Tag Archives: Rumba

I Wanna Go Where The Down Boys Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Power Flurries Through The Air Into The Ground

This past Saturday when I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal weekend lesson, we worked on Waltz and Foxtrot. A lot of what we did that afternoon was to work further on our shaping during certain figures, and further practice having Sparkledancer travel moving forward while I traveled backward. What I didn’t know at the time was that a lot of the work we did on the Foxtrot that day would be thrown out the next day as Lord Dormamu took a look at what we were doing in Foxtrot and now he wants us to change our whole focus for that dance. Specifically all the practice we’ve been doing working on doing Three Steps and Feather Steps while traveling backwards, Lord Dormamu said that we should stop doing that for the time being. Going backwards with a Three Step in Foxtrot is really a Reverse Wave, which is a Silver-level figure, so he said we shouldn’t be spending so much time on that until we nail down other things.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We did spend some more time going through the Reverse Turn in Foxtrot, making sure that Sparkledancer brought her feet together quick enough for the heel turn, making sure that after coming around her I would take enough of a step backwards and to the right so that her step could be between my legs, and overall making sure whomever was moving forward was driving the step down the line of dance. That was really the most notable thing that we did which we will continue doing as we move forward. Everything else we worked on that day in Foxtrot essentially got put on hold after my lesson the next day. Sigh…

It’s not my fault! Your coach, who’s also my coach, told me to!

So Sunday afternoon I got to head back to the Fancy Dance Hall to get together with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for coaching. To be honest, I was a bit worried about things heading into this lesson. I had just met up with Lord Dormamu for coaching the weekend before this, and during that session he had given me things to work on in the Waltz. Having a busy life like I do (most of the busyness is due to dance, if you couldn’t guess), I had only gone out to actually practice a couple of times since that lesson, so I wasn’t sure if I had truly mastered everything I had been given to work on in that short amount of time. Lord Dormamu started the session exactly as I imagined, by asking Sparkledancer and I to dance through our Waltz routine. Lucky for me, it went pretty well! Hooray! He had us go back and redo a couple of spots to make sure we knew what we should be doing, but then he turned his attention to Sparkledancer for what came next. Poor girl…

I guess the thing that caught his eye the most this time around was Sparkledancer’s positioning while in dance frame. Lord Dormamu went off on this long explanation for her about how it appeared to him that when she is in frame and attempting to create volume, a lot of the time it looks like she is bending outward away from me from her pelvis and up, instead of from below her shoulders and up. To try to reinforce the point of what position she should be getting into while dancing, he told her that he would show her an exercise to do, but that we (all three of us) would have to go somewhere more private for him to do so. That remark made me a little nervous, since I had no idea what his thought process on this was. After he ran to the back of the ballroom to check and see if anyone was using the smaller ballroom  off the hallway back there, he came out and waved Sparkledancer and I down to have us join him in the other room.

Once we were all in the small ballroom, he shut the door. I was expecting something weird to happen at that point, and I started to think up excuses to get myself out of that room since I didn’t know either of these people well enough for any really weird things to go on. Lord Dormamu pulled a chair out onto the floor near one of the mirrors and asked me to sit there. Once seated, he turned to Sparkledancer and asked her to trust him, then told her to sit on my lap facing me and grasping my forearms. Once we were in position, he told her that she needed to work on bending herself in such a way that would keep her lower back straight while thrusting her boobs toward the ceiling, so to help with that she was supposed to roll herself backward from this sitting position. I was there to make sure the chair was heavy enough to not topple over while she did this, and to help pull her up from that position when finished. As she rolled her body back, Lord Dormamu took a knee on the floor behind her and pushed on her back with his fist to show her where she should be bending from.
  I’m not exactly sure why he thought we needed to be in a ‘private’ room for him to have her do this. The studio holds a Yoga class in the main ballroom once a week, and I’m sure they do poses that are more titillating than what Sparkledancer was doing (see what I did there?). Once she seemed to have a good idea about what she should be feeling, we went back out in the main ballroom to continue dancing. Since I didn’t see either Sparkledancer or I wanting to spend a bunch of our practice time in a dance hall somewhere doing that exercise, I asked Lord Dormamu if there were other ways she could work on stretching like that, like possibly using a stability ball or something similar. He said that would work fairly well if she had one of those sitting around. I happen to have one at home that I use sometimes (there’s all kinds of interesting resistance exercises you can do with one to help improve strength and balance), so I offered to let Sparkledancer use it if she needed sometime.

Halfway through our session Lord Dormamu wanted to shift gears on us and look at a new dance style. Apparently we are doing well in the Waltz, so it is time to add something else to our plate now, and he had chosen Foxtrot to be next, as I alluded to earlier. He had us go through our routine for him. I have been told in the past that Foxtrot is one of my strongest styles, but I could tell by the look he was giving me when we finished dancing that he didn’t think it was good. Without giving any explanation, he asked us to dance it for him again. When we finished, he was looking at us contemplatively for several long moments before he strolled over to where we were standing and started telling us about his theory of Foxtrot.

This was probably the most interesting part of the lesson that day, just listening to him talk about how all the world champions that he has hung out with or learned from, and how he himself (as one of those former world champions) looks at Foxtrot when you are trying to be an advanced dancer. We had a talk like this during our first session with Lord Dormamu when he described to us his philosophy of the Waltz so that we had an understanding of why we were being asked to do things the way we were, instead of him just dictating that we do things his way and ignore what all other dance teachers have told us. I find dance philosophy like this to be interesting and useful, but that’s just me so if it bores you go ahead and skip this section.

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Foxtrot, as I was told, was supposed to look smooth while you danced, with a constant flow that moves you from one place to another. The problem with Foxtrot, as Lord Dormamu explained, is that for the most part what you are trying to do is take three steps over four beats of music. It seems like a simple concept, taking three steps over four beats while being very smooth, but it’s nearly impossible to pull off. When you first learn Foxtrot, you divide the three steps among the four beats and end up dancing them as either Slow, Quick, Quick or Quick, Quick, Slow, depending on the figure. What this does though is to halt the smooth flow of the dance when you try to take that one step over two beats, which is why newcomers to Foxtrot look jerky when they dance through the figures.

Apparently in the community of world champion dancers, what you’ll find is that many of them do not dance the steps as written in the book. There are no real ‘Slow’ or ‘Quick’ steps in Foxtrot at the world-class level. Instead, to keep the dance flowing as smoothly as possibly, your steps begin to even out, until eventually you are dancing fairly close to three even steps over four beats. Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing that I was thinking when I heard this: “Wouldn’t that just make it a Waltz with weird music then?” And the answer I was given was that this is why it was so important that Foxtrot does not have any real rise and fall to help distinguish it from a Waltz.

There was a metaphor used that went like this – suppose that you are out at the beach along the ocean or the Great Lakes (both places are nice, and I would recommend visiting either to reinforce this point). Along the beach you will see the waves coming in before they break along the shoreline. This is what you should see if you watch a group of people dancing the Waltz. There is a smooth line as the wave travels on beat one, a crest as the wave hits its peak on beat two, and a lowering as the wave breaks on beat three. The Foxtrot is what you would get if you were to travel out to the middle of the ocean or lake. There, there aren’t really waves. The top of the water is smoother, with just a hint of low hills and valleys on the surface as the currents flow smoothly underneath. That is what Lord Dormamu wants our Foxtrot to be aiming to look like.

(Note: I know that is a vast oversimplification of how waves work, and doesn’t take into account what happens during bad weather. Trust me – I grew up very near a large body of water, so I know. That wasn’t the point of the metaphor.)

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We spent the rest of our time that day working on taking all the rise and fall out of our Foxtrot. Because we were staying lowered into our legs while going through everything, this did cause both Sparkledancer and I to take a lot of heel leads in places we shouldn’t have, because naturally when you are lowered you want to take a heel lead on the next step. This is something that we are really going to have to fight against to make sure that the footwork remains how it should without raising ourselves up to step with the ball of our foot. Sparkledancer also told me that doing heel turns like she has in a Reverse Turn or Natural Weave feels weird when lowered down that much. Our homework for Foxtrot for now is to get comfortable dancing things as smooth as possible with no rise and fall at all. Once we master that concept, he will work with us on how the timing for the steps should feel for our next evolution of our Foxtrot.

Whew! Got all that? I hope I do!

Monday night I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class. At first it appeared that we would have a small class that night since only a few of us had shown up, but then little Tanya Tiger burst onto the scene with a couple of friends in tow. Her friends were just in town for a bit and wanted to come watch her dance while they were there, but Tanya started to talk them into joining class with us since that was more fun than sitting out. Neither of her friends had danced any partner dances before, but one had had some ballet training, which made her easier to convince to join in than the other young lady. In the end, they both succumbed to the peer pressure, and because of that Lord Junior decided we should stick with some Rumba to take it easy on those two.

‘Taking it easy’ was just a phrase to make the two of them feel more comfortable though, since what we ended up doing was a challenging step for even the veterans of the class. We began by warming up using the Rumba basic for a few minutes – to make sure the newcomers would remember at least that much of Rumba once they left the class. Then we started off with the ladies out in Fan Position and led them into a Hockey Stick. At the farthest point of the Hockey Stick, we had the ladies do a Switchback, which is an Open-level figure I’ve seen several times before. It involves having the lady turn 180° without changing weight, having her point her left leg back and raise her left arm up when she was facing away from us. The men lead this by rotating her wrist slightly. All of this happens on a single beat of the music. On the next beat of music we have the lady turn back around to face us and take two syncopated steps forward and then hold there for beats four and one of the measure.
  After the hold the lady will do three Rumba Walks going forward while we collect her back into closed dance position. The guy will do two steps backward with her and rotate a bit to take the third step to the back and slightly to the left, which will be the start of a Natural Top. We went around in the Natural Top for two measures, and at the end the guy just brings his feet together and rotates the lady around into an Opening Out position. By the time we had gotten to this part it was already close to time for class to end, so Lord Junior said that would be a good enough ending for now and we just danced several repetitions of the pattern with music of varying speeds until we got up to full tempo right before class was over.

On Wednesday night I headed out to Standard Technique class. While waiting for class to start, Lord Junior was wandering around finishing up some business things and asked us what we wanted to work on that night. Both Veep and Sparkledancer said that they wanted to go over something “super challenging” while Bony was quick to speak up saying how much she had really enjoyed Monday’s class, because having newcomers meant that the steps that we did were easier for her to get through. Winking at the other two ladies, I took Bony’s side and said that we should go through something simple that night. I may have gotten punched for that joke…

In the end, we did something that was only halfway challenging in Tango. Two other people joined us for class that night, and while they had danced quite a bit in the past they had given it up for a while, so now they were trying to relearn all sorts of things. A class like Standard Technique would not have been something I would have recommended for that purpose, but Lord Junior didn’t send them away so the figures that we did were modulated a bit to make things easier on them.

We worked on the Reverse Turn that night. The lady from the new couple that joined us got pretty wide-eyed and terrified when Lord Junior started to explain the figure by relating it to Viennese Waltz (apparently Viennese Waltz is really scary for her), so to ease her fears Lord Junior also showed her that she could do the figure in Samba as well to emphasize that it was just the same footwork he was pointing out. That seemed to relax her a bit, for the time being. To start with, we were doing the Reverse Turns over a four count in the music, which is almost painfully slow if you’ve ever done Reverse Turns in Tango before. Once Lord Junior was confident that everyone had the footwork down, he told the newcomers what the timing for the figure actually was, and how we would be able to do two Reverse Turns in a four count when done to speed. He then put on some music and demonstrated the step.
  That demonstration, for some reason, made the new lady who was terrified of Viennese Waltz start laughing. She was laughing so hard, and for so long, that it started to get a bit awkward. Since she wouldn’t stop, Lord Junior said that we could just go on with one less lady until she was ready. We added a couple of figures to the end of the Reverse Turns just to give everyone something else to work on. By the end we had a progression that was three normal Reverse Turns, one slower turn to close both partners facing diagonal wall (backing diagonal wall for the ladies) so that we could go into a Progressive Link. We then took two steps down the line of dance in Promenade Position, and at the end we did a couple of leg flicks – one pointing forward, one behind, a quick weight change from your crossed leg back to the standing leg and finally one more flick of the leg to bring it back forward so that you ended in Promenade Position ready for another step.

What do I have on my dance schedule for next week? Let’s see… I think I have a meeting with my Royal Dance Court group on Tuesday night, and there’s a dance party on Saturday night that I’ve been told by a couple of different people I should go to, so I’ll probably be there. There will also be lots of dance practice I’m sure, since that’s what I spend a lot of time doing on the weekends nowadays. I’m sure I’ll meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer at some point on Saturday afternoon, and there will be classes to attend next week as well. There’s always a lot of dancing in my world, if you hadn’t noticed.

But Friday night? I’m not going to do any dancing on Friday. In fact, I’m going to try to leave my house to do something that isn’t dance related for a change. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone out on a weekend to do anything that didn’t involve dancing. Is that weird? Maybe I’ll go out on the town. Maybe I’ll find some lady to ask out on a date. Or maybe I’ll just go see a movie. Hey – do you want to go see a movie with me? I’ll buy the tickets if you bring the popcorn.

Let’s see if I’m successful at pulling that off, or if I end up out dancing somewhere instead!

You’re Crazy And I’m Out Of My Mind

Last Saturday afternoon I headed out to meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our regularly scheduled lesson. After Sir Steven had Sparkledancer and I run through all of our International Standard routines except Viennese Waltz to warm up, we looked at a couple of specific things that day which were different from the things we had worked on the last couple of weeks.

First up, we went back to Foxtrot to walk around for a bit. In the last several months Sparkledancer and I have done a lot of practice walking back and forth from one side of a dance floor to the other in Foxtrot. This is the major way we’ve both practiced moving backwards and forwards. Oftentimes we’ve done this by traveling down the floor using repeating Three Step and Feather combinations. This time, Sir Steven wanted us to work on walking, but he wanted us to be up on our toes the whole time, to simulate the steps we would take while doing foot rise, like the steps in a Progressive Chasse or a Weave. This was because Sir Steven wanted the steps we would take during both the Basic Weave and Natural Weave in our routine to cover as much distance as the steps we take for other figures. We practiced moving forward and backward while having our heels off the ground, separately then together, adding this as another exercise to do during practice.

Next we switched over to Tango to work on something that ended up being amusing, at least to me. Sir Steven spent some time working with Sparkledancer on changing the position she gets her left arm into when in dance frame for Tango. Sir Steven wanted Sparkledancer to start wrapping her arm more around mine, hooking her thumb underneath my arm and pulling it upward to lock her arm in place. The problem was that she couldn’t hold the position very well – her hand kept slipping upward as she pulled her hand in that direction. Sir Steven tried to get into this position with her to see if he could figure out why this was happening, but she had no problem keeping her arm where it was supposed to be with him. The two of them struggled with things for a while, and eventually they gave up and Sir Steven told her to work on it during practice so that we didn’t spend all our time on one thing.

After our lesson was over and Sparkledancer and I were walking out of the studio toward our cars in the parking lot, Sparkledancer confided in me that she thinks the reason why she was having issues holding her hand in place while in frame with me and not with Sir Steven was because his arms are tiny compared to mine. It is harder for her to wrap her arm around mine and hook her thumb underneath to begin with, and because my arms are not squishy, her hand basically slides upward around my triceps as she pulls upward. On Sir Steven, she can wrap her arm around his arm easily because his arms are smaller. Also, because his arms are not as muscular as mine, as she hooks her thumb beneath his arm and pulls upward she can press into his arm and create a bit of a groove where her thumb can rest to stay in place.

Sigh… it seems like I just have all kinds of dance issues that I don’t think anyone else I’ve ever met has to worry about.

Saturday night I got to go out and do something different for a change – still dance related, but not involving the grind that dance practice has become for me lately. I got to go out and chaperone a local high school prom again. This is something that I volunteered to help Sparkledancer with several years ago, and the people in charge actually accepted me. I guess that since, unlike a lot of other volunteers they get, I have had to have lots of different background checks in my life because of things I’ve done for work in the past, they actually considered me to be fairly trustworthy. I’ve been asked if I would come back and help again every year since then, and I’ve agreed. It’s a nice bit of volunteer work, and usually I get to dance a little bit as the night goes on, so it’s right up my alley.

This year the prom was held at a different venue than they had used the last three years. The place was an actual event center, and the room they had rented out for the night was really big on the inside. The dance floor was smaller than I expected, but because they had decided to have other activities going on in the event hall to entertain the high school students this year, there was lots of space on the dance floor for everyone throughout the night. The kids all tended to cluster in the middle of the floor right in front of the DJ’s booth, leaving big empty spaces on the right and left sides of the floor. I was once again in charge of watching the dance floor for any ‘inappropriate dancing’, so I was standing in the corner on one side where I had lots of room to wiggle around as I watched the cluster of people in the middle. From what I saw, there was really only one incident on the dance floor all night that one of the chaperones had to stop because it looked lewd enough to make someone uncomfortable. I didn’t see it though, so I have no idea what happened.

I will say I wasn’t as big a fan of the DJ this year as I was of the people they brought in the last few years I have helped out at this event. Last year the DJ they had was more technologically advanced, and you could send a message from your phone to request songs (which I did several times that night, to entertain myself). The years before that the DJs played a lot more songs that I was able to dance to, so I moved around a lot while maintaining my vigil on the kids to make sure everyone was behaving. This year… well, the music wasn’t really the kind of music I could dance to. It was mostly music you would hear at a 21+ nightclub meant for drunken bumping and grinding… except that this was a high school prom, so (as far as I could tell) no one was drunk, and the kids were all too young to know how to grind properly. That’s probably why no one felt the need to stop the kids from “grinding” during the evening. The “grinding” they were doing mostly looked sad, not inappropriate.

Close to the end of the night, after many of the kids had left the venue to head off to their after-prom parties, the DJ finally started to play better music. My feet were hurting from standing in one place all night, so I was eager to move around a bit and get my blood flowing properly. Sparkledancer showed up at that point, relieved from whatever station she was chaperoning, and we danced together a bit on the now mostly-empty dance floor. We got to do a couple of Cha-Cha numbers, a Jive, and a Rumba – much to the amazement of the few kids still on the dance floor. They all kind of stopped whatever they were doing to watch us. The last song of the night that the DJ put on as the lights came up and the kids all went off to find their coats was a Foxtrot. It was a bit fast, so we opted to dance American Foxtrot. The few remaining volunteers and the DJ were the ones that stopped to watch us dance a couple of laps after the kids had all left, and as we left the floor after the song was over the DJ thanked us for helping to make the event “classier” than the rest of the evening had been. Yay!

On to more interesting topics… let’s talk about Latin Technique class this week. It was a small class for some reason. Only Ms. Possible, Bony and I had shown up. Lord Junior decided to have us spend some time working on speed and change-of-direction in class that day, and we used Cha-Cha to accomplish that. The change-of-direction part was easy enough, but it was leg day for me when I worked out earlier (never skip leg day!), so my legs were tired and I think my speed probably suffered a bit as a result. I managed to get through things with the music as we increased the tempo throughout the night from about 60% up to normal, but I’m sure the closer we got to full speed the sloppier my legs would have looked if you had been there to watch.

The pattern we used started out with a basic chasse to the right, but after a few rounds we stopped doing that and started out standing on our right leg with the left leg pointed off to the side instead. From either start that we used, we then went into a normal New Yorker to the right, following that up with a Ronde that turned into a Press Line before taking a step to the left. Once the left foot was on the ground, we did an actual Ronde Chasse, rotating our bodies slightly at the end so that the last step was not a side step, but rather a step forward with our bodies turned out slightly to face away from our partner. Here we abruptly changed direction, rotating 180° without moving our feet. The turn wasn’t so bad, but since we did not do a rock step or anything after turning to kill the momentum we had when dancing closer to full tempo, the next movement was harder to go into while maintaining your balance.

After flipping around, the guys had it easy. We were just going to take two steps forward and one to the side. The ladies would do a Three Step Turn while we did that, and we used the side step at the end to line up with them and regain their hand before going into the next figure. I had to be careful with this section. For some reason I kept wanting to do a Three Step Turn as well. The progression worked if I did that, since I was able to link up with the lady at the end without issues, but I really wasn’t supposed to be doing that. Apparently I just like making things harder for myself for no apparent reason. No one seemed to notice when I accidentally turned though, so let’s just keep that as our secret, OK?

To finish things out, we did New Yorker on the left side, and then shifted our weight between our legs and back to left rather than doing a chasse. Then we did two New Yorkers with Cuban Break timing, first to the left then to the right. We did a final New Yorker to the left that was held for a whole measure to give everyone a chance to breathe. After the hold, both partners turned away from each other to basically walk around in a half-circle (counter-clockwise for the Leads, clockwise for the Follows). We took two steps, and then did a Lock Step starting with the left leg, then two more steps and another Lock Step, this time starting with the right leg. If done correctly, both partners should have met back up in the middle a couple of feet down the floor from where you started out.

Finally, let’s talk about what I got to do yesterday night in Standard Technique class. This week, Lord Junior wanted to work on the Outside Spin some more, but since we had already gone through the figure in Waltz last week in class Lord Junior wanted to change things up a bit. He decided that we were going to look at the figure in Foxtrot this week, and he wanted to make sure we added on a Ronde when coming out of the Outside Spin because he had so much fun doing the Ronde figures in Latin Technique class on Monday. After dancing through things himself a few times before starting class to figure out what he should make the timing in the Ronde figure to make it challenging for us, we got to work.

To start things out a little more gently than rushing straight into the Outside Spin, we began by facing diagonal wall and doing a Hover Telemark (which is the same footwork as a Twinkle from American Foxtrot) and went into an Open Natural Turn. That set us up nicely for the Outside Spin, and gave us a bit of momentum to work with to make the pivots and spins easier for everyone. At the end of the Outside Spin the Leads would lunge forward on their right leg, heading toward diagonal center, and rotate their body to lead the Followers through the Ronde that was mentioned earlier. Doing a Ronde like that in International Foxtrot is much more difficult than doing one in American Foxtrot. In American style you can split apart from each other and round out your arms in order to emphasize the turn and make the movement easier. In International style you are supposed to stay in frame the whole time, which includes maintaining body contact. This limits your lead when trying to lead the figure from your core instead, since most people can turn their arms slightly farther than their torso.

The Ronde was meant to be very slow, covering almost a whole three beats in the music. At the end of beat three the Leads finally shifted our weight back to the left leg and on beat four we brought the right foot down behind the left to do a small pivot, lining us up to face against the line of dance. Now we needed to turn around, since the force of our last movement was causing us to travel backwards. Lord Junior decided to keep things easy and add on a simple Open Telemark. The Heel Turn that the ladies were asked to do for this particular Open Telemark was probably the easiest Heel Turn that any of them had ever done. We were given the option of coming out either heading straight down the line of dance (i.e. no turn at all) or heading toward diagonal center (i.e. 1/8th of a turn). Finally, we could finish the whole progression by closing the Promenade through a Feather Ending, but oftentimes the lady would just stop dancing as soon as we took our first step in Promenade Position after the Open Telemark, ending the progression a bit more abruptly.

I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to be doing this weekend. I had finally heard back from Lord Dormamu after class on Wednesday to say that he had set Sparkledancer and I up with coaching from some judge early Saturday afternoon, and that I should also be planning on some workshop for Saturday evening. The problem is that I had already been scheduled to take care of something for work mid-Saturday afternoon that I can’t get out of. Once I told Lord Dormamu that, he said that he would go back and discuss things with people, and let me know what Saturday looks like later. He never mentioned anything about whether or not I should plan on being in the competition he’s organizing on Sunday. I hope he lets me know soon – I had a friend ask me about something for Sunday, so if I’m going to dance I need to rearrange that as well. Sigh… I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens!

Practice Makes Perfect Sense To Me

Last Saturday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal standing coaching session. We started things off by running through just three of our International Standard routines for warm-up, the Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot. When we finished those up and Sir Steven started talking about what he wanted to look at that day, one of the things he said that really stood out to me was that he complimented Sparkledancer and me about how much things have improved lately. He said the difference has actually been noticeable, especially in the Waltz. I know that working with Lord Dormamu is probably the catalyst for this, but I don’t think it has actually been the few sessions we had with him that have really helped. After all, we have only managed to meet with him three times to work on things. We were supposed to get together more than that, but have had scheduling conflicts so it hasn’t happened yet.

No, I personally believe much of our improvement has to do with the fact that the first time we met with Lord Dormamu, he gave us ‘homework’ to do, and ever since that day Sparkledancer and I have set up regular practice sessions every week to spend several hours working on stuff ourselves. Before, we used to practice routines mostly by making plans to get together during social dance parties, but now we are actually spending serious time on the floor going through figures that gave us trouble in our lessons, practicing techniques that our instructors have told us to work on, and running our routines on our own rather than always relying on a partner. I’ve had other people tell me in the last month or so that they have noticed a difference, but most of those I just ignored. But when my primary instructor, the guy that pretty much taught me almost everything I know, says he sees a difference? Then I may actually believe that something has changed.

Sooo…. Anyway, this weekend’s lesson was pretty good for me, but not so much for Sparkledancer. She was the one getting corrected on things for much of our time this week. I know her well enough at this point to know that she wasn’t having a good time during a lot of our lesson since she was being corrected so much. After things were all over and we were walking out to the parking lot together, she told me that logically she understood that most of how well a Follower dances is based on how good the Lead is, so if she is getting corrected more, that means that I am doing things a lot better, so overall we are improving. Still, she said, it kind of made her feel like a terrible dancer. I told her I knew exactly how she felt, since most of the time in our lessons it is me being corrected for all kinds of things, and I know how that can erode your dance confidence sometimes.

The major thing that we worked on that afternoon was Foxtrot again. One of the points that Sir Steven actually pointed out to Sparkledancer and brought me in for as well was the heel turns. He said that it looked like she wasn’t actually bringing her feet all the way around when she turned during the heel turn, which was throwing her off for the next couple of steps afterward since she had to work harder to get into the right place. Heel turns ended up being our homework for this week to work on. Sparkledancer has a couple of heel turn figures in our Foxtrot routine, both a Reverse Turn with Feather Finish and a Natural Turn, as well as a Natural Weave which basically starts out as a Natural Turn. I also have a Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish, which has me doing a heel turn too. So Sir Steven said that we should spend some time working on heel turns during our practice sessions, both just doing the footwork on our own and then working on the figures together. Nailing those out would really help for our Foxtrot, and because Sparkledancer also does heel pulls in Waltz and Quickstep during the Double Reverse Spins it would help for those as well.

I must report that sadly, my planned lesson last Sunday with Lord Dormamu did not happen. He was also out competing at the big competition this past weekend, and had said that he would be back by Sunday afternoon and would have time to get together with both Sparkledancer and I. That morning he sent both of us text messages to say that he would be leaving the competition venue in a little bit and would be back at the Fancy Dance Hall “soon” and that he would keep us posted about getting together that afternoon. Well, neither of us heard anything else from him that day. So we’re going to have to reschedule things again. Sigh… is working with world champion dancers always this difficult? I must say it’s kind of annoying.

We got to work on some Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday. Before class started, Lord Junior was asking us what we all wanted to work on, and said we could do anything but Jive or Samba, since he danced hard at the competition this past weekend and he wanted to have a break from those two. To get everyone warmed up, we started off with an exercise we had done before where we all started on one end of the floor standing on our left leg with the right foot pointed back and took two steps forward, did a Spiral Turn on the right leg on the third step, then took another two steps forward and did another Spiral Turn on the left leg, then did two measures of normal Rumba Walks, then started over from the top until we got all the way down the floor. Some people with long legs (like me) didn’t get to repeat the pattern quite as much as others, but luckily we got to flip around when we hit the end of the floor and start everything over.

For the actual work of the class, one person had suggested doing something using the Sliding Door figure, so Lord Junior made up a solo progression that allowed everyone to do a portion of both the Lead and Follow part of the figure, as well as fitting in some further work with Rumba Walks and Spiral Turns. We started off standing with our feet together and did two Cucarachas, first right then left. Next we went into the ladies footwork for the Sliding Door, doing a rock step backward on the right leg that turned into a Hip Twist with a Press Line. Putting the heel down, we did a Cuban Rock to the left, collected our feet and turned around 180°, stepping forward afterward. As we stood on the left leg, we turned another 180° clockwise and went into the Sliding Door again.

The second time through, instead of the Cuban Rock that we did the first time, we went into a syncopated Cucaracha to the left, which we used as a transition piece to shift into doing the Lead’s footwork of the Sliding Door. As we brought our feet together after the syncopated Cucaracha, we checked our left foot forward and did a Ronde-like move that brought our left leg back behind the right, basically into the same position you would for a Cuban Cross. We then did a Spiral Turn in place (which Leads can do during a Sliding Door if they want to be fancy), pushing out of it hard with the left leg to move to the right, sliding slightly along the floor on purpose as we put the right foot down. Once we collected the feet we went into a Rumba Box. Starting with the left foot we went through the footwork as normal (forward, side, back, back, side and forward, if you know the mantra). As we landed on the right foot we did another Spiral Turn, and for the last four beats we did three steps forward, turning a full 360° on the second step, finishing with a one more step going to the right side.

As I’ve mentioned quite a few times now, there was a big competition going on in the northern regions of the Dance Kingdom this past weekend. Because of that, a lot of the dance halls were shut down since all their teachers were competing with students. There was one dance party that was going on Saturday night to help tide over the other dance peasants in the kingdom, but rather than attend this party, I made plans to meet up with Sparkledancer out at the Electric Dance Hall to practice on Saturday night. Since Lord Junior was off competing that weekend, there wasn’t much scheduled to go on there, so I figured it would be a good chance to get the floor mostly to ourselves.

It turns out I was right about that. There were a couple of private lessons scheduled with one instructor, so that guy had the building unlocked for us during the few hours that we were there that evening. In between his lessons, he decided to go off and grab a bite to eat, so we even got to practice for a while with the place completely empty and full control over the music as well, which was even more awesome. I cannot say that we had the same situation when we met up for our regular Tuesday night practice session at the Electric Dance Hall. Tuesday night when we got to the studio, there were four different private lessons going on already, limiting the amount of free space available on the dance floor. It was probably because everyone had been out competing over the weekend, so they were trying to fit in all the private lessons that couldn’t happen while they were out, but I don’t know that for sure.

Things weren’t all bad having limited space on Tuesday night though. Saturday night since we had the place practically to ourselves we ran through everything, going through all of our routines (including Viennese Waltz this time) all around the room, looping everything a couple of times when dancing by ourselves and dancing together. I also spent so much time dancing by myself holding those stupid cups in my hands that my shoulders were screaming at me by the time we called it quits that night. On Tuesday, since we were limited to pretty much just a corner of the dance floor, we specifically focused on Foxtrot and worked on all of the heel turn figures that we had, just like Sir Steven asked us to do. Those were fairly easy to keep contained, with us only using the figure leading into the heel turn, the turning figure itself and the Feather Finish coming out of it, so nothing really traveled all that far. Nearing the end of our hour on Tuesday, all of the lessons that had been going on finished up, so we managed to also run the entirety of our Foxtrot routine a couple of times before leaving.

And the party with all the people hanging out at the Electric Dance Hall didn’t end on Tuesday night, either. When I headed over there on Wednesday night for Standard Technique class, there were even more people hanging around on the floor. There were so many people on the floor that the class I showed up for didn’t actually happen that night. When I got there, Lord Junior was going over some paperwork with a new student, which took him a bit longer than he expected. There were four of us who had shown up for Standard Technique standing over by a couch together, and he apologized profusely to all of us and said we would get started as soon as he finished up all the paperwork.

At the same time that class was supposed to start, a whole bunch of other things started happening on the dance floor, taking up a large portion of the space. Sir Steven had come over from the Fancy Dance Hall and was teaching a private lesson to a couple in one corner (he still teaches over at the Electric Dance Hall at least one night a week). Sir Digler was giving a private lesson to a different couple along the back wall. There was a new female instructor that I have only seen a few times teaching Salsa to a male student closer to the back wall. And finally, taking up a ton of room in the front of the studio, Lord Fabulous and Lord Scarry were teaching what looked like a group class to a gang of women. Other than the Salsa lesson going on, everyone else seemed to be teaching various ballroom styles, so all of the various groups of people kept shifting around on the floor. With so much activity going on, I was having a hard time focusing on anything in particular.

When Lord Junior finished up all his paperwork, he came and joined the four of us standing off to the side watching all the action on the floor. He told all of us that what he had planned on looking at that night was Quickstep, to go through Turning Lock Steps with us. However, since there didn’t seem to be an open lane on the floor where we could safely do those, he said we’d have to scrap that idea and go through something else, and asked if any of us had any contained figures we wanted to look at instead. Sparkledancer made a joke that it was the perfect night to practice some floorcraft, with so many obstacles to work around. The other guy that had shown up for class said that he had just finished up a private lesson, so he would be happy to just go home, and Prez just shrugged and said she didn’t have anything in particular she wanted to look at.

Lord Junior said that if no one had anything, we could just cancel class and let everyone head home or stay and practice if we could find a small opening on the floor. He said that if anyone stuck around to practice, he would come around and work with them for a while, but he wouldn’t charge anything for the time since he felt bad that the floor was overbooked. So, with a small open space in the back of the room by the mirrors, Sparkledancer and I took to the floor to get some more practice time in. Wanting to stay relatively confined, and since we already spent an entire session working on heel turns in Foxtrot the day before, this time we worked on our Tango Open Reverse figure for the entire time.

When Lord Junior came over to check on us after a while, he asked us what we were doing. We explained to him about how we were told that our Open Reverse Turn looked off, and we were given all kinds of suggestions on what could possibly fix it, but none of them made anyone tell us it was actually good, and some of the suggestions conflicted with each other. So we went through the figure a couple of times for him so he could see what we were doing. After watching, he told us that what he tells his other students is that if he brought in four high-level coaches and they each watched you do the same figure, they would all tell you how to “fix” it. 90% of what they tell you would be the same, but the other 10% comes down to the way that coach likes to do things, which is purely up to their own taste.

For us, he said he would go through what the figure should be doing based on what the official books say for pure footwork and technique. To start with, he said that Sparkledancer wasn’t pulling herself to the back and left far enough, and maintaining that poise through the whole figure. He also said he immediately noticed me turning my head toward her in the middle of the figure, which is also a huge no-no. So those were the first two items to fix. After that, what it all seemed to come down to was that I wasn’t coming around Sparkledancer enough on my second step. For Tango, I’m supposed to be selfish and not really care about making sure there is room for my partner. I need to make sure that my first step is heading straight toward diagonal center, and then my second step turns and becomes a side step that basically also travels diagonal center, cutting right in front of my partner. If I don’t come around far enough, she’ll try to go outside of me, which is why sometimes the middle looks funny.

He also said that my next step doesn’t need to go backward on an angle to make room for my partner’s leg to go between mine. By the book, I just take a step going straight back down the line of dance. If I maintain the CBMP rotation in my body, the lady should naturally take a step between my legs, and I don’t need to step backward on an angle to accommodate her. I guess if she doesn’t want to step between my legs when I do that, I’m supposed to just leave her to dance by herself. We practiced things for a while to make sure that we had everything down and committed to muscle memory. At one point, as he was heading out the door after his lesson, Sir Digler stopped to stand there watching us. I thought he had stopped to talk to Lord Junior a bit, but he told us he was actually stopping to watch Sparkledancer and I, and that he could see the improvement in the way we were holding ourselves lately, and we were looking really good.

That’s another instructor mentioning that we’ve improved noticeably in less than a week’s time. Does that mean that we might actually have pushed past the plateau that we were stuck at before? Or is everyone just being nice? I guess only time will tell…