I spent my weekend away from home, attending an event at the Grand Dance Hall. I still find it hard to believe that this was my sixth year going to this annual party of theirs. Even after that many years, I still found it to be entertaining, and because of that I already reserved my spot to go again next year. After all, having enough people guarantee that they will go again is the best way to ensure that the Grand Dance Hall continues to hold the event for years to come, and I wanted to help with that. Yay!
My weekend plans started out on Friday night with me climbing into my little boat and rowing my way out to the mysterious island that the Grand Dance Hall is built on. It’s always a fun trip, and a great workout for my shoulders. The event has activities planned the entire evening on Friday and most of the whole day on Saturday, so I would be hard pressed to find time to find a gym and get in a real workout. Because of that, it’s important to get those reps in any way that you can. Trust me, huge shoulders are worth the effort.
I managed to get there in time to check in and change out of my sweaty rowing clothes into something nicer so that I could go to the pre-dinner reception that they held Friday afternoon in the main ballroom. The staff at the Grand Dance Hall had laid out a table full of fancy looking cheeses, crackers and fruit arrangements, and they had a four piece band playing some songs for anyone that wanted to dance while mingling. After an hour and a half of chatting and dancing with people, everyone took a break to head down to the dining hall and have dinner together.
After dinner was done, the real dance party started. If you remember what I wrote when I went to this party last year, or the year before that, or the year befo… anyway, the Grand Dance Hall always brings in a full orchestra to play the music for the dance parties on Friday and Saturday nights. That always makes the parties stand out compared to all the other dance parties I might happen to go to throughout the rest of the year. Have you ever gotten to dance with an orchestra playing in the background before? You really should try it sometime if you haven’t yet.
While the orchestra playing the music is normally one of the highlights of this event, this year it seems like they had a real novice put together their set list for Friday night. There was a real lack of variety and contrast in what they chose to play. For example, at one point in the night the conductor told the crowd they were going to play a Waltz number, then they played three Foxtrot numbers in a row, and when they finished those they did another Waltz number. While Foxtrot is one of my favorite dance styles, doing three in a row with nothing different in between is even a little too much for me. On top of that, there was just something off about the tempos of the songs that they chose to play. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it Friday night, but a lot of the songs and dance styles didn’t seem correct to me.
The real meat of the event though was on Saturday, when the Grand Dance Hall offered all attendees three ninety-minute workshops to attend. They had two different rooms open for workshops – one room offering instruction for beginners in the dance styles chosen for this year, and one for the more intermediate/advanced students. I was in the latter room all day, since I felt pretty comfortable in all three styles that they had chosen to teach this year. This year the dance styles chosen for the three workshops was Foxtrot, Rumba and East Coast Swing.
First up was the Foxtrot. The progression itself that the instructors chose to show the class wasn’t something that I would call difficult – it was really long, but the figures themselves were all just variations of things I’ve seen before – but then again I am not a good case study for what people would consider difficult in classes like this. The pattern started out simply enough, with a Progressive Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn where you released the lady, followed by a Progressive Chasse to the Right with a lady’s Underarm Turn. After that we went back into dance frame with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending, which put us into the corner as if we had just traveled all the way down the long wall.
To actually turn the corner we did another Progressive Twinkle that did a quarter of turn, coming out toward diagonal center on the new wall. Then there were two Passing Twinkles where we switched hands to lead the lady with the right hand in kind of a hooking action, collecting her back into frame afterward for a Feather Finish. Once back in dance frame we did a Contra Check in the other corner of the short wall, then another lady’s Underarm Turn, finishing by returning to dance frame facing diagonal wall on the next long wall where you could repeat the whole thing if you wanted.
The second half of the pattern I was able to work through just by watching the video of the demonstration the instructors did that I took before the class started. In class, the instructors never actually got beyond teaching people the first long wall. The Open Natural Turn where the guy would let go of his partner followed by a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady threw a lot of the people in class for a loop. The two people teaching the class were walking around trying to help everyone through the steps when they allowed people to go give the figures a try with their normal partners, but there were tons of people in class and only two instructors, so a lot of people were left struggling while they waited.
A fair number of people ended up coming over to where Sparkledancer and I were screwing around with the figures in one of the corners of the room to ask the two of us if we could help them. That ended up being what the two of us spent most of our time doing during the workshop, since we got through the steps with no trouble at all. The big issue that both of us kept seeing during this first section that people were struggling with which fixed most of the problems was that the ladies would do the turn in place while the men did the Progressive Chasse. That ended up putting the partners too far away from each other to collect back into dance frame comfortably when they went into the Open Impetus.
And then there was the Open Impetus itself, which also was a source of trouble. Asking the gentlemen to do a Heel Turn was probably reeeeeeeaaaalllllly ambitious for a class like this. Most of the guys that I saw going through the pattern later on had given up trying to do a Heel Turn entirely, and were just faking their way through the turn by taking three steps while turning instead. It was kind of funny to watch.
After a short break we started in on the Rumba. Much like the last class, the things the instructors put in the pattern weren’t any figures I hadn’t done variations of before, but the pattern was really long. This one started out with the partners standing apart and facing one another before going into a Sliding Door. When we got back to the point where we were standing facing one another again, the Leads would cross their wrists and take the lady’s hands in their matching hand (right to right, left to left), then unwind her while doing a second Sliding Door action. At the end of that, we would lead the lady through a Spiral Turn and get her into Shadow Position with us, sliding our hands up slightly to take hold of her wrists.
In Shadow Position the men would stand with their feet apart and do Cuban Rocks while leading the lady to do Swivels back and forth in front of them. We would do two measures of this, and on the last beat of the second measure the men would lunge away from the lady onto their right leg while leading the lady to head off to the left facing away from us. Using a subtle movement of the lady’s right arm we would have her do a Ronde while turning to face us, then we would hook her back in while we collected our feet to get her back into dance frame on our right side, setting us up to go into three Opening Outs.
On the last Opening Out the Lead would end by shifting his weight back over his left leg to get us out of Shadow Position. We would hold like that while leading the lady to do a slow four-count Underarm Turn, then another Ronde over the next three count, stepping through on the last beat in the measure. Here they wanted the men to lead the ladies to do one more Swivel step, then another Underarm Turn, and finally a Free Spin (lots of turning for the ladies). When all that is over, we would slowly collect our feet over the next measure in the music and then we were done.
This class got slightly farther through the planned progression than the last class. The instructors taught the class everything up through the Opening Outs before they ran out of time. A lot of time was given so that everyone could practice the various pieces that were taught, and because people were having trouble and the instructors could only go around and offer assistance so quickly, the ninety minutes scheduled for the class flew by without us getting to the whole thing, much like during the Foxtrot workshop.
I was not one of those having trouble with the pieces of the progression, but my time also flew by as well. Because people had seen Sparkledancer and I helping out during the Foxtrot class, even more people came to ask the two of us questions when they ran into problems. One lady in particular seemed rather fond of sticking near me, and when I wasn’t in the middle of helping someone else she would ask if I could go through the progression with her over and over again so that she could make sure that she had her parts down. Her normal partner (husband? Boyfriend? Friend? I couldn’t figure that out) had skipped out on the Rumba lesson, so she was trying to get through the figures all by herself until Sparkledancer and I had taken her under our wings.
When the ninety minutes allocated to the Rumba class were up, we all got a short break to give us a chance to head off and find some lunch if we wanted. Once everyone had gathered back in the main ballroom, the instructors started in on the final workshop for the day in East Coast Swing. This workshop, like the previous two, was designed around a progression of figures that was much longer than the instructors actually managed to accomplish in the time allotted. They demonstrated the entirety of what they had hoped to get through at the beginning, and I managed to record it this time, so I was able to transcribe it in order to write it down here for all of you to read. Hooray for all of you!
It starts out with a Underarm Turn for the ladies with the men switching hands halfway through to get their partner into Handshake Hold. Next there is another Underarm Turn for the ladies, and at the end the men do a slight turn for themselves to bring their right arm over their head and release the ladies into an Arm Slide so we could get back into normal Open Dance Hold. Here the partners would lean forward toward each other and do a subtle shimmying action, then lean away from each other and do another shimmying action, just for fun. After that we would lead the lady into a set of four Chicken Walks to travel a bit down the floor.
Once we are done traveling both partners would do two Kick-Ball-Changes, with the men doing the kicks with their left leg and the ladies doing the kick with their right. Next the Lead would have the Follow do a Free Spin, catching them with the right hand to put us back into Handshake Hold. Here we would do another Underarm Turn with the Arm Slide to get back into normal hold again. To finish things off we would lead our partner into two Hip Bumps, another Underarm Turn where we changed hands back into Handshake Hold, and we would wind our partner up and lead them into an American Spin to finish it all off. Nothing too challenging, right?
At least… that’s the way I saw the pattern once I watched it. This class managed to get slightly farther through the pattern with the instructors than during the last two workshops, but they still did not manage to teach the class all the figures up through the end. The instructors were only able to teach the pattern up until the second Arm Slide action right before the Hip Bumps before they ran out of time and had to call it quits for the day. Still, based on the issues that people came to me to ask about, getting that far was pretty impressive.
Surprisingly, the part that seemed to be giving couples the hardest time was the first two Underarm Turns with the Arm Slide action. Both Sparkledancer and I had many people asking us about how to get through that portion of the pattern, and there were at least four couples just in the corner I was hanging out in that I had to step through the pieces slowly to help them get through it successfully. Of all the breaks that the instructors gave during class for people to try out the steps with their normal partner, the break that they gave for the first section with the Underarm Turns and Arm Slide went on the longest.
I don’t know why, but for all the people having issues that I helped with the steps, the problem was that after they got through changing hands to get into Handshake Hold, they totally forgot that there was another triple-step action that needed to be done with the other foot. All the people I helped were rushing through the steps chaotically and missing that triple-step, which obviously then threw off everything afterward. Once I got people to slow down and listen to the music in the background and keep to its much slower tempo, that tended to help them get through everything without messing up.
Later on Saturday evening there was another pre-dinner reception, full of more mingling and some light dancing to get everyone ready for the meal. After spending the day in the workshops together, people were feeling much more chummy with each other, so there was quite a bit more conversation going on at this reception than there was at the Friday night reception. It may have also helped that there were staff members wandering around offering various adult-type beverages for sale, but that’s just a feeling I get. I don’t drink at all, so I don’t really know how much a difference it makes for other people who do when they socialize.
But I also saw the most amazing sight of the whole weekend at this pre-dinner reception. The quartet playing the music decided to do a Polka number. Normally when Polka numbers come on, not a lot of people in my area take to the dance floor, but the audience really gets into the music anyway. During this particular Polka number, a group of four people took to the floor together and started dancing as one group! It was kind of amazing – they were in a frame that was very box like, with two in the front and two in the back, all facing forward and holding hands.
This group must have practiced dancing in this configuration before, because their steps were all very synchronized and they kept switching places with each other as they traveled around the floor. I think each person ended up in every corner of the box at least once. Loop after loop around the floor they went as one group, like the four horsemen of the Polkocalypse (ha ha! I’m funny). Near the end, as the quartet reached the last coda of the song, the single group of four split into two groups of two and they chased each other around the floor until the song ended. That was probably the coolest dance thing I have seen in a long time. Maybe someday I can find enough dance friends who know Polka and they can teach me how to dance like that. 🙂
After the reception all of the guests were treated to one final fabulous dinner, and then we were able to dance the night away with the orchestra once more. This time around, the leader of the orchestra actually made a comment early on in the night about how they were going to try to mix up the variety of songs better this time around. I wonder if someone said something to them the night before? In any case, the arrangement of music was much more diverse on Saturday night, which made things even more fun than they were on Friday.
I did see something that I thought was strange on Saturday night, something that I made a note to myself about so that I could look it up later. There were a couple of Cha-Cha numbers played that night. Since Cha-Cha is not one of my favorite dances, I spent the time during those songs just hanging around in the back of the room and watching. I noticed that during the Cha-Cha songs there were a fair amount of couples that were dancing off time. I thought it was just a quirk of those couples at first – you know, maybe the Lead wasn’t hearing the beat in the music correctly or something – but then I saw that the couple that had taught the beginner workshops earlier in the day were also dancing off time. That’s when I realized that even though all of these couples were dancing off time, they were dancing in sync with each other.
OK, so that was weird. The song ended and I didn’t think too much of it until the next time a Cha-Cha came on. From my perch in the back of the room where I was observing, I noticed the same strange thing with the timing happening all over again to a different song. As I contemplated this, I saw one of the instructors from the beginner workshops standing near a group of people a few tables in front of me. I could make out some of what he was saying to the group, and he describing to them how to do the Cha-Cha. What surprised me was that he clearly told them to do the break on beats one and two in the music, and the chasse over the ‘three & four’ afterward. This made things all the more confusing, so I decided to take a moment and ask the Internets what was going on.
Did you know that outside of the world of ballroom dancing they do Cha-Cha, and they do it by doing the break on one and two and the chasse on the ‘three & four?’ I had no idea! Apparently this is a more common thing in Latin nightclubs, where the social dancing is something taught in different ways than how I learned the Cha-Cha. Now when I watched these couples dance the Cha-Cha in different timing, it still looked weird to me, but at least I understood why. Weird.
Anyway, that’s the report from my trip last weekend. Sorry that it ended up being so long, but there was a lot to talk about! I did other things that were dance related this week, but I’ll just leave those out to keep this from going on forever.