I’m Never Gonna Stop The Rain By Complaining

What kind of stuff did I get into this past week? I’m sure you are guessing that it was the dancing kind, seeing as how that’s pretty much all I write about on this site. Some of it was even fun! I know, I know, that’s crazy to think about. Dance isn’t supposed to be fun or anything…

Let’s start out with last Saturday night. It was time once again for my Royal Dance Court gang and I to host our monthly all-access dance party for anyone who is cool to come to. We had invited some hot-shot instructor in the West Coast Swing community to come out and teach a lesson for us before the dance party started. The hope was that if we got this lady to teach for us, it would entice a number of people from the West Coast Swing community to come to the party, hopefully making the dance floor overflow with people for the night.

In reality, the West Coast Swing community ended up putting on some big party on the same night as ours that was being held a few hours north, and many people from our area ended up driving up there to attend (including one of the members of my Royal Dance Court group… WTF?), so we ended up having only dancers from the ballroom community attend our party. Also, it rained pretty hard on and off throughout the party, which I’m sure kept some people away. Our final count of attendees for the evening was only a little over fifty people, which isn’t bad by any means, but just not as many as we had hoped for.

The instructor we brought in that night started off class by asking if there was anyone there who had never danced West Coast Swing before. Several ladies put up their hands, so she started off with some real basic footwork to warm everyone up – pretty much just having everyone march in place to get the feel for the timing of all the six-count West Coast Swing figures. After stepping in place for a while to music, she had the class continue marching in the same timing while traveling forward and backward, basically training them to move in a slot while stepping in time. In the last part of the warm-up, she had everyone pair off with the person across from them and do the same exercise, except one partner was now moving forward while the other moved backward, then they switched after each count of six.

With everyone warmed up, she showed everyone how to modify their footwork so that they could do the Sugar Push. During this portion of class, the instructor kept an eye on the ladies who had said that they hadn’t done West Coast Swing before to make sure that they were doing OK, but she also found some guys in the class who hadn’t raised their hands at the beginning but were struggling just to do the Sugar Push correctly, so she had to spend some time with them to help out. To be helpful, and also to even out the number of men and women in class, I ended up jumping in to dance for at that point as well.

I ended up talking to the ladies who had never done West Coast Swing before to make sure they were understanding their steps. One of those ladies told me that she had never gone out to a dance class before that night! I felt bad for her, because West Coast Swing isn’t exactly the easiest of dance styles to pick up first. Lucky for her, we spent a lot of time just getting the Sugar Push down, so she rotated through a couple of times so that I could work with her, and I think we managed to work out all the bugs.

Because the newcomers were the focus of what we were doing, the class didn’t end up covering a whole lot of material. After the Sugar Push, the instructor also showed everyone how to do a Left Side Pass. Once we got through that, she had to spend some time telling everyone about the timing for an eight-count figure in West Coast Swing before she could add on what she wanted to do next – this involved going back to everyone marching in place while the music played for a bit. When she was sure everyone had the timing down, the last figure she showed the class was the Basket Whip.

After the class finished up, the dance party commenced. There was a real storm going on by that time, complete with thunder and lightning. At one point I thought it would be funny if the storm caused a power outage, and I imagined that people in attendance would just start humming songs together while they kept dancing. The DJ would have been the one to pick and call out what songs for everyone to hum, obviously, because the scenario wouldn’t work if everyone just started humming different songs. Then it would have just been chaos! Luckily, there was no power outage and the dance party continued on all night uninterrupted.

I want to mention last Sunday momentarily, because it was funny to me. On Sunday I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice around noon, like we normally do. When we got to the studio, the only people that we saw there initially was a guy taking a lesson with his female instructor, who happens to be a high level competitor in the world of Shag dancing. I’ve seen this girl around from time to time on Sundays giving private lessons, but I couldn’t tell you her name for the life of me. I know I learned it at one point, but for some reason it just never stuck. I feel kind of bad about that.

So Sparkledancer and I start working on our stuff for practice, with the beach music that the Shag lesson was playing in the background. A few of the songs that come on are at a decent tempo for Foxtrot, so we’d switch to working on that style when the music fit just to keep things interesting, but mostly I am just keeping time in my head as we practice (I have a decent internal metronome from all my years spent studying and performing music). As we roll over the end of the hour into the next, another gentleman shows up at the studio who is scheduled to take a lesson with the Shag lady. When he starts warming up, now there are three Shag dancers hanging out and dancing to beach music, and then Sparkledancer and I doing ballroom off against the other wall.

A little more time passes, and then suddenly Mr. Rubber-legs enters the studio with his professional partner! Mr. Rubber-legs, as you know, is some sort of reigning Shag champion or something – I’m not entirely sure what his reign is in, but I know that he’s really good. He and his professional partner showed up apparently to get in some practice time for a competition they were planning to go to in the near future. Suddenly, my quiet day of practice had turned into a meeting of five different Shag dancers, all talking to each other and dancing along to beach music. Apparently I did not get the memo that last Sunday was actually supposed to be Shag practice day. Boy, did I feel silly!

Monday night, rather than going to Latin Technique class, I had to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for coaching. I swear, that man is always traveling all over the known world, and sometime scheduling time to work with him is an art. Sometimes the three of us joke about getting together for lessons more frequently, but in the back of my mind I wonder if that would even be possible with the schedule that the man keeps. Finding time during the week for one block of coaching is hard enough that I think that even dreaming about fitting in two would be nothing but short of inconceivable!

Anyway… that night we started out by looking at the Waltz. Before I make note of the points that I was told to remember, I want to pat my own back for a moment. By the time we finished up the Waltz that evening, Lord Dormamu told me that if we manage to keep up our improvement in the dance style at the same rate as we have been going since we started focusing on it after the competition I did at the end of June, then in a few more weeks our Waltz should rival our Foxtrot for the position of our best dance style. That feels like a huge jump in such a short amount of time! It just goes to show that practice can really make a difference.

There were a couple of points that Lord Dormamu gave to us that we need to start incorporating into our practice. The biggest one involves all of the Natural Turns that we do throughout the routine. He told me that while the figures look really good for a student dancing in Bronze, he wants me to go beyond. From here on out, I’m supposed to wind up to my left even more than I already am on the step prior to the Natural Turn so that every one of them will have a really nice rotation going into it.

This was something that I was already doing a little at the beginning of the routine, because a Natural Turn is the first figure that I do after the starter step, which had some rotation in it already. He wants me to increase the rotation a lot during the starter step now to make it much more dramatic. The place where this wind-up action affects Sparkledancer the most is whenever we are in Promenade Position during the preceding figure, such as when we do a Whisk and then go into a Natural Turn for example.

To get the same kind of rotation in a situation like that, Sparkledancer has to close back to dance position much farther than she was closing before, because I am going to be taking all of the rotation to the right out of my body. That means that, even though we will still be moving in Outside Partner, I won’t be in any kind of Contra-Body position with her because I will be winding myself up to the left. She has to now close to me, but stay off to the right side enough that my legs can still move outside of her.

I did have to stop for a moment and ask Lord Dormamu about that. I was worried that a judge could stop and question us about what we were doing at a competition if the judge saw that we were dancing in Outside Partner but I wasn’t leading it by keeping my body rotated to the right. He told me that the only reason a judge would question what I was doing was if I was doing a figure, or a different timing of a figure, that was outside of the syllabus level I was competing in. Dancing in a position without leading it wouldn’t be a concern for them. Good to know.

There was a small note about the footwork that Lord Dormamu saw – while overall he said that our feet look much, much more grounded and precise, from where he was watching he could see that my legs and feet were closing together at a much slower pace than Sparkledancer’s were. This is pretty easy to explain, since I am so much heavier than Sparkledancer, I just naturally put more weight into the floor with my feet, so dragging them together is easier for me to slow down because of that. He wanted us to watch that and spend a little time making sure that our feet close in sync with each other. Not a major thing, but something worth noting for us to practice a little.

After we finished looking at the Waltz, Lord Dormamu wanted to watch us run through the Foxtrot. This style we only looked at for maybe ten minutes or so – it is our best, after all. He told me that the only real complaints that he had was that he thought I was raising myself up too much as I moved, and that he still wasn’t entirely pleased with the way the step looked on the first figure after my Three Steps. Being up slightly higher while I danced was easy to explain – even while we dance in the Endless Dance Hall, I still manage to run out of room because of how much I am able to move. If I lower myself down even further, my legs will be able to reach out even more and I will cover more ground, which will be bad. Sigh… I’m not going to be able to dance on any floor smaller than 10,000 sq/ft soon, I just know it!

The last thing we looked at that night was Tango. The takeaway that we talked about adding into our Tango after this session was ‘more attack’. Basically what that means is that on the first step of each figure, he wants to see me lower slightly before taking the step. The combination of lowering slightly with the push off my standing leg as I begin to move gives the step more of a pounce-like feeling when taken. As I go through the figure, I would hold myself at that slightly lowered level until I get to the end of the figure, when I can come back up to the level where I originally was. Lord Dormamu called that ‘taking a breath’.

I know that in the level of Tango I’m competing, normally the dance is supposed to travel very flat, with my hips and shoulders staying the same distance from the floor the whole time. This way of moving during each figure is the next step above that, and (from what I am told) makes it more interesting to watch. The pouncing action is supposed to be subtle – I’m not dropping down like six inches before I start moving, just enough that I can feel it, and someone watching from the outside would notice. It should make things more fun if I can get it down. I’ll be like a cat pouncing on things. I like cats.

In Standard Technique class on Wednesday night, we got to go over Tango as well. This week’s class was a lot like last week’s class that Lord Junior gave on the Waltz, where he pulled out a bunch of figures from the Silver-level Tango syllabus to build the choreography. He specifically mentioned to everyone that I would find it the most useful to go over them, because he believes that I will be working my way into Silver soon. There’s nothing like being called out in the middle of a class, right?

The figures themselves didn’t seem all that hard when chained together. Much like I mentioned last week, this bit of choreography is designed to go around a corner, so you want to start off facing diagonal wall with a bit of space to travel in between you and both walls. We started off with a Four Step, which is basically like the first three steps of an Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside plus a fourth step where you bring your feet together and rotate to Promenade Position. That rotation to Promenade Position is actually what changes the wall you are heading down in this amalgamation, so you should be facing down a new line of dance in Promenade Position when finished.

Next up we did two back-to-back Fallaway Promenades. The second and third step of this figure travel in a curve toward the wall, which is why you needed to give yourself some room away from the back wall when you started. We over rotated the Fallaway steps so that we came out heading toward diagonal center rather than toward center like the book tells you to do. After two of these we went into a basic Open Promenade, stopping on the fourth step and then taking a step backward to lead the lady through an Outside Swivel. To finish up we added on a Promenade Link, which is the opposite of a Progressive Link (i.e. it closes you from Promenade Position to normal dance position). Since the lady closed to us by rotating ⅜ of a turn, Lord Junior said that technically this was a Reverse Promenade Link, just in case you were curious.

The hardest part of this progression seemed to be the Fallaway Promenade figure. The footwork is really easy to do, but during the whole figure you remain in Promenade Position, so the lady has to keep her head looking to the right the whole time. If the Lead accidentally rotates his body wrong while moving, or if the lady just doesn’t like looking to the right for that long, then she’s going to turn her head back to the left. The second step of the Fallaway portion of the Fallaway Promenade was where you’d usually catch the ladies rotating their heads back to the left if things felt wrong to them. Basically, from the fourth step of the Four Step until third step of the Open Promenade, you should be keeping them in Promenade Position if you’re doing things correctly.

That’s all the interesting stuff that I did in the last week. As for the coming week… I may be signed up to take part in another small competition this weekend. I know what you’re thinking – only two weeks after the last one? What are you, crazy? Yeah, sometimes I think I am. This event is all small and local though, and it’s being held at the Endless Dance Hall, so I couldn’t really pass it up. That would have made me stupid rather than crazy, right?

Even though this event is much smaller than the competition I did two weeks ago, it will actually be more meaningful than that one was to me. From what I can gather so far, all of the rounds that I will be dancing have other competitors signed up to be in them. Two weeks ago I danced completely uncontested, so this will be a nice change. Here’s hoping that things go well!


Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair

For me, the dance parts of last weekend that are worth mentioning started with a party on Saturday night. As I mentioned, my Royal Dance Court group was hosting our monthly dance party that evening, and to start the night off we had asked the best Shag dancer that you’ll probably ever meet, Mr. Rubber-legs, to come by and teach a class to anyone interested. As usually happens when we advertise that we are going to have a Shag lesson, a lot of people were interested, so the dance floor was packed.

Before we get going, I invite you to take a moment with me to quietly get all of the ‘60s British spy jokes about Shag out of your system………… yeah, baby.

Moving on. Where was I… right. I’ve been to a few classes taught by Mr. Rubber-legs before when my Royal Dance Court gang has invited him to teach for us in the past. The class he does is interesting, but always starts off the same way. I know that he holds classes of his own for beginners and more advanced Shag dancers in another location during the week, so I think that he takes opportunities like the one my Royal Dance Court presented to him that night to introduce people to Shag and to his teaching style, let them watch how rubbery his legs get when he dances, and then invite them to come to his normal classes if they want to know more.

Most of the class involved Mr. Rubber-legs discussing the history of Shag and showing everyone how to do two figures, the basic footwork pattern and a lady’s Underarm Turn. For some reason, Mr. Rubber-legs wanted to teach the class with everyone lined up in a straight line down the middle of the room, which made for reeeeeeeally tight quarters for dancing as the class progressed. I saw one lady get elbowed in the face by the lady next to her at one point in the class, which gives you an idea of how tight the quarters were. There may have been other people bumping forcefully into each other that I didn’t see, and that wouldn’t surprise me.

Much like most dance parties that my Royal Dance Court gang puts together, we ended up with more women than men attending, so I had to jump into the class to try to help even out the ratio a little. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced Shag, so I had totally forgotten the positions of the feet in the basic pattern (it’s just different enough from East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing to require you to see it once or twice), but it was easy enough to pick back up once I saw Mr. Rubber-legs go through it again. The lady’s turn was pretty much the same as West Coast Swing, so I could do that one easily just by watching it once too.

Close to the end of the class time, once Mr. Rubber-legs was sure that everyone was able to do the two figures that he had started with correctly, he ramped up the speed and gave out information on a third, more complicated figure, and then a variation of that figure right at the end that he only showed people by doing it himself, because he didn’t have time to actually teach it to anyone. The third figure started off in Handshake Hold and involved bringing the lady into something like Sweetheart position, with the Lead’s right arm up over the lady’s right shoulder. You would start doing the footwork for a normal basic while in this position, and halfway through you roll the lady out in front of you. If you are really cool, you could have the lady do a double turn while you rolled her out, though some of the women I danced with said that spinning twice like that made them dizzy.

The variation involved the guy turning around after he rolled the lady out, so that she was now looking at his back. Mr. Rubber-legs called this a ‘Trail’ – you know, because the lady is trailing the guy. It wasn’t too hard of a position to turn into, and the footwork that he was doing was just the steps for the basic pattern as far as I could see, but I was on the far side of the room while he was demonstrating this variation to the class and like I said, he never explained it to us, so don’t quote me on the footwork if anyone asks when you try it for yourself. 😉

After class was over, the rest of the dance party was mostly uneventful. Mr. Rubber-legs stuck around for a little while to dance and talk with people, but left at some point before the night was half over. For the most part, I tried to stay behind the scenes taking care of things to make the party go smoothly, aside from going out a few times during the evening to dance some ballroom styles with Sparkledancer. Events like this are the closest thing to practicing floorcraft for a competition that we can do, so try to get out on the floor right after the song starts and dance one lap around before everyone else gets on the floor and things get crazy with all the social dancers doing different stuff.

(I mean different like the people who dance Argentine Tango during a Tango and don’t stay in the middle of the floor, or who were dancing Shag during a Foxtrot. They tend to make it dangerous to dance with my competitive partner and really move around the floor without having to stop all the time to avoid people)

There was one encounter in particular during this party that was pretty weird for me. I was in the back of the room, working on refilling the container of water for all the guests, when the DJ announced that an International Viennese Waltz was next. I didn’t think anything of it, since I was busy at the moment, and by the time I finished the song had already been going on for a bit and I didn’t want to find Sparkledancer and just jump in. Well, a lady that I had never seen before saw me standing on the side of the room and came over to ask if I wanted to try the Viennese Waltz with her.

Now Viennese Waltz, much like Quickstep, is not one of those dances that is a good idea for newcomers, and since I had never seen this lady before and she had asked me if I wanted to ‘try’ the Viennese Waltz with her, red flags went up in my mind. I had to ask her if she knew how to do International Viennese Waltz before I just took her out onto the floor with everyone else. She gave me a wishy-washy response and shrugged her shoulders, which did not make me feel any better about doing this.

I told her that this one was the faster version of Viennese Waltz and she wouldn’t get to open up and do fancy turns like they have in American Viennese Waltz. She seemed shocked by that, but still wouldn’t give me a straight answer as to whether she had even done Viennese Waltz before. Finally, when I saw that she was just going to be difficult and wasn’t going to leave me, I relented, even with all the voices in my head screaming that this was a bad idea. I waited for an opening on the floor and then took her out there, and prayed that things would be alright.

Lucky for me, the song only lasted about another ninety seconds, or about a loop and a half around the floor. When I walked her back to the side and then parted ways, she seemed happy enough, because she was all smiles. Sparkledancer caught me though as I was heading over to the other side of the room and told me that it looked like the woman was just running to keep up with me, because I was staying on time with the song and Sparkledancer said that my partner’s footsteps were not. That kind of made me feel bad. I didn’t feel my partner struggling to keep up, but she wasn’t that heavy of a woman, so was I really just inadvertently dragging her through everything? Sigh…

On Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella again for work. Even though these sessions are mainly meant for the girls to work on girl things, I feel like I work really hard while I’m there, because I always end up all sweaty and gross by the time we finish up, while both girls still look nice. I wonder why that is? That’s just a random observation I had during this session.

Anyway… we started off looking at the Tango again. The notes that I have from the Tango are pretty much all things that Lady Tella was telling Sparkledancer. Let’s see, she mentioned that in general she wanted to see Sparkledancer work on getting her position even more to the left around me – almost to the point that she would be on my right hip. During the Back Corte, she wanted Sparkledancer to work on creating even more volume (though I think that is going to be a constant request until her hair is dragging on the floor). She also said that anytime that we are in Promenade Position or doing a Reverse Turn that Sparkledancer should be pulling her left elbow outward to help keep her shoulder down.

When we got to looking at the Natural Promenade Turn (Promenade Pivot), Lady Tella made a comment that I thought was funny. She was trying to explain to Sparkledancer how she wanted her to slow down the turn of her head between positions, so she brought up a carnival game for comparison. Have you ever been to a carnival and seen the game where they have the clown heads in the middle that are slowly rotating with their mouths open, and you have to throw a ball into the mouth as it goes by? That’s what Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to rotate her head like. This comparison may have resulted in a few attempts where Sparkledancer was keeping her mouth open while turning her head, but since my own head is looking away from her during the figure, I cannot completely confirm or deny this.

Finally in the Tango we looked at the Right-side Lunge in the corner again, so that Lady Tella could see how our practice with the figure was coming along. She just wanted to have Sparkledancer make a few minor adjustments to the position that she was in while holding the lunge – chest forward more, head back more, keep hips more level, and be sure not to tilt. Minor adjustments, am I right?

At the end of our session, just to break things up a bit, Lady Tella had us switch over to look at the Quickstep a little so that she could see how that has been coming along with our practice as well. Overall the Quickstep was fairly strong, and there weren’t a lot of spots that Lady Tella felt like she had to point out for either of us to be aware of. She did mention that she wanted us to be aware of the amount of volume between us any time that we were rotating (which we do a lot more in the Quickstep than we do in Tango). Not really a major issue, just something to be aware of.

For me specifically, she said that during some of the rotations she was seeing me do a slight head tilt when I started turning. It wasn’t something that I did all the time, but sometimes she could see it. That was a frustrating thing to try to go over, because the times she did see it when we repeated a turning figure over and over again, I couldn’t feel any movement in any of my upper body, but she saw it. Also, according to her the movement is very slight, but it is enough that she can see something happening. So yeah, that’s something that I have to look at somehow. Joy.

Latin Technique class this week was sadly hilarious for me. I’m not sure what in the world was going on. Either my legs were too tired to work right, or my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but I was having trouble getting things right for most of the class. I would describe it as being… hilariously inept. Luckily I managed to pull it together by the end of class and get through without problems, but man it was rough getting there. Also I got made fun of a lot by Lord Junior, which made things so much better. I deserved it though. Everybody needs to have a bad dance day once in a while, right?

At the beginning we got to warm up a little by practicing different types of Latin dance turning movements on both legs. We started off by going through a basic Spot Turn, which is the normal type of turn you see in Rumba or Cha-Cha, and then we looked at a Switch Turn, which you can do in Rumba but most of the time you only see people doing in Cha-Cha. After that Lord Junior had us look at the turn that the ladies do in an Alemana. Guys don’t usually do a lot while ladies are going through an Alemana, so I got to try the lady’s footwork for this turn. I think I did pretty OK, if I do say so myself.

Lord Junior wanted to work with the class on Samba that night, so right from the get-go I knew this class wasn’t going to cover material that I liked. I don’t know why, but Samba just isn’t something I’m fond of. Lord Junior told us that recently he had been working with several of his competitive ladies on Solo Spot Voltas, and based on how that was going he wanted to give this class a chance to practice them as well. To begin this section, he gave us a basic combination of Volta movements to work on so that we could all make sure we got the Cuban Cross action correct.

We did four Voltas going straight to the side, four that continued in that direction but curved widely for half a circle, then four Spot Voltas that turned 180° each. By the time you finished, you were supposed to be on the other side of the dance floor (depending on how much you could travel) facing the opposite direction from where you started. Then we repeated all of those steps going the other way, to put us right back where we started. This part of class was easy enough, and I managed to get through all the figures just fine.

After that we paired off to do Solo Spot Voltas, and here is where things went downhill. To start, the Leader stood in front of his partner with our left hand flat against their right, and our feet in a Cuban Cross (left foot behind). We did four Solo Spot Voltas that also turned 180° each going to the left (Follow’s right) first. After the fourth, the Lead would bring up their right hand to stop their partner, then we would do another four going the other way. Sounds simple enough, right?

I think the thing that was throwing me off was the first action that you do. As you start turning for the first Spot Volta, your feet should just stay on the floor and you rotate. The next Volta action is where one foot has to move while the other stays planted on the floor as your pivot point. This worked great for the first four, but when you stop turning one way and change directions, if you forget to just leave your feet down and rotate, moving your legs throws everything off. All of us in class seemed to have trouble with this action at first, but it took me the longest to actually get it into my brain to do it correctly.

To finish out the class, Lord Junior gave us a simple progression to work on. He had us do the four and four Solo Spot Voltas in two directions, then two slow Voltas that traveled down the line of dance, and we finished with four Samba Locks. As we started this progression, I was still having trouble getting my feet to do the right actions with the Solo Spot Voltas, so I was flailing around a bit, which Lord Junior thought was funny.

Eventually he had us start doing the progression with music. I could do it correctly when the music was really slow, but when it sped up to like 85% my footwork just fell apart. Right before letting us go Lord Junior decided to amuse himself by having us do things to full speed. Suddenly, when the music was fast and I didn’t have time to think, I could do the footwork right every time. That made me feel kind of dumb, to be honest. I guess that I am just not a medium speed kind of person when it comes to Samba. Slow or fast only is what makes it work for me.

On Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class to look at some Waltz. Much like last week’s class on Tango, this week we also looked at a little bit of American Waltz and a little bit of International Waltz. Lord Junior is still working on studying for his certification tests for American Smooth, which is why he goes through these things with us. He admitted to all of us last night though that the studying is going slowly for him, because he cares so little for American Smooth it just doesn’t hold his interest. He did say that it is going better than his study of American Rhythm, which he cares for even less. Poor guy…

The first figure we looked at was from the American syllabus, called an Open Right Turn. It’s a misleading figure though, because it’s actually three different figures strung together and given an all new name. By the book the Open Right Turn is a Basic Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn, finishing with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending. Yeah, if you read that list it does sound a lot like Foxtrot, doesn’t it? Would you be surprised if I told you that you could also do this Open Right Turn in Foxtrot with a slight change in the timing and rise-and-fall? Because you can.

After we all seemed to have the figure down, Lord Junior changed it up to give us a second variation of the Open Right Turn. Pulling out the Open Impetus and Feather Ending, we replaced it with a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady to the outside, and finishing with a Développé. To close, the guys would step back onto their right leg and finish a normal box step while turning the ladies in front of us.

At the end of the Open Right Turn (whichever variation you so desire), we added on a couple more figures to keep the fun going. We did a Syncopated Fallaway next, which if you did the Open Right Turn variation and were still apart from your partner you would close back to dance position during. Following the Fallaway we did an Outside Spin from International Waltz, and to close we did a basic Natural Turn. The ending was a lot of fun, because you could get a lot of rotation going through the Outside Spin which would almost throw you through the Natural Turn. I thought that was the most exciting part.

That’s all the notes I have for this past week. As for this upcoming week, I think that most of it is going to be focused on practice. After all, the weekend after next I will be competing, so I have to make sure I’m ready. However… I heard of this class on West Coast Swing moves being offered this weekend, and I think I’m going to go to that. It’s been a long time since I’ve put any focus into West Coast Swing, and I do like that dance style a lot, so I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to pick up something new. That should be fun, right? Or at least different. We’ll see what happens!

Open Up Your Eyes, Life Is Poetry In Motion

Saturday morning I had two coaching sessions scheduled again, much like last week. This week we managed to get to both lessons in the order that they were originally set up, though a bit behind schedule. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall about a half-hour early to stretch out and warm up, like usual. Lord Dormamu was there giving another lesson at the time, so I knew he was already in the building (always a good sign). A few minutes later when he noticed me stretching out my shoulders near the mirrors, he stepped away from his lesson to come over, greet me and ask if I had a lesson with him first or with Sir Steven. I told him that my calendar said it was him, so he nodded and said that he was running about twenty minutes behind. That gave me almost an hour to warm up instead of the half-hour I had planned on.

I felt like we did actually show some progress in our Foxtrot that day, which is always a good feeling. We got to look at the end portion of the short wall in the routine, if you can believe that. One point we spent some time covering was my Natural Closed Impetus with Feather Ending. Lord Dormamu showed me why my Heel Turn in that figure tended to get messed up. Many people over the years have shown me how to do a Heel Turn – going slowly, you take a step backward (or back on an angle), pull your other heel back to line up with your standing foot, turn however much you need to rotate, rise up on the balls of your feet and then step out onto the ball of the opposite foot. Over and over again I’ve practiced doing Heel Turns just like that.

The issue with my Natural Closed Impetus is that the lady is stepping between my feet, so if I take a step back and to the left and then attempt to pull my right heel to meet my left, there’s a foot in the way. So in the middle of a routine there tends to be some fumbling and stumbling while I attempt to make the turn work without stopping when my foot would run into my partner’s foot. I generally manage to recover fully by the time I hit the Feather Finish. Lord Dormamu looked at what I was doing and told me immediately that my step backward and my turn should not be two separate movements. If I step backward and begin to pivot on my left leg, then as I am pulling my right heel back my right foot will naturally arc around where my partner’s foot as I turn. Basically all that practice I did in the past where I would pull my heels together before turning was what was holding me back. Sigh…

This also led us to a discussion about our Feather Endings and how he thought we were rotating as we went through them. Lord Dormamu explained that the most important thing about the Feather Ending is that it is the ending, so before you take those two steps you have to already have your body in the correct position. If you rotate yourself at all to get into the correct position during the two steps of a Feather Ending, you are doing it wrong and will get marked down. Yet another good point that I’ve never really thought about before until he said it out loud. I’m making a note of it here so that I won’t forget about it in the future.

Skipping ahead… later that night I was out to help host a dance party with the rest of my Royal Dance Court crew. To celebrate the beginning of summer, we had managed to get the famous Mr. Rubber-legs to come in and teach a Shag lesson to everyone. We had booked him for one of our dance parties last year and had such an overwhelmingly positive response, so it seemed natural to have him come back again. The endeavor seemed to really pay off. When Mr. Rubber-legs started teaching his class that night, we had about twenty-five people out on the dance floor by my count. There were quite a few more women than men, so I ended up jumping into the line during class to help out. By the time the class finished up, so many more people had shown up that our line of dancers was running out of space. The count I heard later was that we had more than fifty people show up! I guess half of them missed the memo on what time class started…

The lesson that Mr. Rubber-legs gave that night was pretty much the same one he gave during the party last year. We spent a lot of time (waaaaaay more time than I thought was necessary) to cover the Shag basic. I’m talking like half the hour was spent just going over that one figure. Once he felt that everyone could do the basic, he had us look at a starter step for Shag so that everyone knew how to begin a dance. This basically amounted to getting into a closed dance position and doing a Throwout-like movement. After people got those two figures, Mr. Rubber-legs covered two different basic turns that you could use. At the end of class since there were a couple of minutes left over, he showed everyone how they could transition from the normal open dance position to the closed one used in the starter step, allowing people to dance a basic pattern that could be repeated by going to closed position at the end and repeating the starter step. Nothing too fancy.

I had thought that the DJ would play more Shag numbers that night for the people who came to the party specifically to see Mr. Rubber-legs, but there weren’t that many more Swing songs of any variety than I would normally expect to hear. The ratio of men to women as the party got started was actually really good. We must have had a large number of single men show up after the class got started, because there were a lot more women than men when I joined class, but I was hardly needed to entertain ladies during the dance party. So I spent time that night dealing with… other issues.

HotDog was in high form that night. Originally he had decided to come out to the party because he has taken classes from Mr. Rubber-legs in the past, so he considers himself to be a Shag connoisseur. His quest to show off in front of everyone was quickly derailed by the appearance of two attractive young ladies. One was Juniper, whom I was glad to see out and about on the dance floor that night. She had been away for a while because she fractured a bone in her foot, so I was happy to see that it was finally healed enough for her to begin dancing again. I actually took her out for her first dance of the night to say hi to her. The other was a sorority sister of Prez’s daughter, whom Prez had invited to the party because the girl was curious about dancing. This young lady mostly wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch to see if ballroom dancing was a hobby that she was really interested in taking up.

As I’ve mentioned before, HotDog is a horndog when attractive ladies show up. I found out later that HotDog was texting Sparkledancer for days after the party, asking her to tell him Juniper’s name and how he could get in touch with her. He also spent quite a while awkwardly trying to talk to the sorority girl. She managed to fend off his requests to try dancing, and eventually she got up to come hang out at the front counter near where some of us from the Royal Dance Court were running things. When I caught her making a beeline away from HotDog, I took the opportunity to maneuver myself between where he was and where she was, playing human barricade. That was enough to send HotDog off to find a different girl to dance with.

I made a point to apologize to sorority girl for his creepiness, and she just laughed and said that she’s used to guys like him. Since I had heard Prez mention how this girl was interested in possibly taking up ballroom dancing before the party started, I then put on my Dance Ambassador hat and talked with her about dancing for quite a while. I regaled her with stories of the fun and crazy dance-related things I’ve done since I started dancing all those years ago, and I even waved Sparkledancer over so that she could tell the girl all about sparkly dance dress things (a topic I am not all that well versed in). The girl seemed genuinely interested, and I hope that means we could actually see her come back again, but next time as a participant instead of just an observer.

Now for the thing I did this week that was really outside of my normal schedule…

Sunday afternoon I got to have a coaching session with one of those crazy world-renowned International Standard instructors that travel around spreading their wisdom (for a fee, of course). We’ll call this guy… Lord Maple, since it makes me laugh (this gentleman comes to us from a land up north that you may have crossed into during your own travels). A few weeks ago, Lord Junior mentioned to Sparkledancer and I during one of our practice sessions that he would be bringing Lord Maple in for one day to give coaching sessions to a number of his students, and if we were interested in reserving one of the 45-minute slots that day he would be happy to put our names on the list. Sparkledancer told Lord Junior that she had really enjoyed the class that Lord Maple taught last time Lord Junior had brought him in about a year ago, so she was totally going to sign up.

She then turned to me and asked me if I would do the lesson with her, because it would be easier to show Lord Maple her routines if I were there to lead. I told her that if we scheduled this coaching session at the same time we would have normally been meeting up for practice that day, then I would already have the time set aside in my calendar anyway. This would be a nice (albeit more expensive) way to get some outside feedback on how we’ve been doing since we started taking things more seriously at the beginning of the year.

In order to make sure that this coaching session would be worthwhile, I convinced myself to get up earlier than usual on Sunday so that I could stretch out and warm up my body thoroughly before leaving the house. That way I wouldn’t show up to meet Lord Maple in the afternoon and hear him tell me that my problem is that I need to take bigger steps to travel more all because my legs are still half-asleep. I also got Sparkledancer to agree to meet me out at the Electric Dance Hall an hour before the coaching session so that we could dance for a while, helping to further ensure that I was all ready to go. It turned out that taking those precautions was the right call.

Sparkledancer and I had agreed to have Lord Maple look over our Foxtrot with us, since that is what we have been going over with Lord Dormamu recently. After some brief introductions and telling him about our dance experience, Lord Maple asked us to dance our Foxtrot routine together. Then he asked both of us to dance the same thing again with him so that he could get a better feel for what each of us were doing during our steps. When we finished that exercise, he told me that he really liked my forward driving movements during the dance, since they were quite clear and strong, and he could easily follow what I was trying to lead him to do. I may have done a little happy celebration upon hearing that. Then he asked me to dance through it with him again, and this time he would add in all the parts that he thought I was missing when we danced the first time.

When we finished going through the first wall of my routine, Lord Maple stopped and asked me what was different this time through. I told him that he had been emphasizing the shaping a lot more than I had been, partly because I had been told by Lord Dormamu to not worry about anything else other than working on how I drive my Foxtrot from my standing leg and pelvis. He told me that was one way to describe it, and then listed off a bunch of other words that could be used to also describe it depending on who my teacher was and what country they hailed from originally, but basically what he was seeing that I needed to work on all came down to how ‘powerful’ I was when dancing.

Lord Maple told us a story about how he used to want to be described as a powerful dancer when he read articles about himself. He eventually found a female coach to work with, and she asked him what he thought it meant to be powerful. That’s when Lord Maple gestured at me and started to flex his upper body, saying that he used to think power came from looking super muscular and manly, but this female coach stopped him and said that as a dancer, being powerful comes from being the person that shows the most movement from each step that they take. That’s basically what Lord Maple says that I am missing to take my Foxtrot (and other dances, by extension) to the next level.

To show me how I should be doing this, Lord Maple actually started by working with Sparkledancer. He wanted her to make sure that she is moving herself out of the way for each step so that I would have plenty of room to really take my steps. They danced for a bit with him trying to explain the concept to her, and then he thought of an exercise that someone had shown him a long time ago that he thought would help the two of us with the idea. After searching around the studio for a few minutes with Lord Junior’s help, he came back with a scarf that he rolled up and held taut between his hands.

The scarf is used to give you an actual visual representation of the line your hips are making (and by extension, your shoulders and elbows, since they should be on the same line when you are in a proper frame). It was supposed to be a towel, but we were working with what we could find. If you roll up a towel and hold it stretched between your hands on both sides of your pelvis, this shows the straight line your hips make when they are at rest. Then we started to dance. The first step we covered was the Feather. As you do a Feather in Foxtrot, your left foot is the first leg that you step with, so you need to involve your whole left side as you dance through the figure until the next time you get to neutral (which is normally before you go into the next figure). You can emphasize this by rolling the towel with your left hand, as if you were wringing water out.

This was a fairly simple but eye-opening exercise to do. The way we wrung the towel basically changed from hand-to-hand as we moved through the figures in our routine. The Feather used the left hand, the Reverse Turn used the right, the Feather Ending of the Reverse Turn the left, the Three Step the right, etc. etc.. If you use this exercise to help you see the lead with the proper side of your body, it should get the whole body involved as you move. That helps you feel like you are taking steps not just with your legs, but all the way from your upper back. Rise and fall will happen naturally in the figures if the whole body is engaged. It also easily eliminated the issue where it looked like I was dancing in a constant squat, since stepping with my whole body allows me to naturally straighten my legs as I move. Funny how that works, right?

This is another one of those lessons where it really shows that the techniques that instructors harp on in the early days (rise and fall, heel vs. toe steps) shouldn’t have to be forced or remembered. If the underlying mechanics of how you move are correct, those techniques happen automatically.

Wednesday class was cancelled this week because Lord Junior’s wife had some event scheduled that he needed to attend, so the only group class that I went to this week was Monday night’s Latin Technique class. We looked at Jive for the first time in quite a while. Jive was actually not my first choice for the night, since A) my first choice is always Pasodoble, because I think it’s the most fun and B) it had been leg day for me that day, so my legs were already feeling exhausted from my pre-class workout. I always grit my teeth on the nights when my leg workouts happen to correspond with nights I’m going to be dancing, since I know working out my legs will make things harder than normal.

That was certainly true on Monday night. We always start off any class where we look at Jive by going over the basic triple-steps slowly since Lord Junior thinks everyone should continuously work to improve those. At the beginning when we were going slow, my triple-steps in the figures looked and felt pretty good. By the end, since I did a lot of dancing that night to give all the ladies enough chances to practice, my legs felt like jelly and I’m sure my triple-steps had devolved to look more like fast-ish East Coast Swing instead of Jive. No one said anything though, so I must not have looked all that bad…

We only looked at two variations of two different figures that night: Spanish Arms and Rolling Off the Arm. Starting with the Spanish Arms, we covered the normal configuration of the figure, and then the ‘cooler version’ (according to Lord Junior) where we led the lady to do an extra turn as we unwind her. After doing the two different variations independently we then chained them together, doing the basic version followed immediately by the more advanced version. I will admit that there were a few times when I got over-eager and ended up turning the ladies for both.

The Rolling Off the Arm figure was done the same way. There was the basic by-the-book version, and then a more advanced version where we led the lady to do an extra turn as she is rolling off of our right arm. As before, we did the two variations independently, and then chained them together. After everyone was comfortable with all four different figures, we strung them all together – starting with the basic Spanish Arms, the advanced variation, a single Jive basic to compose ourselves and then the basic Rolling Off the Arm followed by the more advanced version. This small pattern is what we ended up putting to music, starting off slowly and finishing at tempo. The last run-through we did with each partner at tempo was really where I felt that my Jive basics were lacking, but I worked hard that night, so I feel like I should at least get partial credit for finishing to the end.

I am hoping that this weekend stays fairly quiet for me. I haven’t had much of a chance to really practice the things that I worked on in any of my coaching sessions last weekend, and I’d like to spend a few hours working through those items. We’ll have to see if anyone makes a convincing argument to me about going to a dance party somewhere!

You’re Moving So Carefully, Let’s Start Living Dangerously

I remember a long time ago being in a class some night during the week, and there was this mysterious guy with legs that moved like rubber who was practicing Shag in the back corner of the Electric Dance Hall. Watching him that night was a rather fascinating experience (and quite distracting from what I was supposed to be watching during class). Well, this past Saturday night I helped to host another social dance with the Royal Dance Court of which I am a member, and it was beach party time! Someone had managed to get Mr. Rubber-legs to come in and teach some Shag before the open dance, since that’s what I’m told people like to dance when they are out on the beach. I had planned on just hanging out in the back of the room to watch the guy dance as he demonstrated the steps during class, but once again we ended up with more women than men attending the party, so I needed to jump in to help even out the numbers. My spot ended up being right in the middle of the room, right next to where Mr. CakeByTheOcean1Rubber-legs was doing all his teaching, so joining class got me a much better vantage point to watch things from than I would have had otherwise. The basic step that he showed everyone for the class was a lot different from what I had been shown every other time I had ever been shown the Shag basic – it was a lot more complicated, and moved more like something out of West Coast Swing rather than the shuffle-y East Coast Swing variation I had been taught in the past. In fact, Mr. Rubber-legs even described the version of Shag that he did as a slot dance, just like West Coast Swing. Since he holds multiple national titles for being super-awesome in Shag (I think that is in fact one of the names of a title he holds), I question whether the things I learned in the past were valid. Getting the basic step down was what took the crowd of people the longest to work through. This basic was a six-count pattern that used eight steps, so it was a lot for some people to think about. The lady that I was paired to dance with during the lesson had trouble with the concept that we were supposed to stretch away from each other like a rubber band, so for half the class she would take a step backward when I stepped forward, or step forward when I stepped backward. It took me some effort to convince her that wasn’t quite right. Once most everyone had the basic footwork down, Mr. Rubber-legs showed everyone how to do a Underarm Turn for the ladies. He did this in an interesting way by having everyone line up really close to each other, and then having everyone stop halfway through the turn. If everyone did the turn right, when stopping halfway we all ended up in a single-file line facing the same direction, with the Leads holding their arms up in front of the Follower’s forehead. Following the turn, Mr. Rubber-legs showed everyone a cooler starting step for Shag that reminds me a lot of the starter step I use for West Coast Swing, where you begin in closed hold and then split apart. With only a few minutes left, he gave everyone one last fancier figure he called a Leash before sending us all on our way.

As you can imagine, the DJ made sure to include plenty of song choices that night where Shag would be a style option for those brave enough to try it out. Mr. Rubber-legs stuck around, and spent most of the night in one of the back corners again, kind of like I had seen him do back in March, though this time we were in a different building and he also had plenty of ladies come over to dance with him when a Shag song was played, so he wasn’t dancing all alone this time. Ms. Possible spent much of the night over in the corner talking with him. I guess he told her that night that she should consider ditching ballroom and become his pupil, because she would be an awesome competitive Shagger… or something (I know, ‘competitive Shagger’ huh huh huh huh… let’s all put our 15-year-old minds away now). I’m not sure how much stock I put into that claim, since he already took HotDog on as his disciple a few months ago and told him the same thing, so it sounds a lot like a sales line when you hear more than one person relay the same story. And HotDog… well, he was all starry-eyed and full of bravado that night since his sensei was teaching class and he already knew all the moves. He even brought out his spiffy new Shag shoes to wear that night. Apparently he was surprised to find out that leather bottomed shoes, while good for Shag, are pretty terrible for dancing most other styles of dance that were played that night. I actually did a lot less dancing than I usually end up doing this month for this Royal Dance Court party. Once the lesson was over, and the people who had only shown up to attend the lesson took off, our numbers of men and women evened out pretty well, so I didn’t have to entertain so many ladies throughout the evening. I actually got to spend some time chatting with people for a change. Yay! Overall it was a good night. There were fewer people at this party than there have been in the past months, but I think that with all the schools in the area being out for summer vacation now, people were probably out at a real beach somewhere, rather than attending a beach party somewhere where there was no sand. At least, that’s what I’m going to believe.

Speaking of summer: did you know there are some places where there are no dance parties during the summer? Up where my parents live this is the case. I was thinking of going to visit them over the summer, and was looking for dance parties I could attend while I was in the area. You know, to see what dancing is like in the area where I grew up, and whatnot. Alas, apparently not all places have multiple open dance parties available every Friday and Saturday night. Who knew? I guess I can never leave the Dance Kingdom and move back near them. I’ve been spoiled by having so many options available to me for using my dance skills every weekend, and it would take a lot to make me want to give that up.

Monday night at Latin Technique was an interesting affair. Word on the street is that for the upcoming showcase in August, there is a formation team being put together and many of the ladies that had shown up for the class that night were members of this new team. The idea for the formation team was thought up by Lord Junior’s professional partner, Lady Lovelylocks. The ladies all met up for the first practice last weekend, and Lord Junior happened to be around for a little while as they started working out the choreography. After watching what they had practiced (and because there were so many women in our Latin Technique class and very few boys), Lord Junior wanted to work on some solo pieces in Cha-Cha that the ladies had used in their formation team choreography to help them improve their speed (and obviously the technique) for the upcoming performance. I just got to go along for the ride. Supposedly the formation team isn’t just for women, but right now there are only women signed up, so if I joined I would just be that creepy guy who would have to hang out in the middle, and the ladies would probably choreograph something scandalous to try to make me blush during the performance. I know how these things work, so practicing their choreography in a technique class is enough for me. The things we worked on were similar to other solo pieces I’ve been given in the past to work on for Cha-Cha. We started with our weight on the left leg and our right foot pointed forward and went into a back rock step with the right foot and then a CakeByTheOcean2Forward Lock Step to travel down the floor. At the end of the Lock Step we did two Hip Twist Chasses, one with each leg. Next up we did Cuban Checks, first with the right foot and then with the left. At the end of the second set, rather than stepping to the side we took a step backward on the right leg and then did a quick change of direction turn in place of a chasse, rotating us about 90° in the process. That was all, nothing too crazy… until we started turning up the speed of the music. I have to say, there’s this fine line where things feel good when working with Cha-Cha – somewhere around 80% of tempo or so. In Cha-Cha if you try to do things with the tempo turned down super slow, it makes everything really hard. Conversely if you try to do things at full speed, it’s still really hard to nail down the technique (though you have less time to think about everything, so you mostly run on auto-pilot). But moving at about 80% feels pretty good. It gives you enough time to think about the all the techniques you’ve been told to work on with every step you take, but isn’t slow enough to be a painful experience trying to dance. That’s my $0.02, at least.

It was a nice change of pace this week for Standard Technique class in the sense that we actually ended up with an even number of men and women in class. Hooray! Well, I guess that’s only sort of exciting. Without so many women to pay attention to, Lord Junior was actually able to spend time watching what the men were doing, so I got called out for a number of things CakeByTheOcean3that night. Mostly in relation to where my head was, as I’m sure you could guess. I don’t know why I can never seem to have my head in the right place… I do my best to keep the knot in the back of my skull over my standing leg and to keep my neck as long as possible, but it always seems to be tilting to one side or another when I’m not paying attention. Is my brain too heavy for my neck to hold up or something? We decided to look at some Waltz this time around, and Lord Junior wanted to look at the Outside Spin figure that he had been going over with one of the guys right before class started, to help give the guy some more practice with the technique for the figure since he had stuck around for the class. Lord Junior set things up so that we would use a couple of figures to travel down the short wall of the ballroom, use the Outside Spin to turn the corner, and then we could do a couple of figures to begin traveling down the long wall just for fun. We started down the short wall using a simple Progressive Chasse to the Right. From there, Lord Junior started to tell us that we should go into a Back Lock Step, but changed his mind and had us do a Back Run instead, which is essentially just ‘running’ backwards, using the same timing as you would for the steps of a Back Lock Step. At the end of our short run we were all pretty much on the other side of the floor already, so this was where he threw in the Outside Spin to have us turn the corner. Coming from that Back Run to transition into the Outside Spin requires you to be able to gracefully bleed your momentum rather quickly, so make sure you don’t go super crazy as you’re running or else you’ll risk toppling over. Coming out of the Outside Spin we went into a normal Natural Turn to place ourselves facing backing line of dance on the long wall. We went from there into what Lord Junior called a ‘Running Spin Turn’ (so much running in this class!), which is the same as a normal Natural Spin Turn except the first two steps are syncopated. To finish things up, we added on an Open Impetus at the end, coming out in Promenade Position traveling toward diagonal center.

This weekend I heard there was an open dance going on at the Cherished Dance Hall, and they are planning on having a lesson in West Coast Swing. I’m pretty excited about that, so you’ll probably find me there unless an emergency keeps me away. Will I see you there? I hope so!