Tag Archives: Samba

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!

Stop, Collaborate And Listen

Do you ever regret agreeing to do something? As I mentioned last week, there was a dance party going on last Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall, and HotDog had been bugging me to make sure I would be there because he wanted to ask me questions about my line of work. Knowing how all of his other ‘career change’ ventures have gone in all the years that I’ve known him, I wasn’t totally thrilled about having that conversation with him, but I was planning on going to the dance party anyway so it was bound to happen whether I wanted it to or not. There was a part of me that wondered if this time it might be different, since he claimed that he thought going into this line of work was his ‘passion’ (though he’s made that claim about several other job prospects he’s looked at), and he claimed that he was willing to put in the time to learn what he needed to know. So I thought that maaaaaaaaybe he might actually ask me some real, meaningful questions about the field, since I’ve worked in it for a long time. Boy was I wrong…

I’m pretty sure all he actually wanted was validation from someone in my line of work that he was some kind of super genius, to tell me about how impressive he was and for me to offer him some kind of job making stupid amounts of money even though he has no experience. He didn’t actually ask me anything. He just sat there telling me about all these things he was reading online about going into the field, and how everything he had been playing around with was totally easy for him so he should be able to master everything in short order. When I tried to stop him and tell him that there was more to it than that, and he really needed to not only have mastery in the stuff he was reading about online but also a good grasp in some high-level mathematics, he told me that he was already a master of math. There was some kind of claim that he taught himself a whole year’s worth of material for one of his math classes in high school in only three days…

It was like being trapped conversationally with nowhere to go…

I don’t remember much of his actual boast. By that point I had realized that he didn’t actually want my help, rather he just wanted to brag while I was in earshot, so it was time to get out of the conversation. Luckily, a Foxtrot song came on and Sparkledancer came over to grab me so that we could practice together, so I was able to escape before I said something that I might not have actually liked. I did my best to avoid spending much time near HotDog for the rest of the evening to avoid getting drawn into another conversation about how awesome HotDog is, and he left early to go back home and play with stuff some more because of how jazzed he was with his studying.

On Saturday afternoon when I got together with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, we continued to work on making sure we were using the proper shaping on our figures, especially where the Progressive Chasse turns into the Natural Turn at the end. That was mostly to rehash what we did the week before, so we didn’t really cover anything new there. Once we finished looking at that though, Sir Steven wanted to look at the short wall in the Waltz routine. Since most of what we had been focusing on thus far was the long wall, he wanted to make sure that we were able to apply everything that we had discussed to the short wall figures as well. We did pretty well for the most part, so that was an encouraging sign. Hooray!

One change that he did want to make based on something he saw was to the Whisk we do after the second Reverse Turn. He said that how we had done it while he was watching that afternoon made it look like the Whisk stops traveling before moving backward when we both cross our legs behind. What he wanted us to change was to make the first two steps of the Whisk really drive forward before the foot does a very small step backward as it crosses behind. This changes the Whisk so that it looks more like if drives in a straight line and just slows down the travel at the end, instead of traveling forward, pausing, and then traveling backward over the three steps. This change does make the Whisk travel farther, so he said that depending on the size of the wall we are practicing on we can either come out of the Whisk into a Progressive Chasse like we have been doing in our routine, or just go into a Natural Turn if we don’t have enough room for the Progressive Chasse. That’ll be totally on me to decide when we are dancing.

Finished with the Waltz, we switched over to look at Foxtrot for a bit. What we ended up doing this time was to spend a lot of time again working on the Reverse Turn again. From what Sir Steven said, Sparkledancer had gotten much better about bringing her feet together immediately going into the Heel Turn, but she wasn’t turning as much as she should. We did a few Reverse Turns where we would stop halfway through and I would back away, allowing Sparkledancer to see where her feet were pointing. It seemed like her feet were pointing between line of dance and diagonal wall, about 1/8th of a turn short. We worked on some things to try to help get the turn that last little bit around, from me coming around Sparkledancer even more to adjusting the position of her upper body, and it all helped a bit, but no change seemed to fix it all at once. Finally we decided it was just going to have to take practice while we were aware to look at it, so we added that to our homework for the week to continue working on it later.

At the end of our session, after Sir Steven got done filling in his paperwork on what we had done, he told Sparkledancer and I that the Fancy Dance Hall had gotten done talking about what they wanted to do for their next showcase event that they will be holding in June. Sir Steven said that the artistic director for the studio had picked out a theme (a kind of esoteric one, in my opinion), and had started compiling a list of songs that related to the theme to help out people who were interested in participating that couldn’t think of their own song. He told us that if we wanted to be part of the show that we should start thinking about what we wanted to do now, so that the artistic director could talk with us and help fit our performance into the show. Also, we might also be asked to help out in a couple of the other ‘acts’ of the show if we wanted to help, on top of doing any performances together that we signed up for.

Sparkledancer and I have talked about this offer since then. There was one idea that popped into my head immediately when Sir Steven told us what the theme of the show was going to be, and Sparkledancer thought it would be a really neat thing to look at doing. We discussed a few interpretations of how we could portray this idea, and I think we’ve come up with a rough outline that would be pretty cool. We’re going to tell Sir Steven about what we’re thinking when we get together this coming Saturday and see what he thinks. In my head it sounds really cool, but I obviously won’t be the one trying to choreograph dance figures around this idea, so he would have to buy into it as well. So, there might be more on this to come!

Saturday night I was scheduled to go help out at the monthly dance party hosted by my Royal Dance Court group. This was a St. Patrick’s Day-themed party where we were also holding a raffle to help raise money for an upcoming dance competition scholarship fund. We raised quite a bit, luckily – a couple hundred dollars or so. Most of that came from just two people who donated about a quarter of the total money raised that night. As you can imagine, one of them was also the one who won the raffle prize because they ended up with the most tickets, but she was nice enough to donate her winnings back into the scholarship fund pool as well.

Because the instructor that we had originally planned on having come in and teach a Samba lesson had to have surgery a couple of weeks ago and still hadn’t healed enough to get into dance frame comfortably with people, a few people on the Royal Dance Court had begged Lord Junior to come in on short notice and teach instead. He was gracious enough to acquiesce to the request for us, being the class act that he is. What he chose to teach in the Samba class that night was something that I thought was fun, but I know a lot of the other people in class struggled with. Then again, the other people in class also struggled with rotating through partners as we practiced at the end, so maybe I should have expected some of the difficulties.

There were only two figures that Lord Junior covered that night, one of them Bronze-level, and the second (and arguably, simpler) was Silver. He had us looking at the Reverse Turn, and near the end he also threw in a couple of Back Rocks in the middle of a Reverse Turn to keep things interesting. In the beginning, Lord Junior tried relating the footwork for the Reverse Turn to Viennese Waltz, since the footwork is basically the same. The problem was that since only a handful of people in the class knew how to do Viennese Waltz, the comparison fell apart. We did two variations of the Reverse Turn – one doing the footwork with even timing, and the other doing the turn with more traditional Samba timing. The Back Rocks are a lot like simple Batucadas, since there is not nearly as much twisting needed, so I thought they were fairly easy since I was comparing them to Batucadas in my head.

Since the Reverse Turns could cover a lot of distance, and rotating like that in a large crowd can be rather dangerous, at the end of class when we were just going to run repetitions of the figures Lord Junior wanted the men to line up at the end of the long wall four at a time and dance down the floor with a partner. This turned out to be a disaster… Since I was dancing with the men, I grabbed Sparkledancer and asked her to coordinate the women to make sure they would stay in line. We then tried to recruit another Royal Dance Court member to coordinate the men. When we got someone to agree to come help and asked her to make sure the men stuck with the plan, she looked at us like we were crazy and said (this is an actual quote) “I can’t even seem to keep a man in my life. How would I keep a whole group of them in line?” I just stared at her in shock for a minute.

Luckily, the music started, snapping me out of that. Sparkledancer told the other lady to keep the line of ladies under control while she would go try to deal with the men. Yet, even with someone standing in front of them telling them how the rotation worked, the guys still did whatever the hell they wanted. We ended up with a few rounds where we had four dancing at a time, like we wanted, but most of the rounds had anywhere from two to eight men trying to worm their way down the floor at once. It was nuts!
  Speaking of men being crazy, there was one other interesting note I heard during the dance party that night. For a lot of these dances, and others I go to around the area, there are some women or groups of women that hire out a male dance instructor for the night as a Dance Host. These instructors, willing to take some extra money for giving up their Friday or Saturday night, will spend their time dancing exclusively with the lady or ladies who hired him. Generally I don’t see any more than two or three Dance Hosts at any party that I go to. Apparently there are some amateur male dancers that are starting to feel threatened by these male instructors. They feel like the ladies aren’t going to want to dance with them when there is a professional wandering around the floor. It doesn’t matter that said professional limits himself to dancing only with whoever hired him for the night, they still feel threatened by it somehow. This was the first time I had ever heard that, and I am kind of surprised by the news.

I have a quarterly meeting with the Royal Dance Court next week, and I’m thinking this may be a topic that needs to be brought up for discussion. As the old saying goes, ‘if it’s a problem, yo, we should solve it…’ or something like that. You know what I’m saying?

Here’s an interesting thing from when I was out practicing on Tuesday night, for any men that might read this: I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall on Tuesday to get in some practice time with Sparkledancer. The dance floor was actually kind of open that night. I’m guessing that the thunderstorms that rolled through the area kept some of the normal group class attendees away, but since I’m not an evil witch, I’m not afraid of getting wet in the rain, so I headed out there. Lord Junior was there giving a private lesson in one corner of the dance floor, while the small group class for this week was using the back half of the floor for their needs. Sparkledancer and I kept to the other corner opposite Lord Junior, just to keep out of the way.

When Lord Junior finished up his lesson that evening and was getting ready to head home for the evening, he called me over to the table that is near the front desk. He wanted to show me that his new competition outfit had come in, because he knew that I had been in talks about getting some kind of actual ballroom tail suit. What he had on the table was not a tail suit, but rather it looked like a dress shirt and vest still pressed in their packaging. He explained to me that from what he was seeing when traveling around and competing and watching videos of recent competitions, high-level men aren’t really wearing tail suits so much anymore. Instead, many are opting for wearing Latin dance pants (not ballroom trousers) with a dress shirt on top that is stretchy (like formal workout gear), and a vest that looks like a suit coat with the sleeves cut off. The stretchy shirt he had on the table had black sleeves with white cuffs, so if you wear it under the vest it kind of looks like you have a full suit coat on with the cuffs of your dress shirt sticking out of the sleeves.

One of the reasons that he wanted to show this to me before anyone made me go look at getting an actual tail suit was because of all the muscle in my upper body. He said that for someone like me, having the stretchy shirt would allow me much more freedom of movement, and in the event that I decided to try to put on even more muscle, the shirt would either stretch to continue fitting me, or replacing it would be much cheaper than having to get another coat or get my coat tailored. I must say, that is a really appealing idea. Plus, who knows what kind of fun I could have with a vest that looks like a suit coat with the sleeves cut off at formal parties! I could look super snazzy wearing that when I go to the gym to work out my arms, don’t you think? I took some pictures of the tags on the items so that I could look things up later.

Yesterday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. We had a couple of new people in class with us that night – a man and a woman whom I have seen around the Dance Kingdom at many social parties I have attended, but whom I never would have guessed would be interested in this sort of class. By the end, the new female seemed to be doing quite well, but the new male looked like he was in over his head. I’m guessing he was expecting it to be a class where he could learn new steps that he could use socially, based on the fact that he specifically asked Lord Junior about how in the world he would use the figure we looked at socially. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Lord Junior wanted to work on Foxtrot that night, and specifically work on a figure that forces each partner to travel facing the opposite direction than they usually face when traveling. As Lord Junior was describing things to the rest of the class, I caught eyes with Sparkledancer and grinned, since this was something that we try to work on every time we practice together, so I thought we would have an advantage in class that night. And I was right! That proves that practice actually can make your life easier. Hooray!

We started class with Lord Junior lining everyone up on one side of the room and having us all do both the Lead’s and Follow’s footwork for a Three Step and Feather, since everyone was going to need to know the footwork for the opposite part coming up. Once we had gone through it enough that everyone seemed to have their footwork down, Lord Junior wanted us to all focus on pushing off the standing leg harder so we could travel farther. That became a theme throughout class: once everyone was comfortable with the steps, you had to drive the steps to see how much distance you could cover.

What we ended up working on after the warm-up was a simple progression that started out with a Feather into a Reverse Turn that came out with a Reverse Wave and Back Feather, closing with a Feather Finish. The Reverse Wave and Back Feather is what is basically a Three Step and Feather with each partner traveling in the opposite direction than they are used to. None of the steps are really all that complicated – I think officially the Reverse Wave is a Silver-level figure, but if you can do a Three Step than it’s not all that hard. The new girl, though short, seemed to pick up on things relatively well after going through everything a few times.

On my second or third time through it with her, she mentioned to me how the heel turn during the Reverse Turn felt weird, and she felt like she had never done a Reverse Turn correctly before if this is how things were done. I started to tell her that it was OK, since the heel turn is something she’d really only do in International Foxtrot, while a Reverse Turn in American Foxtrot doesn’t have her doing that. She stopped in her tracks and said “Wait, this is International Foxtrot?” then ran over to ask the new guy in class if he knew that we were doing International style instead of American. I guess they missed the whole Standard Technique part of the class’ name…
  Well, tonight I went out to meet up with Sparkledancer to work with that high-level female coach for a while. It turned out great, and I took a bunch of random notes that I haven’t had time to compile properly yet. If I was able to stay up later tonight, I’d have them done, but I have to get up earlier than usual tomorrow morning to meet with someone. Boo. I’ll have them cleaned up into something more readable by next week, I promise. Until then, I hope your week of dancing is fun!

Don’t Think About It, Just Move Your Body

This past Saturday afternoon I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for my regularly scheduled coaching session. We all got together an hour earlier than usual, since there was going to be something going on at the Fancy Dance Hall later in the afternoon and we wanted to make sure that we had enough room to run through all of our stuff before people started showing up and taking over the floor. That was also nice because it gave me an extra hour that afternoon to get all kinds of other things I needed to do done, though I was sad that I had to get up an hour earlier than usual on a Saturday. Getting up earlier is stupid, right? Sigh…

That afternoon started out with us working on some Waltz. Sir Steven had us focusing on our swing motion in the Waltz that day. To begin with something easy, we worked on the swing we should be seeing in a normal Natural Turn, since that is one of those places where the swing motion should be very obvious to anyone watching. Satisfied that we were looking good at that, he moved us on to looking at what the swing motion should be when we were finishing up our Progressive Chasse to the Left and going into a Natural Turn, near the end of one of the walls in our Waltz routine. The closing of the lady from Promenade Position to dance position is important, because closing improperly and being too far over to the right (from the Follower’s perspective) can throw off the swinging action that gives you the correct sway on the following Natural Turn. It’s easy to get the swing right and have the correct sway in a Natural Turn starting right on the figure (or using a prep step to go into the Natural Turn), but add in some momentum and the shift of closing from one position to another and it becomes more challenging to make it look correct.

Once we finished working through the Waltz, we switched over to Tango to finish out that day. Sir Steven liked what we had done with Lord Junior the previous Wednesday, cleaning up our Open Reverse Turn so that it looked better. Hooray! However, while we had been working with Lord Junior, he had us doing the figure by the book, which has the lady going in-line during the second half of the figure. In our routine, we were doing the figure with the lady on the outside during the second half, so Sir Steven made us go back and readjust a few things to get where we were supposed to be. That wasn’t so bad. We also worked some more on basic walking – smoothing out the slower steps while keeping the quick steps very staccato.

Those items became our homework to work on during practice after our lesson was over – working on the swing motion in our Waltz, and working on walking in Tango.  Sir Steven also told us to continue to practice walking ‘backwards’ like we had been doing, where Sparkledancer is driving forward while I am moving backward (which is the opposite direction that we normally travel when dancing together). He said he has seen improvement in our Foxtrot, since that is the style we normally default to when practicing moving in the opposite direction, but we should start mixing in basic Waltz Change Steps to do the same thing in that style as well. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

The last thing he told us to start playing with during our practice sessions is the timing in the Waltz. I know I’ve mentioned before that you will see very high level dancers dance the Waltz much looser than the music – the step on beat two is always on time with the music, and is where the emphasis should generally fall during most figures. That leaves the steps you do on beats one and three are sort-of ‘around’ time. Not really off time per se, but not really on time either; usually the steps are slightly behind the music, allowing you to hold the step for beat two for slightly longer to emphasize it more. Sir Steven wants the two of us to really start working on this more during our practice so that it becomes more natural for us.

After we had left for the day, Sir Steven sent both Sparkledancer and I a text message to tell us that Lord Dormamu had called during our lesson (he thought it would still be at our normal time, so he had tried to get in touch with Sir Steven before we met). Once they got done chatting about how things had gone that day, Sir Steven let both of us know that Lord Dormamu wanted us to spend time working on a few different items for him while he was out, and that he would check on our progress when we next met up. The two points he said that we should focus on were A) to work on keeping our elbows up the entire time we were dancing, and B) to make sure we move our enter over our standing leg when moving forward. Yay for more homework…!

Even though it was rainy and cold outside, I went to Latin Technique class this past Monday (I am such a trooper!). Lord Junior was finishing up some paperwork with a student for her private lesson when I got there, and the place was pretty empty otherwise. I took the most comfortable seat at the couch to change my shoes, mostly because no one could stop me. Soon after, Sparkledancer and Ms. Possible showed up for class. As Sparkledancer was changing her shoes, Lord Junior shouts over to us from the front desk that he has something to ask the two of us about, and then goes back to finishing up paperwork.

It turns out that next Thursday, he is having this super high-level female coach who mostly does International Standard come in, and he had only one timeslot left that day that wasn’t taken by other students, so he wanted to offer it to Sparkledancer before he asked anyone else. Apparently this female coach really focuses on working with other Followers to help them get better. I needed to be involved because obviously things will work better if I am there to dance with Sparkledancer so the coach can watch from the outside to see what’s going on, and also so I can to pay attention to the things that she says so I understand any changes that she offers to Sparkledancer. Lord Junior says that she could probably give me some help too if I’m around, but mostly this would be for the benefit of Sparkledancer. Since this coach was going to be in town for other reasons anyway, Lord Junior managed to secure her coaching services for an unbelievably low price (I did the math – an hour of this lady’s time will cost less than an hour of Lord Dormamu’s time, so that’s a really good deal).

Sparkledancer was super excited to hear about this, and asked me to check my calendar and see if I could go to this with her. I told her that I would be available, so the two of us got signed up. It’s the least I can do to help out Sparkledancer. After all, by working with her as an amateur partner all these years, it has allowed me to work mostly with male instructors, which really helps me out with the things I need to know to dance the Lead part. I know that people like Lord Junior spend a lot of time studying the Follower’s part (it’s a requirement for the certification tests he has passed), but neither Lord Junior or Sir Steven has ever done a competition dancing the Follower’s part before, so I’m sure there are things that they just don’t even think about that this lady will know from experience.

This should be fun. I promise to take some notes about the advice she gives while I’m there (even if it’s not for me) and then I’ll let you hear all about it afterward.

We worked on a short but fun progression in Samba for the actual class that night. There was one Open-level figure that Lord Junior wanted to look at with everyone that he said he sees a lot of professionals use in their routines nowadays. The footwork for the entire progression for the Leads isn’t very complicated at all. The Followers have it much worse off, since they are doing steps that require them to turn around 180° and turn back very quickly. You would think that would have been the hard part of what we worked on that night, but it turns out that the piece that we used to transition from the figure we used to start the progression into that Open-level figure was what gave the ladies the most trouble.

To lead into the new figure, we started out with some Promenade/Counter-Promenade Runs, which are basically the same footwork as doing Passing Twinkles in American Foxtrot. We started ours in the middle of the short wall with the Lead’s weight on the left leg and the right leg back, holding onto the lady with only the left hand in her right. Next we did three of the four-count movements, finishing the last one up rounding the corner so that everything else we did would travel down the long wall. Then we did the transition piece that I mentioned earlier. The Lead part was rather easy – we finished the Promenade/Counter Promenade Runs with our right leg forward and the left leg pointed backward. We would then shift our weight back to the left leg, bring the right foot back to be together with the left, and then take a step forward with the left, grabbing onto the lady’s left forearm with your right hand. Basically we just switched our feet around so we could start on the other foot. Sounds pretty simple, right?

The ladies were supposed to do a Three Step Turn heading out away from us down the line of dance. This seemed to really throw Ms. Possible and Sparkledancer for a loop for some reason. The figure was supposed to be three half turns in a row, ending with the weight on the right leg and the left foot pointed forward. It seemed like a large portion of the time both ladies were either taking an extra step and ending up on the wrong foot, or ending with the left leg pointed behind them and continuing to move, or traveling way too far while they turned so that we couldn’t reach them when we were supposed to clasp arms, or not even putting out their left arm at all so the guys were fumbling in the air trying to grab on. Compared to this transition piece, the next figure turned out to be relatively simple. By the end of class the ladies seemed to have the figure down, but it did not go well for more than half the class that night.

If you made it through the transition properly, you should end up clasping forearms with the lady with your right hand on her left arm, her right hand on your chest and your left arm out to the side. From this position we would take one step down the line of dance together, then the Leads go into a Forward Lock Step, rotating so that you have a prominent left-side lead in the process as the ladies turn 180° to face away from you while moving, turning back around at the end so that you can repeat the process again starting with the step down the line of dance. The movements are quick, especially for the ladies trying to do two 180° turns in a short timeframe. Letting the ladies put their hand on your chest allows them to push off you slightly when they turn, which helps to speed the turn up. If the guy also keeps his right arm locked as he does the lock step, the rotation of the body to go into a left-side lead should also pull the lady’s arm toward you, leading them into the turn and helping them turn slightly faster as well.

The whole figure relies on coordination to be pulled off successfully, and isn’t recommended for beginners. Lord Junior actually said at the end of class that there weren’t many other Leads who come to Latin Technique class that he would have trusted to go through the figure with, which made me feel pretty good about myself. We did three of those turning figures in a row as described. On the fourth one, we would reach out and grasp the lady’s right arm with our left, preventing her from turning again as we did the same footwork, which would set us up at the end to go back into Promenade/Counter Promenade Runs. This whole pattern can travel quite a bit, which is why we set ourselves up to do it going down the long wall before going into it that night, so if you’re going to try it out on your own make sure you’ve got some room to run before you start.

If you remember, last week when I went out on Wednesday night for Standard Technique class, there were so many other things happening on the dance floor that we had to cancel class. Lord Junior had wanted to go through the Turning Lock to the Right figure in Quickstep, and there was no way that we could have done it without plowing into the other people on the floor. Yesterday night when I went out to Standard Technique class, there were slightly fewer people hanging out in the studio taking classes or lessons, and everyone was nice enough to give our class a lane going down the back of the long wall, so class got to go on and we finally got to go through the Turning Lock to the Right in Quickstep. Hooray!

By now, if you’ve looked at (or for some reason have memorized) the Quickstep syllabus, you’ll be thinking ‘Hey, the Turning Lock to the Right isn’t a Quickstep figure. Isn’t that a Waltz figure?’ And you’ll be exactly right. This is one of those Open-level things where someone thought it was a good idea to take a figure from another dance style and adapt it because they thought it would look cool. The footwork that you would do is pretty much the same whether you are doing the figure in Waltz or Quickstep, but the timing obviously has to be different.

What we ended up doing in class was a progression that could cover the entire length of the floor if you pushed yourself. We started out with a Natural Turn into an Overturned Natural Spin Turn, which has you coming out backing line of dance. Then we did the Turning Lock to the Right. We actually did two of them, just to keep things challenging, using a pair of Natural Pivots in-between to flip us to face the right direction for the second one. We came out of the second Turning Lock to the Right in Promenade Position, and depending on where you ended up on the floor and who else might be dancing you could head either toward diagonal center or continue the next figures down line of dance further.

Next we added on two Scatter Chasses which continued to travel in the direction you had come out of the Turning Lock to the Right traveling. Following that we did two Step-Hops that would rotate us around the corner to begin heading down the short wall. For the Leads our first Step-Hop is with the right leg, the second with the left, and you should turn enough over the course of the two of those so that your back is facing the wall along the short wall (the exact amount of turn depends on the direction being traveled when you start). Ladies do the steps with the opposite feet, but don’t have to rotate as much since the Leads are basically turning around them. Finally we added in some more Scatter Chasses that moved us down the short wall for fun, and called it good after that.

This weekend should be a pretty exciting dance weekend. There is a dance party on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I think I need to go to. HotDog has been bugging me about being there because he is looking to change career fields into something closer to mine, and he wants to ask me all kinds of questions on Friday about that. Hopefully the question and answer session won’t take all night, and I can get in some dancing too. Then on Saturday night I am helping to host the monthly dance party for my Royal Dance Court group. Both dance parties are going to require me to wear something green, since we are so close to St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m not terribly excited about that. How are you planning on celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? If you’ve got nothing better to do, then come out and join me at those parties! We’ll have a lot of fun!