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.

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To Make It A Place Worth Fighting For

Kind of a quiet dance week this week for me. There only ended up being two things of note that I feel I need to write down. Can I keep this post from growing to be verbose? We’ll have to see…

The only dance-related thing that I did on Saturday was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for a coaching session. We continued to look at the Waltz this week, picking up right where we left off last time. He had us run through our routine for him once with music playing, then brought us right up in front of the mirrors so he could watch us go through a few repetitions of the exercises that he gave us to work on last weekend. After about five minutes of that, he stopped us so that he could give us his impression of how our practice had gone over the last week.

Overall he said that he was much happier, and he was definitely seeing an improvement. He called it a ‘30%’ improvement, but when he throws out numbers like that while smiling, I can’t entirely tell whether he’s just making up numbers to be funny or if he’s being serious. Specifically he said that the actions that we were doing from beats one to two and two to three were much more in line with what he was looking for, but the action from beat three to the next beat one still needs work. Based on that assessment, you would think that we were doing 66.67% better, right? I mean, that’s how the math works in my head…

I brought up the fact that it would make sense that the actions from beats one to two and two to three would show improvement, since the exercises we had been given really focused on those actions. The one exercise I was thinking about which would specifically help was the exercise where we would extend the box step to a six count, taking steps one and two with normal timing and then closing our feet together slowly over the remaining four beats. So, I asked, were there any exercises that we could do which would help with the action where we still needed work?

As it turns out, there is… sort of. It’s really the same exercise, but you just change the timing of the steps. Rather than slowing down after the first two steps to practice the action of closing your feet, you could take the second and third step of the box at normal timing and slow down the next step for a four count to focus on the transition of lowering into the next box step. So now, in addition to the exercises we were already told to do, we have to add in an additional two minutes of working on the action between beats three and one. Can you feel my excitement about this?

I suppose, theoretically, you could also do the same idea and take the third step of the box and the first step of the next box in normal timing, slowing down the second step for a four count to work on the middle action. There is a variation available for everyone! Well, really there are only three variations, but you get my point, right? Sigh… math again…

Once we got through looking over the practice exercises, we turned to looking at things in the actual routine that needed some attention. One concept in particular that Lord Dormamu spent some time discussing with Sparkledancer was the amount of volume she was creating while in frame… or actually the lack of volume. Sparkledancer was telling him that while he was having her to do all this work on how her legs were moving, she was totally forgetting to think about anything else, which is why the volume appeared to be decreased as we were dancing.

Lord Dormamu told her that he was more concerned during our sessions with him with how our leg action was progressing, since that was the key to bringing our Waltz up to the next level. His advice to her was (for the time being) to focus on practicing the leg action while working with him, and to focus on her volume and position while working with Lady Tella. Eventually the two techniques will have to be put together, obviously, but for the time being he wanted to make her life a bit easier. He’s such a nice guy, isn’t he?

There were a couple of figures that he wanted to cover at in particular that day based on what he saw during our initial dance-through. The first one was the Hesitation Change in the first corner… again. It seems like there are so many things about this simple figure that Lord Dormamu really wants to be different, doesn’t it? This time he told me that he didn’t like the way that the backward step I take from the Natural Turn right beforehand looked. We went through a number of changes to try and fix it, with me dancing with Sparkledancer, or by myself, or with him, as he assessed what was going on and tried to think of a way to make me look the way he wanted. The lowering action was what he decided was causing the problem – something about the way that I was lowering from the Natural Turn and going into the Hesitation Change seemed out of sorts.

We moved off the Hesitation Change for a little bit, but came back to it again later after he had some time to think. This time he asked me to try to just lower straight down before taking the step into the hesitation. This was a surprising request, because we have been working so hard over the last couple of weeks to make sure that none of the figures that we do are lowering straight down, but rather lowering while continuing to travel forward/backward (depending on the step). So I gave it a try, and apparently that did the trick.

He said that watching from the outside, the brief pause at the height of the Natural Turn and lowering straight down before taking the step into the Hesitation Change made the transition between the two look clean and precise finally. For the time being, he wants me to practice stopping and lowering like that between the two figures to work on control, and once that improves he’ll go back with me and start to reintroduce the lowering on an angle while moving aspect.

The other figure that we looked at quite a bit was the Whisk. For this particular figure, it wasn’t the steps themselves or any of the actions that he wanted to have me adjust, but rather the angle. I had been coming out of the previous figure and generally aiming the Whisk straight down the line of dance for pretty much the entire time I’ve ever done this routine. Lord Dormamu wants to change the angles so that I finish the previous figure facing diagonal wall, then take the first two steps of the Whisk heading towards diagonal wall, rotate to Promenade Position on the small step that crosses behind while pointing my Promenade toward diagonal wall, and continue to travel in the Promenade Chasse that follows in that same direction.

Now this made a lot of things weird. First of all, as I said I had been taking the Whisk down the line of dance for forever, so trying to turn it like this fights against all of the muscle memory that I have built up in all of that time. Secondly, the amount of rotation when I move my upper body to Promenade Position that is required to get Sparkledancer into her correct placement is a lot, and my upper body is not particularly happy with rotating that much. That’s something I can fight through with practice, but it’s not the most pleasant thing to do.

The biggest issue with this change though is that now we are traveling straight toward the wall. With the amount of movement that we usually get during the Whisk and the Promenade Chasse attached, we just ran out of space the first few times we tried this. That was an easy enough fix while working specifically on this figure because we could just back up away from the wall far enough to fit everything in. Easy-peasy, right?

But (I’m sure you saw this coming), when attaching the Whisk heading in this new direction to the rest of the routine, we were still too close to the wall. The Whisk is a part of the first short wall in the routine, and with the way that the short wall was built, most everything travels laterally down the line of dance. Even when I rotated the three figures prior to the Whisk so that they were moving solely toward diagonal center, I still couldn’t create quite enough room to fit in the Whisk and Promenade Chasse heading toward diagonal wall. You know, because the wall was in the way and whatnot. Silly wall!

Am I the only person you know who talks about issues with moving too much?

This means that, in order to make this change fit, I have to remember to purposefully short my steps a bit on the first long wall so that when I finish the first corner, I am starting the first short wall farther away from the edge. That’s really the only way I am going to be able to fit everything in properly. This was something that felt OK while we were working on things in the Endless Dance Hall. The floor there is huge, so cutting down six to eight feet on a long wall doesn’t make my steps look short. But what happens when I have to try to do this on a much smaller floor? I’m afraid that it will make my steps look teeny-tiny!
Who knew that being able to move so much while dancing would cause me so many issues?

Latin Technique class on Monday night was entertaining, but full of a bunch of stuff that made me feel like a terrible dancer. Those are two wildly conflicting emotions, I know, but that’s how the class went for me. When I first got to class, I thought that I was in for a rough night since there were five ladies sitting there, waiting for class to start, and no other men besides Lord Junior. A few minutes before class, he walked by all of us and said that we would be working on Samba that night, so that was red flag number one for me. Of all the Latin dances, Samba is my least favorite. For some reason I always feel wildly uncoordinated while dancing Samba, and I know I doesn’t look very Samba-esque while doing it either.

As Lord Junior continued to talk with us, he said that he was considering doing a bunch of stuff in Shadow Position, which would give him and I a little bit of a break since there were so many ladies to dance with. However, there was supposedly one more person who had mentioned coming to class that night, so he wanted to give them time to show up. Rather than get started early we all just hung out and talked amongst ourselves.

When the front door did finally open, it actually ended up being more than just one person who showed up… it was actually three. And they weren’t ladies, but girls, each of them being probably twelve years old or less. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but I know that they were all super young. These girls were sisters, and the youngest of them was barely half my height, if that helps put it into context. I felt like a giant standing near her, and I knew there was no way I would be able to dance in Shadow Position with someone that small. It would have been easier for me to just hold the tiny girl off the floor by her arms in front of me and dance! Luckily, Lord Junior had only been expecting the tallest of the sisters to show up, so he modified his plans for the night and threw out all of the partner work in favor of having us all work on exercises by ourselves to accommodate. Whew!

Totally would have worked perfectly.

Since there were so many of us now, Lord Junior had us line up in three lines so that we could travel down the floor in sets. The first section of figures that he gave us to work on was two Cruzados Walks, two syncopated Locks, and then two more Cruzados Walks, which should fill an eight-count bar of music. The first couple of times I went down the floor, Lord Junior made a point of telling me that I looked really good… if I was dancing Foxtrot. My Rhythm Bounce action left quite a bit to be desired. I will freely admit that. What can I say, I only compete in International Standard, and we don’t do crazy bouncing actions with the hips and core in any of the figures I’ve seen so far!

Adding on to that section of figures, the next eight-count bar of music was one more Cruzados Walk (to put you on the right leg), then repeating Samba Locks for the next three-count. At the end you need to pull your right leg in quickly because you go right from moving forward in the Samba Locks to moving backward for a couple of Batucadas. The Batucadas were pretty easy for everyone to get through while we were doing the figures slowly, but the transition between the Samba Locks and the Batucadas threw a lot of the ladies off. When we sped up the pace, you could collect your right leg to the left before taking the step backward, but personally I found that action just took too long, and then I was off time. I found it worked best to just bring my right leg up close to my left leg where it would go for the first step of the Batucada and then just transfer my weight on beat five. That worked best for me – your mileage may vary, of course.

For the last few minutes of class, to give us a break from struggling with the Batucada movements at tempo, Lord Junior had us all work on Body Rolls. I have only ever gone through the Body Roll action a few times in my life. I can’t say that I’m all that good at it… but I’m not as terrible as you might think. With all the exercise I do regularly, I have a lot of strength and control over the muscles in my core, so bending myself like I was being asked to for a Body Roll wasn’t so bad. Granted, we didn’t do this action very fast, so things could change if I was told to try it out to the tempo of your average Samba, but I could probably do it to a Rumba song and not look terrible. 😉

I do lack some of the flexibility in the middle part of my back when compared to all of the women that were in class with me that night (especially those really young girls, who could bend like they had no spines), but I wasn’t as bad as you might think. It’s really twisting actions where my muscularity holds me back the most, and there is no twisting in a Body Roll so I was able to get through it pretty OK. Yeah, pretty OK indeed.

Maybe having so many ladies in class on Monday night wore Lord Junior out, because Standard Technique class was cancelled on Wednesday. You would think that I would have used that extra time that I wasn’t expecting to have to do something productive. I was actually going to get some studying done for some new material I am trying to learn for work, but as soon as I sat down on the couch my cat came and curled up in my lap, and then I couldn’t reach my computer without disturbing her, so I ended up just sitting there quietly for over an hour letting her rest on me. Silly cat…

Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair

For me, the dance parts of last weekend that are worth mentioning started with a party on Saturday night. As I mentioned, my Royal Dance Court group was hosting our monthly dance party that evening, and to start the night off we had asked the best Shag dancer that you’ll probably ever meet, Mr. Rubber-legs, to come by and teach a class to anyone interested. As usually happens when we advertise that we are going to have a Shag lesson, a lot of people were interested, so the dance floor was packed.

Before we get going, I invite you to take a moment with me to quietly get all of the ‘60s British spy jokes about Shag out of your system………… yeah, baby.

Moving on. Where was I… right. I’ve been to a few classes taught by Mr. Rubber-legs before when my Royal Dance Court gang has invited him to teach for us in the past. The class he does is interesting, but always starts off the same way. I know that he holds classes of his own for beginners and more advanced Shag dancers in another location during the week, so I think that he takes opportunities like the one my Royal Dance Court presented to him that night to introduce people to Shag and to his teaching style, let them watch how rubbery his legs get when he dances, and then invite them to come to his normal classes if they want to know more.

Most of the class involved Mr. Rubber-legs discussing the history of Shag and showing everyone how to do two figures, the basic footwork pattern and a lady’s Underarm Turn. For some reason, Mr. Rubber-legs wanted to teach the class with everyone lined up in a straight line down the middle of the room, which made for reeeeeeeally tight quarters for dancing as the class progressed. I saw one lady get elbowed in the face by the lady next to her at one point in the class, which gives you an idea of how tight the quarters were. There may have been other people bumping forcefully into each other that I didn’t see, and that wouldn’t surprise me.

Much like most dance parties that my Royal Dance Court gang puts together, we ended up with more women than men attending, so I had to jump into the class to try to help even out the ratio a little. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced Shag, so I had totally forgotten the positions of the feet in the basic pattern (it’s just different enough from East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing to require you to see it once or twice), but it was easy enough to pick back up once I saw Mr. Rubber-legs go through it again. The lady’s turn was pretty much the same as West Coast Swing, so I could do that one easily just by watching it once too.

Close to the end of the class time, once Mr. Rubber-legs was sure that everyone was able to do the two figures that he had started with correctly, he ramped up the speed and gave out information on a third, more complicated figure, and then a variation of that figure right at the end that he only showed people by doing it himself, because he didn’t have time to actually teach it to anyone. The third figure started off in Handshake Hold and involved bringing the lady into something like Sweetheart position, with the Lead’s right arm up over the lady’s right shoulder. You would start doing the footwork for a normal basic while in this position, and halfway through you roll the lady out in front of you. If you are really cool, you could have the lady do a double turn while you rolled her out, though some of the women I danced with said that spinning twice like that made them dizzy.

The variation involved the guy turning around after he rolled the lady out, so that she was now looking at his back. Mr. Rubber-legs called this a ‘Trail’ – you know, because the lady is trailing the guy. It wasn’t too hard of a position to turn into, and the footwork that he was doing was just the steps for the basic pattern as far as I could see, but I was on the far side of the room while he was demonstrating this variation to the class and like I said, he never explained it to us, so don’t quote me on the footwork if anyone asks when you try it for yourself. 😉

After class was over, the rest of the dance party was mostly uneventful. Mr. Rubber-legs stuck around for a little while to dance and talk with people, but left at some point before the night was half over. For the most part, I tried to stay behind the scenes taking care of things to make the party go smoothly, aside from going out a few times during the evening to dance some ballroom styles with Sparkledancer. Events like this are the closest thing to practicing floorcraft for a competition that we can do, so try to get out on the floor right after the song starts and dance one lap around before everyone else gets on the floor and things get crazy with all the social dancers doing different stuff.

(I mean different like the people who dance Argentine Tango during a Tango and don’t stay in the middle of the floor, or who were dancing Shag during a Foxtrot. They tend to make it dangerous to dance with my competitive partner and really move around the floor without having to stop all the time to avoid people)

There was one encounter in particular during this party that was pretty weird for me. I was in the back of the room, working on refilling the container of water for all the guests, when the DJ announced that an International Viennese Waltz was next. I didn’t think anything of it, since I was busy at the moment, and by the time I finished the song had already been going on for a bit and I didn’t want to find Sparkledancer and just jump in. Well, a lady that I had never seen before saw me standing on the side of the room and came over to ask if I wanted to try the Viennese Waltz with her.

Now Viennese Waltz, much like Quickstep, is not one of those dances that is a good idea for newcomers, and since I had never seen this lady before and she had asked me if I wanted to ‘try’ the Viennese Waltz with her, red flags went up in my mind. I had to ask her if she knew how to do International Viennese Waltz before I just took her out onto the floor with everyone else. She gave me a wishy-washy response and shrugged her shoulders, which did not make me feel any better about doing this.

I told her that this one was the faster version of Viennese Waltz and she wouldn’t get to open up and do fancy turns like they have in American Viennese Waltz. She seemed shocked by that, but still wouldn’t give me a straight answer as to whether she had even done Viennese Waltz before. Finally, when I saw that she was just going to be difficult and wasn’t going to leave me, I relented, even with all the voices in my head screaming that this was a bad idea. I waited for an opening on the floor and then took her out there, and prayed that things would be alright.

Lucky for me, the song only lasted about another ninety seconds, or about a loop and a half around the floor. When I walked her back to the side and then parted ways, she seemed happy enough, because she was all smiles. Sparkledancer caught me though as I was heading over to the other side of the room and told me that it looked like the woman was just running to keep up with me, because I was staying on time with the song and Sparkledancer said that my partner’s footsteps were not. That kind of made me feel bad. I didn’t feel my partner struggling to keep up, but she wasn’t that heavy of a woman, so was I really just inadvertently dragging her through everything? Sigh…

On Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella again for work. Even though these sessions are mainly meant for the girls to work on girl things, I feel like I work really hard while I’m there, because I always end up all sweaty and gross by the time we finish up, while both girls still look nice. I wonder why that is? That’s just a random observation I had during this session.

Anyway… we started off looking at the Tango again. The notes that I have from the Tango are pretty much all things that Lady Tella was telling Sparkledancer. Let’s see, she mentioned that in general she wanted to see Sparkledancer work on getting her position even more to the left around me – almost to the point that she would be on my right hip. During the Back Corte, she wanted Sparkledancer to work on creating even more volume (though I think that is going to be a constant request until her hair is dragging on the floor). She also said that anytime that we are in Promenade Position or doing a Reverse Turn that Sparkledancer should be pulling her left elbow outward to help keep her shoulder down.

When we got to looking at the Natural Promenade Turn (Promenade Pivot), Lady Tella made a comment that I thought was funny. She was trying to explain to Sparkledancer how she wanted her to slow down the turn of her head between positions, so she brought up a carnival game for comparison. Have you ever been to a carnival and seen the game where they have the clown heads in the middle that are slowly rotating with their mouths open, and you have to throw a ball into the mouth as it goes by? That’s what Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to rotate her head like. This comparison may have resulted in a few attempts where Sparkledancer was keeping her mouth open while turning her head, but since my own head is looking away from her during the figure, I cannot completely confirm or deny this.

Finally in the Tango we looked at the Right-side Lunge in the corner again, so that Lady Tella could see how our practice with the figure was coming along. She just wanted to have Sparkledancer make a few minor adjustments to the position that she was in while holding the lunge – chest forward more, head back more, keep hips more level, and be sure not to tilt. Minor adjustments, am I right?

At the end of our session, just to break things up a bit, Lady Tella had us switch over to look at the Quickstep a little so that she could see how that has been coming along with our practice as well. Overall the Quickstep was fairly strong, and there weren’t a lot of spots that Lady Tella felt like she had to point out for either of us to be aware of. She did mention that she wanted us to be aware of the amount of volume between us any time that we were rotating (which we do a lot more in the Quickstep than we do in Tango). Not really a major issue, just something to be aware of.

For me specifically, she said that during some of the rotations she was seeing me do a slight head tilt when I started turning. It wasn’t something that I did all the time, but sometimes she could see it. That was a frustrating thing to try to go over, because the times she did see it when we repeated a turning figure over and over again, I couldn’t feel any movement in any of my upper body, but she saw it. Also, according to her the movement is very slight, but it is enough that she can see something happening. So yeah, that’s something that I have to look at somehow. Joy.

Latin Technique class this week was sadly hilarious for me. I’m not sure what in the world was going on. Either my legs were too tired to work right, or my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but I was having trouble getting things right for most of the class. I would describe it as being… hilariously inept. Luckily I managed to pull it together by the end of class and get through without problems, but man it was rough getting there. Also I got made fun of a lot by Lord Junior, which made things so much better. I deserved it though. Everybody needs to have a bad dance day once in a while, right?

At the beginning we got to warm up a little by practicing different types of Latin dance turning movements on both legs. We started off by going through a basic Spot Turn, which is the normal type of turn you see in Rumba or Cha-Cha, and then we looked at a Switch Turn, which you can do in Rumba but most of the time you only see people doing in Cha-Cha. After that Lord Junior had us look at the turn that the ladies do in an Alemana. Guys don’t usually do a lot while ladies are going through an Alemana, so I got to try the lady’s footwork for this turn. I think I did pretty OK, if I do say so myself.

Lord Junior wanted to work with the class on Samba that night, so right from the get-go I knew this class wasn’t going to cover material that I liked. I don’t know why, but Samba just isn’t something I’m fond of. Lord Junior told us that recently he had been working with several of his competitive ladies on Solo Spot Voltas, and based on how that was going he wanted to give this class a chance to practice them as well. To begin this section, he gave us a basic combination of Volta movements to work on so that we could all make sure we got the Cuban Cross action correct.

We did four Voltas going straight to the side, four that continued in that direction but curved widely for half a circle, then four Spot Voltas that turned 180° each. By the time you finished, you were supposed to be on the other side of the dance floor (depending on how much you could travel) facing the opposite direction from where you started. Then we repeated all of those steps going the other way, to put us right back where we started. This part of class was easy enough, and I managed to get through all the figures just fine.

After that we paired off to do Solo Spot Voltas, and here is where things went downhill. To start, the Leader stood in front of his partner with our left hand flat against their right, and our feet in a Cuban Cross (left foot behind). We did four Solo Spot Voltas that also turned 180° each going to the left (Follow’s right) first. After the fourth, the Lead would bring up their right hand to stop their partner, then we would do another four going the other way. Sounds simple enough, right?

I think the thing that was throwing me off was the first action that you do. As you start turning for the first Spot Volta, your feet should just stay on the floor and you rotate. The next Volta action is where one foot has to move while the other stays planted on the floor as your pivot point. This worked great for the first four, but when you stop turning one way and change directions, if you forget to just leave your feet down and rotate, moving your legs throws everything off. All of us in class seemed to have trouble with this action at first, but it took me the longest to actually get it into my brain to do it correctly.

To finish out the class, Lord Junior gave us a simple progression to work on. He had us do the four and four Solo Spot Voltas in two directions, then two slow Voltas that traveled down the line of dance, and we finished with four Samba Locks. As we started this progression, I was still having trouble getting my feet to do the right actions with the Solo Spot Voltas, so I was flailing around a bit, which Lord Junior thought was funny.

Eventually he had us start doing the progression with music. I could do it correctly when the music was really slow, but when it sped up to like 85% my footwork just fell apart. Right before letting us go Lord Junior decided to amuse himself by having us do things to full speed. Suddenly, when the music was fast and I didn’t have time to think, I could do the footwork right every time. That made me feel kind of dumb, to be honest. I guess that I am just not a medium speed kind of person when it comes to Samba. Slow or fast only is what makes it work for me.

On Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class to look at some Waltz. Much like last week’s class on Tango, this week we also looked at a little bit of American Waltz and a little bit of International Waltz. Lord Junior is still working on studying for his certification tests for American Smooth, which is why he goes through these things with us. He admitted to all of us last night though that the studying is going slowly for him, because he cares so little for American Smooth it just doesn’t hold his interest. He did say that it is going better than his study of American Rhythm, which he cares for even less. Poor guy…

The first figure we looked at was from the American syllabus, called an Open Right Turn. It’s a misleading figure though, because it’s actually three different figures strung together and given an all new name. By the book the Open Right Turn is a Basic Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn, finishing with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending. Yeah, if you read that list it does sound a lot like Foxtrot, doesn’t it? Would you be surprised if I told you that you could also do this Open Right Turn in Foxtrot with a slight change in the timing and rise-and-fall? Because you can.

After we all seemed to have the figure down, Lord Junior changed it up to give us a second variation of the Open Right Turn. Pulling out the Open Impetus and Feather Ending, we replaced it with a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady to the outside, and finishing with a Développé. To close, the guys would step back onto their right leg and finish a normal box step while turning the ladies in front of us.

At the end of the Open Right Turn (whichever variation you so desire), we added on a couple more figures to keep the fun going. We did a Syncopated Fallaway next, which if you did the Open Right Turn variation and were still apart from your partner you would close back to dance position during. Following the Fallaway we did an Outside Spin from International Waltz, and to close we did a basic Natural Turn. The ending was a lot of fun, because you could get a lot of rotation going through the Outside Spin which would almost throw you through the Natural Turn. I thought that was the most exciting part.

That’s all the notes I have for this past week. As for this upcoming week, I think that most of it is going to be focused on practice. After all, the weekend after next I will be competing, so I have to make sure I’m ready. However… I heard of this class on West Coast Swing moves being offered this weekend, and I think I’m going to go to that. It’s been a long time since I’ve put any focus into West Coast Swing, and I do like that dance style a lot, so I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to pick up something new. That should be fun, right? Or at least different. We’ll see what happens!

If Everything Is Nothing, Then Are We Anything?

My dance weekend began by taking part in another meeting between Sparkledancer and Lady Tella. We spent the entire time that afternoon dancing Tango. As seems to happen quite a bit with these meetings, there wasn’t much in the way of notes that actually relate to me, but I did pay attention to some of the things that Lady Tella told Sparkledancer to focus on this time around. Some days I am not too poor to pay attention! Yay me!

The spot in the routine that Lady Tella wanted to work on the most with Sparkledancer was the Right Side Lunge that is in the first corner. Even though the figure is different and has some sway while we are in the line, Lady Tella told her to think about shaping it more like a Back Corte, and to sink into her hips more. The part that was the most difficult to get correct was the head movements. Going into the lunge, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to change her head earlier. Also, she said that I should be leading Sparkledancer’s head motion with a subtle flick of my body. If I’m not doing anything to lead it, apparently the head movement just looks cosmetic.

Coming out of the lunge, Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to add back in the double head flick once more as we rotate into the Back Corte. I swear poor Sparkledancer’s head must be spinning (pun intended) from the amount of times people keep changing that on her. For a few weeks one coach or another will tell her to do it, then someone will come along and tell her to take it out, then it will go back in, then a month later it gets thrown out… hopefully this will be the last time someone voices an opinion on the matter and she gets to keep it in forever this time.

A few other notes that Lady Tella gave Sparkledancer were (in no particular order): during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside she needs to keep her hips back further; any time she has rotated to Promenade Position, she was told to stay in her back leg and keep her head outside of her hands; during the Natural Twist Turn she needs to make sure to fill the Lead’s right hand and not let it slide across her back; and overall while dancing Tango she needs to think about keeping her chest forward and her head back.

The one note that Lady Tella kept saying to me, and I’m not even sure why I was doing this that afternoon, was that I needed to keep my fingers closed together on my right hand. This is not something that I normally do, but I guess that afternoon I kept letting my fingers splay out when I was standing there in dance frame while the girls were talking. Maybe it was because I was just standing there a lot, trying to be a good dance dummy, so I wasn’t really concerned with what my hands were doing. Half the time my left hand was just out, and the lady I was in fame with (either Sparkledancer or Lady Tella) wasn’t even holding onto it, so my left hand was being useless too. Still, I wrote it down so that I would pay more attention to keeping the fingers of my right hand closed next time. Silly me…
Last Saturday night I ended up out with some friends at a dance party event being held at the City Dance Hall. This party was notable because the organizers of the party had convinced some Amateur couple who has recently won some sort of nationally-recognized championship in American Smooth to come out and teach a class in Waltz before the party. I didn’t recognize the names of the couple, but I thought that going to a lesson taught by an Amateur couple who was competing at that level could be interesting, so I agreed to meet up with people there.

Have I ever told you that I am terrible with names? Because I really am. I am much better at recognizing faces of people I’ve met before than I am at remembering their names. I bring this up because even though I didn’t recognize the names of the high-level Amateur couple that was going to teach that night, I recognized the two of them right away when I saw them. I’ve met them a few times before because they are actually another Amateur couple that my coach (Lord Dormamu) is training!

A few years ago this couple had been winning all kinds of competitions in American Smooth, so they decided that they wanted to add more work into their lives and picked up International Standard as well. They looked around for a coach for a while, and finally managed to hook up with Lord Dormamu because he’s one of the best, and they have been working with him ever since. I’ve talked to them many times before when they’ve been in town for lessons with him, and I spent quite a bit of time talking to them this Saturday night as well once I realized who they were. Maybe now I’ll be able to remember their names going forward…

The way that they taught their Waltz lesson was interesting. They had a basic idea that they wanted to give to everyone, but taught it in three parts. First they showed everyone the idea in its most basic form. During the middle of the class they upgraded some pieces of the idea to be more of an intermediate pattern. Finally at the end of class they evolved the intermediate choreography to an advanced state, trying to make it more of a challenge for anyone who has a dance power level over nine thousand.

Basic choreography started off facing line of dance and doing half of a Reverse Turn, then doing a Box with Right Underarm Turn for the second half, rotating 90° and closing in hand-to-hand position facing center. From here we traveled down the line of dance doing three Open Change Steps (or Running Steps, or Butterfly Steps, whatever you want to call them). At the end of the third Open Change Step we closed back into dance position then did another half of a Reverse Turn, using that to turn the corner and rotate to face toward diagonal center on the new line of dance.

There was really only one change given to upgrade the pattern to the intermediate version. The Open Change Steps that did most of the traveling in the pattern were replaced with a version that allowed both partners to do free spins while moving. I’m sure most of you have either seen or done this variation before – the Lead will give the lady a slight push and release her hand as you open up for the Open Change Step, so that the lady turns out to the left while the man turns out to the right. After the spin, you catch hands again and then collect like you would normally for an Open Change Step back into a hand-to-hand position with the man facing center.

The most advanced version made a number of changes. To start with, we did two out of the three free spin variation Open Change Steps. The last one was replaced with the man just doing three Running Steps forward while turning the lady clockwise, and then another portion was added on with the man doing three Running Steps forward again, this time turning the lady counterclockwise. After the turns, the man would catch both of the lady’s hands and do a checking action, leading her to do a Développé. We closed the Développé by bringing the lady back upright and doing half a Reverse Turn, then doing a Simple Twinkle which ended in Promenade Position and continued down the floor with Passing Twinkles ad infinitum, closing with half a Natural Turn whenever you wanted.

In most dance studios, this pattern will naturally need to curve as you move, because the dance floor will not be long enough to do everything in a straight line. If you play your cards right, and get the right partner, you can easily cover ¾ of the dance floor. And this couple teaching, well they were encouraging everyone to try their best to cover that much of the floor. Their words of encouragement were funny though. We were all told, and I quote: “To make it big and powerful, you have to be big and powerful doing it.” Really deep, helpful advice, right?

During the middle of the party after the lesson was over, the organizers had asked the two of them if they would perform a couple of numbers for the crowd, so they opted to do a Foxtrot and Tango. The Foxtrot ended up being really interesting, because after they finished the DJ came on the mic and told everyone that they had been asked specifically to dance that performance as Lead and Follow – with no routine or prior choreography. They had wanted to show all the members of this club that it was possible to dance in a really fancy manner at a really high level without having to memorize a routine beforehand, something that all of the people in the crowd could aspire to. I thought that was a pretty sly way for the organizers to try to motivate their members. Good on them.

I left the party shortly after the performances were over because I had things to do at home that night, but on my way out I stopped to talk to the two of them. Most people were wandering by and congratulating the pair on their performance and showering them with praise, but I just wanted to see how their training with Lord Dormamu was going, and find out what competitions that the two of them were planning on doing over the next couple of months. Sadly, they weren’t going to be at the competition I’m going to at the end of this month, and I’m not going to the one they’re doing in July, but they are considering going to the one in August that I am planning to do, so we could possibly see each other there. Hooray for that!
The two of them then mentioned that they are going to a non-competition dance event at the beginning of July that Lord Dormamu had mentioned to Sparkledancer and I. It’s a big coaching get together with a lot of big name people, that is happening in a town a few hours north of me. I had been mulling it over after Lord Dormamu mentioned it, and the information I could find on the event made it sound interesting, but also super expensive. This couple told me that they went last year, and they thought it was a lot of fun, so they were excited to go back. Well now I’m leaning toward going. It will be another dance adventure if it happens, right?

Speaking of other dance adventures… Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class doing some Rumba. This week the class had no special focus, we just went through some figures that Lord Junior hadn’t made any of his students work on in a while, so that these students could prove that they hadn’t forgotten the steps. I just got to go along with the ride on this one.

We started out by facing our partner in a one hand hold, with the guys pointing their right leg back and the ladies pointing their left leg forward. Stepping forward on a slow count to start, we did a forward checking action and then the men closed their feet and led the ladies to do a Curl. Next the men did a backward checking action and collected the lady into dance frame to go through a Reverse Top. After letting the top spin for three measures, we released the lady out into Fan Position.

Closing from Fan Position, we led the ladies to do an Alemana that ended with the lady on the man’s right side. You wanted to make sure not to bring the lady in too close to your body here, because we had them do a Spiral Turn next, so they needed to have a little free space to turn without smacking us. From there we walked them around us in a Rope Spin. Once she got all the way around so she was back in front of us, we would collect her back up with our right arm, rotate 90° to the right and go into two Opening Outs.
At the end of the second one, the men needed to slide their right foot around the lady so that we could get in front of her for the next figure. Releasing our partner as we came around, we did a Sliding Door action, with the men checking forward on the lady’s left side. Coming back, we did a Delayed Action with our left leg, pointing it behind us until the last second and then putting it down and taking another step to the right into a Right Side Lunge. Lord Junior made me try to do some sort of fancy arching movement with my arm while in this lunge, but I’m sure it looked more silly than fancy when I did it. We then stood up, collected our left leg to the right one, then stepped forward to catch the lady with our right arm one last time to go into an Opening Out action on our right side to finish.

Finally, I also got to do some Tango in Standard Technique class this week. To differentiate what we were doing in class from the Tango lesson I was a part of last Saturday, Lord Junior gave us a few figures from International Tango, and then added in some figures from American Tango to make things interesting for us. I’m pretty sure I have done all the pieces of the choreography that we used at some point in the past, just not put together with each other or in this order.
The pattern started with two different figures from the standard International Tango syllabus. The first was a Gold-level figure, the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot. The second was a basic Bronze-level figure, the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. We started out taking these heading toward diagonal center, then following the wall, coming out toward diagonal wall. That is, of course, until Lord Junior saw that some of us (i.e. me…) were covering a lot of ground with just these two figures.

Since there were people on the other end of the floor working with their instructor and he wanted to leave them some room and still add more figures, he told me to pull in my angles a lot. Rather than start the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot heading toward diagonal center, I was almost going straight center, and coming out after the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside heading almost right for the wall. Me and my long legs, always getting into trouble with floor space. Sigh…

Here is where we switched over to some American Tango figures. The guys took two steps on an angle and faked a third to keep our weight on our right leg while we turned the ladies to bring them to Shadow Position facing diagonal center. Next we did another Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside, only this time in Shadow Position. At the end of that figure, we rolled the ladies across our bodies out to our left to get into a side-by-side hold (I believe the position is called ‘Open Fan’ but I can’t swear to it, so YMMV if you want to use that name when discussing it with other dancers).

Leading the lady to rotate with our left hand, we faced one another (also called Fan Position, I believe, but don’t quote me on that), then we led the lady through an inside turn as we stepped forward to her outside. To finish everything we did a basic American-style three-step close action while bringing the lady back into closed dance position.

I think this coming weekend is going to be busy for me again. Besides lots of practice to get ready for the competition I’m doing in a couple of weeks, I should have a lesson with Lord Dormamu (if he ever gets back to me to confirm the time), I know there is a lesson with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella planned, and my Royal Dance Court gang is hosting a dance party on Saturday night. I’m expecting the party to be kind of busy, because we are bringing in someone to teach a Shag lesson. Providing lessons in these more esoteric dance styles tends to attract different people than I normally see, in addition to all the regular ballroom people who come to these parties, so the dance floor could be rather busy that night.

I hope that you have a lot of fun things on your dance calendar too. Are you taking your dad out dancing? I’m not. My parent’s live really far away, so even if I invited them, neither of them could come with me. Plus, you know, as a guy it would be weird going dancing with my dad. I still feel like he is the one in charge when he’s around, since he’s my dad and all, but I know more about dancing than him, so I don’t think I could let him be the Lead. Plus I’m really not a very good Follow…