Baby, You Just Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

The closer we get to the next competition, the less time I feel I have for everything else in life. At this point, I’m spending six days a week dancing somewhere, and only one night a week staying home to get caught up on everything else that is being pushed to the side. At what point does one cross over from ‘hobby’ into ‘obsession’?

This past Saturday we went through and put together our Bolero routine. It was one of those that I thought I knew what the routine would end up being when all was said and done, but when we finally walked through what Lord Fabulous had in mind I was so far off the mark that it made my idea of what the routine would be seem silly. Half the stuff in the routine are figures I have never even seen before. He explained what he was AintSeenNothingYet1thinking to me as I watched quizzically – the idea was to have contrast as we danced, where we would do one figure that travels quite a bit, followed by a figure that was more contained. That contrast, he said, would make our routine more interesting to watch. As I sit here thinking about it, I can’t remember anything about the order of things. All of the other routines we’ve put together so far I’ve been able to remember fairly easily, but this one is eluding me right now. Luckily I recorded Lord Fabulous and Sparkledancer stepping through everything, so I can go back and write everything down. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to have it down solidly by next Saturday, though I don’t know how much time I’ll have to practice with a partner before then. Maybe if I write everything down I can send the listing to Sparkledancer and we can practice separately, and then we’d be able to put it together easily by trying it together. If that doesn’t work, then I have no other ideas on how to learn it.

With that routine marked off the list, I’ve decided to revise my count and assume that the routines I thought were finished before when I didn’t have confirmation are actually not finished. That puts my current count at nine left in order to hit that magic number of 21. The majority of what we have left to choreograph would be American Rhythm styles, but there’s a reason those are left for last. Apparently we’ve been signed up to do championship rounds in the 5-dance International Latin and the 4-dance American Smooth categories. Knowing that, my focus is going to be on getting those to feel as good as I possibly can before the end of April. That said, the only dance left from those categories would be American Tango. Hopefully we look at that this next weekend. When that’s out of the way, Samba goes to the top of my list to spend practice time on, because I think that is by far my weakest. Even with all the fun figure names (cruzado walks, anyone?) and crazy music to encourage me, figuring out how to get my lower body to cooperate while doing the rhythm bounce is going to take a lot more focus. I’m sure I won’t make it look perfect by the time competition hits, but I’d like to look better than I do now (which, let me tell you, looks silly to me).

Also on Saturday, a bunch of us went out on a dance field trip that night to a different dance hall that I had never been to before, to attend an open dance they were having. We all went to celebrate a couple of March birthdays for Land of the Loft people, since there’s no better birthday party than a dance birthday party. There was an East Coast Swing lesson given before the social dance, where we learned this nifty behind-the-ladies’-back roll-out that I thought was a lot of fun. Since the dance hall was smaller, and a lot of people attended the event, it felt really warm inside. I kept ducking out every couple of songs to go stand outside in the cool night air for a bit before coming back in to dance some more. At one point while I was out on the porch-like area, the AintSeenNothingYet2couple that had taught the group class came out. We talked for a while, and I told them how much I liked the East Coast Swing class they gave, and how nice it was to work on things in the American Rhythm category since most of the places we go people seem to prefer the International styles. The guy told me something interesting about that – according to him, there was one ballroom dance studio that had opened in the area before all the others, a place known as the Prime Dance Hall. The owners were from Europe, and they imported a lot of other European instructors to teach there. As you can imagine, they all knew International styles from their training overseas. As those instructors spread out over the Dance Kingdom and opened their own dance halls, they stuck with the International categories, which is why many of the people who have learned to dance in the area learned International. I hadn’t heard that legend of the Dance Kingdom before, and it strikes me as fascinating for some reason.

On Sunday, Sir Steven invited Sparkledancer and me to attend a competition prep class being offered at the Endless Dance Hall. He had heard good things about the class, and thought that since we were working toward the competition in April, it would be helpful for the two of us to go. While we were all out on our dance field trip Saturday night, Sparkledancer and I told Jack and Diane all about the class, and convinced them to come along with us (there’s safety in numbers). I knew that the Heartbreak Kid had gone to this class before the last competition we were in, so beforehand I found out from him what the class was all about. It wasn’t really a ‘class’ per se, but more like competition practice. All four of us arrived slightly before Sir Steven did. Looking around the room, there were many familiar faces, people that I had seen around either in classes at the various dance halls around the Dance Kingdom, or people who had attended events that I had gone to on some of the dance field trips that our group has gone on. Our friend Indiana even showed up – she was there to practice with one of her students. When Sir Steven showed up and we were looking around at everyone gathered, one thing became abundantly obvious: the four of us from the Land of the Loft were seriously outclassed. Most of these people had been dancing and competing together for many, many years. I haven’t even been dancing two years yet, let alone competing, so taking the floor with all these other people was pretty intimidating.

The class was run like the International-style championship rounds from a competition. There were a few of us who primarily know the American styles, so we looked a little out of place when we switched to those. The first round, the four of us sat out on the sidelines with Sir Steven and just watched what we were up against. During the Standard rounds, Sparkledancer and I went out and did American Waltz, Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz and International Tango. We left the floor during the Quickstep heat, but Jack and Diane stayed out to work on theirs. After a few minutes for break, they started AintSeenNothingYet3the Latin round. They repeated this setup over and over for as long as they had time, just giving people a chance to practice their routines with other people on the floor. The first time through, I was worried that all of the Smooth routines I knew, which were built for a much, much smaller floor were going to look silly out there in the immense expanse with everyone else. As it turned out, when Sir Steven told me before going out to make sure to reach farther and fill the space, I could actually do a passable job. I was originally worried I would end up just travelling the inner sphere of the room like a race car driver. This skill doesn’t really help me much for the next competition, since the dance floor at the Great Dance Hall is nowhere near the size of the Endless Dance Hall (none of the places I’ve been are anywhere near that size), but it does tell me that I can stretch things out to fit a room if needed, so logically I should be able to pull that back to fit a smaller room.

The real benefit of going and running our routines like that was that Sir Steven got to see them all from the sidelines, and make a bunch of mental notes about everything I did poorly. When we got together Tuesday night, we started to work through things for International Latin. We spent a lot of time specifically with the Rumba, working on our lines to make them look sharper. There is one figure Lord Fabulous gave us where we do an explosion, and afterward I roll the lady in against my right side and lean to the left, supporting her weight so that she can kick her leg out. Step-by-step we walked AintSeenNothingYet4through the figure, changing the placement of the arms and legs to draw out the lines and make them stronger. I had a good vantage point to watch myself in the mirror, and by the time we finished making changes the figure looked completely different from what it was the day I learned it. He also showed me a way to change the weird ‘tilde’ arm effect that I had been told to do during the sliding door-like figure. My arms were never meant to wiggle like that, so I have always thought it looked weird. Now, I have an option that will make them look more masculine (which I believe is much more fitting, since I am a boy).

Little by little things are improving. Who knows? Maybe with all the work I am putting into this competition, I might be able to do better than last place in the championship rounds! Sure, Sparkledancer and I will probably be the only amateur team competing against a bunch of pro-am couples, but if we can get second-to-last place, that will be a huge improvement over last year, and doing better than I did before is always a worthy goal to strive for.

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Can You Feel The Rhythm Burning?

In the final International Waltz class we had last Friday, I felt like more of a prop than I usually do. Like I was nothing more than… a dance dummy, used as teaching material fRhythmDivine1or demonstration purposes. When we started the month, Lord Fabulous would at least try to include the other people in the class. He would ask questions that everyone was allowed to answer, and try to get people to volunteer to demonstrate figures after he showed everyone the steps, and only resorted to calling Sparkledancer and I out to the floor if no one else spoke up. He knew that both of us already knew all the figures and techniques, because almost all of them were part of our last competition routine. This class, however, there was no offer to let others do anything or answer any of the questions, he just called us out for everything. Sparkledancer and I spent most of that class in the middle of the room, either being asked to step through the figures slowly so that everyone could see what we were up to, or sometimes even just standing there while Lord Fabulous posed us to show the nuances of the proper movements. It was kind of awkward being posed like a manikin. Then again, this isn’t the first time I have been asked to be the dance dummy, and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last. Next Friday we will switch over to go through Paso Doble again, and half the people I expect to take the class with us haven’t done that style of dance before, let alone taken the class. All of the figures I think we’ll go through in class I believe are already in the competition routine that Lady Q taught me, so it may end up being a whole month of being the dance dummy. It’s not all bad though – it helps reinforce the things I’ve learned previously.

Saturday during a coaching session with Lord Fabulous, we went back to International styles to work on putting together routines. The first one was International Tango. This was the first time that I have ever really looked at the International Tango; I’ve always done American Tango before, and the only other style of Tango I’ve watched people do was the Argentinian Tango. The things we went over didn’t seem too bad, just different enough from the American style figures I already knew to mix me up several times. The progressive side step that I was shown will probably take a bit of doing just to cement it in place as the new “basic” step of this style. The head flick, which I was told RhythmDivine2was a very International Tango thing, is a bit weird, but then I’m not much of a Tango person in general, so the stylistic pieces of the dance just weird me out in general. I think I’m just at the point where I’ve moved beyond thinking of Tango as just “that dance people do with a rose in their mouth,” but I don’t know if I will ever learn to appreciate it on the same level that Lord Fabulous seems to. By the time we moved on to the next dance style, we had put together figures to cover one long wall and one short wall. Halfway around felt pretty good for one day when doing a style I’ve never really done before.

We switched over to Samba next. It’s been a long time since I’ve done Samba in any form other than line-dance form, so I was feeling a bit rusty. Nothing we mapped out for the first long wall was terribly difficult though, so that helped. We did put in the traveling botafogos, much to my delight. That means that I have even more of a reason to start saying that word… botafogo… it’s my favorite word that I’ve learned from dancing, so the more chances I have to use it, the better. As we finished up working on the pieces of the Samba for the day, Sparkledancer and I started talking with Lord Fabulous about the plan to add in some coaching sessions every other week with Lady Q. We all agreed to make it happen, and try and schedule them so they ran back-to-back with our already scheduled Saturday time slot with him, just to make things easier for everyone. We told Lady Q about the idea as she was walking by, and she was excited about it. She had originally wanted to work with us to create a Samba routine once we finished up our Paso Doble routine with her, but since Lord Fabulous seems to have taken that upon himself, I’m not sure what we’ll be doing with her now. Maybe we’ll have her work with us on getting the crazy rhythm bounce technique correct, and I might cajole her into changing what we did with Lord Fabulous to add in more botafogos, because more of them would increase my level of joy.

Because it’s a new month, all new group classes have started. Fridays, as I said earlier, are going to swap over to Paso Doble. Wednesdays are switching from Jive to American Viennese Waltz. I always love taking Viennese Waltz classes, since it gives me an opportunity to practice this terrifying style, and learn other cool things that I can do while moving rapidly around the room. This month though, half of the people in class with us have never done Viennese Waltz before. Ever. So I don’t think we will be going over any stuff that is new to me at any point this month. Much like Jive class was last RhythmDivine3month, this month is going to end up being exhausting – it’s another high-energy dance, with three males in class and (at least this week) seven females, so I do a lot of work so that every lady can get two or three chances to practice the steps. We spent the entire class period this week just going through the reverse turn, which was a bit of a struggle. It seems like many people have this notion of personal space that they don’t like invaded, or don’t like invading with other people. A dance like Viennese Waltz works better if you can stand closer to your partner, because it makes it much easier to rotate around them if they aren’t arm’s length away from you. Some people just didn’t like standing too close to me, so we struggled to travel down the floor. I mean, I did take a shower before going to dance class that night, so I don’t think they thought I smelled bad or anything. I figure that we’re all dance friends, so there’s no reason to have personal space issues, right?

This coming Saturday night will be the showcase party. Apparently it’s going to be huge – Lord Fabulous mentioned there were close to 100 acts going on that night. Supposedly they are opening the doors with the first course of the meal already on the tables to help speed things along. It should be a good time. All the people from the Land of the Loft are going to gather around a few tables together and be loud and obnoxious whenever one of our own is on the stage, because that’s what makes dance performances fun. I’ll try and bring something to write on while I’m there, so I can make some notes to tell you all about after the party is over.

Botafogo!

Hit Me With A Hot Note

This week during the Saturday coaching lesson Sparkledancer and I have, we decided to switch things up a little. Rather than focus on stuff for the upcoming competition, we asked Lord Fabulous to go over some swing-style things with us to help get us ready for the upcoming 1920s Swing party. We spent some time discussing some of my thoughts about Jive vs. East Coast Swing vs. West Coast Swing, and Lord Fabulous gave me the impression that if I could do it in East Coast Swing then I should be able to do it in Jive as well. With that in mind, he put on an East Coast Swing song and told us to just dance and show him what we actually knew for East Coast Swing so he could see where we were. I think this was the first time that we had actually looked at swing with him since he took that initial video of our West Coast Swing routine weeks ago so that he could figure out what he could add to that. When we finished the freestyle dance, he told us that it looked like we knew a fairly large amount of swing figures, and that everything I had done would be able to work between Jive and East Coast Swing so long as I kept the correct technique for each style.

Then, so that we could be cooler than everyone else, he taught us a couple of fancier new swing moves that we could pull out during the party to try and impress. The first was something he called the Simple Turn, which must be named that because the guy’s part is so easy. Seriously, as long as I don’t miss when I “throw” the girl’s hand HotNote1from my left to my right hand, I don’t really have a lot to worry about. That is one of the nice things about being a guy – but before all you ladies go looking into gender reassignment surgery, remember that no one is actually watching the guys even when we do turn, so it’s OK for you to have the more difficult and exciting-to-watch figures. The second figure we worked on is something that he called the Promenade Run. This move, as I was told, is something that not only translates between Jive and East Coast Swing, but also Samba. We also worked on hip isolations, much like we did in the Jive group class that I have been taking this month. I don’t know why everyone seems to want me to practice hip isolations when so many people are around watching. I could go home and work on them where it’s quiet and no one is there to laugh at me because of how funny I look when trying to move my hips like that. Seriously, I know I mentioned it before, but I have white-boy hips. They will probably never look like anything else, no matter how much I practice moving them gracefully.

At the end we also went back to our Pasodoble routine once again. We seem to be ending every coaching session by going through that one at least once or twice. This week though, as we were finishing up, Lord Fabulous turned to me and randomly asked “How well can you jump?” Looking at him quizzically, I told him I could jump just fine, so he told me that he had something that he wanted Lady Q to add in at the very end of our routine if I could do it. He proceeded to demonstrate what he called the tour jete, which I believe is actually a ballet move, followed up by taking a knee with the arms spread wide. The move itself looks really impressive, but I was wearing jeans at the time so I didn’t have full range of motion while everyone was watching. Still, both Lord Fabulous and Lady Q seemed amazed that I could pull it off. With a little more practice (and a different pair of pants), it should look even better. If everything works out, Sparkledancer and I have talked about finishing up the other half of the routine with Lady Q on the last weekend of this month.

As the week progressed, it became obvious that it was no longer the holiday season. All the people that had been missing have finally returned, so the Land of the Loft HotNote2now feels much fuller as the group classes are run. It was especially obvious during the Thursday night classes I usually attend. During the Rumba class with Hot Tottie, we started out with three times as many women as there were men. Even part of the way through class when Lord Fabulous stepped in to assist, that made four of us to work with the nine ladies that had come that night. We didn’t go through much in the way of figures or technique, because just allowing all the women to rotate through the line all the way through once for each figure so they could practice turned out to be an ordeal. Some of the women devolved into anarchy, having conversations and missing the rotations down the line and screwing up the people waiting behind them. By the time class was over, I was glad to get a moment to stretch and catch my breath.

After the Rumba class, almost everyone stayed around for the new fitness class that Lady Q was teaching. This one was supposed to be the standardized syllabus that would replace the Pilates class that was being held on Saturday mornings, so everyone had their mats out and we were all packed tightly on one side of the studio. Hot Tottie had a lesson with Corte during the class and he wanted to work on some Foxtrot, so we tried to leave them as much room as possible. Even with cramming everyone together, they ended up doing the Foxtrot going up and down in a line along one of the short walls. I probably wouldn’t have stayed for the class if I didn’t get such a hard time for skipping it last week. The Lords and Ladies of the Dance Kingdom were very excited to get feedback on these new routines that they had worked on putting together for their fitness offerings. It was a little weird, since I ended up getting stuck in the middle surrounded by a bunch of women, and I felt like I was being watched the whole time. Jack was the only other male in class with me, so we really stood out. At some point, I know Lord Fabulous got up in front of the class and was taking pictures of everyone on their mats on the floor to send to the Princess.
HotNote3

Speaking of the Princess, there are only a couple of days until she’ll be here. She is going to be teaching the newcomer level class that goes on between the fitness class and my coaching lesson on Saturday, so I think I may just hang around and join the class rather than disappear and reappear during that time period like I usually do. I’ve never taken a class with her, so I figure it will introduce me to the way she looks at things before she sits in on my coaching lesson. That should help to calm my nerves a bit. I don’t know why having the Princess around makes me so nervous, it really shouldn’t. I guess it’s kind of like the reaction people at large companies have when the CEO shows up at one of their meetings – sure, they are just people like everyone else, but they have that unspoken authority that makes you sweat a bit when they are watching you.

Once that’s all over, then I get a short break to go home and take care of everything else I would normally do before heading back out to the Great Dance Hall by the HotNote4Lake for the party. That night is going to be exhausting. The way I see it, even if I stick with dancing with the ladies from the Land of the Loft only, I still won’t get much of a break that night. Maybe I’ll hope for cold weather that night, just this once, so that I can go outside every couple of songs and cool down quickly before the next dance. I should probably eat a million calories too, just to make sure I have enough energy to keep going all night. It’s going to be fun; I’m really looking forward to it!

We Never Quit, We Never Rest On The Floor

At this point, it seems like my earlier remark about ending up with a routine in all 21 different dance styles for International Standard and Latin and American Smooth and Rhythm is coming true. In the coaching session with Lord Fabulous that I was at this past Saturday, we started building routines for International Foxtrot and Waltz. I had thought we would just do one or the other – International Standard or Latin, and add that to the ten styles we had worked with before. But after spending a large portion of our session going over the Foxtrot heel turns and impetuses (hee hee, impetus… you can all giggle too, it’s a funny word) and the Waltz whisks and chasses, I’m starting to think that both Standard and Latin are probably going to happen. On the bright side, I guess this will be a good excuse to put some effort into Quickstep. At this point, Quickstep is something I’ve always admired from afar, and never really learned more than the basics of. This would definitely force me to change that.

On the down side, this would also force me to put effort into really learning Samba, and more than just the line-dance version of Samba. I’m sure that doesn’t sound so bad to anyone else, but I have… well, I have white-boy hips, to put it bluntly. They just don’t roll naturally in a very Samba-esque manner. And if I try to shimmy, it makes people standing nearby wince in embarrassment for being seen near me. So, there would have to be a lot of work put into Samba to make it look passable. It probably still won’t be good, but I might be able to do passable. But hey, at least I would get to botafogo, right?

Our Saturday lesson also coincided with the newcomer-level class that Lady Q was teaching. We spent time working on three dance styles that day: International Foxtrot and Waltz (as previously mentioned), and OnTheFloor1American Viennese Waltz. As we worked through the pieces, and Lord Fabulous kept adding figures to the routine, we kept veering further and further into the side of the studio where the group class was being held. Sometimes I would have to stop or cut things short so that I wouldn’t run into someone who was encroaching on where I was going to be. I thought it was all completely unintentional at first, but Lord Fabulous had apparently planned things that way. At one point, he stopped and mused about how he loved teaching high-level lessons during the newcomer classes, and he especially loved it when he knew that the newcomers stopped paying attention to the class they were in to watch what the higher level students (in this case, Sparkledancer and I) were doing. He hoped it would inspire them to learn more, he said, and give them a taste for what practice could turn them into. So I guess now I am a show pony. Does this happen at other studios? I mean, I know other places have showcases where the students will show off for one another in scheduled, formal events. They aren’t held during the middle of someone else’s group class. At least, I’ve never heard of them being run that way before.

Monday night Sparkledancer joined me for a one-off lesson with Lady Q for some charity event the Dance Kingdom was holding. When I had signed up for it, I originally just wanted to go through all the stuff that was in the Bolero syllabus for this month’s class since it was apparent we wouldn’t get through everything in the class period due to the reduced number of Wednesdays this month and the other students in class struggling with the material. With just the two of us, we managed to go over each of the figures from the new syllabus and all the figures I only sort-of remembered from the previous syllabus in about fifteen minutes. Most of the figures weren’t too hard to get down, but the left-side pass, which was formerly on the syllabus and has now been moved to a higher level syllabus… for some reason that just doesn’t stick with me. I was thinking about it as I was falling asleep after that lesson, and I could not for the life of me picture the footwork that I needed to do. Then when we were at the Bolero group class on Wednesday night I tried it again with Sparkledancer and managed to figure it out after a few tries. Now when I’m thinking about it again I just can’t seem to picture the correct footwork. All the other figures I have no trouble doing that, but that one… it’s kind of frustrating. Why do all the other ones stick with me, but that one just goes in one ear and out the other? Perhaps next time I see Sparkledancer I will have to try it yet again to see if my body can remember the figure even if my brain cannot. And if I can remember it, I’m just going to have to break down and draw myself a picture of how it works so that I won’t forget it again.

Back to Monday night – after we finished everything in Bolero, we switched over to Paso Doble. Lady Q had originally told me when I signed up for the lesson that she wanted to work on a Cha-Cha routine that she had come up with. She mentioned coming up with it while driving around, and was really excited about going through it with me. That night she told me that since Lord Fabulous was already building our competition OnTheFloor2Cha-Cha routines for both American and International, we would be working on a Paso Doble routine with her instead, and this would become our future competition routine. In the remaining time, we managed to lay out all the figures from the start until the first break in the music, which allows us to cover a little more than one long and one short wall. Now all I need to do is get them memorized in order and I should be able to run through it without a hitch. I also laughed about the word “huit” probably more than I should have. Silly French people. What were they thinking, putting their figure names in Spanish dances?

Our Land of the Loft holiday dance party scheduled for tomorrow looks like it may be pretty small. When I was looking into the ugly sweater dress code for the party, I realized that I don’t own any sweaters at all. I think I got rid of them when I realized I didn’t live somewhere cold anymore. So I’m probably just going to wear a t-shirt. Considering that it’s going to get warm here in Charlotte again this weekend, and I don’t really get breaks at dance parties since I am one of the few male dancers, it’s probably better for me to not wear a sweater anyway. I don’t want to die of heat stroke in December, after all. That would be a sad and funny obituary, wouldn’t it?