All Around, Things To Tantalize My Brain

For this week I’ll probably limit what I talk about here to what happened over the weekend, since there is so much information to cover from just Friday and Saturday…

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the famous ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza that is held annually at the Grand Dance Hall. They make a point of bringing in some fabulous dinners to serve to the attendees, hold formal dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights with a live orchestra providing the music, and offer some pretty fun workshops for both beginner and advanced students during the day on Saturday. This year marked my fifth time attending the October-weekend festivities, because I happen to find it so entertaining.

I made the hour+ drive out to the Grand Dance Hall mid-afternoon Friday, hoping to get there with a little extra time before the welcome reception started so that I could find a place to change into my formal attire. I’ve made the long drive while wearing a suit the first few years and it is super-uncomfortable, so I just don’t do it anymore. Once I had found a quiet corner to change into my formal attire and stowed my street clothes back in my car, I met up with the small group of people I knew by the dance floor to begin the evening’s events.

The main dance hall was opened up an hour before dinner would be served to allow everyone to come in, mingle a bit, eat some snacks that were set out at the back of the room, and even partake of a few adult beverages from the cash bar if that was your thing. A quartet of musicians was playing some dance tunes during the reception, giving everyone a chance to take to the dance floor and begin warming up their legs before the bigger dance party that would start after dinner, when the rest of the orchestra would join the quartet.

Not recognizing too many people at the reception, I stuck with the ladies that I did know when I went out to dance. The times that I went out to dance with Sparkledancer were apparently very noticeable to others in attendance. Near the end, just before the group I was in began wandering off to get some dinner, people started to approach either Sparkledancer or I and ask us if we were dance instructors, or if we were in fact THE dance instructors who would be teaching the workshops the next day. That was a bit strange.

One gentleman approached me and told me that I made him look bad by looking so good. I laughed and apologized to him for that, thinking he was just joking around. He then got quite serious and asked if I would be attending the workshops the next day. When I told him that I would be there, he asked me if I would be able to help him out if he got stuck on anything during the classes. I was really surprised by that question. Of course I told him I would do the best that I could, but it still surprised me that someone would go out of their way to ask me in advance for assistance with dance figures. I’ve never had that happen before.
Dinner was a delight, as always. The food that they bring in for the event always seems really extravagant compared to what I normally eat. I even had a fancy dessert, which is the part of any meal that I rarely (if ever) partake of. Around nine o’clock, the orchestra began to play and we all made our way back out to the dance floor to dance for a few more hours and burn off all those calories that we had consumed. Hooray!

Making my way back to the Grand Dance Hall early on Saturday morning to attend the first workshop being offered, I got to work on Tango for a while. These workshops that they hold are to give people new choreography to work on, rather than to focus on technique. This is a nice change of pace for me from what the lessons I normally attend focus on, so I was having fun.

The choreography we learned was fairly easy to put together if you’d seen all the figures individually before, and because we never broke frame you could theoretically use this when dancing both International or American Tango. I see it as more of an American Tango progression though, but that’s just my take on the matter.

We began facing diagonal wall and did two basic curved Walk steps. Next we attached a 180° pivot to the left and went into a Back Corte. Coming up from that, we did another 180° pivot to left and led the lady to do an Outside Fan, ending with a three-step-close like you see in American Tango. Next we did a Reverse Turn, closing our feet at the end, and then a Contra Check. At the end of the Contra Check we went into a Cobra Fan (another figure from the American Tango syllabus). When we close lady from the second Outside fan portion of that figure, we did two 180° pivots turning to the right this time, finishing with another three-step-close from American Tango to put you facing diagonal wall once more.

Next up of the three workshops offered that day was a Cha-Cha lesson. Everyone in attendance got a brief ten minute break after finishing up the Tango to prepare, and then we got to work immediately. Much like the Tango, the choreography wasn’t all that hard to remember if you had seen all of the individual figures before. Based on how everything was put together, I would guess that you could also do this pattern in Rumba with some minor variations.

The instructor had us begin by doing a full basic, mostly to get everyone’s mind out of Tango and into Cha-Cha. At the end of the basic as you chasse’d back to the left, the Lead would drop the lady’s arm down  to waist level. This set you up to push the lady backward into a diagonal Lock Step as we would do a chasse back to the right. With the lady moved away from us, we then did a Slip Chasse as we brought her back forward, which would make her do another Lock Step. Once we were back together, we led her into a Underarm Turn on left side, then a pair of Cross-Over Breaks, one right, one left, and then a set of Cuban Breaks on the right side.

Finished with the Cuban Breaks, we went into Solo Spot Turns on the left side. one last Cross-Over Break on the right, and in place of the next chasse both the Lead and Follow did a Three-Step Turn to the left. At the end of all that spinning, we linked hands to do two steps backward and then a backward Lock Step, ending in Aida position. To finish the whole progression, both partners turned to face each other, did a Stationary Chasse, and then we led the lady through a Cross Body Lead, releasing her at the end to lead her into one final Spot Turn on the left side.

We broke for an hour at that point so that everyone could grab lunch. When we all got back together, it was time for the last workshop of the day, which covered East Coast Swing. In this amalgamation we once more started out with a full basic movement to help everyone change mental gears, then transitioned into a Continuous Tuck-In with a full turn at the end. As the lady is turning, the Lead should back away so that she completes the turn out away from you, ending up in the position she would take to begin the Sliding Doors figure.

The next figure is kind of like the Sliding Doors, but not. You would bring your partner in front of you as normal, but stop her with your right hand when she gets directly in front of your body. Here you would lean from side to side, first to the left, then right, then repeat, while the lady leans in the opposite direction (right then left x2). This creates what the instructor described as a ‘Peek-A-Boo’ effect. If you know your partner pretty well, you can place your opposite hand on her waist as you lean – this is not a requirement on the first three leans, but on the fourth one you will need to place your left hand on your partner to signal the finish.

Using your left hand, you will lead the lady to turn to the left and roll away from you while you do a full basic movement. She can either do a half-turn, or one-and-a-half turns, depending on how much she likes spinning. After the next rock step you will take both of your partner’s hands in your own and lead her to step forward as you do, getting really close to each other and there hold for a beat. Then each of you will take a step back and hold there as well for a beat. To finish everything up, you do two Sailor Shuffles (right then left), lead the lady through a Underarm Turn, both partners go through Solo Turns, and then you can catch her hand once more to go into whatever you want next.

That all seems pretty normal for workshops at the Grand Dance Hall, right? So what was different about this year, to make my fifth time coming to this event special? Well, I’m not sure what I was doing differently, but it seemed like this year a whole bunch of people really wanted to approach me and ask for my help on how to do all the figures that the instructors were going over that day. I felt like I must have had some sort of neon sign hanging over my head that read “HELPFUL!” or something, drawing people over to ask me things when the instructors were busy with other people..

Remember that gentleman that I met at the reception who asked me if I would be willing to help if he got stuck? He actually got stuck, so I definitely had him approach me early on in the Tango class. What he forgot to mention at the reception was that he had come to the weekend’s events with a whole group of dancers from his home dance studio, and apparently he had told all of them about both Sparkledancer and I. So on top of him coming and asking me for help, other men from his group also asked me for help when they got stuck, and I could see women from that same group collecting around Sparkledancer on the other side of the room to ask her for help too.

When the instructors wanted the men and women to practice the figures together during class, Sparkledancer and I ended up frequently getting shepherded together so that the whole gang could stand around and watch as we demonstrated how the pieces worked with a partner. When these people felt confident enough to try things out with a partner from their group, they would ask either Sparkledancer or I to watch them to validate they got everything right, or if they got stuck they asked us to step through the trouble spots with them until they got things right.
On top of that, being the center of attention of these ten people in one corner of the dance floor started to attract the attention of others in the workshops, and soon we had even more people who would stop either one of us for assistance too! One older gentleman even came and found me during the morning and said that he took a lot longer to process the figures than most people, so he asked my permission to record me walking through the steps so that he could use the video to learn at his own pace.

I agreed to his request, of course. Not wanting to be in some stranger’s video all on my own though, I made Sparkledancer be in the video with me. That allowed him to see how the steps were done with a partner.  To be even more helpful, I also talked through what I was doing as I did the steps – I thought having some kind of audio cues could help keep confusion to a minimum when he watched the video in the future. He thanked me profusely when we finished.

With so many people talking to me all through the classes, I ended up cutting out of the East Coast Swing lesson a bit early to go find a secluded spot to collect my thoughts. It had been kind of an overload to talk to so many people, and while helping people is always thoroughly enjoyable, I needed a little bit of quiet time to reset afterward.

Once the workshops were over and done with on Saturday, the main dance hall was closed off so that the staff could prepare the room for that night’s final reception before dinner, and prepare for the dance party afterward. However, there was a smaller room closer to the front of the building that was opened up as a practice hall for anyone who wanted to use the few free hours that afternoon for practice. I was only too eager to get some extra practice in, so I wandered around until I found Sparkledancer and convinced her to come with me.

The dance floor in this practice room was much smaller than I had hoped for, so Sparkledancer and I ended up just running through pieces of our Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot routines for about 45 minutes until the floor really limited what we wanted to practice. I noticed that the back wall of the room had a mirror attached to it that hung about chest height for me over a carpeted section of the room. Limited on space to dance big steps, I suggested to Sparkledancer that we spend a little time working on something that was a bit more stationary instead: the lift for our upcoming showcase routine.

The last section of the lift I already felt pretty good about, so we just ran through that a couple of times and called that good. This time around I wanted to work on making sure we mastered the first section, because that would be where I get her off the ground as the whole thing starts. Basically, without going into too much detail, I end up crouching down as low as I can go with my feet still under me, then I help Sparkledancer hop up onto my right shoulder and stand up again with her sitting there facing behind me. The mirror on the wall was actually really helpful for this, because as I stood I could see how she was sitting without having to turn my head, using that view to help me figure things out.
There were a couple of important notes that we worked out while going through this section. Getting Sparkledancer up like that was the easy part – as I’ve said, she’s pretty light, and I’m positioned in such a way when we start that I can use both my legs to lift myself and her, so that’s no problem. The first note is that I needed to make sure that she hops up onto my shoulder so that her right hip ends up right where my shoulder starts to curve up to my neck. If she’s seated too far over to the right, she’s liable to start sliding off the rounded end of my shoulder and down my right arm as I begin to stand.

The second big thing we found out was that Sparkledancer really needed to remain engaged in her core the whole time while up off the ground. For the second part of the lift, I need to be able to move around with her up there, and then I start to manipulate her position with my arms. If she is loose and wiggling around, trying that becomes difficult. Funny, but difficult. Keeping her core in place to keep her solid and steady fixes that issue.

Finally, there’s the arms. When I stand up, I have my right arm bent at a 90° angle so my hand is behind her back, and my left hand is holding her right hand to keep her stable as I stand up. Once up, I must be able to let go and start moving my hands to their new positions for the next section, so I can’t rely on just holding Sparkledancer in place. Once I reposition my hands under her right arm and left leg for the next section, my arms become useful again, but there is that brief moment where I do actually have to move them and can’t hold on that can be a bit scary. As we tried things out, the first few times either I or Sparkledancer were holding on too tight to move my arms at all, which caused all sorts of problems.

We ended up stopping there for the day, promising to work on the middle section later. That part will involve a lot of rotation of her body and lifting on my part, but she ends up behind my head, so I wanted to keep things safe. For that piece we will have to do our initial tests somewhere where I can have a big cushion available for Sparkledancer to drop into if something goes really awry. I don’t expect anything to be terrible, but just like I mentioned before, safety is always rule #1 when doing lifts, especially during the learning phase.

Plus, I think word had gotten out that Sparkledancer and I were practicing this overly athletic dance move, and people kept poking their heads in to see what we were up to. Fellow dancers spying on us was unnerving enough, but when members of the staff started doing it I thought it might be best to call it quits for the day. I didn’t want anyone who worked for the Grand Dance Hall to start having conniptions about me letting a girl sit on my shoulder as I walked around the room…

Saturday night’s reception was a lot like Friday night’s, though many of the attendees broke out attire for the evening that was even more formal than what was worn the night before. The same four piece band provided the music during the reception, though their tempos seemed to run a bit looser in their interpretations of the songs than what they had performed the night before. It was an entertaining time, and I got to eat a plate of super fancy cheese slices on top of that!

The dance party that night after dinner was the big one – the last chance to pull out all the stops and leave everything out on the dance floor. The set list that the orchestra had picked out for the evening did leave a lot to be desired, but that’s just my own take on things. To me it felt like they only played Waltz, Foxtrot, East Coast Swing and Cha-Cha songs that night. There were a couple of other styles interspersed in occasionally, but those were very rare. I think during the few hours they played they did only one Rumba, I know they only did one Tango, and there were no Viennese Waltz numbers at all. There was one song that I heard as a familiar Quickstep tune, but a bunch of dancers took the floor early on and started to dance Swing instead, and many were all in the line of dance instead of in the middle, so Quickstep would have been super dangerous.
Overall this year was another really good time, and I snagged a flyer on the way out that night that contained the sign-up sheet for next year’s event. I’ve already mailed in my form along with the down payment to reserve my spot, so I’ll for sure be back next October to party at the Grand Dance Hall once again. Do you all want to come along with me? We could make it into an even bigger party! Just let me know and I can send you a link to all the information you’ll need to reserve your spot too!

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You Aren’t Comprehending The Position That You’re In

Let’s have a taste of normality this week, shall we? Just to mix things up a bit from what I have been writing about lately…

This past Friday night I ended up out at a dance party at the Electric Dance Hall. These dance parties are an amusing escape for me from all the training for competitions that I have been doing lately, which I will freely admit can get to be tedious sometimes. On top of that, this is one of the few events that I go to that is purely for socialization. Because the Electric Dance Hall is the closest studio to where I live, I spend the most time here, so I might even claim to be friends with everyone I see there. Don’t tell them that though. If they knew I considered them friends, it would ruin my cool-and-mysterious guy image.

I try to only bring up pure social dances in my notes if something actually noteworthy happens at the dance… so you know that something happened here. Unfortunately, this tale is less informative or funny, and more scary. Good thing it’s already October, and Halloween is right around the corner, right? This is a cautionary tale for any guys who read this…

We’re all dancing along that night, with the party going well. Lord Junior is outside the front door, talking with one of the attendees about some new lights he is hoping to install along the front of the building soon (he’ll talk with anyone who will listen about all the cool things he wants to do with the studio). I notice a new guy come in through the back door, someone that I had never seen before. This doesn’t flag as strange to me at first, because I don’t usually dance with the guys so I’m just less likely to recognize men than women.

After the first few dances though, this guy really catches my attention – and not in a good way. Like a lot of older gentlemen, he went straight for the youngest and most attractive women attending the party that night to dance with first, and then while dancing he decides to start throwing in lifts – randomly picking these girls up off the floor and swinging them around haphazardly so that their legs and arms are flailing about through the air. What?!?

Now it would be one thing if he limited this activity to Swing dances or Latin dances, since he would be mostly confined to one place, but he did this in Ballroom dances too. The worst part was that he also wasn’t staying on time with the music, so he was moving a lot faster than the others on the floor. That meant that eventually he’d catch up with the other dancers who were trying to keep away from him so that they didn’t get struck with a random flailing limb!

One young lady, a girl named Curves who happens to be a personal trainer, was his primary choice for dance partner that night. I don’t think he was actually interested in her because he wanted advice on how to get into shape… anyway, I stopped to talk to her after one of these wild and crazy dances, and she grinned sheepishly at me and just shrugged. Curves told me that the guy seemed relatively harmless, and she’s had men get more handsy with her at work. Him picking her up during a dance was better than him trying to pick her up for a date, in her opinion. The exact quote she gave me was “It’s like riding a new roller coaster every time he asks me to dance. I never know what to expect.”

Sparkledancer was also there that night, and she did not fare as well as Curves did. The first time this guy asked her to dance, at the end he tried to roll her into a dip that she was not expecting. That move did not go gracefully, wrenching her back in a really painful manner, and she ended up having to sit out for a few dances because of that. Once she was feeling better and managed to get back on the dance floor, in between songs she would often run over to wherever I was to hide behind me from that guy, because she did not want him to ask her for a repeat performance.

So gentlemen, there’s a warning in here for you: I know you think that it’s cool to do lifts and dips in dances, and you think that all the hot ladies will be super impressed by how manly and strong you are, but just say no! Lifts are not an appropriate dance step during a non-choreographed dance where there are other people on the floor who don’t know to stay clear of you! And they are really not safe to do if the lady isn’t prepared for the move! If she doesn’t trust you enough to know that you will get her in and out of the move, something could go horribly wrong. Injuring your dance partner (or someone else’s competition partner) is not cool!

Doing lifts in a dance is a lot like lifting weights while working out, so remember the three major rules: Safety is always rule number one. Keeping your form is rule number two. And finally, having fun is rule number three. Never forget!

…it’s really convenient that I got to talk about what this gentleman did, because it is a really good setup for my next vignette…

Saturday afternoon I got together with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal coaching session. We started off talking about the competition we did last weekend, getting some overall feedback from Sir Steven on what he thought, and letting him know the things that we felt based on the score breakdown that Sparkledancer and I had seen.

The scores from each of the judges definitely showed exactly what we knew going into the competition – that Tango was our weakest style followed by Quickstep, and Foxtrot being our strongest. Since Sparkledancer and I had already made plans with Lord Dormamu to begin looking at Tango next once he felt good about our Foxtrot, Sir Steven didn’t want to worry about that too much for the time being.

Instead, he wanted to start worrying about the showcase that Sparkledancer and I had agreed to do in December. Oh yeah! I totally agreed to do a showcase in December, in case you didn’t know. I put down money on it and everything, so I am committed to that performance unless something crazy comes up that requires me to pull out between now and then.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Fancy Dance Hall has a different philosophy for showcases than most dance studios.They put these events together based around a central theme, with all the dance numbers and songs built around the advertised idea. When I originally started talking to Sir Steven about some thoughts for a showcase number, my idea was just something that I thought would be fun, but wasn’t even related to the theme of the show.

Because I was told that my original idea could work, but would need some modification, I’ve been reworking my original idea with Sparkledancer to change it into something that can fit the theme, and will be a stretch for us both to perform, forcing us to practice some aspects of dance we don’t normally work on. We had one song that we were going to use based on the original idea for the show, but with all the changes that we wanted to make we found a song that would work out much better. The problem is that we haven’t been able to meet with the Fancy Dance Hall’s Artistic Director yet to discuss our new song and our performance ideas with her, so that part is up in the air at the moment.

However, one thing that is not up for discussion that I wanted to make sure we had in our choreography no matter what we do would be some lifts (gasp!). I really feel like the audience enjoys seeing dancers perform lifts the most in any showcase performance, so I want to try and have some for the audience’s sake. Also, since I do so much weightlifting and Sparkledancer is so tiny, we can perform them pretty easily.

Plus, Sparkledancer and I have danced together for years, and are good friends at this point, so she trusts me not to drop her. That really helps too.

Lucky for me, Sir Steven was on board with my desire, and he wanted to start having me work on what would be the major lift in the choreography. The lift he was laying out for us would work no matter the song that we ended up using, the only difference would be how fast each section of the lift would move. One song is a much faster tempo than the other, so the lift would either be slow and dramatic looking with the one song, or explosive and fun looking if we used the other.

So that’s what we spent the whole hour working on. Sir Steven broke the entire thing down into three smaller sections for me so that I could get an idea of what’s going on. Sparkledancer and I will probably make some minor modifications to pieces so that she feels comfortable and supported the whole time, but if we can put it all together I think it will look pretty awesome. I’m super excited about this!

One funny note – at the end of our session that day, Sir Steven commented to me how he was really surprised that I wasn’t all sweaty. Normally during our coaching sessions when we are working on our competition routines, I get to be a gross sweaty mess, and he tends to make fun of me for that. I told him that today I wasn’t really working all that hard. Sure, we did a lot of practice with me picking Sparkledancer up to go over the pieces of this lift, but she’s not really all that heavy. Normally when I work out, I use much heavier weights and focus on one muscle group, but here I was lifting a fairly light weight, and doing it synergistically, so it wasn’t all that difficult for me. He just shook his head at that…

Monday night, like usual, I was out at Latin Technique class. I enjoy Latin Technique class because it tends to be amusing, but the last couple of months of class Lord Junior has picked on me less because of things that I do wrong. I know part of that has to do with the fact that I don’t actually compete in Latin dances like other students in class, so he tends to focus his attention on those students instead, but there are also a lot of nights where I end up being the only other male in class. I wonder if that makes him worry less about me, since I end up practicing the figures a lot more as I rotate through all the ladies.

We had a new lady join class this week, who was recommended by her instructor from a different studio (I know! That surprised me too!). We normally do Rumba when new students that Lord Junior doesn’t know show up; the slower dance allows him some time to evaluate their skill level and see how difficult he can make the choreography that night. To warm up, and get the new lady used to straightening her legs just before transferring her weight, we did a couple of sets of Rumba Walks with Spiral Turns down the length of the floor. Our new friend had never done a Spiral Turn before, so while the rest of us did the progression on our own, Lord Junior walked down the floor with her to help out.

The choreography we worked through was fairly basic that night, especially for Leaders, since all we did was shift side-to-side a lot, and take a couple of steps near the end. The one figure that Lord Junior specifically wanted to have the ladies work on was a Closed Hip Twist, so he spent a lot of time working with the ladies on making that look good.

We started by standing facing one another, guys on their left leg and ladies on the right, holding on with just the matching hand, and as we began we led the ladies through an Alemana, finishing with them on our right side. As we put our right hand around on the ladies shoulder, we turned them into an Opening Out action, doing a side break to the left in the process, and then closed them into the Closed Hip Twist so that their Press Line was pointed right toward us.

Next we rotated them 90° clockwise, allowing them to walk along in front of us for two steps before turning them 180° to lead them into Fan Position. Closing from there, we went into a Hockey Stick, adding in a full Spiral Turn in the last stretch instead of the normal half-turn so that they ended up facing away from us for the last step at the end of the line. For the last measure, we both checked forward, and the guys gently rotated the lady’s arm to turn her around to face us before taking two steps backward with the lady walking forward along with us. Nothing too complicated – I’m pretty sure everything but the Spiral Turns we did that night were from the Bronze syllabus, but I’m too tired to look that up right now to verify.

The last thing that I did this week was to head out for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior wanted to have us work on Foxtrot that night. In particular, there was a group of figures that he had just added into Veep’s Foxtrot competition routine that he wanted to have all of us look at – especially Veep, since going over things in class would mean that he wouldn’t need to spend as much time on the figures in her next lesson. That’s really convenient for her, huh.

All of the individual figures of this choreography I had seen before, so it wasn’t too hard for me to put them together in the given order. Starting with a prep step we went into a normal Feather, then added on a Bounce Fallaway. Rather than go into the Weave ending like you see in the book, Lord Junior had us do a Tumble Turn with a Feather Finish. That set us up facing diagonal wall where we added on a Reverse Wave, and finished everything with an Open Impetus.

The most challenging part of the whole routine that night seemed to be the Bounce Fallaway. Lord Junior was telling the ladies that, by the book, their head should stay to the left the whole time, even when we went into Fallaway position. This really threw off a lot of the ladies I danced with, and rather than take the first few steps in Fallaway position they would oftentimes try to close to normal dance frame with me. I ended up having to keep my left arm really rigid a number of times to really let them know that they needed to stay in the right place while we were dancing.

By the end of class when we were just running through the choreography repeatedly so that everyone could practice, I ended up having to alter the angles I was using on the Reverse Wave. Lord Junior and I were starting at the same time on one end of the floor, and he kept stopping behind me while I was trying to do the Reverse Wave, so I kept having to cut the figure at the last second and I would go into a Closed Impetus to keep my partner close and safe. I ended up changing things so that my Reverse Wave would head down the line of dance rather than toward diagonal wall, because then I had all kinds of room to travel without worrying about anyone behind me.

Hooray for normal weeks, right? Don’t get too used to this. I made other crazy plans for this weekend, so it will be anything but normal for me. I’m heading out to the Grand Dance Hall this weekend once again. Every year they have a whole weekend that they set aside to hold a couple of formal dance parties on Friday and Saturday night, along with some entertaining workshops during the day on Saturday. That’s where I’ll be this weekend! I’m hoping I’ll still be able to find some time for normal dance practice as well in the middle of all that. Will I be able to handle so much dancing in one weekend? We’ll have to see what happens!

All The Action Is Right There At Your Feet

Oh man, Saturday was a good dance day for me. I was just feeling all kinds of good feels for dancing by the time I went to bed on Saturday night. I’m pretty sure that most of it was because of a crazy idea that I had which actually turned into a reality thanks to a lovely lady agreeing to a request of mine… but I’ll get to that later. Let’s take things in order, shall we?

The first dance-related thing that I did on Saturday was my normal lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven. Sir Steven wanted to run through everything except Viennese Waltz that day, spending most of the time on Quickstep since it had been a while since we had covered that style. I jotted down a few notes I needed to remember for each dance that we did:

  • Waltz – we were reminded again to make sure to add the rotation to the Half Natural Turn later; Sir Steven also wanted us to practice our Double Reverse Spins some more, making sure that Sparkledancer slows down her last two steps of the figure
  • Tango – Sir Steven told us that our Tango is looking a lot like a Tango now, instead of like a Foxtrot (yay!), so that was pretty good to hear; throughout the dance we were told to focus on controlling the power in our slow steps more; in the Promenade Pivot I have to keep my head in check because Sir Steven said that I was moving it as I rotated without realizing what I was doing; during the same figure, Sparkledancer was told that her head keeps looking straight during the turn and then whips around back to Promenade right at the end to make it more dramatic
  • Foxtrot – there were a few points in our Foxtrot routine that Sir Steven wanted us to change: in the Reverse Turn he wanted me to change my body rotation during the figure, neutralizing my body on second step, and then turning back into CBMP on the third to lead outside partner; during the Natural Weave he wanted Sparkledancer to work on counterbalancing more with her head when coming out of the heel turn; during the Change of Direction, Sir Steven looked at the change Lord Dormamu had told us to make in the figure (making it cover eight beats of music instead of four), and he wanted us to slow the whole thing down to make it four slow movements instead of being one slow step, a quick step, holding for four beats and then taking the final quick step. This last change got thrown out later by Lord Dormamu
  • Quickstep – overall Quickstep went well. The big things Sir Steven wanted us to look at in Quickstep were to make sure that we stay connected for the whole dance; to be sure that the last two Progressive Chasses on long wall go straight down the line of dance; for me to keep my head in one place in the Natural Spin Turn (there will be no head flick any more); and on the short wall after the Double Reverse Spin I can angle the Progressive Chasse toward the center more to stretch out the figure without running out of floor space

Sparkledancer and I were also given the official information on the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is going to put on. I guess that means that we are definitely going to be a part of the show.. I’m not sure how much of my original, mostly funny idea for a dance number will make it into the performance. The idea that I had thrown out didn’t exactly fit with the theme of the event. I had given Sir Steven some ideas during our initial discussion about how my idea could be made to fit in, but it was still a stretch.

However, if you subtract large portions of the idea I had (basically, all of the characterization of the two people in the dance, the costumes, the setting… really all the stuff that made the idea funny to me), and replaced them using characters and costumes and the setting from the theme of the show, things will still work. However, changing all of that changes the entire feeling of the performance. Where my idea was to do something kind of lighthearted, sappy and funny, the dance would turn into something very dramatic, haunting and emotional.

Is it a good idea to make these changes and go through with the showcase? I’m not sure. I was pretty excited about the original idea that I had for the show. If I have to change most of it to make it fit into the showcase, is it still even my idea? Will the performance be as much fun? Can I even play a more dramatic character while dancing, since my natural state is to be rather silly? I’m not sure. For the time being, I didn’t say no to being in the showcase, but I haven’t put down any money to be in it either. Maybe I can talk to Sir Steven about blocking out the choreography a little so that I can get an idea of what the dance will look like before I pay for the event. That might help.

Of course, I should also probably talk to Sparkledancer about this. Obviously she could perform with Sir Steven if she wanted to be in the show and I didn’t, but he’s nowhere near as strong as I am, so he wouldn’t be doing many crazy lifts with her if that’s something she wanted to do. Plus, if I wasn’t going to be in the show, she would have to schedule to take lessons with Sir Steven to learn the choreography without me, so I wouldn’t be paying for half of those lessons like I normally do. That might make her reluctant to sign up for the event on her own if I wanted to back out. With all of the crazy things dance-related things that she does for me, I should do this for her if she wants to be in the show. That’s what a good friend/amateur dance partner would do, right?

Anyway… enough about that nonsense. Here’s the update on my crazy idea, which is something I talked about last week:

Remember how I mentioned that, in my quest to get more female instructors to come teach workshops before the dance parties hosted by my Royal Dance Court group, there was one super-high level, totally awesome female instructor that I was going to try to personally convince to come teach for us? Guess what? I actually had a chance to talk to her on Saturday afternoon at the Fancy Dance Hall, and she totally said yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can you guess who I asked…?

…yup, it was the Princess! I went straight to the top of the list of female dance instructors in the area. After all, what’s the point of starting with second best for a quest like this?

I did end up going out and buying her some chocolate to try to bribe her, because I figured that it couldn’t hurt. She told me that I didn’t have to do that, she likely would have said yes to me anyway, but I’m sure that my offering of tasty treats helped just a little. Word on the street is that the Princess loves good chocolate.

Once she said that she would be willing to do this huge favor for me, I told her that she could pick out any month she wanted to come and any dance that she wanted to teach, and I would make sure that it happened for her. Initially she said that she love to come teach a Tango lesson in January, but after she left Lord Dormamu told me that he was pretty sure that she was scheduled to go to a competition with him over the weekend our dance party was scheduled in January. So that will probably have to change. I’m going to talk to her again and shoot for February now, where our dance party will be the Saturday after Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to hold a dance workshop taught by someone everyone in the Dance Kingdom loves?

So I’m pretty excited and proud of myself for getting this all set up. I’m going to pat myself on the back for a minute right now, just for thinking about how awesome an event it’s going to be. Good job me! Her agreeing to do this just put me in a great mood for the rest of the day on Saturday (and it’s putting me in a good mood again just talking about it now!).

I had gone back to the Fancy Dance Hall early on Saturday to get a chance to talk with the Princess, so I had a lot of time to kill that afternoon before my second lesson of the day with Lord Dormamu. I sent Sparkledancer a message asking when she would be coming back, because if she was around I could get in some extra practice time while waiting. Lucky for me, she wasn’t too far away, so she got there in twenty minutes and we worked on some of the things Sir Steven told us to practice earlier that day.

When Lord Dormamu finally finished up his other lesson and came to join Sparkledancer and I, we got down to work on Foxtrot again. This time around, Lord Dormamu spent most of our session working with Sparkledancer on her position while in dance frame. I guess that either means that I am finally holding my own enough that what I’m doing is tolerable, or what Sparkledancer was doing that day was bothering him more than anything I did that day. Either way, there were long periods of time that afternoon where I was just standing around watching the two of them dance together without me.

During one run through of the routine where I was actually involved, we got all the way through the Change of Direction near the end, so I decided to stop and tell Lord Dormamu about the change Sir Steven asked us to make to the timing of the figure. After I explained what Sir Steven had asked us to change, and then danced through the figure with Sparkledancer to show him, Lord Dormamu said that we could not do things that way without risking disqualification.

Apparently, according to “the rules”, the figure is recorded in “the book” with a specific timing for each step. If we dance through the figure and hold in the middle without changing the timing of the actual steps we take, then we are still dancing the same figure. However, if we change the timing of the steps, then we are changing the figure itself. Until we start dancing in the Open-level category where we don’t have to follow the syllabus any longer, we aren’t allowed to do such things. So, in order to keep from being invigilated, we have to stick with what we were originally told and not implement the changes that Sir Steven wanted.

I had never heard that before. I’m not sure where these ‘rules’ are written that Lord Dormamu referred to, but I don’t think he would lead me wrong on something like this. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.

Near the end of our session, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I get into frame for one more run of our routine. As he came back over after starting some music, he slowly walked around the two of us while we stood there, evaluating our dance frame. He commented on how much Sparkledancer had improved how she looked over the course of this lesson. Sparkledancer smiled at him and said “It’s all because I have such a great coach.” Without missing a beat, Lord Dormamu winked at her and said “Yes. Good work, Sir Steven.” I lost it at that remark and broke frame to turn around and walk away from the two of them. Sometimes they are too much for me to handle…

Because I was feeling so full of good dance vibes that day, I wanted to go out to a dance party Saturday night to try to continue that high. The only dance party that I knew about was the one taking place at the Fellowship Dance Hall, which is not a venue that I go out and visit very often. The crowd that they tend to draw at this particular ballroom club in the Dance Kingdom is… old. Much older than the other crowds that I am used to dancing with, which are already quite a bit older than me. But that night I went anyway, throwing my age concerns to the wind. Adventure!

I got there early enough to take part in the lesson that was being offered before the party started. The instructor wanted to go over some Waltz with everyone. You would have thought that would mean that a larger number of songs they played at the open dance after the lesson was over would have been Waltz numbers, but that wasn’t the case! Anyhow, the steps that they went over during the lesson weren’t figures that I found to be complicated, but many of the other men kept stopping the instructor to ask him all sorts of clarifying points about what they should be doing. The way the instructor talked about the steps was more confusing than helpful, in my opinion, which might account for the struggle the other men were going through.

Though no distinction was made, this pattern would be quite at home in International Waltz: starting with the men facing diagonal wall, we did a Half Reverse Turn, then a Hover Corte, a Back Whisk and then a Closed Wing to set the lady on our left side. Next he added on an Open Reverse Turn that went into Outside Change Steps. We did three of those that traveled down the line of dance normally, and a fourth that curved us so that the men were facing against the line of dance. We set the lady up for a nice Develope from this position, and backed out of the figure with another Half Reverse Turn.

As I mentioned, they didn’t play a whole lot of Waltz songs during the dance party. In fact, they didn’t play a whole lot of ballroom-style songs at all. Most of what the DJ played were Latin and Rhythm styles. That was a bit of a disappointment to me, since at this point in my life I prefer ballroom dances, but I still had fun. The DJ and the instructor who taught the lesson were really working hard at getting the men to change partners that night (my rough count put the attendance at around thirty-five women to twenty-two men). They did this weird thing where they would play two songs of the same dance style back-to-back, telling the men to dance with two different partners for each song.

For the most part that tactic seemed to work, but they also tried to use that idea with both Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. Not many men danced for either of those two styles, and only a handful of the women knew those styles, so it seemed like everyone was fighting over the same partners for those back-to-back dances while all of the other dancers who didn’t do Quickstep or Viennese Waltz just sat on the sidelines for both songs and watched. There might have been some forlorn sighing going on, but I was moving too fast while I danced to say for sure.

Well, I don’t know about you, but my plans for this weekend got wrecked by a potential hurricane. That big regional meeting that I had been talked into attending was supposed to be held at a conference hall that sits only a stone’s throw from the east coast. With the track of the big storm out there still up in the air, a lot of the people who were scheduled to attend or speak at this meeting cancelled, so the whole event got scrapped. Now I have nothing planned, since I had cleared my calendar of all other events this weekend so that I could be out of town.

Don’t you hate when that happens? OK, a lot of you probably don’t have issues with hurricanes too often if you live more toward the middle of the country. I remember when I used to live in the mid-west, and hurricanes were just something I heard about on the news happening to people in other parts of the country. Now I live somewhere where hurricanes cause storms with lots of rain, and we get influxes of people coming to the area to escape the harsher portions of the storms that hit closer to the coast. Crazy!

Maybe with all the people coming to town this weekend from the coasts there will be huge dance parties I can attend. Isn’t that a good way to ride out a storm? Dance the night away? I’ll have to call around and see what’s happening. I’m sure there’s a dance party somewhere that I can go to!

When We’re Dancing, The Night Begins To Shine

Forgive me for a bit of rambling this week. There are so many things jumbled around in my brain that I just need to get out so that I can sort through them. Bear with me on this…

Last Saturday I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer to continue working on Tango. There’s not a lot I need to remember from the actual lesson – the more interesting discussion came after we finished dancing. The one thing that I jotted down as a note is something Sir Steven wanted me to start doing during the Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside. I was told that, in order to make the figure look more dramatic, I need to rotate my body just enough to keep Sparkledancer on the outside for the first two steps, but to make sure that I am not rotating my body as much as I possibly can.If I do that correctly, I can dramatically snap my body the rest of the way when I take the third step, making the figure look really sharp.

The big thing to watch out for when I do this (as I found out that day) is that I have to rotate my body quickly to make it look dramatic, but not too quickly. I weigh a lot more than Sparkledancer, and if she’s in close body contact with me as I rotate my body with any amount of force, I can end up just flinging her body around. While it’s kind of funny to me when that happens, I can’t really say that anyone else finds it super funny. So the trick is to rotate quickly, but to do it lightly. Reminds me of Lord Dormamu’s comments from last week, about moving with power, but softly – like a gentleman. I told you that was a quote to remember!

As we were finishing up getting all the signatures in order for our lesson, the topic of upcoming showcases came up. From what I gathered recently, the Electric Dance Hall was planning on holding their fall showcase sometime around mid-October, and the Fancy Dance Hall is planning their winter showcase for mid-December. A couple of people on the Fancy Dance Hall staff have now mentioned to either Sparkledancer or I that the two of us should put together an act for their showcase. In hearing that, I automatically thought that if I was going to do it, I should have an act that could be performed at both showcases, like my last showcase number.

But… when the showcase came up this past weekend, I found out that the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is putting on will be like their recent summer showcase. That means that, rather than just being a collection of student performances for friends and family members to come watch, this ‘showcase’ will be more like a musical. There will be a story to follow, and all dance numbers need to fit the story, and the whole night will be arranged in a specific order that follows a plot. Rehearsals will involve not only making sure that performers can dance through their routines successfully, but also to choreograph transitions between performances so that everything runs together smoothly.

Also, it will involve having to do some acting, since the dances will be ‘performed’ by characters from the story. There won’t be speaking parts, but there are definitely characters that need to be embodied and presented so that the crowd can tell who you are.

So… that’s daunting. The story that they are planning on doing for the showcase is Christmas themed, as you can guess. It’s a pretty well-known story, so I was able to go back through the notes on the plot and think of ideas. I had one that I thought was pretty good, that could be rather dramatic and elegant and even, dare I believe, funny, but I’m not entirely sure how Sir Steven felt about my idea. It would be a ballroom style dance showcase. That’s a big leap of faith for me to take. I’ve always thought that ballroom showcases got to be kind of boring from an audience’s perspective – they tend to be slow and really limit the amount of exciting things that you can put in.

That’s why I also told Sir Steven that if we were going to do this, somehow we would have to put lifts into the routine. I think that audiences really enjoy seeing dancers do lifts while dancing, and I spend too much time on strength training to not do any. Plus, Sparkledancer is pretty tiny, so it hasn’t been much of a workout to pick her up during all of the other showcase numbers we’ve performed together. Sir Steven told me that he would look into some ideas for ballroom lifts and get back to me.

I’m sure I will have more to say about this in the near future. After all, we are less than two months from the possible performance at the Electric Dance Hall’s showcase, and less than four months from the Fancy Dance Hall’s performance date. If we’re going to be in the show(s), we’ve got to start working on things soon!

Last Saturday was also the night for the monthly dance party that is put together by the Royal Dance Court group that I am a member of. Yay! Someone had wanted to do a vaguely Summer-themed dance party that night, and we brought someone in to teach a Bachata lesson prior to the dance. While I’m sure that something like Salsa would have been slightly more Summery than Bachata, the guests to the dance seemed to enjoy the Bachata, so everything worked out great.

I will confess to not being all that well versed in Bachata. Afflicted with long legs and white-boy hips, I don’t think I’m all that good at any Latin dances, especially those of the Club Latin variety. That said, what the instructor covered that night was fairly basic, and with all the years of training I’ve had in making sure I have a connection with my dance partner, I could get a lady through the figures with ease. I had more than one lady tell me that I was the only guy besides the instructor that they managed to get through the steps with successfully. I even had one lady tell me that I must dance Bachata all the time with how easy it was for her to dance with me. When I told her that I really never dance Bachata, she looked right into my eyes and said “Well, then you must be a natural.” Huh.

Because only a handful of people in the class that night confessed to being good at Bachata, the instructor started things off just covering the basics. There was the side-to-side basic figure, and then the forward-and-back basic figure, and then Spot Turns for the ladies during the side-to-side basic. When the instructor felt like everyone had those basic figures down, he gave everyone a pattern of figures that they could do that got progressively more advanced as it went on, until he ran out of time in the class..

The pattern started out with a normal side-to-side basic. Then we did the same basic figure with the ladies Spot Turns added. Once we finished that, we took a wide two hand hold and the men led the ladies to travel forward on a diagonal path while he traveled backward, taking four steps diagonally back from right to left, then rotating the lady to do another four steps from left to right. We did four of these traveling diagonals so that when we finished we were on the right side once more with the left foot free. Then he had us do some leg flicks, pointing the leg to the side for beat one, flicking it up behind our other leg on beat two, taking a step to the side on beat three, and finally slowly sliding the other foot in over beat four. We did four of these as well, to keep the musical phrasing.

As we neared the end of class, he showed the ladies how to do Swivels, These were exactly the same as what you have probably seen in International Rumba, where the lady is in front of the man stepping and turning from side to side. This was a challenging step for many of the ladies I danced with. At first the instructor wanted the ladies doing one Swivel for each beat of music, but after a few minutes of practice when he saw that many were struggling to keep that pace he backed down and said that if they wanted they could do one Swivel for every two beats of the music. A lot of the ladies I danced with still wanted to believe they could do the fast ones, so I would let them try, and then if they struggled I would stop and get them to try it again slowly to be successful.

By the time the class had finished, more guests had shown up for the party to participate in the open dance. The ratio of men to women was pretty even that night, so I wasn’t really needed for dancing. That was probably for the best too, since I had to leave early to take care of some stuff for work. Also, the DJ made sure to play a fair number of Bachata songs, and I probably would have had to fake my way through those if someone had asked me to dance during one…

Keeping things on the slower side this week, we ended up looking at Rumba in Latin Technique class on Monday night. On an interesting note, a lady whom I have met several times before ended up joining us that evening. We’ll call her the Gatekeeper, and she’s an… interesting case. For a long time, I used to think that she was reluctant to learn anyone about dancing from anyone other than Lord Fabulous, but apparently the two of them had some kind of falling out recently. Since then, I’ve seen her at the Fancy Dance Hall taking a lesson with Sir Steven, and now she showed up to take Lord Junior’s Latin Technique class. I’m not sure if this will become a regular occurrence, or if she and Lord Fabulous will reconcile their differences shortly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

As we usually do when new people who Lord Junior doesn’t know very well join us for class, the figures we looked at that night weren’t super intense. If Gatekeeper sticks around for a few weeks, I’m sure that will start to change, but for the first night there she could get through the figures pretty easily. Starting in Fan Position, we took the ladies into an Alemana, with the guy shifting to the left slightly so that the lady ends her last turning walk on the Lead’s right side. Collecting her with our right arm, we turned her in a Natural Opening Out action that we over-rotated as we closed so that it melded right into a Reverse Top. We went around for three measures, releasing the lady in the middle of the last measure so that she would end up back out in Fan Position. Just as class was ending, Lord Junior was having us move from that Fan Position into a Hockey Stick, but we didn’t get any farther that night.

Standard Technique class on Wednesday was pretty fun, in my opinion. The class was rather small compared to the number of people who usually show up. I think that with so many schools starting up again this month, many of the normal attendees are either getting ready to go back themselves or getting everything ready for their kids to go back. At least, that’s my theory – I could be wrong.

We looked at Waltz this time around. There were a couple of figures that we looked at that I don’t remember ever seeing before, which is always exciting to me. First off, when we started class, Lord Junior asked all of us if any of us had ever seen a Left Whisk. When everyone said no, he decided that we would definitely be using that figure during class. As you can probably guess, a Left Whisk is basically the same as the basic Whisk, only you are crossing the opposite foot behind. While the normal Whisk is a figure you learn in early Bronze International Waltz, a Left Whisk is a Gold-level figure for some reason.

Our pattern that night was rather short, and it doesn’t travel all that far because of the spin and lunge that we do after the Left Whisk. We started out with a normal Natural Spin Turn and then transitioned into the Left Whisk. With my right foot crossed behind my left, our next figure was to unwind with a Standing Spin while the lady walked around me. This Standing Spin felt a lot like a Natural Twist Turn from Tango. Once the lady got all the way around us, we rotated her body so that she was perpendicular to ours and then did a Same Foot Lunge, with the man lunging to the right and the lady stepping backward on her right leg and leaning backward in an Oversway-like line. If you were in the right position, you would almost have the lady sitting down on your right thigh when she was leaning back.

To come out of the Same Foot Lunge, the guys would stand the lady back up and pivot her around without moving yet (that’s how she gets back to being on the opposite foot from us). Once she was pivoted back into normal dance position, the guys could collect and do an Open Telemark, coming out in Promenade Position heading toward diagonal wall. Lord Junior was going to add on something else at the end to give us a better closing than ending right in the middle of an Open Telemark, but we had spent a lot of time working on the Standing Spin and Same Foot Lunge that night, so we had to leave it there so that we could get in several practice rounds before class ended.

Remember how last week I mentioned feeling like my schedule was overwhelming without actually having anything out of the ordinary on it? I guess feeling that way wasn’t good enough for me, so I somehow got talked into adding more things to my schedule. There’s the showcase that I mentioned earlier that I’m fairly certain I will start working on. Just before that, I had already agreed to compete at the end of September, so not only do I have to find time to learn and practice a showcase routine, but I still have to continue working on my competition routines at the same time!

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I had volunteered myself to be part of this committee that will be making dance-related decisions on a national level. Well going along with that, my local Royal Dance Court group will have our quarterly meeting next week to talk about what we have planned for the rest of this year, and to start discussing the dance parties and events we want to host next year. There is this debate going on about themes for our dance parties – a few of the members of the Royal Dance Court really like planning themes for these parties, with decorations and a playlist of music that matches the theme. Others (like me) don’t see many of the dance attendees dressing up for the themes, or mentioning anything about the decorations, so we feel like having a theme every month is overkill without participation. That should be a fun discussion…

On top of that, my Royal Dance Court group was asked to send representatives for an upcoming regional conference, where a bunch of different dance groups in our region are coming together to discuss our successes and challenges in getting people into ballroom dancing in our respective areas. As you can probably guess, I was asked by Prez if I would tag along with her to that regional meeting. I’m pretty sure that she asked Sparkledancer if she wanted to go as well, and that the ladies will be getting a hotel room together to reduce costs and whatnot. Being the only guy, I have to find my own accommodations. There was talk of reimbursements if I saved my receipts, but I hate doing expense reports, and I make stupid money compared to my living expenses, so I can just eat the cost.

Anyway… why did I agree to go to this meeting? For starters, there are rumors that some of the people in charge of the national organization that I had signed up to be on that committee for might have a representative there to talk with all of these regional clubs, so I figured getting in some face time is a good idea. Also, I’m fairly certain that Prez asked Sparkledancer and I if we wanted to go because she wants our Royal Dance Court to stand out because of our respective youth. There is supposed to be a dance party that night after all of the meetings in the afternoon, and if Prez shows up with the two of us who also happen to compete together, and she can get us to dance in front of everyone else at the party… I’m sure that will score her some bonus points, and I’m willing to do that for her.

I could be wrong about that, but with what I’ve learned about Prez over the years, she likes to have power and status over people, and I wouldn’t put it past her to use me to that end. But knowing how dance politics works, helping her earn status points can also help me out too. If I can get to know the leadership of all these dance clubs in my region, maybe I will be able to present my ideas about how I think things should be done to them, and have some small influence on the way the clubs are run. On top of that, if I want to use my committee position to help solve big problems at the national level, I want these people to know who I am, and trust me enough to tell me about issues they come across. After all, if no one tells you about an issue, how can you help solve the problem?

So now my calendar is actually getting full. What is it about me that seems to be drawn to do all of these things, even knowing that I would much rather just have a quiet weekend curled up in bed with my cat, doing nothing but staring out the window? I must be crazy.