Set An Open Course For The Virgin Sea

Another busy weekend for me last weekend. I swear, one of these weekends I will purposefully not do anything dance related, just so that I can write about the dance things that I do during the week without making these posts ridiculously long. I swear I’ve been trying to keep them shorter! It helps me out when I try to go back over my notes if they aren’t super long! But there’s just so much that I want to remember…

Let’s start with Friday night. I was convinced by a number of people who I know to head out to the Fancy Dance Hall last Friday night because they were holding a dance party to raise money for hurricane relief efforts. All the door fees collected that night were being donated, and almost all of the instructors who usually teach at the Fancy Dance Hall were letting people sign up for dances for a $5 donation. Because the staff wanted to let people choose the style of dance when they donated money, the set list for the night had been predetermined, so everyone knew that the first dance was a Foxtrot, the second a Cha-Cha, the third a Salsa, and so on and so forth.

What really convinced me to go out that night was the fact that there was going to be a live band playing the music for the party. I’m a sucker for a ballroom dance party that has live music. If the band is good, and they have played for ballroom dancers before, I think that it is way more fun dancing than you get listening to canned songs. There is also an element of randomness that you get with a live band, since the music is played at whatever tempo the drummer wants that night (for good or for bad). If the band has never played for a ballroom dance party before, this can sometimes lead to difficult tempos for the chosen dance style.

The band that was playing that night… did alright. They didn’t play any original material, just covers of classic rock songs and standards – stuff that everyone knows all the words to sing along with. After the first couple of songs, it was fairly obvious to me that they had never played for a ballroom dance party before, because the tempos that they used for many of the songs were more conducive to dancing in a bar, as opposed to fancy dancing in a ballroom. I’m pretty sure that the dance styles that were selected to go along with each song on their setlist were chosen based on the tempo of the average recorded version of the songs.

That made the night kind of entertaining though. I danced slow Waltzes that were not-quite Viennese tempo, a Jive that seemed slower than an East Coast Swing, and Tangos where I had to be really careful turning my partner to Promenade Position because the tempo was so fast (and I’m fairly strong) that I’m pretty sure I could have sprained her neck. Halfway through the first set, I noticed that when the male instructors were dancing with older ladies, they were purposefully dancing at half-tempo. This made the dances even more interesting, because then you had two tiers of dancing going on at the same time.

Overall, it sounded like the night was a big success. When I had my lesson with Sir Steven the next day, he told me that they had raised a couple thousand dollars that night with just the door fee donations and the instructor dance donations. The band even donated their time for the event, so the fee that they would have been paid was thrown into the pot as well. Hooray!

My coaching session with the Princess that had been scheduled for Saturday morning had to be rescheduled. The Princess called me early on that morning and told me that some important Dance Kingdom business had come up and, since she’s the princess, she had to take care of the situation. I conferenced in Sparkledancer on the phone, and the three of us decided that Tuesday night was the earliest timeslot we all had available for rescheduling. Once I got off the phone, I breathed a sigh of relief, since that actually made my Saturday less crazy

I still had a lesson with Sir Steven early that afternoon planned out. When I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, the plan for the day was to run rounds, much like we did last time. This was less exciting than it sounds, but it was probably the best thing that we could do to get ready for the competition that is next weekend.

Sir Steven set up the music to just play through a setlist of songs at a minute-and-a-half a piece and let us dance. He grabbed a notepad and wandered around one side of the room watching us as we went through everything, taking notes about things to touch on when we completed the entire set. None of the notes were really anything groundbreaking – he pointed out places where it looked like Sparkledancer or I let our frame slip, and places where I accidentally let my head drift out of position, and spots where he thought that Sparkledancer and I lost body contact. Once we finished going through his notes, we danced through another set, with Sparkledancer and I trying to fix the issues he noted from the previous set.

After the first couple of dances that morning, I noticed that I was breathing overly heavy when we finished the dance and prepared to start the next. I wasn’t sure why that was – I get through all my hour-long kickboxing classes without getting that winded, so dancing for a minute-and-a-half shouldn’t have been bothering me that much. When I started to pay attention, I found out that I was holding my breath for large portions of the routine for some reason! I don’t even know why I was doing that!

So on top of trying to remember all the fine points of dance technique I had been taught, it seems like I also need to remember to breathe throughout the whole dance as well. You’d think that I would know how to breathe properly at my age, but I guess I still have a ways to go yet…

By the end of our coaching session with Sir Steven, I was feeling pretty alright about things. Overall, Sir Steven thinks that our Waltz and Foxtrot are definitely our strongest dance styles, while Tango is still the weakest. It’s not terrible according to him, it just doesn’t look nearly as strong as our Waltz and Foxtrot, or even our Quickstep. He told us that he is definitely going to focus more on Tango once the competition is over. That will be on top of learning our new showcase routine that we will be starting as well. Hooray!

I’m not sure what that means as far as the competition is concerned this weekend, but I can’t say that I’m all that worried. What I really want is scores from my heats this weekend to show marked improvement over the last competition I was in. I know full well that I still have a ways to go, but as long as I can see that I’m moving forward from where I’ve been, I’ll know that I’m making progress.

You may not remember, but about two years ago I went out dancing on a boat one evening. Well guess what? On Saturday night I did it again!

This time around was very different for me than how it went down two years ago. For one thing, this boat trip was something put together by the Royal Dance Court. Two years ago when they held this event, I wasn’t a member of the Royal Dance Court, but now I am, so that meant that I was sort-of working that evening, helping everything run smoothly.

Much like the trip two years ago, there was a basic dance lesson held on the deck before the boat cast off, which was used as a way to get everyone used to how the boat would shift in the water while people were dancing. I did not join this lesson, because I was down below deck helping to lay out the spread of food that we were providing the guests during the party. Based on what I could hear going on over my head, and the way the boat was swaying, I might be able to make guesses as to what figures they were practicing above me.

I did get some time to dance that night, even though I spent much of the evening helping out and trying to make sure that our guests didn’t make too much of a mess during the ride. Much like last time, the DJ stuck to Swing and Latin dance styles primarily, since those were easier to contain to small spaces. There were a few ballroom-style dances that were danced in a big oval going from bow to stern. Those were my favorite, because I thought it was rather funny to rub elbows with people traveling in the opposite direction. I’m easily amused, what can I say?

The most fun part, at least in my opinion, was one of the line dances that the DJ played. I was standing near the back wall of the deck watching the dancers in the middle of the boat while this all happened. Whenever the crowd rotated to face either the bow or the stern and then they all took steps together to the right or to the left, it was enough to cause the boat to lean to whatever side the crowd was marching toward. I did my best to get more people to join the line dance to increase the weight shifting the boat to side to side while the song played. I was having more fun than was probably called for during that song.

It was really late by the time I got home. I stayed after for quite a while to help the crew clean up the boat, and help the DJ take down all the musical equipment and bring it back onto the shore to be loaded into the car. The boat’s captain was super happy that I stayed behind to help even after the rest of the Royal Dance Court members took off. He invited me to come back the next day if I wanted. Apparently the boat was chartered for a wedding reception or something, and he said that if I wanted to come back and help clean up after that was over he would let me join the trip for free.

Maybe I missed my calling in life. Maybe I could live a life of working on the high seas. That would certainly help me get a good tan for dance events, right? My current office job doesn’t give me much time to be out in the sun during the summer days…

One more note: the weirdest thing that I saw that night was a guy riding a jet ski who was making a big, slow circle around our boat, holding up his phone the whole time. I think he was making a video of the dancing that he could partially see from his jet ski. That struck me as super odd. If it was a teenager on a jet ski making a video of the dance party, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look, but this was some middle-age gentleman. What was up with that guy?

Tuesday night was my rescheduled night to get beat up by the Princess. Let me tell you folks, she may be all fun and games, and super sweet and friendly when you see her at various places around the Dance Kingdom, but if you schedule a time to work with her, she will WORK you. I was sweating so much that night, it kind of offended me. Some of that was because she makes me nervous, but I also worked hard. And I was smacked a lot. Apparently since I am so durable, she thought the easiest way to get me to recognize when my body parts were out of alignment was just to smack them.

Sparkledancer and I had decided prior to our lesson that we were going to ask her to look over Tango with us. Sir Steven has told us over the last couple of weeks that Tango is our weakest dance, so it seemed like the best place to get in some world-class advice on how to make it… not the worst. Unfortunately, there was so much that she wanted us to change to make it better that by the time I walked out of the studio that night, my head was spinning! Let’s see if I can remember all the things she told me were the most important.

First off, she wanted me to change the way I held my frame in Tango. To make her happy, she wanted to have my left arm completely in line with my shoulder all the way down to my wrist, and my left elbow pulled back as far as it would go. My right arm needs to be wrapped further around my partner than in other ballroom dances to create the more romantic Tango hold, but she told me that pointing my arm downward so that my right hand ends up in the middle of my partner’s back makes my right elbow look weird. She recommended that I actually bring my hand up to the level it would normally sit if I were dancing Waltz or Foxtrot, just wrapped further around so that my fingertips end up touching my partner’s spine.

Next up, she wanted me to add more rotation into my body, to pull my left side toward my partner. Adding the changes to my arms to that rotation, I really felt like you would see me bent into this weird ‘Z’ shape if you looked down on me from overhead. I mentioned this to the Princess, but she said that she didn’t care if it felt weird. Making this change stick, more than anything else that she wanted me to change in the routine, would improve the overall visual quality of my Tango immensely.

She even went so far as to tell me that if there was only one thing that I could practice for Tango between now and the competition, this change in my frame would be it. Because I am so much bigger than Sparkledancer (and, let’s face it, most of the other competitors on the dance floor), I am the easiest thing for the judges to see. If I can dance Tango and look strong and maintain this hold for the whole dance, that is what the judges will walk away remembering.

I guess that is the one disadvantage of being so muscular – I can’t really hide behind anyone. Everyone knows where I am on the dance floor.

There were some other minor changes that the Princess recommended that altered the way figures rotated to make them look more dramatic. The Back Corte, for instance – I was told in the past that when I do this figure, I am supposed to step to the side and slightly back with my left foot. The Princess wants me to keep doing that, but to rotate my body considerably before taking the step, so now my foot is heading down the line of dance instead of toward diagonal center when I step back and to the left.

In the Promenade Pivot that we do, she wants my first three steps to travel in a straight line before pivoting, taking a small fourth step with my right foot to help me stop. Before I had been told that my third step I should be starting to curve around Sparkledancer, more like a Natural Turn in Waltz or Foxtrot, but apparently coming around like that on the third step makes the Princess unhappy.

In the right-side lunge that happens in the corner, the Princess told me that being split weight is wrong. Lunges are never split weight. I should have all my weight on my right foot and only be using my extended left leg to balance myself. In addition, she told me that when I step into the lunge, I need to make sure to step toward my partner’s right leg. If I focus on stepping to my right to create the lunge, I throw my partner off, but if I aim at stepping toward her right leg, I should always end up in the right place to create a stable platform for my partner to shape off of. In addition, she wants me to make sure to hold off on rotating my head to look at my partner until the last possible second when I am stepping with my right leg.

How many of these changes will I likely have in muscle memory before the competition? That remains to be seen. These four that I have written down are the most important changes I was told to focus on, in this order. If I can only do one, it has to be the change in my frame. If I can get two, the rotation in the Back Corte is next (we do that figure or variations of that figure a couple of times through the routine), and so on and so forth. So, now I have to find some time to practice more Tango specifically. Here’s hoping that all my other plans for Friday and Saturday night get cancelled!

Well, Sunday is the big day! I will be heading out to the Dance Death Arena once more to compete. I do have some final coaching sessions with both Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu scheduled for Saturday to get in some final notes from the two of them before the competition. Other than that, I will be sure to remember to breathe. That is the most important thing I can do during the whole competition!

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Takin’ Care Of Business (It’s All Mine)

The big to-do here in the dance kingdom this past weekend was a dance party on Friday night at the Endless Dance Hall. The venue was celebrating the anniversary of their opening, so they were holding a free party for everyone to attend. There was going to be lots of free food, a bunch of cool prizes given away in a raffle throughout the night, and tons of dancing. All for free! A lot of the other dance studios in the area decided to forego their own Friday night parties because they assumed that most dancers in the Dance Kingdom would end up at the Endless Dance Hall.

Since I’m not the type to pass up a free event I would enjoy, I also ended up at the Endless Dance Hall that night. I missed the free dance lesson that they were giving that night since I got there too late, but from what little I caught when they were reviewing at the end of class looked pretty basic (which would make sense for a free class given before a free party). Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and the mood in the air was infectious as I sat down to change into my dance shoes.

I’ve always liked dancing at the Endless Dance Hall. After all, they have so much dance floor, you can really just let go and move as much as your limbs will allow you to, which is not something I get to do in many other locations. Because so much of my dance time is now spent at other dance halls in the area, it is more of a rare treat now than it once was to find myself at the Endless Dance Hall for an event of any kind. So that night I took advantage of the situation, and stretched out my legs as much as I could while I was dancing.

The funny part ended up being that, no matter how much space was available on the dance floor for people to use, everyone tended to bunch together in the same spot on the floor while dancing. If there was a Latin or Rhythm song playing, people would all be crowded around one spot on the floor really close to one-another. If it was a Standard or Smooth song, the crowd would generally flow around the floor in a big crowd much like a school of fish, with only a couple of dancers dancing outside the school. I don’t think this was intentional behavior, but I noticed it as I danced that night. I thought it was interesting behavior, which is why I’m mentioning it. Does this happen at dance parties that you attend?

Early Saturday afternoon I had scheduled a session to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer at the Fancy Dance Hall. Sir Steven was out-of-town that day, so I only had the one lesson to go to this past Saturday. Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I had made plans to get together on Sunday to work on things instead.

After getting to the studio and starting to stretch out my shoulders in preparation, Sparkledancer arrived and came to hang out where I was stretching. When Lord Dormamu saw the two of us, he excused himself from the lesson he was giving for a moment, ran over to the office in the back and came back with a sheet of paper. He brought that paper over to Sparkledancer and I, which turned out to be a flier for a competition being held nearby in early November. We were told that this was the next competition we should add to our calendars. With that, he left us to warming up while he went back to finish up his lesson.

I guess that’s an improvement, being given a month’s notice for a competition, right? I mean, the last competition Lord Dormamu told me I had to sign up for months ago, I was only given a week’s notice. So it looks like I will be adding this to my list of things to prepare for. Sigh…

Once Lord Dormamu finished everything up with his other student, we got started. We talked briefly about the competition at the end of the month. According to Lord Dormamu, there are four major points he wants Sparkledancer and I to focus on, which should be the main things we need to do in order to ‘win’:

  • No gapping
  • Footwork
  • Timing
  • Alignment

Apparently if the two of us focus on these four items, and showcase how much our movement has improved under Lord Dormamu’s recent tutelage, he thinks we should have no trouble winning the rounds that we are signed up for. I can’t say that I am nearly as confident about winning as he seems to be, but I’m going into this competition with an open mind.

We spent our time working on the Foxtrot again, continuing to look at our movement while dancing. There are a couple of specific points I was asked to work on, unrelated to the movement aspect of the dance. The first thing that we stopped to look at was the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. Last time Lord Dormamu had looked at this with me, he had told me that I needed to lean to the left more during the rotation so that my head looked like it stayed in the right place for the entire figure. This time around, while he watched me do what I had been practicing, he told me that he still didn’t entirely like the way that it looked.

I stepped through the figure a few times with him so that he could see what I was doing piece by piece. After going through it all, he told me that I should be able to fix the way the figure looks by lowering more as I come out of the Natural Turn before I go into the Closed Impetus. If I did just the Closed Impetus, everything went perfectly well, but if I started with any of the figures in the routine before the Closed Impetus, it seems like I am not lowering myself enough to start the rotation, which is what was making it look funny. I’ve got some time to practice the transition between the two figures before the competition, and I better get cracking!

We also looked at the Three Step again briefly. The figure has been going well, but now Lord Dormamu wants me to try to rotate my body even more during the figure. He told me that I should basically be able to see what is happening directly behind me if my body is rotated enough. There was this big smile on his face when he described that to me, so I don’t entirely know if he was being completely serious about me seeing where I was coming from, so I’m taking it to mean that I should rotate as much as my body can handle… for now..

At the end of our lesson, Lord Dormamu was telling us that he had to head out of the country for a while to take care of other dance business, so this would be our last time seeing him until the day before Sparkledancer and I are scheduled to compete. As he was telling us about how we should use the time to practice a lot and we would have one last run-through with him before competing, the Princess happened to walk by. With his eyes suddenly lighting up, he flagged her down and asked her if she had any time open on her schedule next weekend to work with Sparkledancer and I in his absence.

As it turns out, the Princess had planned to be at the Fancy Dance Hall next Saturday as well to take care of some business things, so she told Lord Dormamu just to put something on her calendar and we could all get together. Now I have a scary lesson next weekend to prepare for, which will be right after my lesson with Sir Steven. I hope that I don’t work too hard and get all sweaty during my lesson with Sir Steven that day, because I don’t want to offend the Princess with my sweat while I offend her with my dancing…. 🙂

On Saturday night my Royal Dance Court group was holding their monthly dance party. This month the big plan for the party involved getting Judge Dread to come out and teach for us, since he has a pretty big following that will come out to hear him give a lesson. However, we also wanted to have him come and teach a lesson in Quickstep, which is a dance style that tends to keep people away from the dance party. As I walked into the venue to help set up that night, I was curious to see whether the crowd ended up bigger than usual because of Judge Dread, or smaller than usual because of the Quickstep.

It turned out to go both ways. The class started off larger than usual, but as Judge Dread made his way through class and the figures got harder, people started to drop out and go sit along the side of the room until the class was over. Judge Dread actually broke what he was teaching in class into three separate patterns for everyone: one that was really basic, and could be used just to get anyone around the room during the song, one intermediate pattern that improved upon the basic pattern and helped make you look more impressive, and finally a more advanced pattern that actually borrowed a Tango figure to use in Quickstep to make things more challenging.

I ended up sitting out the class that night. The crowd had an even number of men and women in it as Judge Dread got started, so I wasn’t needed this time around. I sat out on a chair in the back, paying attention as best I could when people weren’t talking to me. This got to be progressively harder as the class progressed and more couples dropped out. Some of them came to sit near me and ended up talking to me. I didn’t catch the entirety of the progression used at the end of the class because I was being social instead.

The dance afterward was more fun for me, since I didn’t have to sit out from that part of the night. We had some new people come out to the party whom I hadn’t met before, so I made sure to stop by and introduce myself and see how they were doing. Once was a single gentleman, and the ladies attending the party made sure that he was doing alright. The others came as a couple, and it didn’t look like they had danced much before. They were friendly enough, but beyond that they were only interested in dancing with each other that night. Overall, the party turned out well, and I think everyone had a great time.

As I strolled into the Fancy Dance Hall on Sunday for my coaching session with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, it occurred to me that the competition that I was preparing for was two weeks from that day. Two weeks! That’s so close! Where has all the time gone lately? Probably to dancing, I’m sure. That seems to be what I do the most of in my life right now.

The Fancy Dance Hall was much quieter that afternoon than it was when I was there the day before. Only Sir Steven and the Gatekeeper happened to be there when I walked in until Sparkledancer showed up. Sir Steven and the Gatekeeper were just finishing up a lesson, and once she was done she just hung around the studio for some reason, doing things on her laptop while Sparkledancer and I went through our lesson. She never looked at us, but I could hear her chuckling sometimes when I made jokes during our lesson, so I’m pretty sure she was somewhat paying attention to us. Weird.

We started off that day running through a four-dance round – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Quickstep. That isn’t quite the order that we will be dancing things in the competition, but it was close enough for our needs. Once we finished up those four dances, Sir Steven went back to talk about specific points in a couple of the routines that he wanted to go over again with the two of us. Waltz and Quickstep actually looked pretty good according to Sir Steven, so he wasn’t going to mess with them that day. Hooray! That left only Foxtrot and Tango to talk about.

Foxtrot was first, and there were only two points that Sir Steven wanted to make about what he saw. The first thing he wanted to point out was that he thought that the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish looked funny. I told him that I was aware of this, and that Lord Dormamu had actually talked to me about it the previous afternoon. Because I hadn’t had any real practice time with the figure since that lesson, I hadn’t really worked out how to implement the changes Lord Dormamu wanted me to do successfully quite yet. Sir Steven gave me some pointers about making sure that the lowering was done through my knee bending and rotating slightly to make the figure look better.

The second thing that he wanted to talk about was the Change of Direction at the end of the routine. The pause that Lord Dormamu wants us to do in the middle of the figure still looks awkward. We spent some time working with the shaping of the figure, using the pause to shape our bodies slowly and dramatically before starting to move again, with the hope that it would make that hold seem less strange in the middle of the figure.

Overall we only spent a short while on Foxtrot that day. Tango was our major focus, since that is still our weakest dance of the four. First thing he wanted to talk about was our Promenades – apparently while he watched us do the routine at the beginning, our Progressive Links looked really strong, but then our first step out of the link just looks… bleah (that’s a technical dance term, I’m sure). Sir Steven wanted us to make sure that we had just as much power on the first step coming out of a Progressive Link as we did during the Progressive Link itself.

We also talked about the size of the routine versus the size of the floor we compete on. With all of the work we have done with Lord Dormamu on our movement lately, when Sparkledancer and I dance the routine we are easily able to make the choreography stretch beyond the length of a competition floor. Sir Steven’s preference is for me to just throw out figures from the routine, rather than curve the routine around the floor to make all the figures fit. As he told me, the judges don’t know my choreography, so if I eliminate parts of a routine and dance confidently, it will look better than trying to keep all of the figures while taking tinier steps, or curving figures awkwardly and possibly changing the angles that certain figures begin and end with.

This Saturday is going to be crazy for me. I have two lessons scheduled, one with Sir Steven and one with the Princess, and then I have to hurry up and run home and then drive out to the big lake in the Dance Kingdom for an evening of dancing on a boat! How much fun is that going to be? Unfortunately, the boat party is totally sold out at this point, so if you don’t already have tickets, you’re going to be stuck dancing on the shore. If you do have tickets, come say hi to me at some point during the evening! On top of all of that, I really have to practice, since the competition is so close now! Will I also have time to fit in any sleep? I guess you’ll have to tune in next week to find out!

All The Action Is Right There At Your Feet

Oh man, Saturday was a good dance day for me. I was just feeling all kinds of good feels for dancing by the time I went to bed on Saturday night. I’m pretty sure that most of it was because of a crazy idea that I had which actually turned into a reality thanks to a lovely lady agreeing to a request of mine… but I’ll get to that later. Let’s take things in order, shall we?

The first dance-related thing that I did on Saturday was my normal lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven. Sir Steven wanted to run through everything except Viennese Waltz that day, spending most of the time on Quickstep since it had been a while since we had covered that style. I jotted down a few notes I needed to remember for each dance that we did:

  • Waltz – we were reminded again to make sure to add the rotation to the Half Natural Turn later; Sir Steven also wanted us to practice our Double Reverse Spins some more, making sure that Sparkledancer slows down her last two steps of the figure
  • Tango – Sir Steven told us that our Tango is looking a lot like a Tango now, instead of like a Foxtrot (yay!), so that was pretty good to hear; throughout the dance we were told to focus on controlling the power in our slow steps more; in the Promenade Pivot I have to keep my head in check because Sir Steven said that I was moving it as I rotated without realizing what I was doing; during the same figure, Sparkledancer was told that her head keeps looking straight during the turn and then whips around back to Promenade right at the end to make it more dramatic
  • Foxtrot – there were a few points in our Foxtrot routine that Sir Steven wanted us to change: in the Reverse Turn he wanted me to change my body rotation during the figure, neutralizing my body on second step, and then turning back into CBMP on the third to lead outside partner; during the Natural Weave he wanted Sparkledancer to work on counterbalancing more with her head when coming out of the heel turn; during the Change of Direction, Sir Steven looked at the change Lord Dormamu had told us to make in the figure (making it cover eight beats of music instead of four), and he wanted us to slow the whole thing down to make it four slow movements instead of being one slow step, a quick step, holding for four beats and then taking the final quick step. This last change got thrown out later by Lord Dormamu
  • Quickstep – overall Quickstep went well. The big things Sir Steven wanted us to look at in Quickstep were to make sure that we stay connected for the whole dance; to be sure that the last two Progressive Chasses on long wall go straight down the line of dance; for me to keep my head in one place in the Natural Spin Turn (there will be no head flick any more); and on the short wall after the Double Reverse Spin I can angle the Progressive Chasse toward the center more to stretch out the figure without running out of floor space

Sparkledancer and I were also given the official information on the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is going to put on. I guess that means that we are definitely going to be a part of the show.. I’m not sure how much of my original, mostly funny idea for a dance number will make it into the performance. The idea that I had thrown out didn’t exactly fit with the theme of the event. I had given Sir Steven some ideas during our initial discussion about how my idea could be made to fit in, but it was still a stretch.

However, if you subtract large portions of the idea I had (basically, all of the characterization of the two people in the dance, the costumes, the setting… really all the stuff that made the idea funny to me), and replaced them using characters and costumes and the setting from the theme of the show, things will still work. However, changing all of that changes the entire feeling of the performance. Where my idea was to do something kind of lighthearted, sappy and funny, the dance would turn into something very dramatic, haunting and emotional.

Is it a good idea to make these changes and go through with the showcase? I’m not sure. I was pretty excited about the original idea that I had for the show. If I have to change most of it to make it fit into the showcase, is it still even my idea? Will the performance be as much fun? Can I even play a more dramatic character while dancing, since my natural state is to be rather silly? I’m not sure. For the time being, I didn’t say no to being in the showcase, but I haven’t put down any money to be in it either. Maybe I can talk to Sir Steven about blocking out the choreography a little so that I can get an idea of what the dance will look like before I pay for the event. That might help.

Of course, I should also probably talk to Sparkledancer about this. Obviously she could perform with Sir Steven if she wanted to be in the show and I didn’t, but he’s nowhere near as strong as I am, so he wouldn’t be doing many crazy lifts with her if that’s something she wanted to do. Plus, if I wasn’t going to be in the show, she would have to schedule to take lessons with Sir Steven to learn the choreography without me, so I wouldn’t be paying for half of those lessons like I normally do. That might make her reluctant to sign up for the event on her own if I wanted to back out. With all of the crazy things dance-related things that she does for me, I should do this for her if she wants to be in the show. That’s what a good friend/amateur dance partner would do, right?

Anyway… enough about that nonsense. Here’s the update on my crazy idea, which is something I talked about last week:

Remember how I mentioned that, in my quest to get more female instructors to come teach workshops before the dance parties hosted by my Royal Dance Court group, there was one super-high level, totally awesome female instructor that I was going to try to personally convince to come teach for us? Guess what? I actually had a chance to talk to her on Saturday afternoon at the Fancy Dance Hall, and she totally said yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can you guess who I asked…?

…yup, it was the Princess! I went straight to the top of the list of female dance instructors in the area. After all, what’s the point of starting with second best for a quest like this?

I did end up going out and buying her some chocolate to try to bribe her, because I figured that it couldn’t hurt. She told me that I didn’t have to do that, she likely would have said yes to me anyway, but I’m sure that my offering of tasty treats helped just a little. Word on the street is that the Princess loves good chocolate.

Once she said that she would be willing to do this huge favor for me, I told her that she could pick out any month she wanted to come and any dance that she wanted to teach, and I would make sure that it happened for her. Initially she said that she love to come teach a Tango lesson in January, but after she left Lord Dormamu told me that he was pretty sure that she was scheduled to go to a competition with him over the weekend our dance party was scheduled in January. So that will probably have to change. I’m going to talk to her again and shoot for February now, where our dance party will be the Saturday after Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to hold a dance workshop taught by someone everyone in the Dance Kingdom loves?

So I’m pretty excited and proud of myself for getting this all set up. I’m going to pat myself on the back for a minute right now, just for thinking about how awesome an event it’s going to be. Good job me! Her agreeing to do this just put me in a great mood for the rest of the day on Saturday (and it’s putting me in a good mood again just talking about it now!).

I had gone back to the Fancy Dance Hall early on Saturday to get a chance to talk with the Princess, so I had a lot of time to kill that afternoon before my second lesson of the day with Lord Dormamu. I sent Sparkledancer a message asking when she would be coming back, because if she was around I could get in some extra practice time while waiting. Lucky for me, she wasn’t too far away, so she got there in twenty minutes and we worked on some of the things Sir Steven told us to practice earlier that day.

When Lord Dormamu finally finished up his other lesson and came to join Sparkledancer and I, we got down to work on Foxtrot again. This time around, Lord Dormamu spent most of our session working with Sparkledancer on her position while in dance frame. I guess that either means that I am finally holding my own enough that what I’m doing is tolerable, or what Sparkledancer was doing that day was bothering him more than anything I did that day. Either way, there were long periods of time that afternoon where I was just standing around watching the two of them dance together without me.

During one run through of the routine where I was actually involved, we got all the way through the Change of Direction near the end, so I decided to stop and tell Lord Dormamu about the change Sir Steven asked us to make to the timing of the figure. After I explained what Sir Steven had asked us to change, and then danced through the figure with Sparkledancer to show him, Lord Dormamu said that we could not do things that way without risking disqualification.

Apparently, according to “the rules”, the figure is recorded in “the book” with a specific timing for each step. If we dance through the figure and hold in the middle without changing the timing of the actual steps we take, then we are still dancing the same figure. However, if we change the timing of the steps, then we are changing the figure itself. Until we start dancing in the Open-level category where we don’t have to follow the syllabus any longer, we aren’t allowed to do such things. So, in order to keep from being invigilated, we have to stick with what we were originally told and not implement the changes that Sir Steven wanted.

I had never heard that before. I’m not sure where these ‘rules’ are written that Lord Dormamu referred to, but I don’t think he would lead me wrong on something like this. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.

Near the end of our session, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I get into frame for one more run of our routine. As he came back over after starting some music, he slowly walked around the two of us while we stood there, evaluating our dance frame. He commented on how much Sparkledancer had improved how she looked over the course of this lesson. Sparkledancer smiled at him and said “It’s all because I have such a great coach.” Without missing a beat, Lord Dormamu winked at her and said “Yes. Good work, Sir Steven.” I lost it at that remark and broke frame to turn around and walk away from the two of them. Sometimes they are too much for me to handle…

Because I was feeling so full of good dance vibes that day, I wanted to go out to a dance party Saturday night to try to continue that high. The only dance party that I knew about was the one taking place at the Fellowship Dance Hall, which is not a venue that I go out and visit very often. The crowd that they tend to draw at this particular ballroom club in the Dance Kingdom is… old. Much older than the other crowds that I am used to dancing with, which are already quite a bit older than me. But that night I went anyway, throwing my age concerns to the wind. Adventure!

I got there early enough to take part in the lesson that was being offered before the party started. The instructor wanted to go over some Waltz with everyone. You would have thought that would mean that a larger number of songs they played at the open dance after the lesson was over would have been Waltz numbers, but that wasn’t the case! Anyhow, the steps that they went over during the lesson weren’t figures that I found to be complicated, but many of the other men kept stopping the instructor to ask him all sorts of clarifying points about what they should be doing. The way the instructor talked about the steps was more confusing than helpful, in my opinion, which might account for the struggle the other men were going through.

Though no distinction was made, this pattern would be quite at home in International Waltz: starting with the men facing diagonal wall, we did a Half Reverse Turn, then a Hover Corte, a Back Whisk and then a Closed Wing to set the lady on our left side. Next he added on an Open Reverse Turn that went into Outside Change Steps. We did three of those that traveled down the line of dance normally, and a fourth that curved us so that the men were facing against the line of dance. We set the lady up for a nice Develope from this position, and backed out of the figure with another Half Reverse Turn.

As I mentioned, they didn’t play a whole lot of Waltz songs during the dance party. In fact, they didn’t play a whole lot of ballroom-style songs at all. Most of what the DJ played were Latin and Rhythm styles. That was a bit of a disappointment to me, since at this point in my life I prefer ballroom dances, but I still had fun. The DJ and the instructor who taught the lesson were really working hard at getting the men to change partners that night (my rough count put the attendance at around thirty-five women to twenty-two men). They did this weird thing where they would play two songs of the same dance style back-to-back, telling the men to dance with two different partners for each song.

For the most part that tactic seemed to work, but they also tried to use that idea with both Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. Not many men danced for either of those two styles, and only a handful of the women knew those styles, so it seemed like everyone was fighting over the same partners for those back-to-back dances while all of the other dancers who didn’t do Quickstep or Viennese Waltz just sat on the sidelines for both songs and watched. There might have been some forlorn sighing going on, but I was moving too fast while I danced to say for sure.

Well, I don’t know about you, but my plans for this weekend got wrecked by a potential hurricane. That big regional meeting that I had been talked into attending was supposed to be held at a conference hall that sits only a stone’s throw from the east coast. With the track of the big storm out there still up in the air, a lot of the people who were scheduled to attend or speak at this meeting cancelled, so the whole event got scrapped. Now I have nothing planned, since I had cleared my calendar of all other events this weekend so that I could be out of town.

Don’t you hate when that happens? OK, a lot of you probably don’t have issues with hurricanes too often if you live more toward the middle of the country. I remember when I used to live in the mid-west, and hurricanes were just something I heard about on the news happening to people in other parts of the country. Now I live somewhere where hurricanes cause storms with lots of rain, and we get influxes of people coming to the area to escape the harsher portions of the storms that hit closer to the coast. Crazy!

Maybe with all the people coming to town this weekend from the coasts there will be huge dance parties I can attend. Isn’t that a good way to ride out a storm? Dance the night away? I’ll have to call around and see what’s happening. I’m sure there’s a dance party somewhere that I can go to!

If She Would Dance, I Would D.J.

Last week Thursday night I ended up meeting up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for some coaching. This lesson was supposed to happen the week prior, but Lord Dormamu had a scheduling conflict, and then was out of town for some competition or another (he does that a lot), so we had to put things off until last Thursday. The plan for that night was to continue to work on our movement in Foxtrot.

Overall, Lord Dormamu is pleased with how things are coming along. That night, instead of worrying about the overall look and feel of our movement, we spent most of the night looking at figures in the routine and fixing specific issues. The first thing he hit on was the Three Step that happens on the short wall. He told us that it seems like that Three Step is never as good as the one that we do along the long wall, even though we should be doing the exact same technique during both. We had to go back and dance through the figure over and over again for him to prove that we could execute both Three Steps in the same way. As the night progressed and we moved on to other figures, he would often have us back up and start at that Three Step and dance through the routine until we got to the figure we were reviewing, to give us even more practice. Sigh…

The next figure that he wanted to touch on was the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. I was told that the leaning I was doing during the rotation of the figure was helping to make my head look like it was in the right place, so that was good. I specifically asked him about how much I was shaping my body though – sometimes I felt like I was getting close to, if not actually, breaking along my left side as I leaned my body as much as he wanted. He had me go through the figure a couple of times while he watched closely. From where he was standing, everything looked great to him, so he told me I shouldn’t worry too much about things that aren’t happening. It’s still a weird feeling to be bending my body to the left so much during the figure, but I guess I’ll just have to get used to that.
  After the initial rotation in the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish, as I bring my feet together and Sparkledancer gets all the way around my body, Lord Dormamu wants me to start raising myself up more, straightening my legs quite a bit in the process. This is very different from what he has been telling me to do in Foxtrot up to this point, where I was supposed to stay down low the whole time I was dancing. Coming up like this does kill the movement a bit, as you can imagine, but since we are using this figure to rotate around a corner, Lord Dormamu said that it will actually help the movement change direction faster. That will be something else to get in some practice doing before it feels more natural.

The final big thing he wanted Sparkledancer and I to change was the three-step Change of Direction that we do after the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. For the time being, he wants us hold in the middle of that figure for an extra measure of music, making the figure seem more like a Hesitation than a Change of Direction. The reasoning Lord Dormamu gave us was that adding in the extra pause there would allow us to really collect ourselves, reset everything, and then start the routine fresh again as if we were starting from the beginning. If I thought that raising up in the middle of the Closed Impetus felt unnatural, this change to the Change of Direction is even worse. I can understand the benefits of what he wants us to do logically, but it’s going to take some practice to make it happen comfortably for me.

I just love practice so much, don’t you? That must be why I make all these notes about things I need to practice! That just has to be the reason!

Saturday morning I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to get some work in. Sir Steven looked at our Waltz and Foxtrot routines for a few minutes each to start with, and then we spent the majority of the time that day practicing Tango again.

The most interesting thing that we ended up looking at was in the Waltz, and I don’t even know what to make a note of about the change! We got caught up looking at the Natural Spin Turn again, since that seems to be a thing we always have to stop and look at whenever we do Waltz. Sir Steven wanted me to try to take an even bigger step for the third step coming out of the Natural Spin Turn if I could. Whenever I tried to do this, it really didn’t go well. He tried to get me to adjust all kinds of things to make it work better, like lowering more as I took the step, or rotating my upper body more going into the second step and holding that position for the third step, but none of that helped. We then started going through the figure slowly, stopping at every step to see what was going on.

Whenever we stopped on the second step, I was having a hard time trying to keep my balance with Sparkledancer. I could stand there and hold the position on my own, but with Sparkledancer it felt like I was constantly falling backward. So Sir Steven and Sparkledancer worked on what she was doing during that step to see if that would help my situation. The two of them managed to figure something out, and then when he had Sparkledancer and I go through it again, whatever they did made a huge difference! Suddenly everything was balanced, and I could stand there all day and hold on the second step before stretching into the third.
  The problem is that… Sparkledancer doesn’t remember exactly what she and Sir Steven changed. When we were practicing on Sunday afternoon out at the Electric Dance Hall, I made a point of going through the Natural Spin Turn again so that we could get in some more practice. She and I talked about the figure, and she tried to remember what was changed, but couldn’t. Even still, we were able to get through the figure without any issues, so whatever she and Sir Steven figured out must have stuck with her. The real test will be to see if we can get the same results when we practice again next weekend… if everything still feels good then, I will say that it’s a permanent change. If we have issues, we’re going to have to try to make some guesses to figure out what was changed to fix it.

Maybe I’ll ask Sir Steven when I see him on Saturday if he remembers, and then I’ll write it down right away. That helps me remember things for sure.

Tuesday night I headed off to a quarterly meeting of the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. The group tried to keep the meeting as short as possible – there are two teachers in the group that had just started school the day before, so they wanted to get home and go to sleep. I’m pretty sure one of the other older ladies also just didn’t want to be there that night; this observation is based on her behavior – she was pretty quiet all night, she made one disparaging statement near the end of the meeting, and then she bolted for the door as soon as the discussions on the agenda were over. I had one item that I really wanted to talk about during the meeting, and luckily everyone seemed to be in favor of my idea, so that made me feel pretty good. Hooray!

I’m going to start by talking about my big win, just to pat myself on the back a little bit. There’s been this ongoing issue that keeps coming to our attention, where apparently some of the Amateur male dancers who attend our dance parties do not like having to share the dance floor with dance hosts. For those of you who may not know, in my part of the Dance Kingdom, a dance host is generally a male dance instructor who is hired by a female student (sometimes a group of students) to dance with them at a social party. The complaints usually come from one older gentleman in particular, though the rumors that circulate say that he isn’t the only one complaining – he’s just the most vocal with his complaints.

Basically the problem comes down to the fact that the gentlemen feel like these dance hosts are making them look like… well, amateurs. Because the dance hosts are also dance instructors, they know how to dance every dance style that is played, and they can throw out all kinds of “fancy moves” that the amateur men don’t know how to lead. Those amateurs that have complained about this practice say that the ladies are likely to become less interested in dancing with them if they could choose to dance with one of these dance hosts instead, because the dance hosts are just better dancers.

I know, I’m sure you can also see all the holes to poke into that argument, but so far none of us have been able to assuage these complaints with our logical counterarguments.

The thought that kept coming to me whenever I would hear other members of the Royal Dance Court discussing this issue was “why don’t these men who are feeling inferior go out and learn some new things?” After all, there are many female dance instructors in the area, and I’m sure those ladies could work with these amateur males to help them improve.

Then it occurred to me – when we host our monthly dance parties, we hire a dance instructor to come in and teach a class before the party starts. Since I joined the Royal Dance Court almost two years ago, I can think of only three parties where we brought in a female dance instructor to teach the class before the party; for all of the other events we brought in a male instructor instead. So maybe the guys that attend our dance parties just don’t know about all the female instructors in the area!

That became my goal for the meeting – to try to convince the rest of the Royal Dance Court that we need to bring in more female instructors to teach. I was thinking that as we started to plan out the dances and themes for our 2018 parties, we could make a goal of trying to get five female instructors to teach during that year. It seemed like an ambitious number to ask for, but if the group agreed with me I already had three female instructors in mind to ask right away, and I was sure that the rest of the group could give me two more potentials to talk to.
  And you know what? The rest of the Royal Dance Court members actually seemed excited about my proposal! I threw out the three names I had, and I did manage to get a couple more to add to my list from the others. Yay! One of the ladies I suggested would be a big deal if we could get her to agree to teach for us, because she is a super-high level competitor that has all kinds of competitions and championship wins to her name. I thought that the women who attend our parties would find her insights on dancing fascinating. I offered to talk to her personally and see if she’s even interested, and if she says yes we would basically let her choose whatever dance style she wanted to cover.

I think she likes me, so if I ask her I hope she would at least consider the proposal. Maybe I’ll find a present to bring to help persuade her to go along with my crazy idea. What kind of present would be most persuasive for a female dance instructor? Chocolate? Dance shoes? Puppies? I’ll think of something.

The other issue that we spent a large amount of time discussing was themes for our dance parties, or more specifically, whether or not themes were even a good idea for our parties. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but longstanding tradition in our Royal Dance Court group has it so that every dance party that we host has some sort of accompanying theme. Over the course of my tenure, I have found that the majority of people who get dressed up to match the theme are the other members of the Royal Dance Court (being a guy, I may or may not dress up, depending on how I feel that particular day). So the question came up at our meeting on Tuesday: if we are the only people participating in the themes for the dances, should we continue to have themes for every single dance?

I was in the camp that said that it’s cool to do a theme every once and awhile, but we didn’t need one every month. If we have them as special occasions rather than a regular occurrence, maybe more people will participate. Sparkledancer brought up the fact that the only themes that she really noticed people dressing up for were the Christmas themes, and themes that involved wearing a specific color. On top of that, another ballroom dance club that is near us does themes for all of their dance parties, and they really go all out. Because their parties always happen before our parties every month, Sparkledancer thought we could distinguish ourselves from them by taking a more relaxed approach to decorating and dressing up, and have our parties more focused on the dancing.

Sparkledancer’s speech was enough to get a majority of the Royal Dance Court members to agree with her, so we decided to give her idea a try for 2018. It will be interesting to see what the reaction to these changes are next year, if I manage to get a bunch of female dance instructors to come teach lessons for us in 2018 and Sparkledancer manages to change our parties so they are less crazy themed and more focused on dancing for fun. Look at the kinds of changes the youth of the Dance Kingdom can bring about! This is just a small-scale change to start with, but it gives me hope that if enough of us “younger kids” can band together we can make bigger changes in the world of ballroom dancing that can improve things for everyone!

Finally, let’s talk about what went on in Standard Technique last night. I got to the Electric Dance Hall a bit before class started, and I was a bit worried because the windows were so dark. I thought class might have been cancelled, and no one sent me the memo – though, there were a lot of cars in the parking lot, which implied that something was in progress. As it turns out, the big chandelier that is the primary source of light in the dance hall was having some maintenance done, so it just seemed dark from the outside. Lord Junior had a handful of lamps in all the corners and on the front desk to light the studio. When I got inside, it gave the place a sort of romantic atmosphere, which was kind of fun for dancing.

Weirdly enough, we had an extra gentleman join us for class yesterday. Normally having more men would be something that would make me rejoice, but it was weird yesterday because… well, you know that guy I mentioned earlier, the one who has been the most vocal about the dance hosts making the amateur Leads look bad? That was the guy that showed up for class! I know! What are the chances that someone whom I wrote about a few days ago would just randomly show up to take part in a dance class that I am also attending? Especially since he has NEVER shown up for Standard Technique class before. That is a super strange coincidence, don’t you think?

Anyhow… Lord Junior wanted to look at some Foxtrot that night, which I can always use more work in. Overall the figures that we looked at weren’t all that bad. The one advanced figure that Lord Junior specifically wanted to look at was the Reverse Wave, and almost everything else we used was from the Bronze syllabus. The progression had us do a prep step into a Feather, then the first half of a Reverse Turn. In place of the second half of the Reverse Turn we did the Reverse Wave, and to come out of the Reverse Wave we started with a Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. Near the end of class Lord Junior gave us the option of switching the final figure out with an Open Impetus if we wanted, just to keep things interesting.
  Lord Junior did make some comments about me doing the Closed Impetus, since this was the first time he had really watched me do that figure since Lord Dormamu told me to change the way I was doing the steps. From where he was standing, Lord Junior said that he thought it looked like I was breaking on my left side. That was what I was worried about when looking at the figure with Lord Dormamu last Thursday, when he told me that it didn’t look like I was doing anything wrong. I guess Lord Junior either saw things differently from Lord Dormamu, or I happened to be doing the figure differently last night in some way. After Lord Junior mentioned what he saw, I made a point to try to focus on keeping my left side as elongated as possible during the figure, and Lord Junior said that whatever I was doing helped fix the issue. So… yay?

I will probably have a quiet week next week, which will be nice. Lord Junior is going to take a vacation to go see his family for the first time in quite a while, so Latin Technique class and Standard Technique class won’t happen next week. There is one dance party that I know about going on Saturday night, and I may or may not go out to attend that. Based on what my calendar is telling me, I have a lesson with Sir Steven on Saturday, and then a lesson with Lord Dormamu on Sunday. With Monday being a holiday, it would probably be smart if I talk to Sparkledancer about setting up some practice time for that day.

That’s… OK, maybe not as quiet of a week as I thought. At least I can look forward to sleeping in on Monday instead of getting up early for work, right? I will look forward to that.