Losing The Feeling Of Feeling Unique

Do you ever feel like sometimes, even when you are not doing anything out of the ordinary, your schedule is still overly full? I’ve had that feeling all week, even though I haven’t been doing anything crazy. I get up at the same time every morning, but this past week I have felt like I don’t have enough time to get everything done before I have to leave the house. I leave the office at the same time every day, but all this week I’ve felt super rushed to try to get home and accomplish basic life things before I have to leave the house again. Hopefully this weekend I will have a chance to spend an hour or two to just unwind a bit. Right now, sitting on the floor and staring at a wall for a while sounds like a lot of fun.

Also, I really need a haircut. I know! Maybe if I go out for a haircut, I’ll find out that there are a lot of people signed up to get their hair cut in front of me. Then I could just sit quietly in the waiting room for a while. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I would even hazard to count that as multitasking.

I am so smart sometimes.

This past Saturday I had another two lessons scheduled, first one with Sir Steven and then one with Lord Dormamu. With Sir Steven, we picked up where we left off the week before looking at Tango. After dancing through the routine once, Sir Steven seemed pleased enough with how the section that we had looked at last week looked, so we moved on to look at the figures from a different section. This time around, Sir Steven wanted to look at the figures in the corner connecting the first long wall and the first short wall.

Starting with the Promenade Pivot, he wanted us to make sure that we did a couple of things differently. First off, once the pivot comes around and we are back to Promenade Position facing diagonal center, he wants us to be sure and stop completely. No pivoting and then floating through until the momentum dies on the turn, but a distinct stop once we are facing the right direction. Next, Sparkledancer was told to really throw herself around me as we pivot. I obviously have to be sure to keep her in place and stop her, but in order to make the transition from the Promenade to the Pivot and then back to Promenade again look good, it has to move with power. Finally, as we close the Promenade that exits the pivot, he wants to have us close with me facing more toward diagonal wall instead of facing wall like I am doing now.

This set us up to look at the next Progressive Link that goes into a Promenade with Right Lunge in the corner. Here, instead of lunging out far, he wanted me to bring my legs slightly closer together as I step into the lunge, and then once I have landed solidly on both feet I will drive my right hip toward Sparkledancer. Pushing forward in this way will allow me to be more grounded between my feet, and allow Sparkledancer to work on extending herself away from me even more. This should have the effect of making the lunge appear more voluminous without me having to make it bigger by widening the space between my feet.

We finished off that afternoon by looking at Viennese Waltz. We didn’t actually do much dancing in Viennese Waltz – instead, Sir Steven wanted to look at how we started out Viennese Waltz routine. Rather than get into dance frame like we do for every other dance style and then do some sort of starter step before dancing, Sir Steven wanted us to start doing this funny three measure sequence to get into frame before our first Natural Turn. This is a sequence I will have to try my best to remember. I prefer to start dancing Viennese Waltz with a Reverse Turn if left to my own devices, so anything that leads me into a Natural Turn to start just feels wrong in my opinion.

The pattern starts with me taking a step forward on my right leg for a three-count, with my left leg pointed to the side, extending my left hand. Sparkledancer will then step forward on her left leg for another three-count, with her right leg pointed to the side and taking my extended hand with her right. On the next count of three we both take a step to the side with a bit of a flourish, and on the next three-count I do a small bow while Sparkledancer does a courtesy. The next three count has us coming up and taking a step toward each other to get closer and start to take frame, and the final three-count has us in dance frame, taking a step to my left/her right and winding up a bit so that we can start the next measure of music with a Natural Turn.

OK, so writing it down like that makes it seem less funny and more straightforward. Now all I need to do is remember to do this sequence anytime I want to start a Viennese Waltz, and I will be good. We’ll have to see how that goes for me…

Sparkledancer and I got about an hour break between lessons that afternoon and then we got into things with Lord Dormamu to work on Foxtrot again. He put on some music for us and then had us dance through the entirety of our routine so that he could see how our practice was coming along. After the first runthrough, he turned the music down and came over to where we had ended up on the floor to talk about what it is that he saw during our first try. Nothing was overly terrible that time he said, and our movement is looking much better overall. Because his work with us on Foxtrot has really been to focus on the movement of the dance, that was good to hear!

After giving us his overall impression, he wanted to go over the routine with each of us individually. I got to go first, so he had me get into position, took my elbows, and then had me lead him through the figures up until we finished the first Three Step. As we were heading back, he told me that he could really tell when he danced with me that my consistency of movement was much better – overall, I had smoothed everything out so that the dance was flowing continuously, without any of the stuttering, choppy feeling that I had back when we had started working on Foxtrot. Hearing that gave me a definite sense of accomplishment. Yay me!

There were a couple of points he still wasn’t completely enthused about, because they gave the illusion that the movement wasn’t completely smooth even if it felt that way when he danced with me. The transition from the end of the Reverse Turn with Feather Finish into the Three Step was the big one he wanted to start with. Watching from the outside, he said it looked to him like I was coming up quite a bit at the end of the Feather Finish and then trying to lower back into the Three Step abruptly, making the first step of the Three Step appear to bounce. He told me that to learn what I should be doing, he wanted me to practice staying low in my knees during the Feather Finish and then try to lower even more going into the Three Step.

He pointed out before I gave it a try that dancing this way would make me look like I was stuttering during the transition between the two figures, but the stutter that I would be intentionally introducing this time around would bounce the opposite direction – falling instead of rising. If I could practice the exercise enough to help me get used to canceling out the rise I was unintentionally putting into the Feather Finish, I would hopefully cure my problem and then I would be golden.

I tried it out once on my own, and afterward he just stared at me and told me that doing it like that actually made it look exactly like how he wanted – smooth and even the whole time while I was traveling. He had me try doing it again just to verify that what I did the first time wasn’t a fluke, and sure enough he saw the same results. I then had to try it once with Sparkledancer just to make sure that she was comfortable with the change and everything still looked right with her in the mix. So, since that seemed to fix everything, from now on that is how I am supposed to think about moving through that section. Weird.

We also looked at the Reverse Turn in the corner for a few minutes. At first he wanted to make sure that when we did the check in the corner where I am supposed to rotate my head to look over Sparkledancer that we weren’t ‘breaking’ our sides as we did the necessary shaping. Then he got on my case to make sure that I was moving through the step using my standing leg to drive, but that I wasn’t rotating my body with such force that it would throw Sparkledancer off balance during the turn. I am so much heavier than Sparkledancer that if I put any sort of power into rotating my body, she just kind of goes along for the ride whether she is supposed to or not.

His exact words to me were: “Drive with power, but softly. Like a gentleman.” That right there is a quote to remember for life.

Before finishing that day, Lord Dormamu wanted to spend time going through the figures on the short wall, since we usually only spend time working on the long wall. The only point that he really had a problem with was the Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. He thought that the footwork we much better, but from where he had watched us go through it the first time it looked like my head was bending toward the right when I went through the figure. I didn’t think I had moved my head at all, since I had spent so long working on fixing that issue, so I was disappointed to hear that he thought I had done that.

When we danced through the figure again and I made sure that I didn’t move my head at all, he told me that it still looked wrong. I told him that I was focusing specifically on keeping my head in the same place this time through, so I knew that it didn’t move that time. He had us dance the figure again, but this time he moved to watch what I was doing from a different angle. From that vantage point, he could see that my head wasn’t moving at all, but it still looked wrong, so that meant that I needed to change things in my body to fix the problem.

So for the time being he told me that when I take my step backward to go into the Natural Closed Impetus, I need to make a point of leaning my upper body to the left as I go through the figure. If I keep my head where it should be and lean my upper body to the left, that will make it look like my head is leaning to the left if you are watching me from the outside. At this time, I was told to make the lean pretty extreme to really get the feeling into memory, but next time I see Lord Dormamu he will evaluate how I am doing and (assuming things are better) I will start to ease back on the leaning a bit. So we’ll see how that goes this week!

Monday night’s Latin Technique class was a rough night for me. Based on how things have been arranged on my calendar, it just so happens that this week and last week, and for at least the next couple of weeks as well, my normal leg workouts will end up on Monday. So after I finish up pushing myself to lift heavy weights with my legs for about an hour, then I only take a short break before heading off again to do some heavy Latin dancing for another hour. This is not the most pleasant thing to do on a Monday night, especially this past Monday night when we worked on Samba.

This class on Samba wasn’t about going over some progression of higher-level figures to help us improve, or working on a section from one of his students’ routines either. This week we worked on drilling in the technique for a basic Samba movement that everyone knows and loves: the Volta. Apparently Lord Junior often sees people doing Voltas wrong, so he wanted to make all of us shining examples of how to do them right. We mixed in all kinds of Volta movements for practice that night – some that traveled straight, some that curved, some that rotated, some that were continuous, some that paused, etc. etc.. At the end of class we also worked on doing some with a partner, and since we had twice as many women as men that night I got to do twice as many steps as the ladies. By the time I climbed into my car to head home, my legs were just worn out.

We started with a progression of simple Voltas that used the basic timing that most everyone will recognize. There were four of the original recipe Voltas that moved in a straight line, then four more that curved a total of 90° by the time you finished the fourth, and finally four Spot Voltas to finish things up. We were told to shoot for turning at least 180° for each Spot Volta, but Lord Junior encouraged us to turn more if we could do more. We did this pattern several times going to both the left and the right, ensuring we could do all of these different Volta movements starting from both feet.

The second pattern of Voltas we did all traveled in a straight line. This time we focused on variations in the timing of the figure. We once again started off with four normal Voltas using the basic timing. Next up we did two Voltas where the first two steps used the basic timing but then we held ourselves in place for the remainder of the measure of music, making these Voltas super slow moving. Lastly we did these four step pseudo-Voltas that moved very quickly and had a lot of rotation in the body. If you are traveling to the left, you would take a step and then cross your right foot behind the left, rotating your body to face diagonal wall against the line of dance, and then step out of that on the left foot and finish by crossing your right foot in front in a Cuban Cross, with your body now facing diagonal wall. We did four sets of these, covering another two measures of music.

At the end of class Lord Junior had us do some practice dancing together with a partner. We kept going with the final pattern of Volta movements that had the differing timings, but added on beforehand to give us a nice transition into the pattern. The whole thing started out with the lady standing in front of the guy, with our left hand taking her right hand and our right leg back while her left leg was forward. We then went into three Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs, the first one having the lady come around the guy. At the end of the third run, rather than hold the final step for a moment the guys would slide their hand down from the lady’s shoulder to grasp her forearm and we would go right into a Volta, using that to transition into the pattern of Volta movements discussed previously.

Finally this week, last night was Standard Technique class, and I got to work on Tango again (deja vu?). I kind of co-opted the class to try to get more practice in on something that I have been working on as soon as Tango was brought up. All of us who had shown up for class that night had congregated in one corner while Lord Junior was finishing up the paperwork for the private lesson he just finished teaching. When he came to join us in the corner and asked us what we wanted to work on that night, Sparkledancer said that it had been a while since we had done Tango in class. I didn’t think it had been all that long, but then I remembered that Sparkledancer wasn’t in class three weeks ago when we last covered Tango, and then it made sense.

When Lord Junior asked if there was anything specific in Tango that anyone wanted to work on, no one else brought anything up, so I asked if we could work on making sure our Tango actually looked like Tango. He looked at me quizzically for a moment, so I explained that a complaint that I had gotten last week from Sir Steven was that my Tango moved a lot like a Foxtrot, so I had been trying to make the two dance styles more distinct. He laughed at my confession, but agreed to putting some Tango figures together that could help me out.

We started with a simple Progressive Link, because Lord Junior said that there aren’t many other steps in the syllabus that really embody International Tango quite so well. We worked on making our Progressive Link sharp and precise for a while, using a basic Closed Promenade afterward to end a little more naturally. Satisfied with how we looked, Lord Junior had us add on a Back Corte to the progression. We rotated the last three steps of the Back Corte enough so that we could move around a corner from where we started. Now facing diagonal center on our imaginary new wall, we added on the first half of an Open Reverse Turn with Lady In Line. This is the less common variation of the Open Reverse Turn – most of the time you will see people doing the Pre-Bronze version that has the lady in outside partner. In the middle of the Open Reverse Turn we put in a set of Left Foot and Right Foot Rocks just for fun, and closed with the second half of the Open Reverse Turn.

We spent the majority of the class practicing that full progression. The figures themselves were fairly basic, so to end class Lord Junior wanted to give us all something a bit more challenging to close out the night. We looked at an Open-level choreography figure that he called the Promenade Step Taps. This is a figure that I’ve seen before a couple of times that travels pretty quickly down the floor. In Promenade Position, after taking the first slow step with your outside leg, you then take a quick step onto the other foot and then bring your outside leg up and rotate it so that you can tap the point of your shoe onto the floor for half a quick, before bringing the foot back down and repeating the process. For our practice we did two taps before we closed the Promenade by squaring up with our partner.

My night magically cleared up. I had a lesson planned for tonight, but then it had to be rescheduled. I had everything all ready to go with this so that I could post it quick when I got home but now… I feel like I should go back and rewrite sections of it, but I don’t think I’m going to. Maybe I’ll go back and edit it later, but probably not.

There’s a wall calling to me. Time to get some staring in before bed. 🙂

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!

Clearly I Don’t See Myself Upon That List

I was supposed to head over to the Fancy Dance Hall on Saturday morning to have two different coaching sessions – first an early session with Lord Dormamu, then afterward my normal session with Sir Steven. When I got to the Fancy Dance Hall, I found Sir Steven and the Princess working with a female student on some technical points. As I walked through the studio to find a place to change my shoes, both Sir Steven and the Princess waved to me and asked me what I was doing there so early. I guess Lord Dormamu had overscheduled himself that morning, and had told everyone he would be shifting around a bunch of his lessons (one of which was mine) so Sir Steven and the Princess didn’t expect to see me for a couple of hours yet. Apparently both Sparkledancer and I were the only ones who hadn’t gotten that message, since she showed up a few minutes later and had the same bewildered look on her face when I asked her if she had heard anything.

Luckily, Sir Steven had an open hour during the time when Sparkledancer and I would have otherwise been working with Lord Dormamu, so we decided to have that lesson first, and spent most of our time working on Waltz. One of the other instructors at the Fancy Dance Hall had just come back from a coffee and confection run as Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I were getting started. He and the Princess took up residence on one of the couches in the back of the dance floor to enjoy the treats he had procured and have some idle conversation to pass the time while waiting for their next appointments.

Since the Fancy Dance Hall was otherwise quiet that morning, I could tell that they were playing peanut gallery in the back, watching everything we were doing as they conversed. Occasionally the Princess would yell out at me because she thought I did something wrong. I’m sure she thought she was helping, but after the second or third time she randomly interjected I started to get paranoid. I wasn’t entirely certain I was actually doing anything wrong – things felt right to me at the time – but I wasn’t going to question the Princess, so I just hung my head in shame and went back to repeat things even if Sir Steven didn’t tell me to. He would just laugh at me and let me finish before having us move on.

There were a few points I need to remember from that lesson. For one, Sir Steven said that our opening steps in the Waltz were starting to curve more than he would like for some reason. He told us to go back and think about how the starting steps in our Foxtrot routine move, since the opening Feather into a Reverse Turn travel in a pretty straight line. We wanted to make sure in the Waltz to also travel in a straight line until we had to rotate in the Natural Turn, which should fix the issue.

Another thing we were told to start focusing more practice time on was lowering and then starting all of our rotations from our standing leg as we push out. As we have gotten better about lowering at the appropriate time in the figures and driving straight forward out of steps, it has started to look more like our rotation is an afterthought, so Sir Steven wanted us to focus on doing our turning as we push out instead. He had Sparkledancer and I practice this by doing some normal rotating Natural and Reverse Turns in circles, both separate and then together. This was something we were told to spend a few minutes on when we were warming up in each of our practice sessions, so that we wouldn’t forget to do it when we danced normally.

After we finished up with Sir Steven and were writing up the paperwork for our lesson, Lord Dormamu emerged from his meeting and was ready to go. He came over to where we were all standing to ask us what we had just finished working on. Sir Steven was kind enough to fill him in on the specifics, and Lord Dormamu decided that since we had spent most of our time with Sir Steven covering the Waltz that he would continue to focus with us on Foxtrot for the time being. Because, you know, we had so much fun the last time we worked on Foxtrot, so he wasn’t ready to move on to anything else yet.

What we did that day was… kind of crazy. Things started off normal enough, with Lord Dormamu asking us to dance for him so that he could see how we’d been coming along in our practice since last time. Overall, he thought we were doing better, but we still didn’t show quite enough drive coming from our pelvic regions for his taste. Yup, that’s how I know things in my life have gotten weird – when I start talking about ‘driving from my pelvic region’ as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to discuss. Phrases like that seem to come up fairly frequently nowadays. Ballroom dancing is such a nutty world, isn’t it?

Sparkledancer was taken to task first on this point. She and Lord Dormamu started dancing together, and just left me behind in the corner for a good ten minutes or so. I tried to keep an eye on what they were doing to see if I could pick up any pointers, but they were moving all over the room and with the other people dancing on the floor I found it hard to keep up with what was going on. I gave up after a while and decided to pass the time instead by making jokes at the Princess and her student, since they were dancing near my corner. I didn’t get much information from Sparkledancer about what they were covering while they wandered off, but she did tell me later that Lord Dormamu told her that her pelvis was “too polite” and he wanted her to fix that by learning to drive it forward harder. I’m not sure that I could ever get away with telling a girl that. It must be nice to be a dance instructor.

Then it was my turn. On a positive note, Lord Dormamu told me that he thinks I have successfully reset the default position for my head, so now I can start looking to the left again. Hooray for small victories! However, lest we get too far into the celebrations, I was also told that I needed to really work on pushing everything from both my right side of my abdomen and from my pelvis as well. This is when I was asked to do something awkward and uncomfortable: Lord Dormamu wanted me to get myself into dance frame and then clasp my hands behind my back. Then I was to dance by driving forward from those two parts of my body as much as possible, which put a wicked curve in my back because I needed to counterbalance myself with my head. When he said I was doing things right, I felt like my chest was pointing up to the ceiling, as if I were going to do a pull-up. While that is a common feeling for me, I’ve never held that position while dancing before.

This was not a comfortable way to dance by any stretch of the imagination. That must mean that I was doing things correctly, right? At first I was just dancing while Lord Dormamu walked in front of me, pressing his hands down on my shoulders. Then I had to do it with Sparkledancer putting her hands on my shoulders, but the two of us were also expected to try to maintain body contact, so I was awkwardly driving my abdomen and pelvis into her while she was working on driving her no-longer-shy pelvis into me. Most of the figures were OK while dancing like this. Some of the figures that rotated got to be a little wild, but I would expect that any time I try dancing with someone without being able to lock our upper bodies in a consistent relative position.

We spent a good half-an-hour dancing like this, with Lord Dormamu having us fix little things on each repetition. For instance, one time through he wanted us to exaggerate our footwork on the Natural Weave. As he said, “judges are old, blind and stupid” so we would have to make every step that we did as visible as possible if we wanted to get good marks (yes that is actually a real quote from Lord Dormamu). At the end of our session, just before wrapping things up, Lord Dormamu hemmed and hawed for a while and told us that, against his better judgement, he was going to have us try to dance the routine in frame once. By the time he stopped us just before we had completed the short wall, he said that he was really surprised by how well we had done – he doesn’t usually expect his students to be able to apply everything so quickly. Hooray! Go team!

As you probably already guessed, we were told that we should add in this exercise during our practice. To clarify, I asked him whether we should be dancing in that hold with just Foxtrot right now, or should we practice all of our routines like that. He said for now we should use it on all the routines, then stopped himself and said we may not need it for Tango, but he wasn’t sure. He had us start our Tango routine for him once, stopped us after a few figures and said that he liked the way that our topline looked already, it was just our legs that needed to be fixed, so we wouldn’t have to try to dance Tango while in that awkward frame. So that means only four more things for the practice list instead of five. Sigh…

Monday night I headed out to Latin Technique class. Before class got started, Lord Junior and Miss Shortdress were sitting around and talking about how much they both loved Samba, so that is what we ended up working on that night. Nothing we did was all that crazy in reality – we started out with three Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs, going into three Natural Pivots that came out into a final Promenade Run. At the end of that we rotated to face our partners by doing one Volta Movement that we held for two beats, just for a change of pace from the frantic movements we had up to that point.

Next up were these fancy, curving alternately outward and inward Lock Steps. We held on to our partner with our right hand in her left, then did a Lock Step that would curve away about an eighth of a turn, then curved back on the next Lock Step so that we could be palm to palm with our partner using our free hand, then repeated that combination. After the second set of Lock Steps, we came together at the end for two Stationary Samba Walks to finish out the musical phrase.

Yesterday in Standard Technique class we looked at Foxtrot. The last class Lord Junior had made a point of talking with all of us about the competition he had been in recently, and how the biggest problem he dealt with was that all of his students wanted to move way too fast. Whether it was because of nerves or adrenaline or just not being able to hear the rhythm of the music, Lord Junior had been constantly holding his students back to keep them on time with him. That’s why in the previous week’s class we had worked on dancing through some basic Waltz figures reeeeeeeeaaaallllly slow. This week he had all of us work on the same thing in Foxtrot.

None of the figures we used were all that complicated. Starting with a prep step we did a Feather, a Reverse Turn with Feather Finish and a Three Step. As we progressed through class, we switched out the Three Step at the end for a Top Spin, just to make things more interesting. But we did things super slow… like 70% tempo was the fastest that we went for most of the class until right at the end when we were allowed to try things at full speed once to see if there was any improvement. Dancing that slowly wasn’t that bad for me, since my part of all the steps used is rather simple. The hardest part was helping the ladies to maintain their balance during the Heel Pull in the Reverse Turn, and keeping my dance partner from speeding up when we were traveling in a straight line. For some reason, most of the ladies in class wanted to accelerate when traveling straight, like in the Feather or Three Step.

Now, for the most troubling part of going to these classes this week was… Miss Shortdress. College is out for the summer, and she has been back with us the last two weeks for Standard Technique and Latin Technique classes. I didn’t think much about it when she first showed up two Wednesdays ago, since I hadn’t seen her in a while and it took me a lot longer than I care to admit to remember her name initially. I made mention of her a couple of times last summer, because people kept making fun of me for her acting like she had a crush on me. Well… I guess the long school year did not cause her to move on from that crush.

Monday night, since there wasn’t a gaggle of ladies to contend against when vying for my attention, Miss Shortdress was pouring it on pretty noticeably. She made a point of skipping ahead in the line of ladies to dance with me more than once during the hour. Before and after class she was hovering nearby and seemed to laugh extra hard at my jokes I was making when talking with people. And at one point when we were dancing together she called me “babe” unexpectedly. I think I faltered on my next step when I heard that. So that’s weird, right? I really don’t understand women…

Then on Wednesday night, there were a lot more women in class with us, so the things she was doing were at more of a distance. I heard from people who were standing near her in the line of ladies that Miss Shortdress was talking about me with one of her classmates. I guess she was once again laughing overly hard at some of the silly and quirky things I was doing, and somehow managed to drop into the conversation a line about how she thought I was ‘so cute.’ She did make a point of telling me directly at one point when we were about to dance together that she really liked how I got into frame… which normally would have been a nice compliment, but with everything else I’d seen and heard in classes this week made me feel uncomfortable.

I don’t know what to do about her. Hopefully this behavior doesn’t get any worse as the summer progresses. I can handle little things like these miniature flirtatious teases, but I don’t know what to do if her ‘amorous advances’ become any more blatant. I mean, I’ve got to be at least a dozen years older than her, so I definitely don’t want to accidentally encourage anything and get a reputation for being a creepy old man (skeevy, I believe, is the word I used for that last week). It also doesn’t seem worthwhile to say anything to her to confront the issue, since she will only be around until summer is over and then she’ll run off to college again and the problem will just disappear without any effort.

I bet if I didn’t dance she wouldn’t even consider me worth her time. Is dancing like my curse?

Anyway… so many things to do this weekend! On Saturday I have lessons with both Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven. Normally we try to have at least two weeks between our lessons with Lord Dormamu so that Sparkledancer and I can practice things, but he will be out of town the weekend of the 24th, so we moved things up. Saturday night I have a dance party to host, with some strange theme that I’m really not sure how to dress for. Sunday there is this high-level International Standard coach who will be hanging out at the Electric Dance Hall, and I signed up to have a lesson with him to get an outside opinion on all the things I’ve been working on with Lord Dormamu recently. At some point in all of that, I really hope I can go get all my hairs cut, since they have grown long enough to bother me. Will I manage to fit everything in?

Tune in next week to find out!

Dance, Dance, Dance To The Distortion

I promised myself I was going to try to keep tonight’s post shorter than things have been lately, so that’s what I’m shooting for. Especially since next weekend is going to be so full of dance stuff that I will likely make all sorts of notes about. Those, of course, will end up posted here. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start back at the beginning…

Last Saturday afternoon when I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekend session, Sir Steven had originally wanted to start off by looking at some new figures in Tango to use for the crazy idea I had for the Fancy Dance Hall’s summer showcase. However, Sparkledancer stopped us both short by saying that she has some work training event that she has to go to this summer, which happens to be the same weekend that the showcase is scheduled for. She can’t get out of that training, so she has to bow out of the performance. I don’t have a backup partner prepared for events like this, much less someone whom I know would trust me enough to let me pick her up and throw her around in a showcase, so I said that I would shelve the idea for another occasion in the future. With that, Sir Steven thought about things for a few minutes to figure out what we would do instead, and put us to work on something else.

We went back to focus on the swing and sway in various parts of our figures again. There were a few points that stick with me as things I need to keep more in my mind as we go forward, since they’ve sort-of fallen by the wayside as I’ve gotten all this other information that I was told to make my priority instead. One thing in particular was in Foxtrot: during the first Feather that I go through, I guess my second step on my left foot was starting to look too much like a forward step instead of a side step, especially when I am thinking about other things (like the proper swing of the figure) when I take the step. That’s something I really need to make sure not to do. I’ve done tons of Feather steps in Foxtrot without issue, so I shouldn’t start creating problems now!

We also spent some time focusing on the Natural Spin Turn in Waltz. This was one of those things that the Princess and I had looked at quite a bit during my coaching session with her while Sparkledancer was on vacation. I’m not sure why Sparkledancer and I hadn’t gone through any Natural Spin Turns together in the practice time we had put in after she got back, but apparently we hadn’t. Sparkledancer was surprised the first time that we went through the figure, since it felt noticeably different to her, so it threw her off a little. I had to stop and tell her about the things the Princess had told me to make sure I was doing to make sure we were on the same page before trying things again. Sir Steven as listening to me talk and nodding along, and at the end he smiled and said that Spin Turns were kind of the Princess’ thing, and she really liked to focus on working on them with people.

The Natural Spin Turns we did afterward were much better, as you can imagine. Sir Steven wanted us to really work on following through even more with the rotation in our upper body at the end of the spin, but to do so while making sure that we didn’t rotate our feet any farther (it is an Under-Turned Natural Spin Turn, after all). There were a few times where we didn’t control the rotation enough while trying to turn from our waists and upper body, which caused our feet to pivot further, so we ended up accidentally coming out of the Natural Spin Turn toward backing diagonal center instead of backing diagonal center against line of dance. On top of that, we had to make sure that we were balanced enough at the end of the rotation to really drive out into the Reverse Turn once we finish spinning. There were times that I came out of the turning and rotating and didn’t have enough of a hold to push out of my right leg with any force, so the last step of the Natural Spin Turn onto my left leg was kind of weak and puny. Sigh… yet another thing to add to my list to focus on during practice, right?

This past Monday night I did manage to get to Latin Technique class. I felt bad for missing class more often than not lately, so even though it was pouring down monstrously that night, I put on my galoshes and headed out to dance. I was one of the few that dared to make the trip that night – when I got to the Electric Dance Hall the only other people in the building besides Lord Junior were Veep and Sparkledancer, and no one else showed up after me. With an even number of men and women for a change, Lord Junior decided to work on a Samba figure with us that really requires both partners to get through successfully. Plus, Lord Junior said that since Sparkledancer and I really only compete in ballroom styles, this figure would still be good for us because some of the ideas you have to keep in mind while going through the steps translate, since the figure is exactly like a common ballroom dance step.

Truly monstrous outside!

The specific figure that Lord Junior wanted to look at was the Samba Roll, which are essentially the same footwork as a Reverse Turn in Viennese Waltz. We ended up doing them in Shadow Position that night, so I guess it would be more like American Viennese Waltz than International, if you want to be specific. Anyway… to get into the figure, we started out on one end of the floor with the ladies opened up out to our right and a bit in front of us, while we had our weight on our left leg with our right leg pointed to the side. The lady would then roll in across our arm toward us, starting on beat seven in the music and doing two turns, ending facing down the line of dance with their weight on the right foot. The Leads would just transfer our weight to our right leg while the lady rolled, helping to guide her with our arms so that she wouldn’t roll away from us, and pivoting 90° as she finished turning to get us into Shadow Position.

On beat one of the next measure we started the Samba Rolls. I’m sure you’ve seen these done before – essentially what you do is that, while move your feet like a Viennese Waltz Reverse Turn, you both lean forward (so the Lead is over the Follow’s back) on the first half of the turn, and then you roll backward (so the Follow is over the Lead’s chest) on the second half. It’s not a hard movement to do by yourself, but you really need to practice a few times with a partner to make sure the two of you are in sync during your movements or it ends up looking crazy. If you watch really high-level dancers do this move in videos and such, you’ll see that they lean waaaaaaaaay over each other as they turn, but if you are doing these with a partner during a normal dance and you really focus on doing the rotations with your core, you don’t have to lean over so far to make the figure look really impressive to anyone watching.

We practiced doing several full turns down the floor to make sure that everyone felt good with them, and then Lord Junior decided to cut the number of turns that we would actually do and give us a good way to get out of the figure and go into something else. The progression still began the same way, with the lady rolling across the Lead to go into the Samba Rolls. We did one and a half full revolutions of those, which should have you standing sort-of backing line of dance with your left foot crossed in front of your right. Then, straightening back up from the lean required for the Samba Rolls, we did essentially an Outside Change from Waltz to turn around and head down the line of dance with two Cruzados Walks and a Lock Step (still in Shadow Position). To finish things, we added on three Curved Runs, the first traveling forward, the second backward, and the third forward again. If curved correctly, the three of those should curve you right around a corner to head down the next wall.

Finally, on Wednesday night I ended up out at Standard Technique class. We looked at some Foxtrot that night, which worked out pretty well for me because it allowed me to focus on some things that Sir Steven had told me to focus on in Foxtrot the previous Saturday, like taking a side step during a Feather and the correct swing and shaping in my Feather and Three Step. The figures that we went over that night weren’t anything all that hard, at least for me, and I’m fairly certain everyone in class had done at least a version of the steps before in some dance. I say that because some of the ladies had trouble that night with the last figure that we did, which was a Natural Twist Turn. This figure is a pretty common Bronze-level figure in International Tango, which is why I would think most people would have done it before. However, in International Foxtrot it is a Gold-level figure – apparently this is because the steps during second beat are syncopated. Other than that, it should feel pretty much the same.

Our progression that night had us starting backing diagonal wall on one wall and going right into an Outside Spin, turning a corner in the process. We came out facing line of dance down the new wall and went right into a Feather and Three Step combo. This was the piece that really tied things in with what I was working on during my lesson the previous Saturday. While rotating through partners during class, I made sure to keep my frame nice and strong and to emphasize the swing and shaping through the Feather and Three Step. Some of the ladies in class responded nicely to what I was doing, while others allowed their right arm to bend out of position rather than turn their bodies with me. It certainly seemed like the ladies who are still not comfortable with being in direct body contact with me (they tend to maintain a three or four inch space between us) had a much harder time feeling the rotation I was doing through my body, so I imagine that is a big part of why their right arm ended up bending when I rotated myself.

After we finished up the Three Step we went right into the Natural Twist Turn. I had no problem with the steps for this figure, since all I had to do was take three steps and then twist around. Unfortunately, several of the ladies got caught on the wrong foot somehow many of the times that they went through their steps. I think some of the confusion came from one point where they weren’t supposed to actually take a step, but rather just transfer their weight between their feet without moving their feet. That seemed to be the most common point of confusion. Once we got past that, we came out of the Natural Twist Turn with the Hover Feather ending. The Natural Twist Turn is one of the few places you can naturally add on a Hover Feather because of the heel pull that you do, so Lord Junior decided to take advantage of that fact to have us work on the Hover Feather.

(Note: a Hover Feather really isn’t too complicated, it’s just a Feather Ending you do from a rise. Since we were already lowered down at the end of the Natural Twist Turn, we would have to add in the foot rise for the Hover Feather right before taking the first of the two steps)

I don’t know about you, but this weekend is going to be super busy for me with all the dance things going on that I’m supposed to attend. First off, Friday was the day picked to have a party to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the Electric Dance Hall. Then on Saturday I have to spend a bunch of time at the Endless Dance Hall to help put the place together for the formal dance party I am helping to host there that night. In between the setup and the dance party, I have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu scheduled at the Fancy Dance Hall. Then that night I have to make my way back to the Endless Dance Hall to actually attend the formal party.

With all of that stuff going on during the day on Saturday, I had to push my normal lesson with Sir Steven from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, because I didn’t think I would be able to fit that in otherwise. Also on Sunday, Lord Junior has some super-high-level coach coming in from somewhere to give a workshop late in the afternoon. The workshop this person is doing is covering some Latin dance style, so while I was invited to attend, if I get exhausted and fall asleep instead of going I probably won’t cry… but I’ll at least try to make it. Lord Junior has asked me several times this week if I’ll be there, so either he needs to make sure he has enough men, or he just really wants my company for some reason.

Those are all my weekend plans. I hope yours are even more exciting than mine!