The Journey Seems Endless But I’ll Carry On

To make up for the lengthy post last week, I’m going to limit my stories this week to just two items. I’ll talk about Latin Technique on Monday, because that class brought a whole mess of drama with it, and then my lesson with my normal coach that I had on Wednesday night. The drama is… well, I was only dealing with it vicariously, but it still got weird. So bear with me while I work through that a bit.

So Monday night at Latin Technique class we looked at Samba. Lord Junior was having a lesson with his student Gatekeeper before class started, and there was a piece of her Samba routine that she was having trouble with as they were finishing the lesson. Rather than promise her that they would work on it the next time they got together, Lord Junior had all of us work on that same piece during class to help her out. I don’t know what part in this sequence that was giving Gatekeeper trouble in her lesson since she seemed to get through everything just fine when I danced through the section with her. Maybe the class magically solved her problem?

The sequence in question was pretty short. Lord Junior started us off with four Criss Cross Botafogos, which wasn’t actually part of the routine but he said it was an easy place to start us moving so we ended up in the right position. From there the ladies did a Solo Spot Volta while the men did a Stationary Samba Walk. As the ladies turned, we kept hold of their right hand with our left, and at the end we reached our right arm around the lady’s right side to take their left hand, putting us in Sweetheart Position. In this hold we did three Samba Walks heading down the line of dance. After the third we did a Rolling Off The Arm, then rolled the ladies back in as we faked a step to get into Shadow Position. We finished with a pair of Volta Movements down the line of dance, since we ran out of time to go any further.

That part of class was pretty normal, and though I never feel all that good when I do Samba, I managed to get through the sequence pretty well with all the ladies. What created the drama in this class was Seedling. I didn’t find out about this until after class was over, and it wasn’t really explained to me all that well, but at some point, either when getting the lady into Sweetheart Position or into Shadow Position (or both, maybe), Seedling got a little… handsy. Sparkledancer was in class that night, and was the one who actually told me about it happening to her, and she said that she also saw Seedling do the same thing to Gatekeeper.

I have no idea why his hand would have been up so high while trying to get the ladies into Sweetheart Position, or coming around the side of the lady at all when getting into Shadow Position, but as I was standing out in the parking lot in front of the Electric Dance Hall after class was over, Sparkledancer told me that his hand was definitely there – fingers grazing all over places that made her cringe. It got to the point that when dancing through the pattern with him, she started to cross her arms over her chest without even thinking about it to try to prevent his hand from getting to that point again.
Lord Junior was the one that noticed her doing this, and called her out on it. While dancing through the pattern with her, when he put his right hand out to take her left hand in Sweetheart Position, she didn’t grasp it like she was supposed to. He had to knock his hand on her right hip a few times to remind her to grab hold before they got to the Rolling Off The Arm. Trying to roll her out without a hand to hold on to would have caused all kinds of problems.

But it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that seemed to be crossing her arms over her chest rather than taking the hand in Sweetheart Position.. Three out of the four ladies that were in class that night were hugging themselves in this same manner, and when Lord Junior danced with them and they did this he would have to say something to get them to give him their hand before they hit the Rolling Off The Arm. There were times that I could think of when ladies in class had done the same thing to me and I struggled to get a hand as we were dancing.

Once Sparkledancer told me about what Seedling had done to her and how she thought it might have caused her to cross her arms over her chest protectively, it made me wonder if the same thing might have happened to the other ladies in class, which is why so many of them neglected to give Lord Junior and I their hand. Since Sparkledancer said she saw the same thing happen to Gatekeeper, it would make sense that she would unconsciously react the same way, and that might explain why she had missed the hand link a few times. Did the other two ladies go through the same thing?

When the shock of hearing what happened in class left me, the next thing that came into mind was the story that Seedling has told a couple of times about how his instructor at the franchise studio he goes to chewed him out for “inappropriate touching” while he was practicing with her. To me, one time something happens can be considered an accident, two times with two different people is a bit coincidental, but three times with three different people? Possibly more? That makes me think that something else is going on here. If Seedling hadn’t already left to head home after class, I probably would have considered having words with him to see what was going on.

Instead, Sparkledancer asked me if she should mention it to him. I thought about it for a second, and then replied that if it happened to her and she doesn’t say anything, then she is basically deciding that she is OK with what transpired – which I didn’t think that she was since she just finished telling me how weird the situation made her feel out in the parking lot, rather than just messaging me about it when she got home. Since Sparkledancer has a running conversation with Seedling most days via text, I thought she should let him know what he did, and how he can fix the issue going forward so that it doesn’t happen again – predominantly by lowering his hand so that it is near the lady’s hip rather than keeping his hand up anywhere near her chest.

It seemed like the right thing to do to me, but oh man did that advice take the situation all the way off the rails…

Rather than apologize for inadvertently touching someone inappropriately, Seedling’s reaction was first to deny that anything even happened because he “didn’t feel” anything during class, and then he turned the conversation around so that he seemed like the victim in all of this. After Sparkledancer reached out to Gatekeeper and got confirmation that Seedling had accidentally touched her in the same way, Seedling continued to deny that he had done anything wrong, even though there were now two ladies from class saying that they had clearly felt his hand somewhere that it shouldn’t have been.

This conversation between Sparkledancer and Seedling apparently continued late into the evening, until finally she got sick of Seedling telling her that she obviously couldn’t have felt his hand grabbing her breast because he didn’t feel that. She quit talking to him and went to bed. That wasn’t the end of things though, because Seedling wouldn’t let this perceived insult to his dance pride go, and he went back at the situation the next day.

His new approach on Tuesday was to tell her that if he really had done something wrong, any of the ladies in class who he had wronged should have said something at the moment so that he could have corrected the problem rather than “running away” from him after class. Also because Sparkledancer had talked to Gatekeeper about the issue, he was concerned that the two of them would start spreading rumors about something that he swore he hadn’t done to all the other ladies at the studio in order to turn all the women and also Lord Junior against him. All of this just because Sparkledancer tried to tell him to change where he was putting his hand to avoid any future problems.

Finally, Sparkledancer got fed up with all of this and told him that his reaction to her giving him helpful advice was inappropriate – there was no reason he should have been shifting blame and questioning if it happened. My phone started chirping on Tuesday morning as Sparkledancer forwarded me his response so that I could see firsthand what he told her in reply.

(This is all copy/paste; the spelling and grammar errors are not mine.)

“You two talked to each other and made your choice”

“Idk what was said..Or even when you had time”

“My reaction is my reaction.I am sorry that I accidentally did whatever you two thought I did.”

“Should I let myself get walked on?”

“Im not going to be told how my reaction should be.”

“Forced to do things”

“I just don’t like getting told that I’ve done something wrong that wasn’t intended. I don’t wrong people.”

“I take pride in not being an asshole..”

“But if feels from my perspective that everyone seems to think that.”

“No matter where I go.”

So… there’s sort of an apology mixed in there, but wow… There’s some hardcore victim mentality mixed in that mess. I’m beginning to understand why his instructor at the franchise studio might have chewed him out for accidental inappropriate touching. If his reaction to being told is to deny that anything happened and then turn the issue around so that he is the one being wronged, then it makes sense how that could have upset his instructor enough that she would yell at him. I want to yell at him for this, and he didn’t even stand close to me during that class! Sheesh.

Anyway… that’s all for that story. Let’s move on to something else – yesterday night I headed out to the Endless Dance Hall to meet up with my coach. We are only a week-and-a-half out from the next competition that I plan on going to, so it was important to get together and go over everything at least once to make sure that Sparkledancer and I are in good shape for that event. I also wanted to spend a few minutes talking about the coaching that Sparkledancer and I had with the judges from the last competition.

As it turns out, according to Lord Dormamu I could just disregard all of the information that the judges I worked with gave me about changing how I danced. The whole reason that Lord Dormamu worked with the competition organizer to sign Sparkledancer and I up for those coaching sessions was just to get our faces in front of those judges. He told me that back when he was competing, he stopped keeping track of how much time and money he put into coaching sessions with judges that he had to do just to make sure the judges recognized him, not to actually learn anything. That is how the dance politics game is played, and he is trying to help Sparkledancer and I play it as best as he could.

So… that was a little disheartening. I understand the concept of stacking the deck in your favor, but there is a part of me that had hoped that somehow I could be good enough to get by on just my own skills, rather than playing intricate mind games to build a reputation with the people in power. I don’t like spending time networking, especially networking that I feel is pointless because there are no concrete results that I can point to in order to prove that the time spent was fruitful. Plus, it’s really expensive to do all of this if I can’t see any fruitful results. But I did agree to let Lord Dormamu choose my course through this competitive world since he is the expert, so if he says that it is a good idea that I do these things, then I will go out and do them.

Once we got that discussion out of the way, we got to dancing. That night we managed to look at Waltz, Quickstep and Foxtrot for quite a bit of time, and spent just a few minutes right at the end on the Tango before we had to stop because Lord Dormamu’s next students had shown up. Things were looking and feeling good that night overall, so the most important thing that we were given were overall thoughts that applied across the board, rather than any further corrections to specific figures.

The overall idea given to me that I needed to focus on before going into our next competition was my chest. Lord Dormamu wants me to take that broad chest of mine and work on having it stand out proudly as I move in all dances. The caveat to this is that I need to be sure to keep my head back while I keep my chest forward – if I don’t, then having my head out of place will destroy the look that he is trying to mold me into. The note for Sparkledancer was still that she needs to think about volume while moving. Nothing else fancy, just creating as much of it as possible will keep Lord Dormamu happy with her.
Otherwise we are looking pretty good. Since the next competition is so close and (based on the entries that we can see) looks like there will be a decent amount of competitors to challenge ourselves against, we aren’t going to try to change anything else between now and then. Once we finish that event we can come back around and start to make some more changes to the way that we execute figures. Based on the competition calendar, we will have a couple of months at least before the next competition, so we should be able to put in the time and effort to take everything to the next level. That’s the current working plan, at least.

Before leaving for the night, Lord Dormamu was telling me about a movie that he had gotten to go out and see recently, one that I had also gone to see a few weekends ago. There is another movie that is coming out in a few weeks that I am super excited about (I’m sure you can guess which one), so naturally he and I started talking about that movie as well. We were both speculating on what that movie would be like, and finally we just agreed that we should go see the show on opening night together – that way there was no chance that one of us would spoil the movie for the other. Going to see a movie with my coach will probably be hilarious.

All kinds of crazy stuff in the works for this month! What kinds of plans do you have on your calendar? It’s hard to believe that it’s already April. Where has the time gone?

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Until Someone Moves Or Cares, Stay Captive

I had the unexpected addition to my dance calendar this past weekend of working with a visiting coach on Sunday afternoon. Lord Dormamu called me up late in the day on Friday and asked me if I would be available. The coach was a high-level female that he is friends with, and he wanted to have her spend some time working with Sparkledancer if possible, but he wanted me to be there as well so that I could play the Lead during the coaching session. Since I had nothing else planned for Sunday afternoon at that point, I told him I could be there.

This was one of those coaching sessions where the coach actually knew a lot about International Standard, so she had useful information to pass along to Sparkledancer, and even some for me as well. Other coaching sessions that I have done where I was just meeting with the coach for purely political reasons don’t usually give me many useful things to think about. I prefer the kind of coaching session I had last weekend, as you might imagine. It makes me feel like the money I spend on working with the coach gives me a better ROI.

First off, I want to relay something that I thought was funny. The coach was talking with Sparkledancer about something related to her left hand. I admit that I wasn’t paying much attention at first, since the way she holds her left hand doesn’t impact me too much, but after they talked for a bit the coach wanted to demonstrate to Sparkledancer, so they came over to where I was standing so she could use me as a prop. She asked me to stand there as if I was in frame and hold up my right arm for her to demonstrate with.

She started off showing Sparkledancer some change in the way she hooked her thumb around the front of my arm. Everything seemed fine until she started talking about how to hook the rest of her fingers over the arm… only to find that she couldn’t actually hook her fingers over mine. She stopped talking and fussed with her hand for a bit, and then looked at me with a funny look on her face. Looking back at Sparkledancer, she apologized and said that she’s never had to think about this before, because she had honestly never danced with someone who had an arm as wide as mine before.

Of course, I couldn’t hold back my laughter any longer after hearing that. I mean, obviously it did my ego good to hear her say that my arms were too big for her to demonstrate with, but it was just so funny to see how surprised she was by that fact. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt that afternoon, so it wasn’t like I was doing anything to hide my arm from her before she tried to wrap her fingers around it! That moment amused me quite a bit, so I thought I would share it here.

There was one point of information that the coach told me that afternoon that I thought was really profound, something that I had actually never thought about before. We were looking at the Waltz, and I had just led Sparkledancer through a Natural Turn when the coach randomly called out to me and asked me to stop and come back over. She had stopped me to ask why I was swaying so much during the Natural Turn.

I was a little taken back by the question. I told her that I’ve been told lots of times by various instructors that I should be arching my body as if I am pulling my left hip to the left while I close my feet on a Natural Turn, so that’s just what I do at this point. She said that was OK, but when we just did the Natural Turn a second ago, we had been looking at something else in the dance so we really hadn’t moved so much while going into the figure that would have caused me to sway like that.

That statement kind of confused me, and I guess she could see it on my face, so she told me a story. She said that once upon a time, deep in the history of ballroom dances like the Waltz, people used to dance without swaying. The topline was held level with the floor the whole time. She joked that this was also back in the days when the ballroom frame was much more loose, with the elbows held closer to the body, not wide and strong like it is supposed to look nowadays. A long, long time ago. This must have been like the ‘70s, or something. 😉

Anyway, when dancers started to move more as they danced, they found that they ran into an issue – driving yourself to move as much as possible in something like a Natural Turn while holding your topline level with the floor didn’t help you slow your momentum, so you would lose your balance in the figure and (potentially) fly off the floor. That was the whole reason that Sway was born. By arching your body away from the direction you are traveling, it shifts your weight toward the opposite direction which helps you arrest your movement and stop safely. That is the actual point of Sway she told me – to help stop your movements. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, going back to why she stopped me, she told me that I should only be swaying as much as my body naturally wanted to do, which is based on how much I drive myself along the floor. If I am just working on something and not moving a whole lot, than the sway shouldn’t be forced to look big, otherwise it seems really out-of-place. Whereas if I am flying down the floor in a Quickstep and I have a lot of momentum built up, going into a Natural Turn would naturally make my body want to sway a lot in order to bring my feet together and stop safely.

Her advice was to always let the sway happen naturally. Forcing it to happen or to be bigger than needed just made it look weird. Judges at competitions don’t like it when things look weird. I thought that was super interesting, and I had never thought about it like that before.

The other point that she gave me that I really liked was about my frame. At the beginning of the session she had us dance through our Waltz routine to music so that she could get an idea of what she was working with. Later on in the session she told me that she noticed places in the routine during my first run-through where my elbows were drooping a bit and not coming back up like she would have expected.

She told me that if I try so hard to hold my frame rigid, all I’m going to do is exhaust myself in the process. As my body moves around the floor, or even just breathes deeply she told me, judges would expect to see some subtle movements in my frame. That’s just how the human body works. Holding my arms completely rigid the entire time through multi-dance rounds would be impossible, and she thought it looked like I was trying to do that when I was dancing.

Her recommendation to me was to train myself to let my elbows rise and fall more naturally as I moved. In the Waltz for instance, I would work on lifting my elbows on every beat two in the music, and allow them to relax a bit at all other points. This will not only take the stress off my shoulders of trying to hold my arms in place the entire time, but it will also look more natural.

This coach really liked it when movements looked natural. Can you tell?

One other note that she told me along these same lines that was interesting was about taking steps. She said that as you are moving forward or backward, like when you are walking or dancing or running, your body naturally wants the width of your steps to be as wide as your shoulders. She called this a ‘universal principal’ of dance, a rule that many other rules in dance are expounded from.

Why was this relevant? Sticking with the Waltz as the example, I was told that when I am driving on the first step of each figure in the Waltz, I should always be moving forward or backward, and I should let my legs naturally take steps as wide as my shoulders. If I try to make the steps narrower, I run the risk of being unbalanced while I’m moving. If I open my leg up to step wider than my shoulder on either side, I will make myself turn in that direction whether I want to or not.

This tidbit of information came up because we were looking at one of the Reverse Turns in the routine. The coach thought it looked like Sparkledancer was having trouble getting around me, and she thought it was because I was stepping weirdly on the first step of the figure. Her advice to fix the problem was to step more naturally (surprise, surprise) and allow my leg to go straight back and only out as wide as my shoulder. That did make a difference, as Sparkledancer said afterward that the figure was much easier for her than it was than the way we had normally been doing it.

Working with this coach was good, and I enjoyed her unique perspective of how to dance properly using the natural movements of the body. Sparkledancer enjoyed the lesson quite a bit as well, and I know she mentioned to me that there were lots of points that the coach gave her that she is eager to put into practice. In the future if we get an opportunity to work with this coach again, I will definitely sign up for a time slot.

Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class. Class was pretty big that night, with some old familiar faces joining us for the evening. Ms. Possible has been coming to class on-and-off for the past couple of weeks, but this Monday both she and her amateur competitive partner Grampy Snaps decided to come out and join in the fun. With the diversity of competitors and non-competitors in class that night, there was some disagreement on what Latin dance style we should look at that evening, but the people who wanted to work on Samba won out in the end.

The pattern that Lord Junior gave us to look at that night didn’t consist of a lot of figures, but it could cover quite a bit of distance easily. We started off by doing three Promenade and Counter Promenade Runs, then we added on three Natural Pivots. Coming out of the last Pivot we did one more Promenade and Counter Promenade Run and then immediately stepped through a Volta and held the last two beats of the measure to slow down a little bit. To finish up we did a couple of twisting steps to work on rotational action in our cores, but the name that Lord Junior called the figure is really eluding me at the moment. Maybe it will come back to me later.

Things in class seemed to go alright for the most part while we were doing the figures slowly, but once Lord Junior had us do the progression with music and started to increase the tempo, I ran into an unexpected issue that I have never experienced before. The problem came during the Natural Pivots. The figure itself was fine, and I could get through them with no issues even at the fastest tempo we ran that day. My issue was actually with my partners. There were a couple of the ladies that freaked out while doing the pivoting action with me, and they just stopped dancing before we could go into the next figure.

I understand why it happened, but I’ve never actually had this issue really come up before. I will freely admit that I have a lot of mass (I admit it all the time, actually), so if I get my body moving it can be a lot to handle. Since I spend so much time moving myself, I know that I also have the control needed to stop my movement when I need to. I do it all the time, so I know what it takes and how to make it happen.

But when I start moving and my partner doesn’t know that I am in control of my own body mass, it can be a bit of a surprise. Especially if the lady is tiny and doesn’t weigh very much, like the ladies that I had the issue with that during this class. They weren’t driving themselves when they needed to, so rather than being a part of the movement that was happening, they were just holding on for dear life and the rotation of my body took them around where I was going. That freaked them out, so they stopped dancing as soon as the pivots were over, leaving me to move on into the next step all by myself.

I don’t really know if there is a good way to help with this. I tried to tell them that everything was under control, so they didn’t need to worry. Partners that I have danced with a lot (like Sparkledancer), or partners that were more… substantial (I’m sure there’s a more politically correct way to say this, but I can’t think of one at the moment) could get through the pivoting actions with me just fine. So… I don’t know. Pivots like this come up so infrequently during classes I take that I probably won’t put much thought into the issue this week. There are too many other things to think about right now.

In Standard Technique class on Wednesday night, we didn’t get to cover a whole lot of material. At my request, because I wanted to continue working on the items the coach talked with me about over the weekend, we looked at International Waltz. The figures that Lord Junior wanted to have us work on that night were very different from the ones we ended up doing. He had lofty goals for the progression he said he would cover, but all we ended up doing was a Natural Turn into a Running Natural Spin Turn, coming out into a Back Lock, and finishing with an Outside Spin into a second Natural Turn.

The reason that we didn’t get any further was because Seedling decided to join us in class again that night. This was his second foray into Lord Junior’s Standard Technique class, and he was in way over his head. So much so that Lord Junior had to pause class quite a few times to give Seedling extra assistance. Even simple things like how to do a Lock Step – which I know that Seedling had done with us during last week’s Latin Technique class – he struggled with during this class.

One of the people who joins us in Standard Technique class most weeks is an older lady. She loves to dance the ballroom-style dances, but her sense of balance isn’t that good and she gets dizzy easily if we do too many figures that spin in our patterns. Because Seedling was so unsure of his part during class this week, Lord Junior told this lady that she would only be dancing with either him or I, and she should skip over Seedling until he was more sure of his steps. He didn’t manage to get to that point before the end of class, so this lady never actually danced with him during the evening.

Unfortunately, that meant that the person who was asked to dance with Seedling through most of the class was Sparkledancer. Lord Junior paired the two of them up quite a bit because he knew Sparkledancer could help Seedling get through his part – essentially back-leading him as necessary to help him learn. Sparkledancer told me after class as we were walking out toward the parking lot that she felt like she didn’t get much out of class that night. She understood why she had been paired up with Seedling so much, but because he was so unsure of what he was doing she couldn’t use the rounds where she danced with him as time to work on her own part. That made me sad for her.

Hopefully over time Seedling will start to improve if he keeps coming to this class with us. I know that the franchise studio he normally takes classes at has not prepared him for this type of technical dancing, so for a while he will be working on acclimating to this kind of training. I wonder how long it will take for him to get through that phase? We certainly could use more Leads in both Latin Technique and Standard Technique, so the faster he can get comfortable the happier all the Followers in those classes will be!

This weekend is going to be a bit more than I originally bargained for. I was planning on going to a small competition on Saturday to dance. Last weekend I got a call from the competition organizers begging me to volunteer and help out during the competition as well. Now I am also going to be there most of the day doing who knows what. Maybe it will be fun? So far, after a few brief conversations with the people in charge, it appears like the competition is not very well organized (information-wise), and no one person can answer all the questions I have. When I needed to know things about what I’m doing this weekend, I have to talk with three different people to get all the information. That has been a bit of a hassle.

Can I help this event go off without a hitch? Tune in next week and I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it!

With Thunder We Ride, With Lightning We Strike

This past weekend was a competition for me. Overall, I think things went pretty OK. There was a lot about the dancing I did during the day that I am happy about, but there were just as many points that I was not happy with. That’s all good though – it’s a learning process, and I have some time before my next competition to work on correcting the issues that I have control over.

But I phrase it like that intentionally because there was an issue that I ran into at this competition that I don’t know if I can really fix. Yes, “ran into” – my problem that morning was that a lot of the other competitors on the floor during my rounds did not seem like they knew what they were doing, and I got run into a lot. A. LOT. I like to think that I have come a long way over the years with my floorcraft skills, but it seemed like almost every time I had to pull my own steps short to avoid running into someone who crossed into my path without looking, someone near me did not and then they ended up  smacking into me. Yeesh.

Hitting people is something I really worry about, and do my best to avoid if at all possible. People hitting me is a different story. I am very solid because of years and years of weightlifting, so depending on how my feet are set on the floor when I hesitate, I will barely budge when someone runs into me. Most of the people I dance against are not very big by comparison, which is why I go out of my way to avoid hitting them accidentally. I move a lot and I am pretty heavy, so I could really hurt them.

This competition made me wonder if I could also really hurt them if they are the ones doing the striking, and whether I should try to do more to help prevent that from happening. I haven’t quite thought of a way to do that yet, but the idea has been noodling around in my brain. Obviously I am unable to look behind me, since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, and Sparkledancer is doing a quasi-backbend when she is in frame that prevents her from looking over my shoulder as well. Maybe if I had a headband, I could fashion a rear view mirror for myself? I bet I could make it look classy if I tried.

While the idea of a dance rearview mirror sounds pretty awesome to me, I don’t think that my coach will be so eager to let me try it out. So, for now, I’ll have to file that idea away somewhere and try to think of a different one. Sigh…

Two of my rounds were very different, because they had no one participating in them. The first one had only two other couples on the floor besides Sparkledancer and myself, while the second one (which was Foxtrot and Tango) was basically a showcase performance for us all alone. I wonder why neither of the couples from the first round wanted to do Foxtrot and Tango? With no one in my way during that round, and to some extent the Waltz and Quickstep round with only the two other couples on the floor, I was free to move around as much as I wanted, and things felt pretty good.

What didn’t feel good in that instance was the floor. As soon as I had room to stretch my legs, I could really feel how slippery the floor was. It was like someone had gone out to wax the floor the night before and then never made a note about it, so the morning crew came in and waxed it all over again because they thought it hadn’t been done. During the Quickstep round there was a spot where my right foot slid more than I expected and I ended up rolling my foot all the way over onto the side. Luckily I didn’t put any weight on it when that happened so I didn’t get hurt or anything, but it threw off my momentum a bit until I managed to get to the end of the figure I was dancing and was able to pull back a little to reset.

Otherwise, the competition went good. The results were nothing to be ashamed about, there were just points in the dancing that I didn’t feel went as well as I wanted. Everything seemed pretty normal, all in all. Except for one thing… the strangest thing I want to mention about this competition actually happened after I was done dancing.

The events were all running really early, so I had time after I finished up to find a place to change back into my street clothes and go back to the ballroom and watch some rounds before I had to leave to make my trip back home. There were some people who I knew who were dancing that day, and I wanted to see if I could catch them on the floor and watch how they did. Sparkledancer decided to come hang out with me as well, and to chat with all the people at the competition that she knew. I’m not as popular as her, so I just stood there quietly most of the time.

While I was standing there though, a competitor that I did not know approached me. He introduced himself and shook my hand, and then told me that he thought I was a lot of fun to watch. That’s always nice to hear, nothing weird about that. But then he said (and I quote), “Your poise is very strong, and you do a great job of keeping her [gesturing toward where Sparkledancer was talking to someone] under control.” Then he excused himself to head up toward the on-deck area, leaving me standing there.

So. Many. Questions.

What in the world do you think he meant by that? I waved Sparkledancer down so that I could relay this brief conversation to her, and we both stood there scratching our heads to try to figure that out. I never feel like Sparkledancer is out of control, so I don’t know what that guy saw me doing that made it look like I was keeping her in control. Is it actually a good thing that I am keeping my partner under control? I have heard that ladies like to boogie away from you if you don’t hang on to them when you’re dancing… but that’s not really an issue in International Standard.

I didn’t know what to make of that comment, and since the guy was going on during the next rounds and I had to leave shortly, there was no chance for me to ask him to elaborate on that observation.Since that was the last notable thing to happen to me while I was in the ballroom at the competition, that little nugget of information has colored all of my thoughts about the event. Not to worry though – the more time that passes, the funnier that the comment gets, and I’m sure I will use this as an inside joke between Sparkledancer and I in the future. She won’t have much choice in the matter, since I am so good at keeping her under control, obviously. 😛

With that event out of the way, the next thing that I got a chance to go to this week was Latin Technique class on Monday night. Because Lord Junior and a number of his competitive students were still preparing for a competition (which they left Wednesday afternoon to head out to), in class this week we touched on techniques in several different Latin dance styles to help with their training. This was fun for me because one of the styles we got to look at this week was Pasodoble, and you know by now that Pasodoble is my favorite International Latin style.

But that was the style that we looked at last. To start with we worked on Botafogos from Samba. The point that Lord Junior really wanted to emphasize in this figure that several of his competitive students in class hated doing was the hip placement when you landed on the third step. As I’m sure you know, when you finish each Botafogo and you hold briefly before the next figure, you are supposed to have the non-standing leg’s hip lifted as much as possible. Lord Junior likes to describe it as being like a shelf that he could set his drink on.

My white-boy-hip syndrome really prevents me from looking good while trying to do this. Sure, I have the mechanics basically right, and my body parts are in the right place as far as I can tell, but when I look at myself in the mirror I think that I just look silly. I don’t know if I could ever fix that problem.

Next up we spent a bit of time looking at Jive. The figure that Lord Junior used for our exercise here was the Mooch, but he really only wanted to have us work on the kicking action from that figure, so we only did the rock step and the kicks and then switched to the other leg without traveling anywhere. I don’t do Jive too often anymore, so my kicks may have looked a bit more martial arts-esque than they should have for a Swing dance, especially when we were doing them super slow.

Finally we got to the Pasodoble, and this was the only style we got to work on with partners during class. Two of the ladies that were in the class that night had never done the Pasodoble before, so the figures that we did were pulled from the Bronze syllabus to keep things simple. We did a basic Promenade and Counter Promenade, and then went into a Grand Circle to finish.

Even though the figures were fairly simple, we ran into an issue because those same two ladies that had never done the Pasodoble before had also never done any ballroom dance styles before, so they didn’t know what ‘Promenade’ or ‘Counter-Promenade’ meant. Even after Lord Junior spent a few minutes demonstrating the differences, it took several repetitions of the figure for one of the two ladies to get the idea of what she was supposed to be doing. I didn’t mind though – more time on the Pasodoble makes me happy.

Finally, on Wednesday night I got a chance to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. This session started off with us spending twenty minutes or so going over our results from the competition. Through the wonders of technology and one of us remembering to bring our paperwork from the competition to the lesson with us, we got to review all of our results for each heat and see what went well and where we needed to focus on in preparation for the next competition.

A point that Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I based on the results actually had to do with the judges. We had the names of the judges who had marked our rounds available, and Lord Dormamu knew who all of them were (since he just knows everybody in the dance world somehow). He was able to point out a difference in our marks from judges who were formerly high-level competitors in International Standard or American Smooth versus the marks from judges that were former competitors only in American Rhythm or International Latin.

He told us that the judges who knew about ballroom dances would be able to see the difference in our quality of movement versus our competitors, which is why the marks we got showed that they had scored us really highly. Judges who had never spent much time studying ballroom dances gave us a more mixed bag of scores. One judge in particular Lord Dormamu didn’t like, because he was part of some faction of dancing that is out of favor with ‘the powers that be’ (whomever they are), so his marks we were told to just ignore entirely.

My obvious question for Lord Dormamu was, if we are always going to get marked better by judges who know more about ballroom-style dances, can we either A) go to competitions where all the judges for our rounds are ballroom experts, or B) do something that will make us look better so that even the judges who are experts in Latin and Rhythm will see us as the winners? Lord Dormamu laughed at me and told me that there is a competition where all ballroom-style dance events are judged only by judges who are experts in Smooth or Standard, but I am nowhere near ready to go overseas to compete in that yet (I’m sure you can guess which competition he was referring to).

So that leaves us with working on looking better so that even judges who are not experts in ballroom styles will see us as the best dancers in our rounds. Lord Dormamu’s initial suggestion was to look at volume for Sparkledancer, and posture for me. Sparkledancer’s volume is an ongoing thing, one that she is going to be constantly improving as time goes on. He can’t force her to bend more and create even more space between her head and mine. She has been working diligently on improving her flexibility, so the volume will continue to improve as she continues to improve over time. He did give her some suggestions on tweaks to her frame through certain figures, and they spent time working on how she looked in Promenade Position before the night was over.

But for me, things were a bit more difficult. Lord Dormamu was quick to admit that my posture is really improved, and out of all the events that he has been judging recently where he got to watch dancers at my level (including a few events where I was dancing), I stand out a lot because I not only am standing up tall and straight, but I also look imposing through my chest, shoulders and arms when Sparkledancer is creating enough volume that a judge can see me clearly. But he mostly sees me while I dance during our lessons, which may not be exactly what I do while on the floor at every competition.

His thought for me was that I may not be maintaining my posture the whole time I am out on the floor. We spent some time looking at this in the context of the Quickstep, where we had our closest call in the results from the competition. After dancing through the routine a couple of times, his impression was that we were moving with a lot of power, but there were places where he could see our topline wiggling a bit more than he would have liked.

What he told me that I should do to fix this was to continue to practice the idea that we had talked about during my last session, which was to allow gravity to drop my body at the points where I needed to lower, rather than trying to control the lowering action the whole time. Lord Dormamu thinks that when I am working to control the action rather than just let gravity do the work, that is what is causing the wiggling that he is seeing in my upper body. And anytime my upper body is wiggling, that guarantees that Sparkledancer’s upper body will wiggle too, since I weigh so much more than her.

Allowing gravity to do the work did significantly improve the way our Quickstep looked, so yay for that! I was a bit worried, much like I was the last time we had looked at this, since I thought that dropping myself so quickly was going to have a negative impact on Sparkledancer (I would be, I imagined, like an anchor dragging her down). Sparkledancer told me that what we were doing was working pretty well, and that she would let me know if my actions become too much.

So, since that seems to fix the lowering action in the Quickstep, I had to ask Lord Dormamu about the Waltz before we wrapped up for the night. Should I be doing the same thing and letting gravity drop me faster as I lowered in the Waltz, or should I keep controlling that action like I am currently doing? He told me that he would like to see me incorporate this same idea into my Waltz if I could over the week while Sparkledancer and I practice. Once he can see how I look dropping myself in this manner, he would tell me if it is too much and I need to pull back. He said that it is going to feel like the fall is happening too fast if I am dancing the Waltz to slowed down music, but when dancing at tempo it shouldn’t feel weird.

So that is what my plans are focused on for this weekend. Lots of practice, working on giving up control to gravity a bit more when I am dancing, and focusing on always maintaining a calm and strong topline while I move. We are looking at going to a small competition during the month of March where we can get some initial feedback on these changes, and then a larger event in April where hopefully everything will look perfect by that time.

I’m still moving forward – that’s always the right way to go.

Know When To Listen, Know What To Listen For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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