Tag Archives: Viennese Waltz

Yes, There Are Two Paths You Can Go By

Last week after a class I attended was over, I got pulled into a conversation with one of the ladies who had been in class with me. The conversation started out awkwardly, with her lauding praise on me for how good of a Lead I was. Luckily the topic soon shifted to her asking me how I had improved so much, because she wanted to work on getting better at her own dancing. I told her about the things that I was currently learning in my coaching sessions, about using the technique-based group classes I attend during the week to help refine what I know, and I also told her that much of my recent improvements were completely due to setting up regular sessions to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice. After hearing my tidbits of wisdom, she sighed and said that she wished she could find an amateur partner like me.
  That last wish of hers is something I’d like to take a moment to comment upon, since I hear it quite often. I’ve met a lot of ladies who dance Pro/Am over the years, and several have asked me if I was interested in switching partners to dance with them instead, or if I knew any single men that they could dance with, or they want to lament to me about how they think it must be so much better to dance Amateur rather than Pro/Am. I have also read lots of postings online about women who want to switch from dancing Pro/Am to dancing Amateur with a male student. I’ve also had ladies tell me all about how they dream of meeting the perfect dance partner to compete with, falling in love, and (as one girl put it once upon a time) Tangoing down the aisle together on their wedding day.

I don’t think that many of these ladies who dream about this sort of dance partnership actually know what they would be getting themselves into. Dancing Amateur competitively, which is something I’ve done for years, has its good and bad points, much like dancing Pro/Am does (which is something I’ve also done, though it’s been a while). So before you sign up somewhere looking for an amateur male to dance with, let me tell you about some things that I have learned and seen over the years I’ve been doing this. I believe that once people have information about the Amateur path in ballroom dancing, they can make an informed decision about whether dancing Amateur instead of Pro/Am is right for them.

Two notes before I begin: A) this is totally from a male perspective (since I’m, you know, a guy) and B) several of these points assume that you and your amateur partner are roughly the same ‘level’ of dancer, since that seems to be what many ladies I know who are looking for an amateur partner are looking for. That said…

  1. In your lessons together, ladies won’t usually get much attention

This is the biggest thing which many of these ladies that tell me all about their desires to compete Amateur don’t seem to realize. If you are dancing with an amateur male who is roughly the same level of dancer as you, much of your lessons/coaching with instructors will end up focusing on improving what he is doing. Oftentimes it will feel like you are just being used as a dance prop in your lessons together. If you think about it, you shouldn’t be too surprised by this. If you are good at Following, and you already are capable of getting into a strong dance frame, all you really need to know is your basic footwork for the figures that are in use.

One of the instructors that I have taken lessons from over the years explained things to me like this: he and his professional partner practiced together all the time early in their careers, but they never seemed to do much better when they would compete. It wasn’t until he went off to get some intense coaching on his leading skills that both he and his partner started to get better marks, even though she didn’t go off and get any extra coaching herself. Because everything she was doing was working off of what he was doing, he was the one holding their partnership back. The better he danced, the better she was able to use his dancing to execute her shapes and steps, so the better they scored together in competitions.

So if you have been dancing Pro/Am for a while and are used to spending an hour or so in each lesson getting picked on for everything you do wrong to make you improve, you have to prepare yourself to not be the primary focus anymore, because how well he does will have the biggest impact on how well you both dance together.

  1. Dancing as an amateur couple allows the Lead to regularly work with male instructors

This is the biggest reason why I like dancing with an amateur partner myself. Alone, I would need to have a female instructor to dance with, and she would be my primary teacher unless I was willing to pay for her time and the male instructors time. Studying under male instructors regularly really helps me to learn all kinds of things from people who have primarily danced and competed doing my part of the figures, so they know all kinds of tricks to help me out. I know this information doesn’t really mean much to ladies looking to find an amateur male partner to dance with, but I personally see this as a positive point.

I work with the greatest Leaders you can imagine, obviously

  1. You will advance at a much slower rate

This one should be obvious, but I feel like I need to point it out anyway: there are now two of you who are learning to be better at the same time, so unless you start taking twice as many lessons together (which would totally negate point number four), you will advance as a dancer at a slower rate than you would if you stick with Pro/Am, since in Pro/Am half of your partnership (the Pro) already knows what he/she should be doing. If they don’t know that, you probably shouldn’t be paying them to teach you…

Also, if you switch from dancing Pro/Am to Amateur, you will probably have to spend some time with your new partner going back to basic/Bronze steps in practice until you get comfortable dancing with each other. If you have spent a lot of time dancing socially over the years, learning to adjust to a new partner won’t be so much trouble for you, so you should be able to get comfortable quicker. However, if you have only ever danced with a single person who was a higher level instructor, or even a small team of instructors, you will find that there is a big difference dancing with an amateur, so there will definitely be an adjustment period before you can perform at your peak together.

  1. Amateur does, generally, cost less, but limits some options available

It’s great only having to pay half the cost for the lessons you take and the competitions and dance events you sign up for. I’m pretty sure all of you who might read this are aware that ballroom dancing can be an expensive endeavor, so having someone else who will shoulder half the financial burden is awesome. Who wouldn’t like that?

However, there are some things that the community makes available to people competing Pro/Am that don’t show up much for people competing Amateur. Do you prefer to go to competitions and dance heats, running each of your routines several times in the course of the day and getting feedback/placements for each one? Don’t expect to get that option often when you compete in Amateur. Sure, some local studio-based competitions will allow amateur couples to sign up for multiple heats in an event, but in bigger competitions run by national organizations the option for amateurs to dance heats is usually nonexistent. Unless you sign up to dance in multiple levels or multiple age categories, expect to go out, dance once (or twice if there are enough competitors for semi-final and final rounds), and be done. And hope to all the gods above past, present and future, that your first round of the day isn’t Viennese Waltz at butt-crack-o’clock in the morning, because you won’t get another shot…

  1. You have to be motivated to practice

This may seem like an obvious point whether you are dancing Amateur or Pro/Am, but one of the points that comes up when people talk to me about how they want to dance with an amateur partner is that it will save them money because then they don’t have to pay a professional to dance with them when they want to practice. This may be true, but then again if you are not scheduling a time with and paying someone to dance with you, there is less pressure on you to stop everything else you are doing and go meet up for practice. I’ve experienced this myself – the siren song of my pillow is strong some days, so I know how hard it is to find the motivation to get out of bed on a Sunday before lunchtime just to go practice dance.

  1. Expecting to have romance with your amateur partner is often a bad idea…

This nugget of wisdom is actually from an off-hand comment I got from a high-level dance coach I worked with. He and I had gotten off on a tangent about some recent single’s event that I had attended, and that led him to talk about his previous professional dance partner. He told me that they had a fairly typical story – while training to be champions, they spent almost all of their free time together. One thing led to another and, as you can imagine, the close physical contact they had been working on to perfect their dance frame became close physical contact they worked on in bed sans clothes. They started dating, and even moved in together to save money while they continued their training.

Things were good for a while until they both started to get more into the professional coaching side of their careers rather than focusing solely on competing. This changed things so that they didn’t spend their entire balance of free time practicing dance together, so they tried to use their extra free time to… you know… date. They began to realize that even though they were incredibly compatible as dancers, they were not incredibly compatible as people when they weren’t dancing. Rather than wait until things got too ugly and they couldn’t stand to be near each other anymore, they decided to see other people and maintain a cordial friendship. Since that time they have both also moved on to new professional partners to dance with as well, since their interests in competing have also diverged.

As much as ladies I talk to want to believe the fairy tale that they can find an amateur partner to dance and compete with and then fall in love, you can’t base a romantic relationship solely on dance and expect it to work for ever and ever. What would happen if one of those ladies came to find out that while she only likes to eat waffles for breakfast on the weekends, he will only eat pancakes? So much incompatibility!

  1. …but friendship and trust are essential to a good dance partnership

There’s a reason why you see so many older couples who have been married for a long time take up dancing after their kids are out of the house and do very well dancing and competing together. They are already friends, and they trust each other (at least, I have to assume that they do, since they got married in the first place). If you have a hard time trusting people, then dancing with a partner who you aren’t paying to tell you what to do becomes very difficult.

Trust is essential. Think about it – training together as two amateurs, especially when you are practicing without an instructor hovering nearby to help, requires you to be comfortable with things like:

  • close body contact
  • getting sweaty and gross around someone during intense practice sessions
  • communicating with your partner when things don’t feel right
  • understanding when to move on to something else before frustration causes anger
  • learning not to fight about dance-related issues
  • asking your partner to help you out if needed
  • if neither partner is sure about a figure or technique, seeking out help from a professional

You don’t want to be that amateur couple that constantly gets caught up in “dance fights” instead of practicing. I’ve never seen any amateur couples over the years go through a “dance fight” that had positive results when it was resolved! Have you?

(I guess the overall theme of points 6 and 7 can be summed up as: taking on an amateur partner and falling in love with them doesn’t seem to work out as well as finding someone you love and then taking up ballroom dancing together. Your mileage may vary, of course.)

  1. You won’t have a professional dancing with you to fall back on

This is a major sticking point that most people don’t even think about until it is brought up. If you are competing as a Pro/Am partnership now, only half of your couple is scored during a competition. The Pro can also give you reminders about things you need to fix in mid-dance if need be, because the Pro knows your part of the figures. Until you start dancing at a high-enough level where you and your amateur partner are learning each-other’s half of your figures, there is really a limited amount of items your partner can remind you of when you dance together, even when not under the pressure of a competition.

  1. Finding a worthwhile amateur male partner is going to be difficult

Male leads are hard to come by, as any female dancer can tell you. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a dance class, a social dance, or a competition, there just don’t seem to be enough of us to fill the demand. That is the biggest problem many ladies I’ve talked to have when they set out looking for a guy to compete in Amateur with. I’ve looked at postings online for people searching for amateur partners in my area – the number of ladies who have posted ads is huge compared to the number of men!

There’s another underlying problem I’ve noticed though, and this one is what gives guys like me a bad reputation, even if we do our best to try to overcome the stigma: I’ve met many unattached males during my years in the dance community – males who only like to go out social dancing, males who are only interested in competing, and those that will do both. Because unattached males are hard to come by, when they come into a dance studio to take lessons, it seems like a lot of ladies fawn over them to try to get them to stick around. This behavior can go to their heads, and I’ve seen many a young man turn into essentially a diva (would that be a divo?). Suddenly he is sure that he is better than everyone else, and needs to go out of his way to prove his dominance.

As an example, I knew one young man who, after a few months of lessons, had gotten such a big ego about his perceived skills that he would go out of his way to point out all the things he thought ladies who had been dancing for years were doing wrong during a social dance. The ladies would just smile and nod at his comments, but would then go and complain about it to each other when he wasn’t in earshot because they didn’t want to scare him away!

Rumors also have it that sometimes these men can also get… skeevy. Expecting… favors, in return for their help as dance partners. You know what I mean. I’ve never met a guy who has admitted to such things, but the rumors are out there that it happens in the ballroom world. Crazy.

Anyway… that’s probably enough on this subject. I have been making these notes in my head since I had that conversation last week, so I thought I should write them down. Hopefully they are helpful to others who are considering making the switch from Pro/Am to Amateur. Having done competitions over the years with both a professional partner and an amateur partner, I can honestly say that one is not necessarily better than the other – they are just different tracks on the same path. Do whichever one is the most fun for you, because ultimately that’s what it should be about!

Did someone order a last-minute ‘corny’ joke?

These are my personal thoughts, and have not been evaluated by the administration to determine fitness for human consumption. Should you take this advice and notice discomfort in the appendix or swelling of the hands and feet, please seek medical attention immediately as these reactions may be life threatening. Always consult an expert before beginning this or any other regimen.

Feel free to ask me any questions!

Follow Me Into The Desert As Thirsty As You Are

After meeting up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer last Saturday afternoon to work on things, I was feeling pretty good about dance life. We had started out by discussing the things that Sparkledancer and I had worked on the previous weekend with Lord Dormamu so that Sir Steven would be on the same page with what we were told to do. Since a lot of what we discussed centered on the work we did on Foxtrot, that’s where Sir Steven had us start that afternoon.

I’m happy to say that Sir Steven said that he could see improvement in our Foxtrot over what he had seen the last time we had gotten together, so the practice time that Sparkledancer and I had put in working on the items that Lord Dormamu gave us for homework must have been paying off. Now even though Lord Dormamu had specifically told us while we were working on Foxtrot to just ignore everything else and focus on only the points he gave us, Sir Steven still told us that we should still be adding in some of the shaping and swing that he had been working on having us do. We don’t have to put a bunch of emphasis on shaping and swing, but Sir Steven didn’t want us to forget about it entirely despite what Lord Dormamu told us. So that’s something else I’ll have to keep in mind now during practice.

To switch things up when we finished up with Foxtrot, Sir Steven had us look at Viennese Waltz for a while. The big takeaway from this session was to fix a habit of mine with Change Steps, and there’s a bit of a story behind this habit: see, there are really only two people I will willingly dance a Viennese Waltz with outside of a group class situation. I’ve been asked by lots of people at social dances over the years, but most ladies asking I don’t know anything about how much they have worked on Viennese Waltz, so I beg out of the dance and wander off usually. As you can imagine, one of the two people I will dance Viennese Waltz with is Sparkledancer, since she’s been around for most of the formal training sessions I’ve had in the dance style.

In the beginning, as I was learning and working on building confidence in the dance, Sparkledancer and I had a hard time with Change Steps. For some reason whenever I did one, she couldn’t follow me. This led to me at first telling her when I was going to do one, which was a hard thing for her to miss. As I started to get better at Viennese Waltz, I worked to make sure that when I did a Change Step I really over-emphasized the side step portion of the figure, so that there was no mistaking what I was trying to lead her through. While that tactic also worked, that sort-of became a bad habit for me, and when I am not really thinking much about what I am doing, you can still see me do a Change Step with the energy going off to the side rather than continuing down the line of dance.

Sir Steven decided that now I really need to work on getting rid of that habit, because it’s just wrong for the level I am trying to work at now. I’m supposed to work on practicing Viennese Waltz turns, either Natural Turns or Reverse Turns, my choice, then put in a Change Step that moves down the line of dance without going off to the side at all, and then add a couple of the opposite turn from whatever I started with after the Change Step. This is a simple bit of homework to try to undo my bad habit. So, now that’s on my list. I’m starting to have more homework to work on than I have practice time each week!

I did make it out to a dance party at the City Dance Hall this past Saturday night. The advertisement for the party said that they would be having an American Foxtrot lesson before the party, given by some instructor whom I had never heard of before. This gentleman went through things in a bit of a strange way, using some variations on common figures that I can only describe as ‘overly simplistic’ when compared to the way I’ve seen things done everywhere else I’ve been. None of the figures or progressions covered that night really connected to each other, either. They were more like general knowledge figures or progressions to be used at any time, starting with simple figures at the beginning and ending with a more difficult progression of figures as class wrapped up.

To start with he covered the Forward Basic heading straight down the floor. When people told him that they had all danced Foxtrot at least a little in the past, he quickly moved on to show everyone a Simple Twinkle. To be honest with you, I know this version of the Twinkle is on the syllabus and everything, but I have never seen anyone use it in practice before. The Simple Twinkle is the version that covers two measures of music, where you take a step forward and then a side step to the right, turning to Promenade Position as you bring your feet together. During the second measure you take a side step in Promenade Position, then a side step to the left as you square up with your partner and bring your feet together. Do any of you know anyone who uses this version of the Twinkle rather than the version that is only four beats that uses continuity movement? I certainly don’t!

Next up we looked at two-figure combination. It involved doing the first half of the Simple Twinkle, then a basic Grapevine, finishing with the second half of the Simple Twinkle. The Grapevine that he walked through for everyone also felt fairly simplistic compared to what people have shown all the other times I’ve seen a Grapevine done, really emphasizing the side steps of the figure as it went on. Once everyone seemed to have mastered the Grapevine combination, the instructor showed everyone the first of two more advanced progressions he had for us that night.

This progression started off with a rotating Left Box Turn with the Lead traveling down the line of dance. After that, the Lead would do another rotating Left Box Turn while turning the lady through a natural turn, making sure to grab her left arm as she rotated so that when finished you would be in Sweetheart Position. The Lead would then take three steps forward (not a Three Step, just three slow steps forward) while turning the lady in a reverse turn to unwind her, stopping her as she finished the turn so that she ended in Promenade Position with you. The instructor had us finish by closing from Promenade Position using the second half of the Simple Twinkle just like he had used to finish the Grapevine earlier.

The final progression also started out with a rotating Left Box Turn with the Lead heading down the line of dance. Rather than turning around right away, this time the instructor had us stay facing this direction for a bit and take three slow steps traveling backwards down the line of dance. After that the Lead did a second rotating Left Box Turn while the Follower was led through a reverse turn, ending in Promenade Position before closing with the second half of the Simple Twinkle again. The two progressions, if you noticed, begin and end the same way, with only a few figures in the middle being different. If you can pick up and get through one, you could easily do both.

I tried my best to dance every ballroom-style dance that night with Sparkledancer… when I could find her amongst the crowd, that is. That way the party was kind of like practice time, right? There were a fair number of people at the party that night though, so sometimes I had a hard time finding myself during the party, let alone a specific partner to dance with when a song came on. I made do as best I could. There was one lady that I met that night who was sitting against the back wall by herself. I had asked her to dance for one song, and during the dance I was making small talk, asking if she had ever danced that dance style before. She said that she had once upon a time, but it had been many years before. Being the nice (and charming!!!) guy that I am, I told her that it couldn’t have been that many years ago because there was no way she could be that old. Then she laughs at me and tells me her exact age. I honestly was not expecting a lady to confess to me how old she was, so that kind of tripped me up in my banter for a few seconds. Ladies really seem to like to throw these random curveballs at me to keep me on my toes…

Class on Monday night was probably the most fun thing that I got to do all week. There were six ladies who showed up for Latin Technique class that night, and as usual I was the only guy besides Lord Junior. As we were all gathering on the dance floor to get started, no one really had any strong feelings about what to go through that night, so Lord Junior said he would put it up for a vote. I just laughed at that, and said that everyone already knows what my vote is for (what other Latin dance do you want to dance so late at night?). Several of the ladies shook their heads and said that they agreed with me, so in the end I got enough votes to win, and we went over some Pasodoble that night.

Paso is… so… metal…!

We were originally going to start with a Promenade and Counter Promenade, and Lord Junior even went so far as to step through the Lead’s half of the step. As he began to step through the Follower’s part of the figure to show the ladies, he changed his mind and decided that we were going to start with a Twist Turn instead. The Twist Turn in Pasodoble is essentially the same as the Twist Turn from Tango, except the Tango figure does not start with an Appel, as you can imagine. We started the Twist Turn with the Lead facing the wall and ended by facing down the line of dance.

Next up we went through an Open Telemark. To make the turn a bit easier, we used the Appel at the beginning to rotate about an eighth of a turn so that the next step began facing diagonal center. When we finished the Open Telemark we were back to facing wall again after we closed the Promenade. There was a figure I believe was called an Ecart next, or a Fallaway Whisk. The figure was basically like a Whisk that you would see in International Waltz, where you cross your outside foot behind the other to turn you into Promenade Position. Over the next four-count in the music, we traveled down the line of dance, rotating the Follower around us on the second step so that we finished with the Follower facing wall and the Lead facing center.

That set us up to do a variation of the Coup de Pique to finish things off. A normal Coup de Pique has you twist and point your right foot forward once before taking a step backward down the line of dance on your left and then doing a chasse-like movement to continue traveling in that direction. The variation we did (and apparently the way Lord Junior prefers to do the figure every time) had us twist and point our right foot through, then twist and take a step backward down the line of dance with our left, and then do another twist and point with our right foot and finishing by twisting and stepping back on the left. This variation still has you ending the whole figure with your left foot free, which is the wrong foot to start the majority of Pasodoble figures with. There are a few that do require you to start with your other leg, but since we had been having so much fun in class we ran out of time to add anything else to the progression so we finished up there for the night.

Two nights ago I had a meeting to attend for my Royal Dance Court group to discuss upcoming events that we have been planning, as well as various other items in dance politics that have been floating around recently. You might be interested to know that as of that meeting, I am now the official Keeper Of Records for the Royal Dance Court. I guess the old Keeper Of Records wanted to give up the responsibilities of the position, probably to spend more time writing or something. I did not volunteer for the position, I was just told that I was going to do it, and I didn’t have any good reason not to at the time, so the nomination carried. I started my tenure on the Royal Dance Court by bringing my laptop to the meetings so that I can take notes. A couple of people started copying me after they saw me doing it, but I think that might be why I was nominated to be the Keeper Of Records. Little do they know that I mostly brought my laptop to take notes that I can share on this site! Now I will also be sharing the notes with any people interested in the business of the Royal Dance Court. So… yay? Is this the next step to me seizing the power at the top of the Royal Dance Court? We’ll have to see!

As far as interesting things that were discussed… well, if you aren’t a member of the Royal Dance Court with me, there probably isn’t much. We spent a fair amount of time discussing the formal party that we hosted, and how our financial intakes from ticket sales compared with our expenses. An idea has already been proposed, and it looks like accepted, for the theme of the formal we will host next year, so there was initial talk underway about purchasing decorations for that party. There was some talk about the dance cruise we are looking to host in a few months, like the one I went on a year-and-a-half ago, and the initial cost projections that we’ve received for that. As you can see, much of the discussion was kind of boring overall, so I won’t waste much space here on any of that.

One of the other interesting items that were discussed was when we were all told that a couple of the Royal Viziers who consult the King have resigned for various reasons. Being a member of the Royal Dance Court, I had received emails about these positions earlier in the day where they were looking for applicants to submit resumes for consideration if you are interested in moving up in the world. I toyed with the idea for a few minutes when I saw the email in the afternoon, but I dismissed it since the amount of time they were looking for people to commit would interfere with my actual job, and the position doesn’t pay nearly as well. So for the time being, if we have issues that need to move up the chain from our Royal Dance Court, we don’t know who we can contact right now. It’s usually frowned upon to call up the King directly (that’s how beheadings happen, if history has taught me anything), so we’ll have to solve any potential problems ourselves until new Royal Viziers can be brought in.

And finally there was Standard Technique class this week. No one had any specific things they wanted to work on when class started, much like Monday’s class, so Lord Junior went with the idea that he had gotten earlier in the day for class: having us work on the Double Reverse Spin and Double Natural Spin in Foxtrot. I’m sure that statement set off all sorts of red flags in your mind, since the Double Reverse Spin is a syllabus figure only in Waltz and Quickstep, and the Double Natural Spin is not on the syllabus for any dance style! But these figures do work in Foxtrot without any weird changes needed. Because you can do the Double Reverse Spin in Quickstep, you can easily make it work in a Foxtrot (it’s just slower), and a Double Natural Spin is a figure that is just the natural opposite* of a Double Reverse Spin, so you can use it in any dance style where a Double Reverse Spin works.

(Note: there is one difference between the two when done in Foxtrot… more on that in a minute)

The progression used wasn’t that difficult per se, but it does travel the floor quite a bit, so make sure you give yourself plenty of space before you start. We began with a normal opening for many Foxtrot routines I’ve seen in my lifetime – facing diagonal center, take a prep step and go into a Feather. Next came the Double Reverse Spin, done with the same timing you have in a Quickstep Double Reverse Spin, but since this is Foxtrot you have to add on a Feather Ending at the end. That has you coming out heading toward diagonal wall. Then we did a Three Step, and finally we finished with the Double Natural Spin. The Double Natural Spin has to end with a full Feather instead of just a Feather Ending like the Double Reverse Spin has. Because you are on the opposite foot when you start, you also finish on the opposite foot, so you must have one additional step to make the ending work. Turning the Feather Ending into a full Feather step just makes sense in that situation.

Most of the ladies had some trouble with the Double Natural Spin when Lord Junior was going through their part with them and they were dancing the steps by themselves. I watched as several of them turned themselves the wrong way a few times, and then had to stop and think about things because suddenly they were trying to cross the wrong foot in front. It was an amusing problem to watch from the sidelines, but that issue cleared itself right up when they danced with a partner. There were a few other notable issues that I ran into while dancing with people that night:

  • Veep constantly rotated her Double Natural Spin too much
  • Bony seemed to like taking tiny steps even after she was asked to reach further by both myself and Lord Junior, so I kept kicking her feet accidentally when I tried to move
  • there was one older lady who had joined us for class that didn’t like crossing her foot in front of the other in either the Double Reverse Spin or Double Natural Spin, so she would end up on the wrong foot for the next step

In the end, it ended up being a rather amusing night. Lord Junior had so much fun that he told us all that we should look forward to next week’s class, when he’ll make us do the same two spins in the Waltz, and hope that we all can get through them without the same issues. So that’s something to look forward to. Hooray!

This weekend I have the monthly party that my Royal Dance Court group hosts to help put on. I think we are having some sort of Waltz theme this month, but I am terrible at remembering things like that, so don’t quote me on it. Hopefully it will be fun, and lots of people will turn out to attend. For some reason I have this weird feeling that we are going to end up with a small turnout, and I can’t place why. I hope I’m wrong about that. Do you want to come to the party for me to make sure that there are a lot of people there? Please?

My Power Flurries Through The Air Into The Ground

This past Saturday when I met up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven for our normal weekend lesson, we worked on Waltz and Foxtrot. A lot of what we did that afternoon was to work further on our shaping during certain figures, and further practice having Sparkledancer travel moving forward while I traveled backward. What I didn’t know at the time was that a lot of the work we did on the Foxtrot that day would be thrown out the next day as Lord Dormamu took a look at what we were doing in Foxtrot and now he wants us to change our whole focus for that dance. Specifically all the practice we’ve been doing working on doing Three Steps and Feather Steps while traveling backwards, Lord Dormamu said that we should stop doing that for the time being. Going backwards with a Three Step in Foxtrot is really a Reverse Wave, which is a Silver-level figure, so he said we shouldn’t be spending so much time on that until we nail down other things.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We did spend some more time going through the Reverse Turn in Foxtrot, making sure that Sparkledancer brought her feet together quick enough for the heel turn, making sure that after coming around her I would take enough of a step backwards and to the right so that her step could be between my legs, and overall making sure whomever was moving forward was driving the step down the line of dance. That was really the most notable thing that we did which we will continue doing as we move forward. Everything else we worked on that day in Foxtrot essentially got put on hold after my lesson the next day. Sigh…

It’s not my fault! Your coach, who’s also my coach, told me to!

So Sunday afternoon I got to head back to the Fancy Dance Hall to get together with Sparkledancer and Lord Dormamu for coaching. To be honest, I was a bit worried about things heading into this lesson. I had just met up with Lord Dormamu for coaching the weekend before this, and during that session he had given me things to work on in the Waltz. Having a busy life like I do (most of the busyness is due to dance, if you couldn’t guess), I had only gone out to actually practice a couple of times since that lesson, so I wasn’t sure if I had truly mastered everything I had been given to work on in that short amount of time. Lord Dormamu started the session exactly as I imagined, by asking Sparkledancer and I to dance through our Waltz routine. Lucky for me, it went pretty well! Hooray! He had us go back and redo a couple of spots to make sure we knew what we should be doing, but then he turned his attention to Sparkledancer for what came next. Poor girl…

I guess the thing that caught his eye the most this time around was Sparkledancer’s positioning while in dance frame. Lord Dormamu went off on this long explanation for her about how it appeared to him that when she is in frame and attempting to create volume, a lot of the time it looks like she is bending outward away from me from her pelvis and up, instead of from below her shoulders and up. To try to reinforce the point of what position she should be getting into while dancing, he told her that he would show her an exercise to do, but that we (all three of us) would have to go somewhere more private for him to do so. That remark made me a little nervous, since I had no idea what his thought process on this was. After he ran to the back of the ballroom to check and see if anyone was using the smaller ballroom  off the hallway back there, he came out and waved Sparkledancer and I down to have us join him in the other room.

Once we were all in the small ballroom, he shut the door. I was expecting something weird to happen at that point, and I started to think up excuses to get myself out of that room since I didn’t know either of these people well enough for any really weird things to go on. Lord Dormamu pulled a chair out onto the floor near one of the mirrors and asked me to sit there. Once seated, he turned to Sparkledancer and asked her to trust him, then told her to sit on my lap facing me and grasping my forearms. Once we were in position, he told her that she needed to work on bending herself in such a way that would keep her lower back straight while thrusting her boobs toward the ceiling, so to help with that she was supposed to roll herself backward from this sitting position. I was there to make sure the chair was heavy enough to not topple over while she did this, and to help pull her up from that position when finished. As she rolled her body back, Lord Dormamu took a knee on the floor behind her and pushed on her back with his fist to show her where she should be bending from.
  I’m not exactly sure why he thought we needed to be in a ‘private’ room for him to have her do this. The studio holds a Yoga class in the main ballroom once a week, and I’m sure they do poses that are more titillating than what Sparkledancer was doing (see what I did there?). Once she seemed to have a good idea about what she should be feeling, we went back out in the main ballroom to continue dancing. Since I didn’t see either Sparkledancer or I wanting to spend a bunch of our practice time in a dance hall somewhere doing that exercise, I asked Lord Dormamu if there were other ways she could work on stretching like that, like possibly using a stability ball or something similar. He said that would work fairly well if she had one of those sitting around. I happen to have one at home that I use sometimes (there’s all kinds of interesting resistance exercises you can do with one to help improve strength and balance), so I offered to let Sparkledancer use it if she needed sometime.

Halfway through our session Lord Dormamu wanted to shift gears on us and look at a new dance style. Apparently we are doing well in the Waltz, so it is time to add something else to our plate now, and he had chosen Foxtrot to be next, as I alluded to earlier. He had us go through our routine for him. I have been told in the past that Foxtrot is one of my strongest styles, but I could tell by the look he was giving me when we finished dancing that he didn’t think it was good. Without giving any explanation, he asked us to dance it for him again. When we finished, he was looking at us contemplatively for several long moments before he strolled over to where we were standing and started telling us about his theory of Foxtrot.

This was probably the most interesting part of the lesson that day, just listening to him talk about how all the world champions that he has hung out with or learned from, and how he himself (as one of those former world champions) looks at Foxtrot when you are trying to be an advanced dancer. We had a talk like this during our first session with Lord Dormamu when he described to us his philosophy of the Waltz so that we had an understanding of why we were being asked to do things the way we were, instead of him just dictating that we do things his way and ignore what all other dance teachers have told us. I find dance philosophy like this to be interesting and useful, but that’s just me so if it bores you go ahead and skip this section.

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Foxtrot, as I was told, was supposed to look smooth while you danced, with a constant flow that moves you from one place to another. The problem with Foxtrot, as Lord Dormamu explained, is that for the most part what you are trying to do is take three steps over four beats of music. It seems like a simple concept, taking three steps over four beats while being very smooth, but it’s nearly impossible to pull off. When you first learn Foxtrot, you divide the three steps among the four beats and end up dancing them as either Slow, Quick, Quick or Quick, Quick, Slow, depending on the figure. What this does though is to halt the smooth flow of the dance when you try to take that one step over two beats, which is why newcomers to Foxtrot look jerky when they dance through the figures.

Apparently in the community of world champion dancers, what you’ll find is that many of them do not dance the steps as written in the book. There are no real ‘Slow’ or ‘Quick’ steps in Foxtrot at the world-class level. Instead, to keep the dance flowing as smoothly as possibly, your steps begin to even out, until eventually you are dancing fairly close to three even steps over four beats. Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing that I was thinking when I heard this: “Wouldn’t that just make it a Waltz with weird music then?” And the answer I was given was that this is why it was so important that Foxtrot does not have any real rise and fall to help distinguish it from a Waltz.

There was a metaphor used that went like this – suppose that you are out at the beach along the ocean or the Great Lakes (both places are nice, and I would recommend visiting either to reinforce this point). Along the beach you will see the waves coming in before they break along the shoreline. This is what you should see if you watch a group of people dancing the Waltz. There is a smooth line as the wave travels on beat one, a crest as the wave hits its peak on beat two, and a lowering as the wave breaks on beat three. The Foxtrot is what you would get if you were to travel out to the middle of the ocean or lake. There, there aren’t really waves. The top of the water is smoother, with just a hint of low hills and valleys on the surface as the currents flow smoothly underneath. That is what Lord Dormamu wants our Foxtrot to be aiming to look like.

(Note: I know that is a vast oversimplification of how waves work, and doesn’t take into account what happens during bad weather. Trust me – I grew up very near a large body of water, so I know. That wasn’t the point of the metaphor.)

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We spent the rest of our time that day working on taking all the rise and fall out of our Foxtrot. Because we were staying lowered into our legs while going through everything, this did cause both Sparkledancer and I to take a lot of heel leads in places we shouldn’t have, because naturally when you are lowered you want to take a heel lead on the next step. This is something that we are really going to have to fight against to make sure that the footwork remains how it should without raising ourselves up to step with the ball of our foot. Sparkledancer also told me that doing heel turns like she has in a Reverse Turn or Natural Weave feels weird when lowered down that much. Our homework for Foxtrot for now is to get comfortable dancing things as smooth as possible with no rise and fall at all. Once we master that concept, he will work with us on how the timing for the steps should feel for our next evolution of our Foxtrot.

Whew! Got all that? I hope I do!

Monday night I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class. At first it appeared that we would have a small class that night since only a few of us had shown up, but then little Tanya Tiger burst onto the scene with a couple of friends in tow. Her friends were just in town for a bit and wanted to come watch her dance while they were there, but Tanya started to talk them into joining class with us since that was more fun than sitting out. Neither of her friends had danced any partner dances before, but one had had some ballet training, which made her easier to convince to join in than the other young lady. In the end, they both succumbed to the peer pressure, and because of that Lord Junior decided we should stick with some Rumba to take it easy on those two.

‘Taking it easy’ was just a phrase to make the two of them feel more comfortable though, since what we ended up doing was a challenging step for even the veterans of the class. We began by warming up using the Rumba basic for a few minutes – to make sure the newcomers would remember at least that much of Rumba once they left the class. Then we started off with the ladies out in Fan Position and led them into a Hockey Stick. At the farthest point of the Hockey Stick, we had the ladies do a Switchback, which is an Open-level figure I’ve seen several times before. It involves having the lady turn 180° without changing weight, having her point her left leg back and raise her left arm up when she was facing away from us. The men lead this by rotating her wrist slightly. All of this happens on a single beat of the music. On the next beat of music we have the lady turn back around to face us and take two syncopated steps forward and then hold there for beats four and one of the measure.
  After the hold the lady will do three Rumba Walks going forward while we collect her back into closed dance position. The guy will do two steps backward with her and rotate a bit to take the third step to the back and slightly to the left, which will be the start of a Natural Top. We went around in the Natural Top for two measures, and at the end the guy just brings his feet together and rotates the lady around into an Opening Out position. By the time we had gotten to this part it was already close to time for class to end, so Lord Junior said that would be a good enough ending for now and we just danced several repetitions of the pattern with music of varying speeds until we got up to full tempo right before class was over.

On Wednesday night I headed out to Standard Technique class. While waiting for class to start, Lord Junior was wandering around finishing up some business things and asked us what we wanted to work on that night. Both Veep and Sparkledancer said that they wanted to go over something “super challenging” while Bony was quick to speak up saying how much she had really enjoyed Monday’s class, because having newcomers meant that the steps that we did were easier for her to get through. Winking at the other two ladies, I took Bony’s side and said that we should go through something simple that night. I may have gotten punched for that joke…

In the end, we did something that was only halfway challenging in Tango. Two other people joined us for class that night, and while they had danced quite a bit in the past they had given it up for a while, so now they were trying to relearn all sorts of things. A class like Standard Technique would not have been something I would have recommended for that purpose, but Lord Junior didn’t send them away so the figures that we did were modulated a bit to make things easier on them.

We worked on the Reverse Turn that night. The lady from the new couple that joined us got pretty wide-eyed and terrified when Lord Junior started to explain the figure by relating it to Viennese Waltz (apparently Viennese Waltz is really scary for her), so to ease her fears Lord Junior also showed her that she could do the figure in Samba as well to emphasize that it was just the same footwork he was pointing out. That seemed to relax her a bit, for the time being. To start with, we were doing the Reverse Turns over a four count in the music, which is almost painfully slow if you’ve ever done Reverse Turns in Tango before. Once Lord Junior was confident that everyone had the footwork down, he told the newcomers what the timing for the figure actually was, and how we would be able to do two Reverse Turns in a four count when done to speed. He then put on some music and demonstrated the step.
  That demonstration, for some reason, made the new lady who was terrified of Viennese Waltz start laughing. She was laughing so hard, and for so long, that it started to get a bit awkward. Since she wouldn’t stop, Lord Junior said that we could just go on with one less lady until she was ready. We added a couple of figures to the end of the Reverse Turns just to give everyone something else to work on. By the end we had a progression that was three normal Reverse Turns, one slower turn to close both partners facing diagonal wall (backing diagonal wall for the ladies) so that we could go into a Progressive Link. We then took two steps down the line of dance in Promenade Position, and at the end we did a couple of leg flicks – one pointing forward, one behind, a quick weight change from your crossed leg back to the standing leg and finally one more flick of the leg to bring it back forward so that you ended in Promenade Position ready for another step.

What do I have on my dance schedule for next week? Let’s see… I think I have a meeting with my Royal Dance Court group on Tuesday night, and there’s a dance party on Saturday night that I’ve been told by a couple of different people I should go to, so I’ll probably be there. There will also be lots of dance practice I’m sure, since that’s what I spend a lot of time doing on the weekends nowadays. I’m sure I’ll meet up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer at some point on Saturday afternoon, and there will be classes to attend next week as well. There’s always a lot of dancing in my world, if you hadn’t noticed.

But Friday night? I’m not going to do any dancing on Friday. In fact, I’m going to try to leave my house to do something that isn’t dance related for a change. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone out on a weekend to do anything that didn’t involve dancing. Is that weird? Maybe I’ll go out on the town. Maybe I’ll find some lady to ask out on a date. Or maybe I’ll just go see a movie. Hey – do you want to go see a movie with me? I’ll buy the tickets if you bring the popcorn.

Let’s see if I’m successful at pulling that off, or if I end up out dancing somewhere instead!

Dance, Dance, Dance To The Distortion

I promised myself I was going to try to keep tonight’s post shorter than things have been lately, so that’s what I’m shooting for. Especially since next weekend is going to be so full of dance stuff that I will likely make all sorts of notes about. Those, of course, will end up posted here. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start back at the beginning…

Last Saturday afternoon when I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer for our normal weekend session, Sir Steven had originally wanted to start off by looking at some new figures in Tango to use for the crazy idea I had for the Fancy Dance Hall’s summer showcase. However, Sparkledancer stopped us both short by saying that she has some work training event that she has to go to this summer, which happens to be the same weekend that the showcase is scheduled for. She can’t get out of that training, so she has to bow out of the performance. I don’t have a backup partner prepared for events like this, much less someone whom I know would trust me enough to let me pick her up and throw her around in a showcase, so I said that I would shelve the idea for another occasion in the future. With that, Sir Steven thought about things for a few minutes to figure out what we would do instead, and put us to work on something else.

We went back to focus on the swing and sway in various parts of our figures again. There were a few points that stick with me as things I need to keep more in my mind as we go forward, since they’ve sort-of fallen by the wayside as I’ve gotten all this other information that I was told to make my priority instead. One thing in particular was in Foxtrot: during the first Feather that I go through, I guess my second step on my left foot was starting to look too much like a forward step instead of a side step, especially when I am thinking about other things (like the proper swing of the figure) when I take the step. That’s something I really need to make sure not to do. I’ve done tons of Feather steps in Foxtrot without issue, so I shouldn’t start creating problems now!

We also spent some time focusing on the Natural Spin Turn in Waltz. This was one of those things that the Princess and I had looked at quite a bit during my coaching session with her while Sparkledancer was on vacation. I’m not sure why Sparkledancer and I hadn’t gone through any Natural Spin Turns together in the practice time we had put in after she got back, but apparently we hadn’t. Sparkledancer was surprised the first time that we went through the figure, since it felt noticeably different to her, so it threw her off a little. I had to stop and tell her about the things the Princess had told me to make sure I was doing to make sure we were on the same page before trying things again. Sir Steven as listening to me talk and nodding along, and at the end he smiled and said that Spin Turns were kind of the Princess’ thing, and she really liked to focus on working on them with people.

The Natural Spin Turns we did afterward were much better, as you can imagine. Sir Steven wanted us to really work on following through even more with the rotation in our upper body at the end of the spin, but to do so while making sure that we didn’t rotate our feet any farther (it is an Under-Turned Natural Spin Turn, after all). There were a few times where we didn’t control the rotation enough while trying to turn from our waists and upper body, which caused our feet to pivot further, so we ended up accidentally coming out of the Natural Spin Turn toward backing diagonal center instead of backing diagonal center against line of dance. On top of that, we had to make sure that we were balanced enough at the end of the rotation to really drive out into the Reverse Turn once we finish spinning. There were times that I came out of the turning and rotating and didn’t have enough of a hold to push out of my right leg with any force, so the last step of the Natural Spin Turn onto my left leg was kind of weak and puny. Sigh… yet another thing to add to my list to focus on during practice, right?

This past Monday night I did manage to get to Latin Technique class. I felt bad for missing class more often than not lately, so even though it was pouring down monstrously that night, I put on my galoshes and headed out to dance. I was one of the few that dared to make the trip that night – when I got to the Electric Dance Hall the only other people in the building besides Lord Junior were Veep and Sparkledancer, and no one else showed up after me. With an even number of men and women for a change, Lord Junior decided to work on a Samba figure with us that really requires both partners to get through successfully. Plus, Lord Junior said that since Sparkledancer and I really only compete in ballroom styles, this figure would still be good for us because some of the ideas you have to keep in mind while going through the steps translate, since the figure is exactly like a common ballroom dance step.

Truly monstrous outside!

The specific figure that Lord Junior wanted to look at was the Samba Roll, which are essentially the same footwork as a Reverse Turn in Viennese Waltz. We ended up doing them in Shadow Position that night, so I guess it would be more like American Viennese Waltz than International, if you want to be specific. Anyway… to get into the figure, we started out on one end of the floor with the ladies opened up out to our right and a bit in front of us, while we had our weight on our left leg with our right leg pointed to the side. The lady would then roll in across our arm toward us, starting on beat seven in the music and doing two turns, ending facing down the line of dance with their weight on the right foot. The Leads would just transfer our weight to our right leg while the lady rolled, helping to guide her with our arms so that she wouldn’t roll away from us, and pivoting 90° as she finished turning to get us into Shadow Position.

On beat one of the next measure we started the Samba Rolls. I’m sure you’ve seen these done before – essentially what you do is that, while move your feet like a Viennese Waltz Reverse Turn, you both lean forward (so the Lead is over the Follow’s back) on the first half of the turn, and then you roll backward (so the Follow is over the Lead’s chest) on the second half. It’s not a hard movement to do by yourself, but you really need to practice a few times with a partner to make sure the two of you are in sync during your movements or it ends up looking crazy. If you watch really high-level dancers do this move in videos and such, you’ll see that they lean waaaaaaaaay over each other as they turn, but if you are doing these with a partner during a normal dance and you really focus on doing the rotations with your core, you don’t have to lean over so far to make the figure look really impressive to anyone watching.

We practiced doing several full turns down the floor to make sure that everyone felt good with them, and then Lord Junior decided to cut the number of turns that we would actually do and give us a good way to get out of the figure and go into something else. The progression still began the same way, with the lady rolling across the Lead to go into the Samba Rolls. We did one and a half full revolutions of those, which should have you standing sort-of backing line of dance with your left foot crossed in front of your right. Then, straightening back up from the lean required for the Samba Rolls, we did essentially an Outside Change from Waltz to turn around and head down the line of dance with two Cruzados Walks and a Lock Step (still in Shadow Position). To finish things, we added on three Curved Runs, the first traveling forward, the second backward, and the third forward again. If curved correctly, the three of those should curve you right around a corner to head down the next wall.

Finally, on Wednesday night I ended up out at Standard Technique class. We looked at some Foxtrot that night, which worked out pretty well for me because it allowed me to focus on some things that Sir Steven had told me to focus on in Foxtrot the previous Saturday, like taking a side step during a Feather and the correct swing and shaping in my Feather and Three Step. The figures that we went over that night weren’t anything all that hard, at least for me, and I’m fairly certain everyone in class had done at least a version of the steps before in some dance. I say that because some of the ladies had trouble that night with the last figure that we did, which was a Natural Twist Turn. This figure is a pretty common Bronze-level figure in International Tango, which is why I would think most people would have done it before. However, in International Foxtrot it is a Gold-level figure – apparently this is because the steps during second beat are syncopated. Other than that, it should feel pretty much the same.

Our progression that night had us starting backing diagonal wall on one wall and going right into an Outside Spin, turning a corner in the process. We came out facing line of dance down the new wall and went right into a Feather and Three Step combo. This was the piece that really tied things in with what I was working on during my lesson the previous Saturday. While rotating through partners during class, I made sure to keep my frame nice and strong and to emphasize the swing and shaping through the Feather and Three Step. Some of the ladies in class responded nicely to what I was doing, while others allowed their right arm to bend out of position rather than turn their bodies with me. It certainly seemed like the ladies who are still not comfortable with being in direct body contact with me (they tend to maintain a three or four inch space between us) had a much harder time feeling the rotation I was doing through my body, so I imagine that is a big part of why their right arm ended up bending when I rotated myself.

After we finished up the Three Step we went right into the Natural Twist Turn. I had no problem with the steps for this figure, since all I had to do was take three steps and then twist around. Unfortunately, several of the ladies got caught on the wrong foot somehow many of the times that they went through their steps. I think some of the confusion came from one point where they weren’t supposed to actually take a step, but rather just transfer their weight between their feet without moving their feet. That seemed to be the most common point of confusion. Once we got past that, we came out of the Natural Twist Turn with the Hover Feather ending. The Natural Twist Turn is one of the few places you can naturally add on a Hover Feather because of the heel pull that you do, so Lord Junior decided to take advantage of that fact to have us work on the Hover Feather.

(Note: a Hover Feather really isn’t too complicated, it’s just a Feather Ending you do from a rise. Since we were already lowered down at the end of the Natural Twist Turn, we would have to add in the foot rise for the Hover Feather right before taking the first of the two steps)

I don’t know about you, but this weekend is going to be super busy for me with all the dance things going on that I’m supposed to attend. First off, Friday was the day picked to have a party to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the Electric Dance Hall. Then on Saturday I have to spend a bunch of time at the Endless Dance Hall to help put the place together for the formal dance party I am helping to host there that night. In between the setup and the dance party, I have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu scheduled at the Fancy Dance Hall. Then that night I have to make my way back to the Endless Dance Hall to actually attend the formal party.

With all of that stuff going on during the day on Saturday, I had to push my normal lesson with Sir Steven from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, because I didn’t think I would be able to fit that in otherwise. Also on Sunday, Lord Junior has some super-high-level coach coming in from somewhere to give a workshop late in the afternoon. The workshop this person is doing is covering some Latin dance style, so while I was invited to attend, if I get exhausted and fall asleep instead of going I probably won’t cry… but I’ll at least try to make it. Lord Junior has asked me several times this week if I’ll be there, so either he needs to make sure he has enough men, or he just really wants my company for some reason.

Those are all my weekend plans. I hope yours are even more exciting than mine!