I Was A Hand Grenade That Never Stopped Exploding

Last Saturday night I was feeling mildly extroverted, so I decided to head out to the dance party that was planned for the evening out at the Endless Dance Hall. This party wasn’t like most of the parties that go on in the Dance Kingdom – normally the hosts of the party set up a pre-party dance lesson from some local instructor to lure people to their event. This party wasn’t going to have one of those. Instead, the Endless Dance Hall had planned on having a showcase performance on Saturday, so the organizers of this dance party worked with them to schedule their party to start right after the showcase finished. They gave people a special deal that let you get a ticket to both watch the performance and attend the dance party for one low price, so of course I got there early enough to do both.

My friend Indiana had a huge role in putting the showcase part of the evening together, and I think that she was either dancing in or had choreographed at least two-thirds of the dance numbers in the show that night. Hooray for her! Normally when I go to showcase performances, what I see is basically an all-male review, with the majority of the acts being by a few male instructors dancing with their amateur female. It’s nice to occasionally switch things up and see what kind of show you get when a lady takes the spotlight.

Indiana spends a lot of time working with a gaggle of kids, and has been crafting them into a dance troupe over the last couple of years. This is an endeavor of hers that has been supported by donations from the whole dance community, and she likes to use events like these to give the community a chance to see what their donations are helping to achieve. That night the kids were the ones dancing the most – sometimes as a big group with all the kids participating, and sometimes as smaller groups. One of the acts was even done solely by the eldest male and female students, dancing together on stage alone. Sometimes when I am out at the Endless Dance Hall for my own lessons I have been able to see Indiana working on these routines with the kids, so it was cool to see the finished products.

There was one part that I admit that I was a bit worried about. In one of the routines I had seen them practice, two of the older boys pick up two of the much younger girls and hold them over their heads. I saw them practicing this lift in a couple of their rehearsals prior to the show, and what I saw had me a little worried. My biggest concern was obviously for the safety of the girls. I know that they chose the younger and smaller girls because they weigh less. The two boys doing the lifts were older, but are still in that scrawny early teen phase of their lives, so they don’t have a ton of upper body strength. As a male who went through that same scrawny early teen phase, I know what it’s like. In rehearsal there were a few times when the girls came dangerously close to being dropped – one time would have become a close encounter with the ground if other kids standing nearby hadn’t helped catch the young girl. So that was one thing that concerned me.

Also, the place where the boys were putting their hands on the young girls back to hold the girl over their head caused her to bend her back weirdly. At least, it seemed weird to me when I watched them do it in rehearsal. Then again, I am no longer that young, and it’s very rare for me to bend in strange angles like that nowadays. The young girls may have thought that bending like that was totally comfortable, even if it looked like an awkward angle for their spines to me. I never asked them, so I don’t know for sure.

But my concerns were all for naught because the lifts went off without a hitch that night. The crowd went nuts for them, as I’m sure you could have guessed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you want to do a dance showcase and really impress your audience, a lift is the way to go. People love them!

Other than Indiana and her kids group performing that evening, there was one other notable instructor that was there performing with a couple of his students that evening. He was notable to me not because of how well his acts went (they were all really good), but rather because of him… I had never seen this particular instructor before in all my travels around the Dance Kingdom. I found out later that he had come in from out-of-town with his students specifically to perform in the showcase, which explained why I had never met him before. I like to believe that I’ve talked to or seen pretty much all the instructors that teach in my little corner of the Dance Kingdom by now.

There was something… I don’t know exactly, but the guy just gave off a creepy vibe. Have you ever been in the same room as someone, and you know that they’ve done nothing out of the ordinary, but the person just feels creepy? That was this guy for me. Maybe it was the greasy pompadour that he had going on that was throwing me off. Maybe it was because during his dance performances he seemed to like doing things that would shift the focus away from his students who were dancing and onto him. I’m not entirely sure, but I just couldn’t get away from the fact that he creeped me out.

Before you think badly of me, just know that I did intend on trying to talk to this guy after the performance was over. I thought that if I said hello to him and talked for a moment, I could learn more about who he was and probably find out that he was actually a really nice dude. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around after the performance was over, so I never got a chance. I guess I will never know unless I see him around again sometime in the future.

The dance party after the showcase was also a lot of fun that night. There were a couple of younger guys who came to the party and danced together most of the night. That is not notable in-and-of itself, but I noticed it because they kept switching off which guy would lead and which one would follow. I did stop and talk to those two to praise them for being able to do that. Neither one of them was an instructor, they just both liked to have the option to be both the Lead or Follow as the mood struck them. I’ve been in classes where the instructor has asked everyone to try dancing the other part before, and it is a hard thing for me to do if the steps are not the natural opposite of what I would normally do, so my hat was off to these guys for being able to do that!

On Monday night out at Latin Technique class, I had a really easy night. The ladies that were in class did not, but Lord Junior and I did (relatively speaking). The weekend before class, Lord Junior and a few of his students had worked with some high-level out-of-town coach, and the coach had helped Lord Junior take a large chunk of Veep’s Open Rumba routine and throw it out to put in something much harder. Because they had just put the new section of the routine together only a few days prior to Latin Technique class, Lord Junior decided that since Veep was in class that night he would go over that new piece of choreography with the whole class… mostly to help the two of them memorize it faster.

Like a lot of high-level Rumba routines I’ve seen in my time, this new choreography is also focused on having the ladies do some crazy stuff, while the guy gets to basically just shift his weight back and forth over his legs without moving around. Most of what that consists of is standing strongly in place so that the girl you’re dancing with could use you for support, or as a platform to push off of. Man, us Leads have really got a rough job sometimes, don’t we?

We started out with the guys in a bit of a lunge on our left leg with our body twisted to offer our left arm to the lady. She was stretched out away from us with her weight on her right leg and her left foot pointed forward. The ladies would do a delayed walking action forward, holding on beat two and stepping on beat three, walking across our body and pivoting at the end to face away from us like in a Switchback, then bringing their arm up and pointing their leg back to create a line. The guys just stand up from the lunge while the ladies do this, then shift our weight to the right leg, then back to the left. Hard work, right?

The next part is the only real exciting thing that the guy gets to do. On the next beat two we would lead the lady to rotate back to face us, then release her hand. During the rotation she would lower down into her legs and put up both of her hands in front of her. The guys would then take a step forward on the left, then a small step on the right and go up on our toes to make ourselves as tall as possible while putting our right arm up. Those steps forward should put the guys body so that the lady’s hands are resting against his upper abdominal muscles. Be careful not to lean forward here – the lady’s hands are only there for decoration, not to actually support the guy. Once you are standing super tall in front of her she’ll tilt her head to look up at the guy – Lord Junior says it should be a look of amazement to really get the character of what the coach was trying to show him.

During the next measure in the music, the guy will pivot in place while lowering back down to be on his full foot and then step away, lunging out on his right leg this time. The lady uses that time to do a weird body-rolling move as she stands up slowly and then takes the guys proffered left hand. In the next measure she will step toward the guy on the second beat, then he will lead her to do a slow Spiral Turn over the next two beats. At the end the guy needs to shift his weight to his left leg and  lowered down his left arm to be near his waist, holding it strong there.

The lady will use that arm to press down on to help her create a line where she lifts her left arm over her head and stretches her left side as long as possible. It’s easier for the lady to do if she has something to press against, hence the guy keeping his arm strong. After a brief hold in this line, the lady will step forward out of it and the guys will take a step forward on their right leg. We’ll lead the lady to do kind of a Three-Step Turn where we release her hands, and she’ll move away from us and lunge out on her right leg perpendicular to the guy, turning her head to look over her left shoulder at us. We’ll hold in place until the very end of the third beat in the measure and take two steps forward to stand on both legs near her as she looks at us.

That’s where the new section ended. It’s kind of a neat looking piece, and I’m sure my picture doesn’t really show enough for you to get a true feel for what it looks like. Just trust me that it’s actually cooler than I can describe, even if it is complicated.

The things we did this week in Standard Technique class were a bit easier to explain than that Rumba choreography, since all the pieces can be found in the syllabus book. We got to work on Quickstep that evening at my suggestion – over the last few weeks before class started, I had heard Lord Junior mention that he thought we hadn’t looked at Quickstep in a while. Since no one else who came to class that night asked to work on anything specific, I threw that out as a suggestion, and everyone else just shrugged and went along with me. Hooray for me winning through other people’s apathy!

Lord Junior started off class by talking about the V6 figure from the Silver Quickstep syllabus. The by-the-book figure is actually just a combination of two different figures that you’ve probably seen before – a Backward Lock and an Outside Change – starting off heading toward diagonal center and finishing heading toward diagonal wall. That’s what gives it the ‘V’ shape that the figure is known for. I can’t find anything written about what the ‘6’ stands for in the name though… that part’s a mystery.

We started off simply enough by doing a prep step into a Half Natural Turn, then a Natural Spin Turn that went immediately into the V6. The last step of the Natural Spin Turn is used as the first step of the V6 in this configuration. At the end of the V6 we added on a Forward Lock and another Half Natural Turn to finish. This gave us the basic outline of what Lord Junior wanted to work with us on that evening.

Once we all had that down, Lord Junior wanted us to upgrade the V6 so that it used the alternate ending that you see done a lot which replaces the Outside Change portion of the figure with a Six Quick Run from the Gold Quickstep syllabus. This speeds up the ending portion, and you really don’t get a chance to take a slower step and breathe until you finish and get to the Half Natural Turn. The trick to keeping this alteration successful is to make sure and watch your rise and fall – you basically start to rise up at the end of step four of the V6 and then stay up the whole time until the end of the Six Quick Run.

Now, you may have noticed that I specifically kept saying ‘Half Natural Turn’ earlier. That was completely intentional, because once we finished upgrading the V6 to its alternate ending, Lord Junior wanted to have us change the Half Natural Turn after it into a full Natural Turn. Now, in Quickstep a full Natural Turn is not like what you would see in the Waltz or Viennese Waltz, where it is just two Half Natural Turns in a row. The second half of a Quickstep Natural Turn involves a Heel Pull action for the lead as you step to the side, then you pass your feet as you step forward onto your left leg.

Supposedly the Heel Pull action allows you to move faster than you would if you had taken three normal steps without the Heel Pull, but I’m not convinced about that. Still, Lord Junior warned us that we likely wouldn’t see people doing this full figure very often. In fact, he admitted that he had personally never seen this version of the figure until he was studying for his certification exam in International Standard a few years ago. If you read through the Bronze syllabus for Quickstep, this is the actual figure you’ll find, so don’t be surprised if you see it there now that I’ve told you!

After we got through the Natural Turn, we added on a Forward Lock that headed toward diagonal center. This set us up for the last step that Lord Junior wanted to show us that night, which was another Silver-level figure called the Fishtail. This is one that I had never seen before, but it wasn’t too rough to get through. Basically it is a forward check on the right leg toward diagonal center, then you step backward and then to the side to change direction so that you can finish with a Forward Lock toward diagonal wall.

There was one time that I messed up this figure pretty bad that night because when I tried to do the check on my right foot but my foot kept sliding forward, and it took some effort for me to get it to stop sliding and then to try to change direction. The mistake put me way off time with the music that was playing. Luckily Lord Junior didn’t notice, and my partner just laughed about it, so it wasn’t too embarrassing for me. I guess I should have brushed my shoes better before class started or something.

That’s all I did this week! So, I have to ask… are you getting excited? We are getting so close to Halloween! I am planning to do some finishing touches to my costume this weekend so that it is all ready to go for next weekend. I know that I will have full range of motion for dancing when in my costume, but this one does have a mask with it so I am a little worried that it may get to be hot as the evening wears on. Still, this costume makes me laugh a lot, so I am excited to wear it even with the risk of being warm.

Do you have your costume all ready? I hope so! Halloween is my favorite time of the dance holiday season! What kind of crazy creatures will I get to see people dress up as this year? I can’t wait to find out!

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It’s Nothin’ Dangerous, I Feel No Pain

Last Saturday it seems like all the stars aligned and everything worked out perfectly in my morning so that I could go to a workshop taught by Judge Dread in the afternoon. Hooray for me! Part of me thought that going to the workshop would be a good idea because Judge Dread is a big-time judge that I see often enough at competitions I sign up for, so getting in some face time with him in a non-competition setting would be a good political move. Dance Politics, am I right? Things turned out even better than that though, because the workshop also turned out to be both a lot of fun and relevant to the material I usually practice.

Judge Dread wanted to work on Foxtrot that afternoon, and he told the class that while the pattern he had in mind was built using figures from the International side of Foxtrot, a good dancer could also apply the choreography in an American Foxtrot if they wanted. He wanted to ease everyone into the steps slowly, so we started off with a bit of basic choreography from the Bronze International Foxtrot syllabus, then those figures were upgraded piece by piece until we ended up with the actual choreography Judge Dread had in mind.

The starting point is pretty simple if you’ve done International Foxtrot before: a prep step into a Feather, then a Basic Weave, and finally a Change of Direction. Judge Dread pointed out to all of us that the Feather was a four-count figure, while the Basic Weave and the Change of Direction were both six-count figures, so the pattern should fill a full four bars of music. That’s all well and good, but what if we wanted to attach something different to the end of the choreography? Then the six-count Basic Weave would throw off our phrasing. To fix that issue, Judge Dread had us add in an extra two steps to the Basic Weave to make it an eight-count figure, so now the figure fits into the phrase.

Doing that however makes the Basic Weave look really long and boring, so rather than just stay in the position that we got into when we started the Basic Weave, Judge Dread told the ladies that we were going to have them shift across the man’s body for steps four and five to get into Outside Partner position on the man’s left side. Some of you may have heard this called ‘Wing Position’ before. Extending the steps and shifting the lady like that in the middle of the figure actually changes the Basic Weave into a figure called the Quick Open Reverse with Left Side Run, according to Judge Dread.

Now that we had fit this new figure to the musical phrase and made it more interesting to watch, we were ready to look at the Change of Direction at the end and make it into something more interesting as well. The pattern of steps that Judge Dread showed to us was something that he said a famous dancer (whose name I didn’t recognize) taught to him back in the early 1980s, and he still sees high-level competitive couples using it to this day. According to him, it especially comes in handy in competitions if you get stuck by people on the floor, because it’s an interesting pattern that stays in a relatively small area for a few bars of music. On top of that, this pattern can be done in ANY International Standard style. Yes, even Viennese Waltz works when you use a bit of Canter Timing.

Each section listed next covers one measure in the music; since we were working on Foxtrot that day, we were doing it with a four count. This configuration started out by facing diagonal wall and going into the first two steps from the Change of Direction, as you probably already guessed. After those steps, instead of stepping forward on the left foot to complete the Change of Direction, Judge Dread had the men step backward and lead the ladies to do an Outside Swivel. Once back in dance frame after the Outside Swivel we would lead the lady into a Contra check that ended with a Natural Pivot on the left leg that would flip us around 180°. That covers the first three bars of music.

The last part of the grouping was something that Judge Dread called a “Rudolph Ronde” with Slip Pivot. Essentially the men would finish the Natural Pivot and take a step forward onto their right leg. Leaving the left leg behind you, we would rotate our bodies to lead the lady to ronde her outside leg before shifting our weight back to our left foot and then slipping and pivoting on the right. Depending on how you rotate your body, supposedly you can indicate to the lady whether you want her to ronde with her outside foot on the floor or in the air, but I wasn’t able to figure out the way to do that during class. After the Slip Pivot you should be back facing diagonal center, and four bars of music will have gone by without you having traveled a whole lot. After that was done, Judge Dread just had us go into normal a Reverse Turn (International or American, depending on how comfortable the lady is with Heel Turns) to keep traveling down the floor.

That class wasn’t the only dance-related thing I did last Saturday either! I also went out to a dance party that night that was being held at the Electric Dance Hall just to get out and be social for a little while. I may have gotten scolded for going to the dance party to mostly talk to people by a lady while I was there… I had a hard time trying to explain to her that I spend so much time on the dance floor lately while I practice my competition stuff, but don’t get much opportunity to talk to people. Apparently that wasn’t a good reason for her. It wasn’t like I was hurting anything though, since the ratio of men to women was almost even that night. If the ratio had been lopsided, I would have been on the floor more, I promise!

The party advertised a lesson beforehand on Bolero. It’s a style that I don’t really do too often, and I never picked up a whole lot of figures for it, so I thought that the lesson would probably be interesting. As it turned out, the instructor that had come in to teach the class only managed to cover figures that I already knew for Bolero. Plus, the guy teaching wasn’t very interesting to listen to. I don’t know what it was about the guy’s voice, but he seemed to drone on and on and I just couldn’t get engaged in what he was saying. So I ended up being a little bored while in the lesson. I maaaaaay have roped Sparkledancer into playing a game of ‘Quick Draw’ with me using finger guns while we were standing across the room from one another. I lost a lot, because my arms move slower. You know, from all the muscle. That’s where the real gun show is at. 😉

A large chunk of time at the beginning of the lesson was spent with the instructor describing the Bolero and how to do the basic steps for the dance. He only taught the class how to do the basic without rotation, though he demonstrated later in class how the Leader could rotate the basic if desired. After getting through the basic movements, he next showed everyone how to do the Cross Over Break (i.e. a New Yorker, depending on what syllabus you look at). We were told to link the two figures together by doing the front half of the basic movement followed by three Cross Over Breaks in a row. Once done with those, he showed the class how to do a Lady’s Underarm Turn on the man’s left side.

Rather than link back into dance frame after the turn, the instructor had the men take the lady’s left hand in their right with the arms wide. In this position we did Outside Breaks Forward, two of them normally and then a third that ended with the man stepping to the side without rotating his body. This wound him up to the right, allowing him to lead the lady to do Swivels in front of him for two measures. At the end of the swivels the man would pull the lady back toward him slightly as he went into the back half of the basic to close back into dance position to finish.

The Swivels were the figure that a lot of the other men in class had the hardest time with. Several of them stopped the instructor to ask how it was that they were supposed to lead the ladies to do them, and they didn’t seem to understand when he explained to them how they needed to leave their arms engaged and rotate their bodies to signal to the ladies to move. Having done this figure before lots of times in a couple of dance styles, it seemed so intuitive to me how the movement was supposed to work, so I had a hard time understanding how those guys couldn’t just feel the lead they were supposed to do when they tried the movement. I can’t remember if I had that much trouble getting it back in the day all those years ago when I originally learned how to do it myself. Maybe I did? I don’t know.

After the lesson was over, the party began. I admit to not being a huge fan of the DJ that was working the music that night. The DJ seemed to like playing Latin-style songs almost exclusively, with only a smattering of ballroom-style or swing-style numbers mixed in. If you like dancing Latin numbers more, I guess that wouldn’t bother you too much, but I prefer a more balanced mix of the three classes. I think it helps mix things up over the course of the party, which gets different people out on the dance floor as the class of song changes. But, to each their own, I guess.

Also, the DJ liked to go out and dance to a lot of the Latin-style songs, which is fine, but more often than not she would totally forget to watch what the music was doing while she was out on the floor. I’m not sure why she didn’t set up multiple songs to play on some kind of mixed playlist that she had chosen. Most music programs will let you queue songs like that. There were a couple of times when she would forget about what the music was doing, then the song would end and her computer would move on to another song of the same dance style before she managed to run back to abruptly change the song to something else in a different dance style. That was weird.

But the weirdest thing that happened during the dance party was that the DJ tried to play a Pasodoble for people to dance socially. At first, people were looking around, not quite sure what to do. Many of the social dancers had never even seen Pasodoble before, let alone learned any steps for the style. After a few bars of the song, two dance instructors who happened to be at the party convinced a couple of their students to go out and give it a try. It didn’t go super well, since Pasodoble is usually choreographed and isn’t done lead-and-follow, but when the DJ cut the song short and everyone cheered for them for giving it a shot. Hooray for them!

This past Monday night when I got to the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class, I was sitting along the back wall with some of the others waiting for class to start. The ladies near me were talking about how tired they all were, and they were trying to figure out what they wanted to go over in class that night. They made a pact that they were all going to vote for Rumba, because even though what we’d likely cover in class might not be easy, at least it would be slower. Lord Junior wasn’t opposed to the idea, so that’s what we ended up doing. He decided that we should go through some exercises that emphasized Latin Walks, since he said that everyone can always work on making those better. Some of these exercises were done alone, some with a partner, and some were done first alone and then a partner was added in later.

We started out with just going over some single steps forward as Lord Junior discussed where we should be settling over the leg in order to initiate the movement, and how we should all think about the lines the legs create in each stage of the steps. After that, we spent time chaining steps together. First we did three four-count measures going forward (half starting on the right leg, half on the left). Next we did steps going forward that would rotate to steps going to the side. We only did two four-count measures of these steps so that we could have one measure starting out in each direction (forward-side-forward, side-forward-side). Like before, half of these were done starting on the right foot, and the other half starting with the left.

The next thing that Lord Junior wanted us to try ended up being kind of hilarious. His intention was for us to do Hand-to-Hands, but after replacing your weight to go back forward you were supposed to do a Spiral Turn that ended facing where your partner would be and then take a step to the side before rotating 90° to go into another Hand-to-Hand. You know how if you put your weight on one leg with the other behind you, you should only be able to rotate in one direction to do a Spiral Turn? Well… that didn’t seem to be the case in this class. For some reason, all of us (including me) at one point or another tried to rotate the wrong way, which just messed up everything after that.

After spending a few minutes laughing really hard at us, Lord Junior thought that we might be able to get through the turns properly if we worked with a partner, so the guys were paired with one of the girls and we tried things again. This is where I got messed up, because suddenly I was on the other leg and it threw me off for some reason. I think I had to go through two partners before I managed to work out my issues and get it down 100%. By that point though, everyone in class was so fired up that anytime one of us messed up and tried to turn the wrong way, it would set everyone else off laughing (including Lord Junior), so messing up didn’t feel so bad. Yes, we really were the ‘advanced’ class that night!

There was one final exercise that Lord Junior wanted us to try out that night. The idea was to start facing one wall, take a step backward and do a 180° pivot that went into a Three-Step Turn and came out as if we were a lady going into Fan Position. After going through this a couple of times, he decided to pair us off again so that we could work in partners. I spent a minute going through the step on my own using the opposite leg so that it wouldn’t throw me off this time when I had a partner with me.

When we ended while with a partner, we were essentially in Hand-to-Hand position. After watching us work through things with a partner a few times, Lord Junior had the brilliant idea of going from the ending back into the Hand-to-Hand with Spiral Turn action that we had done so spectacularly earlier. Yay…? The issue with trying to turn the wrong way during the Spiral came back with a vengeance, and it was still just as funny for everyone the second time around. Who says that technique-focused classes are boring? Not me, that’s for sure!

Finally, last night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. Lord Junior told us that we were going to work on some Tango, in honor of one of his students who was in class with us that night who would be moving away at the end of the week. Tango is her favorite dance style, so it was a fitting final dance for her, and we were all happy to oblige.

What Lord Junior failed to mention before class started was that the pattern that he was going to have us do was going to be super hard. Stupid hard, even. Normally I don’t have much problem picking up choreography, since there are so many women in class and I get to repeat the steps a lot more than they do, but this class it took me quite a while to feel even semi-confident with what my feet were supposed to be doing, so I didn’t switch over part way through to focus on other techniques. I’m not sure why that was. During most of the class my brain was struggling to just keep the steps straight, but now that I am home and sitting here on the couch writing this I can picture the figures perfectly. I bet if I had enough space in this room, and my cat was willing to dance with me, that I could get through it perfectly! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…

We started off with our partner facing down the line of dance in Promenade Position. To set up for the first difficult figure Lord Junior wanted to do, we did a basic Promenade with the man closing and a Natural Pivot attached at the end to turn us back around so that we were facing down the line of dance again, this time in closed dance position. Easy enough. The first difficult figure that we did was a Gold-level figure called The Chase, but we did it using the alternate ending to the figure where you come out with a Chasse to the Right and end with a Whisk that rotates you 90° to the right and puts you back into Promenade Position. This would normally be used to turn you around a corner.

The next figure confused a lot of people because it is a lot like the previous one, so doing both back-to-back was what made this choreography particularly hard that night. We did two Fallaway Whisks in a row. Because we had allowed the outside foot to come forward after the previous Whisk, to start the figure we had to take one slow step forward on the outside leg before the first Fallaway Whisk, which starts with the inside leg. If you get through the first Fallaway Whisk correctly, rather than let the outside leg come forward after the Whisk part at the end you would just push off that leg after it crossed behind to start the second Fallaway Whisk right away. Most people in the class that night weren’t good enough to keep both of these Fallaway Whisks going in a straight line, so we would curve them as needed – sometimes almost going in a complete circle. After the second Fallaway Whisk we finished the pattern by adding on a basic Closed Promenade at the end.

Now that I’ve finished writing all of this, I have to go find some band aids. My cat was not too happy about me trying to use her as a dance partner, so I got slightly scratched. Still worth it. Until next week!

We Can Moonwalk Right Out Of Here

I have to confess here, that what happened last Saturday was probably all my fault. After all, last week I made the mistake of mentioning that my Quickstep routine ‘didn’t have a whole lot to think about in it right now.’ I said that. It’s in writing, so I can’t pretend that I didn’t say that. At the time I published that post last week, I didn’t realize that those words would come back to bite me in the butt.

As you can imagine, last Saturday I walked into the Endless Dance Hall for a coaching session with Lord Dormamu. He was still finishing up a lesson with another of his students, so I set about stretching out like I normally do. When Sparkledancer showed up and finished stretching out, we started warming up together like we normally do. Lord Dormamu finishes up his lesson and starts walking toward where Sparkledancer and I are warming up, like he normally does. When we stop to greet him, the first thing that he says to us is “So, I’ve been thinking about your Quickstep routine…”

With those words, the rest of our coaching session was spent changing all kinds of things in the Quickstep. Grrr…

Why did he decide to do this? Apparently he was getting bored by the routine, so he wanted to make it more interesting. The things that we have been told to do are… questionable. He specifically told us that some of these changes are toeing a line of what we are allowed to do while he is still holding us back competing in Bronze. Not really illegal… but also not technically legal either. But, he is having us start in on this because he is looking toward the future. If we can master movements like this early on, then later when we move up to higher proficiency levels we can add even more, and look considerably better than our competition on the floor. At least, that is his plan.

The hard part is that because we are still competing in Bronze, we have to do all of this very precisely, and almost over-exaggerate the movements to really prove that we are doing them on purpose. If we seem unsure while we do them, or waver a little bit, there is a chance the judges could think that the movement was just an accident because we messed up or lost our balance, rather than a deliberate move. So, no pressure there, right?

So what is it that we need to change? It’s not figures, rather it is what I would call ‘styling’ points. For example, the simplest thing that we were asked to do was for the Natural Turns that are in the routine. In each one now, Sparkledancer is supposed to shape away from me as we close to create a look of more volume, and I am supposed to turn my head to the right to look over her. Yes, that is exactly the same thing that we are supposed to be doing in the Natural Turns in the Waltz, except it will be much, much faster in the Quickstep. The rest of the items are similar to that change, where it’s just seems to be stylistic. Overall the dance is the same, but trying to remember all of these new ideas is going to take me a little bit of practice.

After the Natural Turns, the next thing that we looked at is the Natural Spin Turn right at the beginning of the routine. Here he wants both Sparkledancer and I to do a head flick that starts just before the third step of the figure and ends as we lower during the third step before we move into the next figure. This change was the hardest one for me that day, because the head flick kept messing up my step. It honestly wasn’t until Sparkledancer and I were practicing on our own days later that I felt like I could do this head movement without messing up what my feet were doing. Why is it that I have such trouble moving my head and my legs independently from one another?

The next change comes with the first Progressive Chasse to the Right. Here we are now supposed to do a massive sway to the right, which causes Sparkledancer to also turn her head to her right. The change is supposed to happen on the first quick of the figure and last until we flatten back out on the first step of the next figure. There is a Forward Lock that happens a few figures later that was changed to have this same kind of massive sway as well. I have to be careful to really think about pulling up my right side when we sway like this rather than dropping my left side, otherwise I’m afraid I might break the line on my left side when swaying this drastically.

In the corner where we had the Natural Spin Turn with Reverse Pivot we made the most dramatic changes. Lord Dormamu wanted us to take out almost all of the rotation that the Natural Spin Turn has. Now the figure moves from side to side, kind of like a pinball bouncing back and forth instead of spinning. Most of the rotation left is during the Reverse Pivot at the end. I asked him if the figure would still be considered a Spin Turn if we did it like this, since it doesn’t, you know… spin. He told me that a good judge would see what the feet are doing and know what the figure was supposed to be, so I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. This change is probably the one that looks the weirdest from the outside, and remembering to throw in the head flick in on the third step like we talked about in our last coaching session doesn’t help at all.

The final spot that we were told to make a change was in the Running Finish. In this figure we are once again doing a massive sway to the right, this time starting on the second step of the figure. This sway also will cause Sparkledancer to turn her head just like in the Forward Lock and the Progressive Chasse to the Right, as you’d expect. So… yeah, now the Quickstep isn’t nearly as simple as it once was. My and my big mouth, right? I guess I deserve it. I’m sure with some practice this will all start to feel fairly simple, but right now trying to remember all the new things as I’m running through the routine gets to be a lot.

Now that we’re finished with that, let’s move on to Monday night. On Monday I ended up out at the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique class, and we opted to work on some Rumba that evening. That was probably the best choice for everyone, since it felt like a low energy night at the studio. Even the other group class taking place on the other side of the floor from us was much quieter than they usually are. I wonder what made it that way?

I didn’t think that what we were given in class was overly challenging, but I had seen the figures that were the hardest for some of the ladies before, so that gave me an edge. We started out as we usually do, facing on a diagonal with the guys pointing their right leg behind them and the ladies pointing their left leg in front. To get moving we took a slow step forward, then did a forward check. Coming out of the checking action, to set us up for the next move the ladies would take a step forward like normal, but the guys took a step off to the left and then led the ladies to do an Open Hip Twist. That set us up to do two Telespins right in a row, which is a move that should be familiar if you’ve ever danced Standard before, but modified slightly to work in Rumba timing.
After the two Telespins we released the lady out into Fan Position. After closing from Fan we brought the lady forward to do an Alemana that ended with her on the man’s right side. Here we had them do a quick Spiral before starting a Rope Spin. Lucky for me, that night there was only one lady in class who was a bit short, so I only had to duck a little with one person to make all the Rope Spins go pretty well. We stopped the lady walking around us once she got to be in line with the man’s left side, then led her to take one step straight forward and gave her a turn with our left hand to initiate another Spiral, but we let go after that. The lady finished the Spiral on her own, then did a Three-Step Turn continuing in the same direction, ending on her right leg.

The guys waited until the last second, then took two steps forward to get behind their lady in Shadow Position, holding just her right side with our right hand. Once in that hold we did just a few simple movements to wrap things up. We started with one measure of Cuban Rocks, followed by one measure of Rumba Walks, then one final measure of Cuban Rocks to finish. Simple and elegant.

The only other thing of note that I did this week was yesterday night, when I went out to Standard Technique class. Once class got underway and he saw the people who had shown up to attend that night, Lord Junior wanted to look at some Viennese Waltz with us. It’s a style that he likes to have us work on, but he will avoid going through it if a certain older lady who loves to join the class but really struggles with maintaining her balance shows up. It’s unfortunate, but I’m sure you remember that safety is always rule number one.

We warmed up like we always do when we have classes on Viennese Waltz – Lord Junior has everyone line up on one side of the floor and dance Natural and Reverse Turns down the length of the room. He always finds this to be hilarious because a lot of the ladies really struggle with knowing what direction they are supposed to be facing when he tells them to be backing diagonal wall, facing diagonal center, etc.. At one point we were all lined up to do some Natural Turns, and he stopped everything to point out that all of the students in class had lined up facing the wrong way except me (I’m not even making that up just to make myself sound more awesome – it really happened). Hilarity ensued, as you can imagine.

Once we finished the amusing warmup, there were a couple of figures that we looked at. Over the weekend Lord Junior had worked with a visiting coach, and somehow they got to talking about the proposed syllabus changes that some organization is incorporating into International Viennese Waltz to make the dance style more ‘interesting.’ The coach showed him three of the proposed new figures, one pretty easy, one medium difficulty, and one that is stupid hard at full speed. These new figures are kind of fun, but I still think that International Viennese Waltz is interesting enough with just the seven syllabus figures that have been used for forever, so I’m not sure I will be rushing too much to try to work these into my repertoire.

The easy figure that we did was a new way to transition from Natural to Reverse Turns without having to use a Change Step. You would start this after doing half of a Natural Turn, then take the first two steps of the second half and hold the next beat of music – almost like a checking hesitation action. Over the next two beats of music you would slowly rise up on your left leg while bringing your right leg in to close, and then on the third beat you do a small Slip Pivot with your right leg and go right into a Reverse Turn. This transition figure is nice because it gives you a chance to pause for a moment and take a breath before picking up again.

That was the easy one. The next figure we looked at you may have seen done before in other dance styles – three Natural Pivots in a row. I know pivoting continuously like this is popular in American Viennese Waltz, but it is crazy fast in International Viennese Waltz. Just like the last figure, you would start by doing half of a Natural Turn, then the three Natural Pivots cover the next three beats of music, then you come out to start another Natural Turn. These pivots are easier to do if you set yourself up to go around a corner before you start, but in an ideal world each pivot would turn you 180° to keep you moving in a straight line.

The last figure, as I mentioned, would be stupid hard to do at full speed. We started off working on it at slow Waltz speed to get things down, but didn’t speed it up much more than that before we ended class. The figure is essentially the three Natural Pivots I just mentioned, followed by a Running Right Turn that goes back into a Natural Turn at the end. Yeah. The Running Right Turn is a lot like what you would see in Quickstep, but since we are in Viennese Waltz the second step has to be syncopated to get all four steps in with only three beats of music. Getting this figure to go in a straight line is nearly impossible at speed, so you would really really want to set this up to go around a corner, otherwise you should just abandon all hope of getting it done. I’m sure with time, patience and practice someone will eventually be the first to get it to go in a straight line while looking effortless during a competition, but that probably won’t be me. Who knows though? Maybe I can be the second person to do it.

Look at that, another week is already past. We are quickly running out of weeks in 2018! What are your plans for this weekend? There are a couple of dance parties that I’m thinking about going to if I manage to get my act together. I feel like I haven’t really seen many people lately, so I’m going to try my best to change that. I’m never at home, but even when I’m out and about I don’t feel like I see all that many people. How weird is that?

There’s No Need To Ask Directions If You Ever Lose Your Mind

Man, Saturday night… Saturday night… you know what? Let’s have a bit of a discussion for a few minutes, because some things from Saturday night are driving me a bit nuts.

Friday night and Saturday morning I was having kind of a grumpy time, so on Saturday I decided to get out of the house and go to a movie, get some dinner and then go to a dance party to try to turn things around. I went and saw a movie that was childish and hilarious to make myself laugh, and then ate a bunch of food that wasn’t exactly made out of items from my normal strict diet when I’m doing a bunch of weight training, and then I headed out to the Electric Dance Hall because I had heard that a party was going to be happening there that night. When I got there, Lord Junior had just started giving a class in East Coast Swing, and there were more women than men, so I changed my shoes quickly and jumped in the line to help out.

I didn’t recognize a lot of the women that I danced with during the class. I thought it was just me at first, since it has been a long time since I have been to a social dance like this, but when I started talking to the ladies I found out that many of them hadn’t been dancing for long, and more than a couple of them were just coming out for the first time that night. Then I didn’t feel quite so bad for not recognizing them. There were a lot of young, single, attractive ladies at this party, and I was actually quite surprised that HotDog wasn’t around that night. He always seems to show up for parties when young, single, attractive ladies are in attendance and then proceeds to be a creep trying to hit on them all night. I would have thought that his warning system would have been going off, telling him that he was missing out.

(What would he call his warning system? Babe-dar? Hottie-sense? I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere that I’m missing…)

But even though HotDog wasn’t there to bother these young ladies that night, there were two other culprits that were doing the bothering in his place. One of those men I have actually written about before. It took me a bit to find it, but remember Mr. Grouchy-Face? Yeah, he was one of the two. The other guy was actually given a nickname by a couple of the girls that night. They were calling him ‘Vader’ because he was really tall and they didn’t think he was very pleasant. I’m sure you can figure out the reference. The name was funny to me, so I’m going to use it here.

I don’t know exactly what it was that these two guys were doing, but it was creepy enough to make these young women avoid them. They were even hiding from them. Seriously! Let me tell you, there were several points during the few hours that I was at this party that I actually had women hiding behind me, as if I were a tree or something. Not just one or two women, but several of them used me as a shield to avoid one or the other of these two men throughout the evening as the guys were walking around looking for a partner to dance with when a new song came on.

Beast mode.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a part of me that felt really good being used like that. After all, A) that tells me that through all the heavy weight lifting I have done, I have gotten to be huge enough that women can hide from view behind me, which makes me feel like a total beast, and B) what man doesn’t like the white knight feeling of helping out a woman in need? But it also makes me feel terrible as a guy when I hear that other guys are making these girls feel this way.

It’s unfortunate that there are so many fewer men in the ballroom community than there are women, because that allows guys like these to develop a overinflated sense of importance through lack of competitive selection pressure. A lot of women will avoid directly confronting these men and telling them how they feel, because the women just want a chance to dance with someone during the evening rather than sitting out on the sidelines. I have heard the complaints from lots of ladies, because I can dance and talk to them at the same time (it’s a skill, like walking and chewing gum), and the women will tell me that there are some men that they don’t like dancing with very much. Yet I still sometimes see those same ladies accept dances with the men they complained about if offered.

Another complaint that I have heard about often over the many years that I have been dancing (I’m getting old, aren’t I?) is of older men who must feel like it is their duty to teach things to younger ladies at a social dance, even if the lady did not ask for the instruction. It’s one thing to repeat a figure that didn’t go so well if the lady asks you to try it again, but it’s something else entirely to pull her aside during or after a song to try to impart your knowledge to her, especially while her eyes are darting back and forth like a cornered prey animal that is trying to find an escape route.

The worst case of this I ever saw was a few years ago. An International Viennese Waltz came on, and people who wanted to do the dance started to pair off and take to the floor. One guy went over to a young girl and asked her if she wanted to do the dance with him. She said no, not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t know how to do Viennese Waltz. A pretty valid reason for turning him down, one would think. Right?

Wrong. Rather than go off to find another partner, this guy decided that he would show her how to dance the Viennese Waltz, and began to teach it to her right in the line of dance! He wasn’t following the line of dance however, just going back and forth on one of the short walls, stopping to talk to the girl when she invariably did the steps wrong. Other couples, many who were not all that good with floorcraft, were forced to try to go around the stopped couple to avoid having a collision. It was really a dangerous situation. Luckily no one got hurt, but that could have ended very badly.

I don’t want to stereotype here, but all of the times that I see this sort of ‘unrequested teaching’ occur, it always seems to be old men trying to teach young ladies things. I wonder why that is? Is it because these men feel good about themselves when they get to impart their knowledge to the next generation? Is it because the women closer to their age don’t allow these men to instruct them, while younger women will often naturally defer to their elders and just go along with it to avoid confrontation? Is there some kind of fantasy going on in the older guy’s head about having a hot young lady, who he would normally never be able to date, giving him her full attention for the duration of the song and possibly afterward until another man comes to take her away for a dance?

I’m a firm believer that a social dance is not a place to try to give instruction, especially if your partner did not ask for help. I might be able to spot you an exception if someone asks you to help them and the two of you retreat off the floor so that you can show them what they want to know, but the middle of a social dance floor should really be off limits. And if your partner doesn’t ask you for help, you shouldn’t put forth the effort to try and be a teacher. Also, if their body language says that they don’t want to be there with you, you should just leave them alone and go find someone else to dance with.

That last point… I cringe sometimes when I see young ladies dancing with a guy like Vader, and their body language makes it super obvious that they don’t want to be there anymore. One time I saw him trying to dance a Latin dance – had to be a Rumba or a Merengue – with two different young ladies at once. Both of them had a look on their face that was more like a grimace than a smile, and shortly after that dance was over one of those women left the party entirely.

Are a lot of men clueless about facial expressions and body language? It looked really obvious to me, but I don’t know how Vader missed that. Plus, there were two ladies giving those looks, so that means he had twice the number of opportunities to pick up on it! If I saw my partner making a face like that, I would have to ask them what’s up because I would know that something is not making her happy. After all, the three major rules about social dancing that I was taught were A) to keep my Follower safe, B) keep her  secure and C) keep her entertained. Body language is a great cue to tell me whether I am succeeding at rule C or not.

Doesn’t that feel like common knowledge? This makes me wonder if some people need classes on dance etiquette, where points like this would be discussed. Maybe something that seems like common sense to me just doesn’t cross other people’s minds. Even simple things like keeping your dance contained to keep other dancers near you safe. That seems like an obvious thing that I should always be doing at a social dance, but I know a few dancers who will do dangerous things, like always throwing out their arms behind them when doing New Yorkers no matter how crowded the dance floor is. Can they really not see that as a potential hazard? Should there be a class that tells you not to do things like that unless you know the space around you is clear?

Anyway… I got a bit sidetracked. What was I talking about before? Oh yeah… to top it all off (and this one’s a doozy), I was told a story at the end of the night on Saturday from one girl. For a little background, this girl had decided to start dancing only about two months ago, as she told me. Not being able to afford private lessons on her salary, she has been going to the newcomer group classes and picking things up as best that she can. She told me that dancing was something that she always loved to watch, and this summer she finally felt brave enough to go out and give it a try to see if she could do more than just watch from the sidelines. Good for her, right?

At the dance party that evening, Vader asked her to dance with him. I’m not sure what style they were doing, but keep in mind that this girl has only had two months of beginner classes at the Electric Dance Hall since she started dancing. The beginner classes that the Electric Dance Hall holds teach the same dance style for the whole month, and this girl has only gone to one class a week, so as far as my math knows, she would have had real experience with two just different dance styles from the beginner classes, plus that crash in East Coast Swing she got in the class right before the party that night started.

After the dance she did with Vader was over, apparently he told her as they were walking off the floor that the dance did not go well. He said that she needed to go home and watch some videos on the Internet to learn the basics of the dance styles before he would ever dance with her again.

Noooooooo… I can’t believe what I’m hearing!

Yeah. He really told her that. What. An. Ass.

Seriously, what in the world is going through his brain that made him think it would be OK to say that to any dance partner he has, let alone a young girl who is still a dance newcomer? Why in the world does he think that he is such a good dancer, and thus allowed to pass judgement on others at a social dance?

Ugh… he was lucky that the girl told me about this at the end of the night after Vader had already gone home. If he had still been around, I probably would have been tempted to go over and break off his robotic hand before frying him with some lightning… or something like that. Hopefully that joke works. I’m pretty sure that’ happened in the movie. Honestly, I think I was a teenager the last time I saw it, so I could be totally wrong. But please don’t yell at me if I’m wrong! My nerd credentials are probably very different from yours, and I’m OK with that.

Anyway… other dance stuff happened this week, but this has been consuming my thoughts since Saturday night. Writing it all out helps, so hopefully it will all be laid to rest now (at least until the next time some guy does something stupid that really bothers me). I did go back through and proofread this and added in a bunch of jokes that hopefully make this post sound less angry, because my first draft felt awfully bitter. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled discussion of dance events next week. Until then, keep dancing!

And guys – let’s all promise each other that we will be good Leaders this week. Maybe working together we can make up for these few bad eggs that are out there.