Here Comes The Moon Again

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.

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It’s Nothin’ Dangerous, I Feel No Pain

Last Saturday it seems like all the stars aligned and everything worked out perfectly in my morning so that I could go to a workshop taught by Judge Dread in the afternoon. Hooray for me! Part of me thought that going to the workshop would be a good idea because Judge Dread is a big-time judge that I see often enough at competitions I sign up for, so getting in some face time with him in a non-competition setting would be a good political move. Dance Politics, am I right? Things turned out even better than that though, because the workshop also turned out to be both a lot of fun and relevant to the material I usually practice.

Judge Dread wanted to work on Foxtrot that afternoon, and he told the class that while the pattern he had in mind was built using figures from the International side of Foxtrot, a good dancer could also apply the choreography in an American Foxtrot if they wanted. He wanted to ease everyone into the steps slowly, so we started off with a bit of basic choreography from the Bronze International Foxtrot syllabus, then those figures were upgraded piece by piece until we ended up with the actual choreography Judge Dread had in mind.

The starting point is pretty simple if you’ve done International Foxtrot before: a prep step into a Feather, then a Basic Weave, and finally a Change of Direction. Judge Dread pointed out to all of us that the Feather was a four-count figure, while the Basic Weave and the Change of Direction were both six-count figures, so the pattern should fill a full four bars of music. That’s all well and good, but what if we wanted to attach something different to the end of the choreography? Then the six-count Basic Weave would throw off our phrasing. To fix that issue, Judge Dread had us add in an extra two steps to the Basic Weave to make it an eight-count figure, so now the figure fits into the phrase.

Doing that however makes the Basic Weave look really long and boring, so rather than just stay in the position that we got into when we started the Basic Weave, Judge Dread told the ladies that we were going to have them shift across the man’s body for steps four and five to get into Outside Partner position on the man’s left side. Some of you may have heard this called ‘Wing Position’ before. Extending the steps and shifting the lady like that in the middle of the figure actually changes the Basic Weave into a figure called the Quick Open Reverse with Left Side Run, according to Judge Dread.

Now that we had fit this new figure to the musical phrase and made it more interesting to watch, we were ready to look at the Change of Direction at the end and make it into something more interesting as well. The pattern of steps that Judge Dread showed to us was something that he said a famous dancer (whose name I didn’t recognize) taught to him back in the early 1980s, and he still sees high-level competitive couples using it to this day. According to him, it especially comes in handy in competitions if you get stuck by people on the floor, because it’s an interesting pattern that stays in a relatively small area for a few bars of music. On top of that, this pattern can be done in ANY International Standard style. Yes, even Viennese Waltz works when you use a bit of Canter Timing.

Each section listed next covers one measure in the music; since we were working on Foxtrot that day, we were doing it with a four count. This configuration started out by facing diagonal wall and going into the first two steps from the Change of Direction, as you probably already guessed. After those steps, instead of stepping forward on the left foot to complete the Change of Direction, Judge Dread had the men step backward and lead the ladies to do an Outside Swivel. Once back in dance frame after the Outside Swivel we would lead the lady into a Contra check that ended with a Natural Pivot on the left leg that would flip us around 180°. That covers the first three bars of music.

The last part of the grouping was something that Judge Dread called a “Rudolph Ronde” with Slip Pivot. Essentially the men would finish the Natural Pivot and take a step forward onto their right leg. Leaving the left leg behind you, we would rotate our bodies to lead the lady to ronde her outside leg before shifting our weight back to our left foot and then slipping and pivoting on the right. Depending on how you rotate your body, supposedly you can indicate to the lady whether you want her to ronde with her outside foot on the floor or in the air, but I wasn’t able to figure out the way to do that during class. After the Slip Pivot you should be back facing diagonal center, and four bars of music will have gone by without you having traveled a whole lot. After that was done, Judge Dread just had us go into normal a Reverse Turn (International or American, depending on how comfortable the lady is with Heel Turns) to keep traveling down the floor.

That class wasn’t the only dance-related thing I did last Saturday either! I also went out to a dance party that night that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall just to get out and be social for a little while. I may have gotten scolded for going to the dance party to mostly talk to people by a lady while I was there… I had a hard time trying to explain to her that I spend so much time on the dance floor lately while I practice my competition stuff, but don’t get much opportunity to talk to people. Apparently that wasn’t a good reason for her. It wasn’t like I was hurting anything though, since the ratio of men to women was almost even that night. If the ratio had been lopsided, I would have been on the floor more, I promise!

The party advertised a lesson beforehand on Bolero. It’s a style that I don’t really do too often, and I never picked up a whole lot of figures for it, so I thought that the lesson would probably be interesting. As it turned out, the instructor that had come in to teach the class only managed to cover figures that I already knew for Bolero. Plus, the guy teaching wasn’t very interesting to listen to. I don’t know what it was about the guy’s voice, but he seemed to drone on and on and I just couldn’t get engaged in what he was saying. So I ended up being a little bored while in the lesson. I maaaaaay have roped Sparkledancer into playing a game of ‘Quick Draw’ with me using finger guns while we were standing across the room from one another. I lost a lot, because my arms move slower. You know, from all the muscle. That’s where the real gun show is at. 😉

A large chunk of time at the beginning of the lesson was spent with the instructor describing the Bolero and how to do the basic steps for the dance. He only taught the class how to do the basic without rotation, though he demonstrated later in class how the Leader could rotate the basic if desired. After getting through the basic movements, he next showed everyone how to do the Cross Over Break (i.e. a New Yorker, depending on what syllabus you look at). We were told to link the two figures together by doing the front half of the basic movement followed by three Cross Over Breaks in a row. Once done with those, he showed the class how to do a Lady’s Underarm Turn on the man’s left side.

Rather than link back into dance frame after the turn, the instructor had the men take the lady’s left hand in their right with the arms wide. In this position we did Outside Breaks Forward, two of them normally and then a third that ended with the man stepping to the side without rotating his body. This wound him up to the right, allowing him to lead the lady to do Swivels in front of him for two measures. At the end of the swivels the man would pull the lady back toward him slightly as he went into the back half of the basic to close back into dance position to finish.

The Swivels were the figure that a lot of the other men in class had the hardest time with. Several of them stopped the instructor to ask how it was that they were supposed to lead the ladies to do them, and they didn’t seem to understand when he explained to them how they needed to leave their arms engaged and rotate their bodies to signal to the ladies to move. Having done this figure before lots of times in a couple of dance styles, it seemed so intuitive to me how the movement was supposed to work, so I had a hard time understanding how those guys couldn’t just feel the lead they were supposed to do when they tried the movement. I can’t remember if I had that much trouble getting it back in the day all those years ago when I originally learned how to do it myself. Maybe I did? I don’t know.

After the lesson was over, the party began. I admit to not being a huge fan of the DJ that was working the music that night. The DJ seemed to like playing Latin-style songs almost exclusively, with only a smattering of ballroom-style or swing-style numbers mixed in. If you like dancing Latin numbers more, I guess that wouldn’t bother you too much, but I prefer a more balanced mix of the three classes. I think it helps mix things up over the course of the party, which gets different people out on the dance floor as the class of song changes. But, to each their own, I guess.

Also, the DJ liked to go out and dance to a lot of the Latin-style songs, which is fine, but more often than not she would totally forget to watch what the music was doing while she was out on the floor. I’m not sure why she didn’t set up multiple songs to play on some kind of mixed playlist that she had chosen. Most music programs will let you queue songs like that. There were a couple of times when she would forget about what the music was doing, then the song would end and her computer would move on to another song of the same dance style before she managed to run back to abruptly change the song to something else in a different dance style. That was weird.

But the weirdest thing that happened during the dance party was that the DJ tried to play a Pasodoble for people to dance socially. At first, people were looking around, not quite sure what to do. Many of the social dancers had never even seen Pasodoble before, let alone learned any steps for the style. After a few bars of the song, two dance instructors who happened to be at the party convinced a couple of their students to go out and give it a try. It didn’t go super well, since Pasodoble is usually choreographed and isn’t done lead-and-follow, but when the DJ cut the song short and everyone cheered for them for giving it a shot. Hooray for them!

This past Monday night when I got to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class, I was sitting along the back wall with some of the others waiting for class to start. The ladies near me were talking about how tired they all were, and they were trying to figure out what they wanted to go over in class that night. They made a pact that they were all going to vote for Rumba, because even though what we’d likely cover in class might not be easy, at least it would be slower. Lord Junior wasn’t opposed to the idea, so that’s what we ended up doing. He decided that we should go through some exercises that emphasized Latin Walks, since he said that everyone can always work on making those better. Some of these exercises were done alone, some with a partner, and some were done first alone and then a partner was added in later.

We started out with just going over some single steps forward as Lord Junior discussed where we should be settling over the leg in order to initiate the movement, and how we should all think about the lines the legs create in each stage of the steps. After that, we spent time chaining steps together. First we did three four-count measures going forward (half starting on the right leg, half on the left). Next we did steps going forward that would rotate to steps going to the side. We only did two four-count measures of these steps so that we could have one measure starting out in each direction (forward-side-forward, side-forward-side). Like before, half of these were done starting on the right foot, and the other half starting with the left.

The next thing that Lord Junior wanted us to try ended up being kind of hilarious. His intention was for us to do Hand-to-Hands, but after replacing your weight to go back forward you were supposed to do a Spiral Turn that ended facing where your partner would be and then take a step to the side before rotating 90° to go into another Hand-to-Hand. You know how if you put your weight on one leg with the other behind you, you should only be able to rotate in one direction to do a Spiral Turn? Well… that didn’t seem to be the case in this class. For some reason, all of us (including me) at one point or another tried to rotate the wrong way, which just messed up everything after that.

After spending a few minutes laughing really hard at us, Lord Junior thought that we might be able to get through the turns properly if we worked with a partner, so the guys were paired with one of the girls and we tried things again. This is where I got messed up, because suddenly I was on the other leg and it threw me off for some reason. I think I had to go through two partners before I managed to work out my issues and get it down 100%. By that point though, everyone in class was so fired up that anytime one of us messed up and tried to turn the wrong way, it would set everyone else off laughing (including Lord Junior), so messing up didn’t feel so bad. Yes, we really were the ‘advanced’ class that night!

There was one final exercise that Lord Junior wanted us to try out that night. The idea was to start facing one wall, take a step backward and do a 180° pivot that went into a Three-Step Turn and came out as if we were a lady going into Fan Position. After going through this a couple of times, he decided to pair us off again so that we could work in partners. I spent a minute going through the step on my own using the opposite leg so that it wouldn’t throw me off this time when I had a partner with me.

When we ended while with a partner, we were essentially in Hand-to-Hand position. After watching us work through things with a partner a few times, Lord Junior had the brilliant idea of going from the ending back into the Hand-to-Hand with Spiral Turn action that we had done so spectacularly earlier. Yay…? The issue with trying to turn the wrong way during the Spiral came back with a vengeance, and it was still just as funny for everyone the second time around. Who says that technique-focused classes are boring? Not me, that’s for sure!

Finally, last night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior told us that we were going to work on some Tango, in honor of one of his students who was in class with us that night who would be moving away at the end of the week. Tango is her favorite dance style, so it was a fitting final dance for her, and we were all happy to oblige.

What Lord Junior failed to mention before class started was that the pattern that he was going to have us do was going to be super hard. Stupid hard, even. Normally I don’t have much problem picking up choreography, since there are so many women in class and I get to repeat the steps a lot more than they do, but this class it took me quite a while to feel even semi-confident with what my feet were supposed to be doing, so I didn’t switch over part way through to focus on other techniques. I’m not sure why that was. During most of the class my brain was struggling to just keep the steps straight, but now that I am home and sitting here on the couch writing this I can picture the figures perfectly. I bet if I had enough space in this room, and my cat was willing to dance with me, that I could get through it perfectly! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…

We started off with our partner facing down the line of dance in Promenade Position. To set up for the first difficult figure Lord Junior wanted to do, we did a basic Promenade with the man closing and a Natural Pivot attached at the end to turn us back around so that we were facing down the line of dance again, this time in closed dance position. Easy enough. The first difficult figure that we did was a Gold-level figure called The Chase, but we did it using the alternate ending to the figure where you come out with a Chasse to the Right and end with a Whisk that rotates you 90° to the right and puts you back into Promenade Position. This would normally be used to turn you around a corner.

The next figure confused a lot of people because it is a lot like the previous one, so doing both back-to-back was what made this choreography particularly hard that night. We did two Fallaway Whisks in a row. Because we had allowed the outside foot to come forward after the previous Whisk, to start the figure we had to take one slow step forward on the outside leg before the first Fallaway Whisk, which starts with the inside leg. If you get through the first Fallaway Whisk correctly, rather than let the outside leg come forward after the Whisk part at the end you would just push off that leg after it crossed behind to start the second Fallaway Whisk right away. Most people in the class that night weren’t good enough to keep both of these Fallaway Whisks going in a straight line, so we would curve them as needed – sometimes almost going in a complete circle. After the second Fallaway Whisk we finished the pattern by adding on a basic Closed Promenade at the end.

Now that I’ve finished writing all of this, I have to go find some band aids. My cat was not too happy about me trying to use her as a dance partner, so I got slightly scratched. Still worth it. Until next week!

And The Muscular Cyborg German Dudes Dance With Sexy French Canadians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Grouchy-Face.

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

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

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

A bit of explanation, in reverse order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s No Need To Ask Directions If You Ever Lose Your Mind

Man, Saturday night… Saturday night… you know what? Let’s have a bit of a discussion for a few minutes, because some things from Saturday night are driving me a bit nuts.

Friday night and Saturday morning I was having kind of a grumpy time, so on Saturday I decided to get out of the house and go to a movie, get some dinner and then go to a dance party to try to turn things around. I went and saw a movie that was childish and hilarious to make myself laugh, and then ate a bunch of food that wasn’t exactly made out of items from my normal strict diet when I’m doing a bunch of weight training, and then I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall because I had heard that a party was going to be happening there that night. When I got there, Lord Junior had just started giving a class in East Coast Swing, and there were more women than men, so I changed my shoes quickly and jumped in the line to help out.

I didn’t recognize a lot of the women that I danced with during the class. I thought it was just me at first, since it has been a long time since I have been to a social dance like this, but when I started talking to the ladies I found out that many of them hadn’t been dancing for long, and more than a couple of them were just coming out for the first time that night. Then I didn’t feel quite so bad for not recognizing them. There were a lot of young, single, attractive ladies at this party, and I was actually quite surprised that HotDog wasn’t around that night. He always seems to show up for parties when young, single, attractive ladies are in attendance and then proceeds to be a creep trying to hit on them all night. I would have thought that his warning system would have been going off, telling him that he was missing out.

(What would he call his warning system? Babe-dar? Hottie-sense? I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere that I’m missing…)

But even though HotDog wasn’t there to bother these young ladies that night, there were two other culprits that were doing the bothering in his place. One of those men I have actually written about before. It took me a bit to find it, but remember Mr. Grouchy-Face? Yeah, he was one of the two. The other guy was actually given a nickname by a couple of the girls that night. They were calling him ‘Vader’ because he was really tall and they didn’t think he was very pleasant. I’m sure you can figure out the reference. The name was funny to me, so I’m going to use it here.

I don’t know exactly what it was that these two guys were doing, but it was creepy enough to make these young women avoid them. They were even hiding from them. Seriously! Let me tell you, there were several points during the few hours that I was at this party that I actually had women hiding behind me, as if I were a tree or something. Not just one or two women, but several of them used me as a shield to avoid one or the other of these two men throughout the evening as the guys were walking around looking for a partner to dance with when a new song came on.

Beast mode.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a part of me that felt really good being used like that. After all, A) that tells me that through all the heavy weight lifting I have done, I have gotten to be huge enough that women can hide from view behind me, which makes me feel like a total beast, and B) what man doesn’t like the white knight feeling of helping out a woman in need? But it also makes me feel terrible as a guy when I hear that other guys are making these girls feel this way.

It’s unfortunate that there are so many fewer men in the ballroom community than there are women, because that allows guys like these to develop a overinflated sense of importance through lack of competitive selection pressure. A lot of women will avoid directly confronting these men and telling them how they feel, because the women just want a chance to dance with someone during the evening rather than sitting out on the sidelines. I have heard the complaints from lots of ladies, because I can dance and talk to them at the same time (it’s a skill, like walking and chewing gum), and the women will tell me that there are some men that they don’t like dancing with very much. Yet I still sometimes see those same ladies accept dances with the men they complained about if offered.

Another complaint that I have heard about often over the many years that I have been dancing (I’m getting old, aren’t I?) is of older men who must feel like it is their duty to teach things to younger ladies at a social dance, even if the lady did not ask for the instruction. It’s one thing to repeat a figure that didn’t go so well if the lady asks you to try it again, but it’s something else entirely to pull her aside during or after a song to try to impart your knowledge to her, especially while her eyes are darting back and forth like a cornered prey animal that is trying to find an escape route.

The worst case of this I ever saw was a few years ago. An International Viennese Waltz came on, and people who wanted to do the dance started to pair off and take to the floor. One guy went over to a young girl and asked her if she wanted to do the dance with him. She said no, not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t know how to do Viennese Waltz. A pretty valid reason for turning him down, one would think. Right?

Wrong. Rather than go off to find another partner, this guy decided that he would show her how to dance the Viennese Waltz, and began to teach it to her right in the line of dance! He wasn’t following the line of dance however, just going back and forth on one of the short walls, stopping to talk to the girl when she invariably did the steps wrong. Other couples, many who were not all that good with floorcraft, were forced to try to go around the stopped couple to avoid having a collision. It was really a dangerous situation. Luckily no one got hurt, but that could have ended very badly.

I don’t want to stereotype here, but all of the times that I see this sort of ‘unrequested teaching’ occur, it always seems to be old men trying to teach young ladies things. I wonder why that is? Is it because these men feel good about themselves when they get to impart their knowledge to the next generation? Is it because the women closer to their age don’t allow these men to instruct them, while younger women will often naturally defer to their elders and just go along with it to avoid confrontation? Is there some kind of fantasy going on in the older guy’s head about having a hot young lady, who he would normally never be able to date, giving him her full attention for the duration of the song and possibly afterward until another man comes to take her away for a dance?

I’m a firm believer that a social dance is not a place to try to give instruction, especially if your partner did not ask for help. I might be able to spot you an exception if someone asks you to help them and the two of you retreat off the floor so that you can show them what they want to know, but the middle of a social dance floor should really be off limits. And if your partner doesn’t ask you for help, you shouldn’t put forth the effort to try and be a teacher. Also, if their body language says that they don’t want to be there with you, you should just leave them alone and go find someone else to dance with.

That last point… I cringe sometimes when I see young ladies dancing with a guy like Vader, and their body language makes it super obvious that they don’t want to be there anymore. One time I saw him trying to dance a Latin dance – had to be a Rumba or a Merengue – with two different young ladies at once. Both of them had a look on their face that was more like a grimace than a smile, and shortly after that dance was over one of those women left the party entirely.

Are a lot of men clueless about facial expressions and body language? It looked really obvious to me, but I don’t know how Vader missed that. Plus, there were two ladies giving those looks, so that means he had twice the number of opportunities to pick up on it! If I saw my partner making a face like that, I would have to ask them what’s up because I would know that something is not making her happy. After all, the three major rules about social dancing that I was taught were A) to keep my Follower safe, B) keep her  secure and C) keep her entertained. Body language is a great cue to tell me whether I am succeeding at rule C or not.

Doesn’t that feel like common knowledge? This makes me wonder if some people need classes on dance etiquette, where points like this would be discussed. Maybe something that seems like common sense to me just doesn’t cross other people’s minds. Even simple things like keeping your dance contained to keep other dancers near you safe. That seems like an obvious thing that I should always be doing at a social dance, but I know a few dancers who will do dangerous things, like always throwing out their arms behind them when doing New Yorkers no matter how crowded the dance floor is. Can they really not see that as a potential hazard? Should there be a class that tells you not to do things like that unless you know the space around you is clear?

Anyway… I got a bit sidetracked. What was I talking about before? Oh yeah… to top it all off (and this one’s a doozy), I was told a story at the end of the night on Saturday from one girl. For a little background, this girl had decided to start dancing only about two months ago, as she told me. Not being able to afford private lessons on her salary, she has been going to the newcomer group classes and picking things up as best that she can. She told me that dancing was something that she always loved to watch, and this summer she finally felt brave enough to go out and give it a try to see if she could do more than just watch from the sidelines. Good for her, right?

At the dance party that evening, Vader asked her to dance with him. I’m not sure what style they were doing, but keep in mind that this girl has only had two months of beginner classes at the Electric Dance Hall since she started dancing. The beginner classes that the Electric Dance Hall holds teach the same dance style for the whole month, and this girl has only gone to one class a week, so as far as my math knows, she would have had real experience with two just different dance styles from the beginner classes, plus that crash in East Coast Swing she got in the class right before the party that night started.

After the dance she did with Vader was over, apparently he told her as they were walking off the floor that the dance did not go well. He said that she needed to go home and watch some videos on the Internet to learn the basics of the dance styles before he would ever dance with her again.

Noooooooo… I can’t believe what I’m hearing!

Yeah. He really told her that. What. An. Ass.

Seriously, what in the world is going through his brain that made him think it would be OK to say that to any dance partner he has, let alone a young girl who is still a dance newcomer? Why in the world does he think that he is such a good dancer, and thus allowed to pass judgement on others at a social dance?

Ugh… he was lucky that the girl told me about this at the end of the night after Vader had already gone home. If he had still been around, I probably would have been tempted to go over and break off his robotic hand before frying him with some lightning… or something like that. Hopefully that joke works. I’m pretty sure that’ happened in the movie. Honestly, I think I was a teenager the last time I saw it, so I could be totally wrong. But please don’t yell at me if I’m wrong! My nerd credentials are probably very different from yours, and I’m OK with that.

Anyway… other dance stuff happened this week, but this has been consuming my thoughts since Saturday night. Writing it all out helps, so hopefully it will all be laid to rest now (at least until the next time some guy does something stupid that really bothers me). I did go back through and proofread this and added in a bunch of jokes that hopefully make this post sound less angry, because my first draft felt awfully bitter. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled discussion of dance events next week. Until then, keep dancing!

And guys – let’s all promise each other that we will be good Leaders this week. Maybe working together we can make up for these few bad eggs that are out there.