All Around, Things To Tantalize My Brain

For this week I’ll probably limit what I talk about here to what happened over the weekend, since there is so much information to cover from just Friday and Saturday…

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the famous ballroom dancing weekend extravaganza that is held annually at the Grand Dance Hall. They make a point of bringing in some fabulous dinners to serve to the attendees, hold formal dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights with a live orchestra providing the music, and offer some pretty fun workshops for both beginner and advanced students during the day on Saturday. This year marked my fifth time attending the October-weekend festivities, because I happen to find it so entertaining.

I made the hour+ drive out to the Grand Dance Hall mid-afternoon Friday, hoping to get there with a little extra time before the welcome reception started so that I could find a place to change into my formal attire. I’ve made the long drive while wearing a suit the first few years and it is super-uncomfortable, so I just don’t do it anymore. Once I had found a quiet corner to change into my formal attire and stowed my street clothes back in my car, I met up with the small group of people I knew by the dance floor to begin the evening’s events.

The main dance hall was opened up an hour before dinner would be served to allow everyone to come in, mingle a bit, eat some snacks that were set out at the back of the room, and even partake of a few adult beverages from the cash bar if that was your thing. A quartet of musicians was playing some dance tunes during the reception, giving everyone a chance to take to the dance floor and begin warming up their legs before the bigger dance party that would start after dinner, when the rest of the orchestra would join the quartet.

Not recognizing too many people at the reception, I stuck with the ladies that I did know when I went out to dance. The times that I went out to dance with Sparkledancer were apparently very noticeable to others in attendance. Near the end, just before the group I was in began wandering off to get some dinner, people started to approach either Sparkledancer or I and ask us if we were dance instructors, or if we were in fact THE dance instructors who would be teaching the workshops the next day. That was a bit strange.

One gentleman approached me and told me that I made him look bad by looking so good. I laughed and apologized to him for that, thinking he was just joking around. He then got quite serious and asked if I would be attending the workshops the next day. When I told him that I would be there, he asked me if I would be able to help him out if he got stuck on anything during the classes. I was really surprised by that question. Of course I told him I would do the best that I could, but it still surprised me that someone would go out of their way to ask me in advance for assistance with dance figures. I’ve never had that happen before.
Dinner was a delight, as always. The food that they bring in for the event always seems really extravagant compared to what I normally eat. I even had a fancy dessert, which is the part of any meal that I rarely (if ever) partake of. Around nine o’clock, the orchestra began to play and we all made our way back out to the dance floor to dance for a few more hours and burn off all those calories that we had consumed. Hooray!

Making my way back to the Grand Dance Hall early on Saturday morning to attend the first workshop being offered, I got to work on Tango for a while. These workshops that they hold are to give people new choreography to work on, rather than to focus on technique. This is a nice change of pace for me from what the lessons I normally attend focus on, so I was having fun.

The choreography we learned was fairly easy to put together if you’d seen all the figures individually before, and because we never broke frame you could theoretically use this when dancing both International or American Tango. I see it as more of an American Tango progression though, but that’s just my take on the matter.

We began facing diagonal wall and did two basic curved Walk steps. Next we attached a 180° pivot to the left and went into a Back Corte. Coming up from that, we did another 180° pivot to left and led the lady to do an Outside Fan, ending with a three-step-close like you see in American Tango. Next we did a Reverse Turn, closing our feet at the end, and then a Contra Check. At the end of the Contra Check we went into a Cobra Fan (another figure from the American Tango syllabus). When we close lady from the second Outside fan portion of that figure, we did two 180° pivots turning to the right this time, finishing with another three-step-close from American Tango to put you facing diagonal wall once more.

Next up of the three workshops offered that day was a Cha-Cha lesson. Everyone in attendance got a brief ten minute break after finishing up the Tango to prepare, and then we got to work immediately. Much like the Tango, the choreography wasn’t all that hard to remember if you had seen all of the individual figures before. Based on how everything was put together, I would guess that you could also do this pattern in Rumba with some minor variations.

The instructor had us begin by doing a full basic, mostly to get everyone’s mind out of Tango and into Cha-Cha. At the end of the basic as you chasse’d back to the left, the Lead would drop the lady’s arm down  to waist level. This set you up to push the lady backward into a diagonal Lock Step as we would do a chasse back to the right. With the lady moved away from us, we then did a Slip Chasse as we brought her back forward, which would make her do another Lock Step. Once we were back together, we led her into a Underarm Turn on left side, then a pair of Cross-Over Breaks, one right, one left, and then a set of Cuban Breaks on the right side.

Finished with the Cuban Breaks, we went into Solo Spot Turns on the left side. one last Cross-Over Break on the right, and in place of the next chasse both the Lead and Follow did a Three-Step Turn to the left. At the end of all that spinning, we linked hands to do two steps backward and then a backward Lock Step, ending in Aida position. To finish the whole progression, both partners turned to face each other, did a Stationary Chasse, and then we led the lady through a Cross Body Lead, releasing her at the end to lead her into one final Spot Turn on the left side.

We broke for an hour at that point so that everyone could grab lunch. When we all got back together, it was time for the last workshop of the day, which covered East Coast Swing. In this amalgamation we once more started out with a full basic movement to help everyone change mental gears, then transitioned into a Continuous Tuck-In with a full turn at the end. As the lady is turning, the Lead should back away so that she completes the turn out away from you, ending up in the position she would take to begin the Sliding Doors figure.

The next figure is kind of like the Sliding Doors, but not. You would bring your partner in front of you as normal, but stop her with your right hand when she gets directly in front of your body. Here you would lean from side to side, first to the left, then right, then repeat, while the lady leans in the opposite direction (right then left x2). This creates what the instructor described as a ‘Peek-A-Boo’ effect. If you know your partner pretty well, you can place your opposite hand on her waist as you lean – this is not a requirement on the first three leans, but on the fourth one you will need to place your left hand on your partner to signal the finish.

Using your left hand, you will lead the lady to turn to the left and roll away from you while you do a full basic movement. She can either do a half-turn, or one-and-a-half turns, depending on how much she likes spinning. After the next rock step you will take both of your partner’s hands in your own and lead her to step forward as you do, getting really close to each other and there hold for a beat. Then each of you will take a step back and hold there as well for a beat. To finish everything up, you do two Sailor Shuffles (right then left), lead the lady through a Underarm Turn, both partners go through Solo Turns, and then you can catch her hand once more to go into whatever you want next.

That all seems pretty normal for workshops at the Grand Dance Hall, right? So what was different about this year, to make my fifth time coming to this event special? Well, I’m not sure what I was doing differently, but it seemed like this year a whole bunch of people really wanted to approach me and ask for my help on how to do all the figures that the instructors were going over that day. I felt like I must have had some sort of neon sign hanging over my head that read “HELPFUL!” or something, drawing people over to ask me things when the instructors were busy with other people..

Remember that gentleman that I met at the reception who asked me if I would be willing to help if he got stuck? He actually got stuck, so I definitely had him approach me early on in the Tango class. What he forgot to mention at the reception was that he had come to the weekend’s events with a whole group of dancers from his home dance studio, and apparently he had told all of them about both Sparkledancer and I. So on top of him coming and asking me for help, other men from his group also asked me for help when they got stuck, and I could see women from that same group collecting around Sparkledancer on the other side of the room to ask her for help too.

When the instructors wanted the men and women to practice the figures together during class, Sparkledancer and I ended up frequently getting shepherded together so that the whole gang could stand around and watch as we demonstrated how the pieces worked with a partner. When these people felt confident enough to try things out with a partner from their group, they would ask either Sparkledancer or I to watch them to validate they got everything right, or if they got stuck they asked us to step through the trouble spots with them until they got things right.
On top of that, being the center of attention of these ten people in one corner of the dance floor started to attract the attention of others in the workshops, and soon we had even more people who would stop either one of us for assistance too! One older gentleman even came and found me during the morning and said that he took a lot longer to process the figures than most people, so he asked my permission to record me walking through the steps so that he could use the video to learn at his own pace.

I agreed to his request, of course. Not wanting to be in some stranger’s video all on my own though, I made Sparkledancer be in the video with me. That allowed him to see how the steps were done with a partner.  To be even more helpful, I also talked through what I was doing as I did the steps – I thought having some kind of audio cues could help keep confusion to a minimum when he watched the video in the future. He thanked me profusely when we finished.

With so many people talking to me all through the classes, I ended up cutting out of the East Coast Swing lesson a bit early to go find a secluded spot to collect my thoughts. It had been kind of an overload to talk to so many people, and while helping people is always thoroughly enjoyable, I needed a little bit of quiet time to reset afterward.

Once the workshops were over and done with on Saturday, the main dance hall was closed off so that the staff could prepare the room for that night’s final reception before dinner, and prepare for the dance party afterward. However, there was a smaller room closer to the front of the building that was opened up as a practice hall for anyone who wanted to use the few free hours that afternoon for practice. I was only too eager to get some extra practice in, so I wandered around until I found Sparkledancer and convinced her to come with me.

The dance floor in this practice room was much smaller than I had hoped for, so Sparkledancer and I ended up just running through pieces of our Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot routines for about 45 minutes until the floor really limited what we wanted to practice. I noticed that the back wall of the room had a mirror attached to it that hung about chest height for me over a carpeted section of the room. Limited on space to dance big steps, I suggested to Sparkledancer that we spend a little time working on something that was a bit more stationary instead: the lift for our upcoming showcase routine.

The last section of the lift I already felt pretty good about, so we just ran through that a couple of times and called that good. This time around I wanted to work on making sure we mastered the first section, because that would be where I get her off the ground as the whole thing starts. Basically, without going into too much detail, I end up crouching down as low as I can go with my feet still under me, then I help Sparkledancer hop up onto my right shoulder and stand up again with her sitting there facing behind me. The mirror on the wall was actually really helpful for this, because as I stood I could see how she was sitting without having to turn my head, using that view to help me figure things out.
There were a couple of important notes that we worked out while going through this section. Getting Sparkledancer up like that was the easy part – as I’ve said, she’s pretty light, and I’m positioned in such a way when we start that I can use both my legs to lift myself and her, so that’s no problem. The first note is that I needed to make sure that she hops up onto my shoulder so that her right hip ends up right where my shoulder starts to curve up to my neck. If she’s seated too far over to the right, she’s liable to start sliding off the rounded end of my shoulder and down my right arm as I begin to stand.

The second big thing we found out was that Sparkledancer really needed to remain engaged in her core the whole time while up off the ground. For the second part of the lift, I need to be able to move around with her up there, and then I start to manipulate her position with my arms. If she is loose and wiggling around, trying that becomes difficult. Funny, but difficult. Keeping her core in place to keep her solid and steady fixes that issue.

Finally, there’s the arms. When I stand up, I have my right arm bent at a 90° angle so my hand is behind her back, and my left hand is holding her right hand to keep her stable as I stand up. Once up, I must be able to let go and start moving my hands to their new positions for the next section, so I can’t rely on just holding Sparkledancer in place. Once I reposition my hands under her right arm and left leg for the next section, my arms become useful again, but there is that brief moment where I do actually have to move them and can’t hold on that can be a bit scary. As we tried things out, the first few times either I or Sparkledancer were holding on too tight to move my arms at all, which caused all sorts of problems.

We ended up stopping there for the day, promising to work on the middle section later. That part will involve a lot of rotation of her body and lifting on my part, but she ends up behind my head, so I wanted to keep things safe. For that piece we will have to do our initial tests somewhere where I can have a big cushion available for Sparkledancer to drop into if something goes really awry. I don’t expect anything to be terrible, but just like I mentioned before, safety is always rule #1 when doing lifts, especially during the learning phase.

Plus, I think word had gotten out that Sparkledancer and I were practicing this overly athletic dance move, and people kept poking their heads in to see what we were up to. Fellow dancers spying on us was unnerving enough, but when members of the staff started doing it I thought it might be best to call it quits for the day. I didn’t want anyone who worked for the Grand Dance Hall to start having conniptions about me letting a girl sit on my shoulder as I walked around the room…

Saturday night’s reception was a lot like Friday night’s, though many of the attendees broke out attire for the evening that was even more formal than what was worn the night before. The same four piece band provided the music during the reception, though their tempos seemed to run a bit looser in their interpretations of the songs than what they had performed the night before. It was an entertaining time, and I got to eat a plate of super fancy cheese slices on top of that!

The dance party that night after dinner was the big one – the last chance to pull out all the stops and leave everything out on the dance floor. The set list that the orchestra had picked out for the evening did leave a lot to be desired, but that’s just my own take on things. To me it felt like they only played Waltz, Foxtrot, East Coast Swing and Cha-Cha songs that night. There were a couple of other styles interspersed in occasionally, but those were very rare. I think during the few hours they played they did only one Rumba, I know they only did one Tango, and there were no Viennese Waltz numbers at all. There was one song that I heard as a familiar Quickstep tune, but a bunch of dancers took the floor early on and started to dance Swing instead, and many were all in the line of dance instead of in the middle, so Quickstep would have been super dangerous.
Overall this year was another really good time, and I snagged a flyer on the way out that night that contained the sign-up sheet for next year’s event. I’ve already mailed in my form along with the down payment to reserve my spot, so I’ll for sure be back next October to party at the Grand Dance Hall once again. Do you all want to come along with me? We could make it into an even bigger party! Just let me know and I can send you a link to all the information you’ll need to reserve your spot too!

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I Was Lightning Before The Thunder

Another busy weekend for me, though this time it was because I was actually competing. All of that work over the last several months getting me ready for this one day where… I actually didn’t dance a whole lot. We’ll talk about that later though. Let’s start with the stuff that I did the day before the competition first, just to keep the chronology intact.

I started out on Saturday having a coaching session with Lord Dormamu. Because this was the day before the competition, he wanted to deviate from what we have been working on so that he could have us dance all four of our routines for him to review. Before we started, he sat us down and told us that when we got on the floor for the competition, there was only one thing that each of us should try to remember. With everything else going on during a competition and the adrenaline of competing, trying to remember a bunch of important points would be too much for anyone, so he wanted to narrow everything down to one focal point for each of us.

For me it was posture. Lord Dormamu said that he didn’t care if I were to go out on the floor, throw out my routines and just do basic box steps down the floor – if I could maintain the best posture and frame, that would give me a better score than more than half of the competitors in that round, guaranteed. He said the best thing that I could do was to check my posture constantly. Each of our routines has points where we hesitate briefly, and those would be perfect opportunities to verify that I was still in perfect posture. That was my recommendation.

For Sparkledancer, the idea was volume. More than anything else, Lord Dormamu wanted her to try to create as much volume as possible between the two of us while dancing. Apparently any time she got into position and thought she had incredible volume, he wanted her to try to give more. He demonstrated by having her get into dance frame with me and then manipulating her to bend backward even further. Sparkledancer has told me that she been working on increasing her upper back flexibility for months so that she can bend like this, but it still makes me cringe to watch. My back would not be happy if I tried to get into that pose, since I have too much muscle mass in that area.

With those words of wisdom out of the way, we ran through each of our dances, with Lord Dormamu giving us his thoughts on each style when we finished. For Waltz he wanted me to try to make the rise and fall even more distinct if I could. In Quickstep he said that I needed to make sure to watch the footwork I was doing, because from where he was standing there were a few times he thought I was taking a heel lead when I should have been using my toe, or a toe lead when I should have been using my heel. Some of them were because my foot was closer to being flat against the floor, so it was hard for him to tell what I was really doing. He wanted me to make sure my steps were distinct.

Tango was up next. When we got through dancing the routine once, we talked about the idea of Tango as it relates to Sparkledancer and I. Lord Dormamu said that while it meant something that Sir Steven told us that Tango was our weakest, he had to be careful saying the same thing. Tango was his favorite of the International Standard dances, and also the one he consistently scored the best in when he competed. He said he will always think that our Tango looked weak until he can get me to dance Tango more like he does.

We then went over the suggestions that the Princess gave us in Tango earlier in the week. He liked all of them except one – the placement of my right arm. Lord Dormamu preferred me to bend my arm so that my right hand was further down toward the middle of my partner’s back. He told me that he knows the Princess prefers the arm to be up higher, as she in fact would ask him to move his hand up during the times he has danced Tango with her, but he personally liked the way it looked when the hand is down further. Other than that one change, he promised that after the competition was over, all of us would need to start looking at Tango specifically to fix a number of things, much like we have been doing with Foxtrot.

And that left Foxtrot as the last dance of the day. When we danced through the Foxtrot the first time, I felt like it went pretty bad when compared to the other three dances we had just done. When the song that was playing finished up, I rolled Sparkledancer out and we walked over to where Lord Dormamu was. He asked us what we thought our strongest dance was. Feeling bad about that particular Foxtrot, I said that I thought Waltz was the best of the four, and Sparkledancer nodded in agreement.

Lord Dormamu surprised me by saying that it was definitely the Foxtrot by a large margin. He thought that was good because, according to him, Foxtrot is the most difficult of the International Standard styles. That is why he has been working on it for so long with us, and the results were apparent that day. The only change that he wanted me to make was with the last Change of Direction figure. When I did the figure a few minutes prior, I had ended up between two tables on the floor, and he said that I looked unsure there because of that. He wanted me to make sure to did every step confidently, whether there were tables (or other dancers) around me or not, because I could be marked down if I wavered like that during a competition.

With that, Lord Dormamu finished up with us for the day. Sparkledancer and I had a lesson with Sir Steven scheduled next, so Lord Dormamu called him over to review what we had just done. He let Sir Steven know that he wanted our lesson to focus on making sure that our posture and volume were good, the footwork was correct, and overall our dancing was as clean as possible. We were to treat the lesson as a final supervised practice session before the competition.

For the next hour Sparkledancer and I ran through rounds with Sir Steven, focusing on all the points that Lord Dormamu had commented on. When we messed things up, we would go back to that section after we finished that round to step through it again correctly before moving on to the next dance. By the time we finished up that afternoon, I was feeling pretty good about how everything was looking. I still had some insecurities about the Tango, but I didn’t feel as bad about that style as I had before we had reviewed everything with the Princess.


Sunday was the day when all of the rounds I had signed up for at the competition were being held. That morning as I got up, I quietly thanked Lord Dormamu for telling me not to do Viennese Waltz this time around. Those heats were being held first thing in the morning starting around 08:00, so I would have had to get up hours earlier than I actually did at stupid o’clock in the morning. Someday I’m going to get to know the organizers of competitions, and have a long talk with them about why they feel the need to do Viennese Waltz so early…

I had offered to pick Sparkledancer up and give her a ride to the Dance Death Arena where the competition was being held that morning. She had told me that she was going to get ready at home, and didn’t want to worry about messing up her hair and makeup before dancing, so she was going to put her gown on and wear it to the venue. I thought it might be safer for me to give her a ride than for her to try to drive with the big, poofy gown billowing around her feet.

When we got to the front desk to check in, we gave the lady there our names and she scurried off to find our information packets. While we were waiting for her to return, the gentleman behind the desk asked Sparkledancer and I what college we were from. I paused, trying to figure out how to respond to an out-of-the-blue question like that. When I told him the name of the school I went to, I also let him know that I hadn’t been back there in years, since I had graduated quite a while ago. Sparkledancer told him the same thing, that she graduated from college some years ago as well.

The gentleman seemed truly surprised by that answer, saying that neither of us looked old enough to be out of school. When I told him that I was already in my mid thirties, he sat down on the desk and stared at me with his mouth agape. By then the other lady had found our packets and handed them to us so that we could be on our way. Sparkledancer thanked the man profusely for making her day by saying that she looked so young. I just laughed, because it was kind of funny.

What a strange way to start off a competition, huh?

Wandering around the Dance Death Arena after getting signed in, I didn’t recognize many of the competitors that were there. I did recognize many of the dance instructors that were hanging around with their students, and also many of the people who were either organizers of or volunteers running the competition. I guess my involvement in the world of dance politics introduces me to a very different part of the crowd that you see at events like this. I was a bit surprised by that.

There were a handful of competitors that I did recognize though, so I’m not completely out of touch with that side of the aisle. Two of those were Ms. Possible and her amateur partner, a gentleman named Grampy Snaps. As it turns out, they were actually dancing in one of the categories that Sparkledancer and I were also signed up for, so they would be on the floor with me for half my heats that day. The fact that we were directly competing didn’t seem to bother Ms. Possible that morning, and she was all hugs and smiles as we talked and waited for our first round to start.

Speaking of categories… as I mentioned before, I had signed up for the events in the four styles of Bronze International Standard of two different categories, which meant eight different events for me that day. My first two rounds of dancing were mid-morning, but then I had a really long break, with my other six rounds being stacked close together during what would normally be lunch time. There would be one pause to hand out awards in the morning covering my first two rounds, and then a second awards break mid-afternoon that would wrap up all my other rounds in one go.

Let’s get this out of the way now, since I know everyone is interested: things went really, really well for me that day. I placed much, much better than I had anticipated. Personally, I didn’t think that some of the heats I danced went super good, but apparently the judges didn’t see what I was feeling, because I still scored really high in those dances. Either that or my competitors just had worse rounds than I did. Yay?

The competition in one category I signed up for was significantly lighter than the other. During the rounds I danced where Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps were also on the floor with me, each dance we did was considered the Final because all competitors could fit on the floor at the same time. The other category had many, many more people dancing, with the rounds split into Semi-Final and Finals, and then the Semi-Finals also split into ‘A’ and ‘B’ sections because there were too many people to be on the floor safely at the same time in each Semi-Final.

After the first award ceremony in the morning when I found out I did really well in my first two heats and Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps found out they placed in the middle of the pack, Ms. Possible started to act frostier toward Sparkledancer and I. Before she was all hugs and smiles, but afterward the smiles started to fade and her words became more terse. That continued to get worse as the day went on. Part of that was due to Sparkledancer and I doing better than her and Grampy Snaps during the rounds where we were directly competing, but those two were also dancing in a lot of other categories that day, and in those rounds they ended up scoring in the middle of the pack as well.

She and Grampy Snaps train together under Lord Latin, and he was at the competition to support the group of his students who were all competing that day. I saw that Ms. Possible was monopolizing a lot of Lord Latin’s time, asking for advice and feedback in the hallways and practice room in between each of her rounds. I could see the frustration on the faces of Lord Latin’s other students because none of them were getting any attention with Ms. Possible eating up all of Lord Latin’s time. I heard later that things were made worse when Lord Latin, Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps were watching Sparkledancer and I dance in our other rounds, and Lord Latin was pointing out things that we were doing that he wanted Ms. Possible and Grampy Snaps to emulate to improve their placements.

Yeesh.

Judge Dread was also at the competition that day as a judge, if you can believe that! He was on the floor grading half of my heats that day – just the larger ones, I believe. That actually made me a little nervous. For some reason, dancing in front of and getting judged by a group of people I don’t know doesn’t really bother me, but dancing in front of a judge whom I have talked to quite a bit and who knows who I am does make me nervous. Based on how well I scored that day, I know that he can’t have marked me too bad, so I should just realize that it wasn’t a big deal, but still… I think that was the part of the day that gave me the most anxiety.

I found out after the competition was over that I probably didn’t have much to worry about as far as making the Finals in my larger heats. After the final awards ceremony was over and all the adrenaline had worn off of both Sparkledancer and I, we both realized that and neither of us had eaten in a really long time. Feeling good about our results, I suggested we stop down the street at a restaurant and get a quick lunch to celebrate before I drive her back to her place, which she agreed to.

While we were eating and talking about how things had gone, we saw four dancers come into the establishment that I recognized from our four largest heats earlier. After Sparkledancer and I had finished eating and were about to head out, we stopped to talk to them. We introduced ourselves and made some small talk about how the event had gone for each of us. One of the guys told me specifically that he wasn’t surprised that I had made it into the finals and then placed so well (he didn’t make the final round with his partner). He was amazed that I could dance, smile, and also engage with the crowd while dancing, all without messing up the figures in my routine.

Leaving the restaurant later, that comment really stuck with me. I know that part of the score that we get as dancers is for the ‘performance’ of the dance, which is pretty much all that gentleman was complimenting me on, but I didn’t think that what I was doing was all that extraordinary. After all, those skills – the smiling, talking, interacting with the crowd and just being mildly entertaining – that’s all stuff that I picked up from going out social dancing so much over the years. To me, that was the easy part of everything I did on the dancefloor that day.

So, to sum up the whole experience… how does this all feel? Honestly, I’m more relieved than elated at doing well. I’m not sure if anyone besides me remembers, but once upon a time I made a remark about how I didn’t consider myself a competitive dancer, but rather an “advanced social dancer.” When Lord Dormamu made the offer at the beginning of this year to direct my training and mold me into some sort of world-class competitive dancer because he saw a lot of potential in Sparkledancer and I, I went along with it mostly because I thought it could be fun, not because I actually wanted to compete on a world stage for any reason.

But I have really worked hard at improving since Lord Dormamu has begun pulling the strings of my dance life. I practice much more, and more seriously; I take what all the instructors I work with tell me to heart and really try to incorporate that advice into my dancing; when I do go out social dancing, I don’t really dance ballroom styles with anyone other than Sparkledancer anymore (if she’s there) to avoid falling back on bad habits, and if I do dance ballroom dances socially I use those opportunities with Sparkledancer to practice my routines while also working on the Lead-and-Follow of floorcraft that is essential for dancing safely during any ballroom style.

It has been ten months of work leading up to this competition, and doing as well as I did proves to me that all of that work I’ve done in that time really has made significant improvements in my dancing. That is where the relief comes from. I don’t feel like I need to celebrate doing well, or berate myself for all the things I know that I did wrong that day. I just want to acknowledge that I have actually and legitimately made progress while taking this trip down the ‘super competitor’ path. All of that time (and money, let’s not forget all that money) I’ve invested in this trip has not been in vain.

How’s that for an advanced social dancer?

I’m not the type of person to get into the “Post-Competition Funk” that I’ve read other dancers write about. A competition for me is just another day of dancing during this crazy adventure of mine in the Dance Kingdom. With this competition over, it’s time to get back to work.

After all, the next competition I was told I’m doing is less than a month from now!

I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

I didn’t do much this week. I started to feel kind of like crap on Sunday night, and since there was too much I needed to do at work to stay home and get better, I would suffer through taking medication to make me functional in the office during the day, and then go home and crash. After three days like that, I’m feeling mostly better, thankfully. I did sleep funny last night, so I’ve had this throbbing pain on the right side of my neck all day. Once I get this post all taken care of, I’ll probably go lay on the foam roller for a while to see if I can get some relief in my muscles. Cross your fingers for me!

Last Saturday I had a coaching session scheduled with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, and we spent the whole time looking at Quickstep. Quickstep is one of those dances that I don’t entirely feel good about yet. I don’t feel as bad about Quickstep as I do about Tango though, which even Sir Steven admitted was still our weakest dance style, though we have improved greatly over the last month.

The big problem I have with Quickstep is the fact that it’s hard to practice well, much like Viennese Waltz. When Sparkledancer and I go out to practice during the week, we usually end up practicing in locations where  either A) the floor is smaller, so it is hard to really practice the movement of more than one figure at a time, or B) the floor is big enough, but there are a lot of other people using it, and none of them are doing the same dance style, so practicing Quickstep or Viennese Waltz up to tempo becomes dangerous.

For the most part, things felt pretty good while working on Quickstep that day. Our movement was really good, since Lord Dormamu has been focusing on movement with us. We spent time working on keeping our bodies rotated correctly during the Progressive Chasses that make up the majority of the long wall. Sir Steven told me that my part is easy, since I can pretty much keep my body rotated with a left-side lead after we finish up the Natural Spin Turn at the beginning up until we end with the Hesitation in the far corner. I love it when things seem easy! I’m sure that note will change later, but for now it’s simple to keep in mind!

After cleaning up some minor aspects and letting us run through all of the figures slowly for most of the hour, Sir Steven wanted us to run through the whole thing without stopping. Another instructor giving a lesson across the room was using the music at the time, so I just tapped out a tempo for Sparkledancer using my fingers on her shoulder so we could stay in sync. Just before he let us start dancing, Sir Steven went over to the couch where a different instructor for the Fancy Dance Hall named Sir Bread was sitting and asked him to watch what we were doing as well. That put the pressure on!

Once we finished the first long wall, Sparkledancer and I walked back to the middle of the room where Sir Steven and the other instructor were standing. When I raised my eyebrows in query to get some feedback, Sir Bread laughed and said that he asked Sir Steven after we started dancing why we were moving so fast and why there was no rise-and-fall, because apparently he thought we had been doing Waltz. It wasn’t until we got about halfway through that he realized that we were actually doing Quickstep, and then he felt stupid. We all had a good laugh at his expense, and then Sir Steven asked us to go do it again now that everyone was on the same page.

After the second run-through, Sir Bread commented specifically that our movement was looking really impressive. I may have done a little happy dance upon hearing that. Yay me! He saw a few points where it looked to him like we were rising up too much in the middle of a Progressive Chasse, so he told us to be aware of that. There were also a few points that he mentioned that we might have been breaking body contact, but those he wasn’t entirely sure about because he wasn’t close enough to see for sure, so the just told Sparkledancer and I to keep an eye on that during practice to make sure it isn’t happening.

I did manage to go out to one dance party on Saturday night, so my weekend wasn’t completely ruined by the hurricane passing through the area. Actually, it didn’t seem like we got any rain or wind until Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure why everyone was so freaked out about the storm where I live! Crazy people…

The dance party was supposed to be a semi-formal affair, but I went out to a different event before I made it to the party, so I was just dressed casually. When I got to the dance hall, I saw that Sparkledancer was there too, and she was up at the front talking to the DJ. I went to go put my dance shoes on and wandered over to where they were to say hello.

I found out that the two of them were having a fascinating discussion! Apparently, they both had joined a national ballroom dance-related organization, kind of like I did several weeks ago! They are in a completely different national organization than I am, so we probably won’t ever do anything together, but it was fun to talk dance politics with the two of them. As it turns out, neither Sparkledancer nor the DJ talked to each other before they joined this organization, but somehow the two of them ended up being placed on the same committee, so they would get to work together. How random is that?

Both Sparkledancer and the DJ mentioned that they had the same reservations about the national groups that they were a part of that I did about mine – the organization seems to be run by a bunch of old people who are really out-of-touch with the way that things are run nowadays. From what they told me, their national organization also has its priorities all out of whack, since they view the social dancers and the competitive dancers as two distinct groups of people, yet the membership dues that they collect from the social dancers are primarily funneled into the coffers for competitions that they host across the country instead of being put back into the social dance community.

That news obviously opens up a whole discussion can of worms that I’m not sure I want to process in writing at the moment. I’ll table that for another time.

We only got to talk for about ten minutes before the DJ had to start announcements for the party, but it was fun. They told me all about their group, and how their committee was going to focus on ideas directly related to outreach and communication with dancers. I told them all about the group that I joined, and how I would be working behind the scenes, making decisions that would shape tools and platforms that would be used by dancers across the country.

Even though the two of them are working for a different group with a different focus than I am, I think the three of us should continue to have these conversations and learn from each other as we move forward. After all, the more allies I have in my fight to shape the world of ballroom dancing in the U.S. into a more modern, unified world, the stronger my position will be, right?

Look at how political I sound! Man, I could run to be the President of Ballroom Dance someday if I keep this up! Do you think people would vote for me? Would you vote for me?

Anyway… Right before the dance party, there was a dance lesson that covered American Tango. When the instructor asked how many people in attendance had never done American Tango before, there were several hands that went up, so he decided to start things off from the beginning. Since the class actually had more men than women in it (which is unusual in my world), I decided to go sit out and just watch. Sparkledancer also came over to sit with me, because she was more interested in people watching than a beginners class in American Tango.

The instructor showed everyone the basic steps first, followed by the Reverse Turn. To practice the figures, he had everyone dance around the room rather than in straight lines up and down the floor. Most of the class had done some American Tango before, so some of the men were throwing in other crazy figures to show off, but there was one couple in particular that caught my eye. They were an older couple, and they had both raised their hands when the instructor asked who had never danced Tango before. They were struggling.

After the instructor split everyone up again and showed them how to do a basic Promenade into Fan, he had the class start practicing by dancing around the room again. This time, that new couple passed close to where I was sitting. I stood up and stopped them to ask how things were going, and the lady told me with a look of panic in her eyes that they were already so lost on the Reverse Turn, and then the Promenade thing also confused them, that they were thinking of just sitting out like I was doing. I offered to take them over into the nearby corner out of the line of dance and work with them to help them get the steps down correctly. I even offered to have Sparkledancer help me so that we could cover steps twice as fast.

I spent some time stepping through the guys part with the husband while Sparkledancer went through the lady’s part with the wife. Then Sparkledancer and I switched so that I could dance through the figure with the wife while she back-led the husband through his steps. He was still struggling a bit, so we switched back and I had him chant through the steps while we did them together to help him remember (forward-side-back, back-side-close). That seemed to finally help him get his footwork down.

After about ten minutes, we got them to the point where they were successful. Hooray! Sparkledancer mentioned one last note to the two of them that, if all else fails, they could just do the basic figure in a big circle all the way around the room if they wanted, rather than try anything they thought was too fancy. The new lady was really relieved to hear that, and said that they might try that out that night.

The two of them then rejoined the last part of class feeling much better, now with smiles on their faces. I lost sight of the pair during the party after the class, so I’m not sure how much dancing they did beyond the American Tango. However, I had to leave early that night to go take care of some things for work, and I caught sight of the lady and her husband on the far side of the dance floor on my way out. When I caught the wife’s eye and waved goodbye, the lady said something to her husband and then jogged over to where I was.

As she approached, she took hold of my forearm and I leaned in so that I could hear her over the music. She wanted to thank me for helping the two of them earlier. She said it was the highlight of her evening, especially after she had seen Sparkledancer and I dance together for one of the songs during the party (we were just screwing around with one of our routines, to work on dancing and using floorcraft at the same time). The lady told me that it was really nice that such high-level dancers would spend all that time during a class just helping her and her husband get a couple of figure right. Aww… that gave me warm fuzzies.

One final note: I happened to get something this week that I was expecting, but was surprised that it arrived so soon. Now I am officially the proud owner of some new clothes for my next dance competition. Yay… really, it’s probably not all that exciting to anyone besides me.

This outfit is a lot different from what I have worn in the past for competitions. I used to wear a three-piece suit that I own, the kind that most guys wear to church or job interviews. It was something that I already had in the closet, it worked for what I needed, and since I was competing so rarely I didn’t give it much thought before. Because I decided to change my dance focus this year and add more competitions to my schedule, it made sense to get some clothes that were specifically made for ballroom dancing. Seems logical, right?

The “dress shirt” that came with the set is interesting. It’s another one of those weird shirts that buttons up between your legs, which is always a fun thing to put on. I know that this feature helps keep the shirt from coming untucked while you move, but it just feels… weird. The material that the shirt is made out of is also this elastic-style fabric. The shirt is cut to be rather tight, so having the material stretched over my shoulders and arms just makes me look pretty muscular.

If that wasn’t enough, I decided to go with the coat-vest option rather than just a vest or a coat. This piece looks like someone took a long jacket from a tuxedo and then cut off the arms, so it’s not only perfect for a dance competition, but you can also wear it to any formal weightlifting events you attend at the local gym. Obviously you wouldn’t wear a shirt under the cut-off jacket to any formal gym parties, because you want to show off that you are super ripped AND super classy.

The pants that came as part of the outfit are pretty much the same as the practice pants that I wear all the time, except these have the shiny satin stripe that goes up the side of my legs. It’s a good thing that there is that noticeable difference too, that way I don’t accidentally get the two pairs of pants mixed up. My practice pants are not in bad shape, but they do get beat up and washed frequently, so if you are looking at them up close you can tell they are not in competition shape.

Overall, I think this look should help me with some things. For one thing, with the “dress shirt” being so tight and the cut-off jacket showing off my shoulders, you can see that my shoulders are fairly muscular. Especially if I were to stand next to your average dancer. I’m hoping that will help a judge to see that I am not sticking my trapezius muscles up when I am in frame… they are just that big. I think it looks fairly obvious in this new outfit, so we’ll have to see if a judge can see it as well.

Maybe I should bring my new clothes out to the Fancy Dance Hall sometime and have Lord Dormamu take a look. I know that he judges a lot of ballroom competitions, so maybe he can tell me if this getup helps him see that my shoulders are really just this size when they are rolled down. After all, these three articles of clothing were stupid expensive. Stupid. Expensive. If I don’t get positive feedback on them, is it even worth all the stupid money spent on them?

Sigh… expensive clothes are stupid. If I didn’t have to dress professionally for work, and I didn’t have to dress all fancy for ballroom dancing, I would probably only buy simple clothes that I would wear until they fell apart at the seams.

I’m not sure what’s going on this weekend yet. I do have lessons with both Lord Dormamu and Sir Steven lined up that I have to attend. Supposedly the Endless Dance Hall is having a free dance party on Friday night to celebrate the anniversary of their opening, so that might be fun (free parties are always fun, right?). My Royal Dance Court group is holding our monthly dance this Saturday, but I have a work thing I can’t get out of that I need to meet with some people and accomplish first, so I don’t know how late I will show up to that event, if I can make it at all.

All The Action Is Right There At Your Feet

Oh man, Saturday was a good dance day for me. I was just feeling all kinds of good feels for dancing by the time I went to bed on Saturday night. I’m pretty sure that most of it was because of a crazy idea that I had which actually turned into a reality thanks to a lovely lady agreeing to a request of mine… but I’ll get to that later. Let’s take things in order, shall we?

The first dance-related thing that I did on Saturday was my normal lesson with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven. Sir Steven wanted to run through everything except Viennese Waltz that day, spending most of the time on Quickstep since it had been a while since we had covered that style. I jotted down a few notes I needed to remember for each dance that we did:

  • Waltz – we were reminded again to make sure to add the rotation to the Half Natural Turn later; Sir Steven also wanted us to practice our Double Reverse Spins some more, making sure that Sparkledancer slows down her last two steps of the figure
  • Tango – Sir Steven told us that our Tango is looking a lot like a Tango now, instead of like a Foxtrot (yay!), so that was pretty good to hear; throughout the dance we were told to focus on controlling the power in our slow steps more; in the Promenade Pivot I have to keep my head in check because Sir Steven said that I was moving it as I rotated without realizing what I was doing; during the same figure, Sparkledancer was told that her head keeps looking straight during the turn and then whips around back to Promenade right at the end to make it more dramatic
  • Foxtrot – there were a few points in our Foxtrot routine that Sir Steven wanted us to change: in the Reverse Turn he wanted me to change my body rotation during the figure, neutralizing my body on second step, and then turning back into CBMP on the third to lead outside partner; during the Natural Weave he wanted Sparkledancer to work on counterbalancing more with her head when coming out of the heel turn; during the Change of Direction, Sir Steven looked at the change Lord Dormamu had told us to make in the figure (making it cover eight beats of music instead of four), and he wanted us to slow the whole thing down to make it four slow movements instead of being one slow step, a quick step, holding for four beats and then taking the final quick step. This last change got thrown out later by Lord Dormamu
  • Quickstep – overall Quickstep went well. The big things Sir Steven wanted us to look at in Quickstep were to make sure that we stay connected for the whole dance; to be sure that the last two Progressive Chasses on long wall go straight down the line of dance; for me to keep my head in one place in the Natural Spin Turn (there will be no head flick any more); and on the short wall after the Double Reverse Spin I can angle the Progressive Chasse toward the center more to stretch out the figure without running out of floor space

Sparkledancer and I were also given the official information on the December showcase that the Fancy Dance Hall is going to put on. I guess that means that we are definitely going to be a part of the show.. I’m not sure how much of my original, mostly funny idea for a dance number will make it into the performance. The idea that I had thrown out didn’t exactly fit with the theme of the event. I had given Sir Steven some ideas during our initial discussion about how my idea could be made to fit in, but it was still a stretch.

However, if you subtract large portions of the idea I had (basically, all of the characterization of the two people in the dance, the costumes, the setting… really all the stuff that made the idea funny to me), and replaced them using characters and costumes and the setting from the theme of the show, things will still work. However, changing all of that changes the entire feeling of the performance. Where my idea was to do something kind of lighthearted, sappy and funny, the dance would turn into something very dramatic, haunting and emotional.

Is it a good idea to make these changes and go through with the showcase? I’m not sure. I was pretty excited about the original idea that I had for the show. If I have to change most of it to make it fit into the showcase, is it still even my idea? Will the performance be as much fun? Can I even play a more dramatic character while dancing, since my natural state is to be rather silly? I’m not sure. For the time being, I didn’t say no to being in the showcase, but I haven’t put down any money to be in it either. Maybe I can talk to Sir Steven about blocking out the choreography a little so that I can get an idea of what the dance will look like before I pay for the event. That might help.

Of course, I should also probably talk to Sparkledancer about this. Obviously she could perform with Sir Steven if she wanted to be in the show and I didn’t, but he’s nowhere near as strong as I am, so he wouldn’t be doing many crazy lifts with her if that’s something she wanted to do. Plus, if I wasn’t going to be in the show, she would have to schedule to take lessons with Sir Steven to learn the choreography without me, so I wouldn’t be paying for half of those lessons like I normally do. That might make her reluctant to sign up for the event on her own if I wanted to back out. With all of the crazy things dance-related things that she does for me, I should do this for her if she wants to be in the show. That’s what a good friend/amateur dance partner would do, right?

Anyway… enough about that nonsense. Here’s the update on my crazy idea, which is something I talked about last week:

Remember how I mentioned that, in my quest to get more female instructors to come teach workshops before the dance parties hosted by my Royal Dance Court group, there was one super-high level, totally awesome female instructor that I was going to try to personally convince to come teach for us? Guess what? I actually had a chance to talk to her on Saturday afternoon at the Fancy Dance Hall, and she totally said yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can you guess who I asked…?

…yup, it was the Princess! I went straight to the top of the list of female dance instructors in the area. After all, what’s the point of starting with second best for a quest like this?

I did end up going out and buying her some chocolate to try to bribe her, because I figured that it couldn’t hurt. She told me that I didn’t have to do that, she likely would have said yes to me anyway, but I’m sure that my offering of tasty treats helped just a little. Word on the street is that the Princess loves good chocolate.

Once she said that she would be willing to do this huge favor for me, I told her that she could pick out any month she wanted to come and any dance that she wanted to teach, and I would make sure that it happened for her. Initially she said that she love to come teach a Tango lesson in January, but after she left Lord Dormamu told me that he was pretty sure that she was scheduled to go to a competition with him over the weekend our dance party was scheduled in January. So that will probably have to change. I’m going to talk to her again and shoot for February now, where our dance party will be the Saturday after Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to hold a dance workshop taught by someone everyone in the Dance Kingdom loves?

So I’m pretty excited and proud of myself for getting this all set up. I’m going to pat myself on the back for a minute right now, just for thinking about how awesome an event it’s going to be. Good job me! Her agreeing to do this just put me in a great mood for the rest of the day on Saturday (and it’s putting me in a good mood again just talking about it now!).

I had gone back to the Fancy Dance Hall early on Saturday to get a chance to talk with the Princess, so I had a lot of time to kill that afternoon before my second lesson of the day with Lord Dormamu. I sent Sparkledancer a message asking when she would be coming back, because if she was around I could get in some extra practice time while waiting. Lucky for me, she wasn’t too far away, so she got there in twenty minutes and we worked on some of the things Sir Steven told us to practice earlier that day.

When Lord Dormamu finally finished up his other lesson and came to join Sparkledancer and I, we got down to work on Foxtrot again. This time around, Lord Dormamu spent most of our session working with Sparkledancer on her position while in dance frame. I guess that either means that I am finally holding my own enough that what I’m doing is tolerable, or what Sparkledancer was doing that day was bothering him more than anything I did that day. Either way, there were long periods of time that afternoon where I was just standing around watching the two of them dance together without me.

During one run through of the routine where I was actually involved, we got all the way through the Change of Direction near the end, so I decided to stop and tell Lord Dormamu about the change Sir Steven asked us to make to the timing of the figure. After I explained what Sir Steven had asked us to change, and then danced through the figure with Sparkledancer to show him, Lord Dormamu said that we could not do things that way without risking disqualification.

Apparently, according to “the rules”, the figure is recorded in “the book” with a specific timing for each step. If we dance through the figure and hold in the middle without changing the timing of the actual steps we take, then we are still dancing the same figure. However, if we change the timing of the steps, then we are changing the figure itself. Until we start dancing in the Open-level category where we don’t have to follow the syllabus any longer, we aren’t allowed to do such things. So, in order to keep from being invigilated, we have to stick with what we were originally told and not implement the changes that Sir Steven wanted.

I had never heard that before. I’m not sure where these ‘rules’ are written that Lord Dormamu referred to, but I don’t think he would lead me wrong on something like this. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.

Near the end of our session, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I get into frame for one more run of our routine. As he came back over after starting some music, he slowly walked around the two of us while we stood there, evaluating our dance frame. He commented on how much Sparkledancer had improved how she looked over the course of this lesson. Sparkledancer smiled at him and said “It’s all because I have such a great coach.” Without missing a beat, Lord Dormamu winked at her and said “Yes. Good work, Sir Steven.” I lost it at that remark and broke frame to turn around and walk away from the two of them. Sometimes they are too much for me to handle…

Because I was feeling so full of good dance vibes that day, I wanted to go out to a dance party Saturday night to try to continue that high. The only dance party that I knew about was the one taking place at the Fellowship Dance Hall, which is not a venue that I go out and visit very often. The crowd that they tend to draw at this particular ballroom club in the Dance Kingdom is… old. Much older than the other crowds that I am used to dancing with, which are already quite a bit older than me. But that night I went anyway, throwing my age concerns to the wind. Adventure!

I got there early enough to take part in the lesson that was being offered before the party started. The instructor wanted to go over some Waltz with everyone. You would have thought that would mean that a larger number of songs they played at the open dance after the lesson was over would have been Waltz numbers, but that wasn’t the case! Anyhow, the steps that they went over during the lesson weren’t figures that I found to be complicated, but many of the other men kept stopping the instructor to ask him all sorts of clarifying points about what they should be doing. The way the instructor talked about the steps was more confusing than helpful, in my opinion, which might account for the struggle the other men were going through.

Though no distinction was made, this pattern would be quite at home in International Waltz: starting with the men facing diagonal wall, we did a Half Reverse Turn, then a Hover Corte, a Back Whisk and then a Closed Wing to set the lady on our left side. Next he added on an Open Reverse Turn that went into Outside Change Steps. We did three of those that traveled down the line of dance normally, and a fourth that curved us so that the men were facing against the line of dance. We set the lady up for a nice Develope from this position, and backed out of the figure with another Half Reverse Turn.

As I mentioned, they didn’t play a whole lot of Waltz songs during the dance party. In fact, they didn’t play a whole lot of ballroom-style songs at all. Most of what the DJ played were Latin and Rhythm styles. That was a bit of a disappointment to me, since at this point in my life I prefer ballroom dances, but I still had fun. The DJ and the instructor who taught the lesson were really working hard at getting the men to change partners that night (my rough count put the attendance at around thirty-five women to twenty-two men). They did this weird thing where they would play two songs of the same dance style back-to-back, telling the men to dance with two different partners for each song.

For the most part that tactic seemed to work, but they also tried to use that idea with both Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. Not many men danced for either of those two styles, and only a handful of the women knew those styles, so it seemed like everyone was fighting over the same partners for those back-to-back dances while all of the other dancers who didn’t do Quickstep or Viennese Waltz just sat on the sidelines for both songs and watched. There might have been some forlorn sighing going on, but I was moving too fast while I danced to say for sure.

Well, I don’t know about you, but my plans for this weekend got wrecked by a potential hurricane. That big regional meeting that I had been talked into attending was supposed to be held at a conference hall that sits only a stone’s throw from the east coast. With the track of the big storm out there still up in the air, a lot of the people who were scheduled to attend or speak at this meeting cancelled, so the whole event got scrapped. Now I have nothing planned, since I had cleared my calendar of all other events this weekend so that I could be out of town.

Don’t you hate when that happens? OK, a lot of you probably don’t have issues with hurricanes too often if you live more toward the middle of the country. I remember when I used to live in the mid-west, and hurricanes were just something I heard about on the news happening to people in other parts of the country. Now I live somewhere where hurricanes cause storms with lots of rain, and we get influxes of people coming to the area to escape the harsher portions of the storms that hit closer to the coast. Crazy!

Maybe with all the people coming to town this weekend from the coasts there will be huge dance parties I can attend. Isn’t that a good way to ride out a storm? Dance the night away? I’ll have to call around and see what’s happening. I’m sure there’s a dance party somewhere that I can go to!