We Only Stay In Orbit For A Moment Of Time

Since I posted last week, there has been lots of stuff going on! I’m kind of excited that next weekend I don’t have nearly as many things scheduled. So far. That’s not to say I won’t go out and do something that I haven’t scheduled, but as of the moment that I’m writing this, next weekend looks relatively clear. Yay!

I started off last Saturday meeting up at the Fancy Dance Hall with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer. Sir Steven had come out to watch us compete the weekend prior, so he had lots of things to say about that. As we were standing in the middle of the dance floor and talking, the Princess happened to show up and parade through the studio regally. She stopped just as she was about to pass the three of us to tell Sparkledancer and I that since she had been asked at the last minute to be a judge at the competition we just did, she was glad that she happened to run into us. We got compliments on how well we did that day, but she wanted to ask why it was that we had been talking during some of our rounds while we were dancing…

Trying to tell her that it was just meant to be funny to help us calm our nerves while we were performing solo wasn’t a good excuse for the Princess, as you can imagine. She did say that she had actual dance notes that she noticed while she was judging that she wanted to tell us about, but she felt bad interrupting Sir Steven. Since she offered to go over what her ‘judge’ notes with us, we set up a time to meet with her next weekend to get her perspective. That should be interesting to hear. Plus, who is crazy enough to turn down an offer like that from the Princess? Not me, that’s for sure!

After that, Sir Steven went over some points with us that he had noticed from where he was watching from the sidelines during the competition. Some of the things he saw we had already picked out to work on ourselves during practice, so he only had us briefly touch on those items. One point that he wanted to pick on was my head in the Waltz. I had been turning it when I closed for my Natural Turns, but not enough for his liking. He wanted me to look all the way over, basically so that I was looking over Sparkledancer’s left shoulder. That’s… a lot of turn. I have gotten to the point where I can turn my head so that my chin lines up with my sternum and then get it back into place without throwing me off, but turning it more than that just makes me feel unstable. I don’t know why. Maybe practice will help.

We also spent some time looking at Quickstep. There was a point during the Quickstep in the competition where Sir Steven caught Sparkledancer doing a heel step at the end of a Backward Lock that he wanted to be sure that she knew about. On top of that, he mentioned that he still thought that I needed to work on traveling more on my second step of the Natural Spin Turn. I have some questions about whether doing this is a good idea or not, since A) my Quickstep already travels more distance than available floor space in most situations, and B) the Natural Spin Turn is a figure with a lot of rotation, so normally I’d say it isn’t supposed to travel a lot. It will take some practice to figure out what works best to make the energy throughout the figure look consistent without traveling too much more and running myself further off the floor.

Also on Saturday, I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to do some work with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella. There really wasn’t much information specifically for me in this session, mostly it was the girls talking about girl things and using me as a warm body to practice with. I do have some notes on what Lady Tella told Sparkledancer though. I figure that if they are written down, it will be easier for one of the two of us to remember her words of wisdom. For me, ‘remembering’ usually means ‘reading through it again later’ when I forget, but it’s totally like the same thing.

During this session with Lady Tella, we started out by looking at Foxtrot. Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to make sure that during the Foxtrot she is reaching even further left and keeping her chest turned up. In the Feather she told her to avoid letting her right shoulder rise up. Next, during the Reverse Turn she told her to delay the head opening a bit and let her body come around first. She wanted to see her keep her body shifted to the left with shoulders down and to take her weight into a bent knee when we went through the Change of Direction. Finally, in the Three Step she said that Sparkledancer should ‘breathe’ and not stay so flat. I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, but Sparkledancer seemed to understand, so I’m just noting it here because that’s what I heard.

Once we got done looking at Foxtrot, we switched over to look at Tango for a little while. The ladies spent some time discussing what Lady Tella prefers in the Tango hold and how to adjust that for Sparkledancer’s different body size. Have I mentioned that Lady Tella is tiny? Super tiny? I have trouble dancing with her because I’m afraid to extend my legs. I feel like I’m going to knee her right in the naughty bits accidentally if I do so. So obviously there are some differences between what Lady Tella does while she dances with me versus what she recommends that Sparkledancer should do.

One point that I remember her mentioning about Tango was that she wanted to see Sparkledancer connect against me higher up on her ribs while shifting her rib cage to the left more. Lady Tella also asked me some questions about how I usually hold my right arm around Sparkledancer’s back. She said that she prefers her partner to hold his hand up higher than I do, but ultimately if Sparkledancer felt comfortable with where I was placing my hand, that was what was most important.

While we were dancing, Lady Tella told Sparkledancer that she wanted to see her open up more (i.e. create more volume) while we were in Promenade Position. What she was seeing was OK, but could have been better if there was more. I think that’s always going to be the case though. Will there ever actually be enough volume? The only other thing we really spent time looking at was the Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. She said that while we were dancing through the figure, we were losing connection to each other just a bit. She actually told me that it was possible that my steps were too big at that point, so I should try shorting them a bit to not pull away from Sparkledancer as I moved.

One thing that I did that day which I noticed because this session wasn’t about me, was that I managed to cover the entire floor of the Endless Dance Hall, corner to corner to corner, while dancing the Foxtrot. I would have managed to get to the fourth corner where I started, but they keep the stereo equipment and some other things on the floor in that corner, so I had to stop before I ran into something expensive. I may have pulled off this feat before, but since I wasn’t being given much instruction that afternoon I could pay more attention to how I was dancing, so I really noticed how far I traveled.

That’s the actual path, as best as I can draw…

I know that it doesn’t sound super impressive to dance from corner to corner, but consider this: the dance floor at the Endless Dance Hall is well over 7,000 square feet. Yeah. That changes the equation slightly, doesn’t it? Yup, I did that. Sparkledancer too. Hopefully she didn’t feel like I was dragging her around the whole time, since my legs are slightly longer than hers.

Late Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for some coaching. As you can probably imagine, the first thing that we sat and talked about was how the competition went. Being one of the judges in the competition, Lord Dormamu had his own take on how the competition went, but he wanted to hear ours as well. What he said was that based on what he knew that Sparkledancer and I were capable of when he watches us in our lessons, the way we danced when we were out on the competition floor was not the best that we could do. That was partially expected – Lord Dormamu only knows one person who actually dances better when competing and under pressure than he does when he is taking lessons, and that’s not me.

What Sparkledancer and I will have to work on is decreasing the amount of disparity between how we dance in a competitive situation versus how we dance during our lessons. So if we consider that how we dance in our lessons is our 100% baseline, we don’t want to be dancing at 70% when we compete. We want to learn to dance 90-95% at minimum, or maintain 100% optimally.

A big part of fixing this issue is going to involve just competing more frequently. If this becomes a ‘normal’ thing for us to do, then there will be less nerves and adrenaline coursing through our systems when we compete. That’s going to take time though. We talked about trying to do some kind of event once a month through the rest of the year, but there are some months where there really aren’t any convenient competitions that we could do, so even without considering the expenses related to competing and traveling all over the place that will be a nearly impossible thing to schedule. Maybe there’s another way, but I haven’t thought of one yet, so this is what we’ll be attempting for the time being.

Aside from that, Lord Dormamu thought that we were still moving in the right direction that will allow us to do well. The overall recommendation for Sparkledancer was to set up some more sessions to work with Lady Tella on her positioning and shape, because he can really see a difference with just the few sessions that the two of them have already had. For me, I need to continue to work on mastering the transitioning when using my legs, where I move from pushing with my back leg to pulling with my front as I travel. These two skills are well beyond Bronze techniques and will take time for the two of us to get down, but if we can master them now it will prove to be invaluable as we move up the ranks.

With the discussions out of the way, it was time for dancing. We started off by looking at a bit of Waltz. A lot of what we were doing made Lord Dormamu happy, but there were places throughout the dance where he thought that Sparkledancer and I were rising too much too quickly. He told us to spend some time this week practicing by doing a bit of a strange exercise: dance through the Waltz and take out all of the leg rise, using only foot rise where we would otherwise be going up.

This is a strange feeling. I have gone through this a few times since this lesson, and while it definitely keeps me from popping up too high through the whole routine, it also causes me to bang my knees against Sparkledancer’s in a few spots. Hopefully by the time I see Lord Dormamu next, practicing this way will have corrected the actions that he was unhappy with so that I can go back to dancing Waltz normally.

Next up, Foxtrot. It’s official – I am able to move enough during my Foxtrot to cover the entire floor of the Endless Dance Hall from corner to corner. I had considered, when I managed it on Saturday while Sparkledancer was working with Lady Tella, that it might have been just a fluke, but I did it again on Sunday with Lord Dormamu so obviously it wasn’t. Yay?

As impressive as the feat sounds, dancing like that actually caused some issues on the short wall for Lord Dormamu. He could tell that I had risen up at the end of the Three Step on the short wall, and I did not lower down again until after the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish in the corner. What I told him was that I had risen up to pull my steps short, because that Three Step took us extremely close to the chairs that line the wall that we were moving toward, and I didn’t want to put Sparkledancer into one of them. When we danced through the short wall again starting further away from the wall, all the issues he saw with me rising up went away.

We stopped to talk about this a bit, because I keep running into this problem. It wasn’t enough to just change the angles on the figures that comprise the short wall, since the origin of the issue is the fact that I am so close to the wall when I turn the corner on the last figure of the long wall. What we ended up doing was going through the entire long wall of the routine and adjusting the angles on most of those figures slightly. This would allow me to continue traveling as much as I am able to, but still end further away from the wall on the short side.

This helped a lot. However, I ran into a different issue when I danced around the room again with Sparkledancer. See, I didn’t begin the routine further away from the short wall in the corner I started, so by the time I got ¾ of the way around the room I was back hugging the wall again and had to pull my steps for the second short wall. Sigh… I need to remember that there are always going to be four walls. If I remember to start away from the wall in whatever corner I start in, then adjust all the angles of the figures on the long wall, I should be able to dance the routine mostly in the middle of the room away from all the walls.

That’s the new path, with crappy arrows added since the paths cross at points.

Unfortunately, this does mean that my figures on all sides will travel further into the center of the room, which on smaller floors means that I could very well be cutting into traffic that is moving the opposite direction on the other side of the room. I just don’t think there is a way I can win here without throwing out these routines and starting over from scratch. Lord Dormamu has told me that when he recreates my routines after he moves us up into Silver he will be taking this into account, but am I going to be able to wait that long?

Let’s spend a little bit of time talking about Latin Technique class this week. It feels like forever since I’ve mentioned it!

During this week’s class Lord Junior had us look at some Rumba. Much like last week’s class (that I never talked about… oops), this week we spent some more time discussing concepts that Lord Junior had picked up from the fancy high-level female coach that they had come in a couple of weeks ago to work with his competitive Latin students. I know she was someone pretty well known, but I only know her first name, and it’s a fairly common name, so I don’t know exactly how to find out any of her background. I’m absolutely no help sometimes…

That night Lord Junior had us doing a progression that was only a couple of figures long to have us focus on techniques. The pattern started out with us doing half a basic on our right side, then leading the ladies out into Fan Position. From there we took the ladies through an Alemana, ending with them out on our right side. This allowed us to link on a couple of Opening Out actions. The ladies were told to do these with a delay before they closed from the Opening Out and cut across our bodies into the next one, and along with that there was some kind of weird double arm action. I was told to also try to do two actions with my arm to match the ladies’ double arm motions, but that made me feel like I was flailing my arm around, so I maaaaay have abandoned that after a few tries.

As for the techniques that the coach talked about which Lord Junior wanted to demonstrate, we started off with the positioning in the legs as they moved. He stopped and had us do some Time Steps to demonstrate this best. In the Time Step, you’ve got the weight on one leg, the heels of your feet more-or-less together, and one knee out in front of you. The object when in this position is to pull the hip of your standing leg backward as you drive the knee of your bent leg forward, trying to create as much space as possible between your legs where light could shine through. This position needs to become your default anytime you pass through this action, like during normal Rumba Walks, or in our pattern as the ladies closed from Fan Position and stepped forward.

We also talked about the connection between the partners as the ladies closed from Fan Position. The coach Lord Junior had worked with described the feeling as a ‘Pull, Push, Pull’ feeling if you are doing it correctly. While out in Fan Position, as the lady is pulling back her right hip and closing her legs you should create a ‘Pull’ on the connection between partners. As the lady shifts her weight between legs, the roll to have the opposite hip backward should cause her to ‘Push’ against the connection. When the ladies finally are about to move, the roll back on the hip that sends the other leg forward should create another ‘Pull’ on the connection. All that change, all in just a few moments of movement if everything is working properly.

That just leaves Standard Technique class to talk about, then I’m done. Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall to work on some Waltz with Lord Junior. I thought class was fun, but I’m sure some of the ladies did not enjoy it as much as I did. Part of that was because there were six of them, and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. A third guy was there before class began, but then something came up and he had to leave. That meant no breaks for me that night!

With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Lord Junior started class off by telling us we were going to go through one of his favorite warm-up exercises – Waltz box steps over a count of nine. He said that he was making us do this to help us practice controlling our rise during the Waltz. Based on what Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I to practice to work on controlling how much we rise, I wondered to myself if the two of them had talked this week.

The exercise itself is fairly simple, but requires a lot of balance and leg strength to do well. Doing a non-rotating box step, take the first two steps in normal time, but the step to the side and the rise while you drag your legs together happen over seven beats, making each half box a nine count. You should be able to feel this a lot in your inner thigh muscles if you are pulling your legs in slowly and correctly. Once your feet connect, do the second half of the box and repeat. Halfway through the warm-up time, we switched to box steps that rotated the other direction.

Once we were all warmed up, we did a short and simple progression that required a lot of control of the rise and fall to pull of well, with some modified timing to change which step the rise was done on. On top of that, there were places where you could add in some fancy head rotations if you wanted to make the movements look more dynamic. I always get thrown off by moving my head the first few times I try it, so it took me a few rounds to get that action to even look passable, and I can’t say that I ever got it to look good.

What we did was to start out facing diagonal wall and, using whatever kind of preparation step you’d like,  go into a Natural Turn. We did a full 90° rotation on this Natural Turn, ending with the guys backing line of dance because the next figure that we did was an Overturned Natural Spin Turn which also ended with the guys backing line of dance. That little extra turn on the Natural Turn makes it easier to get around that much on the Natural Spin Turn. The only other figure that we added was two Turning Locks to Right, back-to-back. Because we were doing two, the first one ended with a Natural Pivot to put us back facing backing line of dance for the second, but we ended the second one by the book, going into Promenade Position heading toward diagonal center.

That was my week! So much fun, right? I’m hoping that this coming weekend stays slightly quieter. I changed up my workouts this week, which also means I changed up my diet, so my body is feeling slightly more trashed than usual (it usually does the first week I rotate to a different workout configuration). I kind of want to find some quiet time to just stay home and stretch out for a while. Will I manage to do that, or will other crazy dance adventures come up that will take away my free time? We’ll have to wait and see!

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Enough To Make My System Blow

Let’s start this week off with a funny side note that’s sort-of dance related. I can tell you quite sincerely that this story was the thing that made me the happiest on Saturday…

I had just gotten to the Fancy Dance Hall. The studio is actually a part of a shopping complex, with a number of varied shops surrounding it. This weekend there was an event scheduled to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday, where the area between the fronts of all of the stores and the parking lot had been taken over for various Easter-related activities. There was an egg hunt planned, and a local radio station was going to be there, and someone was going to be dressed up like the Easter Bunny to take pictures with all of the kids. All of the stores in the shopping complex were going to have some of their staff involved to make it into a fun morning for kids of all ages.

…except the weather didn’t want to cooperate that day. The morning ended up being cold, cloudy and windy, and it was just plain gloomy looking outside. I was wearing a heavy sweatshirt so that when I parked my car and walked to the front door of the studio I wouldn’t be cold. Not too many people seemed to have shown up for the planned activities, because the parking lot had tons of open spaces for cars to park. I’ve had lessons scheduled before at other times when holiday-themed activities are planned, and usually you have to either get there super-early to find a parking place, or you are fighting with a bunch of people to grab one when someone else leaves.

As I was walking toward the front door of the studio, I could hear music playing loudly from the table set up by the radio station. They had just finished one song and were starting another, a slow and heavy rock song that holds a record for spending the most weeks on some chart or something. You may be able to guess what song it is if you’re smart about my normal clues, but if not I’m sure you’d know the song if you heard it. Anyway… as I finally got off the parking lot and set foot on the walkway that surrounds the stores, I looked off to my right toward where the radio station table was, and saw something pretty amazing.

In the midst of the overcast gloom of the day, there stood a guy wearing a white Easter Bunny suit, and his head was turned down to look toward the ground. In front of him was some young kid, lying on the concrete, doing the worm as the Easter Bunny watched.

I had to stop and watch for a bit as well. This was not something that I expected to see by any stretch of the imagination. As the song finally wound down, the kid stopped and picked himself up off the ground, and the Easter Bunny bent forward to give him a hug. If I had been closer, I would have given the kid a round of applause for being able to do the worm for so long on concrete. Truly an impressive sight to behold!

On to normal business now. Once I got inside the Fancy Dance Hall, things were a little more subdued. There was a class going on for a local youth dance group, and they were all running rounds of their competition routines. They kept that up for the entire time that I was having my lesson, barring a few breaks here or there so that the kids could catch their breath. Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I staked out a section of the floor to work in along the back wall of the studio, and we went back to work on Viennese Waltz that day.

We managed to stay away from working on the opening sequence of our Viennese Waltz routine that morning, thankfully. Unfortunately, that meant that the rest of what we did was just slow and methodical movements through the Natural and Reverse Turns. Not exactly the most exciting thing in the world to talk about, so I’ll spare you all the details. The hardest part of our session was trying to work around all of the kids running their rounds. I had managed to talk to the older ones while Sir Steven was working with Sparkledancer, letting them know that we were using a lane along the back wall. They managed to steer clear of us after that, which was nice.

Some of the younger kids kept darting into our lane though. I think they were just doing it to get our attention, because if I looked at them when they were in my way, they would get these huge smiles on their faces and then scamper out of the way as fast as they could. It reminded me of growing up with my younger siblings. When they wanted attention, they would sometimes knowingly do something they shouldn’t, and then laugh jovially about it and run away when they got caught. Kids… they are so silly sometimes!

Next up, Saturday night. There was one big event going on at the Electric Dance Hall that night, and with no other options open for dancing that was where I ended up. A bunch of people who I knew ended up being there as well, but unfortunately I didn’t actually spend a lot of time talking to them because I got side tracked talking with someone else that night. It was also raining really hard that night, starting just about the time that the party started, so a lot of people who were expected to come out to the event did not show up. One of those people happened to be the DJ that Lord Junior had asked to play the music that night, amusingly enough. After the class that he gave at the beginning, Lord Junior ended up having to run the music himself. Poor guy.

He told me later on that he contacted the DJ during the party to find out what happened, and the DJ told him that she just forgot about the party. How do you just forget something like that? I bet she won’t be getting any more paid gigs from Lord Junior after that stunt.

Originally I hadn’t planned on showing up for the class being offered before the dance party, but I got done with everything else I had planned to do earlier than expected, so I headed out and arrived about twenty minutes after the class had started. The place was packed with tons of people, but even with all the other people watching him intently for instruction, Lord Junior still stopped what he was doing when I walked in and told me to get my shoes on quick and jump into the class. I thought that they were desperate for men, but when Lord Junior finally had everyone find partners to try the step I saw that there were almost even numbers of men and women, so I’m not sure why he wanted me to join in so quickly.

The class was covering some simple American Rumba. The part that I got there to help out with had everyone doing half a basic box step, and then on the second half we led the ladies to do a Underarm Turn and pushed them out to our left side, almost like they were in Fan Position. Then we would bring them back across in another turn and push them out to our right side, and then one more turn back across pushing them back out to our left before turning them to be in front of us as we collected into the basic box step once more. Nothing too difficult if you’ve done a lot of American Rumba in the past, but there were a large number of newcomers in the class that night, so I ended up helping a number of ladies figure out their steps as I rotated through.

During the actual party I spent my time dancing, but in the middle of that I got a chance to have a chat with Silver for more than just a couple of minutes (which is what derailed me from talking to others). She was struggling with a bit of a crisis of identity that night, so it was good that I talked to her, but most of the credit for making her feel better about dance goes to Sparkledancer. See, there was a point in the middle of the dance party when I finally got a chance to dance with her for a Foxtrot. I figured that was a safe enough dance for us to do together, since that was the style that was used in the first Standard Technique class we were both in together.

Silver seemed a bit nervous as I walked out to the dance floor with her. Trying to assuage her fears, I asked her whether she wanted to go with American or International Foxtrot, promising that we could do whichever she was more comfortable with. She chose to go with International, so I started off with just some basic figures, trying my best to avoid anything with a Heel Turn since I knew she hadn’t done many of those. I think I managed to get through a Feather and Three Step heading toward diagonal wall in a wide arc, and then a Change of Direction to turn back toward diagonal center – nothing super fancy.

By the time we got halfway down the first long wall it was pretty clear that she was struggling, and then she asked me if we could transition to American Foxtrot instead. I made the switch, trying to stick with figures that I thought were on the Bronze syllabus (it’s been a long time since I’ve studied American Foxtrot, so I’m not entirely sure what the syllabus looks like anymore when I don’t have it in front of me). The American Foxtrot did not go much better than the International though, and there were a couple of times I had to stop and do the Swing Step (or Side-to-Side Sway, depending on what name you were given when you learned it) which allowed her to get back on the correct foot.

When the song finished and we exited the floor, she seemed upset and started talking about how she once felt so good about her dancing, because (her exact words) “I was teaching this at <insert franchise studio name> for God’s sake!” Now that she was out and dancing with people like me, it’s like everything she learned and was teaching to others was all wrong. She told me that she has been trying to learn the correct way to do the steps and techniques, but then she runs into people who were students at her former studio where she worked, and they want to dance with her doing things the old way, and it really throws her off trying to do things both ways.

Lucky for me, Sparkledancer had shown up at that point. I am a guy, so I am kind-of terrible at managing emotional situations with ladies, so I was super happy that Sparkledancer could step in and help Silver out. Sparkledancer actually told Silver about how she had met me at a franchise studio, back in the days when we had initially decided to compete together, so she totally understood Silver’s frustration because she had been through it herself.

She continued and told Silver that when Sparkledancer and I and many of our original ballroom dance friends outgrew the franchise studio model, we escaped into the bigger world of ballroom dancing, and we had to go through the same transition that Silver is going through now. A lot of the techniques we had learned that had been emphasized at the franchise we found out were just plain wrong, and people outside the franchise used a different syllabus than we had originally learned (which actually turned out to be nationally and internationally standardized syllabus, so it is the franchise studio’s syllabus that was incorrect), so Sparkledancer admitted to Silver that she felt like a terrible dancer for months as she tried to acclimate to the non-franchise way of dancing.

That right there seemed to be the magic connection that Silver had been missing. She was really glad that Sparkledancer had told her that story – to hear that it was possible to escape the franchise world and eventually dance the way that Sparkledancer dances now. It was great to see her come to that realization, even though I hadn’t really done much to help her get there. Good job Sparkledancer! Yay!

I talked it over with Sparkledancer later, and I think that the two of us are going to try to help Silver out. My thought is that Sparkledancer and I could help show Silver the world of ballroom dancing that she was missing when she was locked into the franchise way of doing things. That is, if she really wants to become part of this wider world, which I think she does. Lord Junior is helping her learn the proper figures and techniques to teach dancing outside of the franchise, so that’s already being covered. Sparkledancer and I can be her guide to the various dance halls in the Dance Kingdom, and introduce her to all sorts of other instructors or high-level coaches that we know if she wants to meet people. I like helping, so this will be a lot of fun!

I was tired on Monday night, so when I got to Latin Technique class and people started throwing around Cha-Cha as the style they wanted to do that night, I was unhappy. Lord Junior decided to put it up for a vote to see what everyone wanted, and he said that we couldn’t vote for Rumba (because that’s what we did in class last week) and we couldn’t choose Pasodoble. I sighed loudly, since Pasodoble is always the Latin style that I want to vote for, and Lord Junior took pity on me and said that we could do Pasodoble if everyone else wanted. Only Gatekeeper still wanted to do Cha-Cha after that option was available, so we ended up working on Pasodoble that night. Hooray for me!

One of the ladies in class that night had never done any Pasodoble before, so this ended up being a real treat for her (in my expert opinion, of course). Lord Junior spent a little time at the beginning of class showing her a few of the most basic steps, like the Sur Place and all of its moving variations. On top of that, he showed her the idea behind the shaping used in Pasodoble and why it was so important. This lady watched the whole time with wide eyes, and I couldn’t tell if she was impressed by the demonstration or terrified by what he was asking her to do. Obviously I’m going to assume she was impressed, and asking herself why she had waited so long to begin working on Pasodoble!.

We didn’t actually cover a whole lot of choreography that night, because the last figure that Lord Junior went over with us needed more work than he expected. The first figure that we did was the Open Telemark, which everyone got through with little trouble. After that we went into a normal Promenade, which gave us some work on both moving in Promenade and shaping in Promenade. Once Lord Junior was convinced that everyone could do the steps with minimal trouble, he upgraded our Promenade so that it had three Natural Pivots in it as we traveled down the line of dance. That definitely upped the challenge factor of the figure, but also made it much more exciting.

The final figure that we looked at was a Gold-level figure called ‘The Twists.’ We were told that if you watch any professionals doing a recent Pasodoble routine, you are more than likely going to see them do this figure at least once because it is so exciting. Basically, the guy is traveling down the floor, cutting in front of his partner every couple of steps while she does a Heel Turn, and then he hooks his right leg behind his left and untwists himself before doing it all again. The figure is aptly named, and feels a lot like doing a Twist Turn in Tango repeatedly.

I thought that my part was fairly straightforward, and I think I was getting through it successfully. A couple of the ladies were struggling to make the Heel Turns work properly, so it was hit-or-miss as to whether the figure worked correctly when I danced with a partner. Lord Junior admitted as we were running out of time that this figure was more difficult than he originally thought it would be, so he should have started class by going through it rather than waiting until the end. He promised us that next time we met up for Latin Technique we would do Pasodoble again and start with this figure. Class won’t happen next Monday because of the holiday this weekend, so we’ll have to wait until two Mondays from now to get it right.

Finally, on Wednesday night I went back out to the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class, and we worked on Viennese Waltz there as well. Viennese Waltz? Twice in one week? How did that even happen!

I mostly think that Lord Junior chooses to work on Viennese Waltz in this class so that he can watch the warm-up section of class where he asks us all to try doing Natural and Reverse Turns down the floor by ourselves. Getting the angle right, turning the right direction and using the right foot to start with are all things that I am pretty good at, since I have to lead and generally have to do those things already. The ladies in class, on the other hand… for the first couple of tries several of them just didn’t get things right. They would start on the wrong foot, or turn the wrong direction, or start and end at the wrong angle. A few times they would start turning and not stay on a straight line, heading right toward someone else on the floor! As much as I feel bad about laughing at that, it is kind of funny to watch.

Once the torture of the warm-up was over, we worked on adding in the two Gold-level figures to the mix: the Contra Check and the Natural Fleckerl. Lord Junior told us all about his theory of Fleckerls, and how he sees a lot of Pros nowadays leaving them out of their routines with students. You don’t technically need to do them to win no matter what level you are competing, but Lord Junior feels like you are missing out on a lot if you just do Reverse Turns, Natural Turns and Change Steps all the way through Gold when you are competing.

He did say that the lead to get into the Reverse Fleckerl was a bit sudden, and that’s where he usually runs into problems with his competitive students. You can start a Reverse Fleckerl at any time if you do Reverse Turns up to the point where the lady crosses her foot in front. Lord Junior said that he likes to warn his ladies verbally before doing a Reverse Fleckerl during a competition. The Natural Fleckerl is slightly easier to do, especially if you do a Contra Check beforehand. Then there is no question about what is happening even if Lord Junior gives no verbal warning, so there is less of a chance that the lady will be surprised when the rotation happens.

That is an interesting thought. Perhaps I’ll have to file that idea away for later when I manage to start competing at Gold-level with Viennese Waltz.

And that’s it! Man, I wrote a lot of things again this week. I am just terrible about keeping these posts short…

I think there are a few things going on this weekend, but I’m not sure how many people will be wandering around to dance with the holiday on Sunday. Easter was never really a holiday for traveling to see people when I was growing up, but I have heard several people mention that they will be doing just that this weekend. So maybe that is an invitation for me to just take it easy. I could probably use the break to do some other productive things that I have been putting off (like my taxes…). We’ll have to see what happens!

Unbelievable Sights, Indescribable Feeling

Last Saturday morning I got my result sheets from the pseudo-competition I was in the Saturday prior. Someone who works at the Fancy Dance Hall had been nice enough to type up all of the notes for me so that I didn’t have to try to read all of the judge’s handwriting, but since I danced in so many heats the feedback still covered more than one sheet of paper. My lesson with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer that afternoon was focused on some of the specific notes that we were given, much like all of the practice sessions I have had since I got the sheets back.

Let’s start by talking about the results from the last round that I did that day, which was the five-dance challenge round that Sparkledancer and I opted to be a part of. The only reason we decided to dance in that round was because at the level we are dancing right now, none of the competitions we take part in have us dancing all five International Standard styles back-to-back, so we wanted to give that a try to see how we did. Initially I thought that this round would just give us feedback from the judges, like all the other heats, but I was wrong. Apparently they scored this round with placements, like you would get at a real competition.

Sparkledancer and I were ranked second or third by all judges in all five of our dances, but when all the scores were added up we were placed third overall out of five. I know that doesn’t sound super good, but being ranked in this way overall wasn’t a good idea to begin with, for a number of reasons. First of all, we were the only Amateur pair that danced in this five-dance round – everyone else was Pro/Am, so we definitely had that working against us. Secondly, this was not a leveled challenge. The Pro/Am couple that took first? That lady was doing her Gold-level routines. The second place Pro/Am pair I know competes in Silver regularly, so I assume they were using those routines that day as well. Then there was us, dancing our Bronze routines.

I’m sure that makes it slightly more impressive, seeing as how the people who beat us are definitely dancing at a higher level, but I still don’t feel right about it. Had I known that we wouldn’t be getting feedback and would be ranked, I probably would have made the argument with Sparkledancer that it wasn’t really a good idea to dance in the five-dance round, and instead would have signed up for five more single-dance heats. Still, what’s done is done, and it is nice to know that at least we didn’t take last place against a while field of Pro/Am couples.

With that out of the way, the more interesting thing I got was the notes on the single-dance heats. Many of the notes are only semi-helpful, because they aren’t overly specific. There were quite a few that mentioned something about keeping the frame stronger or more consistent, but they don’t specify where I need to do that, or even tell me whether it is Sparkledancer or I that should be doing it. Those comments I just skimmed over, because frame and posture is going to be a constant point to work on (at least, until I figure out how to replace large portions of my upper body with cybernetic parts).
There were also a lot of comments about how Sparkledancer and I were fun to watch, or looked like we were having fun. While that is good to know, and was something I was actively working on that day, those notes don’t really help me focus my practice. In fact, all of the comments that talked about how I did something well I just skipped over. When all was said and done, I highlighted just the comments that were actually useful information on things I should work on in each dance style.

Because I’m not ashamed to admit my own faults, I am going to put that list here. Also, it will make it easy for me to look up the notes if I lose my copy of the results sheet, which is entirely likely to happen at some point…

For Waltz – More rise and fall actions need developing; More lowering and rising; Man’s left side up and forward; Beautiful closing action on the natural turn. More consistent with this; Closing action in natural turn could be more precise; Maintain a good head position.

For Tango – Powerful movement but inconsistent; Keep Tango flatter.

For Viennese Waltz – Stay in your left space at all times; Work on bigger steps; Head position needs to be more aware of space, too much rotation in the head, needs to be longer; Needs more depth on the first step in both natural and reverse turns.

For Foxtrot – Use your standing leg; Too steppie at times; Use your sides to pass one another; Shape gets slightly distorted because of foot position; Knees need to flex more when receiving the weight on the slow; More projection outwards needed; Slows need to be fuller to show contrast from quicks.

And finally, for Quickstep – Too steppie at times; Use your standing legs and divide the feet; Longer steps; More confidence; Great energy, but inconsistent.

(All notes are verbatim as on the papers I got)

Based on those notes, if I didn’t know any better I would feel like Tango is my strongest dance style all of a sudden. How in the world did that happen? Quickstep seems to come in as a close second though. I mean, if I think back to the results that I got from the last actual competition I was in, that would follow with the scoring that the judges in that event gave Sparkledancer and I, so I guess maybe that has some merit, but Tango and Quickstep are definitely not the dance styles I feel like the strongest in. I always thought that Foxtrot was my strength, with Waltz behind that. Maybe this means that I will have to devote more practice time to those two styles to keep them at the top of the heap.

Saturday night was a big night for me. This past weekend was the scheduled weekend for the monthly dance party that my Royal Dance Court group hosts, but this month was special. Many months ago I had asked the Princess to come in to teach the lesson that we hold before the dance party, and Saturday was the night that she actually did it, and oh man did things turn out great!

First of all, we had so many people show up to see her that night that there was barely any room on the dance floor during the lesson that she taught. People didn’t seem to mind that though – they were enraptured listening to her talk about American Tango, and entranced by watching her demonstrate the steps. Second of all, though she didn’t have to, the Princess actually stayed for the majority of the dance party afterward, talking with anyone who wanted to talk with her and dancing with any man (or woman) brave enough to dance with her. All the while using her magical princess powers to liven up the room.

(I’m not even kidding about that. If you’ve ever spent any time in the same room as her, you know that she has a way of commanding attention if she wants to. Her personality is a force of nature, and it sweeps anyone nearby up in its wake. Good thing she’s also super nice. If she were a villain, she could be really dangerous and manipulative.)

So what does a Princess tell her subjects if she is giving a class on American Tango? Well, first she made everyone dance for her so that she could stroll around the room and evaluate how everyone danced currently. Then she split up the class and gave everyone a look at some important Tango technique that would make everyone better, but was especially good information for those more advanced dancers in the crowd. Finally she showed everyone a fun and challenging combination of figures that would help people practice the technique she taught, but would also give them something that could be pulled out during dance parties to impress others on the floor.

The technique that she spent time going over in class was something that she had been discussing the weekend prior, after the competition I was in was over, with that multi-time world champion who had come in to judge that I mentioned. Apparently they had somehow gotten into a conversation about taking steps in Tango. I guess if you are both world-class dancers, like the Princess and that judge guy are, these are the sorts of things that just come up in normal conversation when you talk…

The technique that they discussed really was about how to take steps in Tango. Whether dancing American or International Tango, to make it look and move differently than any other ballroom dance you need to drive out of your standing leg and step on the beat and then hold, split weight, body weight in-between your legs. On the ‘&’ of the beat (or on the ‘&’ of the second beat, if you are taking a slow step) you will shift your weight to the new leg, and the old leg essentially becomes dead weight until it is collected. This driving and then holding action is what, more than anything else, will give your Tango the powerful staccato look that it needs to really look like Tango at a world-class level.

To practice this, the Princess had people just do the American Tango basic a few times down the floor alone, then she partnered everyone up to have men and women try it together. As soon as she had people partner up and give it a try, she had to split the men and women up again to tell all the men about being in frame correctly with a lady and having a right-side lead the whole time while dancing Tango. Apparently watching the men near her try to dance with a partner offended her so much that she had to stop everyone to fix it.

By the time she was finished having us work on walking, everyone in the room had been drawn into her lesson in some way. Normally we have people who show up for the dance party and spend their time during the lessons on the sidelines, just sitting and chatting with each other, but even these people were standing next to the chairs and paying attention to everything the Princess was saying. Even Lord Junior and Sir Digler, who had both stopped by the party at different times just to visit with people they knew for a little while, ended up in line with the men so they could work on the things that the Princess was talking about. I wish that I had a magical air of command about me like that!

Splitting the men and women up again, she now went through a small progression of Tango figures. None of the figures were super difficult, but she made it look amazing. Have you ever watched a world champion-level dancer dance a Bronze-level routine before? It makes the Bronze-level routines I practice look terrible by comparison. Luckily, I wasn’t the person she asked to help her demonstrate the routine. Sir Digler happened to be standing in line near the Princess, so she called him out and told him that she would just back-lead him through the sequence. The whole time she kept calling him ‘darling’ (or “dah-ling” in that accent of hers), which made him blush a lot. Poor guy…
The progression began with a normal American Tango basic – two curved steps followed by a three-step close. On the last step of the basic, she had people shift to Promenade Position heading diagonal center. Next we did a Promenade that ends in a throwout to get the lady into Open Fan position. Here we led her through a Underarm Turn with an extra spin on the end to get her into Shadow Position. While the lady turns, the man just has to rock in place.

From here we did an Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position, ending the figure with a right-side lunge/picture line that stretched toward diagonal wall. To finish, the guy takes two steps backward to settle on right leg and holds while lady is turned across our body to collect back in Promenade Position, before taking off into a basic closed Promenade that ends facing wall so you could start all over if you wanted.

So yeah, things went well. The class was challenging for a lot of people – most people who only dance socially don’t usually think about their technique, so the Princess really pushed them outside their comfort zone to help them improve. Plus there were so many people trying to dance in the class that the floor was super crowded, which also made things challenging. All those people stuck around afterward for the party to hang out and dance with the Princess more, and because of that anyone who was dancing had to keep themselves really contained. I didn’t hear any reports of injuries throughout the night, so I’m going to assume that everyone was successful. Hooray!

I dealt with an ever-so slightly smaller crowd on Monday night when I went out to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class. Lord Junior still wanted to use class that night to give his competitive students who joined class some extra practice for the competition they are going to in a couple of weekends, and tonight’s class was primarily for the benefit of Gatekeeper. She had gotten her feedback from the competition she participated in with me two weekends ago, and one of the comments that the judges made repeatedly was that she needed to work on straightening her legs completely in her Latin dances. So tonight we worked on Rumba to let her practice that.

When we really focus on doing the Latin dances on Monday with super straight legs, it hurts me on the inside. Straightening my legs like that is pretty much anathema to everything I have been practicing so hard for International Standard to improve my movement. Also, there is this very fine line that I walk while straightening my legs like this, between really flexing the bottom of my quadriceps to hold my leg straight, and just being kind of lazy and letting my knees settle back a little farther to lock in more of a hyperextended position. Because I don’t do Latin all that often, if I’m not thinking about what I’m doing I have a tendency to allow the latter to happen, which ends up being painful when I get home.
For the first twenty minutes, we drilled the basic steps and New Yorkers extremely slowly to make sure that our legs were straightened perfectly when they needed to be. I’m talking music so slow that dancing sloths would have told Lord Junior to kick it up a notch. If they danced ballroom, that is – I have a feeling that dancing sloths usually end up at raves for some reason, slowly waving around glow sticks. Yeah, you can picture that too, can’t you.

When we had been tortured enough with this extended warm up, Lord Junior gave us a few more complicated steps to use to continue working on our legs. We did three New Yorkers (to the right, left, then right) into an Alemana that ended with lady on man’s right side. Then we finished with a Closed Hip Twist that sent the lady out into Fan Position. There weren’t too many figures, but if the fastest you dance them is to 80% of International Rumba music tempo, it takes a long time to get through what little is there. By the end of class, I started to wonder if what we were doing was practice, or punishment.

There was much less torture for me on Wednesday night when I went out to Standard Technique class. Once again, we took to working on a style and a figure so that one of Lord Junior’s competitive students could get in some additional practice with it before competing. This time it was Foxtrot, and the specific figure she wanted some more work on was the Reverse Wave.

We didn’t get through a whole lot as far as steps were concerned because a few of the ladies were struggling to get through the few figures we did use. What we ended up doing was just a prep step into a Feather, then an Open Telemark with a Feather Ending. We took that into an Overturned Reverse Turn that flipped us 180° so that we ended up backing diagonal wall, and now we added on the Reverse Wave, which curved to head down the line of dance. To get out of that easily, we just did an Open Impetus that turned us to head toward diagonal center in Promenade Position.

The most difficult part for me was going through the Overturned Reverse Turn into the Reverse Wave. Lord Junior had told all the ladies about turning their heads to the right as they started the Reverse Wave. This had the unintended effect of making the ladies want to go in that direction. If the lady did not want to dance in body contact with me (there were two in class who really didn’t like doing that), then I had very little ability to control where they ended up, so they would drift off toward outside partner on my left side. It didn’t matter how strong I held my arms, or how many times we went through the figure and they were told not to do this, those two ladies kept trying to shift to that side for some reason.
On a funny note, Lord Junior spent some time getting on the ladies to make sure they took a heel step for their first step when we were in Promenade Position. After the third or fourth time telling them all to do that, he threatened to make the next lady who didn’t take a heel step run a lap around the outside of the dance floor using all heel steps. We all thought it was a pretty funny threat, until Bony stepped up to dance through the progression with him… and failed to take a heel step for her first step in Promenade Position.

Lord Junior told her to go run her lap, and to make sure to go around the outside of the dance floor, which would take her behind the other group class that was going on down at the other end of the floor. Bony told him that she didn’t run, so she just started sauntering along slowly. When she got to where the other group class was, rather than go around them she stopped to talk to one of the people on the edge of the class. At this point, we were all laughing, and Lord Junior started calling across the room to her to keep moving because this was not supposed to be a break for her to socialize.

The instructor leading the other class stopped what she was doing to ask Lord Junior what was going on. He told her that Bony was supposed to be running her lap as a punishment. Everyone in the other group class started laughing too, so the instructor fought to get her class back under control and told them all not to talk to Bony because she was being punished. Finally Bony sauntered her way around the room and back to our side, looking pretty pleased with herself.

The funny part was, after going through that exercise, Bony never messed up her heel step in Promenade Position again that night. It was a hilarious method of getting there, but apparently her punishment really did teach her the right lesson. 🙂

Renew Our Faith Which Way We Can

I’m not sure what’s been going around lately, but on both Saturday morning and Tuesday night I had lessons that were cancelled because someone got sick. First thing on Saturday morning I got a text from Sir Steven saying that he had to cancel because he was feeling too ill to teach that day. I made sure to put that free time to good use and finally got in some real stretching, like wrote about wanting to do last week. I felt a lot less stiff afterward, and I’ve only needed to add in a bit of light stretching after my workouts since then to maintain that feeling. Yay me!

Then on Tuesday night I was supposed to meet with some fancy coach person that Lord Dormamu was planning on having in town, but she cancelled her trip because she was feeling too ill to travel. What are the chances? I hope that she and Sir Steven didn’t have the same illness. That would be crazy! Luckily, Sparkledancer and I took the time we would have otherwise used with this coach and practiced instead, so Tuesday night was still time well spent for me.

There are a bunch of people at my place of employment that have been out sick recently as well. Lucky for me that I have my own office and no one comes to visit me too often, so I have a reduced chance of catching anything while I’m at work. With all the crazy dance things going on, I don’t think I have time to deal with some kind of sickness knocking me on my butt for days. There’s training to be done!

I still had one item on the books for Saturday (or two, depending on how you look at it), and that was a double lesson with Lord Dormamu. At this point we have officially decided to do both competitions that the three of us had discussed during our last lesson, so now we have to make sure that both Sparkledancer and I are ready to take to the floor at each event and do the best that we can. Having twice as much time with Lord Dormamu that afternoon allowed us to look at all four of our primary routines more thoroughly than we would have been able to otherwise, so I got notes for everything!

To prove that practice really can make a difference (and even more practice can make even more of a difference), this week, after watching Sparkledancer and I run through all of our routines for him, Lord Dormamu stopped us to say that he could see a night and day difference between what we showed him at the beginning of our lesson the week prior and what we just showed him that morning. I felt relieved to hear that from him, and also disappointed in myself that I had let things slack off so noticeably before.

Never again! If that means that I am going to have to keep up this exhausting practice schedule, then I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do until the day I retire from being a competitive dancer. Or the day that I burn out from exhaustion, since I don’t intend to give up my rigorous exercise regimen either! Let’s find out what happens first, shall we?

There were a couple of notes that Lord Dormamu gave the two of us that encompassed all of our routines which he wanted us to work on. For me, it was (as usual) to make sure and pull my head back and to the left. He said that he could tell when I was thinking a lot about what I was doing because I let my head start to fall forward. I was also told to work on pulling my left elbow back farther while turning my left side toward Sparkledancer more across all dances, especially when I am in Promenade Position.

Sparkledancer was told that she still needs to work on creating more volume. I guess that is going to be a constant note for her until she is able to dance with her hair sliding along the floor. In addition to that, she was also told to work on turning her side in more toward me, though for her it is her right side instead of her left.

That leaves the notes that I got for each specific routine. Our best dance that morning was the Waltz, according to Lord Dormamu. The only thing pertaining to that style that he commented on was that Sparkledancer needed to make her heel steps more distinct. Obviously there are very few places overall where Sparkledancer is driving forward and needs to take a heel lead, so she doesn’t get much practice with this action. Still, as Lord Dormamu has said many times (and said again on during this lesson), most judges are “old, blind and stupid” so things like footwork need to be as distinct as possible so you don’t get marked down.

From the Waltz we moved on to Quickstep, and this was where we made the most dramatic changes that day. He mentioned that both Sparkledancer and I needed to watch our footwork on the Forward Lock and the Running Finish to make sure that we both made our steps distinct during those figures. It wasn’t wrong per se, he just thought that some of the steps looked more flat-footed than he would have liked from where he was standing.

Then we got to the corner of the routine where we had a Hesitation. The first time through the routine that day, he said that he wanted to come back to that corner later. ‘Later’ didn’t actually happen until near the end of our session that day. We had come back around to Quickstep again after finishing up Tango and Foxtrot. Lord Dormamu was dancing through part of the routine with Sparkledancer, and when he got to that corner he remembered wanting to look at the steps, and the two of them began changing things.
Apparently Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer that the Hesitation was “too boring” and he wanted to take it out and put in something better. What he ended up giving us I believe would be called a Overspin from a Natural Spin Turn. Basically we do a Natural Spin Turn where the first two beats are normal. On the third beat I take a step to the side and hold, adding in just a bit of body rise. Sparkledancer does a fancy head flick while we hold like that for some reason. Finally on beat four I step backward onto my right foot and do a Reverse Pivot to get us facing the right direction to go into the Double Reverse Spin that comes next in the routine.

According to Lord Dormamu, all the steps by themselves are Bronze, so connecting them in this manner should be just fine. I’ve done figures like this before, notably a Overspin from a Double Reverse Spin, but I have always been told that those are Open-level variations… so we’ll have to see if anyone gives us any grief for using this specific variation. I’m sure that if I told any judges that have issues with the figure that Lord Dormamu told me to use it, they would change their minds and decide that the figure is fine. Lord Dormamu seems to know all the judges. All of them.

After we finished Quickstep we moved on to Tango. The big thing that Lord Dormamu said about our Tango this week was that he was seeing us rise up during transitions, rather than staying at the same level consistently through the whole routine. He also wanted us to work on making our movements more staccato. Apparently our Tango was flowing much more than he would like that day, looking more like a Foxtrot than a Tango.

He gave us an exercise that we can use to work on this issue, which he told us to do at all our practices until we get it right. Starting off facing one another, Sparkledancer and I are supposed to press our hands together palm-to-palm, and then whomever is moving forward will drive off the standing leg and stop. The person moving backward drives off their standing leg to travel, but once they finish shifting their weight they will have a little additional movement to prepare the free leg for the next step. This is supposed to help us learn to get away from using the momentum of the previous step to carry us into the next, like you would in a Waltz or Foxtrot.

Two other quick notes on the Tango we were told: we looked at the corner that has the right-side lunge a little. Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer that she needs to make sure her shoulders aren’t collapsing to the outside, but rather to have them mirror the angle of my shoulders as we hold the lunge. Finally, I was told to spend some time focusing on my Progressive Links throughout the routine. I need to keep my body in the same position as I take my first step, and then rotate my body only as I take the second to turn to Promenade Position. I guess it looked like I was winding  up my body in the opposite direction on the first step. 😦

Finally we spent a bit of time on the Foxtrot, though not a whole lot. Lord Dormamu told me that he wanted to change the way I was doing my starter step now. Rather than take a step to the left, then the right and stay low the entire time going into the forward steps, he now wants me to bring my feet together as I step to the right and come up to almost straight legs while twisting my body to the right before lowering to take my first step forward. I’m not sure why we are changing this all of a sudden, but it’s a minor change so I can get it down soon.

I asked Lord Dormamu for his thoughts regarding the shaping in both the Natural Weave and the Basic Weave figures. One of the recommendations that the coach I met with back in December gave me was to add in some shaping during the middle of those figures. After demonstrating the recommendation, Lord Dormamu gave me a frown and said that he didn’t like the way that looked. He thought the idea was good, but the execution of the idea that the coach had recommended was too much.

In his opinion, the execution should be about subtlety. If I shaped to the right as much as the coach recommended during the Weave steps, after shaping to the left in the beginning, and then shaping to the left again for the Feather Finish, it made the figure look indecisive. However, if I leveled off my shoulders during the Weave steps while pulling my frame slightly more to the left, it can give the impression that I am shaping to the right without moving too much. If we also add to that Sparkledancer turning her head to her right at the same time, it gives us the illusion that we are shaping the figure to the right even more, while in reality my shoulders are just leveling off.

Neat, huh?

The last change that he made for us that morning in Foxtrot was in the Change of Direction, the very last figure in the routine. Waaaaaaay back in the day, Lord Dormamu told us to hold the figure for an extra four beats before taking the last step, giving us a chance to reset ourselves before moving on and starting the routine over. While he was dancing through that figure with Sparkledancer this past weekend, he thought that holding there for an extra four beats was really hard on her, so he told us to go back to doing the figure using the timing by the book.

OK, enough about that. Let’s talk about some International Latin. Specifically the Rumba. That’s what we looked at in Latin Technique class on Monday. To make things more interesting, Lord Junior spent the majority of the time in class having us work on our arm motions. Sometimes I think that Lord Junior does these things just to make me flail around like an octopus trying to tie shoes on all of its non-existent feet. Yeah, just imagine that for a minute. That’s what I think that I look like.

All of the work we did in this class was done solo, so you could try these out yourself without having to find a partner. The actual figures that we did weren’t all that complicated if you leave your arms out of the mix. We started standing tall with our feet together before doing a normal Cucaracha to the right side, and then a syncopated Cucaracha to the left side that allowed you to end on the right leg with the left leg free. Next we added on some basic Latin Walks, but on the second step forward we did a Spiral Turn.

To make things more interesting after that, we went into a syncopated Checked Walk forward and then put in a slow Ronde action with the left leg. When you finished circling the leg, the left leg would be pointed behind you. After shifting to that leg in the next measure, we did a Three Step Turn to the right. Next we did a Switch Turn on the right side, ending the measure with everyone stepping and facing toward the front of the room. Finally, to challenge us, he had us do a full 360° turn on our left leg.

The arm motions are what threw me off all night. I can move my arms using my back muscles easily enough, but trying to engage them in time with my steps, having one arm out and one in as I walk, and then also make them look graceful… just doesn’t feel right to me. Lord Junior told me that my arm motions didn’t look terrible, but they didn’t feel all that great, so I didn’t totally believe him.

Maybe that’s why I have taken to doing International Standard – for what I do, my arms are supposed to stay strong and locked in place, which is a much more natural feeling for me. Ah well, I managed to get through class without hitting anyone with my arms, and I only messed up the footwork a few times while thinking about what to do with my arms, so I’m going to count that as a win in my book.

I don’t know how things have been going in your neck of the woods, but where I live in the Dance Kingdom we got a bunch of snow on Wednesday, and that shut everything down for the evening, so Monday’s class was the last exciting thing that I did. I still went out to practice on Tuesday night, and again tonight, but Wednesday night I got a little break, though it wasn’t by my choice.

This coming weekend also feels like it will be a small respite before a bunch of crazy weekends to come. The only things I have going on this weekend besides practice are a lesson with Sir Steven and a party that my Royal Dance Court group is throwing that I need to attend. But the next weekend, and the two weekends after that in February… craziness. So maybe I should use this weekend to try to get some sleep as well. I feel like sleep is going to be lacking in my life until we get to mid-February.

All of this keeps me out of trouble, right?