ballroom dance studio you would go to, right? Let’s talk about the things that the instructor mentioned that seemed out-of-the-ordinary to me. First off, let’s mention the Link. The instructor was teaching this step using the footwork of the Progressive Link figure from International Tango. This figure really isn’t specified on the American Tango syllabus from what I remember, but since it exists in International Tango it is fair game in American style. However, the instructor kept calling it an “Argentine Link” for some reason. I did a quick search online after the class, and I couldn’t find anything that used that figure name, so I wonder where the instructor got that name from?

Also, as you can imagine, most of the people in class were uncomfortable dancing in close contact, so what we ended up with when doing the link was the ladies being in front of the men instead of behind them in Promenade Position. The instructor caught some people like this, and told the men that they could fix that issue by pulling their right elbow backward, which would pull the lady behind them as they rotated to Promenade Position. I’m sure that many of you who studied competitive dance technique cringed slightly when reading that, but again this is a dance studio that teaches social dancing – having the men use their arms to adjust the lady will get the job done so that the next step works. I just found that to be an interesting thing that the instructor specifically recommended.

The open dance party that started after the lesson was over was… an experience. I had totally forgotten about how their parties ran since it has been a year since the last time I attended one. Their social dances have more of an open format than other parties I usually go to closer to where I live. They had someone on staff sit and run the music that night, playing a bunch of contemporary songs that you’d hear on the radio, and then people just danced whatever they wanted. No one told the attendees what dance style to do, and a lot of the songs they played seemed to have a really fast tempo for the dance styles people chose to use during the song, so to me it seemed a bit chaotic.

I would step off of the floor every couple of songs to stand near the people I came to the studio with and just watch what was going on. Oftentimes I would see a lot of people doing some sort of Two Step, either Nightclub or Country for the most part. Either version of Two Step is not something that comes up during the ballroom socials I normally attend. Other people would be doing West Coast Swing, and occasionally you would see Hustle as well. There were a few songs played that I identified as Cha-Cha, but it didn’t seem like many others picked that up, so I was one of the few people doing that on the floor. Quite often there was also some sort of line dance going on in the middle of the room at the same time, so there was a big section of the floor that was set aside for that purpose.

The person playing DJ also did not play many songs where you could dance any ballroom styles. There was one Viennese Waltz song played, and one song that most everyone did Quickstep during, but other than that there were only two or three songs played that were a Waltz, and a couple of Tango numbers, and just a few Foxtrot songs as well. During a song where people were dancing a lot of faster Swing styles, there were two couples who were out dancing the Foxtrot and traveling extremely fast. They were careening around the room with very little regard to the other couples dancing, weaving through everyone to do what looked like the fanciest figures that they knew. There were a few moments where I held my breath while watching them do that as they got really close to other dancers.

Overall, it was a fun night out doing something completely different. I spent quite a bit of time talking to and getting to know the other attendees of the party whom I had never met before. There were a few people whom I knew from seeing them around the Dance Kingdom, but most of the people who attended the party lived closer to the High Five Dance Hall so they don’t really come around to other events I attend. I will have to make a note in my calendar to try to get back out there again next year, and make this at least an annual occurrence.

I got to do even more Tango in Standard Technique class this week. Lord Junior wanted to work on one figure from International Tango with us, but also wanted to throw in some items from American Tango just to give us all something fun to do. I thought it was fun at least; I’m not entirely sure if everyone else felt the same way. There was this one lady in class who was really struggling with the concept of Shadow Position and it was pretty funny… well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with what we covered.

The figure that Lord Junior wanted to go over with us that night was the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, a Gold-level figure in International Tango (the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot is also a Gold-level figure in International Waltz and Foxtrot as well, in case you’re wondering where you’ve heard of it before). At the end of the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, the men would just release the ladies by doing a quick checking action, allowing the lady to roll out into Fan. When she hit the line created by Fan, both partners would do a fast Brush Tap, just to add in a little extra fancy Tango styling.

From Fan position the men would start to slowly walk around the lady, which automatically leads her to go underneath our left arm. After we walked in a complete 180° arc, we would turn the ladies with our left arm so that she spins across our bodies to end up in Shadow Position with both partners facing diagonal center. From there we did an Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position, ending on the last step facing diagonal wall with a right-side lead. We could then use our left arm again to turn the lady, having her take three steps against the line of dance to get into Promenade Position with us. The men would just take two steps and fake so that we were back on the correct foot to continue. Because we were running out of time in class, we just took one step forward in Promenade Position and ended there for the night.

So the funniest part of all of that was what I alluded to earlier. There was an older lady in class who really seemed to struggle with the idea of being in Shadow Position, even after both Lord Junior and I spent extra time trying to help her through it. When I tried to dance through the Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position with her the first few times, after every step she tried to turn around and get back into dance frame with me. Every step! I told her that she needed to keep her left arm stretched out and her back to me and just let me direct her with my hands.

I think her problem was that she kept letting her left shoulder collapse, which rotated her arm toward her body, and that caused her to start turning to face me. By the end of class I think we got that all worked out, but it was just funny to me that she seemed surprised when she would start turning to face me, so she would try to adjust her arms to get back into dance frame. Then I would stop, tell her she needed to keep her back to me again, and she would jump to fix it and smile. But the next step we would go through it all again! Luckily she did the same thing with Lord Junior, and I watched him walk through it slowly with her as well, so it wasn’t just something wrong in my lead that was causing the issue.

Let’s see, what do I have going on this coming week? Well, there’s a dance party going on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I think I’ll go to. Sparkledancer is out of town until Sunday, so we moved our lesson with Sir Steven to then so that she could be there, and then we had to move our lesson with Lord Dormamu to Monday since he wasn’t going to be around on Sunday. I guess that means that Latin Technique class will be missed on Monday. Ah well, that’s what happens when people take vacations. Until next week, keep dancing!

Only You Have That Magic Technique

Let’s start with this past Saturday, because that’s when the interesting stuff started. I had two lessons scheduled for that afternoon – first one with Sir Steven, and then one with Lord Dormamu. This seems to be becoming a habit for me, because I’ve met with both instructors over the last couple of weeks, and I’ll be meeting with them both again next Saturday as well. At this rate my wallet is probably going to start cursing my name soon because of how empty its stomach is all of the time. Poor guy…

 With Sir Steven we worked on Waltz and Quickstep. There were only a few points I wrote down to remember from each of those. First off, the Waltz: Sir Steven thought that we were rising too much when he watched our starter step. He wanted us to stay at the same level the whole time, only rotating the body as we move side-to-side before lowering as normal to travel forward. There would be no rising until we get into the Natural Turn that follows. The next note I wrote down for Sparkledancer (because she’s the only person who actually knows me that reads and cares about my dance notes): Sir Steven wanted her to keep an eye on what she was doing in the Double Reverse Spins, to make sure that she takes a big step when she is traveling across my body before crossing her feet, and to make sure to take it slower on her last two steps.

We spent more time on Quickstep than Waltz that day. The big thing that Sir Steven pointed out to us was that we needed to watch our timing. It’s not that we were dancing the steps off beat, but we were dancing them very smoothly, like a Waltz. He wanted us to really emphasize the quick steps in each figure, more like a Tango than a Waltz or Foxtrot. We looked at our Natural Spin Turn again, and he was glad that we were coming out in the right direction this week, but now he wants us to travel more during the figure. Finally he briefly talked with us about our sway. He wanted us to only put sway into rotating figures like our Natural Spin Turn or Double Reverse Spin. During the chasses that would travel in a straight line, he wanted us to make sure to stay level the whole time, although he wanted us to be level and also stay even lower than we were.

After finishing up with Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I didn’t actually have to wait long for our lesson with Lord Dormamu. His student who was scheduled to meet with him before my lesson ended up canceling at the last minute. I had just managed to walk over to a place, hoping to grab a bite to eat when I got the call from Lord Dormamu letting me know that we had the option to move our lesson up. Having some extra time that afternoon sounded awesome to me, so I ignored the grumbling in my stomach and rushed back to the Fancy Dance Hall as fast as my legs would carry me.

Sparkledancer was already there talking with Lord Dormamu when I got back. I quickly changed into my dance shoes and headed over to join them. As soon as I was within range, Lord Dormamu said that he wanted to start that day by looking at something in our Waltz routine briefly, something he had noticed while we were working with Sir Steven. He had us back up away from the edge of the floor and do the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change, Chasse from Promenade Position and finally the Natural Turn that would be in the corner. After going through that whole progression, it turns out that it was really the Natural Turn that he wanted to comment on.

What Lord Dormamu had noticed were two things that were both caused by the same issue: first of all, the Natural Turn was rotating too much for his liking. When he saw us dancing with Sir Steven, and then again when he had us try the shorter combination of figures for him, we tended to end the Natural Turn with me facing backing line of dance. He wanted to make sure that we ended the Natural Turn rotating 45° less, or with me facing diagonal wall against line of dance. Secondly, he told me that a wise teacher he had in his youth had told him that there should be a brief pause at the height of the rise on a Natural Turn, where absolutely all movement stops for a “beautiful moment” before you begin to lower and go into the next step. Because we were rotating too much in our Natural Turn, we didn’t have that pause at all, so he wanted to make sure that we added that in.

The cause for this issue was pretty simple for him to point out – I am a very solid piece of meat, so I am much, much heavier than Sparkledancer. When we build up momentum through the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change and Chasse from Promenade Position and then I take the outside of the rotation in the Natural Turn, the weight of my body just keeps me going, and Sparkledancer’s weight is on my right side which just adds on to what I’m doing. This means that it’s all on me to really keep my own body mass under control so that the Natural Turn stops when I hit the right amount of turn and pauses momentarily before moving on.

Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was at that moment: what about the Reverse Turn? Should I have the same pause? Am I unintentionally over-rotating there as well? I asked Lord Dormamu that very thing. He said that yes, I should have the same brief pause in a Reverse Turn, but I am already managing to put that in where he wants so we didn’t need to go back and look at that figure. Because I am rotating the other direction in a Reverse Turn and essentially trying to turn through Sparkledancer’s body, the momentum is unable to continue turning me unchecked like it does in a Natural Turn, so it isn’t an issue for me. Yay! I managed to dodge one bullet.

Finishing that, we moved on to Foxtrot. We first looked at our movement, since that has been the focus for Foxtrot over the last few weeks. Apparently that day our movement was rising too much for his liking, so to fix that he wanted us to stay down lower and keep ourselves traveling fairly evenly the whole time. He gave us a demonstration using his belt buckle as the focal point, to show us how he could travel all over the place in Foxtrot and his belt buckle stayed pretty much the same distance from the floor the entire time. Does that mean that I am going to have to start wearing belts with obnoxious buckles when I practice? I’m going to try doing it without first, and we’ll have to go from there.

Next we looked at a completely different topic, which was the sway that he wanted us to start adding into the Foxtrot while we danced. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I ended up discussing sway in two different dances in one day…

 Before we started dancing, Lord Dormamu gave us a brief lecture on the idea of sway so that we would understand the big picture of what he wanted us to work on. What he said was that first off, our sway basically makes our shoulder line work like a teeter-totter around the central focal point under our head. If we raise the right side, then like a teeter-totter the left side should go down by an equal amount, and vice-versa. Obviously this over-simplifies the idea because there’s a whole thing about not ‘breaking’ your side while doing this, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

The next idea he wanted to stress was that the sway that we do needs to be “harmonic” throughout the course of the routine. What that means is basically if we were to dance two figures in a row, like a simple Feather and a Three Step for instance, we would sway with the left side forward and up on the Feather, and the right side forward and up on the Three Step. To achieve the harmonic balance that is needed, the amount that your left side goes up when you would sway during a Feather needs to be the same amount that the right side goes up during the sway of the Three Step.

Sounds easy enough to do, right? Well, here’s the last (and arguable the most difficult) idea that Lord Dormamu told us – the sway should always be initiated naturally based on the footwork of the figure. If you are just swaying because someone told you to, then the movement looks unnatural and forced. Sway should happen in a figure whenever you go up on your toes, and it should level out when you lower down to your whole foot. For a Feather, this means that you are neutral for the first step, but as you take the second step with your left foot and roll up onto the ball of your foot, that movement should naturally make the left side of your body rise up. As you take the third step with your right foot and roll down from the ball of your foot to using your whole foot your left side should come down and level out once more. You can follow through with the movement to accentuate the sway, but you should always make it look natural, never forced.

As I digested the information, I asked if our routine had been specifically choreographed so that each figure changes from left side sway to right side sway. Initially Lord Dormamu said yes, but then he paused and started slowly looking along the edge of the room. I could see his eyes twitching as if he were watching an invisible couple dancing through the routine. Finally he looked back at me and said the answer was yes, but there was an exception he had to tell us about for the two Weaves that we had in the routine. A Weave, because it is a series of steps where you are up on the ball of your feet for more than one step, should have no sway at all. He used the Natural Weave to demonstrate this, showing how there was a left-side sway as you go through the Natural Turn at the beginning, but then the sway levels out until you get to the Feather Finish at the end of the figure and have to add in the left-side sway once more.

Whew… so that was my crazy ‘Theory of Dance’ discussion from this weekend. We spent the last few minutes of our session practicing this idea. Now that I’m putting a lot of thought into how I’m swaying, it seems way more difficult than it used to be, so it’s definitely going to require some practice on my part. I have to say that these discussions with Lord Dormamu are the most fascinating part of taking lessons from him. I feel that one thing for an instructor to just tell you to do all these things while dancing, but I personally like that Lord Dormamu actually takes the time to explain to me the theory behind how and why these techniques are the way that they are. I find it really helpful.

And now something completely different:

Saturday night I headed out to the City Dance Hall because I was asked to go to an open dance party being held there. I was told that there was going to be an American Viennese Waltz lesson before the party. These sorts of pre-party lessons involving the more complex dance styles like Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, West Coast Swing, etc. usually go one of two ways, either A) the material they cover is super simple, to encourage all people who might not know the dance style to dance, or B) the instructor is looking to have fun, and covers something completely out-of-the-ordinary to entertain both themselves and the crowd. I’m easily excited about the potential to learn something new in Viennese Waltz, so I got to the City Dance Hall early enough to join in.

This lesson ended up being option A, unfortunately. The instructor only covered three different figures, but probably not the three you are thinking of. The first thing that he showed everyone was the Reverse Turn, allowing people to travel down the line of dance. To turn corners, he showed the people basically how to do a Throw Out to get the lady into Open Fan, two Sliding Door-like movements in Cantor timing (though he didn’t talk about Cantor timing, he just told people to pass each other over three beats), and then when you got back to your original Open Fan position he had them do a Underarm Turn in Cantor Time which would rotate you the 90° needed to go down the next wall. He gave this combination some fancy French name, but I’m not going to try to spell what that was.

Before starting down the new wall, he had people do four Hesitation steps (forward, backward, left, right) to allow everyone to get back in frame before moving on. Then it was back to the Reverse Turns to begin traveling again. He didn’t have them look at the Natural Turn or Change Steps at all, so this was really meant to give everyone a way to do simple circuits around the room. The class started out pretty full of people, but by the end of the class a number of the older folks and a few beginner students had dropped out to take chairs along the side and just watch. That tends to happen a lot in Viennese Waltz classes like these, so I wasn’t too surprised by that.

After the class finished, I felt like most of what I did the rest of the night was talk rather than dance. Ms. Possible came to the party that night, and she brought her drama-filled life along with her, and was not really enjoying herself no matter how many jokes I tried to tell her. You see, Ms. Possible recently decided to try switching from dancing Pro/Am to Amateur with a gentleman that she met at a dance party. He was interested in her as more than a dance partner though. She mostly rebuffed his amorous advances, but didn’t turn him down completely. Well, things came to a head a few days ago when Ms. Possible found out that he had finally moved on and found a girlfriend. Both this guy and his new girlfriend were also at the party that night.

I guess the phrase ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ applies here. Ms. Possible and this gentleman still danced together at the party, and they still plan to compete together from what I could ascertain, but she does not seem to be happy that he has found someone. Especially considering that the new girl also dances. Is she afraid that the girlfriend will eventually take her place as his amateur competitive partner? Does she now realize that she secretly harbors romantic feelings for this gentleman? Is Ms. Possible just a bit crazy? No one can really say for sure. The gentleman in question apparently told her that she was breaking his heart whenever they danced together by leading him on, and he finally decided not to wait around for her anymore. I don’t blame him.

So that night rather than dancing I spent a lot of time listening to the discussions that people were having about this situation, and I also tried to make sure Ms. Possible was doing OK. She ended up coming to tell everyone I was standing near that she was leaving about half-an-hour into the party. I don’t know if there is anything more I could have done. Sigh… dance drama. Remember when I mentioned that expecting to have a romantic relationship with your dance partner was often a bad idea? This is a perfect example of that.

Skipping ahead a bit in the pursuit of brevity… Wednesday night I co-opted Standard Technique class because I wanted to use the class to work on sway in Foxtrot. Lord Junior had been thinking of having everyone work on some Viennese Waltz that night, but because he and I were talking about the things that I had gone over at the end of my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday and it was on my mind, I asked if we could spend the time working on that concept. I’m going to count that as practice time too, since technically I was practicing things that Lord Dormamu had asked me to work on. It totally counts, right?

Lord Junior picked out three simple figures for us to use for practicing our sway, and we did them ‘by the book’ using the documented steps and sway as written in that fancy book that Lord Junior has lying on the front desk. One of these days I’m going to find out the name of that book, since I’ve looked things up in it a few times when I had questions about a step, and Lord Junior refers to how steps are done using that book all the time. Maybe I’ll even buy a copy of this book for myself someday! Then I could constantly quote passages from the book on this site! Wouldn’t that be fun?

OK, probably not fun. Informative? Educational? Annoying? Maybe one of those would be a better description.

 The first two figures that we used were the same two figures that Lord Dormamu used when demonstrating this concept to me on Saturday – a Feather and a Three Step. The sway is fairly easy for people to see and grasp in these two steps because you are essentially just walking forward in a straight line, so there is no rotation to think about at the same time. We did use a prep step at the beginning before going into the Feather, and that extra step seemed to really throw off the older gentleman who had joined us in class that night. I caught what he was doing out of the corner of my eye a few times. He was having a hard time just getting through the steps for those two figures, so he had abandoned trying to do the sway altogether.

The final step that we added was a Natural Turn, but we did this one exactly as written in the book. I have to specifically state that, because in the book the Natural Turn essentially has two sections: the first half covers the Heel Turn that the ladies do. This turn is actually a 180°, starting with the guys facing the line of dance, and ending with them backing line of dance. The second half, which Lord Junior says that no one does in the real world, involves the gentlemen taking three slow steps. The first one goes straight back down the line of dance, the second is a Heel Pull, which is essentially a fancy way for a guy to rotate, and the third step is forward heading in the new direction you turned. In our case we were using the Heel Pull to rotate around a corner, so we were turning about 135° to end facing diagonal wall on the new wall.

For the most part, the class was a good practice for me on this whole ‘harmonic balance’ sway concept. Lord Junior said after class that while he was watching I appeared to sway evenly from my left side to my right side as I changed through the figures (or in the case of the Natural Turn, halfway through the figure). Some of the ladies in class were a lot easier to practice sway with than others. For example, Bony was in class that night, and she probably almost a foot shorter than me, so I was limited in how much I could sway while dancing with her due to height difference. Sparkledancer and I are closer in height and we practice together all the time, so I was able to sway much better with her.

It was nice to have a directed practice session like that and get feedback on what I was doing. Maybe I’ll have to start asking about covering other concepts Lord Dormamu asks me to practice during Standard Technique class. It could be super helpful!

The Two Of Us Ain’t Gonna Follow Your Rules

Not much to talk about from my dance adventures this past week, what with the holiday and everything. Let’s see, what is of note to remember…

This past Saturday I was supposed to have two lessons, one with Lord Dormamu and one with Sir Steven. I arrived at the studio early as usual, to give myself a chance to loosen up, stretch out my shoulders and get in a few rounds of dancing with Sparkledancer before we started working with anyone. Fifteen minutes prior to when our lesson with Lord Dormamu started, I saw him pull up along the curb in front of the studio in a pickup truck, with the back filled with tables. He began to try to unload them, while also trying to have a conversation on his phone and responding to all the people who would walk into or out of the Fancy Dance Hall and greet him.

He was… fairly unsuccessful. Lord Dormamu only managed to get one table into the building and one more down off the truck, then stopped inside the studio and waved Sparkledancer and I down. He wanted to apologize and say that the Fancy Dance Hall had been rented out that night for an event, and less than an hour ago the people who had rented out the hall had called him and told him that they were going to have a lot more guests than they had originally planned. Since the credit card for the studio’s expenses was in his name, Lord Dormamu had to go across town and pick up some extra tables and chairs to meet the extra demand for that night. He had thought that he would be done by the time our lesson was to take place, but obviously he was still unloading the tables, and still had to go back across town and pick up the chairs once he finished.

The reason he had been on the phone was to try to reschedule his other lessons from that morning, and now he was asking us if we could push things off until Sunday. We ended up taking the earliest slot he had available Sunday afternoon. He thanked us profusely, and headed back outside to start rolling in the second table he had unloaded from the truck. I felt bad after seeing how he had struggled to get the two tables out of the truck by himself, so I stepped outside and asked if he wanted any help unloading. After getting a vigorous acceptance of my offer, I changed into my street shoes and went out to help.

After Lord Dormamu and I got the next two tables down off the truck and rolled them inside, Sir Steven had finished teaching his lesson and came out to help as well. Sir Steven and I unloaded all the tables from the truck, and I leaned them up against a stone column near the curb so that Lord Dormamu could start rolling them inside. Once all the tables were on the ground, I found it easier (and faster) to just pick up the tables by the two wooden support beams that ran along the width of the underside of the table and carry them rather than rolling them. When I told Sir Steven as I passed him how much simpler carrying them was, he just laughed and told me that while it was easier for me, he didn’t think he could accomplish that.

The three of us managed to unload all the tables in about twenty minutes. Once done, Sir Steven and I headed back inside as Lord Dormamu headed off to pick up his next load of furniture. Sparkledancer was hanging out in front of one of the mirrors doing some kind of practice activity, so Sir Steven called her over to let both of us know that he didn’t have any lessons that hour when we would have otherwise been dancing with Lord Dormamu, so if Sparkledancer and I wanted to move up our lesson with him and get done earlier, he would be cool with that. I said that would be great, as long as they gave me just a few minutes to go wash all the table dirt off my hands. I didn’t want to get that all over Sparkledancer, after all. I’m nice like that. J

After a quick bit of scrubbing, I changed back into my dance shoes and was back out on the floor. The first thing that Sir Steven did as we got started was to ask Sparkledancer and me if we had any questions. I decided to ask about some of the things that the coach that we had met with the Tuesday before had told us. Sir Steven didn’t realize that we had met up with her that day. Apparently he didn’t really have a good impression of this lady – he had never worked with her personally, but had spoken to her on a few occasions while she was at the Fancy Dance Hall that week. There had been a couple of times when Lord Dormamu had been going over things with her in the office and Sir Steven needed to speak with Lord Dormamu about studio business things that required his input. From what Sir Steven tells me, the coach lady did not like the fact that he was interrupting her talks with Lord Dormamu for these paltry ‘business’ purposes.

After describing the major points that the coach brought up, Sir Steven was also confused, much like Lord Dormamu was, with the coach’s take on the starter step. He thought that coming out on a toe lead for that third step wasn’t right – he had never done it that way either. Sir Steven sided with Lord Dormamu and told me to just ignore that comment. The recommendation she gave for me to make a ‘W’ shape with my elbows when I got into frame was also thrown out. Sir Steven told me that until he or Lord Dormamu, or someone with more authority like the Princess or the King tells me otherwise, I should always make a straight line with my elbows and shoulders below my neck. Always, end of discussion. So, that comment of hers was also basically useless.

Based on all the stuff I’ve been told to ignore, I’m really starting to feel bad about agreeing to drop all of that money on that lesson with this lady. I don’t think I would do it again with her in the future if the opportunity presented itself. If I’m going to have to ignore half the things she tells me, and she isn’t going to charge half price for her time, is it a worthwhile experience? I’m leaning towards no…

As far as actual dancing goes, we spent time reviewing things in our Waltz routine, and then went over some things in our Quickstep routine. The big takeaways to remember from what we did in Quickstep were: the Natural Spin Turn is not under-turned, like in our Waltz routine. Because we did Quickstep after Waltz, this may have been throwing me off a bit, so I was coming out more toward backing diagonal center against line of dance, or even toward backing center, rather than backing diagonal center like I was supposed to. I was compensating for that when I would go into the Progressive Chasse that followed, but I shouldn’t be doing that. I just like making things harder on myself, apparently.

I was also told to stay down in the knees more than I was doing. Sir Steven said that while Quickstep is not totally like Foxtrot, I should aim to stay low like I would in a Foxtrot. Staying low also shouldn’t be because I am just bending my knees more, but because I am pushing from my standing leg enough with each step so that I have to lower as I reach farther. This will naturally make me travel more with each step, which may mean that I run out of room as I approach the far corner. I was given the option to throw out one or both of the Forward Locks that are in the routine if I run out of space. I guess that it’s not necessarily a bad problem to have, as long as it looks like everything is under control while I’m doing it.

Sunday rolls around. Sparkledancer and I had planned on arriving at the Fancy Dance Hall about an hour before our scheduled session with Lord Dormamu to both warm up before our lesson and get in our normal Sunday practice time. However, our plans were thrown for a loop when we found that the doors to the studio were still locked at that time of the afternoon. Being early afternoon, it was already quite warm outside, and we didn’t want to practice out in the heat and get all sweaty before our lesson, so we decided to wander over to a nearby restaurant, get some cold drinks, and sit at one of the tables out front where we could see the entrance to the studio to watch for someone who could unlock the door.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get in any practice time that day. Lord Dormamu was the first person to arrive with a key to the Fancy Dance Hall, and once he unlocked the door and we stepped inside we were all able to behold the mess that was left behind after the party the night before. The tables were still set out all over the place with only a small clear area in the center. The chairs were strewn about, with a set in the back that looked like someone had started to remove the chair covers and pile those on one of the tables, but quit halfway through. The floor had food and trash all over, and some of it looked like it was more than what a push broom could handle. The mess wasn’t quite as bad as when we had come in for a lesson after the random Salsa party that had trashed the dance hall, but it was still a mess.

Lord Dormamu and I started to pull the tables and chairs back against the wall to give us a good-sized area in the middle of the floor to dance. I was able to stretch out a little bit as Lord Dormamu gave the cleared-out section of the floor a once-over with a large push broom to sweep away the loose debris. All of us were walking around the floor at that point , and we each pointed out any sticky spots that we found so that everyone knew to avoid them when we started working. After about fifteen minutes we were set and ready to go. Lord Dormamu apologized for the state the place was in, saying that the unfortunate reality of any dance studio he’s ever been associated with is that the studio needs to rent itself out to keep the lights on year round, but it always means that the studio risks ending up in a state like this with each rental.

We started things off much like we did with Sir Steven by discussing our recent coaching session. Lord Dormamu knew the coach that we worked with much better than Sir Steven did, so he was able to explain her insights better. According to him, the lady that we had met with learned to dance overseas 70+ years ago, so much of what she sees as ‘right’ harkens back to that time of training. The comment she made about me making a ‘W’ with my elbows and using that for my frame is because that’s actually how men used to create their dance frame before people realized that you couldn’t get much of a connection with your partner like that. The same is true with her comments about me taking the toe lead when coming out of the starter step – what she learned was that every third step of a figure should be a toe lead, but our version of the starter step came later, and is essentially a prep step with some fancy stuff beforehand, so a heel lead is correct in that context.

The choreography option she gave us in the last corner is apparently also something that Lord Dormamu wouldn’t do. He understands why she thought it might be better, but by taking out the Natural Impetus, she is taking out one of the more challenging figures in the routine. He recommends keeping it in to really learn how to do a Natural Impetus correctly, because figures that come later in Silver and Gold will build on the technique needed to do a Natural Impetus correctly, and Lord Dormamu prefers setting us up for long-term success. The Natural Hesitation figure she offered as an option may be useful if the floorcraft of the situation calls for something of that nature, but he prefers to rotate the Natural Impetus more or less to come out at a different angle in order to get around people instead of hesitating to let them pass.

Unless I’m reading too much into things, based on that comment it sounds like Lord Dormamu trusts that he will be teaching us Silver and Gold at some point in the future. That’s promising.

We spent the rest of our time continuing to focus on our movement in the Foxtrot, because he thought that we still needed work on that aspect of the dance. According to him, when he is judging a competition, the way a couple looks when dancing is what gets them called back from a Semi-Final to a Final round, but the way that they move when dancing is what gets them to first place in a competition, so that is why he is spending so much time making sure we are moving correctly. A lot of his concern comes down to consistency – he can see us doing everything right, but there are points while dancing where we lose it temporarily. If he can get us to stop doing that, we will be great!

With so many people being out-of-town for the holiday, there was no Latin Technique class on Monday night, but there was still Standard Technique class on Wednesday, so that’s the only other thing I did this past week. Lord Junior wanted to have us work on some Tango. The studio was fairly quiet that night, as were the other businesses that are along the same stretch as the Electric Dance Hall. The other classes that usually go on over on the far side of the dance floor had relatively few attendees compared to what I usually see. Our class had a decent number of people show up, and the pattern we were doing traveled a fair distance if you did things correctly, so we might have been encroaching on the other class’ floor space just a little…

Lord Junior wanted to start off that night with a Progressive Link going into a Natural Twist Turn. He had us do a full turn on this one, so that we started and ended facing down the line of dance. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Natural Twist Turn that rotated that much before; the most I can think of that I’ve done is ¾ of a turn. At the end of the Natural Twist Turn we added on an Open Promenade and finished everything up with a Brush Tap. The Brush Tap is something I’d personally never seen before – it is a Silver-level step, but all it really does is have you take a side-step to the right and then bring your left foot in to meet your right quickly before putting it back out to the side. It’s a weird, fancy way to kill two beats of music to help put you back on phrase, Lord Junior told us. It’s not a step we would likely see (or use) all that often.

One big problem that Lord Junior kept running into when dancing with the ladies in class was that they were dancing through steps without actually being led to do them. This does happen a lot in group classes, but that night Lord Junior was pointing it out because the ladies kept taking steps before he did, and then they took really small steps, so they were essentially cutting his stride by doing so. At the end of class he made the ladies go through an exercise where they got into a two-hand hold with the guys and we walked the length of the floor. He told the guys to take every step and pause afterward, while varying our stride length. This was to force the ladies to really pay attention to what we were leading. I may have tried to throw a couple of ladies off by telling jokes while walking, but I do not regret that decision.

Let’s see… what do I have planned for this weekend? Holy cow, it’s almost the weekend already… mid-week holidays just mess everything up, don’t they? Well, what I know for sure is going to happen is another set of lessons, one with Sir Steven and one with Lord Dormamu. I’m sure I will be out practicing at some points too, but the time for those meetings varies from week to week. I think I heard that there is some kind of dance party going on at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night, so I might end up out there if I don’t get pulled away for something else. Do you want to come along as well? I’ll save you a dance if you do!

I Wanna Go Where The Down Boys Go

So what’s new in my dance world this time around? Well, this past weekend it was time for my latest check-in with Lord Dormamu so that he could see how all of the practice time I’d been putting in with Sparkledancer was coming along. We ended up spending our entire session time on Foxtrot this week, since even though he could see improvement in our Foxtrot over where I started, what I was doing wasn’t… enough for him to be happy about.

Let’s start with him wanting me to stay low during the entire dance. I felt like I was super low the whole time, with my knees bent so much that they would run into Sparkledancer if I tried to bend them any further. Apparently that just wasn’t low enough for Lord Dormamu’s taste. Sparkledancer was sent off to stand on the side of the floor for a while and he made me get into frame, and then he came over and put his forearms on my shoulders and pushed me down even lower, and he told me to dance like that while he held my shoulders at that level. Every time I took a step forward, I felt like I was doing the prisyadka (that’s the actual name of that dance figure you always see ‘Russians’ doing on TV, where they are squatting and kicking… I’m sure you can picture what I’m talking about) instead of dancing Foxtrot. Вздох…

I also got called out for not making my movements smooth enough, as if I was dancing three even steps over four beats. This one though, I pretty much accepted. I have had a lot of musical training in my life. It’s a little known fact that I was a professional musician in my younger days, so I might admit to knowing a thing or two about music. That’s part of the reason that I was able to pick up dance pretty quickly when I was in that newcomer phase – my sense of rhythm was really good, so I was able to take steps in time with the music with no problem. But the training I had through the years enforced STRICT rhythm control on me (I was not a drummer, but I always wanted to be), so when Lord Dormamu talked about throwing out the rhythm and making Foxtrot more like Waltz where you take three even steps in each average measure instead of one two-beat step and two one-beat steps, I knew that would be trouble. I’ve worked on it, but when I am focusing on other techniques while dancing, my brain will automatically reset to having my feet follow the rhythm exactly. So that adjustment is going to take me probably several more weeks before it happens more naturally.

On a high note though, I was able to impress, or maybe surprise, Lord Dormamu at one point during our session. We had been looking at part of the Natural Weave in Foxtrot, and he was explaining something about how to best take the first and second step. Thinking out loud, I off-handedly remarked that what he was saying was similar to what I had been told about the first two steps in a Double Natural Spin a couple of weeks ago. He overheard me mumbling and asked me to repeat myself, and when I mentioned the Double Natural Spin louder he nodded and exclaimed ‘Yes!’ loudly, saying that it would be exactly like the first two steps for that. Then as we were walking back toward where Sparkledancer was standing to try things again, he paused and looked at me quizzically and had to ask me who it was that had shown me how to do a Double Natural Spin, since he hadn’t OK’d me to dance anything beyond Bronze yet. Oops…

Having run out of time, Lord Dormamu ran over to collect Sir Steven and go over the things we had just worked on, giving Sir Steven his thoughts on what we should be working on for the next hour. He wanted us to work with Sir Steven primarily on staying down while we were dancing. Sir Steven wanted to add on to this a bit and have us work on staying down, but also work on making sure we didn’t look like we were walking around in a squatting position, which apparently we did for some of the steps that we had taken that Sir Steven had seen while we were working with Lord Dormamu.

One of the most obvious things he noticed was that the person who was moving backwards wasn’t reaching their leg back as far as they could before taking a step. This was the main reason he thought that we looked… ‘squatty’ (for lack of a better term) while we were dancing as he watched. If the legs were bent so much when we got into frame, and they stayed bent when you’re taking a step backward, then it just looks weird if you’re watching. The person traveling forward is also likely taking steps while keeping their legs bent the entire time as well, but since there is someone in front of them hiding their legs half the time it is harder to notice that than it is to notice what the person moving backward is doing.

To work on making sure we were aware of how weird this looked, we switched over to doing some Waltz. Sir Steven wanted to make sure that if we were in frame and we were standing in one place, like at the beginning of the routine or during a Hesitation Change, that our knees were bent. As we were preparing to take a step, the person moving backward needs to reach their leg backward and straighten it as much as possible – not locking the knee, but pretty close to that. The person going forward would obviously wait for their partner to get their leg out of the way first before moving their own, but that leg also needed to be stretched out and straightened completely. Going over this technique over and over again really made sure that the feeling I had of doing the prisyadka never went away that day. It’s a good thing I have really strong legs!

Before we ended things that afternoon, we stopped for a bit to go back and look at our Natural Spin Turn again. The Natural Spin Turn seems like one of those figures that will never look good enough, so it keeps coming back to haunt me over and over. Like the New York figure from various International Latin dances, which seem like they should be so simple, yet never seem to be good enough for whoever is watching me do them. I guess this time around it didn’t look like we were rotating our upper bodies enough before taking the step out of the turn. The first step for me that rotated backward and the second step that drives forward looked good, but Sir Steven said that I was halting the rotation in my upper body at the end of that second step before taking the third step backward toward diagonal center against line of dance (it’s an under-turned Natural Spin Turn).

In my defense, I was spending a lot of mental energy on remembering to keep my legs bent enough to stay down while doing most of the rise and fall through foot rise and stretching out my legs so that it didn’t look like I was walking in a constant squat, so I may have left out some other things in the process… Sigh… I think I’m going to need a brain upgrade to keep all of this stuff straight at some point in the near future.

With those two items out of the way Saturday afternoon, there was only one thing left to do on Saturday before I got to go home and stay home. There was an open dance being held at the Cherished Dance Hall that I attended. Being a holiday weekend, the turnout wasn’t huge, but that just left more space on the dance floor for me to do whatever I wanted, so I couldn’t complain. The staff of the Cherished Dance Hall didn’t even come to the party. In fact, it was President Porpoise who showed up to run the event, being all presidential and porpoise-y like he is. He had found a DJ who had stayed in town for the weekend to come in and play some music, and they just put on songs for a couple of hours for all of us who showed up to dance. It was really nice.

I think this was the first time in quite a few weeks that I just threw out everything I had been working so hard on for the last several months and just danced for fun – quipping jokes to my partners, worrying less about frame and technique, and just trying to make sure the evening was as entertaining as possible for me and whomever was close enough to where I was to hear and see what I was doing. I feel like I managed to accomplish that feat, so it was a fun night for me. I’m not quite sure that many of the older ladies at the dance knew how to react to my jocularity, but that’s OK! Sometimes you just have to have fun for yourself, and hope that your mood is infectious enough to bring everyone else in with you.

Monday night, through the freak rainstorms that kept popping up for short periods, I made it out to Latin Technique class. Only Sparkledancer and Bony were dedicated enough to brave the rain and join me, so we had a small class. We looked at some Rumba that night because everyone was so tired from having the day off, since it was a holiday and all that. Even though there were only four of us and we were just doing Rumba, we kept moving around the room to different parts of the dance floor throughout the night. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but that night we danced in the middle of the floor, over on the side by the front door, later on the far side of the room by the other short wall, near the mirrors… we just couldn’t stay in one place! And it’s not like the figures we looked at traveled all that much either. We were moving around whenever Lord Junior stopped to explain things to us, strangely enough.

Anyway… what we did that night started off in Fan Position. The gentlemen led the lady to close from Fan Position and do an Alemana, whilst the man checks forward and then checks backward, but instead of bringing our feet together after the second check we would take a step slightly off to the left so that the lady ended up on our right side. Both partners would then rotate 90° to the right and the lady would go into an Opening Out while the man did a Cucaracha. We would do three Opening Outs and then lead the lady through a Spiral Turn before taking three steps off to the man’s left side to end in an Aida.

Rather than going through the second half of a basic Aida, in tandem both partners took one step forward, then another step into a Spiral Turn, then a side step to end facing each other again. As we took the last step, the man would reach out with his right hand to take the lady’s right hand. We then led the ladies through two slow Swivels, first by lunging a bit toward the right and rotating our body, then shifting to the left leg and repeating the same movement. At the end we led one quick Swivel on the right side, coming out to take the lady through an Inside Turn and a Pivot, bringing her right hand up and over our head so that it could slide down to our shoulder. We finished the whole pattern that night by doing a fourth Opening Out action on the left side. We were going to try to turn that final figure into some Sliding Doors to be cool, but we ran out of time and Lord Junior decided to leave it there for now.

Finally, on Wednesday night this past week I ended up out at Standard Technique class where I got to work on Quickstep for a while. We had a lot of ladies show up to take part in the class. A LOT. I think we ended up with eight women to three men by the time class really got underway. As I was standing around talking to people before class started, the ratio looked like it would be pretty good, but then more and more women kept showing up! Do you think that since it is now staying light outside so much later in the evening that more people are willing to go out in the evenings? It sure seems that way.

We went over a short pattern in Quickstep that was supposed to get us to spend some time focusing on Contra-Body Movement and Contra-Body Movement Position, but there were a fair number of ladies (and one gentleman) who had trouble just getting the footwork for the figures right, so a lot of Lord Junior’s time was spent on just getting those individuals through the steps instead. I got a workout that night, since we had a few instances where Lord Junior put on music so that we could try out the steps in time, but then he would end up working with the other gentleman, back-leading him through the figures until he was comfortable with them. While they did that, I was left all alone with a line of ladies, going through the parts of the pattern with each one and then running back down to the other end of the floor to pick up the next lady and start over. By the time class was over, I was a bit of a sweaty mess.

We started everything off by facing diagonal wall and doing a prep step into a Natural Turn, setting us up to execute a Natural Spin Turn. Coming out of that we did a figure that I’m pretty sure Lord Junior referred to as a ‘Cross Change’ that was originally taken from Waltz. Essentially, after coming out of the Natural Spin Turn we took one step backwards toward diagonal center, rotated on that foot so that we could take a side step to the left still heading toward diagonal center, and then crossed the right foot behind the left so that we ended facing line of dance. We did another partial Cross Change right after that, taking just the side step to the left and crossing the right foot behind, which rotated us enough so that now we were facing diagonal center if done correctly (and there was no one in the way).

Coming out of the double Cross Change we added on an Open Reverse Turn which should rotate you enough on the first half so that you are now backing line of dance. To end the pattern that night we did a Four Quick Run going into another Natural Turn. The Four Quick Run seemed to give a lot of people trouble that night. A lot of the ladies I danced with kept missing the Lock Step, or doing two Lock Steps in a row instead of two running steps and then a Lock Step. We went through the progression a fair number of times (well, I should say, I went through the progression a fair number of times), and even after repeating things a few times some of the ladies I danced with still had trouble. Because of that, we never ran through things at full tempo. I think the fastest that Lord Junior said he set the music to that night was 85%, so we still had a bit to go. Maybe next time I am out practicing I will see if I can run things at tempo as a challenge.

Can you believe that it’s already June? Crazy! My first weekend in June will be pretty quiet. Sparkledancer is out of town on some work thing so I won’t be able to practice with her this weekend. Sir Steven is busy on Saturday and Sunday putting on some sort of dance show, so I won’t have a lesson with him this weekend. And I only know of one dance party on Friday night that I am sort-of interested in attending, so it sounds like for the first time in who knows how long I will have a free Saturday to do whatever I want! Will I go out for some solo dance practice? Will I try to get my cat to help me do some spring cleaning? Will someone else call me up and ask me to go out to a dance party with them somewhere? Who knows! I have a different idea rolling around in my head that maybe I’ll sit and write about this weekend instead of going anywhere, so we’ll have to see what I come up with next week!