I Can Tell You What They Say In Space

Have you ever gone out and had a dance lesson where you didn’t cover a whole lot of material, but the things you were working on were still incredibly difficult? That was how my lesson with Lord Dormamu this past weekend went. We spent nearly two hours looking at nothing more than four figures in Waltz, and much of that time was spent specifically focusing on just one of those four.

Can you guess what figure it was that we spent so much time on that afternoon? It was the Natural Turn. The simple, basic, Pre-Bronze Natural Turn. Apparently the Natural Turn in Waltz is like the Three Step in Foxtrot – one of the first figures you learn for the dance style that seems so simple based on the footwork, but in reality is one of the hardest figures to make look good. I mean, you step forward, then step to the side while rotating to the right, then close your feet together. You would think that it couldn’t get much easier than that! Then you would make a silly choice in life that somehow puts you into a position where you have a multi-time world champion in International Standard telling you how you should be doing a Natural Turn, and you would find out just how difficult the figure actually is.

Lord Dormamu actually forwarded me a picture that he had saved once upon a time so that I can look at it for inspiration while I practice Natural Turns. It shows a couple competing on the dance floor who are in the middle of a Natural Turn, with audience members watching from the background. In the upper corner it has an inspirational saying about Natural Turns. Maybe you’ve seen the picture before. I’m sure you could hang a big copy of this picture in a dance studio to motivate all sorts of students if you wanted to.

I’d show you the picture, but… I can’t find a copy of the picture on the Internet, and I’m way too lazy right now to walk back downstairs and get my phone where I saved the copy Lord Dormamu sent me. You know what’s easier? Recreating the picture myself!

It looks something like this:
For reals.

Anyway… going through the Natural Turn super slowly, looking at each and every step and the movements you need to do between steps is uncomfortable. It required me to twist my body a lot, then hold still while Lord Dormamu manipulated Sparkledancer and discussed what we were doing, then there were a bunch of micro-adjustments as we fought to maintain our balance as he talked even more. When we finally felt like we just couldn’t hold still any longer and were about to collapse, Lord Dormamu finally allowed us to relax briefly, and then we started over from the beginning. If we did well, we got to go on to the next portion of the figure and repeat the same process. So. Much. Fun.

I did manage to think about asking if the changes that we were making to the Natural Turn in the Waltz would carry over to any Natural Turns that we do in other dances, to which Lord Dormamu confirmed that they should. Right now the only other place we do a Natural Turn like this other than in the Waltz is in the Quickstep, so it’s not too much more to worry about. We do have Natural Turns in Foxtrot now that I think about it, but I will have to ask him next time I have coaching whether those will be similar, since Foxtrot is a completely different animal than Waltz or Quickstep.

On top of the Natural Turn, we also spent some time looking at the Natural Spin Turn, and the Progressive Chasse to the Right and the Outside Change. Those last two figures are grouped as such because the part that Lord Dormamu was most interested in working on that day was the transition between the two. We didn’t have to spend nearly as much time looking at these other figures as we did looking at just the Natural Turn.

In the Natural Spin Turn, we’ve been given the go-ahead to start playing with the timing at the end of the figure. Rather than taking each step on time with the beats of the music, Lord Dormamu said that we could improve the way the figure looks by having me take the second step straight down the line of dance and then slowly rotating my body once over my right foot, coming out onto the left foot after beat three of the measure has already passed. That speeds up the flow into the next Reverse Turn considerably, and gives both figures impressive looking sway through if we get the swing through the figures correct.

He wants me to do a similar idea at the end of the Progressive Chasse to the Right as we transition into the Outside Change. If the Progressive Chasse to the Right is heading straight down the line of dance, he wants me to try to end up on beat three of the figure with my body facing backing line of dance. As I prepare my leg backward to move into the Outside Change, here is where the body begins to rotate, creating a massive contra body alignment before taking the first step of the Outside Change. The timing on these two figures doesn’t change like we are toying with on the Natural Spin Turn though, only the delayed rotation action is carried over here. I guess I should have specified that earlier.

Other than my lesson on Saturday afternoon, I didn’t get to go out and do much. An incorrect label ended up causing all sorts of huge problems for me at my job, keeping me from going out and doing anything other than work for the first couple of days this week. Fun fun fun…

I finally managed to leave the house and get to a class on Wednesday night when I joined some other fun people in Standard Technique class at the Electric Dance Hall. That night as class began, Lord Junior told all of us that he was going to have us all look at what was the beginning section of his student Veep’s Open Waltz routine that they had recently put together. I guess it was an all Waltz week for me this past week! Veep was in class with us that night, so this turned out to be some extra practice on the routine for her.

This routine actually had an interesting starting step to it, one that Lord Junior had discussed with some visiting coach before putting it to use. A lot of International Waltz routines start out with a prep step of some kind and then go right into a basic Natural Turn before moving on to more complicated figures. Lord Junior had thought of this crazy idea of starting his routines with half of his normal prep step and then going right into a Double Natural Spin before doing the basic Natural Turn like usual. His crazy idea was that doing the Double Natural Spin right at the beginning like this lets you A) make the opening of your routine different from everyone else on the floor, and B) lets you do the Double Natural Spin without a lot of momentum behind it, which makes the figure easier and look cleaner.

Of course, that didn’t make the figure easy for everyone in class. A few of the ladies in class had trouble remembering to cross their foot in front as they took their last step of the Double Natural Spin. If you cross your foot behind accidentally, you block your leg from moving for the next step, so you basically kill the routine in its tracks. Or sometimes you make your partner run into you. Or both! I ended up having to stop and reset on quite a few of the passes I did because of ladies crossing their feet wrong.
If you managed to live through the Double Natural Spin and the Natural Turn, the next figure after that was an Overturned Natural Spin Turn, which started and ended with the guys backing line of dance. Immediately after finishing that we went into a Turning Lock to the Right, coming out in Promenade Position heading toward diagonal center. When we got done with that figure, Lord Junior broke from Veep’s routine and instead had us go into a basic Chasse from Promenade Position and end with another Natural Turn.

The idea that he wanted to have the ladies work on at the end of the choreography by putting those two syncopated figures back-to-back was the rise and fall across syncopated steps. The Turning Lock to the Right starts with the syncopated beat, while the Chasse from Promenade Position has the syncopation on beat two in the music. This makes the rise and fall during those syncopated steps different, and he wanted to be sure that the ladies knew when they were supposed to stay down and when they would rise up.

One last thing – I want to make a note and say that I’ve officially resigned from the Royal Dance Court. The lady currently in charge of the group seems to have this intense need to find and stoke drama where there really isn’t any, and no matter how hard any of the rest of us tried we couldn’t seem to tamp that tendency of hers down. I got one more overly dramatic email from her over the weekend that finally broke the camel’s back, and I just didn’t want to deal with that anymore. So I put in my resignation effective on the first of the month. With everything else I have going on in my dance life, I don’t need to spend time worrying about manufactured drama. I’m not retired yet, so I ain’t got time for that!

OK, enough about that. It’s hard to believe that another whole year has passed, and once again next weekend it is time for the annual ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza at the Grand Dance Hall! What does that mean? Well, for starters, I have to find a couple of hours to sit down and put together the Lego castle that I use to represent that location. I normally leave the castles for dance halls I visit frequently put together on a shelf, but since I only go to the Grand Dance Hall once a year I end up taking that one apart every year to put it back in its box. I have to keep it safe from my cat… I have no idea why she likes to play with Legos so much!

Aside from that, there is going to be a lot of dancing to live music on Friday and Saturday night, and some workshops during the day on Saturday. Plus, I am a huge fan of the breakfast buffet that they serve in the morning before the workshops – I think it’s totally worth the extra money. If you ever go to the ballroom dancing weekend at the Grand Dance Hall, make sure you get the package that includes breakfast. You won’t be disappointed!

So, are you going to be there this year? I think I ask that every year, and so far no one else has opted to ask me for more information so they could go. Maybe someday, right? If you are out anywhere else dancing this weekend instead, have fun!


Deep In The Fiction We Live

So… I had something happen again this weekend, something that I’ve experienced a couple of times before, and it’s gotten me thinking. You know what happens when I get to thinking, right? I get to writing. Bear with me a little bit today – I have some thoughts to process through.

Last Friday night I had gone out to a dance party. The ratio wasn’t good at the start of the party – we’re talking like over 2:1 women to men as the night began, so I had my work cut out for me. As the night wore on and people started leaving to head back home the ratio got better, so I had a little more time to relax and talk to people instead of just dancing the whole time.

There was a group of people who I had never met before who had come to the dance. Three ladies and one guy – I’m pretty sure the guy said he was married to one of the three ladies, but I can’t remember for sure, so don’t quote me on that. Since I didn’t know who they were, as the night progressed and the ratio of men to women improved enough to give me a chance to talk to people, I opted to put on my Royal Dance Court Member hat and go introduce myself to them and see if I could figure out their dance story. It turns out that I really hadn’t ever seen them before, since they were all students and friends from a franchise studio chain, and that dance party was their first outing to see what the dance scene was like in other parts of the Dance Kingdom. They had all gone out together because they hadn’t been sure what to expect when dancing in non-franchise studios, so they figured they could at least have safety in numbers.

I ended up talking to one of the girls in his group for a few minutes longer than the others. She was younger than the rest, and extremely chatty (which I didn’t know when I started talking to her), so I got stuck in a conversation until I could find a convenient point to make my exit. I ended up just kind of nodded along with what she was saying and occasionally asked a related question to let her know that I was paying attention. I know what you’re thinking – I would make such a well-trained boyfriend if I had free time for that sort of thing, right?

Anyway, she’s talking all about the dance classes she takes at her home studio, and goes on and on about how she’s one of the few students in the super-mega-advanced-higher-than-Gold+-level classes, so she really knows all the high-level figures and cool stuff that her friends that she came with don’t know. The dance styles that she claims to be best at are Cha-Cha, Samba and Tango. Also, she mentioned that she didn’t really dance at parties with any Lead who wasn’t an instructor, because apparently other Leads didn’t know how to handle how advanced she was. My first thought when she said that was that it would be a huge problem for her at this party, since we were not at her home studio and no instructors that she knew were anywhere nearby. I kept that to myself though.

Eventually I managed to extricate myself from that conversation with an excuse that I needed to go dance with someone else. Because I am nice, I filed the information I learned away for later. As you probably well know by now, I am not a fan of Cha-Cha or Samba, but I consider myself to be pretty OK at Tango. Later on in the evening when a Tango comes on I head over to where that girl is sitting and ask her if she wants to dance the Tango with me, since she had said it was one of the styles she was best at. I figured that she would be excited to do one of her best styles while at this party to make a name for herself.

Do you know what she said when I asked her to dance though? She said no to me.

I was a bit shocked by that. I had thought that since she had never met me before, it would feel more comfortable for her if I chose a dance style that she specifically mentioned. After all, she had made a point of emphasizing during that earlier conversation how advanced she was, so while I wouldn’t have started out with anything too crazy since we would both need a little time to acclimate to each other as dance partners, I probably would have been willing to throw in some Tango figures that were flashier if the dance seemed to be going well. But no, she just didn’t want to dance the Tango with me at all. Huh.

Don’t feel bad for me about that – there were still more than enough ladies at the party, and I was able to find another partner who wanted to dance with me without even trying very hard. I was confused about the encounter though, so several songs later when I decided to take a break I wandered over to where she was and talked with her again. She never really gave me a reason for why she didn’t want to dance the Tango with me in that discussion. I probably should have pressed harder, but the DJ announced that a Foxtrot was the next dance, so instead of continuing to talk I asked if she wanted to try doing a Foxtrot instead of a Tango.

She turned me down again! This time, she pointed to one of her friends from the group that she came with and told me that her friend was really good at Foxtrot. I didn’t know what to make of that, but I went with her advice and asked her friend if she wanted to give the Foxtrot a try. We had already danced together once that evening, so I had a good feeling that she would say yes to another dance with me. Despite the praise I had been told of how good this girl was at Foxtrot, the girl seemed really unsure of herself as we danced together, so I ended up having to keep what I did really simple.

With this second denial for a dance, I was starting to wonder if this girl was really Simon Peter in disguise and I had to watch out for a third before the night was over. After dancing for a few more songs, I ended up going over to tell Sparkledancer about this strange situation. Sparkledancer just thought that it was funny, and made jokes that the girl must have a crush on me or something, so she was actually just nervous to go out and dance with me. I didn’t think that was the case, but I wasn’t in any hurry to try things again. The night wore on, and much much later in the evening there was a slower East Coast Swing number coming on. I happened to be standing on the side of the room near where that group of four was again when that happened. I hadn’t planned on it, it was totally by chance that time.

Since the party wasn’t going to go on much longer, I decided to give it one last try. This time the girl actually agreed to dance with me! So we went out on the floor, and I started off simply enough to gauge her skills. I quickly found out that this girl liked to do whatever she wanted, rather than waiting for a lead from me or staying on time with the music. There were a couple of points in the song when she just turned herself without any cue from me. I guess she just felt like there should have been a turn for her at that point in the song, so she just went for it. Fair enough… that’s fine, I guess I can work around that. She also liked to turn really fast, much more like a turn in a Latin dance. The problem with that was that turning so fast ended with her just standing there looking at me before we got to the right beat in the music where she would go into her next triple step.

Also, apparently she didn’t really feel like leaving her arms available for me to grab. After some of the turns, whether led by me or done on her own, I would need to grab her hand when she got around so that I could try to lead her into the next figure. When I would reach for her hand, I would find that neither of her arms were in a place where I could get them safely. There were several times when I had to abandon the figure I would have otherwise gone into because I wasn’t able to re-establish a connection between us.

I did my best to make the dance entertaining at least, and I managed to get her to laugh with me throughout the song with my (self-proclaimed) witty banter.. But what I was able to do with her was not super advanced by any stretch of the imagination. She went back to her group of friends and I went off to dance with other people, and that was the only dance that we did together.

At the end of the night, I got to talk with the guy that was part of that little group before the four of them left. He was super excited about getting to dance at the party, and had gotten a business card so that he had all the information on how to find the studio’s calendar online so that he could come to other events there. I recommended a few other studios that were nearby the area that he said he lived in so that he could check those out as well. Obviously I also recommended that he come to the next dance party that my Royal Dance Court group put on. Shameless self promotion, you know.

Soon the three ladies that came with him to the party came to collect him, and we said goodbye for the night. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see them again, but I hope that the four of them end up going out again to other social dances, and they are able to make connections with the bigger ballroom world. I know that the franchise studios like to keep all their students segregated, but I want to believe deep down in my heart that we can all dance together for fun.

So what is it that has been bothering me about this whole situation? I suppose that it can be broken down into two pieces. First off, I have been wondering if this girl (and other ladies in the past who have told me similar things about the proficiency levels they dance at) spent time telling me all about all of the high-level classes that she was taking at her home studio as a way to try to influence how I might dance with her if we danced together. Secondly, and probably the one that has made me scratch my head more, I have been wondering if this girl could honestly claim to be super advanced if she is really only able to dance with one of her instructors, as she also told me.

The influence thought that I have been having is, I believe, pretty easy to grasp. As you might be aware, in the world of ballroom dancing there is only one partner who gets to lead. Because of that, the second person in the mix only gets so much of a say in what figures, techniques, floorcraft, etc. that the couple uses when out on the floor. I can imagine that at a dance party where most of the attendees are relatively new dancers, someone who does spend their time studying more advanced points might just get bored.

I can imagine it, because I have certainly been through it myself. After all, I will moderate what I do in a social dance to better fit the abilities and experience of my partner. If my partner is new, or has never even seen a dance style before but for some reason wants to try it with me, I will limit myself to the absolute basics to try to help my partner out. If I have the opportunity to dance with someone like my dance partner Sparkledancer, who I know has worked on more advanced figures and techniques (I happen to know in this case because I was most likely there with her when she learned to do it), then I can ‘up my game’ so to speak to make things more interesting. More interesting for both of us, of course – not necessarily just for her.

But what do you do when you meet someone new at a dance party? If I haven’t seen the person around, how would I know what sorts of dances they have spent time working on before I decide to step onto the floor with them? Is that where it might be appropriate for a Follower to tell the Lead what kind of experience she has had? After all, in this specific situation, I thought I had picked an appropriate dance style to try with the new girl I had talked to because she told me it was one of the styles that she was best at. She obviously didn’t want to do it with me, but it was information that I had gotten because she had specifically mentioned it. If I never go to her studio to even see the classes going on, how else would I know that she was in those classes if she doesn’t verbally tell me?

There is a part of me in the back of my brain that says that I would be able to figure out whether a Follower knows more than just the basics of a dance style if I were to go out and dance with them. I’m not sure if that part of me is just my ego trying to convince myself that I am super cool, or if that is actually an ability that I have, but there is merit to the thought. If you’ve been out social dancing in the past, you probably know whether you can feel the difference between a partner who is more advanced based on how they hold their frame and the confidence with which they move, versus a more remedial dancer who doesn’t move in that manner. I’d like to imagine that most everyone can tell the difference.

But it is certainly easier if a potential dance partner would just say to me ‘Hey dude, I’m pretty good at the Polka.’ or ‘Hey dude, I’ve never done Mambo before.’ when we meet. Then I would know that if a Polka came on, we could dance together, but if a Mambo came on I should find a different partner. No guesswork involved.

So, I have to ask – was she telling me all that information when we first talked because she wanted to give me an idea of her skill level as a dancer, or because she was trying to impress me? Or maybe there’s some third option that I haven’t thought of. I don’t know.

Then there’s the second point, of whether the girl could actually claim to be a super advanced dancer if she admitted that she was only able to dance with one of the instructors at her home studio. I will admit, I am not a very good Follower, but if that were the part I had opted to study for long periods of time (and drop serious amounts of money on studying), I would want to be sure that I could do that part with more than just a select few people.

Now it would have been one thing if she had told me that she danced competitively, and there were figures that she was only comfortable performing with her competitive partner/teacher. That would totally make sense. After all, there are certain things that I would only put effort into doing when I dance with Sparkledancer, and other things I wouldn’t even consider doing at all if I were dancing with some random lady I didn’t know at a social dance. So I would understand someone making a claim like that. But to make a blanket claim that she couldn’t dance with anyone who wasn’t her instructor sounds to me like she is claiming not to be a good at following. That’s the first place my mind went when I heard that.

The dance that I ended up doing with her didn’t really change my opinion either. It didn’t really feel like we were dancing together, rather it felt like we were sometimes dancing similar figures near one another. It would be one thing if I had been trying to do non-syllabus figures that she hadn’t known and she had needed to improvise to just stay in the dance. It’s another thing entirely for a lady to just turn herself at points I’m not leading. That makes it seem like she never really needed me to dance in the first place. Do you find yourself going into figures without waiting for your partner to lead them? Is there a reason that you would do that? I mean, if I know that ladies do that for a reason, I might be able to work with that in the future.

Plus there was the awkward pauses that ended up being in the dance because the girl felt the need to whip herself around in her turns much faster than the tempo of the song called for. I like a good awkward moment as much as the next guy, but I normally aim for those for comedic purposes. When they happen in a dance and I can’t find a way to make a joke out of the moment, the awkward pause doesn’t seem quite as good. I know that musicality is a hard skill for an instructor to train their students in. My coach Lord Dormamu has told me that he feels that musicality is either something a student has or doesn’t, and there really isn’t much that he can do to help the student if they don’t have it in them already. But I would think that she should have been able to tell that the tempo of the dance was rather slow, so the turns didn’t need to happen at the speed of light in order to finish them before her next steps.

So why would she have done them so fast? Did her instructor tell her to turn as fast as she could anytime that she needed to turn? Was she trying to impress me with her turning ability? Or is it just that she was nervous and defaulted to turning the way that she spends most of her time turning, which would be like a Latin dance turn rather than a Swing dance turn. I don’t know the answer to that either. All I have is speculation which, while fun, doesn’t really help me out.

Anyway, those are the questions that I am left with. A) Do ladies tell men about all the high-level classes that they take in order to influence the way the men lead during a social dance? And B) do you consider a partner to be high level if the only person they say they can dance with is their instructor? Those questions have been in my head all week. Hopefully getting my thoughts out in writing can clear them out of my head and make room for other dance thoughts. What do you think?

On a happier note, I hear that National Ballroom Dance Week starts tomorrow! Yay! I don’t follow much of what the organization that created this Week has to say, but I saw a sign up at a studio I was at a few weeks ago telling me about it, so I looked it up. Did you know that National Ballroom Dance Week is actually ten days long? Yeah, for reals, that’s a fun fact that you can go tell other people you know. Get a calendar, am I right?

My Royal Dance Court group is going to help put on a dance party this Saturday with a studio in the area to celebrate National Ballroom Dance Week though, since it is a point we can use to promote the event. We couldn’t see any rules preventing us from using National Ballroom Dance Week in our advertisements, so we’re totally doing it! Hopefully we’ll get a ton of people to come out. Will you be there? If you are, come find me and we can have a long philosophical discussion about the questions I wrote about. I promise that it’ll be fun!

Come Along With Me And The Butterflies And Bees

I like holiday weekends. About half of them afford me a little extra time to myself to get some normal life stuff done. This past weekend was like that. A bunch of stuff was cancelled on Monday because of the holiday, and a dance party that was supposed to happen over the weekend got cancelled because the person running it got ill, so the weekend ended up being quieter than I had initially planned. Hooray for that. I was able to get some extra sleep for several days in a row.

But I still managed to do some dancing, because I always manage to do some dancing. Actually, humorously enough, I managed to somehow schedule multiple times to see Lord Dormamu this past week. I know I mentioned that it is hard to pin him down due to his crazy travel schedule, but he was actually in town over the weekend because of the holiday, so I was able to fit in a bit of extra time working with him and Sparkledancer on Monday afternoon since I wasn’t in the office. On top of that, we had a normal lesson scheduled on Wednesday evening already! That’s like… a lot! I’ve got the notes to prove it too!

Rather than break things down per session for the two days I worked with him, I think I’m going to combine my notes for the two coaching sessions and instead break things up by dance style. When I look back on these notes during practice, that will be far more helpful for me instead of trying to keep things chronological. I don’t really have to mention that I’m doing things this way, since these are my notes and I can do whatever I want, but I thought it might be nice to warn you ahead of time.

Let’s work back through these from the one with the least amount of notes to the ones with the most. That means that we start with Quickstep, obviously. Our Quickstep, as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t really have a whole lot to think about in it right now. The routine is mostly a combination of Chasses and Lock Steps and very few rotating figures. The real fun/work (depending on how you look at it) doesn’t start until we get to do all the figures with hopping and kicking in them. For now, the only real change that Lord Dormamu wants us to try and work into our Quickstep comes in the first corner where we have that Reverse Pivot from a Natural Spin Turn. During the checking action that connects those two pieces, he wants both Sparkledancer and I to try and work in a double head flicking action, like you’d see in Tango. Yeesh… that will be fun if I can get it, right?

Moving on to Tango, I was only given a couple of notes, though one of them was a bit more… impressionistic, I guess, rather than technical. That was the first thing that we talked about after running through the routine once. Lord Dormamu caught up to Sparkledancer and I as we were walking back and told me that he wished that I would just be more arrogant while I danced the Tango. He said that he realized that I was a nice guy, which is why I appear so calm and friendly while I dance, but that is not the spirit that the Tango is supposed to give off. Does this sound like a familiar argument?

According to Lord Dormamu, it’s easy for me to look more intimidating than other male dancers on the floor. I don’t need to do anything weird to puff myself up and try and look bigger – because of all the weightlifting that I have done over the last few years, I can already look bigger and more intimidating than other men in my rounds without even trying very hard. The problem is that I have a tendency to dance while smiling, or I will tell jokes while we’re moving and start laughing, which completely breaks the intimidation persona. Personally I don’t see this as a problem, but I have a different outlook on life than Lord Dormamu.

He told me a story about a time when he was auditioning a new partner back in the height of his competitive career. Before they started to dance a Tango, he asked how she felt about the dance. She told him that she would be able to keep up with him, so they put on some music and they danced in the serous and arrogant manner he wants me to start using to see how things would go. The audition had to end shortly thereafter so that they could pop over to the Emergency Room, because he basically broke this girl in the process of dancing that Tango.

Yeah, really. That actually happened. Don’t worry though, they made up after that incident, and ended up competing together quite successfully for years. That didn’t really make me feel better about what he was asking me to do though. I mean, you have to realize that Sparkledancer is tiny compared to me, and I am much, much stronger than Lord Dormamu… can you imagine why I may not want to just step up and dance the Tango in that fashion?

Aside from the comments on styling, we talked about doing a more advanced shaping in every Back Corte during the routine, which involves me stepping around Sparkledancer slightly more to allow her to work off me differently. During the Right-side Lunge in the first corner, Lord Dormamu cautioned Sparkledancer to make sure that during her shaping she needs to keep her shoulders open to me and avoid tipping to one side. Finally, in the Natural Promenade Turn Lord Dormamu wanted to see us flow more as we go through the rotation.

Next up we have the Waltz. The first thing that we touched on was the Natural Spin Turn. Here, he wants us to emphasize the shaping much more than we have been doing so far, and to watch the second step of the figure to make sure that it doesn’t rise too quickly while we’re thinking about other things. During the Chasse from Promenade Position, Sparkledancer was told to be careful with her footwork – she got caught taking a heel step at the wrong time. All along the short wall, Sparkledancer was told to watch her head openings, to make sure that they were nice and slow and deliberate.

The last issue in Waltz was a strange one. After the Whisk along the short wall, we go into a Chasse from Promenade Position and then right into a Natural Turn. As we were going into that Natural Turn, Lord Dormamu said that he saw me cocking my hips off to the left strangely. They got back into shape once we closed the Natural Turn, but he couldn’t figure out why I was doing that. He tried to do it with me while watching, and I didn’t do it that time, which confused him even more.

Stepping through the figure slowly with Sparkledancer, I found that the process we had been using where I closed her from Promenade Position while winding up to the left to go into the Natural Turn was pulling her across my body just enough so that her right leg ended up in front of mine. Since I have muscular legs and needed enough room to swing my leg freely to move, I had been moving my hips off to the side to give myself the room I needed without really realizing that I was doing that. So, now I’m not supposed to do that anymore. Sparkledancer isn’t really changing where she ends up while closing, so apparently I just have to force my leg to squeeze through an area where there is not enough room. I can just picture this not ending well in the long term…

Finally, let’s close with Foxtrot. For me, I still need to continue focusing on my leg actions, keeping myself lowering slightly at the end of the last step in each figure and holding at that level for the first step of the next. Most spots I am doing really well with this, but the places where Lord Dormamu isn’t quite happy yet is still the transition that happens after every Three Step, and the transition after the Change of Direction. He said if I can really fix those, everything would be beautiful. The only other small note he gave me was to start working on adding the sway back into my Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. It was taken out previously to get my Heel Turn under control, but now he says it looks like I am doing well enough to work it back in. Hooray for progress?

Sparkledancer had a few more notes to remember. First she was asked to think about keeping her hips toward me during the Feather and in the Natural Weave, which really means that she needs to be more contra-body to me. We spent some time looking specifically at the Natural Weave for her after that. The big takeaways were that she needs to move her foot more to the side during the Heel Turn at the start of the figure, and then as we come around she wants to delay her head opening until the body can’t wait any longer.

Once we got past the Natural Weave, we looked briefly at the checking action in the first corner, where Sparkledancer was asked to keep more in line with me. After that, we went back to look at her part of the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. She was told that she needs to be sure to step around me more so that we fully rotate as much as we need to, and to think about her part of the figure much like a Natural Spin Turn in the Waltz, where she basically comes up and around me as I pivot in place.

Finally, we got to her part in the Change of Direction. Lord Dormamu already mentioned to me that I need to work on controlling my step coming out of the figure as I go into the Feather afterward, but even when I was thinking about it he saw me come up unexpectedly during the transition. We came to the realization that I was basically lowering on top of Sparkeldancer’s leg as I stepped through, which caused me to come up instinctively to protect her (and myself). To counter this, Lord Dormamu wanted Sparkledancer to move her hips back during the latter steps of the figure to make sure her legs are out of the way for safety.

Whew! You got all that? OK, well we’re moving on anyway.

I had another dance-related meeting that I had to go to this Tuesday night as well. It wasn’t a Royal Dance Court meeting, like I had to go to last week. This one was for the second dance NPO that I was talked into helping out for. Remember when that happened back in July? Yeah, that group scheduled a meeting that just happened to be exactly a week after the other dance NPO group that I am a member of scheduled a meeting. Do I have conspiracy theories running rampant in my head that tell me these two groups are working together to monopolize my Tuesdays? You bet your butts that I do, but I can’t talk about those theories right now because all my tinfoil is so far away at the moment…

This meeting ended up being really short because most of the other people that are supposed to be on the board of this organization were not able to make the meeting, and only informed the rest of us of that fact at the last minute. Silly people, letting their lives get in the way of their dance lives… who does that? Even without the others in the meeting, those of us that did attend made decisions on some ideas that the others are just going to have to live with. Only one decision has any real monetary consequence though – the others are mainly about projects already in motion and organizational things that I’m surprised no one has set up before.

Let’s start with that thought, because it really makes me shake my head in sadness. So we were talking about some grant that the organization had applied for before I was asked to join. There is all kinds of documentation that the grant people are asking to have submitted for consideration before they would award the grant, as I’m sure you could guess. Some of that documentation already exists supposedly, while other pieces of it I was told could be cobbled together in less than an hour if a couple of the people got together and worked on it.

As I was listening to these people discuss gathering the documentation and creating the missing pieces, I had to raise my hand and ask the silly question that no one had mentioned in the discussion: where is all this documentation stored, and how does everyone in the group get access to it? That got me a bunch of strange looks. Apparently the documents exist in a number of different locations and there is no way for everyone to easily get access to it all if needed for a project like this. All the files are either attached to an email in someone’s inbox, saved to their personal computer’s hard drive, or printed out sitting in a folder on their counter at home. There is no organization to this mess at all!

I just sighed and realized that this was probably something that I was going to have to put together. In this day and age, when you can easily create an account for the organization that comes with massive amounts of ‘Cloud’ (I hate that term) storage which can be shared with everyone in the group, why hadn’t someone taken the initiative and set something like that up on day one? I have the same problem with my Royal Dance Court group – the same two ladies have been in charge of the group for the last six years, and the one that kept all the records is old and doesn’t like technology. All those records are stored in crappy computer files that are hard to understand if you’re not her, or on handwritten hard copies that are kept at the lady’s house that someone would have to dig out and read through to answer questions that come up. There is no way for all of the Royal Dance Court to gain access at the moment.

At least with this NPO group (I’m going to have to think of a better name…), when I mentioned creating a shared storage drive to collect all of the documents in, they all nodded their heads like it was the greatest idea they had ever heard and told me I could go ahead and set it up. When I mentioned the same idea a long time ago at one of my Royal Dance Court meetings, the older people in that group looked at me like I was speaking Greek and told me that they didn’t want to change the way things were done, because that was the way they understood how to do everything, and also change is hard work. To me, the implication of that message is that the only way things would ever change would be if someone (like me) seized power and forcibly instituted a new way of storing records, or if the older people slowly left the group and allowed the people remaining to gradually change the way record storage is done.

So file organization is important to me, I guess is what I’m trying to say. I don’t like it when you say that you need things, but then no one knows who has what you need because you keep everything scattered to the winds. That isn’t helpful. At least here there is a chance that I can push to get everything collected into some kind of logical manner in one central location. Whether or not the others will follow the template that I put together once I release it to them all remains to be seen, but I have to at least give it a try.

Beyond that, the next most important thing that we talked about was bringing in funds. Right now, the NPO is only able to serve a handful of children simply because the budget outputs are greater than the budget inputs. That’s one of the reasons that they decided to apply for the grant. In the short term, we talked about putting together a fundraising event to bring in some extra revenue. Since Sparkledancer and I were both in the room, and we are both also members of the Royal Dance Court, one of the ideas that was thrown out was hosting a dance party, with proceeds from the night being donated to the NPO.

Dance parties are something that I have become kind of good at setting up, so I had all kinds of useful input to add to the discussion here. Between Sparkledancer and I – and the Internet on our phones – we were able to find a date that didn’t seem to have any other big dance parties scheduled yet, which happens to be the last Saturday of this month. Lord Dormamu, since he knows everyone in the dance world and happens to have their phone numbers on hand, pulled out his phone and started making a bunch of calls once we had decided on a date.

A good ballroom DJ in the area was available for that Saturday, so he had us penciled in for that night before anyone else. Yay! He left a voicemail for the guy who owns the City Dance Hall asking if we could rent out the studio for the evening. The guy happens to be a dance instructor as you might imagine, and was teaching a lesson at the time, so he sent Lord Dormamu a text saying he would call him back later to discuss. We talked about having a group class before the party, since social dancers like dance parties where they can also learn new dance steps.

Unfortunately, Lord Dormamu is going to be out of the country on that weekend, otherwise he said he would teach that class for free (that would have been an amazing deal). He thought of a dance instructor friend of his who owes him a favor, and left him a voicemail asking if he might be able to teach a dance lesson that evening before our dance party at a discounted rate. That instructor confirmed this morning that he would be able to come teach a class for us, and said he would do West Coast Swing just for fun. So hey! Now there’s a dance party going on that night. See how easy that was?

The final thing that we discussed before the meeting ended was the big fundraising gala that this NPO put on last year. As you can imagine, they want to do it again this year. This time, instead of just being a volunteer helping out on the night of the event, I am also getting to be a part of the planning phase as well. Obviously the theme proposed for this next iteration of the gala is ‘more’ – more performers, more tickets sold, more money raised, etc. etc. etc…. You get the idea.

Last year a couple of us had been asked to advise during the initial meetings about the gala from the perspective of the Royal Dance Court. One of the big suggestions that those of us who spoke for the social dance community made at that time was disregarded, and I think that was one of the reasons that there were less butts in seats during the night of the performance than there could have been. The people planning the gala, many of who are still around planning the next one, don’t understand that the average social dancer who wants to support ballroom events and charities doesn’t have the disposable income to drop $100 for what they considered the ‘cheap’ seats to the performance. A lot of social dancers are older retirees on fixed incomes, and that’s a lot of money to them. Last year, they didn’t take our suggestion to offer an even lower-priced tier of seats that those kinds of people could afford, and I think they really missed out because of that decision.

This year, that was one of the first things that both Sparkledancer and I brought up in the discussions, and since both Sparkledancer and I are still on the Royal Dance Court, we put our feet down together as we spoke out for those people again. The rest of the board members agreed (though some agreed reluctantly) with our idea. Hooray! This time there will be a much, much lower price option for seats – seats that still offer a decent view of the stage, but won’t be anywhere near $100 a pop. One lady who agreed with us said that we should take it a step further and make it so that the low price we decided on also includes the taxes and fees for the ticket, rather than having those added on after the fact. I hadn’t even thought of that, but I heartily supported the idea once it was brought up. She jotted down some notes and was going to call the venue we booked for the performance and ask what those taxes and fees come out to so that we could make the math work.

It’s going to happen, and I think it will make the show better. So yeah! Fight the power! We are the greater-ratio-of-people-with-lesser-net-worths-than-those-in-power… or something like that.

*    *    *

In closing, I want to go off topic and say this: on Monday, a dog, a human, a vampire, some bubblegum and a video game console reminded all of us that even though every adventure must end so that new adventures can begin, the most important part of all adventures are the people you experience them with. So find your friends, grab your trusty sword, and pack a backpack full of handy gear and tasty snacks – because I know you know what time it is.

And The Muscular Cyborg German Dudes Dance With Sexy French Canadians

Last weekend wore me out. I spent pretty much all day on Saturday at the Endless Dance Hall. It was a lot more than I had originally planned on when I agreed to do the competition there last weekend, but it was mostly fun. To be available to do everything on Saturday, I had gotten up earlier than I wanted to so that I could get a few things done in the morning and head out to the Endless Dance Hall. I didn’t sleep too well that night – there were a lot of things going on, and I just couldn’t get my mind to quiet down, so I was awake on-and-off throughout the night. So the day started off with me already being tired.

Originally I was going to just dance in the competition, and my heats were going to be held late in the morning, which would have given me the rest of the day free. Then the organizers decided to have a dance party that evening in conjunction with the competition. Normally this would be something that I could skip if I was tired, but the week before the competition I had been asked if I could help set up and run the dance party because of my capacity as a member of the Royal Dance Court. At the time I agreed to do it to be helpful, since I am pretty easy to convince to volunteer for dance-related things.

Then the competition itself had some of its volunteers back out because another commitment that they couldn’t avoid came up, so I was asked if I could also come and help during the day. That’s why I ended up at the Endless Dance Hall well before my rounds were scheduled to start. In fact, I got there before any of the other competitors so that I could help set up the last-minute decorations, some of the technical equipment for the scrutineer and the DJ, and also help check people in once other competitors started arriving.

Helping out all day wasn’t really all that bad, but I also had some things for work that I had to get done that day. Since I was at the Endless Dance Hall all day long and well into the night once the cleanup from the dance party finished, I didn’t get home to start on my work items until after 11:00PM. By the time I finished working and crawled into bed, I had been up for almost twenty-four hours, so I ended up locking my cat out of my room overnight so that she wouldn’t walk all over me while I’m sleeping (she enjoys doing that for some reason) and passed out. I didn’t end up going out to practice on Sunday because I had kind of burned myself out on dancing Saturday. I feel a little bad about that, but not bad enough to apologize for doing it.

Anyway… there were only four of us working at the competition that day. One was a lady who was one of the two organizers of the event, and then there was also Sparkledancer and my friend Indiana who had been talked into volunteering for the event like I had. The competition was fairly small compared to others that I have gone to, but since the three of us were such novices at running an event like this, that turned out to be advantageous for us. We managed to get through the day with very few issues, and all the problems that did come up one of us was able to work out in very little time to keep everything running smoothly. I am quite proud of that accomplishment.

The rounds that I actually danced in that day turned out to be a bust though. I had thought that there would be people for me to dance against at this competition, but the people who had signed up for my rounds all scratched out at the last minute. Were they afraid of me or something? So that guaranteed that I got first place in everything that I danced, which in some ways is disappointing. I really hate dancing unopposed. Like, really hate it. It bothers me a lot.

Aside from the ribbons that I got for the events I danced in, I also got a medal. It was for being such an awesome volunteer and running everything so well. At least, that’s the story I will actually tell anyone who asks. The truth is slightly funnier than that, but only one other person gets to know that story. I am going to cherish it forever. Or give it to my cat to wear, because she definitely is first in my house. Either of those options would make me happy.
I did get a short break after the competition rounds were all finished up for the day while the staff at the Endless Dance Hall cleared up all the furniture that had been put out for the competition and cleaned up the floor for the dance party that night. When I got back to the venue, I switched on my full Royal Dance Court party host mode and got to work. I think I ended up doing a little of everything that night – collecting money at the door, engaging in small talk with guests that I had never met before, making sure that the snacks and drinks were filled, playing gopher to deliver messages between the DJ, the venue staff, and various volunteers as needed, and filling in to dance with ladies who were sitting out on the side since there were more women than men in attendance. That’s right, you can think of me like a Jack of all Trades for dance parties. I’m cool with that designation.

The party ran smoothly as well, like the competition earlier in the day. There was only one portion that I consider to be a bit of a hiccup – apparently over the last week or so prior to the event, the details of the party had been posted to a number of different locations, and some of those places listed the start and end times differently. That wasn’t really an issue that I had any hand in or that I could fix while helping to run the party, but I still consider it a hiccup to how well the event ran. There were a handful of people who showed up to the party an hour after we had actually started, because they had gotten their information about the party from a note someone had posted that listed the start time wrong. Because of that, we ended up running the party later than we had originally planned, giving those people who showed up late extra time to get their dance on before closing things down for the night.

However, being nice like that meant that I didn’t get out of there to go home until quite a while after I had originally planned. Also, there was one couple that had come to the dance that just would not go home! They were hanging around long after the music ended and we were trying to clean up. That would have been fine if they had offered to help us clean up, but they were just wandering around, getting in the way, trying to talk with the other volunteers and the DJ so that those people couldn’t finish the tasks they were working on… it got to be a little annoying to me. I was specifically waiting around for the DJ to finish disconnecting everything so that I could help move around the heavy equipment that was part of the sound system, but because that couple kept talking to the DJ I didn’t get to finish that when I wanted. Sigh… people.

Monday night I tried to get back to a bit of normalcy by going out to Latin Technique class. I had gone out after work to work out my legs, so when I got to the studio I was really hoping that we would end up doing Rumba to give them a little break. Unfortunately, I only had one other person agree with me that Rumba was the best way to go. Several of the other ladies wanted to do Samba, which I REALLY didn’t want to do! Lucky for me, a couple of ladies convinced him to work on Cha-Cha, which was still not going to be great for me to do with tired legs, but I could fake it better than Samba.

A fair number of ladies had shown up for the class that night, so Lord Junior said that he would have us work on some solo choreography rather than try to partner up. The choreography we were given was kind of short and was built to repeat, so you could use this to warm up or work on fast movements if you wanted. There is even something thrown in for people who want to do Samba, just so that those crazy people don’t feel left out.

We started out on a diagonal with our right foot forward. On beat two we would to a rock step and then go into a basic Forward Lock. Next we did three Open Box Steps, which is actually a figure that I learned a long time ago in Mambo. Each of these Open Box Steps should rotate you a quarter of turn over the three steps. At the end of the third one you would immediately take your right foot back to go into two Batucadas (the figure from Samba). Doing these in Cha-Cha timing seems harder to me than trying to do them in Samba timing, so good luck if you want to give them a try!
Once you finish the Batucadas, you would take a step back on your right leg, then pull your left leg in until your feet are together and do ⅜ of a turn and step forward on your right leg again. I know that kind of sounds like a heel turn, but trust me, it is not. To make the next step easier, we held in that position for most of one beat, then took two steps to the right on the next ‘& 1’ in the music so that you are standing on your right leg with the left pointed to the side. In that position we could go into two Cuban Breaks with ease. After the second one, we would stop halfway through a third with the left leg crossed in front of the right, do a Spiral Turn, and come out back into a Forward Lock like we had started the progression with so you could repeat everything.

After going through this slowly a few times, Lord Junior wanted to have us try to add arm motions to the mix. I was sort of able to do them while we were going slowly, but they just got to be wonky when he started to speed up the music on us. At that point, the biggest thing I had to spend a lot of effort focusing on was taking small steps as I moved. My default at this point is to try to push myself off my supporting leg to take as big of a step as I possibly can, which is a terrible thing to do during Cha-Cha. By the time we got around to dancing to full tempo music, I had dropped my arms out completely to help me remember to take small steps. I managed, though I’m sure that it didn’t look the prettiest while I did it.

Tuesday night I had to attend a meeting of my Royal Dance Court group to discuss dance business. There were so many topics that came up, it’s hard to sort through them and make any sense of it all! But above all of it, there was one topic that came up, one that was even listed on the agenda for the meeting for the night, that took up more of the discussion time than anything else that was talked about…

Mr. Grouchy-Face.

All I could think about when I got the agenda for the meeting a few days before was ‘Oh man, what did that guy do now?’ This is not the first time that we have spent time during our planning meetings to discuss things that Mr. Grouchy-Face has said or done, so my mind was rapidly trying to imagine all of the worst-case scenarios on things that he might have done this time which would warrant us spending even more time talking about him.

But all of my speculation was for naught, because Mr. Grouchy-Face was back on the agenda for a reason that we had already discussed before, albeit with a slightly new twist. It would seem that Mr. Grouchy-Face had decided that the best use of his time in his retired life would be to start writing letters to all sorts of people. Letters to my Royal Dance Court group’s president. Letters to various national dance organizations. Letters to friends, that he then would also post on his social media pages where anyone could read them. So many letters! Some of those letters even formed words! 😉
Jokes aside, the main topic that Mr. Grouchy-Face was writing about so much was a practice that he is really against, one that you’ve probably seen at dance parties you’ve attended: dance hosts. For those of you who never go social dancing, a dance host in my part of the Dance Kingdom is a dance instructor that is hired by a person or a group of people to go with them to a dance party and dance the night away. All the dance hosts I’ve ever seen have been male dance instructors hired by ladies, but I’m sure somewhere out in the world there are female dance instructors being hired by male dancers too. I’ve just never come across that in my travels.

Mr. Grouchy-Face does not like dance hosts. Does. Not. Like. Them. One. Bit. Based on what I found out about the content of his letters, for some reason he thinks that they are ruining social dances for all the men already in the Dance Kingdom, making dancing at social dances dangerous, and also preventing new men from stepping up to attend these parties and have fun with everyone on the dance floor. Yeah, those are his thoughts.

A bit of explanation, in reverse order:

  • Preventing new men – Mr. Grouchy-Face believes that new men are intimidated when they are at a social dance where a dance instructor is among the crowd of participants on the dance floor. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, trust me, I had the same thoughts, but Mr. Grouchy-Face believes that having dance hosts around who look more impressive on the dance floor makes it less likely that men who are new to dancing will come back to dance again.
  • Making social dancing dangerous – it is his belief that the dance hosts, when they are out on the floor with the ladies that hire them and doing ‘competition figures’ (as he calls them) make dancing dangerous because they bump into other dancers when they execute those moves. In truth, several ladies who are in my Royal Dance Court group have danced with Mr. Grouchy-Face and said that he is actually the one that is not very good at floorcraft and has run them into other dancers, but Mr. Grouchy-Face believes that the problem lies with the dance hosts.
  • Ruining social dance – according to the letters that he wrote, Mr. Grouchy-Face says that ladies who have hired dance hosts no longer want to dance with other men at the social dances they attend, which makes it hard for the other men to find willing partners. There was no mention of the fact that nine-out-of-ten dance parties (a statistic I just made up) have more men than women, so there always seem to be a plethora of other partners to choose from. No, somehow these dance hosts who only dance with the (anywhere from one to three) ladies that hired them for the evening make it impossible to find a lady to dance with.

I know, some of the positions he is presenting seem a bit… extreme, but those are his concerns that he has been spelling out in writing all these letters.

One of the groups that he had been writing letters to got sick enough of receiving them to actually start work on a response. They called someone they knew who lived close by, and asked that person to attend a large social dance that they knew was going to happen that month and take notes to see if the behavior Mr. Grouchy-Face was writing about actually happened. From what I was told at the meeting, the person took lots of notes, compiled some sort of report, and then passed that along to the people who had been getting Mr. Grouchy-Face’s letters. They are still ‘reviewing’ the report, which may just be management talk for ‘sitting on it until the problem is forgotten about.’

When Mr. Grouchy-Face was informed that someone had taken the time to come and investigate his concerns, he seemed pleased. Listening to all of this, I couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, this group would actually be able to do about the so-called issue. Each social dance in the area is run by a different group; like individual studios running their own parties, ballroom fan club groups hosting events, and my Royal Dance Court group. While each of those groups that are in close physical proximity to each other try to arrange our events so that we don’t step on each other’s toes,  we all have different leadership and rules for our events. So even though one outside group decided to come see what was going on based on Mr. Grouchy-Face’s letters, no changes to the practice that he has problems with could possibly happen until he convinced the leadership of all of the actual groups hosting these social dances in the area to change for him.

I don’t think that most of the social organizations that are near me would even consider making changes for him. I know for sure that my Royal Dance Court group isn’t going to. Our reasoning is that we constantly have more women than men attending our dance parties, so if a few ladies want to attend our party and bring someone they hired with them as a dance partner for the evening, that helps increase our attendance numbers without wrecking the male/female ratio. All the dance hosts that are hired to attend our parties are dance instructors, and all of them are good about keeping their movements contained while on the floor (I’ve watched), so the dance hosts don’t bring up Mr. Grouchy-Face’s concern for safety in my view. Because of this, we see no reason to tell ladies they can’t hire someone.

While we spent quite a bit of time discussing this issue during the meeting on Tuesday, it was more of an informative discussion than one where we tried to come up with a resolution. After all, Mr. Grouchy-Face is just one guy, and so far he’s the only person I know of who has complained about dance hosts. Even though he does so quite vocally, and apparently also in writing quite frequently, unless we have more people step up and join in the chorus with him, I doubt my Royal Dance Court group will move to any action, and just continue to observe from the outside to make sure that everyone plays nice. Who knows? Maybe getting the response that generated a report from one group will be enough to placate him for a little while. We’ll have to see. I’m sure if I hear about changes to this situation, I will be writing about it again, because it’s a little amusing to me to document the history of this silliness.

I’m going to wrap things up here for the week, since I went off on that subject for much longer than I originally intended. Time to clear our minds and get ready for the long weekend ahead! Are you doing any fun dance things during your holiday? I’m pretty sure there are a number of things on my plate to look forward to. Couple that with an extra day to sleep in, and I am going to be a happy man. I hope your weekend is just as fun and productive as mine looks to be. I’ll tell you all about it next week!