Stop, Collaborate And Listen

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

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

It was like being trapped conversationally with nowhere to go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn And Face The Strange Changes

I don’t know about you, but so far 2017 appears to be shaping up to be an interesting year…

Early Saturday morning I got a text from Sparkledancer about meeting her a half-hour early at the Fancy Dance Hall so that we could run through some things she wanted to work on. When I got there, I found that not only was she waiting for me, but so were Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu. Sir Steven had told Lord Dormamu about the questions that we had asked him the previous Wednesday night, and he wanted to have a chance to go over our questions with us personally to make sure we were on board. So, Sir Steven excused himself to run out and grab a quick bite to eat, leaving the three of us all alone in the big empty ballroom to talk.

As Lord Dormamu sat there staring at the two of us expectantly, I racked my brain trying to remember what it was that we had asked Sir Steven on Wednesday. The most notable thing that I talked with him about was the issue with my upper body flexibility, and whether that was going to be something that held me back or not. He told me that right now I look like I spend a lot of time lifting heavy things, so that is all the flexibility my body thinks it needs. As we work to train for dancing, my body should naturally adapt over time so that I can more easily get into the shapes I need. He also said that as I go down this path, I should probably give up going to the gym and lifting weights, and instead take up exercise that would help with my dancing if I felt the need to exercise to stay in shape. His suggestions were to focus on Yoga and Pilates for flexibility, and running and swimming for cardio endurance.

So that’s already one piece of advice I think I am going to throw out. I happen to like being strong and solid, and my flexibility isn’t that terrible as long as people aren’t yanking my limbs in weird directions. I also happen to think that looking the way I do is an asset when I occasionally find time to go out to meet ladies in non-dance settings. Maybe this will be an issue in the future that holds me back, but I’m not going to sacrifice something I happen to enjoy for dancing. I already sacrifice a lot of other things for dancing, so I should be allowed to keep this one thing, right? Plus, having the upper body strength can be helpful in dancing when I get talked into doing showcase routines, since audiences love it when they see performers doing lifts during the routine. At the moment, that’s something I am quite good at. I’m sure any partner I have will really appreciate me continuing to do all sorts of resistance training when I reach over to lift her off the ground!

We talked for twenty minutes or so, and Sparkledancer and I were still feeling pretty good about giving this a try, so Lord Dormamu decided to take us one at a time into the back office to changes1draw up the dark manuscripts that need to be signed in blood which turn over all your spare cash, time, and I think maybe even the paperwork mentioned something about the rights to my first and second born children, to make all of this official. Now, as my bank card screamed in my ear about what it was just put through, he got Sparkledancer and I back together in the same room to schedule our first coaching session with him. We both didn’t have anything going on the following Saturday morning before our normal lesson with Sir Steven, so that’s when we set all this madness to begin.

No matter what happens, this will be another set of adventures to write about, right?

Once all the secretarial work was done and we were back on the dance floor, Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu had a short conversation out of my earshot, and then Sir Steven came over and we got to work. And we really crammed a lot of work in, I’m guessing because of whatever Lord Dormamu told him beforehand. We pulled out all of our International Standard routines and stripped out a lot of pieces so that they were back to being basic Bronze-level routines, and he also had us cut them in half so that they would repeat after the first long and short wall. The only one we didn’t go over was Viennese Waltz, but that’s because Bronze-level International Viennese Waltz is only the four figures (Natural Turn, Reverse Turn, Forward Change, Backward Change), and I was told that as long as I make sure to start with a Natural Turn and stick to those four figures, it could be left to my discretion. Yay me!

We went through Waltz, Tango and Quickstep first so that we could end with and spend the most time on Foxtrot. This also allowed us to continue working on the techniques that we had been going over the last couple of weeks, really putting emphasis on me being able to lead everything from just my core. At one point, I can’t decide if he thought I was doing pretty good changes2or really terribly with this, so he ran off into one of the back rooms and returned with a piece of paper in one hand and a small plastic cup in the other. He then proceeded to set Sparkledancer and I up so that the piece of paper was wedged underneath our ribs on the right side of our bodies, and the cup was pressed between my left hand and her right (not gripped, just pressed against our flat palms). With those tools in place, we then had to walk up and down the floor, moving between ‘normal’ frame and Outside Partner without losing either the paper of the cup. That was fairly easy to do when I was the one going forward, but was not quite as successful when I was the one moving backward since I generally avoid traveling that way if I can help it. Looks like I have the first thing on my list of ‘important stuff I have to start really focusing on.’

On Sunday afternoon I headed up to the White Dance Hall because there was going to be a combination open dance party and showcase going on there, and I wanted to go support the people I knew who would be performing that afternoon. At the beginning of the event, as I was sitting at one of the tables in the back talking with people, I began to hear Bony and Sparkledancer calling my name from the other side of the room. I turned around to see the two of them attempting to wave me over to where they were standing. Standing with them was (much to my surprise!) Lord Fabulous! Shocked by what I saw, I got up to head over to where they were and see what was going on.

When I got there, Lord Fabulous had a huge smile on his face and gave me a big hug. It was kind of an awkward hug, which lasted a lot longer than I was comfortable with, and I swear he was evaluating my back muscles with his hands while he was hugging me. Why do so many people like to feel me up? After I managed to disentangle myself from that, I asked what was up. Bony and Sparkledancer had called me over because Lord Fabulous was going to tell a story, and they brought me in so that he wouldn’t have to repeat himself later.

Since I had last seen Lord Fabulous (which was a while ago), so many things had happened. He changes3and Lord Scarry had finally settled down and gotten married (Lord Scarry was out on the dance floor entertaining some ladies while we were talking). Ownership of the two dance studios where both men used to teach primarily (the Land of the Loft and the Great Dance Hall by the Lake) had changed hands a few times, and no matter what the King tried to do he couldn’t get the owners to work out the issues. Finally in the last couple of weeks, both dance studios had been closed down and the doors were locked without any warning given to the staff and students beforehand. Supposedly there is some paperwork in the works to get the Land of the Loft yet another new owner and reopen it soon, but the Great Dance Hall by the Lake has no potential reopening yet on the horizon.

With nowhere else to go, Lord Fabulous and Lord Scarry started to look around for places to rent floor space so that they could continue teaching some of their longtime students. As you could probably guess, they found the Electric Dance Hall. After talking with Lord Junior and explaining the situation, Lord Junior was nice enough to let them rent floor space from him whenever they needed. Lord Fabulous evaluated his life during his time away from teaching dance as he looked for a new place to teach in, and decided to take this opportunity to work toward becoming full-time at his other career, and only teach dance part-time, rather than being a full-time dance instructor and a part-timer at his other job like he is now. Lord Scarry wants to remain a full-time instructor. So it sounds like there’s a chance I will start running into these two when I am out at the Electric Dance Hall if they happen to be teaching at the same time, or if they decide to come to other dance events that I am attending as they start wandering around the Dance Kingdom to pick up new students and forge new relationships with other dance halls where they could rent floor space.

That was a totally unexpected tale to hear that day.

The showcase event that I had actually come to attend was a lot of fun. Much like the others that Lord Junior has coordinated in the past, he kept the amount of acts down to a decent number so that people wouldn’t get bored just sitting and watching others dance. There were about six acts in the first half, then a break so that the audience could get up and do some dancing of their own, another six acts in the second half, and then the floor was opened up for another two hours of dancing for anyone who wanted to hang around. I spent much of the last couple of hours over on the side of the dance floor talking with Jem, who was back in town for a couple of weeks and had come out to the party. Her job has been keeping her overseas quite a bit lately, so no one gets to see her very often.

As the party was winding down, Lord Junior wandered over to where I was standing and started talking about how he had had a few drinks, and he just had a great idea about changing things up so that instead of doing Summer and Winter showcases, which a lot of studios seem to do and are often interrupted by weather extremes or have low attendance due to people taking vacations, he wants to push his back to be Spring and Fall. I told him if he did a showcase in the Fall a bit before Halloween, then he might be able to get people to do awesome Halloween-themed acts. He got excited about that and told me that if he finishes putting together a new building for the Electric Dance Hall at the end of summer, he would totally do the next showcase in the new building in October, and then I would have to come up with an “awesome and super funny” routine to perform.

Good thing I have some time between now and then to try to plan something that is both awesome and funny out, right?

Lucky for me, class on Monday night Latin Technique class was far more normal than anything that happened that weekend. We got to go through some Cha-Cha that night. What we did wasn’t anything overly fancy or complicated, but the ladies in class were being kind of funny, and that was exasperating Lord Junior in the process. As an example, right as we were supposed to be beginning class, I was standing on one side of the room with Lord Junior (the boy’s side of the room), and we were facing the ladies. He was trying to start showing them the initial figure to look at, but they all kept talking to each other, and any time one of them wanted to make a joke, she would say it loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, even if she was just talking to one specific person. After a couple of tries to get their attention, Lord Junior looked at me and rolled his eyes, and decided to start by looking at the guys steps instead, hoping that the ladies would be paying attention when we finished.

What we ended up putting together that night was a pretty simple pattern that revolved around working on doing New Yorkers. We began with a side step and rock step to the left before going into a normal chasse to the right. Then we did our first New Yorker, a basic one turning to the right, coming back with a Three Step Turn to the left. Next up the ladies got to do another New Yorker, this time on the left side, while men did a lunge to the right and reached over with our right hand to grasp the ladies left forearm. This kept her from falling forward if she pushed a lot when going into the New Yorker, since we could counterbalance her.  The guys would then stand back up from our lunge, pulling the ladies back onto her back leg in the process and turning her. Guys did a normal chasse back to the right side while the ladies did a second Three Step Turn.

Back on the right side we collected our partner’s hand, and then both of us did another basic New Yorker on the right side. We came out of this one by doing a Ronde into a Press Line, and then a three step change of direction that is a lot like the footwork you do at the end of a Hip Twist Chasse, before going back into another New Yorker on the right side. This one was not basic. We held that position for three beats, which is a long time when you are running the pattern to music that is slowed down, but only allows you to take a deep breath if the music is at normal tempo.

After the hold we released our partner and we both took two circular steps away from each other, which rotated us 180° in the process, and then we did a Lock Step heading to the left. Finally we took another two steps which turned so that we were heading back toward each other, after which the ladies would do a chasse forward, giving us their hand as they passed us by which we would use to turn them at the end, stopping them with our hand on their back. The men would just take two steps forward (no chasse) and hold in place as we turned and stopped the lady. We didn’t get any farther than that, since we needed to take some time to run things and get everything up to full speed before class was over.

This past Wednesday night we had a pretty large crowd for Standard Technique class. Luckily, we also had more men than usual turn out for class, so the ratio of men to women was pretty good. Since we had done Foxtrot and Waltz the last two weeks, we opted to look at some Tango this week. Lord Junior wanted to work on a figure that he had recently added into the routines he does with two of his students who were in class that night, a figure known as the Double Chase. The Double Chase is exactly what it sounds like, which is two of the Gold-level figure that is called ‘The Chase’ done back-to-back. We started class by looking at the original figure first, just to make sure the people who had never seen the figure before were on board with what we were going to attempt to double.

The whole progression we worked on that night could cover quite a bit of distance, which changes4makes things a lot more fun in my book. We started out already in Promenade Position and did a Promenade with the man closing, but added in a Natural Pivot at the end to flip us around to face the line of dance again. Then we did the Double Chase. The tricky part of the figure was the transition between the two, ending the first Chase by rotating slightly more than normal to face line of dance again, and making sure that you come out by stepping between the ladies feet as you start the second. Sometimes I would have to move my foot a bit weirdly around where the lady had left her foot to do this properly, but I never kicked or stepped on anyone so I count that as being successful.

After the Double Chase we ended facing center with two beats left in the measure, so we added on a Progressive Chasse to the Right to fill that time and continue traveling down the line of dance. We did this with the assumption that if you put this figure into some kind of routine, the end of the Progressive Chasse would put you into the corner, though when practicing that night, some people ended in the middle of the room based on how we were staggered. After the Progressive Chasse we used a Whisk to put us back into Promenade Position and rotate 90°, lining us up to head down the next wall. Here we did an Open Promenade in that direction, which is a Promenade that ends with the men passing their feet instead of closing them. We stopped our movement at the end with the men stepped forward in Outside Partner next to the lady. She flicked her leg up as the guy held there, then we led her to do an Outside Swivel before collecting her back into normal dance frame.

Well, hopefully this weekend turns out to be fun, and gives me an idea of what I’ve gotten myself into. I have two lessons scheduled for Saturday, the first in the morning with Lord Dormamu and then immediately after that another one with Sir Steven so that we can pick up where we left off last weekend, or change things to work on what Lord Dormamu thinks we should focus on after he sees us. Also this Saturday is the monthly dance party I help host as a member of the Royal Dance Court. We are planning on having someone teach a Foxtrot lesson beforehand, so fingers crossed that there are more Foxtrots played than anything else that night at the party afterward. I’ll let you know if that is true next week!

Give Me The Secret Mancub, Clue Me What To Do

So much going on this past weekend! I hope everyone else was out doing as much dancing as I was. If you weren’t, then next weekend you can come out with me to make up for it. Let’s see, what did I end up doing…?

There was an open dance party being held last Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I decided to go to. Since I have a habit of showing up for events early enough to give me a few minutes to collect my thoughts (and put on my dance shoes), the group class that precedes the party was still in full swing when I arrived. As I was finishing up tying my shoes, Lord Junior called over to me and started motioning for me to join class. The group class held on Fridays is an all-levels class that doesn’t usually cover anything difficult, so I hesitated to jump into things because I didn’t want to make the people who had spent all hour in class feel bad if I could just step in and do all the things they just learned so easily. Lord Junior was WannaBeLikeYou1having none of that though, and told me to just get my butt onto the floor. He paused class briefly and had me lead him through the Waltz pattern the class had spent all hour working on while he called out the figures so that I could see all the steps once. They hadn’t done anything I hadn’t seen before in other classes: after a prep step to get onto the right foot, we did a Natural Turn, then an Open Telemark that finished moving toward diagonal center, followed with a Basic Weave, and finishing everything up with another Natural Turn. Once I had gone through everything, I got put into the rotation in between the other men. I found out while dancing that the ladies had been struggling with the pattern since the men in class had been struggling with the pattern, and they couldn’t work out their footwork if the men were leading them wrong. I managed to dance through everything a couple of times with almost everyone before the class was over to help the ladies figure out what they should be doing.

The dance party itself after the class wrapped up was pretty quiet. Sparkledancer and I spent some time talking with Lord Junior about what was going on Sunday afternoon, so that we would know when we needed to be at the White Dance Hall before the upcoming showcase started. We wanted to get in a bit early to go over things on their floor, block out our entrance and exit, and warm up before the performance. Lord Junior was also excited to talk about how he’s looking at building a much bigger studio, and if things go as well as he hopes, next year he could be holding showcases in his own building rather than having to rent out a bigger space like the White Dance Hall for these events. As he was talking, I noticed that there were some white-chocolate covered pretzels on the snack table within arm’s reach of me that looked really good. I may have snagged four or five of those…

During my lesson on Saturday with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, we actually went back and spent a lot more time looking over our showcase routine than I thought we were going to. He gave us some points on what he thought we could do to change our entrance onto the floor to fit things onto the layout of the dancefloor at the White Dance Hall, using the stage in the back where performers would be walking in from. Since there was also no plan to have any seating set up on the dancefloor like there had been at the Fancy Dance Hall for the showcase, we looked at how we could stretch out the Quickstep portions to use more of the available floor space. The Lindy Hop sections weren’t going to change, since we would keep those pretty much in the middle of the room so everyone could see us. We ran through things over and over again for about half an hour, allowing me to work up a nice sweat once again by picking up Sparkledancer several times during each run-through. Sparkledancer and I both got called out for going through the Lock Steps and Progressive Chasses in the Quickstep and taking a heel lead on the last step instead of a toe step that lowered as the other foot passed through. I wasn’t even paying attention to what my feet were doing there, so I didn’t notice when it WannaBeLikeYou2happened. To correct us, Sir Steven made us stand next to each other in the back of the ballroom and walk side-by-side toward the front doing very slow Lock Steps, making sure we got the footwork right. Once we had finished up our ‘punishment’ to Sir Steven’s satisfaction, we completely switched gears and started looking at our International Standard routines. We ran through the Waltz a few times, and then finished up by going over the Foxtrot as time ran out.

Later in the evening, I went out to a dance party at the City Dance Hall to have some fun. They had advertised a Samba group class available before the party was to start, and even though I don’t really like Samba (it’s fine, but not my favorite), I was at the City Dance Hall early enough to take part in the class. The guy teaching that night had started things off saying that we would go through the Samba basics, so I was anticipating that things would be no problem for me, but as we were going I found that I had trouble in class because the instructor kept counting the timing for the figures in regular half-beat intervals – even for steps that should use the ¾ note, like the Samba basic and Whisk. It wasn’t until we were almost completed with class that he thought to mention to everyone that we were doing American-style Samba rather than the International Latin version. Ooooooooooh… suddenly I didn’t feel so bad for always being off time with his counts. The instructor told us that American Samba is much more relaxed and fun, and doesn’t have the quick irregular footwork that the International version uses.

Other than the revelation that there was an American-style Samba to go along with the International Samba (who knew?), I didn’t get to go over anything else that was all that exciting in the class. We covered only the most basic of figures and technique in the hour. And by technique, I mean that we spent a good fifteen WannaBeLikeYou3minutes or so on just the Rhythm Bounce. A lot of that time was just spent by everyone in class watching the instructor wiggle his hips back and forth, as he was “demonstrating” the movement. It’s uncanny how often my pursuit of dancing has me watching some guy I’ve never met before wiggling his hips in front of me, I must say. After he felt satisfied with our Rhythm Bounce action, he started to show us some figures, which felt a lot like a class on the Samba Line Dance, aside from the Samba Walks he showed everyone. We looked at the normal Samba Basic step, added on four Whisks with the last one turning us into Promenade Position, then he had us do two each of the Forward and Side Samba Walks, followed by four Botafogos, and finishing up with a brief introduction to the Criss-Cross Voltas. We were running out of time, so he didn’t cover the Volta step in detail for those who didn’t know the figure, but based on the number of people who just went ahead and started using the Voltas to travel down the floor, it seems like there weren’t that many actual Samba newcomers joining us in class.

The dance portion after class was amusing to me because the DJ wasn’t there. She got called to do two events on the same night, and since the other event was a grand-opening party at a different dance hall, she opted to head there in person. That didn’t mean that she wasn’t at our dance party in spirit though. I guess the organizers of the dance opted to have her do the music anyway, even if she wasn’t going to be there in person, so she had created a recording that would play until she could get there in person to take over. The recording was made specifically for that night’s party, since all the songs went along with the theme for this dance. The theme was ‘Safari’ or something like that. I have never even heard of a party using that theme before, so I don’t think the DJ would have had a recording that strung together songs related to animals or the jungle just sitting around on hand for when events like this happen. She was also kind enough to lace into the recording a running commentary of her voice between songs, so that we all felt like she was there on the microphone telling us all about the music she chose. It was a rather amusing way to spend the evening.

Then late in the day on Sunday was my last showcase performance of the summer. The structure of this showcase was markedly different from how they had run the event that was the week before. One major difference was that there were only thirteen performances scheduled during the four-hour event. One similarity I saw right away though I found by going through the schedule (there was one laying on the table I sat at to put on my dance shoes). It looked like there were only five men performing. Though there were more than twice the number of acts during the showcase last weekend, there weren’t that many more men in that show at the Fancy Dance Hall. In fact, the man who danced in the most routines last weekend was in the White Dance Hall this weekend performing again! Of the five men in this performance, I did one number, two ladies who also performed with me last weekend brought Lord Latin over to do a repeat of their numbers, Lady Humperdink brought her instructor up to go through a piece she had been working on for the last few months in front of an audience, and then there was Mr. Rubber-legs who did a unchoreographed Shag number with his professional partner to promote some near-future workshops that he would be running soon at the Electric Dance Hall. As an added bonus routine, a large group of ladies (I have been affectionately referring to them as the “Sexy Lady Formation Team Dance Club”) did a medley of Latin-style pieces. All the other performances that evening were Lord Junior performing with a number of his students.

The atmosphere for this event was also vastly different from last week’s showcase. We were much more relaxed, without having all the movements of every show number dictated by the act that went before or after your performance. There was also a lot of social dancing throughout the evening, compared to just a few songs in between the two acts at last week’s performance – several hours’ worth of social dancing, to be exact. Lady Lovelylocks had brought her two young daughters along with her to enjoy the show (one had just learned to walk a few months ago, they are WannaBeLikeYou4that young), and they were following her around and dancing up a storm whenever they got a chance. They really liked to climb up on the stage that was at the front of the dance floor and ‘dance’ with their mother. Their form of dancing is mostly holding onto one of her hands and wiggling their little bodies, but since their mother dances professionally I’m sure the two of them will be ready to teach classes to me in just a few years. With everyone being so laid back that evening, there was no reason to feel nervous at all about going on stage this time.

So how did my performance go? Well, the crowd thought it was pretty funny when Sparkledancer and I finally walked down the stage steps to take the floor, which is exactly what I was going for. We had audience sitting on three out of four sides of the dance floor, so when we had blocked out the choreography beforehand we chose to make our ‘front’ the long side that had the most tables along it, which we assumed would be where most of the audience sat. That did mean that anyone sitting along the other side of the dance floor got to look at my butt during some parts of the Quickstep, but I didn’t feel too bad about that. After all, I do a lot of squats with heavy weights, so my butt can’t look all that bad (I can’t turn my neck enough to see it, but I’m going to believe it looks OK). The song we had been using is actually a pretty slow Quickstep, so it gave us ample opportunity to really stretch out the figures and cover the larger floor without getting off time at all. The crowd really seemed to like what we did too, which I believe is a good way to tell that we had a good performance. This time around, we didn’t have any mistakes that I noticed, so I’m pretty sure we did everything to the best of our ability. Hooray for us!

Well, now that all of that’s out of the way, it’s time to start figuring out what we should start working on next. I’ve had people at both the Fancy Dance Hall and the Electric Dance Hall tell me that they are looking at doing another showcase in the December/January timeframe, so that’s one option to think about. I also hear there’s a competition coming up at the end of September/beginning of October, but I might be out-of-town that weekend, so that option’s sort of on the table too. Then there’s always more work to try to improve my technique, so I will definitely be doing that no matter what happens. We’ll just have to wait and see what sounds like the most fun before deciding what to do next, now won’t we?

Summertime And The Livin’ Is Easy

One performance down, one to go…

This first showcase I had signed up to perform in this month turned out to be very different from any other dance showcases that I have either performed in or gone out to watch, as I found out during the dress rehearsal last Friday night. Before we started the run-through, Lord Dormamu gathered everyone out on the floor to spend a few minutes talking about what they had envisioned for the performances at the Fancy Dance Hall, and how this first event would hopefully be the start of a tradition for them. He and his team had imagined a night that Summertime1emphasized the ‘Show’ part of the showcase, complete with set pieces in the background, other ‘actors’ on stage during some of the performances, and songs that transitioned from one into the other with no break in between – building something more like a musical rather than just a dance recital. This was why the dress rehearsal was such a big deal – the dance numbers had to flow from one into the other seamlessly, so everyone had to know their place in the rotation and get out to the floor at the right time, or else you could disrupt the show and every act that would follow until either the intermission or the end, depending on where the act fell. So, you know, no extra pressure on the performance or anything, right?

First though, before we started our rehearsal of the show, the director wanted to run through the curtain call that would happen at the end of the night. The director wanted to have all the performers walk back out on to the ‘stage’ from wherever they happened to be after the last act finished up – some people were planning to hang out backstage, the last act was just going to stay on the dance floor, and some people wanted to go out into the audience and sit with family members during the intermission. We all were given four eight counts of music to make our way back to the front. During those eight counts, each person was to take seven steps and on the eighth we were supposed to rock our heads back, until we all got to our assigned place on the stage where we were supposed to line up. Once in line, at the end of the fourth eight count, we changed over to clapping in time with the music as we shuffled from side to side. Here a recording was started that read off the names of all the performers, letting each person walk down the stage when their name was called out, heading toward the audience before going to the end of the line on either the right or left side of the floor. The whole idea for the ending was reminiscent of an old TV show that I bet you’ve seen before.

With that out of the way, we were all given a ten-minute warning and then we were going to do a dry run of the actual show. Sparkledancer and I got elected to go in slot six of the first act, so we were going to be done super early in the evening. Since we were entering and exiting the dance floor from the upper-right corner (from the audience’s perspective), we would be stuck backstage until the end of the first act. During the dress rehearsal, I took the brief intermission we had between acts to find a seat out on the fancy bleacher-like seating that they had rented for the event so that I could watch the performances that were in act two for myself. I figured that it would probably make more sense for me to hang out in the back on the actual night of the performance, since my costume would probably be distracting to people who I would sit next to, but since there were only staff members sitting in the seats for the rehearsal I would be OK. After all the acts finished up, even though some of the other students who had dance in the first act had already left for the night, we had another practice go at the curtain call before we all got to go home and rest up.

The run through of our number that night was the first time pretty much everyone who was around (outside of Sir Steven and the lady that had sat in on one of our lessons) had seen us go through our routine, and it was definitely the first time everyone had seen it with Sparkledancer and I in full costume. The dance went great. There was only one spot during the first transition from Lindy Hop back to Quickstep where we tripped up a little, but we didn’t do anything that looked out of place, so you could hardly tell that something had changed unless you knew the Summertime2original choreography of the routine. Even though the crew putting together the bleachers and mounting the cameras were supposed to be working while we were practicing, they stopped what they were doing to make noises when I lifted Sparkledancer off the floor and clapped a lot when we finished up at the end. One of the instructors who was also performing in the showcase must have thought our routine was pretty amazing, because he was grinning and chuckling every time we caught eyes for the rest of the night, and he gave me the ‘thumbs up’ several times (I’m pretty sure English isn’t his first language, so maybe he thought that was an easier way to communicate with me?).

The actual night of the performance was a lot of fun, even though for me it was long periods of inactivity punctuated by a few minutes of excitement. After the rehearsal the night before the staff found a big television and installed a camera pointing down to the stage portion of the floor, giving those of us waiting in the back room the ability to see what was going on in the performance (though the video was a bit choppy streaming from the wireless camera to the laptop they had set up) without sneaking glances through the curtains that were blocking off the ‘backstage’ area from view. That way there was no confusion about which number act was currently performing – you could just check the video to see who was on stage and look at the schedule to see where they were in comparison to when you were going onstage. It also had the added benefit of allowing me to see large parts of the first act, which I wasn’t able to watch during rehearsal since I was stuck backstage out of the way before and after my performance.

I was required to be at the dance hall really, really early… like two hours before the start of the showcase. That sounds like a lot of time to hide out backstage doing nothing (which it kind of was…), but it was probably a good thing that I did get there so early. While most people were getting their hair and costumes in order backstage, the dance floor was completely empty, so Sparkledancer and I got to run through our routine a few times. Also… I ended up having a bit of a wardrobe malfunction pointed out to me. It turns out that the pants I was wearing for my costume, which were some black Latin-style dance pants that I got long ago for one of the first competitions I was ever in and I hadn’t really looked at until the dress rehearsal the night before, had a split seam in a very… unfortunate place. I have no idea when that happened. The undergarments that I was wearing were brightly colored, so they kind of stood out if you were in a position to see through the hole. Luckily Sparkledancer had some emergency thread and a needle I could use to sort-of jury-rig the hole shut, and there was a general store next door to the dance hall, so I was able to get some black underwear to match the black pants, just in case my rushed sewing job didn’t hold until I got home.

The fix did in fact hold, in case you were wondering, but better safe than sorry, right?

Pants-related humor aside, our performance that night was awesome, if I do say so myself. With all the running around making sure everything was ready to go both Friday and Saturday, I hadn’t gotten to work out like I normally do, so when it came time for me to do my ‘intense two minutes of physical activity’ for the night, I was fired up and ready to go. I managed to keep myself from speeding up my footwork as the adrenaline flooded my system when I got on stage in front of the audience, which was great, but all the extra fuel in my system and my lack of activity going into the performance meant that I picked Sparkledancer up really high off the ground during all the lifts that we did. She told me after the performance was over that the difference in height she felt was noticeable, especially in how long it took her feet to hit the ground again compared to what we had been doing in all the practice sessions. And the crowd loved it! Every time I helped her get her feet off of the floor, they went wild. Almost all of the performances that night were very formal affairs, with everyone wearing dress clothing, or competition dresses that sparkled, with their hair and makeup done just right. In the middle of it all was this one act with two kids that looked a lot younger than everyone else, wearing outfits Summertime3that wouldn’t have looked too out of place on Halloween night, and me lifting and swinging my dance partner around all over the place. It felt kind of surreal. At the end of the routine, as I held Sparkledancer aloft over the floor, I told her to release one arm and wave to the crowd as I held her back a foot off the ground. Then I swung her up and over my left shoulder and walked (strutted, really) off the stage with her. Just before I reached the curtains covering the stage exit, I let go of her with my right hand and raised my fist in the air triumphantly, holding it there as I walked the rest of the way off stage. After the curtains closed behind us, I gently set Sparkledancer back on her feet.

The best part is, I get to perform the same thing again this coming weekend as well. Hooray!

The one thing that I noticed during the final curtain call of the night was that this event was mostly a show full of professionals performing with each other. At the end of the night, when Lord Dormamu was thanking the Princess and the staff of the Fancy Dance Hall for their work, he had them all step forward. There were only about twelve or thirteen non-instructors left on stage when he separated the group. Since Sparkledancer and I performed together, that means there were only ten or eleven students who put on a Pro/Am dance number that night, out of the thirty-five or so dance numbers that made up the entirety of the show. I mentioned when I signed up for the event how expensive the sign-up fee was compared to the other showcase I am going to be in. I wonder if that cost kept a lot of people from taking part in the event…

On a different note – Standard Technique class this week was also fun (though not nearly the same level of excitement). We had a pretty small group compared to what we have had the last several times I’ve been in class – only four people total, if you count Lord Junior. No one had anything in particular they wanted to work on in class, so we asked Bony to tell us which dance style she hated the least that night (Bony has a complicated relationship with dancing). Based on her feedback, we went with Foxtrot and covered two variations of a particular figure in the hour. We started by looking at a figure in the book, the Bounce Fallaway with Weave Ending. This is a Gold-level figure, but it doesn’t really seem all that hard, if I do say so. The Bounce Fallaway is really a lot like a normal Fallaway, but you are doing the footwork much quicker, so the rise you put in the step on beat two looks kind of like a small bounce. At least, that’s how it looked to me, so I’m going to believe that’s where the name comes from. I could be wrong, so don’t quote me on that. After we all seemed comfortable with the syllabus footwork, Lord Junior changed the ending to make it an Open-level figure, the Bounce Fallaway with Tumble Turn and Feather Ending (that’s what he called it). This is the second time I’ve done a Tumble Turn in Foxtrot, and the figure is a lot of fun. I’ll have to start remembering this figure to use it in my normal dancing from time to time.

Having a smaller class was a nice change of pace. Without so many ladies wandering around on the floor, Lord Junior was actually able to pay attention to what I was doing when I danced, so I got a lot of critiques. I mean, it’s never fun to get critiqued on what you are doing wrong, but the only way you can get better is by having someone point out what you’re doing wrong so that you can correct things, right? Each of us in class was given specific things to work on for the class period. For me, as you probably guessed, keeping my head in the right place was one of Summertime4the things I got called out on. Stupid head, it has a mind of its own (See what I did there? I’m hilarious!). Another point I was given to work on was my shaping during the Feather Finish we used as a starter step before going into the Bounce Fallaway. Lord Junior told me that I could shape through my body a lot more than I was doing at first. I was told to aim for making it look like I was travelling more sideways with my left side leading, because the effect would be much more dramatic if I could work that in. The third point I was given was to keep my left arm bent at the same angle for the whole sequence, and my shoulders down. This mostly came into play during the Tumble Turn – apparently, from the outside, it looked like as I did the rise in the Tumble Turn, my neck would disappear because I was thinking about the footwork and not keeping my shoulders down, and I was extending my arm during the rotation instead of keeping it bent. So, as we ran repetitions at the end of class, those were the things I worked on. I felt pretty good about the way the figures looked by the time we finished up.

This weekend is going to be another busy weekend for me, full of all kinds of dance things. There’s a dance party on Friday night, a lesson on Saturday afternoon, another dance party on Saturday night, and then Sunday afternoon will be a combination dance party and showcase performance. So much dancing to do! I hope your weekend will be filled with as much dance related stuff as mine looks to be. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!