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!

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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.

Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair

For me, the dance parts of last weekend that are worth mentioning started with a party on Saturday night. As I mentioned, my Royal Dance Court group was hosting our monthly dance party that evening, and to start the night off we had asked the best Shag dancer that you’ll probably ever meet, Mr. Rubber-legs, to come by and teach a class to anyone interested. As usually happens when we advertise that we are going to have a Shag lesson, a lot of people were interested, so the dance floor was packed.

Before we get going, I invite you to take a moment with me to quietly get all of the ‘60s British spy jokes about Shag out of your system………… yeah, baby.

Moving on. Where was I… right. I’ve been to a few classes taught by Mr. Rubber-legs before when my Royal Dance Court gang has invited him to teach for us in the past. The class he does is interesting, but always starts off the same way. I know that he holds classes of his own for beginners and more advanced Shag dancers in another location during the week, so I think that he takes opportunities like the one my Royal Dance Court presented to him that night to introduce people to Shag and to his teaching style, let them watch how rubbery his legs get when he dances, and then invite them to come to his normal classes if they want to know more.

Most of the class involved Mr. Rubber-legs discussing the history of Shag and showing everyone how to do two figures, the basic footwork pattern and a lady’s Underarm Turn. For some reason, Mr. Rubber-legs wanted to teach the class with everyone lined up in a straight line down the middle of the room, which made for reeeeeeeally tight quarters for dancing as the class progressed. I saw one lady get elbowed in the face by the lady next to her at one point in the class, which gives you an idea of how tight the quarters were. There may have been other people bumping forcefully into each other that I didn’t see, and that wouldn’t surprise me.

Much like most dance parties that my Royal Dance Court gang puts together, we ended up with more women than men attending, so I had to jump into the class to try to help even out the ratio a little. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced Shag, so I had totally forgotten the positions of the feet in the basic pattern (it’s just different enough from East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing to require you to see it once or twice), but it was easy enough to pick back up once I saw Mr. Rubber-legs go through it again. The lady’s turn was pretty much the same as West Coast Swing, so I could do that one easily just by watching it once too.

Close to the end of the class time, once Mr. Rubber-legs was sure that everyone was able to do the two figures that he had started with correctly, he ramped up the speed and gave out information on a third, more complicated figure, and then a variation of that figure right at the end that he only showed people by doing it himself, because he didn’t have time to actually teach it to anyone. The third figure started off in Handshake Hold and involved bringing the lady into something like Sweetheart position, with the Lead’s right arm up over the lady’s right shoulder. You would start doing the footwork for a normal basic while in this position, and halfway through you roll the lady out in front of you. If you are really cool, you could have the lady do a double turn while you rolled her out, though some of the women I danced with said that spinning twice like that made them dizzy.

The variation involved the guy turning around after he rolled the lady out, so that she was now looking at his back. Mr. Rubber-legs called this a ‘Trail’ – you know, because the lady is trailing the guy. It wasn’t too hard of a position to turn into, and the footwork that he was doing was just the steps for the basic pattern as far as I could see, but I was on the far side of the room while he was demonstrating this variation to the class and like I said, he never explained it to us, so don’t quote me on the footwork if anyone asks when you try it for yourself. 😉

After class was over, the rest of the dance party was mostly uneventful. Mr. Rubber-legs stuck around for a little while to dance and talk with people, but left at some point before the night was half over. For the most part, I tried to stay behind the scenes taking care of things to make the party go smoothly, aside from going out a few times during the evening to dance some ballroom styles with Sparkledancer. Events like this are the closest thing to practicing floorcraft for a competition that we can do, so try to get out on the floor right after the song starts and dance one lap around before everyone else gets on the floor and things get crazy with all the social dancers doing different stuff.

(I mean different like the people who dance Argentine Tango during a Tango and don’t stay in the middle of the floor, or who were dancing Shag during a Foxtrot. They tend to make it dangerous to dance with my competitive partner and really move around the floor without having to stop all the time to avoid people)

There was one encounter in particular during this party that was pretty weird for me. I was in the back of the room, working on refilling the container of water for all the guests, when the DJ announced that an International Viennese Waltz was next. I didn’t think anything of it, since I was busy at the moment, and by the time I finished the song had already been going on for a bit and I didn’t want to find Sparkledancer and just jump in. Well, a lady that I had never seen before saw me standing on the side of the room and came over to ask if I wanted to try the Viennese Waltz with her.

Now Viennese Waltz, much like Quickstep, is not one of those dances that is a good idea for newcomers, and since I had never seen this lady before and she had asked me if I wanted to ‘try’ the Viennese Waltz with her, red flags went up in my mind. I had to ask her if she knew how to do International Viennese Waltz before I just took her out onto the floor with everyone else. She gave me a wishy-washy response and shrugged her shoulders, which did not make me feel any better about doing this.

I told her that this one was the faster version of Viennese Waltz and she wouldn’t get to open up and do fancy turns like they have in American Viennese Waltz. She seemed shocked by that, but still wouldn’t give me a straight answer as to whether she had even done Viennese Waltz before. Finally, when I saw that she was just going to be difficult and wasn’t going to leave me, I relented, even with all the voices in my head screaming that this was a bad idea. I waited for an opening on the floor and then took her out there, and prayed that things would be alright.

Lucky for me, the song only lasted about another ninety seconds, or about a loop and a half around the floor. When I walked her back to the side and then parted ways, she seemed happy enough, because she was all smiles. Sparkledancer caught me though as I was heading over to the other side of the room and told me that it looked like the woman was just running to keep up with me, because I was staying on time with the song and Sparkledancer said that my partner’s footsteps were not. That kind of made me feel bad. I didn’t feel my partner struggling to keep up, but she wasn’t that heavy of a woman, so was I really just inadvertently dragging her through everything? Sigh…

On Sunday afternoon I met up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella again for work. Even though these sessions are mainly meant for the girls to work on girl things, I feel like I work really hard while I’m there, because I always end up all sweaty and gross by the time we finish up, while both girls still look nice. I wonder why that is? That’s just a random observation I had during this session.

Anyway… we started off looking at the Tango again. The notes that I have from the Tango are pretty much all things that Lady Tella was telling Sparkledancer. Let’s see, she mentioned that in general she wanted to see Sparkledancer work on getting her position even more to the left around me – almost to the point that she would be on my right hip. During the Back Corte, she wanted Sparkledancer to work on creating even more volume (though I think that is going to be a constant request until her hair is dragging on the floor). She also said that anytime that we are in Promenade Position or doing a Reverse Turn that Sparkledancer should be pulling her left elbow outward to help keep her shoulder down.

When we got to looking at the Natural Promenade Turn (Promenade Pivot), Lady Tella made a comment that I thought was funny. She was trying to explain to Sparkledancer how she wanted her to slow down the turn of her head between positions, so she brought up a carnival game for comparison. Have you ever been to a carnival and seen the game where they have the clown heads in the middle that are slowly rotating with their mouths open, and you have to throw a ball into the mouth as it goes by? That’s what Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to rotate her head like. This comparison may have resulted in a few attempts where Sparkledancer was keeping her mouth open while turning her head, but since my own head is looking away from her during the figure, I cannot completely confirm or deny this.

Finally in the Tango we looked at the Right-side Lunge in the corner again, so that Lady Tella could see how our practice with the figure was coming along. She just wanted to have Sparkledancer make a few minor adjustments to the position that she was in while holding the lunge – chest forward more, head back more, keep hips more level, and be sure not to tilt. Minor adjustments, am I right?

At the end of our session, just to break things up a bit, Lady Tella had us switch over to look at the Quickstep a little so that she could see how that has been coming along with our practice as well. Overall the Quickstep was fairly strong, and there weren’t a lot of spots that Lady Tella felt like she had to point out for either of us to be aware of. She did mention that she wanted us to be aware of the amount of volume between us any time that we were rotating (which we do a lot more in the Quickstep than we do in Tango). Not really a major issue, just something to be aware of.

For me specifically, she said that during some of the rotations she was seeing me do a slight head tilt when I started turning. It wasn’t something that I did all the time, but sometimes she could see it. That was a frustrating thing to try to go over, because the times she did see it when we repeated a turning figure over and over again, I couldn’t feel any movement in any of my upper body, but she saw it. Also, according to her the movement is very slight, but it is enough that she can see something happening. So yeah, that’s something that I have to look at somehow. Joy.

Latin Technique class this week was sadly hilarious for me. I’m not sure what in the world was going on. Either my legs were too tired to work right, or my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but I was having trouble getting things right for most of the class. I would describe it as being… hilariously inept. Luckily I managed to pull it together by the end of class and get through without problems, but man it was rough getting there. Also I got made fun of a lot by Lord Junior, which made things so much better. I deserved it though. Everybody needs to have a bad dance day once in a while, right?

At the beginning we got to warm up a little by practicing different types of Latin dance turning movements on both legs. We started off by going through a basic Spot Turn, which is the normal type of turn you see in Rumba or Cha-Cha, and then we looked at a Switch Turn, which you can do in Rumba but most of the time you only see people doing in Cha-Cha. After that Lord Junior had us look at the turn that the ladies do in an Alemana. Guys don’t usually do a lot while ladies are going through an Alemana, so I got to try the lady’s footwork for this turn. I think I did pretty OK, if I do say so myself.

Lord Junior wanted to work with the class on Samba that night, so right from the get-go I knew this class wasn’t going to cover material that I liked. I don’t know why, but Samba just isn’t something I’m fond of. Lord Junior told us that recently he had been working with several of his competitive ladies on Solo Spot Voltas, and based on how that was going he wanted to give this class a chance to practice them as well. To begin this section, he gave us a basic combination of Volta movements to work on so that we could all make sure we got the Cuban Cross action correct.

We did four Voltas going straight to the side, four that continued in that direction but curved widely for half a circle, then four Spot Voltas that turned 180° each. By the time you finished, you were supposed to be on the other side of the dance floor (depending on how much you could travel) facing the opposite direction from where you started. Then we repeated all of those steps going the other way, to put us right back where we started. This part of class was easy enough, and I managed to get through all the figures just fine.

After that we paired off to do Solo Spot Voltas, and here is where things went downhill. To start, the Leader stood in front of his partner with our left hand flat against their right, and our feet in a Cuban Cross (left foot behind). We did four Solo Spot Voltas that also turned 180° each going to the left (Follow’s right) first. After the fourth, the Lead would bring up their right hand to stop their partner, then we would do another four going the other way. Sounds simple enough, right?

I think the thing that was throwing me off was the first action that you do. As you start turning for the first Spot Volta, your feet should just stay on the floor and you rotate. The next Volta action is where one foot has to move while the other stays planted on the floor as your pivot point. This worked great for the first four, but when you stop turning one way and change directions, if you forget to just leave your feet down and rotate, moving your legs throws everything off. All of us in class seemed to have trouble with this action at first, but it took me the longest to actually get it into my brain to do it correctly.

To finish out the class, Lord Junior gave us a simple progression to work on. He had us do the four and four Solo Spot Voltas in two directions, then two slow Voltas that traveled down the line of dance, and we finished with four Samba Locks. As we started this progression, I was still having trouble getting my feet to do the right actions with the Solo Spot Voltas, so I was flailing around a bit, which Lord Junior thought was funny.

Eventually he had us start doing the progression with music. I could do it correctly when the music was really slow, but when it sped up to like 85% my footwork just fell apart. Right before letting us go Lord Junior decided to amuse himself by having us do things to full speed. Suddenly, when the music was fast and I didn’t have time to think, I could do the footwork right every time. That made me feel kind of dumb, to be honest. I guess that I am just not a medium speed kind of person when it comes to Samba. Slow or fast only is what makes it work for me.

On Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class to look at some Waltz. Much like last week’s class on Tango, this week we also looked at a little bit of American Waltz and a little bit of International Waltz. Lord Junior is still working on studying for his certification tests for American Smooth, which is why he goes through these things with us. He admitted to all of us last night though that the studying is going slowly for him, because he cares so little for American Smooth it just doesn’t hold his interest. He did say that it is going better than his study of American Rhythm, which he cares for even less. Poor guy…

The first figure we looked at was from the American syllabus, called an Open Right Turn. It’s a misleading figure though, because it’s actually three different figures strung together and given an all new name. By the book the Open Right Turn is a Basic Twinkle into an Open Natural Turn, finishing with an Open Impetus and Feather Ending. Yeah, if you read that list it does sound a lot like Foxtrot, doesn’t it? Would you be surprised if I told you that you could also do this Open Right Turn in Foxtrot with a slight change in the timing and rise-and-fall? Because you can.

After we all seemed to have the figure down, Lord Junior changed it up to give us a second variation of the Open Right Turn. Pulling out the Open Impetus and Feather Ending, we replaced it with a Progressive Chasse to the Right while turning the lady to the outside, and finishing with a Développé. To close, the guys would step back onto their right leg and finish a normal box step while turning the ladies in front of us.

At the end of the Open Right Turn (whichever variation you so desire), we added on a couple more figures to keep the fun going. We did a Syncopated Fallaway next, which if you did the Open Right Turn variation and were still apart from your partner you would close back to dance position during. Following the Fallaway we did an Outside Spin from International Waltz, and to close we did a basic Natural Turn. The ending was a lot of fun, because you could get a lot of rotation going through the Outside Spin which would almost throw you through the Natural Turn. I thought that was the most exciting part.

That’s all the notes I have for this past week. As for this upcoming week, I think that most of it is going to be focused on practice. After all, the weekend after next I will be competing, so I have to make sure I’m ready. However… I heard of this class on West Coast Swing moves being offered this weekend, and I think I’m going to go to that. It’s been a long time since I’ve put any focus into West Coast Swing, and I do like that dance style a lot, so I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to pick up something new. That should be fun, right? Or at least different. We’ll see what happens!