But Sometimes I Catch A Glimpse

It seems like it has been a long time since I’ve written about normal things. Let’s take this week to check in on the classes I go to during the week, shall we?

Monday night I headed off to Latin Technique class like I normally do. I had one of those ‘small world’ moments that night because there were a couple of young girls who joined us in class that night. Both of them were home this week while on some kind of break from college. One of those cool cats I actually recognized, because she happened to be the female half of the competitive couple that came in one place behind me at the last competition that I was in! Of all the people to randomly show up for Latin Technique class, I must say that I would have never even placed this girl on the list of possibilities.

On top of that, Seedling also showed up for class that night. Also, one of the female instructors that teaches on-and-off at the Electric Dance Hall happened to be there that night and after the lesson she was teaching was over she decided to jump into the class with us and dance the Lead part. All kinds of random people wanted to work on Latin Technique with us last Monday. Crazy!

Lord Junior had us start out by warming up doing Rumba Three-Step Turns from side-to-side. After a few minutes of turning slowly, Lord Junior decided we were all nice and warm and told us that what he had wanted to have us spend time on that night involved doing Lock Steps in Cha-Cha. He spent the next ten minutes or so going over the basic techniques needed for doing a Lock Step well, and had us all practice by going down the dance floor using repeated Locks Forward and Backward.

Once we had gone through Lock Steps sufficiently, Lord Junior had us look at the beginning of the Open Cha-Cha routine that he likes to give his competitive students. The combination of figures uses a number of Lock Steps, so it tied right in with what we had just finished practicing. The pattern is one I think I have seen before, but I can’t remember when that was. We start out facing our partner in open dance frame, holding on to her with our left hand, right leg pointed forward.

After a back check to start moving we go into a Forward Lock. At the end of that Lock we do a forward check and move our left arm slightly to the right to help rotate the lady to face away from us quickly before going into another Forward Lock, this time continuing the locking motion for an extra four beats. At the end of that we would do one last forward check and then move our left arm to the left to signal the lady to turn back to face us. The lady would do a normal Forward Lock here while the Leads did a smaller Back Lock, rotating the last step so that we were stepping to our left side, which allowed us to get our right arm back around our partner to close dance frame.

Now that we were together again, the guys would shift our weight to our right leg briefly and then go into a Telespin action to trade places with our partner. Once we were on her left side, we would move our right arm to take her left hand and release her other hand, then lower ourselves into our right leg so that we could lunge out to the left side. The ladies would bring their feet together on the right and bring up their right arm to strike a line here, which is where we finished up for the night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday night was a bit smaller than Latin Technique was. Most of the attendees that night were those of us diehards who come to Standard Technique all the time, but a few of the random people who came on Monday night decided to come back for this class as well. The two college competitor girls showed up, and then Seedling also decided to come back as well.

Before we started, Lord Junior had asked one of the college girls what she wanted to work on that night. She requested that we do Quickstep. I thought that was a good choice, since Quickstep is one of those styles I always feel like I need to work on. Unfortunately, Seedling had never done Quickstep before, so not only was this his first foray into Standard Technique, it was also his introduction into Quickstep. You might say that he was in a little over his head that night.

The pattern itself wasn’t too fancy. The girl who had requested that we work on Quickstep only competes in Bronze and Silver, so Lord Junior limited what he did to figures from those two proficiency levels for her sake, with a little fun variation at the end to give us some extra practice on one of the concepts that he thought was important. The pattern that we ended up with was a Natural Turn into a Backward Lock, then a Tipple Chasse to the Right, a Fishtail and finally another Natural Turn to close.

The checking action in the Fishtail was the spot that Lord Junior pointed out as the most problematic for all the students he’s ever taught the figure to. He mentioned that one time he changed his Quickstep routine specifically to work on that checking action, and then he had decided to give us that variation to try so we could get some extra practice. The new variation involved doing the checking action in the Fishtail like normal with the right leg and then doing the two steps after that, but instead of going into the Forward Lock you would do another checking action on the left leg. We did three checks in a row – right leg, left leg, and then right leg one last time before finishing the Fishtail like normal and going into the Natural Turn. Doing this variation in time with the music was pretty entertaining.

At the end of class I spent a few minutes talking to the two young girls before they left, because I wanted to ask them if they had any upcoming competitions planned where I might see them (or compete against them potentially). Both of them told me that they were planning on doing the small competition that is going on two weekends from now, one that Sparkledancer and I were also going to enter into. The world got even smaller! It sounds like I might be dancing against both of them during that event as well. I guess we’ll have to see how we all fare when the dust settles at that competition.

I’m going to keep this short tonight. There’s a lot of stuff going on at work for me, so that’s kind of where my head has been this week. Let’s hope that next week won’t be quite so busy. There’s a lot of practice that I need to fit in, and not a lot of time to get it all done. Work seems to get in the way of dance practice, doesn’t it? Silly work!

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Know When To Listen, Know What To Listen For

I did actually manage to drag myself out of the house last Saturday night and go to a dance party. Blankets were calling my name really hard when I got done working out that afternoon, and I was super tempted to just give in to that siren song and curl up in a big pile with them… but I didn’t! It’s a good thing that I went too, because I found out some kind of hilarious information, and it was so much better that I got to hear it all first hand rather than have to try to piece the stories together later.

A couple of people who don’t come around in the dance world very often anymore made appearances at the dance party this weekend, which is what generated all the humor. The first person to show up that I hadn’t seen in a really, really long time was HotDog. He looked… well, like he had seen better days. He didn’t talk about it much, but I the story I got from Points (who was the second person that I hadn’t seen in a long time that also showed up at the party) was that he had made some questionable choices in life recently, so things have not been going super well for him because of that.

The timeline on all this is pretty vague, since HotDog won’t give anyone the full story or will give each person who asks a slightly different story, but the general details are: about three months or so back HotDog either quit his job, or was fired from it (I heard from one person that he was also blacklisted by the employer… who knows what that means). Because of the job loss he also got kicked out of his apartment – or left his apartment by choice, no one knows for sure which – because he didn’t have money to pay the next month’s rent. The part of the story that we know for sure picks up when he called Points out of the blue one day around that time, and she could give us an actual account of what happened next.

While Points was out-of-town on a business trip, she got the call from HotDog. There was obviously something going on, but HotDog wouldn’t tell Points all of the details over the phone. Worried about his well-being, she told him that he could go crash at her house while she was out-of-town, and when she got back she would try to be a shoulder he could lean on as he tried to put his life back together. He stayed at her place for two days by himself, and then Points returned home and he stayed for one more day while she was there before she ended up telling him that he had to find a new place to stay because he was being a pretty terrible house guest.

During that short time, according to Points, he just went through and devoured everything in her house that was edible. Because she travels a lot for work, she normally keeps a lot of frozen food in stock so that she has things to eat that won’t spoil while she is traveling. HotDog ate most of what she had in her freezers – food that would have lasted her for months, just gone in the course of three days. Strangely enough, I guess he also spent the whole time sleeping on the couch rather than in the guest bedroom. Also, Points said that he destroyed the toilet in the guest bathroom in a pretty gross way. It was kind of funny to hear, but I won’t elaborate further to save you the gross details.

After three days of staying there, HotDog just up and left. He had met some random girl who lived in the city on a dating app, and this girl offered to take him in, so he just packed up what little he had and went to go live with a complete stranger. If that doesn’t sound sketchy enough, rather than going out to get a new job, he told all of us at the dance party that he was spending his free time (which, since he’s unemployed, is all the time) working on his ‘dream job’ – making a “million dollars or less” (yes, he really said that) by posting videos of himself online. How’s that going for him? Well… so far, since he created his channel two months ago, he has posted a grand total of three videos.

I guess that making videos to post online is hard, time-consuming work?

I get the impression that this girl who HotDog met on a dating app that he is now living with isn’t a romantic interest for him even though they met on a dating app. That night at the party there were a couple of ladies who showed up together. They were both recent arrivals from out-of-state who had moved in a few months ago. Back where they came from they had spent a lot of time doing some sort of line dancing, but since there isn’t a lot of line dancing-specific events in my neck of the woods, they both decided to give partner dancing a try, which is how they ended up at the party that night.

One of the girls was younger and more attractive than the other, and HotDog definitely took an interest in her early on in the evening. He spent a lot of time near her during the Salsa lesson that was taught before the party, and then once the party started he would often go to where the two ladies were sitting together and grab that same girl for chunks of dances – not just one song, but four or five in a row. He was doing his best to try to show her all the basics for all the different styles of dance that he knew, and only seemed to release her back to her seat when the DJ put on a song for a dance style that he didn’t know.

His actions were bordering on the creepy side, so during one of those chunks of songs when HotDog had the lady out on the floor I went to go talk to her friend briefly. I let her know that HotDog is usually pretty harmless, but if her friend needed a way to escape from him that they could just flag me down and I could step in discreetly and pull HotDog off to the side to chat. The friend laughed about that and thanked me, saying that so far her friend didn’t seem distressed, but the two of them were also having a lot of wine so that might also be keeping her relaxed about the situation.

Funny enough, while I was talking to the friend, Sparkledancer came over to tell her that she noticed that HotDog was spending a lot of time with the one girl, and said that if he was being a creep that she could just flag me down and ask me for help. We both laughed because I had just made that offer before Sparkledancer got there.

We didn’t actually have to worry too much though. HotDog didn’t stay at the party that night for very long, and it was after he left that Points told some of us the story of HotDog staying at her house. It was probably for the best that I heard that story after he had left. I’m not sure if I could have looked at him the same way after I heard about that whole ordeal.

Don’t get me wrong – it was good to see that he was still alive and kicking. He did promise that he wouldn’t disappear for so long again, saying that he would definitely try to come to the same party next month. We’ll have to check back in on him then to see how he’s doing. Who knows? Maybe he will have achieved Internet fame and fortune by that time. I’ll be sure to let you know if that happens!

Moving on… let’s talk about Latin Technique class on Monday night. Lord Junior is still working on preparing for a competition that he is going to with a bunch of his Pro/Am students in February, so in class that night we spent time focusing on figures from multiple dance styles that his students needed to work on. We did the same thing last week, pulling one figure from each of three different dance styles rather than focusing on one style for the whole class. Lord Junior told us as class got underway that night that he had so much fun doing class that way last week that he wanted to do it all over again!

We started off by looking at Samba. Last week we looked at Botafogos, and this week we looked at Samba Locks. This is a different figure in the Gold syllabus for Samba than the Cruzados Walks & Locks – the Samba Locks are distinguished by having straight legs versus the Cruzados Walks & Locks where the knees have flex in them the entire time. This figure we worked through on our own heading down the length of the floor for a while, then paired up with someone in class doing two-Lock sets that would move alternately away from and then toward our partner. I was only sort-of successful with these Samba Locks – I could get my hips to kind of make the right movements on the left side, but the right side was just a disaster that did not look good at all.

Next up we moved on to Cha-Cha, and this week we focused on Cuban Breaks, doing a set of them to the right and then shifting over and doing a set to the left. At the end Lord Junior threw in a Spiral Turn and Forward Lock Step. His reasoning was that we hadn’t worked on Spiral Turns in class in quite a while, so he was going to give us one for extra practice. Maybe it’s because there was a lot less rotational hip movement during this set of figures, but I felt pretty confident and comfortable while going through the Cuban Breaks, and my Spiral Turn into the Forward Lock at the end was spot on. Even when we did this to music and up to tempo I still felt good about everything. Hooray for me!

To close out the class, Lord Junior decided to have us work on a more difficult figure, one that he said that you almost never see anyone doing. It is actually a variation of the ending of the Aida called the Double Spot Turn. The ending variation is still a part of the Silver syllabus for International Rumba, but the variation is much more difficult to do properly, so most of the time you will just see dancers doing the normal ending that involves rocking in place before squaring up with your partner.

Calling the ending a “Double Spot Turn” was misleading – I expected it to be something like a double spin that you can lead in various Swing dances, where you do twice the amount of turn in the same amount of time. This was actually doing twice the amount of turn in twice the amount of time. That didn’t really make the thing any easier, but I just wanted to point that out. Over two measures, you are basically doing two Solo Spot Turns next to your partner. Starting in Aida position, the first measure you step and turn, then step and turn, then step and hold. Over the second measure you turn and step, then turn and step, then turn to face your partner and step to the side together to finish. Being over two measures of music does make the move slower, but turning like this is still really fast when done at tempo.

One last thing, then I’m done for the week. Yesterday night I actually got to go to Standard Technique class. I was supposed to have a lesson with Lord Dormamu, but he had to reschedule. Rather than stay home and take the night off, I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall for class. It turned out to be an entertaining choice for a couple of reasons. I thought the material that we covered in class was fun – we looked at some figures from the Waltz, a bit of a mixture between American Waltz and International Waltz.

On top of that, there was a couple that showed up at the studio just before class started. They were from out of state, visiting friends for the weekend, and had decided to do some dancing while they were here. They had seen advertisements for the other group class that goes on Wednesday nights at the Electric Dance Hall – there is some well-known lady who teaches classes for a few hours each Wednesday on a couple of different varieties of Swing dances. The lady from this out-of-town couple was really getting into the class that they were in, but the guy was more interested in the Waltz that we were doing. I saw him watching us from across the room a lot, sometimes forgetting that he was supposed to be participating in the class that he paid to be in until his partner poked him to get his attention back.

I thought that was funny to see. Men who dance have been doing fascinating things lately, haven’t they?

As for what the choreography that we actually ended up with in class looked like, it was pretty short when all was said and done. We started out facing diagonal wall and did a basic Open Twinkle, coming out heading toward diagonal center in Promenade Position. Next we went into a Quick Open Reverse from Promenade Position, and coming out of that we went into a Tumble Turn. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I had ever done a Tumble Turn in Waltz – I know that I’ve done it in Foxtrot a few times, but I can’t remember ever doing it in Waltz before.

After the Slip Pivot that ends the Tumble Turn, we split apart with our partner. The Leads would take one step backward and then one step to the side and hold while we led the Follow through a Underarm Turn out to our left side. The turn was overturned so that she would end in Side-By-Side position with us, and we held like that for a full measure allowing the Follow to stretch away from us and create a fancy-looking line for dramatic effect. Because we were running out of time in class when we hit this point, Lord Junior switched up what he wanted to have us do and instead we finished by doing two Grapevine movements in Side-By-Side position traveling down the line of dance.

That’s all I have for this week. As I said, my lesson with Lord Dormamu had to be rescheduled for this weekend, so I might have interesting things to say about that next time. I don’t know if I will be going out to do anything else besides practice this weekend. There are a couple of things that are going on, but I have some work I need to take care of at home which I have been procrastinating on. Maybe I should actually put some time into doing that…

Also, I have been reading the things other people have been writing about all the new exercising that they have been doing since we hit 2019, and it’s gotten me thinking about all the different things that I have put into my workouts and diet over the years to support dancing. You know, like different strength training sets I use to build up muscle groups that help me move while I dance, or balance training, or the calorie calculations that I use, etc.. I have been mulling over writing some of that down and sharing it with all of you dancers lurking here… but I’m not sure if anyone else would find that kind of information helpful.

What do you think? Would anyone out there want to see that? 🙂

Now I’m Here Blinking In The Starlight

Something funny happened over the weekend – on Sunday morning, as I was on my way out the door to meet up with Sparkledancer to practice for a while, I got a text message from Lord Dormamu. Getting a text message from him seemed a little weird since he was at a competition judging, so when my phone made the noise to tell me that I got a message from him, I was surprised. The message itself was terse, asking me if I could check a couple for him based on their competitor number and send him some information on who they were. The final line in the message was “We need to make u [sic] move more.”

After some minor Internet stalking, I was able to track down the name of the competition Lord Dormamu was judging at, and then I found the registrants so that I could pull the names of the pair dancing under the number that he sent me. Based on the events I saw their names in from past competitions, it looked like they were dancing in an age category well below me, so I wondered what it was about this couple that made him think of me for some reason. I sent the notes I made back to him, and hung around my house for a few more minutes waiting to see if he would reply. When nothing came, I started to wonder if he was in the middle of judging and had just decided to text me randomly while doing so, which just seemed really funny to me.

I took off to go practice with Sparkledancer. Once I had made it to the studio and was putting my shoes on, I finally got a reply from Lord Dormamu asking if Sparkledancer and I had danced against this couple before, which obviously we hadn’t since those kids were still dancing in the kids’ categories in the previous competitions that I had seen online. Sparkledancer decided to get into the Internet stalking game at this point, and she managed to pull up what they were entered in at the competition that Lord Dormamu was judging that weekend. It looked like the two of them were dancing in the 18+ group at this competition for the first time, which would explain why they might have flagged on Lord Dormamu’s radar.

We have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Wednesday night, so I imagine that I will find out more about this mysterious couple that he saw at the competition and what that told him about my movement specifically. Up until that text message, the running joke with Lord Dormamu was that he thought I moved too much and I needed to pull things back to fit my steps into any ballroom smaller than the Endless Dance Hall (which is all other ballrooms that I have ever been to in my life). So the idea of trying to move more just makes my brain pop a little bit. What if I start running off the floor at the Endless Dance Hall too? Where would I even be able to go and dance if that starts to happen?

Aside from that strange little incident, the second item on the “Notable Dance Things From Last Week” list was Latin Technique class on Monday night. It was notable because Seedling came back! I had questioned whether I would ever see him again, since he had told Sparkledancer that he was reluctant to leave his current franchise studio situation, and his original complaint about that situation was that it was more expensive than he was comfortable with. I guess he has more money sitting around than he let on, because he is apparently willing to continue to spend money at the franchise and then also take classes elsewhere.

Also showing up to class that night for the first time in quite a while was Tanya Tiger! I have to point her out specifically because the story behind her being there is pretty funny – Tanya used to come to Latin Technique class all the time back in the day, up until she became unhappy with her current career path and went back to school to move into a different field. She actually finished school quite a while ago, but never returned to take class again with us when that happened.

At her last private lesson with Lord Junior, she was apparently telling him all about how she was sad that Latin Technique class was so early in the evening, because on Monday nights her significant other is out working late, so she just sits at home all alone. Since class was so early, she couldn’t get there in time after she got out of work. Lord Junior looked at her confused, and told her that Latin Technique class didn’t start at the time she mentioned… apparently she had forgotten what time class was, even though that time has never changed in all these years! Also, she used to come to the class all the time! Also, the monthly class schedule is always posted on the calendar at the studio! Ha!

So Tanya promised that she would start coming to class again to have fun with us. Welcome back! This is good for her, since she still competes with Lord Junior, and there is an event coming up that she is working toward. Actually, Lord Junior and quite a few of his Pro/Am students are deep into preparations for an upcoming competition that they are all traveling to at the end of February. Class this week was built as a medley of steps from different styles that his competitive students who were there that night needed to work on.

We started off by looking at Botafogos in Samba. Lord Junior had us do Botafogos going both forward and backward that night individually (without partners). The Backward Botafogos were new. I’ve seen them before at social dances where the technique didn’t matter, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to do them and actually care about what I look like. The forward ones went better for me, but I think that’s only because I’ve done them in Latin Technique class many times before. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Samba is not my favorite dance style. I just feel awkward trying to move my body in the ways that people who dance Samba competitively are supposed to. I believe that it’s part of the ongoing curse of my white boy hips.

Lucky for me Botafogos were all we looked at in Samba, and then we moved on to look at some Rumba. Here we specifically focused on the Closed Hip Twist releasing to Fan Position. This time we were able to work with partners, since the Closed HIp Twist works much better for the Followers if you can rely on your partner to assist with the movements. Lord Junior did have Seedling and I step through the Follower’s figures before we paired off, saying that knowing what the Followers were doing would help us lead the figures better.

Finally that evening we looked at the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward figure from Cha-Cha. We started these off facing our partner, went into an Opening Out and then did the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Right-Side Position. At the end of the three we did an Opening Out on the other side and came back with the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Left-Side Position. At the end we did one final Opening Out, then squared up with our partner for a basic chasse to the left. Nothing too crazy, but Lord Junior focused on pointing out things that everyone could improve on to make the steps sharper, faster and cleaner to keep up with the music when we got to full speed.

So… how do you think that Seedling felt about class this week? Lord Junior is really nice to people the first time they come to one of his technique classes, so during last week’s class he really didn’t call out Seedling for things he needed to work on. This week was a completely different story, and there were several times that Lord Junior stopped him to make corrections on what he was doing (like he does with the rest of us who have been coming to class for a while).

Do you think being corrected might have changed Seedlings views on Latin Technique class? Well, lucky for you, you don’t have to wonder! Seedling was quite willing after class was over to share his thoughts with Sparkledancer, and she thought some of them were funny enough to forward to me. And now, to continue to pay it forward, I’m going to put them here for you to see!

“My only complaint. I wish he would’ve stuck with one style of dance for the whole class. That samba preferably. It’s harder than what we do at my studio

Feel like 3 is way too much to make the technique stick”

“The Cha Cha and rumba didn’t give me much trouble except for the rumba timing and him enforcing it more than I’m used to”

“I mean it’s no [sic] enough

It’s a lot higher level and I will have to practice it to make it muscle memory

Right now I feel like I just walked into class for the first time”

That last line really brings back memories. That was pretty much exactly how I felt after the first time I went to one of Lord Junior’s advanced classes after only taking the ‘advanced’ classes at the franchise studio I started off at. I remember feeling like I had gone to all those classes, but the instructors must have been leaving out large portions of the material for some unknown reason.

Maybe, based on these musings from Seedling, he might be starting to see that dancing competitively outside of his franchise location is going to be a challenge for him. Maybe. Sparkledancer told me that she tried to explain to him that non-franchise judges like the ones at all the big-name competitions that he is dreaming of going to with his franchise instructor are not going to be forgiving to him if he focuses solely on figures as he competes through the syllabus and ignores the technique until he ‘finishes’ that. He didn’t seem phased by that at all at the time, and continued to think that his plan was flawless. But now, that last line… maybe he’s finally starting to see the light.

I guess we’ll have to see. I get the impression that Seedling will be back for more, so this probably isn’t the last time I will mention him. 🙂

Yesterday night I got to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. We started out having a nice long chat about what he witnessed while judging that competition over the weekend that he was texting me during (he really was texting me during the event, he totally confessed to that), and how it related to my dancing. He also told me all about the drama going on behind the scenes with the event and the organizers, which was fascinating to hear about. The world of ballroom competition organization is kind of cut-throat business from the sounds of it!

More importantly though, we talked about the couple that he had asked me about, and what they were doing that made him think of me at the time. He told me that he was watching them dance in a smaller heat, so he was able to spend a bit more time paying attention to what they were doing. What dawned on him while watching that couple was exactly what it was about my dancing that was so different and still needed to be improved: the dynamic aspect of my movement. The way that this couple was moving – the quality of their movement, if you will – was much more dynamic and impressive than everyone else on the floor dancing against them. That is what Lord Dormamu wants to work with Sparkledancer and I over the next several weeks to improve.

We also talked about the results of that competition, which was another fascinating insight that I need to remember for when I take the floor. Despite how good the quality of the movement of this particular couple looked to Lord Dormamu, they did not end up winning those heats. Another couple actually took home the first place stickers for those rounds. I was curious what it was about that other couple who actually won that was so much better, because I thought that I should know to also work on that aspect, since I think the goal Lord Dormamu has for Sparkledancer and I is ultimately to take the top spot.

He started to tell me all about the other judges that were watching the events with him. Most everyone else on the panel that day were formerly high-level Latin champions, so he told me that the way they look at people who dance American Smooth or International Standard is very different from how he and other high-level Standard champions would judge a couple in those events. Those judges, according to him, were likely focused on picking at various small technical points – footwork, connection, etc., because they didn’t know as much about how the movement should look in International Standard. One couple taking more heel steps in the wrong places than another is an easier thing for any judge to count up and mark down rather than evaluating the way that the couple was moving together across the floor in the particular style of dance being done.

The remaining judges on the panel were all apparently ‘old and blind’ according to Lord Dormamu. One judge that he name dropped to me is supposedly in his 80s and can barely see his score sheet if he holds it up in front of his nose as he marks each couple. To a judge like that, the quality of the movement or the technical points of the dance style don’t matter as much as which competitors are the ones moving the biggest – because the bigger the couple moves, the easier they would be for that judge to see.

So… with all of this in mind, I asked what it was that we needed to focus on going forward. Well, Lord Dormamu’s answer to me was that we needed to make sure that we were better at everything. You know, nothing too challenging, right?

To begin with, Lord Dormamu was going to start working with us on making sure that our movements were as dynamic as possible so that we could easily beat couples like the one that stood out to him if we come across them in competition. That is going to be the focus of our next lesson(s) until he is satisfied with that aspect of our dancing. The technical points he told Sparkledancer and I are actually something that should be a part of all of our practice sessions to ensure that all of the points outlined in ‘the book’ are perfect for each figure. He wasn’t going to spend his time with us focusing on that because those are all written down, but he would point out any spots that he saw when we were together if either Sparkledancer or I did something wrong.

As far as moving big to be noticeable to one of the ‘old and blind’-type judges that he mentioned, that was something that Lord Dormamu admitted that I actually had an advantage over. I already move really big, covering a lot of space with each figure that I cover. I am also a pretty large guy compared to most other male dancers we come across, so my musculature is actually an advantage here because it makes me more visible. But other than the quantity of my movement and my size, there isn’t really much else we could do here to help in this situation… so for now I’m going to just hope that that’s enough!

We spent the entire time we were dancing last night working with the Waltz as our tool to discuss quality of movement. Starting out, Lord Dormamu had us go through the dance once with the music before he started talking about any specific points. When he stopped us and had us come back over, he told the two of us that everything was looking a lot better than he was expecting. I guess the work that I have been doing trying to increase the flexibility in my back is paying off, because he mentioned that as one point that made it all look much, much better than last time we were together.

The biggest change that he asked us to work on starting that night was actually for Sparkledancer. He wanted her to start really focusing on getting herself out of my way when I am moving forward. The goal is that as soon as she feels my body begin to shift, she needs to move herself backward (obviously without breaking body contact). This will prevent me from actually pushing against her body when I am ‘driving through’ as so many people have called it over the last few years.

Having her do this kind of threw me off the first time Lord Dormamu had her try with me after he was done going through the change with her. Sparkledancer doesn’t weigh a whole lot, so it has never been much of an issue for me to move myself forward while she is in front of me. I chalk that up to having strong legs. But suddenly there I was pushing myself forward using the same amount of force that I normally use, and there was no weight at all in front of me holding me back! So that amount of force almost became too much. This is definitely a change that is going to require practice this week to feel more comfortable with, in all of the dance styles.

Also, as a side effect to not having any weight pushing against me as I move forward, I cover more distance. Just what I needed… I really am going to start running myself off the floor no matter where I am dancing. It’s a real problem for me!

Quality-wise, there is a lot of focus on the two of us moving this way, all while ensuring that we are completely grounded to the floor and really into the legs. In the Waltz, that means a renewed focus on the falling action to really show the swing through the dance. This is actually easier for me to do when I am bending my back in this banana-like shape – the curve forces me to ‘sit’ when I am lowering, almost like going into a one-legged Chair Pose in Yoga (it’s one-legged since the other leg is preparing for the next step). This subtle change actually helps me control the lowering a lot better, interestingly enough.

Aside from moving through each figure slowly to ensure that our swing and sway actions looked impressive (which is a bit boring to talk about, so I’ll save you from that tedium), the only other notable fix that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on was coming out of the Hesitation Change in the first corner and going into the Double Reverse Spin and a Reverse Turn. His problem was that the first step into the Reverse Turn looked weak, so we had to back up through the preceding steps until we found the source of the issue.

It turns out that as I was exiting the Hesitation Change, I was unintentionally squaring up my body, rather than leaving the left-side lead that I create while hesitating. Coming out of the Hesitation Change and leaving my body in the same position through the Double Reverse Spin and the Reverse Turn fixes the weakness with the first step  of the Reverse Turn that Lord Dormamu was seeing. So this was totally my fault. Now it should be fixed, and as long as I remember to always do it the right way, hopefully that takes care of that.

So yeah… that’s about it for this week. Practice is probably what I will spend much of my weekend working on, to try to get more comfortable with the changes that Lord Dormamu wants from me. Other than that, I think that a few people mentioned to me that there is a dance party on Saturday night… so I should probably make an appearance at that as well, but practicing the dynamics of my movement has got to be a priority. After all, we are only about a month off from my next competition. If I want to be ready to showcase improvement in these areas at that event, I’ve got to do the work!

But Oh, How I Changed And Oh, How I’ve Grown

**I feel like I’ve had this song in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it. It may be my current favorite song.**

Here we are! It’s 2019 already! Would you look at that. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school, dreading the thought of deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had the chance, I would totally go back in time and tell my young self that nothing I was worrying about at that time would matter, because somehow 20-ish years later I will be spending most of my free time training to be a competitive dancer. The look on my young face would be priceless I bet.

How did you end up ringing in the new year? I did it the same way that I’ve done it the last few years of my life – out on the dance floor! I spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Dance Hall having fun with a bunch of people, dancing the previous year away. It’s one way to make sure that I get to start the year off on the right foot!

(Actually, the left foot, since, you know, that’s how I usually have to start…)

I like the way that Lord Junior runs his New Year’s Eve parties. It’s basically the kind of party that he would hold at his house for all his friends – if his house were a big dance hall. He had cut off a section of the dance floor in the back by moving up a line of chairs. In the segregated area he set up a bunch of tables for various games that people could play if they needed to give their legs a rest throughout the evening. Which was good, because he was planning on letting people dance all night long! Of all the dance parties I saw on the calendar for New Year’s Eve in my area, Lord Junior’s was the one that was open the longest – he started the night off at 8:00PM with a basic dance lesson for all the newbies, and the party was slated to go until ‘?’. I left the studio pretty late, shortly after 1:00AM I think, and there were still a fair number of people hanging out and having fun at that time.

There were a bunch of faces that I didn’t recognize at the party that night. Many of them were brand new to dancing and out looking for a different way to party on New Year’s Eve. As I said, at the beginning of the evening Lord Junior offered a dance lesson for everyone, and spent the hour covering really basic American Rumba and American Foxtrot. He promised all the newcomers that the DJ would play a fair number of these throughout the evening so that they could all get out on the floor and mess around with the steps he was showing them.

Somehow the class ended up with more men than women, so I opted to sit out so that others could take my place. Lord Junior convinced his wife (who was hanging around in the back of the studio) to come join the class, which made the number of men and women even. I wasn’t too sad about sitting out, believe it or not. See, I had stuck to my normal workout schedule just before I came to the party that day. I’ve switched back to doing heavy weight training after taking a couple of months off to let my body recover, and it was leg day that day, so I was definitely feeling my legs protest by that time. Having an hour during the class where I could just sit down and give my legs a chance to rest before dancing was actually really nice for me.

Once the class was over, everyone was released to have fun for the rest of the night. I think I spent much of the time that night alternating between dancing with people I knew and helping out newcomers with dances they didn’t know. Later on in the evening, Lord Junior roped me into going over to play one of the games with him that needed more people. He was super excited about playing the game (I think he had a bit of the champagne by that time), so of course I couldn’t let him down! That was a lot of fun.

At some point in the evening after the class finished up, I was looking out over the dance floor, and I was surprised to see that a familiar face that I hadn’t seen in a really long time had shown up. It was Young Dave! Yeah, that guy! That takes me all the way back to my days dancing at a franchise studio! I’m not entirely sure what brought him out to the party that night. Quite a while ago he disappeared from the dance world as the franchise studio gobbled him up with plans to turn him into a dance instructor. I heard later that those plans didn’t work out so well for him, and then he injured himself and basically gave up dance entirely. But I guess he’s back! Maybe this is a good sign – I assigned him one of the funniest Lego figures back in the day, and I was sad when he stopped showing up so I didn’t get to use that figure in pictures anymore.

While I’m on the subject of young dudes who came to the New Year’s Eve party, I think that Sparkledancer might have made a new friend that night. She had come to the party, but I didn’t see her for much of the night as she was bouncing around, dancing with her husband and talking to various people who wanted her attention. There was this one guy that I had never met before that kept going over to talk to her. I was introduced to him at one point by Sparkledancer – I think she did it so that he would talk to me for a while so she could run off and get a break. I don’t think he came to the party with anyone… or even knew anyone at the party before he showed up. That might explain why he latched on to Sparkledancer to talk to all night. She’s kind to strays like that. After all, she has kept talking to me for all these years. 🙂

Funny enough, I got a couple of texts from Sparkledancer the next day about this same guy. At some point during the night, she had exchanged phone numbers with him. From what I could gather from her story, he was a franchise studio student who was looking to branch out into the wider ballroom community. Partly that seems to be due to the high costs of the franchise studio which he didn’t want to pay any more, but also because it sounds like his old instructor left his studio, and this guy thinks that he knows more than the new girl who the franchise paired him with. So Sparkledancer offered to help be his guide to the wider ballroom community, and got his contact information for that reason.

She texted me on New Year’s Day to tell me that he was sending her a lot of messages to talk about dance and where he was hoping to go in the dance world. He has been dancing for two years now, and has had three different instructors at the franchise studio. He says that he wants to get into competitive dancing, but the franchise studio he is at doesn’t offer many competitions throughout the year and he isn’t sure if his franchise instructor would go to outside competitions with him. But he also told Sparkledancer that he doesn’t really want to work to be a competitor in the normal way. He wants to start going through and learn the figures so he can compete in Bronze, Silver and Gold, but he doesn’t want to worry about learning the technique until he finishes getting through all that. Huh.

But competing, much like taking lessons at his franchise studio, is also an expensive option, so he was asking her all about the cost benefits of having an Amateur partner for competing instead of trying to do Pro/Am, like she and I are doing. The creepy thing that Sparkledancer was telling me that I guess the guy was mentioning over and over is that he seems determined to find a dance partner and then also make that girl his life partner, so he wouldn’t stop asking Sparkledancer where he could go to meet all the young ballroom girls. I think she told me that he said he was 26 or 28, so he is looking for a girl who is between 20 and 24 who is also single.

To that end, it appears that he had developed a weird interest in Lord Junior’s current intern at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior has this girl who I think is in her mid-twenties that he has been training so that she could become a dance instructor someday. She helps out at the studio with running the front desk and cleaning in return for free lessons from Lord Junior toward that end. The new guy met her at the New Year’s Eve party, and I guess she made a big impression on him. Probably because she was dressed to party in tight leggings and a crop top. Intern girl is funny sometimes – she’ll dress like that, which seems to imply that she wants attention, but if you spend any time talking to her you would find out that she is super shy and tends to avoid attention. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, new guy asked Sparkledancer several times about Intern girl, trying to pass off his inquiries as questions about what level she is and whether the two of them were the same so that they could start training together. That would be one thing, but Sparkledancer was texting me and saying that he was throwing out leading phrases to try to get Sparkledancer to give him personal information about Intern girl. That… sounded kind of creepy to me. Funny, but creepy.

(Also, as an update, I saw Intern girl tonight when I was at the studio practicing. She said that the guy had found her on some social media site, and had sent her a couple of messages. I guess it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that he was using to find out information – he also went right to the source! Intern girl, as you might guess, thought it was strange that a dude that she met only once was asking her all kinds of things, so she just deleted the messages he sent.)

So that was the fun dance related stuff that brought my previous year to a close and ushered in the new one. Good times all around!

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Now that the year is all over, I sit here staring at this page, trying to look back over the last year I had in dancing to think about where it’s taken me. Let’s see…

2018 saw me really embrace the competitive side of dancing and all but walk away from social dancing in that pursuit. Throughout 2017, when I first decided to start seriously competing, I tried to maintain the same level of social dancing that I had been doing up until that point. It got to be a lot, and the social dancing wasn’t really helping me remove all of those bad habits that the social dancing had caused me to develop in the first place. Throughout the past year the amount of time that I went out was cut back more and more, and by the end of the year I got down to only going out to dance parties maybe once or twice a month. That’s probably pretty apparent if I were to flip back through my notes and compare the types of things that I have been talking about lately with what I was talking about at this time the year before.

That doesn’t mean that I have been dancing any less though. If anything, the sheer amount of time that I spend at a dance studio per week has increased dramatically because I am out trying to get in more practice time. That is one of the downsides of dancing Amateur that most people who dance Pro/Am don’t even consider – I have to practice a lot to ensure that I can do everything correctly without even thinking about it, because I don’t have a Professional who could cover for any mistakes I might make.

Note: I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing. My coach admitted to me earlier this year that there are times that he hates competing in Pro/Am competitions. He is a retired World Champion (the real kind, where he won titles in major International competitions, not just the kind from the competition circuit in this country where they call their winners ‘World Champion’ for some weird reason even if all the competitors dancing are from the same state). His Pro/Am students are paying him for his expertise as a retired World Champion. If his students get tired during a competition, or do their techniques incorrectly, he has compensated for them so that those ladies will still win their competition. He told me that doing that sort of thing – leading and adjusting his student’s actions with his frame so that they always look good and always win their rounds – is really hard on his body. So yes, a Professional admitted to me that he will go out of his way to cover for mistakes his students might make.

I’m not saying that Pros have to do that for all students, just that (as an Amateur) I don’t even have that possibility. If my partner or I screw up, we both are getting judged for what we do, so there isn’t someone in our partnership who could cover it up… anyway, this is getting way off from the point that I was trying to make. Let’s circle back around again…

Also, in order to keep up with the high pace of improvement and change that my coach desires of my partner and I, practicing so much to make sure that any changes we make in our coaching sessions becomes muscle memory is not really optional for me. I must have things down before the next time I see him, so that I don’t let him down and so that we can continue moving forward. So I practice a lot now – much more than I did throughout 2017. I have actually been thinking about moving so that I am closer to one of the dance studios that I practice at in 2019 because I spend so much time practicing. Getting rid of the drive time would be great! Then I could spend all that extra time doing more practice, right? Right!? Sigh…

But the results of all the work over the last year have been better than I expected. I went to a lot more competitions than I thought I would when the year started (I think I did seven or eight of them – but don’t quote me on that). I placed a lot higher than I was expecting to in most of them. There were even a couple of competitions that I did where my coach was one of the judges, so aside from getting back placements I was also able to get back direct feedback on what I needed to improve while competing from him, which is super helpful. We’ll see if all the hard work in 2018 pays dividends for the competitions that I do in 2019.

I also worked with my coach to play the dance politics game from a very different side throughout last year. For example, one competition that I was told to go to earlier in the year I didn’t actually dance against anyone, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the event. The organizers of the competition are important judges in the circuit, so I was told to make a showing there to help create some name recognition for myself with them. On top of that, there were several coaching sessions that I took with visitors who also judge competitions, for the same name-recognition reason. This side of dance politics is kind of an expensive game to play, and I don’t really like it all that much. But my coach thinks that it is important, and he hasn’t steered me wrong about anything yet, so I will keep following his recommendations. I’m sure there will be more political games for me in the year to come.

Based on how last year went, I have been wondering if I like being a true competitive dancer more than what I was doing before that, where I was mostly a social dancer who would get talked into competing occasionally. I’m not entirely sure. There are aspects of being a competitor that I like, but there are also a lot of pieces that are frustrating. Maybe I will spend some time in the future writing specifically about the trade-offs and detriments I see now that I am spending all my time focusing on competing instead of focusing on having fun as a dancer. That might be interesting. I’ll make a note about that so that I don’t forget.

Anyway… enough about that. 2018 was good in reflection, and I am looking forward to seeing where the adventures take me in 2019. There’s the potential for lots of crazy things if I end up doing all the things that my coach has been trying to talk me into doing. Bigger competitions, overseas competitions, training camps, meeting more people. He even talked about taking Sparkledancer and I to go to some dance event in his home country, and while we were there he would take all his students to his parent’s house so that we could experience his mother’s traditional cooking. I don’t know if I will end up doing all that next year, because theoretically I will only be competing in Silver at that point and it seems like a bit much, but there is potential so I’m not going to flat-out say no. We’ll have to see what happens!

Are you ready? I am! One more deep breath, and then let’s take off into 2019!

I’m super excited because tomorrow is my first ‘off’ day since changing out my workout schedule at the beginning of the week. The schedule I chose to take up is a five-on, one-off mix, which means I’m still technically working out six days a week, except for that one magical week down the road where the stars all align and then I will have an off day on the first day of the week, then five days of workouts, then a second off day on the very last day of the week! Calendar craziness!

My plan for tomorrow is that I’m going to use the time I normally reserve for my workouts to just stretch for a while. Since I made such a dramatic shift in the types of exercise blocks I am doing, my body is telling me that it’s a little unhappy – but in that good way, where your muscles are just complaining because you had been doing the same thing for several weeks and they had adapted to doing that, and now you are forcing them to work hard and adapt to something completely new. It’s the kind of pain that I love, because it tells me that I am working hard. Even so, a nice, quiet hour of stretching everything just sounds magical to me, so I am looking forward to it.

I imagine that there might be some people out there that are feeling the same way as I am – or maybe worse than I am – if they decided that regular exercise was their chosen resolution for the year. Obviously this feeling of soreness is something that I am used to, since I do this to myself fairly regularly to help avoid getting stuck at plateaus in my fitness. Exercise isn’t a resolution for me obviously, it’s just part of my normal lifestyle.

For people who didn’t really exercise very often and may now be trying to exercise frequently, I would guess that they are much worse for the wear than I am. You don’t necessarily want to follow my plan of action – I prefer to use stretching to alleviate any soreness I cause myself. I tend to stay away from drugs, even common pain relievers, unless I have no other recourse but to take them. So your mileage may vary.

To anyone out there trying their best to improve their fitness in 2019, I want to say that I am proud of you for making that choice. I hope that you not only reach, but then surpass any goals that you have set for yourself. And I believe that you can do that as long as you stick with it. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that the first week is always the hardest. Don’t run away from the pain and soreness that you have right now – embrace that feeling, because it means that your body is changing! And wasn’t that what you were going for in the first place?

Let’s do awesome things this year. Whatever it takes!