This Cat’s Shakin’ On A Hot Tin Roof

Last weekend was… exhausting. It was really good, but really exhausting.

The Princess came to join us first thing Saturday morning for Lady Q’s new fitness class. We spent the class stretching for the most part, HotTinRoof1which I think is a much better way to start the day than the Pilates class we had up until last month. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Pilates class, but I prefer working out later in the day (I’m really not a morning person), so stretching early in the morning helps wake me up in a much gentler manner. That is, of course, if you are actually gentle with the stretching you are doing. As all of us found out later in the evening, the Princess was a little… enthusiastic with her neck stretching during the class, so she ended up skipping the 1920s party later that evening to stay home and ice her neck. In her defense, she did show up after the class had already started, so she missed Lady Q’s introduction to the class where she implored us to feel the stretches, but not to overdo any of them and hurt ourselves.

At the behest of Lady Q and Lord Fabulous, everyone who was in the fitness class stuck around afterward for the newcomer-level class that the Princess was teaching. A handful of other people showed up to attend right as class was starting, but of everyone there only two people were actually what I would consider newcomers. The rest of us were there to experience a class taught by the Princess. And what an experience it was! That girl has so much energy and enthusiasm, it tired me out just watching her. I half expected her to break out into a song and dance number that would draw the rest of us and random passersby into it, like something out of an animated movie. During the class, she went over one style out of each category of dance, introducing the basic movements for fifteen to twenty minutes and then having someone demonstrate something more advanced for the class to see what the basics could evolve into with some practice. We started with the ballroom category, and went over the basic Foxtrot forward and back walks. When we finished up the basics, she personally demonstrated some more advanced steps, playing both the male and female parts by herself. She said that she couldn’t use a partner to demonstrate, since she couldn’t trust that the partner would do the steps that she wanted.

For the Latin category, the class was scheduled to go over the Rumba, but the Princess asked the King (who had come with her to photograph the morning events) if she ranked high enough within the company to change the schedule at whim. He told her no, but she decided to teach Cha-Cha anyway. After going over the basics, she made Lord Fabulous go back to the computer several times to change the songs for everyone to practice with until he found her a song that she deemed “fun enough” to dance to. Once we finished up rotating through partners, she actually singled out Sparkledancer and me to demonstrate some more advanced Cha-Cha for everyone. Not expecting to be put on the spot so early in the morning, I completely blanked on the International Cha-Cha routine that the two of us had been working so hard to perfect lately, so I reverted back to our American Cha-Cha routine from the September competition. It went more or less fine, but with everyone was standing in the middle of the room confining us to one side, eventually we covered enough ground that I accidentally caught my foot on the molding of the wall, and I couldn’t recover from that gracefully so we just kind of ended things rather abruptly. It was not one of my finer moments, I must say…

The last category she went over was the Swing dances, and so we HotTinRoof2went over the Hustle. Because she wasn’t paying attention to the time, the class was running well beyond when it was normally supposed to run, so we went over just the very basic steps. Before releasing the class, she convinced the King to come out and show off more advanced Hustle with her. Because Hustle is his favorite dance, he agreed, picked out a song that he liked (one that the Princess wasn’t too thrilled about), and proceeded to throw her around the room in a much more complicated manner than she had originally anticipated. By the time they finished up, the two of them were laughing and we were all cheering them on.

Class had run over quite a bit, intruding into the time that Sparkledancer and I had scheduled for our coaching session. As everyone who had attended the group class was gathering up their stuff and making their way out, Lord Fabulous turned the two of us over to Lady Q for a bit so that he could work with the King and the Princess on a few items before coming to join us. Lady Q asked us to show her the work that we had been doing with our Pasodoble routine. We went through it a couple of times with music, refining a few points here and there, adding in some shaping with a couple of the steps, and discussing what to do next. It turned out that she had some time open next weekend after our session with Lord Fabulous, so we had her add us to her schedule so that we could finally go over the second half of the routine. If there is time, she told us that we could also start work on our Samba routine that she was putting together.

Once the royalty and Lord Fabulous finished up their housekeeping tasks, he and the Princess came over to work with us. With her, we spent the time looking at the Waltz, using it as a device to talk about the dance frame that we had been using and steps that we could take to improve on it. For me, the big takeaway I got was that I really need to stop looking at my partner while I am dancing. This is something I have a habit of doing no matter who I am dancing with or what dance I am doing. For some reason I always seem to glance over at my partner, to make sure they are doing alright, or to tell a joke, or something equally silly. The Princess told me that I really HotTinRoof3needed to turn my head even farther to the left than I had been and work on keeping my eyes that way to evaluate where I am going. My dance partner would follow me where I was going, she said, whether I was looking at them or not. She told me that if I wanted to look at my partner, I needed to be doing a more romantic dance like the Bolero, where it was part of the character of the dance to be looking at the girl – but not during ballroom-style dances when it was more important to see where I was going. So, that’s what I have to work on now. It’ll be a hard habit to break, but I’m going to try.

I got a few hours break after the lesson, and then I had to go out again to meet everyone from the Land of the Loft for dinner. As per our usual pre-dance field trip routine, we met up at a restaurant nearby the venue so that we could all get something to eat before the party, and then all arrive at the event together. People in the restaurant where we all met were rather amused to see us all wandering around in our 1920s-themed costumes; I’m guessing that’s something that doesn’t happen at that eatery very often, though you would think that with their proximity to the Great Dance Hall by the Lake they would have been used to dance people stopping in there frequently.

After leaving dinner, we were all among the first to arrive at the party. The party was billed as a friends and family friendly event, so people were able to bring guests with them if they desired. The evening started off with a huge group class that covered basic Foxtrot and Jitterbug steps, giving the guests who had no dance experience some knowledge to help them get through the evening. There were so many people that I danced with during that class, I couldn’t even tell you what half of their names were. On top of that, many of the girls were dressed in such a way that I didn’t even recognize them, though I had met many before that night. The group class was extremely entertaining to me for some reason. I’ve been a part of really large classes like that before, but never where we tried to rotate through partners quite like we did that night. One girl told me that I was by far the most animated person that she had danced with during the class, which made me feel good. Even though we were trying to keep all the movements contained because of the number of people on the floor dancing, I was trying to have a good time and get my dance partners into the dance party mood.

When the class was over, we all swarmed the floor and proceeded to dance the night away. The actual dancing part of the night went nothing like I originally expected. In the days leading up to the party, I had been reviewing Jive technique and had asked Lord Fabulous to teach me some fancy stuff so that I could feel cool while HotTinRoof4I was at the party, but it turned out that there were far too many people on the dance floor to really do anything. For all the swing dances, I mostly stuck with Jitterbug and a handful of simpler, more contained figures to avoid running into other people. Some of the more advanced students were out doing Lindy Hop every chance they got, but they had a tendency to go a little crazy with the kicking so it felt dangerous to be near them. On top of that, with all the fast-paced, energetic songs and the sheer number of people in the building, it got warm quickly. Every couple of songs I would go stand outside for a while, allowing the cold January air to refresh me so that I could go back in and dance a couple more numbers. Most of the evening I rotated dancing with people that had come with me from the Land of the Loft, but I also found a student who had come from the Great Dance Hall who had come with her friend and tried to dance with each of them a couple of times. Even with all the instructors collected in one place for the evening, we had far too few men to go around.

It was a good time though. There were two performances from the professionals, one Lindy Hop routine performed by a pair of instructors from the Great Dance Hall by the Lake, and a Foxtrot routine performed by Hot Tottie and his partner. Sparkledancer was really excited about the Foxtrot number, because a couple of times (once on each side of the room) Hot Tottie picked up his dance partner so that she could do these incredible kicks. Perhaps if I can get him to show me that technique, we could include it in our next Foxtrot routine. It would be a good way to get other people on the floor to give us some space. There was also a contest for the best 1920s-style costume, which The Heartbreak Kid actually won. I totally missed the judging for that contest. As the evening wound down, everyone from the Land of the Loft all got together for our usual after-party set of pictures as well. I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m sure they’ll show up online at some point.

Now, imagine if the girl figure actually had legs that could be kicking...
Now, imagine if the girl figure actually had legs that could be kicking…

At the end of the night, I drove home in the cold night, really sweaty and really tired. With this event over, next major event to look forward to will be the showcase. What kind of crazy dance adventures will happen between now and then?

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Turning, Turning, Turning Through The Years

So… what do you think of Jive? I don’t really know what to think about it, at this point. Most of the swing dancing I have done has been with East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing and Hustle. Now that it seems that we’ve switched gears at the Land of the Loft and are doing everything in International Latin instead of American Rhythm, we have started to touch upon Jive. Right now, it seems like nothing more than dancing East Coast Swing at a much faster tempo, with some slight variations of technique. Some reading I did told me that all three dances (East Coast, West Coast and Jive) are evolutionary descendants of the Lindy Hop, so I would assume that they should all feel kind of similar if you look at them holistically. I just don’t see enough of a difference between East Coast Swing and Jive at this point for me to feel like they are really two different styles. Look at the differences between East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing – if written history hadn’t told me differently, I would have believed that they were birthed from two totally different animals. Are the subtle differences that Jive has more apparent the more you learn of it, and the more you practice it? Or is it always going to seem like nothing more than fast East Coast Swing? I guess that’s something I’ll have to find out.

I’m done being philosophical now.

The contest this week in our International Waltz class on Friday was a bit different than last week. Last time we each paired off to see who could cover the most floor space with one set of diagonal rotations. This week Lord Fabulous turned things I feel pretty... oh, so pretty...around on the girls and had them switch places with the gentlemen. He wanted to see who could best lead a guy through the same set of rotations. Some of the girls really struggled with having to switch the order they moved their feet in. The first time that I paired off with someone when we were doing the practice runs I went with Sparkledancer, and I essentially lead the steps myself so that she wouldn’t have to. Once things got serious, I expected she and I would pair off again and do the same thing, thereby winning the points for this week to go with the points we got last week. She decided to pair off with someone else though, and let a different pair of people win. When she explained it to me later, she told me that she wanted to make it so that at the end of the month everyone had the same amount of points. Lord Fabulous told us that the ones who won the month-long contest would get crowns made by those who lost the contest, so she thought that if everyone tied that Lord Fabulous would make everyone crowns that we could all wear. It seems like a good goal, so I’m all for throwing the game to make it happen. Hopefully we stick with eight people in the class for the whole month; the numbers will not work out to give everyone the same amount of points by the time the month is over if people who didn’t start the month with us jump in. I’m going to have to make a rule that anyone new that comes in is going to have to be banished to the other group class that happens at the same time on Friday nights on the other side of the room, whether they want to be there or not.

In Thursday classes this month with Hot Tottie, we’ve been going through some intermediate Rumba. Last week we didn’t get terribly far, because he spent most of the time working on proper turning technique with the ladies in class. Back when they offered a separate dance technique class on Saturdays, every four or five months Sir Steven would teach a class on spins and turns. Those of us who have Turning2been members of the Dance Kingdom for a while have taken that class at least once or twice, and there is a noticeable difference watching the new students whom had never taken that class and comparing them to the ones who had been through that class with me in the way they approached turning. In that class, there were several important things that Sir Steven burned into my mind about turning: always keep your weight forward over your toes when spinning; make sure to line up your three blocks of weight (head, upper body and lower body) over the foot you’re spinning with to prevent you from being off balance; always turn your whole body at the same time (i.e. don’t turn your upper body and hope your lower body catches up later); and make sure to step and turn separately, especially in Latin dances like the Rumba. Hot Tottie really only touched on two of those points before having the girls work on turning. This week in class we went through the same sort of turning exercise, but he let the guys practice turning as well this time instead of focusing just on the girls. We mostly went through this exercise to do the promenade swivel step and a couple of random spot turns tacked on at the end of some of the other figures, because in the two weeks of class so far we haven’t done anything else that requires much turning. To me, it seemed like a lot of focus on that technique for so little application, but it’s been nice to go through as a review. This week all the songs Hot Tottie put on for us to practice with were slow enough that I could work on the crazy hip motions I really need to practice for International Rumba, so that’s what I’ve personally been focusing on working during this class session. This isn’t really new material for me, I just happen to be a convenient male body for the ladies to dance with.

There are a couple of fun things coming up soon! It looks like the Princess is going to be spending the Saturday after next at our cozy little piece of the Dance Kingdom. With the rollout of the changes she made to the fitness classes offered at all the studios, she appears to be making the rounds to sit in on the first few weeks of those classes at each of the locations, and that Saturday is when she will be sitting in on Lady Q’s class. I’ve already gotten the guilt trip from Lady Q about being there, and she emphasized to everyone that she wanted us all to show up at least five minutes before the class starts when the Princess is here so that everything can start on time. Lord Fabulous also mentioned something about the Princess taking over the group class that he usually teaches right after the morning fitness class, which could be interesting. I have never sat in on a class with her before, so I don’t really know what to expect. The scariest thing though is that Lord Fabulous said she was interested in being there the rest of the day as well, to offer coaching advice and watch the other lessons that normally go on. Sparkledancer and I have a coaching session set up with Lord Fabulous that day, at our normal standing Saturday time, so I’m guessing she will be there for that. Not normally one to be squeamish about being watched, I have to admit that knowing that the royalty is there and is actively watching what I would be doing, I’m kind of nervous. Will she be impressed? Will she think I’m horrible and banish me from the kingdom? Will I mess something up and make myself, or worse, make Sparkledancer look bad? I wonder if our competitive dance friendship could withstand me screwing something up in front of the Princess…

I don't think I could handle being banished. Who would write all these stories then?
I don’t think I could handle being banished. Who would write all these stories then?

That same night as the Princess will be visiting with us is the 1920s-themed swing party being hosted at the Great Dance Hall by the Lake. This will be the first time I will be back at that location since… well, since last year about this time, for the last 1920s-themed swing party they had there. It’s kind of exciting to be going back. What I remember from the party last year is that the venue is not huge, and with the style of dancing that we will be focusing on (swing), I will probably end up hot and sweaty by the time the night is over. I did get suspenders to wear to the party, so I think I’m all set as far as costume is concerned. I can’t remember what I wore last year, but this year I’m going to keep things simple. I will probably wear a hat too, which will allow me to make bets as to whether or not I will keep it on for the entire night or if it will fall off somewhere along the line. All this month at each of the three Dance Kingdom locations in the area they are teaching special classes on Lindy Hop to prepare everyone for the party. Unfortunately I am not able to get there early enough on Friday’s to attend that class, so I’ll have to stick with the little Lindy Hop I remember from the classes they taught on it last year before the previous swing party. Although, as I said earlier it appears as though Jive, East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing are all descended from Lindy Hop, so maybe I am already thoroughly prepared to go to this party (assuming I spend some time practicing my Jive technique between now and then, of course).

Turning4  The Great Dance Hall by the Lake is also the home base of Lord Scarry, so we get to see him again. Maybe we’ll actually try and make him paranoid this time when we see him. No one remembered to try it out last time we saw him…

And only a few short weeks after the swing party is the showcase. I’m not participating in it this year, but I’ll be going to hang out with all the other people from the Land of the Loft who are participating. Man, when I think about all the dance-related things on my calendar, it exhausts me. I should probably start resting up now to be prepared for everything.

Well, You Can Tell By The Way I Use My Walk…

Walk1It’s official – I am signed up to do the upcoming competition in September. My dance partner and I spoke about it at length, and decided it would be a lot of fun. So we collected the large amount of jewels required to sign up, turned them over to Sir Steven to pay for our spot, and now we are on the list to do 35 heats and the 5-dance American Rhythm championship round.

35 heats do not seem like a lot, I’m sure. I hear about people who go to these sorts of things and do hundreds of heats. The thing is… I’ve never been to a competition like this before. I’ve never even seen a competition like this before. The competition we did in April was localized to just the studios in the Dance Kingdom, so most everyone we were competing against I had met before. This competition will invite dancers from other kingdoms to come to the area, and probably make me look bad by comparison, since I’m sure most of them will be better than I am. So, we went with a small number of dances, one that allows us to run our routines three or four times, but will still give us ample opportunity to just sit back and watch others perform, letting us see what people who have been doing this much longer than we have are capable of doing, what hopefully someday we are capable of doing.

To that end, this weekend during our time with Sir Steven we all but finished up out Waltz and Foxtrot routines. I captured video of the two routines, with my dance partner and Sir Steven demonstrating, so thatWalk2 we can both use these to refer to as we work to drill them into memory. He also mentioned that there wouldn’t be much in the way of changes to our Bolero routine, since that one is already at the level he will be signing us up to perform. So… three down, seven (or eight, if we get ambitious) to go. There’s three months to get this all done, right? Plenty of time!

This weekend I got talked into going out to a dance that was being held at a bar on Saturday night. It was something Bony had asked some people at the studio to go along with her to, and I’m a sucker for people asking me nicely to do things. What none of us knew beforehand was that it was actually a mixer dance for singles in their 40s and 50s… which didn’t drive us to leave when we found out what was going on. Instead, we used the opportunity to show off, as anyone who was in the same position would do. There were seven of us from the Land of the Loft who went that night: Sparkledancer, Diane, Jack and I stood out quite a bit, since we were all about ten years too young to get into this event; Bony, The Crank and Enthusiasm were old enough to attend, so we stuck close to them most of the evening. Considering the age group the party was intended for, a large portion of the songs played that evening were Hustle songs. From my vast knowledge of people who are now in their 40s and 50s (which mostly comes from watching Saturday Night Fever once upon a time), that was the style of dance that was popular when they were our age. When I started learning to dance in the Dance Kingdom, and they were teaching us the Hustle as a precursor to learning any kind of Swing dancing, I thought it was a fun-but-weird style to learn, one that was centered on a style of music that I wouldn’t really come across in my normal outings in life. Now I am thankful I did learn it, because all that knowledge served me well this weekend.

Walk3
I bet if I had learned the Tango Hustle routine from the movie, people would have thought that I was really John Travolta in disguise.

During the night, we had lots of people approach us to ask us things. The most exciting was one lady who came to ask us where we learned to dance like that. She recognized what we were doing, and had rushed over to talk about it. When we told her that we were squires of the Dance Kingdom, I swear she was going to start jumping for joy. It turns out that she was a former student of Lord Bradley! She gave up her dancing many moons ago when one of her kids went off to college, and she missed it terribly. Being the gentleman that others claim I am, I told her all about the upcoming Friends and Family Luau that our studio was planning on hosting in few weekends, and told her that she should go. I told her that if she claimed to be friends with all of us who were there that night, they would let her in for sure. I also led her through some Cha-Cha, because she was super excited to be with someone who knew how to do it, and she had wanted to dance so bad all evening. Who knows? Seeing the excitement in her eyes at the thought of going to one of our dances, it made me hopeful that I had found a new protégé for Lord Fabulous. After losing his last protégé, I know he has been working hard to find someone with the same flare to train, and since this woman already has the basics down, he should be able to work with her easily.

At another point in the night, I had one lady come up to me and tell me that she had been watching me dance with Bony, Diane and Sparkledancer out on the dance floor, and she wanted to know where it was that I taught dance at. I was taken aback by that, and after a good laugh I told her that I was merely a student of dance, and proceeded to tell her about the wonders of the Dance Kingdom, and how she could learn all that we knew if she wanted to join us. I even told her about the Luau party, and said that it would be a good way to come see where we learned to see if she liked it. She told me that she was very interested, and was going to go back to her table and tell all her girlfriends about it, and they would all try and come to the party. Later on, as I was relaying this story to Sparkledancer, she told me that the lady was probably using the line about me being an instructor as a pick-up line, and that she might have been more interested in me than in my dancing (it was a singles party, after all). Apparently I am oblivious to things sometimes. There is a part of me that hopes that they do come to the party and end up joining the Dance Kingdom, but now there’s this other part of me that thinks if she was just hitting on me, then I would have a hard time not laughing if I saw her again.

No one ever said that the job of a Dance Ambassador would be easy…

The Nobility, Part II

NobilityIIThere are a few other instructors of note that I have seen since getting in to this realm. As an aside, the notable ones are male. That’s not because the female instructors aren’t worthy of note – indeed, they are just as professional and talented as their male counterparts. I personally saw one of the ladies perform a high-energy lindy-hop routine after recently spraining her ankle.  No, it’s because there are just more male instructors than there are female. From what I have seen, the primary demographic that this sort of business attracts is older, middle-class women who have watched a lot of a-certain-dancing-reality-show-featuring-stars, followed by engaged couples who are learning a routine for their wedding dance. A male instructor can take on all these students: single female and couples of any sort. Female instructors can teach couples, but it’s not recommended for them to teach single women. Single men do come in looking for lessons, but it is much rarer. That’s why there are twice as many male instructors at our studio. And at the other lands in the kingdom, the Lords also outnumber the Ladies as well.

The first outside instructor we came into contact with was Tall Steven. He came to our studio one Friday night many months ago to do a performance with one of the ladies. Easily spotted out on the dance floor, he is fairly tall (if you hadn’t guessed). This man, though not Hispanic himself, has an incredible grasp of Latin dance technique. One time, during a Samba group number that they were teaching at the late-night dance, he and Sir Steven were both standing in front of the class by the mirror. When they both started doing the Cuban rock with their hips, I swear I saw a gravitational singularity forming in between them because of the power of their hip motions, and I feared for my life a little.

Tall Steven is a great guy though. From what the female subjects I know have TallSteventold me, he is a bit intimidating to dance with (though they say that about most of the male instructors), but he is very polite and kind. However, I have been warned that he is a ruthless competitor. Sir Steven told me that if I ever got stuck next to him during a competition heat, and I was too close, he would just bowl me over to continue his dance. That just shows you that you can never let your guard down in this world.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to tell you about Lord Bradley.

This man rules over the Great Dance Hall, which would seat him squarely underneath the royalty. For good reason, too. Let me tell you what I have personally witnessed – the last dance show that the realm put on, Lord Bradley personally danced his way through over a third of the acts. So not only was he dancing in front of people with a large number of his students for hours, but he did it without breaks, since he took the time between each of his dances to change costumes. All without getting the routines mixed up, and after having done almost the same number of dances in the morning during the rehearsal. That is what made him the leader at the Great Dance Hall.

It is rumored that his days are often spent like this, pushing his body to such limits to excel in his craft. As he tires, and heads home for the evening, he lays himself down on a bed made of all the young maidens hoping to be selected to be female instructors in the kingdom. Since he rules over the main portion of the Dance Kingdom, he has power to choose whom he wants at his side to lead the subjects. So, the lasses stay close at hand for him, practicing their own dances while he is working, and soothing him to sleep every night, in hopes that by assisting him he will move them up from the rank of mattress-girl to blanket-girl, and then to pillow-girl, and finally they are allowed to graduate to be a dancer under his charge.
BradleySo there’s that! That concludes all the major figures in the Dance Kingdom that I think you should be aware of right now. Along the way, we will meet other students, and practice our skills, and maybe someday be decent dancers ourselves. So join me, and let’s see what happens in this crazy world!