When The Stars Make You Drool Just Like A Pasta Fazool

I had a pretty busy weekend full of dance activities. All of that coupled with the time change meant that I woke up Monday morning feeling even more exhausted than I did when I went to bed Sunday night. There’s a voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that I should just take a “sick day” from work some day soon and stay home to sleep all day. Will I do it? Not likely. But the siren song of that voice and its ideas are a very persuasive sound…

Where to even start? Let’s see… well, Friday night I went out to a social dance at the Electric Dance Hall. There were a couple of reasons that I headed out there. First off, I haven’t gone to many social dances of late. I spend a ton of time in dance studios for lessons and practice, but I seem to rarely go out and actually see people who I know anymore. Several friends had asked me if I was planning on going to this party, so I felt like I should be there. Also, a while back I had brought a big poster over to the Electric Dance Hall at Lord Dormamu’s request that advertised the big charity event that was happening on Saturday. Lord Dormamu needed that poster back before the event Saturday night, so I figured I could also pick it up while I was out at the social dance. I am so efficient sometimes!

HotDog was at the party that night. Sometimes I really don’t know what to do when he is around. He will come talk to me, and it’s fine as long as I just smile and nod along with whatever he is saying, but anytime I try to say something he has to make some sort of grand comeback to show that he is better than me… even if I am the only person within earshot. Maybe he is just desperate for attention? Sparkledancer has told me in the past that he likes to text her a lot during the day, heaping awkward compliments on her and fishing for her to do the same back to him. Is that what he is looking for from me as well? If he had my phone number, would I get those same kinds of text messages? That would be a little weird.

Saturday night was the big charity dance gala that Lord Dormamu had been putting together for the last few months. The show was taking place in a big theater in the downtown area of one of the Dance Kingdom’s big cities. In my youth I was much more apt to go and hang out in various downtown areas of big cities with friends, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped doing that. Especially now that I spend all my free time practicing for dance competitions, it is very rare for me to go anywhere other than a dance studio on a weekend. I was kind of amazed when I first got downtown for the event, because so many things had changed since the last time I had been downtown.

I volunteered to be helpful that night in my capacity as a member of the Royal Dance Court. Originally I had thought that I would be hanging out at the venue doing some sort of odd job, but it turns out that I got to do something that was slightly more interesting. See, Lord Dormamu, being the big name guy that he is, had gone directly to the King of the Dance Kingdom to ask for his blessing on this charity function. Lord Dormamu thought that if the King deemed the event worthy, then he could use that as a marketing ploy to get more people to buy tickets, and thus raise more money for the charity the event was giving to.

The King actually liked the idea of the event so much that he decided that not only would he give the event his blessings, but also that he would come and watch the show! How’s that for an endorsement? In addition to that, the King asked one of his Grand Viziers to attend the event with him. That gentleman ended up being my job for the night. The Grand Vizier lived in a far-off portion of the Dance Kingdom, so Lord Dormamu bought him a plane ticket to the city where the show was being held. His plane was to land at the airport exactly one hour before the show started, and it was my job to pick him up at the airport and haul ass to the theater downtown as fast as I could. I maaaaaaaay have broken a few minor traffic laws in that process…

Once I had safely deposited the Grand Vizier at the front door of the theater and then found a place to park my car, I managed to get into the theater myself. Lord Dormamu was in the lobby schmoozing with all of the people showing up, but he stopped to come say hello to me when I got there, thank me for getting my ‘cargo’ to the event, and told me that if I wanted I could go sit and help out at the donations table for the evening. With no reason not to do so, I wandered through the lobby to find the table, and guess who I found sitting there running things? None other than Sparkledancer! Now I knew that this was a good place for me to hang out, since at least I would have someone I knew there to talk to.

The show itself was great. Lord Dormamu seems to be friends with everyone in the world who is somehow connected to dancing (ballroom or otherwise), so he managed to talk to a bunch of high-level dancers who lived within an hour or so of the city the performance was in, and convinced them to perform for free to benefit the charity. We’re talking several current and former National Champions, World Champions, a pair of national champions from one of the franchise circuits (that was an unexpected sight), and many of the city’s ballroom studio owners and their professional partners – all coming together to put on a show!

There were video introductions before the first performance of each couple, and many of them remarked in those videos how they all compete against each other all the time in the highest echelons of dance competitions, but they all wanted to put aside those rivalries to help out for a bigger cause when asked. I got to watch most of the performances, since there wasn’t much reason for Sparkledancer and I to sit out in the lobby trying to collect donations while everyone was in the audience. Seeing all of these high-level dancers perform for without having to pay for a ticket made it even better for me. 😉

When the performances were over, I was back out in the lobby collecting donations. The end of the night seemed to be when most people wanted to donate – we got a handful of people during intermission, but the bulk of the donations came as people walked through the lobby to exit the theater. Sparkledancer and I hung around until all the audience members had left, and the Grand Vizier finally came out from talking with all the performers, and then the three of us left to head over to the after-party.

If you remember, back when I went to the meeting where Lord Dormamu introduced the concept for this show to a bunch of us, those of us who weren’t members of this charity’s foundation convinced him that it would be a good idea to hold the after-party in conjunction with the already-scheduled social dance that was going on that night. That social dance was being put on by the dance club that President Porpoise is in charge of, so as soon as I arrived I introduced the Grand Vizier to President Porpoise so that they could chat for a bit. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch that day, and it was already almost 10:00PM, I wandered off to find out if there were any good snacks left in the snack room.

I swear I ate my body weight in cheese and crackers, because that was pretty much all that was left. While I was pigging out, the King decided to give a short, impromptu speech on how happy he was that all of his subjects in the Dance Kingdom could come together to put on fabulous events like the gala he had just watched, and support charities that promote dancing in the process. While he was talking, one of the decorations for the party was making noise, and President Porpoise couldn’t figure out how to disable the sensor that triggered it. He ended up detaching the part of the decoration that contained the speaker and running into the snack room where I was standing with it, hoping that by taking the speaker farther away people wouldn’t hear it as much. That was pretty funny.

Sparkledancer came to join me at one point during the speech, and she decided to grab her own plate and feast on various cookies that were on the snack table. That was pretty much where we stayed the rest of the evening, at least until I had to leave to head home and do some work. Several people came to talk with us while we were in that back room, but neither of us did any real dancing that night. Only eating. If I do this sort of thing again, I will probably remember to try to eat some kind of dinner beforehand.

While the King departed to do kingly things shortly after the evening festivities concluded, Lord Dormamu had set up the plane ticket that he purchased for the Grand Vizier to all for a block of time on Sunday that the Grand Vizier could meet with students to give coaching. Somehow, after all the talk I had last week about thinking that I had so many different people giving me dance advice, I ended up taking one of those coaching sessions…

I know Lord Dormamu asked if I wanted to take the coaching mostly out of political motivations. After all, this gentleman is also a well-known adjudicator for many dance competitions, so the chances of me being judged by him in the future is high. It is better for me if he knows a little about who I am as a dancer, rather than just as a chauffeur, right? That’s what I kept telling myself as I agreed to do it. The only bad part about agreeing to the earliest morning session on Sunday was that when Lord Dormamu asked me about it on Friday, I didn’t realize Daylight Savings Time was also this past weekend. If I had known that before I agreed to do it, I probably would have at least asked if there was a later session I could go to instead.

Aside from being tired the whole time due to the time shift, having the coaching with this Grand Vizier was actually fascinating. We didn’t really work on our routines at all, surprisingly enough. What we spent the majority of the time discussing was how dancers should be using their feet. Obviously feet are pretty important for dancing, since that’s (for most people) the only part of your body that is actually on the dance floor!

This turned into one of those kinds of discussions that I like having with people who have achieved super-high levels of accomplishment in the dance world, where they don’t talk about just ‘how’ to do steps and technique, but rather they tell you all about the mechanics of the human body and how to use that to create the right movement.

Side note: I have found over the last year that coaches who are younger, who achieved National and International recognition for competing more recently, have studied dancing from more of an athletic perspective, and they understand (and can explain) much more about using the body to accomplish the dance. Older coaches who were champions eons ago just tell you to make your dancing look a certain way, but never really explain it much further than that. For me personally, knowing the mechanics really helps me accomplish what I am trying to do, much more than someone just telling me to do it a certain way, and if I can’t do it on the first couple of tries then I just need to try harder.

Grand Vizier guy explained that there are actually four separate feelings that the foot will experience when you are moving. These sensations all happen in greater or lesser proportions depending on the type of figure you are doing, but they are always in the same order. You can think about this the next time you are just walking down the hallway in your office one day. When you take a step you experience:

  1. Resistance – contrary to what you may think, the first thing that you experience when you take a step is resistance. Most people will lean forward slightly, allowing gravity to help them with the job of moving. This will create the feeling of resistance on the ball of your standing leg’s foot as it is pressed down into the floor.
  2. Release – once you have leaned forward enough to allow gravity to help push your spine forward, you should experience the initial resistance that you built up under the ball of your foot releasing.
  3. Control – as you are moving forward, your back leg does not come off the floor immediately. It will linger there on the floor behind you, helping to control your balance and direction.
  4. Push – when you finally shift your weight to your other leg, the standing leg should give you one last push to help you start the leaning function again, which will start creating the feeling of resistance on the next foot as you continue to walk forward.

We spent some time slowly going through these feelings using a small chunk of our Waltz routine for practice. The Grand Vizier told us that while this is a good concept to know and a good way to help us work on our footwork in places of the routine where we screw the footwork up, we shouldn’t let the idea get out of hand. He has known people who would walk through each figure of their routines figuring out exactly where the resistance, release, control and push is with every step, and how much emphasis to put with each of those feelings. He personally thinks that it going way too far. So, if you’ve never heard of this idea before either, take from it what you need as you practice.

The other interesting concept that he told me in that coaching session was about my frame. His view on getting the frame right was very different from anyone else I have worked with. He told me specifically that he has heard all sorts of instructors in the past tell their students to do all kinds of wonky things to try to get their topline to look right. Because I have large muscular shoulders, he said that he bet I’d been told to try to roll my shoulders back or pull them down quite a bit (which I have).

What he told me to think about was not my shoulders, but my spine. According to him, the human body is built to have everything in the correct place with the spine in the center connecting it all together. If I am about to get into frame with my partner, he wants me to take a minute and just adjust my spine to make sure it is straight and long from my tailbone to the place where it is attached to my skull. If I do that, he says that my shoulders should naturally be in the right place when I raise my arms. For students that he works with frequently, if he finds their shoulders sticking up when they are in frame, nine times out of ten he can fix it by having them straighten their spine completely rather than moving the shoulders around to adjust.

That’s definitely a different way to think about a problem I have. Likely I will have to spend some time in front of a mirror trying things out to see what works best, but maybe this will make a difference for me. We’ll have to see!

Finally, in Standard Technique class this week I worked on some Foxtrot, and we did a lot of different Feathers. A lot. I mean, I know there are a bunch of different figures that involve the Feather in International Foxtrot, but I don’t think I’ve ever done choreography that has contained so many before. If we had tried to add even one more, I might have just flown away!

Terrible joke, really. Give me a bit, I’ll try to think of a better one…

For those of you who are mildly interested, the choreography is as follows: starting with a prep step, we did a basic Feather, then an Open Telemark with a Feather Ending. That moved into a Three Step and then to a Gold-level figure called ‘Curved Feather to Back Feather’ which is basically those two Feathers stuck together, and then you do a Feather Finish to end it. To change things up a bit at the end, we added on an Open-level figure that was basically a Overspin from a syncopated Viennese Reverse Turn, finishing with a Change of Direction.

I’m going to preen a little, so I will say that the choreography went fairly well for me (see, that was a much more sophisticated feather joke! Good job me!). Some of the others in class were definitely struggling with certain figures. I know that the syncopated Viennese Waltz-style Reverse Turn threw off a lot of the ladies as we tried to get through and tack on the Reverse Pivot at the end.

There was one new lady in class that night who was struggling a lot with the figures. Watching her dance, I could see that she had some sort of background in ballroom dancing, but I had never seen her before. As we walked through the steps, there were a few times where I swear that it looked like she was going to cry because she kept fumbling up the footwork. I felt bad for her, so when I finally rotated through and had a chance to dance with her, I asked how things were going. She told me it wasn’t going too well, so I offered to step through what we had so far slowly in practice hold to help her get the footwork down.

After that initial walk-through, I was walking back with her to where we had started, and she started asking me weird questions. She asked me if these figures were in the normal syllabus for International Foxtrot. At this point, we had only gotten through the beginning up to the Three Step, so I told her that the figures were common Bronze and Silver figures from the syllabus I was familiar with. Then she told me that she had spent a lot of time learning International Foxtrot in the past, but none of these figures were familiar to her at all, so she wondered what the heck was going on. By that time, I had to rotate, so I didn’t get to continue that conversation any further at that point.

I finally got another chance to talk to her after class was finished, and I started by asking her where she had been taking classes before she showed up at the Electric Dance Hall. As it turns out, she hadn’t been ‘taking’ classes before, but rather she had been teaching ballroom at a franchise studio in the area! Where she had been working, apparently the syllabus that they used for International Standard was nothing like what we had been doing that night in class. In fact, she had never even seen a Heel Turn before! I had thought that was a basic concept that everyone who does International style starts working on pretty early.

Then she asked me if all of us in Standard Technique that night were also instructors. I feel kind of bad, but that question made me laugh out loud. When I managed to collect myself, I told her that no one but Lord Junior and herself had ever taught ballroom before – the rest of us were all just students who had been dancing for a long time, and most of us trained to dance competitively. That information really seemed to shock her. From the look on her face, I would guess that she never really dealt with advanced students at whatever franchise location she had been teaching at.

Lord Junior came over at that point and told her that he was going to go through Heel Turns for a bit so that she could see what they were. I took that as my cue to leave, but before I did I told her that she shouldn’t feel bad about how class went, and she should come back next week to do it again with us. Lord Junior smiled at me and told me that she would definitely be back, because he was working with her so that she could start teaching at the Electric Dance Hall soon. Surprise! So I guess we will all likely see her again in the future at some point.

Maybe she’ll even stick around long enough that I will have to come up with a name for her. It’s been quite a while since anyone new has done that. I wonder what kind of cool and/or funny name I can come up with…


So We Gon’ Dance Until We Drop

Another week in the books. The most interesting thing that I did this past weekend was participate in a pseudo-competition that was being put on by the Fancy Dance Hall. There would be heats, and some well-known judges, and after the event was over there would be written notes from the judges about things that they noticed you doing while you danced. Exciting, right?

Sparkledancer and I signed up for this event, because feedback that we can actually make sense of is something that we can use to help us improve. Before we signed up, we discussed what we should do with Lord Dormamu. He thought that this would be a good chance for us to work on our stamina, so the recommendation was to do a ridiculous number of heats. Seeing as how I dance amateur, and it is very rare that I actually get to dance heats at a competition, working on stamina wasn’t really even a concern for me. But he’s the world-class coach, so I wasn’t going to argue with him. Besides, the Fancy Dance Hall was offering a pretty cheap rate for amateurs to dance per heat, so splitting the cost with Sparkledancer wasn’t all that expensive.

I had originally signed up to dance twenty individual heats (four each of each of the five International Standard styles) plus one five-dance challenge round. There was a bit of a mix-up when they put together the schedule for the day though, so a lot of people got signed up to dance more heats than they paid for, which was a pretty good deal. I think in the end I ended up dancing something like thirty individual heats plus the five-dance challenge round.

Sparkledancer and I were on the floor a lot more than most other students that morning, and even more than a majority of the instructors. The only person I know for sure who was on the floor more than us was Lord Latin. When a group of his students booked their heats, apparently the schedule had to be built around how often he would be on the floor. For the entire morning session when I was there, which covered all the heats in International Standard and American Smooth, there were only two Viennese Waltz heats that Lord Latin did not dance. That guy was the real champion of the day.

A lot of people who I knew from the area were taking part in this event, so it ended up being really fun there. Lord Junior had three of his students sign up to dance heats that day. They were interested in getting feedback from the judges that they could review because they had all signed up to go to a big Pro/Am competition that is happening in a couple of weeks. Sir Digler was there with two of his students, one of those being Points, a lady that used to dance a lot but then disappeared for a long time, and now apparently has resurfaced as a competitor. Surprise! The Princess was there as well, and she had a couple of men whom she was dancing some heats with during the morning session.

One of the judges for the event was also dancing that morning in a few heats, weirdly enough. This guy is apparently another one of those multi-multi-multi-time world champion ballroom dancers, much like Lord Dormamu. When he was asked by the people at the Fancy Dance Hall if he would come judge this competition for them, he thought it sounded like fun, and then asked if he could bring one of his students with him to dance in some of the rounds! No one expected that as his response, but they weren’t about to say no if it meant he would be there, so there was a block of dances near the end of the morning set aside where he wasn’t judging so he and his student could dance.

Speaking of Lord Dormamu… he was not there that day. Back when we first talked about doing this event months ago, it sounded like he would be dancing there with a few of his Pro/Am ladies, but it turns out that he was asked to go help run a bigger competition out-of-town, and then give coaching to competitors from that event the next day. So that’s where he ended up instead.

My first heat was heat three, so I started out in the designated ‘on-deck’ area of the studio watching while waiting my turn. The first thing that I noticed when watching the first couple of heats that morning was that there seemed to be very little energy in the room. This was late in the morning, so it wasn’t like everyone there hadn’t had plenty of time to be up and about to wake themselves up, so I wondered what it was that was making everyone so subdued. It was then that I remembered that when I did this same competition the year before, Lord Dormamu was the one that was engaging everyone who wasn’t on the dance floor during the competition. This year, the DJ was trying to do the same, but it wasn’t working nearly as well.

After Sparkledancer and I finished our first few heats and had a bit of a break, I told her that we needed to step up and help liven up the crowd. So we started to perform rather than just dance. When we would go out to dance a heat, after picking a corner to start in we would talk to the people sitting in chairs nearby as the music started, or to other competitors who decided to start dancing near us. Sometimes I made comments to people as I danced past them, just to get them to smile or laugh. In one heat I had a whole conversation with Sparkledancer fairly loudly, where we talked about how she was a classy lady who danced, and since I was dancing with her, what that would make me. We managed to decide that the most appropriate word would be ‘debonair’ before the heat ended, but it was a tough choice between that and ‘suave’ let me tell you.

And performing like that actually worked! After a few rounds where people watched the two of us dancing seriously but acting silly, the whole atmosphere in the room changed. The audience, and other competitors waiting between their heats, started to actually cheer on the dancers on the floor, and even started to play along with Sparkledancer and I as we interacted with them. Suddenly it seemed like everyone was actually having fun, which I think made many people dance much better. That made me happy.

Near the end of the morning, the student who had come to dance at this event with the judge stopped to talk to me while I was hanging out in the on-deck area. She was an older lady who could have easily passed for my grandmother, if my grandmother ever wore a fancy yellow ball gown. She wanted to tell me that she thought that Sparkledancer and I looked like we were having so much fun while we were out on the dance floor. In fact, apparently when she found out that she was going to be dancing some of the same heats as we were that morning, at first she was nervous because she didn’t think she could compete with us for attention.

I tried to tell her that she really didn’t have to worry about competing with me, since I am just an amateur, and her instructor and dance partner has been one of the highest rated dancers in the world. She laughed at that, and then said that after being on the floor with Sparkledancer and I, she was inspired to try even harder at dancing, and also to have fun at the same time.

That bit of feedback right there from some lady I had only met that morning means more to me than any of the written notes that I will eventually get from the judges. 🙂

When the competition broke for lunch after the American Smooth rounds, I had to head back home to take care of some things in the afternoon. But that competition wasn’t the only dancing that I ended up doing that day. Sparkledancer sent me a note late in the afternoon saying that Prez had asked her to go to the dance party that night at the Endless Dance Hall to make some announcements for our Royal Dance Court group. Since I am also on the Royal Dance Court, she was drafting me to help her out. Plus, I assumed that we could get in some practice if I was there with her, which is always a good thing.

The dance club that had put together this event had called up the illustrious Judge Dread to come teach a lesson in Bolero for them before the open dance started. I was interested in hearing Judge Dread teach, because he has such a different perspective on things. The man is an internationally acclaimed ballroom adjudicator, so hearing him talk about the different dance styles is fun. However, I didn’t end up getting to participate in the class. Somehow, through some sort of wizardry that I don’t understand fully, the dance club ended up with more men than women showing up for the class! Unbelievable!

I know I could have muscled my way into a spot in the line if I wanted to, but being a member of the Royal Dance Court, I thought that might be considered bad form. Also, there were people in the class that had never danced Bolero before, so Judge Dread spent quite a bit of time covering just the basic steps. I thought that it would be better for people who had never done Bolero before to practice those steps rather than me, so that was another reason why I stepped off to the side.

Things got a bit more ridiculous at the party after the lesson. The first thing that Sparkledancer and I had to do was track down the leader of this ballroom club, who happens to be the famous President Porpoise, to talk with him about making the announcements that Prez requested. Turns out that he had already planned on making announcements about the same items before we even got there, so Prez really didn’t need to send Sparkledancer on this mission. Huzzah! That meant that our Royal Dance Court duties were done for the night, and we could do whatever we wanted with the rest of our time.

So I ended up socializing for much of the night. I don’t go out to too many dance parties anymore now that I am training to be a serious competitor (super serious), so I don’t really get to see people as much as I used to. Since I was at this party, and I had already danced quite a bit earlier in the day, I took the time to try to at least say hello to a bunch of people while I was at the party.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t dance at all. In fact, Sparkledancer and I did dance together for every ballroom dance that was played that night until I left, save for one where some other guy grabbed her for a Tango before I could find her. Being kind of burnt out on working on our routines, Sparkledancer suggested at the beginning of the night that we spend the night practicing our posture, frame, footwork and floorcraft, but dance whatever figures that we wanted, or even switch to American style if we wanted to do something completely different.

During the first Foxtrot of the night, I tried to do American style, but it just felt weird since all I do is International anymore. Somewhere around the floor I was doing some Passing Twinkles, and after closing Sparkledancer back to the point where we connected the right side of our bodies, I never brought up my left hand to offer it to her. Rather than stop dancing, I proceeded to continue to move around the floor just holding her with my right hand behind her shoulder, and switched to mostly doing International-style Foxtrot steps instead of American.

That actually turned out to be a lot more fun by comparison, and it was a good way to practice our connection. When the song ended and I walked with Sparkledancer back to the side of the dance floor, she told me that when the next ballroom-style dance came on, she would come find me again, and we should try that one using only one arm as well. A few songs later a Waltz came on, and we did the same thing, using a variety of International Waltz steps and only one arm to get around the floor.

Because it was so much fun, we ended up doing that the rest of the night whenever we danced together. The only exception we made was for the one Viennese Waltz and one Quickstep that came on before I left for the night – those we figured would be safer if we used both arms to maintain a good frame. People gave us some strange looks as we passed by them when we danced with our arms hanging down at the side, but I was having too much fun to care. So… I guess you could count that as practice for the night, in a way. I’m certainly going to.

Returning to a bit of quiet normalcy, I headed out to Latin Technique class on Monday night. As a treat, when I got there Lord Junior announced to everyone that we would get to work on Pasodoble that night. Hooray! That’s my favorite!

As I mentioned, Lord Junior and a few of his students are preparing to head off to a large Pro/Am competition coming up soon, and one of the ladies who was in class on Monday night and also danced in the competition that I was in on Saturday was working on perfecting her Pasodoble routine, so Lord Junior opted to use the Latin Technique class to give her some more practice. All of the figures that we were given to work on that night were from the Bronze syllabus, so if you’ve ever done any Pasodoble before you’ve probably seen these at least once.

We started out with a Separation. Then we did another Separation, only this time we brought the ladies back to us on our right side so that we could follow it with the Fallaway Ending to Separation (yes, that’s the real name of the figure). This ending to the Separation allowed us to turn a corner so that the next figures would all head down a new wall.

There were three figures used to close out our little progression for the night. The first was an Open Telemark. We underturned this slightly so that we ended facing the wall rather than facing down the line of dance. That set us up so that we could go into a Promenade and Counter Promenade. Lord Junior gave the guys a choice whether they wanted to do the Bronze-version of the figure where the Counter Promenade heads toward center, or the Silver-level version where the Counter Promenade goes diagonal center (way more advanced, right?). To complete the progression and to line us up facing the wall again, he had us add on a Grand Circle.

In Standard Technique class this week, Lord Junior once again had us working on a section from one of his competitive student’s routines so that she could get some extra practice with the figures before the upcoming competition that she and Lord Junior would be doing together. The dance was Quickstep, and the choreography that we looked at actually ended up being broken into two pieces because there was so much of it. In the first part of class, we looked at one section and linked it to the second section, but when we started to run short of time Lord Junior had us drop the first section entirely so that we could focus on improving the second section.

Part one had us starting off with a prep step into a Forward Lock. From there we added on a non-syllabus figure called a Hairpin, which looks a lot like a Curved Three Step from Foxtrot, and at the end of the Hairpin we attached a Heel Pull, which should rotate you so that you end up backing line of dance. Then we did those two figures again, though to attach them you have to take out the first slow step of the Hairpin. After the second one you should be facing line of dance going down the new wall (obviously you would do these figures in a corner if that is the intended rotation).

This set us up to take one step forward on our left leg and then go into a Rumba Cross, but like I said earlier, as class wore on and Lord Junior wanted to save time we ended up dropping all of those prior figures and started directly with the Rumba Cross instead. We did two Rumba Crosses in a row, with one step on the left leg in between to link them. Assuming you were able to do the pivot on the last step of the Rumba Cross correctly and get a full 180° turn, and you pushed with your standing leg enough to really drive through the first step and float through the others, you could easily cover the entire short wall with just those two Rumba Crosses.

Lord Junior had us add on a Natural Turn and an Open Impetus to turn the corner and line up moving diagonal center down the new wall, and we finished by doing one Step Hop into a Promenade Chasse in Pepperpot timing and then four running steps to end. These were actually four steps where you were ‘running’ on the balls of your feet, and not a Four Quick Run, which is a completely different figure though it sounds like it should be the same. I was confused as well when Lord Junior first told us we were doing the four running steps, but once I saw it I understood that it wasn’t the figure I was thinking of at all.

Holy cow, we are already halfway through February! Where does the time go? It feels like the year just started a little while ago, but we’re actually well into the year already. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try my best to have a fairly quiet weekend this week. I’m actually hoping to disappear for a while and go out to see a movie (you can probably guess which one). Will I be able to pull off my plan? Or will dancing pop up and insist that I go hang out with it instead? I’m sure I’ll tell you all about how things go next week!

Virtual Insanity Is What We’re Living In

As I mentioned last week, Friday night I got a personal invitation from Lord Junior to come out to the social dance that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall, so that’s where I ended up. Over the last several weeks I have been out either at classes or practicing every night of the week except on Fridays, using that night instead to catch up on things (like buying groceries or talking to my cat). Heading out to dance meant that I did not do that, so there were some things that I just didn’t get around to last week. But, Lord Junior specifically asked me if I would go, so I would have felt bad skipping out. Dancing is more important than groceries, right?

The party was a normal social dance, but I guess that someone who had never been out ballroom dancing before wanted to bring a bunch of his friends to the studio that night to celebrate his birthday. Supposedly he was interested in doing something different from all his other birthday parties, and when he drove by the studio one day he thought it could be a lot of fun. He got some nearby local bar to provide drinks for his crew, which I’m sure also helped all of them dance better that night on. I was told later that he also wrote up a glowing review of the evening somewhere, but I never saw the review myself.

But the best part of the night was that one of the Dance Robots came out to the party and spent the night telling me jokes. Usually the Dance Robots are always seen together, but the female robot was out somewhere else on this particular evening, so only the trouble-making male robot joined us. He is pretty non-stop hilarious, so most of the times when I wasn’t dancing I was hanging out off to the side with him and chatting about things.

He asked me about the competition coming up, and told me that he expected me to do great. I told him that I would be able to do OK as long as he wasn’t dancing at the competition in any of my heats – if he was competing, then obviously all the rest of us in the heats would all tie for last place while the judges just gave him all of the other higher placements. All of them. He just laughed and promised me that he had different plans for the weekend of the competition, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Whew!

Early Saturday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven at the Fancy Dance Hall, and the focus that day was preparation for next weekend’s competition. All three of us took a moment at the beginning to look at the tentative schedule for the competition that had been released, and based on what we could tell it looked like our first round would be heat number one on Sunday morning. That means that this guy right here, who as I’m sure you all know by now is not a morning person in the slightest, will have to be up and ready to take control of the dance floor at god-awful-o’clock in the morning. Yay……….

I have been thinking about the schedule though, and there’s a part of me that thinks it could actually work in my favor to start dancing so early. The reason that I have been spending hours and hours (and hours and hours) practicing is to get everything into muscle memory, right? My theory goes that if I go out on the floor and dance early in the morning before my mind is fully awake, then there is much less of a chance that I will over think things while I am competing, and I will just let the muscle memory that I have worked so hard on take over. Does that sound like a good theory? We’ll have to see if it is correct next weekend!

We spent our time on Saturday running our routines and then pausing to talk about a few points before moving on and running the next. It was really a lot like what I normally do with Sparkledancer during our practice time, except someone was able to watch us from the outside and tell us how he saw things. There were a few notable spots that were pointed out, things that Sparkledancer and I tried to cover in our practice sessions since Saturday to fix. They included:

  • Waltz:Sir Steven wanted us to make sure that our rise and fall was clear and distinct throughout the routine. There were places that he said didn’t look so clear the first time we went through the routine, so he wanted us to emphasize that aspect more.
  • Quickstep: We obviously talked about the corner of the routine that was recently changed, re-running it a few times just to make sure everything looked solid. He also said that the Running Finish we have at the end of the short wall was lacking the same power that the rest of the figures in the routine have. Part of this may have been due to the Running Finish being so close to the wall because of how much we travel while dancing, but regardless he wanted us to practice driving more in that figure to keep the amount of energy consistent from the preceding figure and into to the next.
  • Tango:There were two points mentioned for the Tango. The first being that after some of our Progressive Links, Sir Steven said it looked like we were falling into our first step in Promenade Position. He wanted us to do the Progressive Link and have a clear and balanced hold in Promenade Position so that we could drive into the next step. Secondly, he wanted me to emphasize my contra-body positioning during the Open Reverse Turn. This will involve turning my body a little more sharply between the second and third step, but not too much or else I could bounce Sparkledancer away from me.
  • Foxtrot: A couple of times during the runs we did of the Foxtrot, Sir Steven said that I wasn’t getting around Sparkledancer enough in the Reverse Turn. He wasn’t sure if it was because there were people in the middle of the floor doing some kind of Latin dance, and I was trying not to hit them as we passed by, but he said that there would be people on the floor during our heats this weekend so I needed to get over that fear if that was the reason. Also, during the Basic Weave and Natural Weave he told me that it looked like I was losing the contra-body position in my upper body as I went into the Feather Finish, making it hard for Sparkledancer to get around me, so I need to work on holding that better.

Some of these items I don’t think are going to be perfect by the time we compete on Sunday morning, but we will do the best we can. Hopefully it will be enough to do fairly well. That would make me happy.

Tuesday night I had to head out to a meeting of the Royal Dance Court to discuss behind-the-scenes dance things. I would have preferred if they could have moved the meeting back a week, since normally Tuesday nights I head out to practice for a while, but I made do.

Quite a bit of time at this meeting was spent discussing the annual formal dance party that the Royal Dance Court holds in the spring. Most of the discussion surrounding the formal was done by the ladies on the Royal Dance Court. I tried to make a suggestion regarding the tablecloth and chair tie combinations they were thinking about putting on all the tables, but my idea got shot down really hard, so I kept quiet for the rest of the discussion about the formal dance. I guess my ideas on decorating as a male are all considered terrible. 😦

I did get a chance to spend some time talking about the fundraiser gala that Lord Dormamu wanted to enlist the help of the Royal Dance Court to put together. Originally I had collected a stack of handouts about the event to give to everyone who would take one at the big meeting that I was supposed to attend last weekend, but since that meeting got cancelled because the organizer got sick, I passed out the handouts to the other members of the Royal Dance Court instead. Also, because I am the official Keeper of Records for the Royal Dance Court, I maaaaaay have copied all the information from the handout into the official record of the meeting, thus making it officially official.

To say that the other members of the Royal Dance Court were skeptical of the expectations for this event would be an understatement. Very few of them have ever talked with Lord Dormamu, so they don’t understand how he can have these lofty expectations for an event like this. It’s just the world of dance that he lives in, which is different from the world of dance that the rest of us see from day-to-day. I mean, before he retired from competing professionally a couple of years ago he was ranked among the ten best ballroom dance Leads in the world, so he just sees things so differently from those of us who have never competed at that level. Fancy events like this gala he is trying to put together are par for the course in his worldview.

What I tried to impart to the other members of the Royal Dance Court is that we should be the ones to step up and volunteer to help out if they need additional hands during the event. There is another social ballroom dance club in the area that is holding their monthly dance party on the same night as this fundraiser is scheduled, so I wanted to protect them from worrying about any of their organizers double booking their time to volunteer at the fundraiser and also the social dance. I’m pretty sure that most of the Royal Dance Court was on board with helping out when I explained it like that. We’ll have to see if they step up when the time comes though.

This Wednesday night, rather than go out to Standard Technique class, I headed out to meet up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven one more time to do some final competition preparation. This made the timing of the meeting that I went to the night before really less than ideal, since I didn’t get to practice all the things that the three of us had talked about on Saturday as much as I would have liked. Even so, things didn’t go too bad.

Unfortunately we were boxed in for the duration of our lesson. There were two different group classes going on at the studio at the same time we had scheduled to meet up, so we got stuck in the middle of the room between them. That meant that most of our time that night was spent looking at small sections of our routines, rather than the complete picture.

There were only a few items that I made note of for each style that we were told to continue working on after this lesson was over:

  • Waltz – Sir Steven said that my transition from the starter step into the first Natural Turn had a stutter, so he wanted to make sure I smoothed that out. That could have also been because I worked my legs prior to going to this lesson, so my legs were just tired. He also wanted our Natural Spin Turn to travel a little more, since the Natural Turn before it travels a lot and they look unbalanced. I was told to make sure that the Double Reverse Spin starts more toward diagonal center that what I did that night, and finally that the Hesitation in the corner needs to stay with a bent leg and only use body rise to shape.
  • Quickstep – Sir Steven thought it might be best to change the timing on the Overspin from Natural Spin Turn to make the first two steps faster and the last step and the pivot slower. Because the last step going into the pivot changes direction abruptly, we could make them more stable by having more time to get through them. Sparkledancer was also told to try to slide around me more on Running Finish as that figure changes directions in the middle.
  • Tango – when I am the one closing any of our Promenades, Sir Steven told me to work on coming around Sparkledancer more in the close. The two Promenades where this was most noticeable was the one going into the Natural Twist Turn, and the one that goes into the Right-Side Lunge. We were both told to focus on having our right legs touching as we closed as a way to quickly check if we were in the general area we needed to be. During the Right-Side Lunge, I was also told to push a bit more into Sparkledancer with my upper body and hips to help her shape away from me better.
  • Foxtrot – I was told to try to come around even more on Reverse Turn. Sir Steven could see the change I had practiced on Sunday after what we had talked about on Saturday, but he still wanted me to do a little more., Sparkledancer was told to make sure that her head is closing correctly on the Basic and Natural Weave figures. Finally, I was told to keep working on my sway through the Closed Impetus. It’s not bad, but it’s still not perfect, so I could always use more practice.

And that’s really that! I was planning on getting in some practice tonight, but Lord Dormamu called me on my way home from work and said that he was back in town and he wanted to get together with Sparkledancer and I before we went to the competition. Since tonight worked for all three of us, that’s what I did. I need a little time to process what he told me, so I will probably write about that next week.

I think I will be able to get in an hour or so of practice tomorrow night, but that will likely be all I get before leaving. On Saturday I am heading out to the competition venue. For this event, because my first heat is stupid early in the morning on Sunday, I booked myself a hotel room near the venue for the night. I will do much better Sunday morning if I could get up early and stretch out a little bit before taking to the floor, rather than getting up early to drive and then dance.

I know one other amateur pair who are dancing in this competition: Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps. They are doing both Latin and Standard at this competition, so they are on the schedule to dance Saturday and Sunday. Apparently they are planning on heading out to the competition venue a day early to do some sort of bar crawl Friday night before their first day of dancing. That just sounds like a terrible idea. Also the two of them will be dancing against me in two of my rounds on Sunday, which should make things entertaining…

I’m doing my best to go into this competition like I went into the last couple that I did – with low expectations of how well I should do, and a plan to do the best that I can. That has served me well so far, and I managed to place really well at the last couple of events, but I don’t want to walk into the building this weekend and make the mistake of expecting to do well because I did well last time. Being complacent will lead me to be sloppy, and that will get me marked down.

We’ll see how things go this weekend, and I’m sure I will tell you all about it next week!

Every Day A Rerun Of The Next

With the two competitions that I signed up to participate in looming on the horizon, I feel like my mind is totally focused on dance right now. There is a lot of stuff going on at work that I should be thinking about more, but while I am looking at work things my mind keeps wandering back to dance things. I’m starting to think that this may be a problem if I can’t find a way to rebalance my thoughts… but that can totally wait until after the competition is over, right? 😉

What have I done this week? Hmm… well, as usual Saturday was a busy day for me. It started out in the morning with a trip out to the Fancy Dance Hall for a lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven. Right before Sir Steven had us do anything else, I told him that Lord Dormamu had us change part of our Quickstep routine, so we should walk through the changes before dancing through the routine for him to avoid any surprises.

It turned out to be really good that I wanted to start with this figure – we ended up spending the first half of the lesson working on cleaning up the new pieces to make them look as good as the rest of the routine. We started everything off by dancing through the routine in totality once for Sir Steven to see, and then stepping through the new corner amalgamation slowly so that he could review what we were attempting to do in detail.

Sparkledancer and I had been spending extra time in our practice sessions over the last week working on getting these new figures to fit naturally with the rest of the routine, so being able to go through them while someone was watching was super helpful. We cleaned up the just a few minor portions that Sir Steven saw that didn’t look correct from the outside, like the rise and fall and the alignment of the last step into the Reverse Pivot, and by the time we were done the new figures felt much more solid.

Once we finished up with the Quickstep, we ran through the remainder of our routines as well. Overall Sir Steven was pleased with how we were looking, telling us that it was a big improvement over what he saw us do the last time we had worked together two weekends prior. That’s yet another point to add to the column of benefits that an insane amount of practice provides.

Near the end of our time, we were wrapping things up by looking at the Foxtrot. I was asked to spend some time going over the last corner in the routine, the one that has the Closed Impetus and Feather Finish. Sir Steven wanted to make sure that while I was doing the figure, that I wasn’t adding any sway, except for during the second step. By the book, as I was told, the first step should be level, the second step should sway to the left, and the third step should also be level. He said that it looked like I was attempting to add in the sway too early during the first step, and this was making it hard for Sparkledancer to do her part properly.

At one point a bit later, while Sparkledancer and Sir Steven were working off to the side and I couldn’t hear what was going on too well, Sparkledancer asked Sir Steven something about the movement of her head. Sir Steven, being full of wisdom about the lady’s part, told her she should “make it look pretty” without having much more information for her.

Lucky for Sparkledancer, the Princess happened to be walking through the Fancy Dance Hall at that time with a friend of hers. Sir Steven called her over and asked if she would be willing to watch us dance for a minute and help Sparkledancer out with her head movements. Being the wonderful princess that she is, she agreed. She pawned her friend off on Lord Latin, telling him to dance with her for a bit, and then told Sparkledancer and I to dance for her so that she could see what she was working with.

As we danced down the floor by her, the Princess stopped us and told Sparkledancer that a lot of her head movements looked “mechanical” – like she was doing them just because she was told to move her head during those specific figures. Sparkledancer nodded and said that was pretty much exactly what she was doing. The Princess told her that, in order to make it look ‘pretty’ and also more natural, the head movement should be initiated by the sway of our figures, but she should try to delay the movement as much as possible.

What she should see while watching from the outside is that as we are swaying Sparkledancer should keep pulling her head out to her left as much as possible. When the movement of the body finally gets to a point where she can’t fight against it with her head anymore, that’s when the head rotates to the other side. She will end up showing off the ‘pretty’ stretch of her neck if she does the movement this way, and the rotation will also look like it is supposed to be there, not like something that was added in cosmetically because she was told to do it.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Discussions like this just reinforce for me how nice it is that I’m a guy, and I don’t have to worry about these sorts of movements.

This past Saturday night my Royal Dance Court gang and I hosted our first dance party of the year. We wanted to start the year off with something fun and different, so we decided to call up Sir Digler and ask him if he would come teach a class before the party on line dancing. It’s one of those fun variations that we can do once in a while that everyone can be involved with, without having to worry about the ratio of Leaders and Followers.

Sir Digler covered three different line dances in the hour-long class. The first two I had seen before somewhere, but the last one he showed everyone was new to me, even though I found out later that that particular song and line dance have been around for about ten years of so. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to any weddings that had receptions with dancing, so that might explain why I had never heard that one before.

The first line dance that he showed to everyone was what he called the “Charleston Line Dance” because the basic pattern of the feet shuffling looked like something out of the Charleston. The challenging part of this line dance for most people was the speed – Sir Digler said that you would feel right at home doing this line dance in the middle of the room during a Quickstep song, or even a Jive number. I was a little worried when he told everyone to get out on the floor during a Quickstep if they weren’t actually dancing the Quickstep, but luckily no one tried it that night so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally running into someone.

Next up Sir Digler showed everyone a Tango line dance. This line dance was much more challenging than the last one for the class to master. I thought that it looked like people were getting the hang of things after he showed everyone the steps, but then Sir Digler asked the DJ to put on a Tango number, and things fell apart. Granted, the DJ picked out what sounded like the fastest tempo Tango song in existence, which didn’t help things at all, so that might have been part of the problem. Sir Digler had to go through the steps of this line dance several times, and then finally everyone was able to get through the dance with a different (slower) Tango song playing.

The final line dance of the night was the one I mentioned earlier, what I would consider more of a ‘club’ line dance. This was a set of figures that you do only when a specific song comes on. The song was by an artist that I had heard of, who actually has another line dance song that I am quite familiar with, but I had never seen this particular line dance before in my life. The steps weren’t too hard though, and the singer will tell you what you should be doing if you listen to the lyrics, so I have faith that many people could pick up this particular dance easily.

I mostly tried to be social during the dance party after the lesson finished up. There were a couple of new faces in the crowd that I tried to talk to, because I feel like that is an important thing to do. Ms. Possible also showed up at the dance party late, and I hadn’t seen her in months, so I had to check in with her and see how things were. Up until she walked through the door I had basically written her off as another dancer lost in the passage of time, so it was nice to see her back on the floor.

I also made a point to skip all other offers and try to dance all of the ballroom numbers that night with Sparkledancer, just to get in some extra practice with our routines and other dancers on the floor. We specifically set up our practice times at various studios around the area so that we run into the least amount of people, but working on our routines while utilizing some floorcraft is always a good thing to practice. I haven’t seen the lists for our competition yet, but I would hazard a guess that we are likely not dancing uncontested, so floorcraft will come into play somehow.

Monday night was Latin Technique class, and I did some Cha-Cha. Our options that night were either Cha-Cha or Samba, and most of us voted against Samba. Lord Junior did mention at the beginning of class that he had been working on a Pasodoble line dance and he was almost done with it, but he wasn’t happy with the ending quite yet. He promised that as soon as he was happy with everything that he would spend a Latin Technique class teaching it to all of us for feedback before premiering his work to social dancers at some party. That sounded exciting to me!

But until then, we were left with Cha-Cha to get through. The figures that we looked at during the class were all ones that I had seen before, just not in this order, so I was able to get through them fairly well. The men started with their weight on the right leg and the left leg pointed behind them, while the women mirrored that setup. We did a Forward Check into a Slip Chasse, while the women did a Backward Check into a Forward Lock Step. On the last beat of their Lock Step we led them through a Curl, and then collected them back into dance frame to do a Reverse Top.

Our Top spun around for two measures, and on the last beat of the second measure we led the ladies to do a Spiral Turn before taking them out into an Aida. Lord Junior gave us the option to do either slow or quick movements with our hips during the Aida, saying that the decision was up to each of us how we wanted to do things that night. I’m pretty sure that everyone opted to do the slow version, since that’s all I saw when I looked around.

Once finished with the hip movements, we did an Over-Rotated Switch Turn to come out of Aida position. Basically the guys would step forward onto their left leg and then turn 180° and point the right leg forward. That pointing action was what we counted as the delay before doing the actual Switch Turn, which also had us spinning another 180°. Once we finished the turning action, we linked up with our partner again and did a basic Chasse to the Right to finish up for the night.

Finally this week, let’s talk about Standard Technique class from last night. Lord Junior wanted to have us look at Viennese Waltz. We hadn’t done Viennese Waltz in class in some time because the last time we covered this dance style, things did not go so well for the ladies. All of them had really struggled with their alignments and turning for the proper amount of rotation in the previous class, which Lord Junior thought was really funny. This time around, he was hoping that everything went better, but was prepared for some amusement if things went about the same.

As it turns out, the exercises went much, much better for everyone in class this time around! I’m not sure if it was because we had so many more people in the class this time, so everyone who was unsure of their angles and rotation could watch someone nearby them to cheat a little, or if people actually knew what they were doing this time, but it all worked out. Lord Junior had us spend about half the class on drills with the Natural and Reverse Turns and Forward and Backward Change Steps, first doing the amalgamation as individuals and then dancing the same amalgamation with partners.

Because the basic syllabus for International Viennese Waltz contains so few figures, once Lord Junior was convinced that we had been drilled enough on the basics he switched gears and gave us some American Viennese Waltz for the second half of class. Based on the things that I see frequently from ‘high-level’ American Viennese Waltz, I’d swear that the dance entirely consists of Open Natural Turns and then switching into Open Natural Turns in Shadow Position. That’s really all I ever see advanced dancers do for some reason…

Our American Viennese Waltz progression that night was just a short snippet, and you can probably guess what half of it was based on my last comment. We started out in normal dance frame and went straight into a Twinkle and Open Natural Turn. From here Lord Junior wanted us to turn the ladies into Shadow Position, so the men did a Hesitation Fake. That basically had us stepping back on our left foot on beat one and collect the feet together while rotating on beat two then holding. We turned the ladies across our bodies at the same time we did that.

As the men finally stepped to the side on beat one of the next measure, we released the ladies into one last turn with our left hand and caught them around the ribs with our right to stop them from getting too far away from us.  Bringing the left hand up to hold the lady’s left forearm then put us in Shadow Position. As the next measure started, we did a Change Step in Shadow Position (which is really just three steps forward) and then went into Open Natural Turns. After a couple of those we stopped  so that the guys could run back down to the starting point and pick up another partner to start over.

I had all these crazy plans for the weekend to go to some big dance meeting… but the event got cancelled because the organizer of the meeting got sick. In some ways, it is good for me that I’m not traveling anywhere this weekend. After all, I am heading out next weekend to compete, so now I can spend this weekend on more practice time to make sure that I am ready. Hooray!

Even with the meeting being cancelled though, there are still a lot of things I have on my list to do this weekend. I moved my normal lesson with Sir Steven back to Saturday afternoon since I won’t be off somewhere else now. I was going to do that lesson tonight, but I went out to practice instead. Friday night there is some kind of dance party going on at the Electric Dance Hall, and Lord Junior specifically requested that I make an appearance there. I’m not exactly sure why, but I am never one to turn down a personal invitation like that, so I’ll be there.

And then there’s practice. More practice. Always practice. Hopefully it will be enough, and I can head out to the upcoming competition and crush it. But, we have a little over a week to go yet, so we’ll all have to wait and find out what happens later. Until then, let the dancing continue!