All Around, Things To Tantalize My Brain

For this week I’ll probably limit what I talk about here to what happened over the weekend, since there is so much information to cover from just Friday and Saturday…

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the famous ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza that is held annually at the Grand Dance Hall. They make a point of bringing in some fabulous dinners to serve to the attendees, hold formal dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights with a live orchestra providing the music, and offer some pretty fun workshops for both beginner and advanced students during the day on Saturday. This year marked my fifth time attending the October-weekend festivities, because I happen to find it so entertaining.

I made the hour+ drive out to the Grand Dance Hall mid-afternoon Friday, hoping to get there with a little extra time before the welcome reception started so that I could find a place to change into my formal attire. I’ve made the long drive while wearing a suit the first few years and it is super-uncomfortable, so I just don’t do it anymore. Once I had found a quiet corner to change into my formal attire and stowed my street clothes back in my car, I met up with the small group of people I knew by the dance floor to begin the evening’s events.

The main dance hall was opened up an hour before dinner would be served to allow everyone to come in, mingle a bit, eat some snacks that were set out at the back of the room, and even partake of a few adult beverages from the cash bar if that was your thing. A quartet of musicians was playing some dance tunes during the reception, giving everyone a chance to take to the dance floor and begin warming up their legs before the bigger dance party that would start after dinner, when the rest of the orchestra would join the quartet.

Not recognizing too many people at the reception, I stuck with the ladies that I did know when I went out to dance. The times that I went out to dance with Sparkledancer were apparently very noticeable to others in attendance. Near the end, just before the group I was in began wandering off to get some dinner, people started to approach either Sparkledancer or I and ask us if we were dance instructors, or if we were in fact THE dance instructors who would be teaching the workshops the next day. That was a bit strange.

One gentleman approached me and told me that I made him look bad by looking so good. I laughed and apologized to him for that, thinking he was just joking around. He then got quite serious and asked if I would be attending the workshops the next day. When I told him that I would be there, he asked me if I would be able to help him out if he got stuck on anything during the classes. I was really surprised by that question. Of course I told him I would do the best that I could, but it still surprised me that someone would go out of their way to ask me in advance for assistance with dance figures. I’ve never had that happen before.
Dinner was a delight, as always. The food that they bring in for the event always seems really extravagant compared to what I normally eat. I even had a fancy dessert, which is the part of any meal that I rarely (if ever) partake of. Around nine o’clock, the orchestra began to play and we all made our way back out to the dance floor to dance for a few more hours and burn off all those calories that we had consumed. Hooray!

Making my way back to the Grand Dance Hall early on Saturday morning to attend the first workshop being offered, I got to work on Tango for a while. These workshops that they hold are to give people new choreography to work on, rather than to focus on technique. This is a nice change of pace for me from what the lessons I normally attend focus on, so I was having fun.

The choreography we learned was fairly easy to put together if you’d seen all the figures individually before, and because we never broke frame you could theoretically use this when dancing both International or American Tango. I see it as more of an American Tango progression though, but that’s just my take on the matter.

We began facing diagonal wall and did two basic curved Walk steps. Next we attached a 180° pivot to the left and went into a Back Corte. Coming up from that, we did another 180° pivot to left and led the lady to do an Outside Fan, ending with a three-step-close like you see in American Tango. Next we did a Reverse Turn, closing our feet at the end, and then a Contra Check. At the end of the Contra Check we went into a Cobra Fan (another figure from the American Tango syllabus). When we close lady from the second Outside fan portion of that figure, we did two 180° pivots turning to the right this time, finishing with another three-step-close from American Tango to put you facing diagonal wall once more.

Next up of the three workshops offered that day was a Cha-Cha lesson. Everyone in attendance got a brief ten minute break after finishing up the Tango to prepare, and then we got to work immediately. Much like the Tango, the choreography wasn’t all that hard to remember if you had seen all of the individual figures before. Based on how everything was put together, I would guess that you could also do this pattern in Rumba with some minor variations.

The instructor had us begin by doing a full basic, mostly to get everyone’s mind out of Tango and into Cha-Cha. At the end of the basic as you chasse’d back to the left, the Lead would drop the lady’s arm down  to waist level. This set you up to push the lady backward into a diagonal Lock Step as we would do a chasse back to the right. With the lady moved away from us, we then did a Slip Chasse as we brought her back forward, which would make her do another Lock Step. Once we were back together, we led her into a Underarm Turn on left side, then a pair of Cross-Over Breaks, one right, one left, and then a set of Cuban Breaks on the right side.

Finished with the Cuban Breaks, we went into Solo Spot Turns on the left side. one last Cross-Over Break on the right, and in place of the next chasse both the Lead and Follow did a Three-Step Turn to the left. At the end of all that spinning, we linked hands to do two steps backward and then a backward Lock Step, ending in Aida position. To finish the whole progression, both partners turned to face each other, did a Stationary Chasse, and then we led the lady through a Cross Body Lead, releasing her at the end to lead her into one final Spot Turn on the left side.

We broke for an hour at that point so that everyone could grab lunch. When we all got back together, it was time for the last workshop of the day, which covered East Coast Swing. In this amalgamation we once more started out with a full basic movement to help everyone change mental gears, then transitioned into a Continuous Tuck-In with a full turn at the end. As the lady is turning, the Lead should back away so that she completes the turn out away from you, ending up in the position she would take to begin the Sliding Doors figure.

The next figure is kind of like the Sliding Doors, but not. You would bring your partner in front of you as normal, but stop her with your right hand when she gets directly in front of your body. Here you would lean from side to side, first to the left, then right, then repeat, while the lady leans in the opposite direction (right then left x2). This creates what the instructor described as a ‘Peek-A-Boo’ effect. If you know your partner pretty well, you can place your opposite hand on her waist as you lean – this is not a requirement on the first three leans, but on the fourth one you will need to place your left hand on your partner to signal the finish.

Using your left hand, you will lead the lady to turn to the left and roll away from you while you do a full basic movement. She can either do a half-turn, or one-and-a-half turns, depending on how much she likes spinning. After the next rock step you will take both of your partner’s hands in your own and lead her to step forward as you do, getting really close to each other and there hold for a beat. Then each of you will take a step back and hold there as well for a beat. To finish everything up, you do two Sailor Shuffles (right then left), lead the lady through a Underarm Turn, both partners go through Solo Turns, and then you can catch her hand once more to go into whatever you want next.

That all seems pretty normal for workshops at the Grand Dance Hall, right? So what was different about this year, to make my fifth time coming to this event special? Well, I’m not sure what I was doing differently, but it seemed like this year a whole bunch of people really wanted to approach me and ask for my help on how to do all the figures that the instructors were going over that day. I felt like I must have had some sort of neon sign hanging over my head that read “HELPFUL!” or something, drawing people over to ask me things when the instructors were busy with other people..

Remember that gentleman that I met at the reception who asked me if I would be willing to help if he got stuck? He actually got stuck, so I definitely had him approach me early on in the Tango class. What he forgot to mention at the reception was that he had come to the weekend’s events with a whole group of dancers from his home dance studio, and apparently he had told all of them about both Sparkledancer and I. So on top of him coming and asking me for help, other men from his group also asked me for help when they got stuck, and I could see women from that same group collecting around Sparkledancer on the other side of the room to ask her for help too.

When the instructors wanted the men and women to practice the figures together during class, Sparkledancer and I ended up frequently getting shepherded together so that the whole gang could stand around and watch as we demonstrated how the pieces worked with a partner. When these people felt confident enough to try things out with a partner from their group, they would ask either Sparkledancer or I to watch them to validate they got everything right, or if they got stuck they asked us to step through the trouble spots with them until they got things right.
On top of that, being the center of attention of these ten people in one corner of the dance floor started to attract the attention of others in the workshops, and soon we had even more people who would stop either one of us for assistance too! One older gentleman even came and found me during the morning and said that he took a lot longer to process the figures than most people, so he asked my permission to record me walking through the steps so that he could use the video to learn at his own pace.

I agreed to his request, of course. Not wanting to be in some stranger’s video all on my own though, I made Sparkledancer be in the video with me. That allowed him to see how the steps were done with a partner.  To be even more helpful, I also talked through what I was doing as I did the steps – I thought having some kind of audio cues could help keep confusion to a minimum when he watched the video in the future. He thanked me profusely when we finished.

With so many people talking to me all through the classes, I ended up cutting out of the East Coast Swing lesson a bit early to go find a secluded spot to collect my thoughts. It had been kind of an overload to talk to so many people, and while helping people is always thoroughly enjoyable, I needed a little bit of quiet time to reset afterward.

Once the workshops were over and done with on Saturday, the main dance hall was closed off so that the staff could prepare the room for that night’s final reception before dinner, and prepare for the dance party afterward. However, there was a smaller room closer to the front of the building that was opened up as a practice hall for anyone who wanted to use the few free hours that afternoon for practice. I was only too eager to get some extra practice in, so I wandered around until I found Sparkledancer and convinced her to come with me.

The dance floor in this practice room was much smaller than I had hoped for, so Sparkledancer and I ended up just running through pieces of our Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot routines for about 45 minutes until the floor really limited what we wanted to practice. I noticed that the back wall of the room had a mirror attached to it that hung about chest height for me over a carpeted section of the room. Limited on space to dance big steps, I suggested to Sparkledancer that we spend a little time working on something that was a bit more stationary instead: the lift for our upcoming showcase routine.

The last section of the lift I already felt pretty good about, so we just ran through that a couple of times and called that good. This time around I wanted to work on making sure we mastered the first section, because that would be where I get her off the ground as the whole thing starts. Basically, without going into too much detail, I end up crouching down as low as I can go with my feet still under me, then I help Sparkledancer hop up onto my right shoulder and stand up again with her sitting there facing behind me. The mirror on the wall was actually really helpful for this, because as I stood I could see how she was sitting without having to turn my head, using that view to help me figure things out.
There were a couple of important notes that we worked out while going through this section. Getting Sparkledancer up like that was the easy part – as I’ve said, she’s pretty light, and I’m positioned in such a way when we start that I can use both my legs to lift myself and her, so that’s no problem. The first note is that I needed to make sure that she hops up onto my shoulder so that her right hip ends up right where my shoulder starts to curve up to my neck. If she’s seated too far over to the right, she’s liable to start sliding off the rounded end of my shoulder and down my right arm as I begin to stand.

The second big thing we found out was that Sparkledancer really needed to remain engaged in her core the whole time while up off the ground. For the second part of the lift, I need to be able to move around with her up there, and then I start to manipulate her position with my arms. If she is loose and wiggling around, trying that becomes difficult. Funny, but difficult. Keeping her core in place to keep her solid and steady fixes that issue.

Finally, there’s the arms. When I stand up, I have my right arm bent at a 90° angle so my hand is behind her back, and my left hand is holding her right hand to keep her stable as I stand up. Once up, I must be able to let go and start moving my hands to their new positions for the next section, so I can’t rely on just holding Sparkledancer in place. Once I reposition my hands under her right arm and left leg for the next section, my arms become useful again, but there is that brief moment where I do actually have to move them and can’t hold on that can be a bit scary. As we tried things out, the first few times either I or Sparkledancer were holding on too tight to move my arms at all, which caused all sorts of problems.

We ended up stopping there for the day, promising to work on the middle section later. That part will involve a lot of rotation of her body and lifting on my part, but she ends up behind my head, so I wanted to keep things safe. For that piece we will have to do our initial tests somewhere where I can have a big cushion available for Sparkledancer to drop into if something goes really awry. I don’t expect anything to be terrible, but just like I mentioned before, safety is always rule #1 when doing lifts, especially during the learning phase.

Plus, I think word had gotten out that Sparkledancer and I were practicing this overly athletic dance move, and people kept poking their heads in to see what we were up to. Fellow dancers spying on us was unnerving enough, but when members of the staff started doing it I thought it might be best to call it quits for the day. I didn’t want anyone who worked for the Grand Dance Hall to start having conniptions about me letting a girl sit on my shoulder as I walked around the room…

Saturday night’s reception was a lot like Friday night’s, though many of the attendees broke out attire for the evening that was even more formal than what was worn the night before. The same four piece band provided the music during the reception, though their tempos seemed to run a bit looser in their interpretations of the songs than what they had performed the night before. It was an entertaining time, and I got to eat a plate of super fancy cheese slices on top of that!

The dance party that night after dinner was the big one – the last chance to pull out all the stops and leave everything out on the dance floor. The set list that the orchestra had picked out for the evening did leave a lot to be desired, but that’s just my own take on things. To me it felt like they only played Waltz, Foxtrot, East Coast Swing and Cha-Cha songs that night. There were a couple of other styles interspersed in occasionally, but those were very rare. I think during the few hours they played they did only one Rumba, I know they only did one Tango, and there were no Viennese Waltz numbers at all. There was one song that I heard as a familiar Quickstep tune, but a bunch of dancers took the floor early on and started to dance Swing instead, and many were all in the line of dance instead of in the middle, so Quickstep would have been super dangerous.
Overall this year was another really good time, and I snagged a flyer on the way out that night that contained the sign-up sheet for next year’s event. I’ve already mailed in my form along with the down payment to reserve my spot, so I’ll for sure be back next October to party at the Grand Dance Hall once again. Do you all want to come along with me? We could make it into an even bigger party! Just let me know and I can send you a link to all the information you’ll need to reserve your spot too!

Advertisements

You Aren’t Comprehending The Position That You’re In

Let’s have a taste of normality this week, shall we? Just to mix things up a bit from what I have been writing about lately…

This past Friday night I ended up out at a dance party at the Electric Dance Hall. These dance parties are an amusing escape for me from all the training for competitions that I have been doing lately, which I will freely admit can get to be tedious sometimes. On top of that, this is one of the few events that I go to that is purely for socialization. Because the Electric Dance Hall is the closest studio to where I live, I spend the most time here, so I might even claim to be friends with everyone I see there. Don’t tell them that though. If they knew I considered them friends, it would ruin my cool-and-mysterious guy image.

I try to only bring up pure social dances in my notes if something actually noteworthy happens at the dance… so you know that something happened here. Unfortunately, this tale is less informative or funny, and more scary. Good thing it’s already October, and Halloween is right around the corner, right? This is a cautionary tale for any guys who read this…

We’re all dancing along that night, with the party going well. Lord Junior is outside the front door, talking with one of the attendees about some new lights he is hoping to install along the front of the building soon (he’ll talk with anyone who will listen about all the cool things he wants to do with the studio). I notice a new guy come in through the back door, someone that I had never seen before. This doesn’t flag as strange to me at first, because I don’t usually dance with the guys so I’m just less likely to recognize men than women.

After the first few dances though, this guy really catches my attention – and not in a good way. Like a lot of older gentlemen, he went straight for the youngest and most attractive women attending the party that night to dance with first, and then while dancing he decides to start throwing in lifts – randomly picking these girls up off the floor and swinging them around haphazardly so that their legs and arms are flailing about through the air. What?!?

Now it would be one thing if he limited this activity to Swing dances or Latin dances, since he would be mostly confined to one place, but he did this in Ballroom dances too. The worst part was that he also wasn’t staying on time with the music, so he was moving a lot faster than the others on the floor. That meant that eventually he’d catch up with the other dancers who were trying to keep away from him so that they didn’t get struck with a random flailing limb!

One young lady, a girl named Curves who happens to be a personal trainer, was his primary choice for dance partner that night. I don’t think he was actually interested in her because he wanted advice on how to get into shape… anyway, I stopped to talk to her after one of these wild and crazy dances, and she grinned sheepishly at me and just shrugged. Curves told me that the guy seemed relatively harmless, and she’s had men get more handsy with her at work. Him picking her up during a dance was better than him trying to pick her up for a date, in her opinion. The exact quote she gave me was “It’s like riding a new roller coaster every time he asks me to dance. I never know what to expect.”

Sparkledancer was also there that night, and she did not fare as well as Curves did. The first time this guy asked her to dance, at the end he tried to roll her into a dip that she was not expecting. That move did not go gracefully, wrenching her back in a really painful manner, and she ended up having to sit out for a few dances because of that. Once she was feeling better and managed to get back on the dance floor, in between songs she would often run over to wherever I was to hide behind me from that guy, because she did not want him to ask her for a repeat performance.

So gentlemen, there’s a warning in here for you: I know you think that it’s cool to do lifts and dips in dances, and you think that all the hot ladies will be super impressed by how manly and strong you are, but just say no! Lifts are not an appropriate dance step during a non-choreographed dance where there are other people on the floor who don’t know to stay clear of you! And they are really not safe to do if the lady isn’t prepared for the move! If she doesn’t trust you enough to know that you will get her in and out of the move, something could go horribly wrong. Injuring your dance partner (or someone else’s competition partner) is not cool!

Doing lifts in a dance is a lot like lifting weights while working out, so remember the three major rules: Safety is always rule number one. Keeping your form is rule number two. And finally, having fun is rule number three. Never forget!

…it’s really convenient that I got to talk about what this gentleman did, because it is a really good setup for my next vignette…

Saturday afternoon I got together with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal coaching session. We started off talking about the competition we did last weekend, getting some overall feedback from Sir Steven on what he thought, and letting him know the things that we felt based on the score breakdown that Sparkledancer and I had seen.

The scores from each of the judges definitely showed exactly what we knew going into the competition – that Tango was our weakest style followed by Quickstep, and Foxtrot being our strongest. Since Sparkledancer and I had already made plans with Lord Dormamu to begin looking at Tango next once he felt good about our Foxtrot, Sir Steven didn’t want to worry about that too much for the time being.

Instead, he wanted to start worrying about the showcase that Sparkledancer and I had agreed to do in December. Oh yeah! I totally agreed to do a showcase in December, in case you didn’t know. I put down money on it and everything, so I am committed to that performance unless something crazy comes up that requires me to pull out between now and then.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Fancy Dance Hall has a different philosophy for showcases than most dance studios.They put these events together based around a central theme, with all the dance numbers and songs built around the advertised idea. When I originally started talking to Sir Steven about some thoughts for a showcase number, my idea was just something that I thought would be fun, but wasn’t even related to the theme of the show.

Because I was told that my original idea could work, but would need some modification, I’ve been reworking my original idea with Sparkledancer to change it into something that can fit the theme, and will be a stretch for us both to perform, forcing us to practice some aspects of dance we don’t normally work on. We had one song that we were going to use based on the original idea for the show, but with all the changes that we wanted to make we found a song that would work out much better. The problem is that we haven’t been able to meet with the Fancy Dance Hall’s Artistic Director yet to discuss our new song and our performance ideas with her, so that part is up in the air at the moment.

However, one thing that is not up for discussion that I wanted to make sure we had in our choreography no matter what we do would be some lifts (gasp!). I really feel like the audience enjoys seeing dancers perform lifts the most in any showcase performance, so I want to try and have some for the audience’s sake. Also, since I do so much weightlifting and Sparkledancer is so tiny, we can perform them pretty easily.

Plus, Sparkledancer and I have danced together for years, and are good friends at this point, so she trusts me not to drop her. That really helps too.

Lucky for me, Sir Steven was on board with my desire, and he wanted to start having me work on what would be the major lift in the choreography. The lift he was laying out for us would work no matter the song that we ended up using, the only difference would be how fast each section of the lift would move. One song is a much faster tempo than the other, so the lift would either be slow and dramatic looking with the one song, or explosive and fun looking if we used the other.

So that’s what we spent the whole hour working on. Sir Steven broke the entire thing down into three smaller sections for me so that I could get an idea of what’s going on. Sparkledancer and I will probably make some minor modifications to pieces so that she feels comfortable and supported the whole time, but if we can put it all together I think it will look pretty awesome. I’m super excited about this!

One funny note – at the end of our session that day, Sir Steven commented to me how he was really surprised that I wasn’t all sweaty. Normally during our coaching sessions when we are working on our competition routines, I get to be a gross sweaty mess, and he tends to make fun of me for that. I told him that today I wasn’t really working all that hard. Sure, we did a lot of practice with me picking Sparkledancer up to go over the pieces of this lift, but she’s not really all that heavy. Normally when I work out, I use much heavier weights and focus on one muscle group, but here I was lifting a fairly light weight, and doing it synergistically, so it wasn’t all that difficult for me. He just shook his head at that…

Monday night, like usual, I was out at Latin Technique class. I enjoy Latin Technique class because it tends to be amusing, but the last couple of months of class Lord Junior has picked on me less because of things that I do wrong. I know part of that has to do with the fact that I don’t actually compete in Latin dances like other students in class, so he tends to focus his attention on those students instead, but there are also a lot of nights where I end up being the only other male in class. I wonder if that makes him worry less about me, since I end up practicing the figures a lot more as I rotate through all the ladies.

We had a new lady join class this week, who was recommended by her instructor from a different studio (I know! That surprised me too!). We normally do Rumba when new students that Lord Junior doesn’t know show up; the slower dance allows him some time to evaluate their skill level and see how difficult he can make the choreography that night. To warm up, and get the new lady used to straightening her legs just before transferring her weight, we did a couple of sets of Rumba Walks with Spiral Turns down the length of the floor. Our new friend had never done a Spiral Turn before, so while the rest of us did the progression on our own, Lord Junior walked down the floor with her to help out.

The choreography we worked through was fairly basic that night, especially for Leaders, since all we did was shift side-to-side a lot, and take a couple of steps near the end. The one figure that Lord Junior specifically wanted to have the ladies work on was a Closed Hip Twist, so he spent a lot of time working with the ladies on making that look good.

We started by standing facing one another, guys on their left leg and ladies on the right, holding on with just the matching hand, and as we began we led the ladies through an Alemana, finishing with them on our right side. As we put our right hand around on the ladies shoulder, we turned them into an Opening Out action, doing a side break to the left in the process, and then closed them into the Closed Hip Twist so that their Press Line was pointed right toward us.

Next we rotated them 90° clockwise, allowing them to walk along in front of us for two steps before turning them 180° to lead them into Fan Position. Closing from there, we went into a Hockey Stick, adding in a full Spiral Turn in the last stretch instead of the normal half-turn so that they ended up facing away from us for the last step at the end of the line. For the last measure, we both checked forward, and the guys gently rotated the lady’s arm to turn her around to face us before taking two steps backward with the lady walking forward along with us. Nothing too complicated – I’m pretty sure everything but the Spiral Turns we did that night were from the Bronze syllabus, but I’m too tired to look that up right now to verify.

The last thing that I did this week was to head out for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior wanted to have us work on Foxtrot that night. In particular, there was a group of figures that he had just added into Veep’s Foxtrot competition routine that he wanted to have all of us look at – especially Veep, since going over things in class would mean that he wouldn’t need to spend as much time on the figures in her next lesson. That’s really convenient for her, huh.

All of the individual figures of this choreography I had seen before, so it wasn’t too hard for me to put them together in the given order. Starting with a prep step we went into a normal Feather, then added on a Bounce Fallaway. Rather than go into the Weave ending like you see in the book, Lord Junior had us do a Tumble Turn with a Feather Finish. That set us up facing diagonal wall where we added on a Reverse Wave, and finished everything with an Open Impetus.

The most challenging part of the whole routine that night seemed to be the Bounce Fallaway. Lord Junior was telling the ladies that, by the book, their head should stay to the left the whole time, even when we went into Fallaway position. This really threw off a lot of the ladies I danced with, and rather than take the first few steps in Fallaway position they would oftentimes try to close to normal dance frame with me. I ended up having to keep my left arm really rigid a number of times to really let them know that they needed to stay in the right place while we were dancing.

By the end of class when we were just running through the choreography repeatedly so that everyone could practice, I ended up having to alter the angles I was using on the Reverse Wave. Lord Junior and I were starting at the same time on one end of the floor, and he kept stopping behind me while I was trying to do the Reverse Wave, so I kept having to cut the figure at the last second and I would go into a Closed Impetus to keep my partner close and safe. I ended up changing things so that my Reverse Wave would head down the line of dance rather than toward diagonal wall, because then I had all kinds of room to travel without worrying about anyone behind me.

Hooray for normal weeks, right? Don’t get too used to this. I made other crazy plans for this weekend, so it will be anything but normal for me. I’m heading out to the Grand Dance Hall this weekend once again. Every year they have a whole weekend that they set aside to hold a couple of formal dance parties on Friday and Saturday night, along with some entertaining workshops during the day on Saturday. That’s where I’ll be this weekend! I’m hoping I’ll still be able to find some time for normal dance practice as well in the middle of all that. Will I be able to handle so much dancing in one weekend? We’ll have to see what happens!

When We’re Dancing, The Night Begins To Shine

Forgive me for a bit of rambling this week. There are so many things jumbled around in my brain that I just need to get out so that I can sort through them. Bear with me on this…

Last Saturday I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to continue working on Tango. There’s not a lot I need to remember from the actual lesson – the more interesting discussion came after we finished dancing. The one thing that I jotted down as a note is something Sir Steven wanted me to start doing during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. I was told that, in order to make the figure look more dramatic, I need to rotate my body just enough to keep Sparkledancer on the outside for the first two steps, but to make sure that I am not rotating my body as much as I possibly can.If I do that correctly, I can dramatically snap my body the rest of the way when I take the third step, making the figure look really sharp.

The big thing to watch out for when I do this (as I found out that day) is that I have to rotate my body quickly to make it look dramatic, but not too quickly. I weigh a lot more than Sparkledancer, and if she’s in close body contact with me as I rotate my body with any amount of force, I can end up just flinging her body around. While it’s kind of funny to me when that happens, I can’t really say that anyone else finds it super funny. So the trick is to rotate quickly, but to do it lightly. Reminds me of Lord Dormamu’s comments from last week, about moving with power, but softly – like a gentleman. I told you that was a quote to remember!

As we were finishing up getting all the signatures in order for our lesson, the topic of upcoming showcases came up. From what I gathered recently, the Electric Dance Hall was planning on holding their fall showcase sometime around mid-October, and the Fancy Dance Hall is planning their winter showcase for mid-December. A couple of people on the Fancy Dance Hall staff have now mentioned to either Sparkledancer or I that the two of us should put together an act for their showcase. In hearing that, I automatically thought that if I was going to do it, I should have an act that could be performed at both showcases, like my last showcase number.

But… when the showcase came up this past weekend, I found out that the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is putting on will be like their recent summer showcase. That means that, rather than just being a collection of student performances for friends and family members to come watch, this ‘showcase’ will be more like a musical. There will be a story to follow, and all dance numbers need to fit the story, and the whole night will be arranged in a specific order that follows a plot. Rehearsals will involve not only making sure that performers can dance through their routines successfully, but also to choreograph transitions between performances so that everything runs together smoothly.

Also, it will involve having to do some acting, since the dances will be ‘performed’ by characters from the story. There won’t be speaking parts, but there are definitely characters that need to be embodied and presented so that the crowd can tell who you are.

So… that’s daunting. The story that they are planning on doing for the showcase is Christmas themed, as you can guess. It’s a pretty well-known story, so I was able to go back through the notes on the plot and think of ideas. I had one that I thought was pretty good, that could be rather dramatic and elegant and even, dare I believe, funny, but I’m not entirely sure how Sir Steven felt about my idea. It would be a ballroom style dance showcase. That’s a big leap of faith for me to take. I’ve always thought that ballroom showcases got to be kind of boring from an audience’s perspective – they tend to be slow and really limit the amount of exciting things that you can put in.

That’s why I also told Sir Steven that if we were going to do this, somehow we would have to put lifts into the routine. I think that audiences really enjoy seeing dancers do lifts while dancing, and I spend too much time on strength training to not do any. Plus, Sparkledancer is pretty tiny, so it hasn’t been much of a workout to pick her up during all of the other showcase numbers we’ve performed together. Sir Steven told me that he would look into some ideas for ballroom lifts and get back to me.

I’m sure I will have more to say about this in the near future. After all, we are less than two months from the possible performance at the Electric Dance Hall’s showcase, and less than four months from the Fancy Dance Hall’s performance date. If we’re going to be in the show(s), we’ve got to start working on things soon!

Last Saturday was also the night for the monthly dance party that is put together by the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. Yay! Someone had wanted to do a vaguely Summer-themed dance party that night, and we brought someone in to teach a Bachata lesson prior to the dance. While I’m sure that something like Salsa would have been slightly more Summery than Bachata, the guests to the dance seemed to enjoy the Bachata, so everything worked out great.

I will confess to not being all that well versed in Bachata. Afflicted with long legs and white-boy hips, I don’t think I’m all that good at any Latin dances, especially those of the Club Latin variety. That said, what the instructor covered that night was fairly basic, and with all the years of training I’ve had in making sure I have a connection with my dance partner, I could get a lady through the figures with ease. I had more than one lady tell me that I was the only guy besides the instructor that they managed to get through the steps with successfully. I even had one lady tell me that I must dance Bachata all the time with how easy it was for her to dance with me. When I told her that I really never dance Bachata, she looked right into my eyes and said “Well, then you must be a natural.” Huh.

Because only a handful of people in the class that night confessed to being good at Bachata, the instructor started things off just covering the basics. There was the side-to-side basic figure, and then the forward-and-back basic figure, and then Spot Turns for the ladies during the side-to-side basic. When the instructor felt like everyone had those basic figures down, he gave everyone a pattern of figures that they could do that got progressively more advanced as it went on, until he ran out of time in the class..

The pattern started out with a normal side-to-side basic. Then we did the same basic figure with the ladies Spot Turns added. Once we finished that, we took a wide two hand hold and the men led the ladies to travel forward on a diagonal path while he traveled backward, taking four steps diagonally back from right to left, then rotating the lady to do another four steps from left to right. We did four of these traveling diagonals so that when we finished we were on the right side once more with the left foot free. Then he had us do some leg flicks, pointing the leg to the side for beat one, flicking it up behind our other leg on beat two, taking a step to the side on beat three, and finally slowly sliding the other foot in over beat four. We did four of these as well, to keep the musical phrasing.

As we neared the end of class, he showed the ladies how to do Swivels, These were exactly the same as what you have probably seen in International Rumba, where the lady is in front of the man stepping and turning from side to side. This was a challenging step for many of the ladies I danced with. At first the instructor wanted the ladies doing one Swivel for each beat of music, but after a few minutes of practice when he saw that many were struggling to keep that pace he backed down and said that if they wanted they could do one Swivel for every two beats of the music. A lot of the ladies I danced with still wanted to believe they could do the fast ones, so I would let them try, and then if they struggled I would stop and get them to try it again slowly to be successful.

By the time the class had finished, more guests had shown up for the party to participate in the open dance. The ratio of men to women was pretty even that night, so I wasn’t really needed for dancing. That was probably for the best too, since I had to leave early to take care of some stuff for work. Also, the DJ made sure to play a fair number of Bachata songs, and I probably would have had to fake my way through those if someone had asked me to dance during one…

Keeping things on the slower side this week, we ended up looking at Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday night. On an interesting note, a lady whom I have met several times before ended up joining us that evening. We’ll call her the Gatekeeper, and she’s an… interesting case. For a long time, I used to think that she was reluctant to learn anyone about dancing from anyone other than Lord Fabulous, but apparently the two of them had some kind of falling out recently. Since then, I’ve seen her at the Fancy Dance Hall taking a lesson with Sir Steven, and now she showed up to take Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class. I’m not sure if this will become a regular occurrence, or if she and Lord Fabulous will reconcile their differences shortly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As we usually do when new people who Lord Junior doesn’t know very well join us for class, the figures we looked at that night weren’t super intense. If Gatekeeper sticks around for a few weeks, I’m sure that will start to change, but for the first night there she could get through the figures pretty easily. Starting in Fan Position, we took the ladies into an Alemana, with the guy shifting to the left slightly so that the lady ends her last turning walk on the Lead’s right side. Collecting her with our right arm, we turned her in a Natural Opening Out action that we over-rotated as we closed so that it melded right into a Reverse Top. We went around for three measures, releasing the lady in the middle of the last measure so that she would end up back out in Fan Position. Just as class was ending, Lord Junior was having us move from that Fan Position into a Hockey Stick, but we didn’t get any farther that night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday was pretty fun, in my opinion. The class was rather small compared to the number of people who usually show up. I think that with so many schools starting up again this month, many of the normal attendees are either getting ready to go back themselves or getting everything ready for their kids to go back. At least, that’s my theory – I could be wrong.

We looked at Waltz this time around. There were a couple of figures that we looked at that I don’t remember ever seeing before, which is always exciting to me. First off, when we started class, Lord Junior asked all of us if any of us had ever seen a Left Whisk. When everyone said no, he decided that we would definitely be using that figure during class. As you can probably guess, a Left Whisk is basically the same as the basic Whisk, only you are crossing the opposite foot behind. While the normal Whisk is a figure you learn in early Bronze International Waltz, a Left Whisk is a Gold-level figure for some reason.

Our pattern that night was rather short, and it doesn’t travel all that far because of the spin and lunge that we do after the Left Whisk. We started out with a normal Natural Spin Turn and then transitioned into the Left Whisk. With my right foot crossed behind my left, our next figure was to unwind with a Standing Spin while the lady walked around me. This Standing Spin felt a lot like a Natural Twist Turn from Tango. Once the lady got all the way around us, we rotated her body so that she was perpendicular to ours and then did a Same Foot Lunge, with the man lunging to the right and the lady stepping backward on her right leg and leaning backward in an Oversway-like line. If you were in the right position, you would almost have the lady sitting down on your right thigh when she was leaning back.

To come out of the Same Foot Lunge, the guys would stand the lady back up and pivot her around without moving yet (that’s how she gets back to being on the opposite foot from us). Once she was pivoted back into normal dance position, the guys could collect and do an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position heading toward diagonal wall. Lord Junior was going to add on something else at the end to give us a better closing than ending right in the middle of an Open Telemark, but we had spent a lot of time working on the Standing Spin and Same Foot Lunge that night, so we had to leave it there so that we could get in several practice rounds before class ended.

Remember how last week I mentioned feeling like my schedule was overwhelming without actually having anything out of the ordinary on it? I guess feeling that way wasn’t good enough for me, so I somehow got talked into adding more things to my schedule. There’s the showcase that I mentioned earlier that I’m fairly certain I will start working on. Just before that, I had already agreed to compete at the end of September, so not only do I have to find time to learn and practice a showcase routine, but I still have to continue working on my competition routines at the same time!

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I had volunteered myself to be part of this committee that will be making dance-related decisions on a national level. Well going along with that, my local Royal Dance Court group will have our quarterly meeting next week to talk about what we have planned for the rest of this year, and to start discussing the dance parties and events we want to host next year. There is this debate going on about themes for our dance parties – a few of the members of the Royal Dance Court really like planning themes for these parties, with decorations and a playlist of music that matches the theme. Others (like me) don’t see many of the dance attendees dressing up for the themes, or mentioning anything about the decorations, so we feel like having a theme every month is overkill without participation. That should be a fun discussion…

On top of that, my Royal Dance Court group was asked to send representatives for an upcoming regional conference, where a bunch of different dance groups in our region are coming together to discuss our successes and challenges in getting people into ballroom dancing in our respective areas. As you can probably guess, I was asked by Prez if I would tag along with her to that regional meeting. I’m pretty sure that she asked Sparkledancer if she wanted to go as well, and that the ladies will be getting a hotel room together to reduce costs and whatnot. Being the only guy, I have to find my own accommodations. There was talk of reimbursements if I saved my receipts, but I hate doing expense reports, and I make stupid money compared to my living expenses, so I can just eat the cost.

Anyway… why did I agree to go to this meeting? For starters, there are rumors that some of the people in charge of the national organization that I had signed up to be on that committee for might have a representative there to talk with all of these regional clubs, so I figured getting in some face time is a good idea. Also, I’m fairly certain that Prez asked Sparkledancer and I if we wanted to go because she wants our Royal Dance Court to stand out because of our respective youth. There is supposed to be a dance party that night after all of the meetings in the afternoon, and if Prez shows up with the two of us who also happen to compete together, and she can get us to dance in front of everyone else at the party… I’m sure that will score her some bonus points, and I’m willing to do that for her.

I could be wrong about that, but with what I’ve learned about Prez over the years, she likes to have power and status over people, and I wouldn’t put it past her to use me to that end. But knowing how dance politics works, helping her earn status points can also help me out too. If I can get to know the leadership of all these dance clubs in my region, maybe I will be able to present my ideas about how I think things should be done to them, and have some small influence on the way the clubs are run. On top of that, if I want to use my committee position to help solve big problems at the national level, I want these people to know who I am, and trust me enough to tell me about issues they come across. After all, if no one tells you about an issue, how can you help solve the problem?

So now my calendar is actually getting full. What is it about me that seems to be drawn to do all of these things, even knowing that I would much rather just have a quiet weekend curled up in bed with my cat, doing nothing but staring out the window? I must be crazy.

Speaking My Lesson From The Brain

This past Friday night I ended up at a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. Based on the messages I saw floating around online, there was a bigger dance party with some sort of special surprise that was going on at the Fancy Dance Hall that night as well, but I didn’t want to make the drive all the way out there when there was a less crazy party going on at a dance hall much closer to my house. Besides, as I see it, as a male dancer I can pretty much go to whatever sort of dance event I want and always be useful, so I knew that whatever I chose would be end up being fun for me.

I arrived at the Electric Dance Hall a few minutes after the party had started. Lord Junior stopped what he was doing to come over and greet me, and he made a specific point of telling me about one lady who was at the party that he wanted me to go dance with at some point that evening. She was relatively new to dancing, having first started taking lessons at the Electric Dance Hall in November, but now she was starting to feel confident enough in her abilities to show up at these social parties. I made a point of dancing with her a couple of times, sticking to slower dance styles like Waltz or Rumba to try to figure out what she was comfortable with.

Somehow that night I also ended up dancing a Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks. As a general rule I really try my best to avoid dancing with instructors or professionals, since there are always other amateur ladies I could be dancing with, but that night as the song started Lady Lovelylocks walked right up to me, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the dance floor. The song that was playing could have been either a Cha-Cha or a Hustle, and since I knew that Lady Lovelylocks spent a lot of time competing professionally in International Latin and I didn’t, I made a point of asking her if she knew Hustle as we got started. With the music being so loud, I’m not exactly sure what she said to me, but she was smiling about it, so I took that as consent to do what I wanted.

The dance did not go as well as I would have liked. Part of the problem I have with dancing with instructors or professionals at social dance parties is that I always feel like it is some kind of test. Logically I know that this is incorrect, and these people just want to have fun sometimes just like me, but in the back of my brain I still worry about screwing up steps while dancing with them, so I’m really on edge for the entire song. The other problem was that Lady Lovelylocks felt kind of out-of-control when I was dancing with her, which was a bit unsettling, and that made me worry about what I was doing even more.

I’m sure that you’ve thrown a punch before, so I’m going to use that as a comparison – have you ever pulled a punch? Where you try to hit something really hard but then stop your arm short at the last second? There’s tension that you get when you pull your arm back that comes from your triceps, right around the lower half of your arm going toward your elbow. I associate that feeling with cancelling the movement in my arms quickly, to prevent my fist from accidentally hitting anything (or anyone if I’m in a kickboxing class). Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You can try throwing a punch and stopping your arm before it completely straightens if you want to give it a try.

Well, as I was dancing this Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks, she was putting a lot more power into her turns than I have ever felt anyone use during a Hustle before. I know this because when I did figures that would require me to stop her to change her direction, like a Triple Spin or transitioning from Open Dance Position to Closed Dance Position, I would put up my right arm and she would slam into it. She doesn’t weigh a whole lot, but she was running into my arm hard enough that I was getting the same feeling in my triceps when stopping her body that I would get when pulling a punch. That’s crazy!

I know that’s a bit strange to mention, but that was a really memorable note for me from this dance party. Other than that, it was a fairly normal night where I got to talk with people who I knew and dance the night away. I tried my best to keep dancing that night for as long as the Dance Robots kept dancing, but near the end of the party most of the unattached ladies had either gone home or were changing their shoes, so there wasn’t much I could do for the last couple of songs, while the two of them kept going right until the end. Maybe next time…

With Sparkledancer being out-of-town the last few days of last week, we had to reschedule our weekend lessons to a time when all of us would be around. That meant that I ended up meeting with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven out at the Fancy Dance Hall on Sunday morning instead of our usual Saturday time slot. I got to the studio a bit early as usual to warm up a little, and found that there were a couple of people hanging out who were setting up furniture for some function that was starting at noon. They didn’t leave us much room to work that day, since they had set chairs up in a big arc around a small center point against one long wall. There was a very thin strip of floor behind the chairs that could be used for dancing, but it wasn’t quite wide enough to do much more than travel in a straight line.

Sparkledancer showed up a short while after I did, and Sir Steven a bit after that. He took one look at the room and told the people setting up for the party that we were going to move the chairs back to widen that strip of floor behind the chairs enough for us to work, so the three of us pushed everything up so that we had a lane about ten feet wide. That gave us slightly less play between the chairs and the wall to work with than I would have liked, but we made do for our time there.

Sir Steven had us work on our Waltz routine. We danced through it a couple of times, since the first time I danced was mostly used to get used to dancing through the lane without hitting any chairs on one side, or the wall on the other. We only got through the long wall, as you can imagine, because we couldn’t go down the short wall without moving more of the furniture around. Since no one else was dancing at the same time that day, when we got down the long wall to the far end, we just turned around and danced back the other way. That kind of messed with my head the first time we tried to do it, but I managed to get through once I got started.

Given the limitations on space, Sir Steven decided to have us spend time working on the two chasses along the long wall, since they traveled in a straight line, which helped us avoid running into any furniture. Let me tell you, even though a Progressive Chasse to the Right is only four steps, they seem like the worst four steps in the world when you go through them at painfully slow speeds. We made micro adjustments to the length of our strides, the angles of the steps, then moved on to the Outside Change and did the same thing super slow, and ended with the Chasse from Promenade Position getting the same treatment. At the end we strung all three figures together and ran them at a slightly more reasonable rate of speed, which felt like such a relief after going through everything so slowly beforehand.

On Monday night, in place of going to Latin Technique class, I ended up back at the Fancy Dance Hall to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. It had been two weeks since we had all gotten together, and with Sparkledancer being out-of-town on Saturday and Lord Dormamu leaving on Tuesday for an overseas trip to some exotic country to do dance things, we had no other choice but to get something in on Monday night or miss out for a while.

In a massively surprising turn of events that night, Lord Dormamu actually wanted to get started on our lesson early! Normally he continues working with his students until he finishes up whatever concept he is trying to teach them, which quite often has him running his lessons over their scheduled time slots. If he schedules multiple lessons in a row with no break in between, one lesson ending late puts the next lesson behind when starting, and if that lesson also ends late the next lesson is even more behind when starting, and if that one ends late… it’s a terrible cycle! To come in and be told that we could start early for once was a real surprise, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be asked if we would be willing to change our lesson like that again.

We went back to Foxtrot again, just as I expected. Because it had been two weeks since our last meeting, we spent a little time reviewing all of the things we had been practicing in Foxtrot over the last two weeks first so that Lord Dormamu could evaluate how our practice sessions were going. Overall he was pleased, which made me feel good. There were a few spots that we went back to in order to fix a few things, and one new change that he wanted us to start adding in when we danced through the routine. Let’s start with the things that we’d touched on in the past that he wanted me to continue working on:

  • As always, he reminded me to stay down the entire time while I am dancing. I guess he still sees me coming up higher when taking certain steps, even though I feel like I am staying super low the entire time.
  • We went back to dance through the Three Step really slowly again. Just like when we had done the chasse figures in Waltz slowly with Sir Steven the day before, going through the Three Step super slow is pretty terrible. This time, he wanted us to do it so that Sparkledancer could work on taking bigger steps. As Lord Dormamu told her that night, he wanted to “unleash” me during the figure but he couldn’t do that if she didn’t take bigger steps.
  • Apparently he can tell when I am not rotating myself enough during the first Reverse Turn in the routine. If I do not have enough CBM during the first half of the figure, apparently my steps backward tend to go off on a bit of an angle. This may or may not have happened that night because there was another instructor and her student standing in the middle of the floor while we were going through that figure, but Lord Dormamu told me that I should just dance through them if they are going to be silly and stand in my way.
  • Finally, Lord Dormamu also didn’t think that I was pivoting myself enough during my first step of the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. If you remember, he told me how he has always done a Closed Impetus with the first step I take being a curved step backward to the left that I then pivot on, instead of  taking a step straight backward that begins to turn to the right which is how the book tells you to do the figure. He wanted me to pivot even more on that first step of mine to make sure that we are getting around even more.

As for new things, we looked at the second Reverse Turn in the routine that night, which is in the corner at the end of the long wall between a Natural Weave on the long wall and Basic Weave on the short wall. Up until that point, we had been doing the Reverse turn while heading toward diagonal wall the entire time. This Reverse Turn ends with a checking action instead of a Feather Finish, which allows us to change our alignment easily between heading toward diagonal wall on the long wall to heading toward diagonal center along the short wall.

Instead of turning the entire 180° during the second step of the Reverse Turn, he wanted to make this Reverse Turn more like the first Reverse Turn we have in the routine where there are two distinct parts. The first half would mirror our first Reverse Turn, where you only do about ⅜ of a turn on the second step so that the third step would now be heading toward the wall. The fourth step, which is just that checking action, is where we will now be completing the other ⅛ of the turn to give us the full 180° we had before.

However, Lord Dormamu wanted us to take this fourth step in a very specific manner. There will be distinct rise on this step so that it actually looks almost like I am popping up while taking it (the sort of action he told me earlier in the evening that I should always be staying down to avoid). Also, he now wants me to rotate my head here as I do the sway for this checking action – I will be looking over Sparkledancer’s head when doing this check. I know, I know, this set off all sorts of bells and whistles in my head too, since he just recently told me that I was allowed to start keeping my head to the left again, and before that I was supposed to keep my nose in line with my sternum. Moving my head is going to throw all kinds of things off, I just know it.

Practice makes perfect though, right? I’ll probably have to go over this quite a bit to make sure that I can remember to move my head and then put it back at the right times. Sigh… one more thing to add to my list of items to practice.

Since I didn’t make it to Latin Technique class this week, I made sure to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It was a good thing that I did too, because we ended up with seven ladies in class and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. I don’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t been there, but it probably wouldn’t have been pretty!

We ended up going through some things in Waltz that night. The first figure we did was the only one that I hadn’t seen before, and was by far the most interesting of the figures used that night. Lord Junior called the figure a ‘Checked Natural Turn’ which is also a pretty good description of what you do during the steps. We started with a prep step and then took the first two steps of a Natural Turn. However, as we placed the left foot down, we didn’t completely transfer our weight to the left leg like we would in a normal Natural Turn. Instead, we used partial weight to create a checking action, and then pushed back onto our right foot to do a small Slip Pivot that would rotate us to face down the line of dance.

This variation on a Natural Turn seems like it can be pretty useful, allowing you to quickly change direction if need be. The pivot on the third step could obviously be rotated even further if we had wanted to, but we only used an eighth of a turn because of what Lord Junior wanted us to do next. The key to remember, as I found out the hard way, is not to drive yourself backward on that third step. It is a small step, just under your body, which allows the ladies to position themselves in front of you when they do their pivot. If you push that third step backward, you risk leaving the lady standing far away from you as she pivots herself around the point where your body used to be.

The rest of the progression was fairly simple. Having pivoted to line ourselves up facing the line of dance, we added on a Double Reverse Spin that did a complete turn, and then seemingly to make Sir Steven happy we did a Progressive Chasse to the Right, which brought back memories of working on the same figure on Sunday. Finally, to wrap things up Lord Junior wanted to do another syncopated figure that traveled in a straight line but had different timing and different rise and fall when compared to the Progressive Chasse to the Right. This was a Quick Backward Run, where the syncopation was during the first two steps before the rise, instead of during the second two steps in the middle of the rise like the Progressive Chasse to the Right uses.

At this moment, I’m hoping that this coming weekend is pretty quiet. I feel like I should head out and spend some extra time practicing serious things. I’m not even sure why. Yet there’s always a chance that I will allow myself to be talked into going out and doing other, more fun things instead of practicing. Sigh… more than anything I hope that I get a chance to sleep in for a few extra hours this weekend. I feel like I need some extra rest for some reason. We’ll have to see whether I accomplish any of my desired tasks next week!