Speaking My Lesson From The Brain

This past Friday night I ended up at a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. Based on the messages I saw floating around online, there was a bigger dance party with some sort of special surprise that was going on at the Fancy Dance Hall that night as well, but I didn’t want to make the drive all the way out there when there was a less crazy party going on at a dance hall much closer to my house. Besides, as I see it, as a male dancer I can pretty much go to whatever sort of dance event I want and always be useful, so I knew that whatever I chose would be end up being fun for me.

I arrived at the Electric Dance Hall a few minutes after the party had started. Lord Junior stopped what he was doing to come over and greet me, and he made a specific point of telling me about one lady who was at the party that he wanted me to go dance with at some point that evening. She was relatively new to dancing, having first started taking lessons at the Electric Dance Hall in November, but now she was starting to feel confident enough in her abilities to show up at these social parties. I made a point of dancing with her a couple of times, sticking to slower dance styles like Waltz or Rumba to try to figure out what she was comfortable with.

Somehow that night I also ended up dancing a Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks. As a general rule I really try my best to avoid dancing with instructors or professionals, since there are always other amateur ladies I could be dancing with, but that night as the song started Lady Lovelylocks walked right up to me, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the dance floor. The song that was playing could have been either a Cha-Cha or a Hustle, and since I knew that Lady Lovelylocks spent a lot of time competing professionally in International Latin and I didn’t, I made a point of asking her if she knew Hustle as we got started. With the music being so loud, I’m not exactly sure what she said to me, but she was smiling about it, so I took that as consent to do what I wanted.

The dance did not go as well as I would have liked. Part of the problem I have with dancing with instructors or professionals at social dance parties is that I always feel like it is some kind of test. Logically I know that this is incorrect, and these people just want to have fun sometimes just like me, but in the back of my brain I still worry about screwing up steps while dancing with them, so I’m really on edge for the entire song. The other problem was that Lady Lovelylocks felt kind of out-of-control when I was dancing with her, which was a bit unsettling, and that made me worry about what I was doing even more.

I’m sure that you’ve thrown a punch before, so I’m going to use that as a comparison – have you ever pulled a punch? Where you try to hit something really hard but then stop your arm short at the last second? There’s tension that you get when you pull your arm back that comes from your triceps, right around the lower half of your arm going toward your elbow. I associate that feeling with cancelling the movement in my arms quickly, to prevent my fist from accidentally hitting anything (or anyone if I’m in a kickboxing class). Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You can try throwing a punch and stopping your arm before it completely straightens if you want to give it a try.

Well, as I was dancing this Hustle with Lady Lovelylocks, she was putting a lot more power into her turns than I have ever felt anyone use during a Hustle before. I know this because when I did figures that would require me to stop her to change her direction, like a Triple Spin or transitioning from Open Dance Position to Closed Dance Position, I would put up my right arm and she would slam into it. She doesn’t weigh a whole lot, but she was running into my arm hard enough that I was getting the same feeling in my triceps when stopping her body that I would get when pulling a punch. That’s crazy!

I know that’s a bit strange to mention, but that was a really memorable note for me from this dance party. Other than that, it was a fairly normal night where I got to talk with people who I knew and dance the night away. I tried my best to keep dancing that night for as long as the Dance Robots kept dancing, but near the end of the party most of the unattached ladies had either gone home or were changing their shoes, so there wasn’t much I could do for the last couple of songs, while the two of them kept going right until the end. Maybe next time…

With Sparkledancer being out-of-town the last few days of last week, we had to reschedule our weekend lessons to a time when all of us would be around. That meant that I ended up meeting with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven out at the Fancy Dance Hall on Sunday morning instead of our usual Saturday time slot. I got to the studio a bit early as usual to warm up a little, and found that there were a couple of people hanging out who were setting up furniture for some function that was starting at noon. They didn’t leave us much room to work that day, since they had set chairs up in a big arc around a small center point against one long wall. There was a very thin strip of floor behind the chairs that could be used for dancing, but it wasn’t quite wide enough to do much more than travel in a straight line.

Sparkledancer showed up a short while after I did, and Sir Steven a bit after that. He took one look at the room and told the people setting up for the party that we were going to move the chairs back to widen that strip of floor behind the chairs enough for us to work, so the three of us pushed everything up so that we had a lane about ten feet wide. That gave us slightly less play between the chairs and the wall to work with than I would have liked, but we made do for our time there.

Sir Steven had us work on our Waltz routine. We danced through it a couple of times, since the first time I danced was mostly used to get used to dancing through the lane without hitting any chairs on one side, or the wall on the other. We only got through the long wall, as you can imagine, because we couldn’t go down the short wall without moving more of the furniture around. Since no one else was dancing at the same time that day, when we got down the long wall to the far end, we just turned around and danced back the other way. That kind of messed with my head the first time we tried to do it, but I managed to get through once I got started.

Given the limitations on space, Sir Steven decided to have us spend time working on the two chasses along the long wall, since they traveled in a straight line, which helped us avoid running into any furniture. Let me tell you, even though a Progressive Chasse to the Right is only four steps, they seem like the worst four steps in the world when you go through them at painfully slow speeds. We made micro adjustments to the length of our strides, the angles of the steps, then moved on to the Outside Change and did the same thing super slow, and ended with the Chasse from Promenade Position getting the same treatment. At the end we strung all three figures together and ran them at a slightly more reasonable rate of speed, which felt like such a relief after going through everything so slowly beforehand.

On Monday night, in place of going to Latin Technique class, I ended up back at the Fancy Dance Hall to work with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu. It had been two weeks since we had all gotten together, and with Sparkledancer being out-of-town on Saturday and Lord Dormamu leaving on Tuesday for an overseas trip to some exotic country to do dance things, we had no other choice but to get something in on Monday night or miss out for a while.

In a massively surprising turn of events that night, Lord Dormamu actually wanted to get started on our lesson early! Normally he continues working with his students until he finishes up whatever concept he is trying to teach them, which quite often has him running his lessons over their scheduled time slots. If he schedules multiple lessons in a row with no break in between, one lesson ending late puts the next lesson behind when starting, and if that lesson also ends late the next lesson is even more behind when starting, and if that one ends late… it’s a terrible cycle! To come in and be told that we could start early for once was a real surprise, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be asked if we would be willing to change our lesson like that again.

We went back to Foxtrot again, just as I expected. Because it had been two weeks since our last meeting, we spent a little time reviewing all of the things we had been practicing in Foxtrot over the last two weeks first so that Lord Dormamu could evaluate how our practice sessions were going. Overall he was pleased, which made me feel good. There were a few spots that we went back to in order to fix a few things, and one new change that he wanted us to start adding in when we danced through the routine. Let’s start with the things that we’d touched on in the past that he wanted me to continue working on:

  • As always, he reminded me to stay down the entire time while I am dancing. I guess he still sees me coming up higher when taking certain steps, even though I feel like I am staying super low the entire time.
  • We went back to dance through the Three Step really slowly again. Just like when we had done the chasse figures in Waltz slowly with Sir Steven the day before, going through the Three Step super slow is pretty terrible. This time, he wanted us to do it so that Sparkledancer could work on taking bigger steps. As Lord Dormamu told her that night, he wanted to “unleash” me during the figure but he couldn’t do that if she didn’t take bigger steps.
  • Apparently he can tell when I am not rotating myself enough during the first Reverse Turn in the routine. If I do not have enough CBM during the first half of the figure, apparently my steps backward tend to go off on a bit of an angle. This may or may not have happened that night because there was another instructor and her student standing in the middle of the floor while we were going through that figure, but Lord Dormamu told me that I should just dance through them if they are going to be silly and stand in my way.
  • Finally, Lord Dormamu also didn’t think that I was pivoting myself enough during my first step of the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. If you remember, he told me how he has always done a Closed Impetus with the first step I take being a curved step backward to the left that I then pivot on, instead of  taking a step straight backward that begins to turn to the right which is how the book tells you to do the figure. He wanted me to pivot even more on that first step of mine to make sure that we are getting around even more.

As for new things, we looked at the second Reverse Turn in the routine that night, which is in the corner at the end of the long wall between a Natural Weave on the long wall and Basic Weave on the short wall. Up until that point, we had been doing the Reverse turn while heading toward diagonal wall the entire time. This Reverse Turn ends with a checking action instead of a Feather Finish, which allows us to change our alignment easily between heading toward diagonal wall on the long wall to heading toward diagonal center along the short wall.

Instead of turning the entire 180° during the second step of the Reverse Turn, he wanted to make this Reverse Turn more like the first Reverse Turn we have in the routine where there are two distinct parts. The first half would mirror our first Reverse Turn, where you only do about ⅜ of a turn on the second step so that the third step would now be heading toward the wall. The fourth step, which is just that checking action, is where we will now be completing the other ⅛ of the turn to give us the full 180° we had before.

However, Lord Dormamu wanted us to take this fourth step in a very specific manner. There will be distinct rise on this step so that it actually looks almost like I am popping up while taking it (the sort of action he told me earlier in the evening that I should always be staying down to avoid). Also, he now wants me to rotate my head here as I do the sway for this checking action – I will be looking over Sparkledancer’s head when doing this check. I know, I know, this set off all sorts of bells and whistles in my head too, since he just recently told me that I was allowed to start keeping my head to the left again, and before that I was supposed to keep my nose in line with my sternum. Moving my head is going to throw all kinds of things off, I just know it.

Practice makes perfect though, right? I’ll probably have to go over this quite a bit to make sure that I can remember to move my head and then put it back at the right times. Sigh… one more thing to add to my list of items to practice.

Since I didn’t make it to Latin Technique class this week, I made sure to make it to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. It was a good thing that I did too, because we ended up with seven ladies in class and only Lord Junior and I to dance the Lead part. I don’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t been there, but it probably wouldn’t have been pretty!

We ended up going through some things in Waltz that night. The first figure we did was the only one that I hadn’t seen before, and was by far the most interesting of the figures used that night. Lord Junior called the figure a ‘Checked Natural Turn’ which is also a pretty good description of what you do during the steps. We started with a prep step and then took the first two steps of a Natural Turn. However, as we placed the left foot down, we didn’t completely transfer our weight to the left leg like we would in a normal Natural Turn. Instead, we used partial weight to create a checking action, and then pushed back onto our right foot to do a small Slip Pivot that would rotate us to face down the line of dance.

This variation on a Natural Turn seems like it can be pretty useful, allowing you to quickly change direction if need be. The pivot on the third step could obviously be rotated even further if we had wanted to, but we only used an eighth of a turn because of what Lord Junior wanted us to do next. The key to remember, as I found out the hard way, is not to drive yourself backward on that third step. It is a small step, just under your body, which allows the ladies to position themselves in front of you when they do their pivot. If you push that third step backward, you risk leaving the lady standing far away from you as she pivots herself around the point where your body used to be.

The rest of the progression was fairly simple. Having pivoted to line ourselves up facing the line of dance, we added on a Double Reverse Spin that did a complete turn, and then seemingly to make Sir Steven happy we did a Progressive Chasse to the Right, which brought back memories of working on the same figure on Sunday. Finally, to wrap things up Lord Junior wanted to do another syncopated figure that traveled in a straight line but had different timing and different rise and fall when compared to the Progressive Chasse to the Right. This was a Quick Backward Run, where the syncopation was during the first two steps before the rise, instead of during the second two steps in the middle of the rise like the Progressive Chasse to the Right uses.

At this moment, I’m hoping that this coming weekend is pretty quiet. I feel like I should head out and spend some extra time practicing serious things. I’m not even sure why. Yet there’s always a chance that I will allow myself to be talked into going out and doing other, more fun things instead of practicing. Sigh… more than anything I hope that I get a chance to sleep in for a few extra hours this weekend. I feel like I need some extra rest for some reason. We’ll have to see whether I accomplish any of my desired tasks next week!

To The Window, To The Wall

 When I finished up my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday morning, I felt… surprisingly good about my dancing.

  Things just seemed to start off on the correct foot that day. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall early, as usual, to warm up. Sparkledancer and I decided to spend most of our time that morning warming up with Waltz, even though we both were pretty sure that when Lord Dormamu finished up with his current lesson he was going to come over and have us work on Foxtrot. That was a correct assumption, so we ran through our entire Foxtrot routine for the first time that morning while under the scrutinizing eye of Lord Dormamu. Turns out that he thought our first run of the routine was the best that he’s ever seen us dance a Foxtrot. He even had us run through it again and got Sir Steven to stop teaching the other student he was with for a few minutes to watch us.

  I didn’t think it felt all that different from what we normally do, but Lord Dormamu was so excited! I even got one extremely positive comment that gave me something to look forward to – as I mentioned, when we started working on Foxtrot with Lord Dormamu, he was telling me that when I danced he wanted me to stay extremely low, almost like getting into a Yoga Chair Pose and then trying to dance. A month and a half ago I had compared dancing Foxtrot in that position to doing the prisyadka, and I still find that comparison to be accurate. During our lesson that day, Lord Dormamu was once again telling me that I needed to get down into the lowest squat I could while still being able to move my legs and dance the routine.

  After a couple of times running through the first part of the routine that day with Lord Dormamu pushing on my shoulders to lower me even further toward the floor, he gave me a break for a minute and told me that no matter what anyone else said about how weird it looked to be dancing Foxtrot in this manner, I needed to keep working on this technique for the time being to make my movement in Foxtrot better. He compared the technique to what he had me do with my head back in March, telling me to keep my nose in line with my sternum to ‘reset’ all the bad habits I had of moving my head around while dancing. It took a few weeks, but after he considered me to be reset to a new default, I was then told to start putting my head in the right position.

  Lord Dormamu’s comment that day was that dancing while being so low to the ground in Foxtrot is not the correct way I should dance. He knows this to be true, other judges will know this, so if I hear instructors make comments about me looking weird, they aren’t wrong. He told me that this exercise is like a doctor giving me medication to cure a sickness. Sure there might be a side effect that no one likes (i.e. me being so low to the ground), but once the sickness is cured then I won’t have to be on the medicine any longer and the side effects will go away, meaning that I will get to come up to a more reasonable height while dancing.

  That is definitely something to look forward to for me. Also… since the ‘sickness’ that he’s curing is the movement of my Foxtrot, does that make it… motion sickness?

  Why yes, I totally did just high-five myself for typing that.

  After Lord Dormamu got us through our movement drills (or got tired trying to fight against my strong legs when he was pushing me down), he had us focus on the Three Step for quite a while. He said that although it is one of the first steps in International Foxtrot that anyone learns, and it is only three steps down the line of dance, the Three Step is one of the hardest figures to master. What he asked us to do was to go slow and pause and balance with every step, giving him a chance to adjust our position if needed and really lock in the feeling of each position before moving to the next step.

  This… was harder than I would have thought. I will admit that working on the isometric portion of Yoga is not my favorite thing to do for a lot of positions. I enjoy the flow and the movement, but holding really uncomfortable positions for long periods of time is something I will actively avoid if I can get away with it. Dancing through the Three Step slow like we were was a lot like only doing the isometric portion of a Yoga routine.

  The second step was really what caused us all the problems. Lord Dormamu wanted me to work on sliding my left foot forward as much as possible in the step, so I would end up with both my left and right legs almost completely straight, still low to the ground, and also trying to twist my upper body to create the right-side sway I should have. Then on top of that, he wanted me to hold that position, maintain my balance, and add in Sparkledancer to the mix and allow her to make micro-adjustments to her position to get in her proper place without knocking me over!
  We worked on this for probably twenty minutes. Ten minutes in, Lord Dormamu got a phone call he had to take, so he left us to work on it on our own for a little while. That was probably for the best, since it allowed me to curse about what we were trying to do without him listening. When he got back and continued to watch and comment on what we were doing, he told us that this was something we should set aside time to work on during our practice sessions. He made sure to say that he realized what we were doing was terrible when going so slow (he had to go through this exercise quite a bit himself over the years), but going slowly is really the best way to practice everything.

  Finishing up, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I meet him in the office to sign the paperwork for our lesson and schedule our next session. As we were each going through our calendars to find a time that worked for all three of us, Lord Dormamu called Sir Steven in to the office as well. He took some time to go over with Sir Steven what we had just done, and told him to continue to avoid working on Foxtrot for the time being. That day he specifically wanted Sir Steven to spend time with us focusing on getting Sparkledancer to extend her body even further out away from mine to create as much volume as possible. The slight look of panic on Sparkledancer’s face when she heard that comment was enough to let me know that she was super excited about that.

  As soon as we finished with all the paperwork, Sparkledancer and I were back out on the floor to work with Sir Steven. He decided to have us work with the Waltz while working on Sparkledancer’s position while in frame. I think my Saturday was all about fun times while moving slow…

  One of the notes that I made after the lesson was over was about a story that Sir Steven told me while working on Sparkledancer’s position. Sir Steven said that I really needed to make sure that I kept myself as straight as possible when Sparkledancer is trying to create volume with her frame, and not to try to ‘help out’ by pulling my upper body away from hers. He has seen me doing that before, so he wanted to squelch the behavior before he sees me doing it again unintentionally. This behavior was something that he himself got yelled at for doing in the past, so he knows firsthand that I shouldn’t be doing it.

  The story goes that some undisclosed time ago, Sir Steven was working with the Princess on his own dancing as he was getting ready to do a competition with his professional partner. In the middle of the dance, the Princess stopped him to ask him what he was doing. Not knowing what she was talking about, he just stared at her blankly until she pointed out that he was leaning his upper body away from her during the figure they were dancing. He said that he was just trying to increase their look and volume during the step, and she just stopped him and said “We can’t both be flowers. I’m supposed to be the pretty flower opening up away from you. Are you a pretty flower?”

 From then on, the Princess would make fun of Sir Steven whenever she saw him start to lean his upper body away from his partner. There would be times he and his professional partner would be practicing, and the Princess would be in the studio doing other things and would yell out across the floor “Sir Steven, who’s the pretty flower?” to remind him to keep himself straight. And for the amusement of everyone else, I’m sure. So the warning I was given that afternoon was to keep my own frame strong and straight if I don’t want to be yelled at by the Princess when she’s around.

  One figure that we focused on in particular that afternoon was the Outside Change that is between our Progressive Chasse to Right and Chasse from Promenade Position. I guess that the way we were coming out of the Outside Change into the Chasse from Promenade Position didn’t look quite right to him. He spent some time making sure that Sparkledancer was heading straight down the line of dance for her first two steps instead of curving off to her right as I was stepping to the right to get out of her way. I spent a lot of time just standing in the position I was in at the end of the Progressive Chasse to the Right as Sir Steven went over the step with her.
  Let’s talk about Latin Technique this week instead of Standard Technique, like I did the last week. I’ve gotten particularly verbose lately when writing these posts, so I’ve decided to try my best to keep them as controlled as I can. There are just so many dance-related things that I want to remember!

  Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class as usual. Our favorite fierce Latin cat Tanya Tiger was there that night, having finally finished up her long-running obligation that had kept her away on Monday nights. To celebrate, she got to pick what we worked on that night, and she picked Samba. I personally don’t think that is much of a way to celebrate, but that’s just my personal opinion.

  The big reason that I wasn’t having much fun that night was because of my dance shoes. I have one pair of Latin shoes, and lately I only wear them for this class. I got them quite a while ago from some website that had a pair of really nice Latin shoes on clearance for 25% of normal price. The problem was that the closest size that they had of these clearance shoes was a half-size smaller than what I usually wear for my ballroom shoes. Since the deal was too good to pass up, I ordered them anyway. The left shoe fits just fine, but the right shoe is too tight. I spent the week after they showed up using all sorts of things like sticks and ice and shoe stretchers to stretch out the right shoe just a little so that it fit, but over time it slowly shrinks until one day I put on the right shoe and my big toe hurts. Then I have to stretch the shoe all over again.

  Monday night it was fairly obvious that the shoe had reached the breaking point that my foot could handle, so I need to stretch it out again. I’m kind of sick of doing this just to make the shoe usable, so I’m contemplating breaking down and ordering new Latin shoes. What holds me back is that I really only use the shoes once a week, just for Latin Technique class. They aren’t like my ballroom shoes which get used all of the time, so replacing them when they have issues is a necessity. I think that it’s finally time to bite the bullet and just order a pair in the right size though. Who knows? Maybe if my shoes fit well I will be more inclined to compete in International Latin again someday. Maybe. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that though.

  What we worked on in Samba was a set of figures that Lord Junior is starting to fit into his Samba routine with Tanya Tiger, but he modified it slightly so that we could all dance the progression without partners that night. I think he did that so that Tanya would end up with an exercise that she could use to practice without him that would help her directly with her routine. We started the progression on one end of the long wall, and those of us who really pushed out of our standing legs could get all the way to the other side when we finished so we could just turn around and go back.

  We began with a Three Step Turn to the left, ending in a sort of lunged-forward position on the left leg. From there we did some Cruzados Walks and Locks, with the Lock Steps being syncopated to make them more interesting. After two sets of the syncopated Lock Steps on the right side, we did three Samba Locks on the left side with no pause in between each one, ending once again in a lunged forward position on the left leg. We held that position for two beats of the music to allow the musical phrase to finish before the next steps.

 Here Lord Junior wanted us to do a non-syllabus figure to make things more interesting. He called the step a ‘Merengue Twist’ so that’s what I’m going to go with. It was a lot like doing a Hip Twist in Rumba or Cha-Cha, where you twist your body so that one leg ends up forward in a press line with the back foot turned perpendicularly. Lord Junior initially told us that he wanted everyone to try twisting as much as possible, so that’s what I was doing, but I felt like I was twisting so much that my front foot was crossing too far in front of my back foot, making it hard to do that step a second time. He watched me go through it once, laughed at what he saw, and told me that I was twisting waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. I backed off to where it was more comfortable and then the step was much easier. We finished up the progression after those Merengue Twists by adding few more repeating Samba Locks on the left side.

Waaaaaaaay too far, for sure.

  It’s summer, so it’s time for me to do some out-of-the-ordinary dancing. I plan on making the hour drive out to the High Five Dance Hall to attend one of their parties. I know that doesn’t seem like much of a drive for some people who have to take long trips every time they want to dance, but I have all of these other dance studios within 20-30 minutes of my house, so going to one that is twice as far doesn’t usually seem necessary. Still, I’ve been trying to get out there at least once a year to help support them and see all the dancers in that area.

  I also saw an email go out that some dance hall I have never heard of before in the area is having an Intermediate/Advanced West Coast Swing class that sounds interesting to me. It is tonight, which is why I am posting this earlier than normal so that I don’t have to worry about trying to get home after this class to finish this post up. Summer dance adventures, here I come!

None Of Them Can Stop Us Now

This week, I want to tell six short dance graybles. They should get progressively longer as you go on. Are you ready?

Here’s a very short dance grayble:

I’m not entirely sure what brought it on, but during one of my practice sessions last week I told Sparkledancer that I had decided that my Summer dance goal was to work on being swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, and mysterious as the dark side of the moon. She stared at me for a few minutes just blinking slowly and then told me that she didn’t realize our dance competitors were the Huns. I just shrugged and then offered my hand to her to get back into dance frame and continue practice.

Here another short grayble that is only mildly dance related:

 Saturday night I was out at a singles party. There was one guy there who was doing something that I thought was really weird – without getting too specific, let’s just say I was standing somewhere where I could clearly see him reviewing online ads for call girls on a classified advertising website through his phone. After watching this gentleman out of the corner of my eye click on and study ad after ad for a good fifteen minutes, I wondered if this was normal behavior for some guys to do when they were attending an event where he could meet real (and more age-appropriate) women. I mean, really? I can’t be the only person who would possibly see him perusing these ads and find the behavior skeevy, right? You would think that a man of his age would at least know not to spend time on such activities while he is in public…

Because I’m not entirely familiar with how most men act when they are out at events like this, I decided to send a text to a couple of my female friends to ask if this was a normal occurrence. However, I must have accidentally clicked on something when I was putting the message together, because one of the people whom I sent the message (with the description of what I was witnessing) off to was Lord Dormamu! When I finally noticed the error a few minutes after I had sent the first message, I quickly removed his name from the list and sent him a separate message to apologize. He was cool about it, though I have this feeling that the incident could come back to haunt me at a later time.

Now, a more normal dance grayble:

 Saturday night after the whole text-message-boondoggle, I party hopped to go to the Electric Dance Hall where they were holding a Summer-themed open dance party. There was supposed to be some kind of lesson before the party started, but I didn’t leave the other party I was at early enough to make the lesson, so I have no idea what they looked at. But there were other exciting things to see when I made my way through the door to join the dance.

First off, Jem was hanging out just inside the entrance, and was quick to come over and say hello. She had disappeared a probably about six months ago on another one of her extended overseas work trips. No one ever knows when she’ll be gone and when she’ll be back, so seeing her is usually a surprise. It was good to know that she was still kicking butt and taking names, and even though she had forgotten most of her dance moves while she was away, she still came out to the dance party to do her best. I tried to get her to give me an idea of how long she would be in town for this time, but she didn’t know anything beyond the next few days. I may have then told her that if she had nothing better to do on Monday night, that she should come hang out with us in Latin Technique class, but she couldn’t make any promises as to whether she would be there or not.

There were probably a whole host of things that I should have done that night, but instead of being responsible I just spent the night dancing for fun with people who I knew. I probably should have used the opportunity to get in some minor practice with Sparkledancer. I probably should have made a point to talk to the two young couples who came to the party that I did not recognize. I probably should have taken that a step farther and asked the female of each of those new couples to dance a little. But I didn’t. Instead, I just screwed around, and danced while talking too much to whoever my partner was at the time so every step that I took was pretty small and simple, or pretended to be overdramatically awesome and then break out into laughter (I can’t keep up that act for an entire song).

Here’s an abnormal dance grayble (at least, abnormal for this week):

 Sunday afternoon I was out practicing with Sparkledancer. As we finished up practice and I was changing my shoes, I happened to take a look at my phone, and it told me that I had a text message from Lord Dormamu. Fearing that he was going to ask me awkward questions about the subject of the message I accidentally sent him the night before, I opened the message with some trepidation. It turns out that he was just telling me that the Fancy Dance Hall was having this “very special” dance coach come in to town on Monday, and he was recommending that Sparkledancer and I take a lesson.

Since Sparkledancer was sitting right there, I showed her the message and asked her how she felt about missing Latin Technique class Monday night, since I didn’t think I could get out of work, go home to change out of my work clothes, and make it to the Fancy Dance Hall any earlier than the time I would normally be in class. She shrugged and said that it would be cool if that’s the best I thought I could do. We both then replied to Lord Dormamu to let him know what times we could be there, and he said that he would make it happen.

Throughout the short conversation with Lord Dormamu that afternoon, I never got the name of this special coach. Sparkledancer and I decided to go off and grab lunch after practice so we could speculate together about what we just agreed to. During lunch, Sparkledancer looked up the Fancy Dance Hall’s schedule to see if she could get an idea about who was going to be there. She managed to find a name of some lady I had never heard of before, so we assumed that was who we would be meeting with, without any other information to go on.

Monday night, after I got home from work and was rushing around to get ready to head out again, my phone rang. I wasn’t going to stop what I was doing and answer until I saw that it was Lord Dormamu calling me. He wanted to let me know that the coach had gotten up at some super-early time in the morning, and had been giving lessons all day, so she was just totally exhausted at that point. However, the coach lady had decided to extend her stay for an extra day, so Lord Dormamu was calling to see if I would feel good about rescheduling for Tuesday instead. Since Tuesday nights I usually meet up with Sparkledancer for practice, I said that would work out, and that I could contact Sparkledancer and let her know so that he wouldn’t have to call her. Lord Dormamu was super happy about that, so after hanging up and making another phone call, I now had time to relax before going to Latin Technique.

Different grayble, though also a bit abnormal:

 I had gotten to the Electric Dance Hall earlier than usual Monday night for Latin Technique class. Because I had rushed to get home from work, and rushed to complete everything at home expecting to have to make the much longer drive out to the Fancy Dance Hall that night, when I found out that I didn’t have to go there I had all sorts of extra time on my hands. Rather than sit around at home twiddling my thumbs, I left the house. There were only a couple of people at the studio when I showed up. Lord Junior was surprised to see me there so early, so I told him about the random coaching session that I had almost gone to that night. He asked if the coaching was with the lady that Sparkledancer had found the name of at lunch on Sunday, and I told him that I had no idea since I had yet to be given an actual name, but I assumed it would have been.

That’s when I got an unexpected response. Lord Junior told me that if she really was the coach, I really dodged a bullet by not having that lesson. He had met the lady who was supposedly going to coach me that night, and had also heard about many of her exploits – in fact, she had given him his first outside coaching session when he started teaching a couple of decades ago. According to Lord Junior, this lady is one of those people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time when she became ‘famous’ in the ballroom dancing community, and doesn’t really know as much about dancing as she wants people to believe.

This is especially true because she learned to dance a long, long, long, long (long, long) time ago. Lord Junior didn’t give me a timeline, but said she was already fairly old when he got his coaching session from her back in the day, and she never kept up with the way that dancing has changed since the era when she originally learned the dances. This reminded me of a class I had taken years ago from a high-level coach where the coach talked about how a simple thing like the Cha-Cha chasses in the syllabus had evolved over time, so what he had learned in the ‘70s when he was a youth looked only vaguely like what he was teaching to people in the present.

Lord Junior believed that this coaching was more of a political move than something that would actually help Sparkledancer or I learn more. This lady coach is frequently hired as a judge for competitions, and Lord Junior said that it can help both the studios and the students to have them take a lesson with the judge. If the judge recognizes you, they are more likely to be interested in what you are doing versus a competitor that they have never met. That can lead to better marks during a competition. While Lord Junior didn’t think that this influenced who got the top marks during dances, he has seen firsthand where this behavior had influenced whether you were called back if there were semi-final and final rounds in the competition round you were in.

Class started shortly after that conversation of mine. I don’t remember much about what went down during class. I know we covered Rumba. I know that Jem actually did show up for class, and she thought it was funny how much she had forgotten in the time since she last practiced Rumba. In fact, it had been so long since she had put any real effort into dance that her dance shoes rubbed the skin off during class since her dance callouses were gone. She had to stop and put a bandage on at one point after the skin rubbed off in order to continue. But other than that, my mind was elsewhere during class so I couldn’t tell you what we did. I spent the time wondering if this coaching I had agreed to was a good idea. I didn’t tell Lord Junior that the cancelled session had been rescheduled for Tuesday…

The final grayble has a somewhat funny ending:

 I ended up going to the coaching session. I couldn’t think of a good excuse not to, and I kept thinking to myself, “Well, at least it will give you something to write about, right?” In retrospect, it was a rather funny experience. Lord Junior was totally right, in that the lady thought she knew a lot more than she actually did, and in that case I kind of regret all the money I dropped on the lesson. Several major points that she stressed were in conflict with things that Lord Dormamu has told me repeatedly to do. However, she talked about likely being one of the judges for the next competition that Lord Dormamu told me I’m going to be a part of, so in that case… is it good that I met with her? Will that earn me brownie points in the future? That remains to be seen.

Dance politics would be a more fun game to play if it wasn’t so expensive.

What kinds of things did she tell me to do that conflicted with what my normal instructors have said? Well, let’s start with my frame – she didn’t like my dance frame with Sparkledancer. Not one bit. She noticed it because she saw my right hand on Sparkledancer’s back, and thought that it was too high on her shoulder-blade. That led to a discussion about how my elbows were up too high. She said that I should create a ‘W’ with my arms, so that my elbows were down, and then just rotate my forearms forward to their position. My right hand ended up not on the bottom of Sparkledancer’s shoulder, but cupping her left latissimi dorsi muscle. Now, when I take lessons with Lord Dormamu, and in lessons I’ve taken with Sir Steven and even the Princess, I am told to keep my elbows up and in line with my shoulders to form a straight line below my neck. The position this coach asked me to get into was… weird.

Another thing that we spent an inordinate amount of time on was the little starting sequence that I’ve been told to use. In both Waltz and Foxtrot, when the music starts and I get into frame I take one step to the left, a step to the right, then lower and take a heel lead for the last step before taking the first step of the actual routine (either a Natural Turn or a Feather in Waltz and Foxtrot, respectively). That heel lead was what bothered her. She said that because it is the last step of the ‘figure’, even though it is just a starter step, technically it should be a toe lead. And that feels really… unnatural, which is why we spent so much time on just that step. I kept going over it and inadvertently taking a heel lead, because if I lower down and drive out of my right leg I naturally want to take a heel lead. Having to make it a toe lead just feels wrong.

There were a couple of small suggestions that she made, mostly about the choreography in our Foxtrot routine, but those two points were things she really focused on. After the lesson was over, coach lady went to go talk with Lord Dormamu. I was feeling unsure about the situation, so to cheer myself up I went over to the front desk to talk to the two female Australian instructors that teach at the Fancy Dance Hall. Their accents make me happy, so I just wanted to hear them talk for a bit. After a few minutes I heard Lord Dormamu calling my name, so I excused myself and went to see what was up.

Coach lady was trying to tell Lord Dormamu what we looked at. Unfortunately, she started by telling him about the change she wanted us to make to our starting sequence, and they never got past that point. She asked him if he saw that I was taking a heel lead on the third step, like it was the most appalling thing that she had ever witnessed. Lord Dormamu just shook his head yes and said “Of course, I told him to do that.” That was not the answer coach lady wanted, so she started to teach him how it has to be a toe step, because that’s the correct way to do it. This led to a bit of an argument where Lord Dormamu might have mentioned how he’s been training for over twenty years and has always been told to do it his way, while she countered with how she’d been dancing longer than he’d been alive and so a heel lead is wrong.

Lord Dormamu then took a step back, put up his arms in a practice frame and tried to do the starting sequence with a toe step. The first time he naturally tried to take a heel step (just like I had done) so he had to stop and retry. The second time he forced himself to take a toe step, stopped, visibly shivered and then looked at me and said that it feels “so unnatural!” I nodded in agreement, so he shook his head and turned back to her and thanked her for her input, and said we would work on things when he met up with us this weekend for our lesson. That seemed to make her happy, so she turned and started walking toward the back of the ballroom.

With all other things that she had gone over with us forgotten as she departed, Lord Dormamu waited until she was out of earshot and then clapped Sparkledancer and I on the shoulders. He then told me to forget about changing that step. He drove home the point by again repeating how long he has been dancing, and added on how many world championships he’s won and all his placements in various other major competitions before saying that he won all those while doing the starting sequence with a heel lead, and no one ever judged it wrong before. I was going to ask him about the change she wanted with my frame, but I figured it could wait until this weekend.

Is this what Lord Dormamu meant when he told me that all ballroom judges were old, blind and stupid? Your guess is as good as mine!

And that’s… all the graybles I want to tell this week. What do you think? Did you guess the theme? It was bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Like this is. 😊

I Wanna Go Where The Down Boys Go

So what’s new in my dance world this time around? Well, this past weekend it was time for my latest check-in with Lord Dormamu so that he could see how all of the practice time I’d been putting in with Sparkledancer was coming along. We ended up spending our entire session time on Foxtrot this week, since even though he could see improvement in our Foxtrot over where I started, what I was doing wasn’t… enough for him to be happy about.

Let’s start with him wanting me to stay low during the entire dance. I felt like I was super low the whole time, with my knees bent so much that they would run into Sparkledancer if I tried to bend them any further. Apparently that just wasn’t low enough for Lord Dormamu’s taste. Sparkledancer was sent off to stand on the side of the floor for a while and he made me get into frame, and then he came over and put his forearms on my shoulders and pushed me down even lower, and he told me to dance like that while he held my shoulders at that level. Every time I took a step forward, I felt like I was doing the prisyadka (that’s the actual name of that dance figure you always see ‘Russians’ doing on TV, where they are squatting and kicking… I’m sure you can picture what I’m talking about) instead of dancing Foxtrot. Вздох…

I also got called out for not making my movements smooth enough, as if I was dancing three even steps over four beats. This one though, I pretty much accepted. I have had a lot of musical training in my life. It’s a little known fact that I was a professional musician in my younger days, so I might admit to knowing a thing or two about music. That’s part of the reason that I was able to pick up dance pretty quickly when I was in that newcomer phase – my sense of rhythm was really good, so I was able to take steps in time with the music with no problem. But the training I had through the years enforced STRICT rhythm control on me (I was not a drummer, but I always wanted to be), so when Lord Dormamu talked about throwing out the rhythm and making Foxtrot more like Waltz where you take three even steps in each average measure instead of one two-beat step and two one-beat steps, I knew that would be trouble. I’ve worked on it, but when I am focusing on other techniques while dancing, my brain will automatically reset to having my feet follow the rhythm exactly. So that adjustment is going to take me probably several more weeks before it happens more naturally.

On a high note though, I was able to impress, or maybe surprise, Lord Dormamu at one point during our session. We had been looking at part of the Natural Weave in Foxtrot, and he was explaining something about how to best take the first and second step. Thinking out loud, I off-handedly remarked that what he was saying was similar to what I had been told about the first two steps in a Double Natural Spin a couple of weeks ago. He overheard me mumbling and asked me to repeat myself, and when I mentioned the Double Natural Spin louder he nodded and exclaimed ‘Yes!’ loudly, saying that it would be exactly like the first two steps for that. Then as we were walking back toward where Sparkledancer was standing to try things again, he paused and looked at me quizzically and had to ask me who it was that had shown me how to do a Double Natural Spin, since he hadn’t OK’d me to dance anything beyond Bronze yet. Oops…

Having run out of time, Lord Dormamu ran over to collect Sir Steven and go over the things we had just worked on, giving Sir Steven his thoughts on what we should be working on for the next hour. He wanted us to work with Sir Steven primarily on staying down while we were dancing. Sir Steven wanted to add on to this a bit and have us work on staying down, but also work on making sure we didn’t look like we were walking around in a squatting position, which apparently we did for some of the steps that we had taken that Sir Steven had seen while we were working with Lord Dormamu.

One of the most obvious things he noticed was that the person who was moving backwards wasn’t reaching their leg back as far as they could before taking a step. This was the main reason he thought that we looked… ‘squatty’ (for lack of a better term) while we were dancing as he watched. If the legs were bent so much when we got into frame, and they stayed bent when you’re taking a step backward, then it just looks weird if you’re watching. The person traveling forward is also likely taking steps while keeping their legs bent the entire time as well, but since there is someone in front of them hiding their legs half the time it is harder to notice that than it is to notice what the person moving backward is doing.

To work on making sure we were aware of how weird this looked, we switched over to doing some Waltz. Sir Steven wanted to make sure that if we were in frame and we were standing in one place, like at the beginning of the routine or during a Hesitation Change, that our knees were bent. As we were preparing to take a step, the person moving backward needs to reach their leg backward and straighten it as much as possible – not locking the knee, but pretty close to that. The person going forward would obviously wait for their partner to get their leg out of the way first before moving their own, but that leg also needed to be stretched out and straightened completely. Going over this technique over and over again really made sure that the feeling I had of doing the prisyadka never went away that day. It’s a good thing I have really strong legs!

Before we ended things that afternoon, we stopped for a bit to go back and look at our Natural Spin Turn again. The Natural Spin Turn seems like one of those figures that will never look good enough, so it keeps coming back to haunt me over and over. Like the New York figure from various International Latin dances, which seem like they should be so simple, yet never seem to be good enough for whoever is watching me do them. I guess this time around it didn’t look like we were rotating our upper bodies enough before taking the step out of the turn. The first step for me that rotated backward and the second step that drives forward looked good, but Sir Steven said that I was halting the rotation in my upper body at the end of that second step before taking the third step backward toward diagonal center against line of dance (it’s an under-turned Natural Spin Turn).

In my defense, I was spending a lot of mental energy on remembering to keep my legs bent enough to stay down while doing most of the rise and fall through foot rise and stretching out my legs so that it didn’t look like I was walking in a constant squat, so I may have left out some other things in the process… Sigh… I think I’m going to need a brain upgrade to keep all of this stuff straight at some point in the near future.

With those two items out of the way Saturday afternoon, there was only one thing left to do on Saturday before I got to go home and stay home. There was an open dance being held at the Cherished Dance Hall that I attended. Being a holiday weekend, the turnout wasn’t huge, but that just left more space on the dance floor for me to do whatever I wanted, so I couldn’t complain. The staff of the Cherished Dance Hall didn’t even come to the party. In fact, it was President Porpoise who showed up to run the event, being all presidential and porpoise-y like he is. He had found a DJ who had stayed in town for the weekend to come in and play some music, and they just put on songs for a couple of hours for all of us who showed up to dance. It was really nice.

I think this was the first time in quite a few weeks that I just threw out everything I had been working so hard on for the last several months and just danced for fun – quipping jokes to my partners, worrying less about frame and technique, and just trying to make sure the evening was as entertaining as possible for me and whomever was close enough to where I was to hear and see what I was doing. I feel like I managed to accomplish that feat, so it was a fun night for me. I’m not quite sure that many of the older ladies at the dance knew how to react to my jocularity, but that’s OK! Sometimes you just have to have fun for yourself, and hope that your mood is infectious enough to bring everyone else in with you.

Monday night, through the freak rainstorms that kept popping up for short periods, I made it out to Latin Technique class. Only Sparkledancer and Bony were dedicated enough to brave the rain and join me, so we had a small class. We looked at some Rumba that night because everyone was so tired from having the day off, since it was a holiday and all that. Even though there were only four of us and we were just doing Rumba, we kept moving around the room to different parts of the dance floor throughout the night. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but that night we danced in the middle of the floor, over on the side by the front door, later on the far side of the room by the other short wall, near the mirrors… we just couldn’t stay in one place! And it’s not like the figures we looked at traveled all that much either. We were moving around whenever Lord Junior stopped to explain things to us, strangely enough.

Anyway… what we did that night started off in Fan Position. The gentlemen led the lady to close from Fan Position and do an Alemana, whilst the man checks forward and then checks backward, but instead of bringing our feet together after the second check we would take a step slightly off to the left so that the lady ended up on our right side. Both partners would then rotate 90° to the right and the lady would go into an Opening Out while the man did a Cucaracha. We would do three Opening Outs and then lead the lady through a Spiral Turn before taking three steps off to the man’s left side to end in an Aida.

Rather than going through the second half of a basic Aida, in tandem both partners took one step forward, then another step into a Spiral Turn, then a side step to end facing each other again. As we took the last step, the man would reach out with his right hand to take the lady’s right hand. We then led the ladies through two slow Swivels, first by lunging a bit toward the right and rotating our body, then shifting to the left leg and repeating the same movement. At the end we led one quick Swivel on the right side, coming out to take the lady through an Inside Turn and a Pivot, bringing her right hand up and over our head so that it could slide down to our shoulder. We finished the whole pattern that night by doing a fourth Opening Out action on the left side. We were going to try to turn that final figure into some Sliding Doors to be cool, but we ran out of time and Lord Junior decided to leave it there for now.

Finally, on Wednesday night this past week I ended up out at Standard Technique class where I got to work on Quickstep for a while. We had a lot of ladies show up to take part in the class. A LOT. I think we ended up with eight women to three men by the time class really got underway. As I was standing around talking to people before class started, the ratio looked like it would be pretty good, but then more and more women kept showing up! Do you think that since it is now staying light outside so much later in the evening that more people are willing to go out in the evenings? It sure seems that way.

We went over a short pattern in Quickstep that was supposed to get us to spend some time focusing on Contra-Body Movement and Contra-Body Movement Position, but there were a fair number of ladies (and one gentleman) who had trouble just getting the footwork for the figures right, so a lot of Lord Junior’s time was spent on just getting those individuals through the steps instead. I got a workout that night, since we had a few instances where Lord Junior put on music so that we could try out the steps in time, but then he would end up working with the other gentleman, back-leading him through the figures until he was comfortable with them. While they did that, I was left all alone with a line of ladies, going through the parts of the pattern with each one and then running back down to the other end of the floor to pick up the next lady and start over. By the time class was over, I was a bit of a sweaty mess.

We started everything off by facing diagonal wall and doing a prep step into a Natural Turn, setting us up to execute a Natural Spin Turn. Coming out of that we did a figure that I’m pretty sure Lord Junior referred to as a ‘Cross Change’ that was originally taken from Waltz. Essentially, after coming out of the Natural Spin Turn we took one step backwards toward diagonal center, rotated on that foot so that we could take a side step to the left still heading toward diagonal center, and then crossed the right foot behind the left so that we ended facing line of dance. We did another partial Cross Change right after that, taking just the side step to the left and crossing the right foot behind, which rotated us enough so that now we were facing diagonal center if done correctly (and there was no one in the way).

Coming out of the double Cross Change we added on an Open Reverse Turn which should rotate you enough on the first half so that you are now backing line of dance. To end the pattern that night we did a Four Quick Run going into another Natural Turn. The Four Quick Run seemed to give a lot of people trouble that night. A lot of the ladies I danced with kept missing the Lock Step, or doing two Lock Steps in a row instead of two running steps and then a Lock Step. We went through the progression a fair number of times (well, I should say, I went through the progression a fair number of times), and even after repeating things a few times some of the ladies I danced with still had trouble. Because of that, we never ran through things at full tempo. I think the fastest that Lord Junior said he set the music to that night was 85%, so we still had a bit to go. Maybe next time I am out practicing I will see if I can run things at tempo as a challenge.

Can you believe that it’s already June? Crazy! My first weekend in June will be pretty quiet. Sparkledancer is out of town on some work thing so I won’t be able to practice with her this weekend. Sir Steven is busy on Saturday and Sunday putting on some sort of dance show, so I won’t have a lesson with him this weekend. And I only know of one dance party on Friday night that I am sort-of interested in attending, so it sounds like for the first time in who knows how long I will have a free Saturday to do whatever I want! Will I go out for some solo dance practice? Will I try to get my cat to help me do some spring cleaning? Will someone else call me up and ask me to go out to a dance party with them somewhere? Who knows! I have a different idea rolling around in my head that maybe I’ll sit and write about this weekend instead of going anywhere, so we’ll have to see what I come up with next week!