Lightning Strikes In The Dark

A lot of people seemed to be missing this week. I would guess that the holiday today probably has something to do with that… but what do I know? All that turkey I ate must have gone to my head, stuffing it with crazy ideas. I apologize in advance if any of my words tonight end up sounding stupid. My normal high bar for proofreading before posting might not be crossed tonight.

I only did two notable dance-related things this week. The first was on Monday night when I went out to Latin Technique class. Class was smaller than it has been in recent weeks, with only four ladies showing up. One of the ladies was joining the class for the first time that night, and she was… interesting (more on that later). Four ladies is actually a pretty good ratio of women to men for Lord Junior and I to dance with, so everything we looked at in Rumba that night was done with a partner.

The choreography that we looked at that night seemed pretty familiar to me, almost like I had done it before. I could probably find out if I actually have if I wanted to go back through my notes here and see, but that sounds like it would take a lot of time, so I’m just going to leave that question a mystery. We started off by facing our partner in a one-hand hold, with the ladies pointing their left leg forward and the guys pointing the right leg back. From there we took a step forward and went into a syncopated forward check action – holding the check for half a beat longer before coming out and taking a step to the side. This put both partners parallel to each other facing inward, with the ladies off to the guy’s right side with their weight on the right leg, and guys with their weight on the left.

Next we did a set of Cuban Rocks, using them to transfer our weight to the other leg. Right at the end, the guys would do a slight rotation of the lady’s wrist to lead her to turn away from us, then we would do another forward check. Before replacing our weight the guy would use the lady’s arm to lead her to spin around quickly and face us, then bring her to step toward us while putting up her left arm. The guy would just replace his weight onto his right leg then point the left off to the side instead of taking a step, which would let the lady get into an awkwardly-close position to our bodies, that was even more awkward to be in with one lady in particular than it was with the others.

Since the guys had their left leg free, that let us lunge out to the left side while rotating our bodies so that we could use our left arm to lead the lady into a Hip Twist. As the guy stands up, he does a small chasse to the right while leading the lady to step across our body and out into Fan Position. We then led the lady into an Alemana that ended with the lady outside of us on our right. From here we released the lady’s hand and went into one Sliding Door to finish for the evening.

So the new girl… and I mention this only because it was pretty funny in hindsight… new girl was tiny. I mean, if this woman was five feet tall I would have been surprised. She was super tiny. Except in one… area… of her body. And she was wearing this sleeveless flannel shirt that had a lot of the top buttons undone so make it very clear that her ‘assets’ were quite oversized for her body. This was super awkward the first time I tried to dance with her and I had to bend my head down to look her in the face, and there was a prominent display going on when I looked from that angle. Then we did that move where the ladies come forward and stand super-close to the guy while raising their arm and it was like ‘WHAM!’ – there they were, right up close and personal.

I thought I was going to break my neck with how fast I turned my head to look away the first time that happened, and also that my cheeks might melt from how much I was blushing. At first I thought that it was just something that was unintentional – maybe she wore the same thing to class that she wore earlier in the day, and didn’t think anything of it… and just didn’t think about fastening a few more of her buttons while trying to figure out what was going on in class. You know, completely innocent, right? But later in the evening, I watched as Lord Junior assisted her with one of the figures she was having trouble with, and the lady made it very clear that this was all intentional.

As they finished that up and Lord Junior went back to addressing the rest of the ladies in class, I watched as new girl readjusted her shirt. It had moved off to one side, covering her goodies up for the first time all night. So what does she do? She moves it back to center and opens it back up to put everything on display once again. Yeah, so she was totally putting everything out there all on purpose. There was no two ways about it. That made it feel even more awkward when I danced with her…

Anyway, it seems funny to think about that now. Maybe I’m the only one who will think it’s funny. But you know what? These are my notes, so I can write down anything that I find even mildly amusing. Hooray for me!

The only other dance-related adventure I went on this week (other than practice) was to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. Since it was the day before a holiday I thought that I might be the only person to show up for class, but actually a fair number of people actually came out for both Standard Technique and the West Coast Swing class that goes on at the Electric Dance Hall on Wednesday nights. Apparently some of us are just crazy, and would much rather spend the so-called ‘biggest bar night of the year’ learning and practicing dance…

Also surprising, guess who decided to join us in class that night? Miss ShortDress! I haven’t seen her in a really long time. It actually took me a while to remember what her name was when I saw her – I will freely admit that, I am terrible with names. She won’t ever see this, so it’s safe for me to write down that I didn’t know who she was at first. I guess that she was home from college for the holiday, and rather than spend the evening hanging out with her family she decided to come and hang out with us in class. Good for her! Dance family is way better than real family, don’t you think? 😉

Since Miss ShortDress has been studying and competing in Silver (Lord Junior asked her before class started), we did a bunch of stuff in Foxtrot that is part of the Silver-level syllabus. The choreography itself wasn’t all that many figures, but you could use it to cover a whole lot of the floor if you know how to move (like I do).

Starting out facing diagonal wall, we did a prep step into a basic Feather, than an Overturned Reverse Turn. This Reverse Turn flipped around 180° to put us backing diagonal wall before we went into a Reverse Wave. Next up we did a Back Feather, which is actually part of the Gold-level syllabus for Foxtrot, but isn’t too difficult to do if you’ve done normal Feathers enough times. After the Back Feather we went into another Reverse Wave, then flipped around by doing an Open Impetus with Feather Ending. To finish everything up, Lord Junior had us do a Top Spin at the end. The Top Spin is actually a misleading name, because it’s more like a check so you can abruptly change directions, with no spinning at all. I wonder where the name came from?

At the end of class, while I was changing back into my street shoes, I overheard Sparkledancer talking to Miss ShortDress. Apparently Miss ShortDress has been to a couple of the competitions we’ve done recently with her college ballroom team, and she’s seen us dancing. She never came over to talk to us at those events, because she didn’t think that we would remember her (which would have probably been correct for me at least, based on how well I remembered her before class started). I guess she’s been promoted this year to be the leader of her college ballroom team, so she felt it necessary to tell Sparkledancer that she and I need to “stop terrorizing her kids.” That’s a strange thing to say, right?

Well that’s all I’ve got this week. This weekend should have more exciting things going on than last weekend. There’s a dance party on Saturday night that I’m sure I’ll end up at, and I have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Saturday morning. Plus lots of practice… there’s a big event coming up a few months out that I need to be in top form for, so practice is important to get in.

I hope your holiday was fun and that you get a chance this weekend to dance off all those extra calories. Until next time!

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But I’m Not Convinced By Your Costume

I didn’t actually get out last Friday night. Silly work! But that’s OK, because I did get to go out on Saturday night, and I had a grand old time. My costume was amazing if I do say so myself, and came together splendidly to make everything I did on Saturday more entertaining throughout the night. Of course it also made everything much warmer anytime I was moving around, so I had to take parts of it off and let my body cool down when I got too warm. That’s OK though, because it was still totally worth it to me. If you weren’t there to see me in costume, then you really missed out.

On Saturday night the party that I chose to go to was out at the Electric Dance Hall. We got to start off the evening with a short lesson taught by Lady Lovelylocks that went over some American Rumba. There was a large contingent of newcomers in the class, so the entirety of the pattern she taught was pretty short and none of the figures were really all that complicated. All the ladies that I danced with seemed to do everything well for the most part. There were a few that had jumped into the class late who were a bit behind the others when I rotated through, but I managed to help them get to the end with only minor issues.

As for the pattern itself (in case you want to try it), we started off with a full basic without rotation. After that we did another half of a basic with an additional step to the Lead’s right afterward to get us in position for a Cross Over Break on the right side. Coming back from that we went into two Solo Spot Turns for both the Leader and the Follower, first on the left side then on the right side. As the Lead steps across back to the left, he’ll takes his partner’s right hand and go into an Aida, a figure from the Silver International Rumba syllabus. Lady Lovelylocks had us do a simplified version, just using the Aida as three steps backward with little to no focus on technique.

At the end of the Aida we opened up slightly more to get to a kind of back-toward-back (yes, exactly that) position with our partner. Here we did a measure of Cuban Rocks, pivoting to face one another just after the end of the last one, and then to finish the Lead just did a rock step backward while leading the Follower through a Underarm Turn. As I said, it wasn’t too difficult to get through, and I’m sure any more experienced dancers reading this can picture the whole thing in their mind without even having to stand up and try it. Fun stuff!

The lesson didn’t really end, but rather just melted into the dance party. There were a few of the newcomers who were having trouble with the figures, so Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping them as class time was winding down. The DJ had put on some songs that were Halloween-themed which kind-of worked as American Rumba songs – I mean, if you ignored the feeling that the rhythm section gave you and just counted the straight timing of the music, or sometimes you could kind of get the feeling if you put your finger in one ear and only listened to the notes that would have been marked in the treble clef, or something like that. People started off trying to practice the progression of figures, but when Lady Lovelylocks got caught up helping others and stopped making everyone switch partners every couple of minutes, people ended up just pairing off and doing whatever they wanted.

After the third song, Lady Lovelylocks managed to pull herself away from helping people long enough to thank everyone for coming out and officially kick off the party, giving the DJ free rein to change to other styles of music. This particular DJ was brought in to play at the party not by Lord Junior, but by a generous donation from a member of the dance community. I’m not sure what the instructions were that the DJ was given for the party, but her music choices were… not very varied. There was SO. MUCH. CHA-CHA. It became a running joke between a few of us at the dance, trying to guess whether the next song would be another Cha-Cha or something different for a change. There were really a lot. I gave up trying to dance any of them after a while because I felt like I had gone through my whole repertoire of Cha-Cha figures and I was running out of ways to keep the dances interesting.

I went back and forth with wearing my complete costume and dancing without parts of it throughout the party. I know I should have just left the pieces off once I took them off, but I was so excited about wearing it that I kept going back and putting everything back on once I felt my body temperature regulate again. Inevitably I would have to take the pieces off once more after two or three dances, but those two or three dances made me super happy. Sigh… I am such a kid at heart sometimes. If the neighborhood where I lived believed in Trick-or-Treating, I would have stayed home all night on Halloween, gotten dressed up in my awesome costume, and handed out candy until the wee hours of the morning. I would have even bought awesome candy for everyone who showed up. Full bars! Crazy! But alas, ‘twas not to be…

One of the dances that I did that night was the only Quickstep number that was played. Sparkledancer came and found me (since she’s really the only person I am comfortable dancing Quickstep with). The interesting part was that the song was rather upbeat, and it attracted a group of ladies out onto the floor. They weren’t on the floor dancing Quickstep, rather they were all standing in a big circle and just wiggling around for fun. Their circle took up a lot of room, going from the wall all the way past the middle of the floor on one of the long walls. On top of that, there were so many ladies and they were standing so close together in the circle that you couldn’t cut through in between them either.
Every time I went down that long wall I had to abruptly change direction and go around the outside of their circle. Of course, since they were past the middle of the room, I had to hesitate a bit to make sure that there was no one coming down the opposite way on the other long wall. I’m pretty sure that this was more of a problem for me than for anyone else dancing the Quickstep, since Sparkledancer and I can move a lot more than your average social dancer can when we dance together. I must have done five or six laps around the room by the time the song was cut off, going around the group every time. It was kind of nutty!

Monday night, as you might have guessed, I was out at Latin Technique class. Since we had done Rumba and Cha-Cha in class over the last two of weeks, this week we looked at Samba. Much like the last two classes, the material that we covered in this class was also related to notes that Lord Junior had gotten from a visiting coach that he and some of his Pro/Am ladies had worked with when the coach was in town several weekends ago.

One of the ladies who joined us for class that night had only briefly touched on Samba in her dance training so far, so Lord Junior wanted to start off with something simple to get us warmed up a little before diving into anything harder. The warm-up ended up being work on Volta actions. We did them very slowly, which is considerably harder than trying to do them fast. First we did them heading to the right, then going to the left, then with a bit of curve to them as if we were traveling in a large circle. When we managed to get through the sets, we sped them up a bit to work on them at a faster pace. We never quite reached full speed, but this was just a warm-up exercise so that wasn’t the end goal.

After finishing the warm-up, Lord Junior had us look at a section from his Open Samba routine that started out with Voltas, just to give us some continuity of mind. We started out facing the wall in Shadow Position with our partner, going into four Rhythm Bounces to get moving. Next we did four Voltas that took us in a semi-tight circle for 270°, setting us up to face a new wall as if we just went around the corner. Here, to change up the dynamics of the movement a bit, we did a couple of faster syncopated steps. Our feet were already situated in a Cuban Cross as our bodies were turned slightly to face diagonal wall, so on the next two steps we switched our feet into the opposite side Cuban Cross while rotating our body 90° to face backing diagonal wall.

Coming out of the twist was where the Leads and Follows separated from Shadow Position and started to do different steps. The Lead would untwist and take a step forward like a Cruzados Walk. The Follower went through a Four Step Turn, ending by pivoting their whole body around to face the Lead once more a few feet us. Here we went into a single Promenade Run, with the Lead just taking three steps forward to begin with while the Follower took a small step backward then turned to step to the side before stepping forward with the Lead. After the Promenade Run, the Lead would cut in front of the Follower quickly to go into three Natural Pivots – trying their best to take all of them down the line of dance if possible – before releasing the Follower to repeat the same single Promenade Run action we did before the pivots. That was where we ended things for the evening since we ran out of time to cover more.

Latin Technique was the only group class I went to this week. Since Wednesday was Halloween, Lord Junior decided that spending time with his young kids was going to be more fun than having class with the rest of us. I like to think that I am pretty fun to hang around with, so I’m going to pretend like Lord Junior totally missed out! Instead of class, I ended up going out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice. We’re down to the last couple of days before our next competition, so I figured it was a good idea. Unfortunately, that meant I had to leave my costume at home. Even though my costume doesn’t impede all of my movement, it does lessen it slightly, so I thought that practicing in it would be a bad idea. Sigh… I just miss out on all the fun.

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that I am competing this weekend? I can’t remember if I did before or not (and I’m too tired to go back and read my previous notes to see if I did). This competition should be exciting for me for a couple of reasons. First off, if the list of events I saw online is to be believed, I won’t be dancing unopposed at this competition. Hooray! Secondly, Lord Dormamu is one of the judges. Hoor… that’s actually scary. I don’t know why it makes me nervous dancing somewhere where he is judging but dancing against other competitors actually makes me happy. You would think my reactions would be the opposite!

I did get together with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for one last look at everything tonight before I head off to compete this weekend. All of our dances seem to be on track right now to do very well in this weekend’s event. Some things that we talked about which are points for us to start thinking about, but not necessarily points we will need to have down for this weekend, are:

  • In Quickstep, we want to start moving toward making all of the quick steps much sharper. This means that we are almost delaying the start of the steps a bit – extending the slow step beforehand as long as possible to get a much more staccato movement in the quicks
  • In addition to that, any place that we are adding in additional sway in the Quickstep he wants the transition going into and coming out of the sway to be faster, almost like snapping into place. This was something that worried me a bit, since I feel like I am whipping Sparkledancer around a little, but she told me that the movement doesn’t hurt her, so at this point I’m the only one worried about doing it. I’ll get over that with a little practice (I hope)
  • In the Foxtrot we are going to start talking about blurring the lines between the quick and slow steps in the figures to even them out, making the dance flow more and look much more legato. Exactly the opposite of what we are doing in the Quickstep – more like dancing a Waltz to a song in 4/4

But that’s about it! I’m heading out tomorrow night to drive out toward the city where the competition is being held. Some people I know are getting up early to drive out on Saturday before the event starts, but since I am not a morning person I am just going to get there on Friday night and stay in a hotel nearby. To me, the cost of the room is a small price to pay for not having to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning. I’ll let you know how everything goes next week!

I Was A Hand Grenade That Never Stopped Exploding

Last Saturday night I was feeling mildly extroverted, so I decided to head out to the dance party that was planned for the evening out at the Endless Dance Hall. This party wasn’t like most of the parties that go on in the Dance Kingdom – normally the hosts of the party set up a pre-party dance lesson from some local instructor to lure people to their event. This party wasn’t going to have one of those. Instead, the Endless Dance Hall had planned on having a showcase performance on Saturday, so the organizers of this dance party worked with them to schedule their party to start right after the showcase finished. They gave people a special deal that let you get a ticket to both watch the performance and attend the dance party for one low price, so of course I got there early enough to do both.

My friend Indiana had a huge role in putting the showcase part of the evening together, and I think that she was either dancing in or had choreographed at least two-thirds of the dance numbers in the show that night. Hooray for her! Normally when I go to showcase performances, what I see is basically an all-male review, with the majority of the acts being by a few male instructors dancing with their amateur female. It’s nice to occasionally switch things up and see what kind of show you get when a lady takes the spotlight.

Indiana spends a lot of time working with a gaggle of kids, and has been crafting them into a dance troupe over the last couple of years. This is an endeavor of hers that has been supported by donations from the whole dance community, and she likes to use events like these to give the community a chance to see what their donations are helping to achieve. That night the kids were the ones dancing the most – sometimes as a big group with all the kids participating, and sometimes as smaller groups. One of the acts was even done solely by the eldest male and female students, dancing together on stage alone. Sometimes when I am out at the Endless Dance Hall for my own lessons I have been able to see Indiana working on these routines with the kids, so it was cool to see the finished products.

There was one part that I admit that I was a bit worried about. In one of the routines I had seen them practice, two of the older boys pick up two of the much younger girls and hold them over their heads. I saw them practicing this lift in a couple of their rehearsals prior to the show, and what I saw had me a little worried. My biggest concern was obviously for the safety of the girls. I know that they chose the younger and smaller girls because they weigh less. The two boys doing the lifts were older, but are still in that scrawny early teen phase of their lives, so they don’t have a ton of upper body strength. As a male who went through that same scrawny early teen phase, I know what it’s like. In rehearsal there were a few times when the girls came dangerously close to being dropped – one time would have become a close encounter with the ground if other kids standing nearby hadn’t helped catch the young girl. So that was one thing that concerned me.

Also, the place where the boys were putting their hands on the young girls back to hold the girl over their head caused her to bend her back weirdly. At least, it seemed weird to me when I watched them do it in rehearsal. Then again, I am no longer that young, and it’s very rare for me to bend in strange angles like that nowadays. The young girls may have thought that bending like that was totally comfortable, even if it looked like an awkward angle for their spines to me. I never asked them, so I don’t know for sure.

But my concerns were all for naught because the lifts went off without a hitch that night. The crowd went nuts for them, as I’m sure you could have guessed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you want to do a dance showcase and really impress your audience, a lift is the way to go. People love them!

Other than Indiana and her kids group performing that evening, there was one other notable instructor that was there performing with a couple of his students that evening. He was notable to me not because of how well his acts went (they were all really good), but rather because of him… I had never seen this particular instructor before in all my travels around the Dance Kingdom. I found out later that he had come in from out-of-town with his students specifically to perform in the showcase, which explained why I had never met him before. I like to believe that I’ve talked to or seen pretty much all the instructors that teach in my little corner of the Dance Kingdom by now.

There was something… I don’t know exactly, but the guy just gave off a creepy vibe. Have you ever been in the same room as someone, and you know that they’ve done nothing out of the ordinary, but the person just feels creepy? That was this guy for me. Maybe it was the greasy pompadour that he had going on that was throwing me off. Maybe it was because during his dance performances he seemed to like doing things that would shift the focus away from his students who were dancing and onto him. I’m not entirely sure, but I just couldn’t get away from the fact that he creeped me out.

Before you think badly of me, just know that I did intend on trying to talk to this guy after the performance was over. I thought that if I said hello to him and talked for a moment, I could learn more about who he was and probably find out that he was actually a really nice dude. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around after the performance was over, so I never got a chance. I guess I will never know unless I see him around again sometime in the future.

The dance party after the showcase was also a lot of fun that night. There were a couple of younger guys who came to the party and danced together most of the night. That is not notable in-and-of itself, but I noticed it because they kept switching off which guy would lead and which one would follow. I did stop and talk to those two to praise them for being able to do that. Neither one of them was an instructor, they just both liked to have the option to be both the Lead or Follow as the mood struck them. I’ve been in classes where the instructor has asked everyone to try dancing the other part before, and it is a hard thing for me to do if the steps are not the natural opposite of what I would normally do, so my hat was off to these guys for being able to do that!

On Monday night out at Latin Technique class, I had a really easy night. The ladies that were in class did not, but Lord Junior and I did (relatively speaking). The weekend before class, Lord Junior and a few of his students had worked with some high-level out-of-town coach, and the coach had helped Lord Junior take a large chunk of Veep’s Open Rumba routine and throw it out to put in something much harder. Because they had just put the new section of the routine together only a few days prior to Latin Technique class, Lord Junior decided that since Veep was in class that night he would go over that new piece of choreography with the whole class… mostly to help the two of them memorize it faster.

Like a lot of high-level Rumba routines I’ve seen in my time, this new choreography is also focused on having the ladies do some crazy stuff, while the guy gets to basically just shift his weight back and forth over his legs without moving around. Most of what that consists of is standing strongly in place so that the girl you’re dancing with could use you for support, or as a platform to push off of. Man, us Leads have really got a rough job sometimes, don’t we?

We started out with the guys in a bit of a lunge on our left leg with our body twisted to offer our left arm to the lady. She was stretched out away from us with her weight on her right leg and her left foot pointed forward. The ladies would do a delayed walking action forward, holding on beat two and stepping on beat three, walking across our body and pivoting at the end to face away from us like in a Switchback, then bringing their arm up and pointing their leg back to create a line. The guys just stand up from the lunge while the ladies do this, then shift our weight to the right leg, then back to the left. Hard work, right?

The next part is the only real exciting thing that the guy gets to do. On the next beat two we would lead the lady to rotate back to face us, then release her hand. During the rotation she would lower down into her legs and put up both of her hands in front of her. The guys would then take a step forward on the left, then a small step on the right and go up on our toes to make ourselves as tall as possible while putting our right arm up. Those steps forward should put the guys body so that the lady’s hands are resting against his upper abdominal muscles. Be careful not to lean forward here – the lady’s hands are only there for decoration, not to actually support the guy. Once you are standing super tall in front of her she’ll tilt her head to look up at the guy – Lord Junior says it should be a look of amazement to really get the character of what the coach was trying to show him.

During the next measure in the music, the guy will pivot in place while lowering back down to be on his full foot and then step away, lunging out on his right leg this time. The lady uses that time to do a weird body-rolling move as she stands up slowly and then takes the guys proffered left hand. In the next measure she will step toward the guy on the second beat, then he will lead her to do a slow Spiral Turn over the next two beats. At the end the guy needs to shift his weight to his left leg and  lowered down his left arm to be near his waist, holding it strong there.

The lady will use that arm to press down on to help her create a line where she lifts her left arm over her head and stretches her left side as long as possible. It’s easier for the lady to do if she has something to press against, hence the guy keeping his arm strong. After a brief hold in this line, the lady will step forward out of it and the guys will take a step forward on their right leg. We’ll lead the lady to do kind of a Three-Step Turn where we release her hands, and she’ll move away from us and lunge out on her right leg perpendicular to the guy, turning her head to look over her left shoulder at us. We’ll hold in place until the very end of the third beat in the measure and take two steps forward to stand on both legs near her as she looks at us.

That’s where the new section ended. It’s kind of a neat looking piece, and I’m sure my picture doesn’t really show enough for you to get a true feel for what it looks like. Just trust me that it’s actually cooler than I can describe, even if it is complicated.

The things we did this week in Standard Technique class were a bit easier to explain than that Rumba choreography, since all the pieces can be found in the syllabus book. We got to work on Quickstep that evening at my suggestion – over the last few weeks before class started, I had heard Lord Junior mention that he thought we hadn’t looked at Quickstep in a while. Since no one else who came to class that night asked to work on anything specific, I threw that out as a suggestion, and everyone else just shrugged and went along with me. Hooray for me winning through other people’s apathy!

Lord Junior started off class by talking about the V6 figure from the Silver Quickstep syllabus. The by-the-book figure is actually just a combination of two different figures that you’ve probably seen before – a Backward Lock and an Outside Change – starting off heading toward diagonal center and finishing heading toward diagonal wall. That’s what gives it the ‘V’ shape that the figure is known for. I can’t find anything written about what the ‘6’ stands for in the name though… that part’s a mystery.

We started off simply enough by doing a prep step into a Half Natural Turn, then a Natural Spin Turn that went immediately into the V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn is used as the first step of the V6 in this configuration. At the end of the V6 we added on a Forward Lock and another Half Natural Turn to finish. This gave us the basic outline of what Lord Junior wanted to work with us on that evening.

Once we all had that down, Lord Junior wanted us to upgrade the V6 so that it used the alternate ending that you see done a lot which replaces the Outside Change portion of the figure with a Six Quick Run from the Gold Quickstep syllabus. This speeds up the ending portion, and you really don’t get a chance to take a slower step and breathe until you finish and get to the Half Natural Turn. The trick to keeping this alteration successful is to make sure and watch your rise and fall – you basically start to rise up at the end of step four of the V6 and then stay up the whole time until the end of the Six Quick Run.

Now, you may have noticed that I specifically kept saying ‘Half Natural Turn’ earlier. That was completely intentional, because once we finished upgrading the V6 to its alternate ending, Lord Junior wanted to have us change the Half Natural Turn after it into a full Natural Turn. Now, in Quickstep a full Natural Turn is not like what you would see in the Waltz or Viennese Waltz, where it is just two Half Natural Turns in a row. The second half of a Quickstep Natural Turn involves a Heel Pull action for the lead as you step to the side, then you pass your feet as you step forward onto your left leg.

Supposedly the Heel Pull action allows you to move faster than you would if you had taken three normal steps without the Heel Pull, but I’m not convinced about that. Still, Lord Junior warned us that we likely wouldn’t see people doing this full figure very often. In fact, he admitted that he had personally never seen this version of the figure until he was studying for his certification exam in International Standard a few years ago. If you read through the Bronze syllabus for Quickstep, this is the actual figure you’ll find, so don’t be surprised if you see it there now that I’ve told you!

After we got through the Natural Turn, we added on a Forward Lock that headed toward diagonal center. This set us up for the last step that Lord Junior wanted to show us that night, which was another Silver-level figure called the Fishtail. This is one that I had never seen before, but it wasn’t too rough to get through. Basically it is a forward check on the right leg toward diagonal center, then you step backward and then to the side to change direction so that you can finish with a Forward Lock toward diagonal wall.

There was one time that I messed up this figure pretty bad that night because when I tried to do the check on my right foot but my foot kept sliding forward, and it took some effort for me to get it to stop sliding and then to try to change direction. The mistake put me way off time with the music that was playing. Luckily Lord Junior didn’t notice, and my partner just laughed about it, so it wasn’t too embarrassing for me. I guess I should have brushed my shoes better before class started or something.

That’s all I did this week! So, I have to ask… are you getting excited? We are getting so close to Halloween! I am planning to do some finishing touches to my costume this weekend so that it is all ready to go for next weekend. I know that I will have full range of motion for dancing when in my costume, but this one does have a mask with it so I am a little worried that it may get to be hot as the evening wears on. Still, this costume makes me laugh a lot, so I am excited to wear it even with the risk of being warm.

Do you have your costume all ready? I hope so! Halloween is my favorite time of the dance holiday season! What kind of crazy creatures will I get to see people dress up as this year? I can’t wait to find out!

Here Comes The Moon Again

I spent my weekend away from home, attending an event at the Grand Dance Hall. I still find it hard to believe that this was my sixth year going to this annual party of theirs. Even after that many years, I still found it to be entertaining, and because of that I already reserved my spot to go again next year. After all, having enough people guarantee that they will go again is the best way to ensure that the Grand Dance Hall continues to hold the event for years to come, and I wanted to help with that. Yay!

My weekend plans started out on Friday night with me climbing into my little boat and rowing my way out to the mysterious island that the Grand Dance Hall is built on. It’s always a fun trip, and a great workout for my shoulders. The event has activities planned the entire evening on Friday and most of the whole day on Saturday, so I would be hard pressed to find time to find a gym and get in a real workout. Because of that, it’s important to get those reps in any way that you can. Trust me, huge shoulders are worth the effort.

I managed to get there in time to check in and change out of my sweaty rowing clothes into something nicer so that I could go to the pre-dinner reception that they held Friday afternoon in the main ballroom. The staff at the Grand Dance Hall had laid out a table full of fancy looking cheeses, crackers and fruit arrangements, and they had a four piece band playing some songs for anyone that wanted to dance while mingling. After an hour and a half of chatting and dancing with people, everyone took a break to head down to the dining hall and have dinner together.

After dinner was done, the real dance party started. If you remember what I wrote when I went to this party last year, or the year before that, or the year befo… anyway, the Grand Dance Hall always brings in a full orchestra to play the music for the dance parties on Friday and Saturday nights. That always makes the parties stand out compared to all the other dance parties I might happen to go to throughout the rest of the year. Have you ever gotten to dance with an orchestra playing in the background before? You really should try it sometime if you haven’t yet.

While the orchestra playing the music is normally one of the highlights of this event, this year it seems like they had a real novice put together their set list for Friday night. There was a real lack of variety and contrast in what they chose to play. For example, at one point in the night the conductor told the crowd they were going to play a Waltz number, then they played three Foxtrot numbers in a row, and when they finished those they did another Waltz number. While Foxtrot is one of my favorite dance styles, doing three in a row with nothing different in between is even a little too much for me. On top of that, there was just something off about the tempos of the songs that they chose to play. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it Friday night, but a lot of the songs and dance styles didn’t seem correct to me.

The real meat of the event though was on Saturday, when the Grand Dance Hall offered all attendees three ninety-minute workshops to attend. They had two different rooms open for workshops – one room offering instruction for beginners in the dance styles chosen for this year, and one for the more intermediate/advanced students. I was in the latter room all day, since I felt pretty comfortable in all three styles that they had chosen to teach this year. This year the dance styles chosen for the three workshops was Foxtrot, Rumba and East Coast Swing.

First up was the Foxtrot. The progression itself that the instructors chose to show the class wasn’t something that I would call difficult – it was really long, but the figures themselves were all just variations of things I’ve seen before – but then again I am not a good case study for what people would consider difficult in classes like this. The pattern started out simply enough, with a Progressive Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn where you released the lady, followed by a Progressive Chasse to the Right with a lady’s Underarm Turn. After that we went back into dance frame with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending, which put us into the corner as if we had just traveled all the way down the long wall.

To actually turn the corner we did another Progressive Twinkle that did a quarter of turn, coming out toward diagonal center on the new wall. Then there were two Passing Twinkles where we switched hands to lead the lady with the right hand in kind of a hooking action, collecting her back into frame afterward for a Feather Finish. Once back in dance frame we did a Contra Check in the other corner of the short wall, then another lady’s Underarm Turn, finishing by returning to dance frame facing diagonal wall on the next long wall where you could repeat the whole thing if you wanted.

The second half of the pattern I was able to work through just by watching the video of the demonstration the instructors did that I took before the class started. In class, the instructors never actually got beyond teaching people the first long wall. The Open Natural Turn where the guy would let go of his partner followed by a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady threw a lot of the people in class for a loop. The two people teaching the class were walking around trying to help everyone through the steps when they allowed people to go give the figures a try with their normal partners, but there were tons of people in class and only two instructors, so a lot of people were left struggling while they waited.

A fair number of people ended up coming over to where Sparkledancer and I were screwing around with the figures in one of the corners of the room to ask the two of us if we could help them. That ended up being what the two of us spent most of our time doing during the workshop, since we got through the steps with no trouble at all. The big issue that both of us kept seeing during this first section that people were struggling with which fixed most of the problems was that the ladies would do the turn in place while the men did the Progressive Chasse. That ended up putting the partners too far away from each other to collect back into dance frame comfortably when they went into the Open Impetus.

And then there was the Open Impetus itself, which also was a source of trouble. Asking the gentlemen to do a Heel Turn was probably reeeeeeeaaaalllllly ambitious for a class like this. Most of the guys that I saw going through the pattern later on had given up trying to do a Heel Turn entirely, and were just faking their way through the turn by taking three steps while turning instead. It was kind of funny to watch.

After a short break we started in on the Rumba. Much like the last class, the things the instructors put in the pattern weren’t any figures I hadn’t done variations of before, but the pattern was really long. This one started out with the partners standing apart and facing one another before going into a Sliding Door. When we got back to the point where we were standing facing one another again, the Leads would cross their wrists and take the lady’s hands in their matching hand (right to right, left to left), then unwind her while doing a second Sliding Door action. At the end of that, we would lead the lady through a Spiral Turn and get her into Shadow Position with us, sliding our hands up slightly to take hold of her wrists.

In Shadow Position the men would stand with their feet apart and do Cuban Rocks while leading the lady to do Swivels back and forth in front of them. We would do two measures of this, and on the last beat of the second measure the men would lunge away from the lady onto their right leg while leading the lady to head off to the left facing away from us. Using a subtle movement of the lady’s right arm we would have her do a Ronde while turning to face us, then we would hook her back in while we collected our feet to get her back into dance frame on our right side, setting us up to go into three Opening Outs.

On the last Opening Out the Lead would end by shifting his weight back over his left leg to get us out of Shadow Position. We would hold like that while leading the lady to do a slow four-count Underarm Turn, then another Ronde over the next three count, stepping through on the last beat in the measure. Here they wanted the men to lead the ladies to do one more Swivel step, then another Underarm Turn, and finally a Free Spin (lots of turning for the ladies). When all that is over, we would slowly collect our feet over the next measure in the music and then we were done.

This class got slightly farther through the planned progression than the last class. The instructors taught the class everything up through the Opening Outs before they ran out of time. A lot of time was given so that everyone could practice the various pieces that were taught, and because people were having trouble and the instructors could only go around and offer assistance so quickly, the ninety minutes scheduled for the class flew by without us getting to the whole thing, much like during the Foxtrot workshop.

I was not one of those having trouble with the pieces of the progression, but my time also flew by as well. Because people had seen Sparkledancer and I helping out during the Foxtrot class, even more people came to ask the two of us questions when they ran into problems. One lady in particular seemed rather fond of sticking near me, and when I wasn’t in the middle of helping someone else she would ask if I could go through the progression with her over and over again so that she could make sure that she had her parts down. Her normal partner (husband? Boyfriend? Friend? I couldn’t figure that out) had skipped out on the Rumba lesson, so she was trying to get through the figures all by herself until Sparkledancer and I had taken her under our wings.

When the ninety minutes allocated to the Rumba class were up, we all got a short break to give us a chance to head off and find some lunch if we wanted. Once everyone had gathered back in the main ballroom, the instructors started in on the final workshop for the day in East Coast Swing. This workshop, like the previous two, was designed around a progression of figures that was much longer than the instructors actually managed to accomplish in the time allotted. They demonstrated the entirety of what they had hoped to get through at the beginning, and I managed to record it this time, so I was able to transcribe it in order to write it down here for all of you to read. Hooray for all of you!

It starts out with a Underarm Turn for the ladies with the men switching hands halfway through to get their partner into Handshake Hold. Next there is another Underarm Turn for the ladies, and at the end the men do a slight turn for themselves to bring their right arm over their head and release the ladies into an Arm Slide so we could get back into normal Open Dance Hold. Here the partners would lean forward toward each other and do a subtle shimmying action, then lean away from each other and do another shimmying action, just for fun. After that we would lead the lady into a set of four Chicken Walks to travel a bit down the floor.

Once we are done traveling both partners would do two Kick-Ball-Changes, with the men doing the kicks with their left leg and the ladies doing the kick with their right. Next the Lead would have the Follow do a Free Spin, catching them with the right hand to put us back into Handshake Hold. Here we would do another Underarm Turn with the Arm Slide to get back into normal hold again. To finish things off we would lead our partner into two Hip Bumps, another Underarm Turn where we changed hands back into Handshake Hold, and we would wind our partner up and lead them into an American Spin to finish it all off. Nothing too challenging, right?

At least… that’s the way I saw the pattern once I watched it. This class managed to get slightly farther through the pattern with the instructors than during the last two workshops, but they still did not manage to teach the class all the figures up through the end. The instructors were only able to teach the pattern up until the second Arm Slide action right before the Hip Bumps before they ran out of time and had to call it quits for the day. Still, based on the issues that people came to me to ask about, getting that far was pretty impressive.

Surprisingly, the part that seemed to be giving couples the hardest time was the first two Underarm Turns with the Arm Slide action. Both Sparkledancer and I had many people asking us about how to get through that portion of the pattern, and there were at least four couples just in the corner I was hanging out in that I had to step through the pieces slowly to help them get through it successfully. Of all the breaks that the instructors gave during class for people to try out the steps with their normal partner, the break that they gave for the first section with the Underarm Turns and Arm Slide went on the longest.

I don’t know why, but for all the people having issues that I helped with the steps, the problem was that after they got through changing hands to get into Handshake Hold, they totally forgot that there was another triple-step action that needed to be done with the other foot. All the people I helped were rushing through the steps chaotically and missing that triple-step, which obviously then threw off everything afterward. Once I got people to slow down and listen to the music in the background and keep to its much slower tempo, that tended to help them get through everything without messing up.

Later on Saturday evening there was another pre-dinner reception, full of more mingling and some light dancing to get everyone ready for the meal. After spending the day in the workshops together, people were feeling much more chummy with each other, so there was quite a bit more conversation going on at this reception than there was at the Friday night reception. It may have also helped that there were staff members wandering around offering various adult-type beverages for sale, but that’s just a feeling I get. I don’t drink at all, so I don’t really know how much a difference it makes for other people who do when they socialize.

But I also saw the most amazing sight of the whole weekend at this pre-dinner reception. The quartet playing the music decided to do a Polka number. Normally when Polka numbers come on, not a lot of people in my area take to the dance floor, but the audience really gets into the music anyway. During this particular Polka number, a group of four people took to the floor together and started dancing as one group! It was kind of amazing – they were in a frame that was very box like, with two in the front and two in the back, all facing forward and holding hands.

This group must have practiced dancing in this configuration before, because their steps were all very synchronized and they kept switching places with each other as they traveled around the floor. I think each person ended up in every corner of the box at least once. Loop after loop around the floor they went as one group, like the four horsemen of the Polkocalypse (ha ha! I’m funny). Near the end, as the quartet reached the last coda of the song, the single group of four split into two groups of two and they chased each other around the floor until the song ended. That was probably the coolest dance thing I have seen in a long time. Maybe someday I can find enough dance friends who know Polka and they can teach me how to dance like that. 🙂

After the reception all of the guests were treated to one final fabulous dinner, and then we were able to dance the night away with the orchestra once more. This time around, the leader of the orchestra actually made a comment early on in the night about how they were going to try to mix up the variety of songs better this time around. I wonder if someone said something to them the night before? In any case, the arrangement of music was much more diverse on Saturday night, which made things even more fun than they were on Friday.

I did see something that I thought was strange on Saturday night, something that I made a note to myself about so that I could look it up later. There were a couple of Cha-Cha numbers played that night. Since Cha-Cha is not one of my favorite dances, I spent the time during those songs just hanging around in the back of the room and watching. I noticed that during the Cha-Cha songs there were a fair amount of couples that were dancing off time. I thought it was just a quirk of those couples at first – you know, maybe the Lead wasn’t hearing the beat in the music correctly or something – but then I saw that the couple that had taught the beginner workshops earlier in the day were also dancing off time. That’s when I realized that even though all of these couples were dancing off time, they were dancing in sync with each other.

OK, so that was weird. The song ended and I didn’t think too much of it until the next time a Cha-Cha came on. From my perch in the back of the room where I was observing, I noticed the same strange thing with the timing happening all over again to a different song. As I contemplated this, I saw one of the instructors from the beginner workshops standing near a group of people a few tables in front of me. I could make out some of what he was saying to the group, and he describing to them how to do the Cha-Cha. What surprised me was that he clearly told them to do the break on beats one and two in the music, and the chasse over the ‘three & four’ afterward. This made things all the more confusing, so I decided to take a moment and ask the Internets what was going on.

Did you know that outside of the world of ballroom dancing they do Cha-Cha, and they do it by doing the break on one and two and the chasse on the ‘three & four?’ I had no idea! Apparently this is a more common thing in Latin nightclubs, where the social dancing is something taught in different ways than how I learned the Cha-Cha. Now when I watched these couples dance the Cha-Cha in different timing, it still looked weird to me, but at least I understood why. Weird.

Anyway, that’s the report from my trip last weekend. Sorry that it ended up being so long, but there was a lot to talk about! I did other things that were dance related this week, but I’ll just leave those out to keep this from going on forever.