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!

Set An Open Course For The Virgin Sea

Another busy weekend for me last weekend. I swear, one of these weekends I will purposefully not do anything dance related, just so that I can write about the dance things that I do during the week without making these posts ridiculously long. I swear I’ve been trying to keep them shorter! It helps me out when I try to go back over my notes if they aren’t super long! But there’s just so much that I want to remember…

Let’s start with Friday night. I was convinced by a number of people who I know to head out to the Fancy Dance Hall last Friday night because they were holding a dance party to raise money for hurricane relief efforts. All the door fees collected that night were being donated, and almost all of the instructors who usually teach at the Fancy Dance Hall were letting people sign up for dances for a $5 donation. Because the staff wanted to let people choose the style of dance when they donated money, the set list for the night had been predetermined, so everyone knew that the first dance was a Foxtrot, the second a Cha-Cha, the third a Salsa, and so on and so forth.

What really convinced me to go out that night was the fact that there was going to be a live band playing the music for the party. I’m a sucker for a ballroom dance party that has live music. If the band is good, and they have played for ballroom dancers before, I think that it is way more fun dancing than you get listening to canned songs. There is also an element of randomness that you get with a live band, since the music is played at whatever tempo the drummer wants that night (for good or for bad). If the band has never played for a ballroom dance party before, this can sometimes lead to difficult tempos for the chosen dance style.

The band that was playing that night… did alright. They didn’t play any original material, just covers of classic rock songs and standards – stuff that everyone knows all the words to sing along with. After the first couple of songs, it was fairly obvious to me that they had never played for a ballroom dance party before, because the tempos that they used for many of the songs were more conducive to dancing in a bar, as opposed to fancy dancing in a ballroom. I’m pretty sure that the dance styles that were selected to go along with each song on their setlist were chosen based on the tempo of the average recorded version of the songs.

That made the night kind of entertaining though. I danced slow Waltzes that were not-quite Viennese tempo, a Jive that seemed slower than an East Coast Swing, and Tangos where I had to be really careful turning my partner to Promenade Position because the tempo was so fast (and I’m fairly strong) that I’m pretty sure I could have sprained her neck. Halfway through the first set, I noticed that when the male instructors were dancing with older ladies, they were purposefully dancing at half-tempo. This made the dances even more interesting, because then you had two tiers of dancing going on at the same time.

Overall, it sounded like the night was a big success. When I had my lesson with Sir Steven the next day, he told me that they had raised a couple thousand dollars that night with just the door fee donations and the instructor dance donations. The band even donated their time for the event, so the fee that they would have been paid was thrown into the pot as well. Hooray!

My coaching session with the Princess that had been scheduled for Saturday morning had to be rescheduled. The Princess called me early on that morning and told me that some important Dance Kingdom business had come up and, since she’s the princess, she had to take care of the situation. I conferenced in Sparkledancer on the phone, and the three of us decided that Tuesday night was the earliest timeslot we all had available for rescheduling. Once I got off the phone, I breathed a sigh of relief, since that actually made my Saturday less crazy

I still had a lesson with Sir Steven early that afternoon planned out. When I met up with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, the plan for the day was to run rounds, much like we did last time. This was less exciting than it sounds, but it was probably the best thing that we could do to get ready for the competition that is next weekend.

Sir Steven set up the music to just play through a setlist of songs at a minute-and-a-half a piece and let us dance. He grabbed a notepad and wandered around one side of the room watching us as we went through everything, taking notes about things to touch on when we completed the entire set. None of the notes were really anything groundbreaking – he pointed out places where it looked like Sparkledancer or I let our frame slip, and places where I accidentally let my head drift out of position, and spots where he thought that Sparkledancer and I lost body contact. Once we finished going through his notes, we danced through another set, with Sparkledancer and I trying to fix the issues he noted from the previous set.

After the first couple of dances that morning, I noticed that I was breathing overly heavy when we finished the dance and prepared to start the next. I wasn’t sure why that was – I get through all my hour-long kickboxing classes without getting that winded, so dancing for a minute-and-a-half shouldn’t have been bothering me that much. When I started to pay attention, I found out that I was holding my breath for large portions of the routine for some reason! I don’t even know why I was doing that!

So on top of trying to remember all the fine points of dance technique I had been taught, it seems like I also need to remember to breathe throughout the whole dance as well. You’d think that I would know how to breathe properly at my age, but I guess I still have a ways to go yet…

By the end of our coaching session with Sir Steven, I was feeling pretty alright about things. Overall, Sir Steven thinks that our Waltz and Foxtrot are definitely our strongest dance styles, while Tango is still the weakest. It’s not terrible according to him, it just doesn’t look nearly as strong as our Waltz and Foxtrot, or even our Quickstep. He told us that he is definitely going to focus more on Tango once the competition is over. That will be on top of learning our new showcase routine that we will be starting as well. Hooray!

I’m not sure what that means as far as the competition is concerned this weekend, but I can’t say that I’m all that worried. What I really want is scores from my heats this weekend to show marked improvement over the last competition I was in. I know full well that I still have a ways to go, but as long as I can see that I’m moving forward from where I’ve been, I’ll know that I’m making progress.

You may not remember, but about two years ago I went out dancing on a boat one evening. Well guess what? On Saturday night I did it again!

This time around was very different for me than how it went down two years ago. For one thing, this boat trip was something put together by the Royal Dance Court. Two years ago when they held this event, I wasn’t a member of the Royal Dance Court, but now I am, so that meant that I was sort-of working that evening, helping everything run smoothly.

Much like the trip two years ago, there was a basic dance lesson held on the deck before the boat cast off, which was used as a way to get everyone used to how the boat would shift in the water while people were dancing. I did not join this lesson, because I was down below deck helping to lay out the spread of food that we were providing the guests during the party. Based on what I could hear going on over my head, and the way the boat was swaying, I might be able to make guesses as to what figures they were practicing above me.

I did get some time to dance that night, even though I spent much of the evening helping out and trying to make sure that our guests didn’t make too much of a mess during the ride. Much like last time, the DJ stuck to Swing and Latin dance styles primarily, since those were easier to contain to small spaces. There were a few ballroom-style dances that were danced in a big oval going from bow to stern. Those were my favorite, because I thought it was rather funny to rub elbows with people traveling in the opposite direction. I’m easily amused, what can I say?

The most fun part, at least in my opinion, was one of the line dances that the DJ played. I was standing near the back wall of the deck watching the dancers in the middle of the boat while this all happened. Whenever the crowd rotated to face either the bow or the stern and then they all took steps together to the right or to the left, it was enough to cause the boat to lean to whatever side the crowd was marching toward. I did my best to get more people to join the line dance to increase the weight shifting the boat to side to side while the song played. I was having more fun than was probably called for during that song.

It was really late by the time I got home. I stayed after for quite a while to help the crew clean up the boat, and help the DJ take down all the musical equipment and bring it back onto the shore to be loaded into the car. The boat’s captain was super happy that I stayed behind to help even after the rest of the Royal Dance Court members took off. He invited me to come back the next day if I wanted. Apparently the boat was chartered for a wedding reception or something, and he said that if I wanted to come back and help clean up after that was over he would let me join the trip for free.

Maybe I missed my calling in life. Maybe I could live a life of working on the high seas. That would certainly help me get a good tan for dance events, right? My current office job doesn’t give me much time to be out in the sun during the summer days…

One more note: the weirdest thing that I saw that night was a guy riding a jet ski who was making a big, slow circle around our boat, holding up his phone the whole time. I think he was making a video of the dancing that he could partially see from his jet ski. That struck me as super odd. If it was a teenager on a jet ski making a video of the dance party, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look, but this was some middle-age gentleman. What was up with that guy?

Tuesday night was my rescheduled night to get beat up by the Princess. Let me tell you folks, she may be all fun and games, and super sweet and friendly when you see her at various places around the Dance Kingdom, but if you schedule a time to work with her, she will WORK you. I was sweating so much that night, it kind of offended me. Some of that was because she makes me nervous, but I also worked hard. And I was smacked a lot. Apparently since I am so durable, she thought the easiest way to get me to recognize when my body parts were out of alignment was just to smack them.

Sparkledancer and I had decided prior to our lesson that we were going to ask her to look over Tango with us. Sir Steven has told us over the last couple of weeks that Tango is our weakest dance, so it seemed like the best place to get in some world-class advice on how to make it… not the worst. Unfortunately, there was so much that she wanted us to change to make it better that by the time I walked out of the studio that night, my head was spinning! Let’s see if I can remember all the things she told me were the most important.

First off, she wanted me to change the way I held my frame in Tango. To make her happy, she wanted to have my left arm completely in line with my shoulder all the way down to my wrist, and my left elbow pulled back as far as it would go. My right arm needs to be wrapped further around my partner than in other ballroom dances to create the more romantic Tango hold, but she told me that pointing my arm downward so that my right hand ends up in the middle of my partner’s back makes my right elbow look weird. She recommended that I actually bring my hand up to the level it would normally sit if I were dancing Waltz or Foxtrot, just wrapped further around so that my fingertips end up touching my partner’s spine.

Next up, she wanted me to add more rotation into my body, to pull my left side toward my partner. Adding the changes to my arms to that rotation, I really felt like you would see me bent into this weird ‘Z’ shape if you looked down on me from overhead. I mentioned this to the Princess, but she said that she didn’t care if it felt weird. Making this change stick, more than anything else that she wanted me to change in the routine, would improve the overall visual quality of my Tango immensely.

She even went so far as to tell me that if there was only one thing that I could practice for Tango between now and the competition, this change in my frame would be it. Because I am so much bigger than Sparkledancer (and, let’s face it, most of the other competitors on the dance floor), I am the easiest thing for the judges to see. If I can dance Tango and look strong and maintain this hold for the whole dance, that is what the judges will walk away remembering.

I guess that is the one disadvantage of being so muscular – I can’t really hide behind anyone. Everyone knows where I am on the dance floor.

There were some other minor changes that the Princess recommended that altered the way figures rotated to make them look more dramatic. The Back Corte, for instance – I was told in the past that when I do this figure, I am supposed to step to the side and slightly back with my left foot. The Princess wants me to keep doing that, but to rotate my body considerably before taking the step, so now my foot is heading down the line of dance instead of toward diagonal center when I step back and to the left.

In the Promenade Pivot that we do, she wants my first three steps to travel in a straight line before pivoting, taking a small fourth step with my right foot to help me stop. Before I had been told that my third step I should be starting to curve around Sparkledancer, more like a Natural Turn in Waltz or Foxtrot, but apparently coming around like that on the third step makes the Princess unhappy.

In the right-side lunge that happens in the corner, the Princess told me that being split weight is wrong. Lunges are never split weight. I should have all my weight on my right foot and only be using my extended left leg to balance myself. In addition, she told me that when I step into the lunge, I need to make sure to step toward my partner’s right leg. If I focus on stepping to my right to create the lunge, I throw my partner off, but if I aim at stepping toward her right leg, I should always end up in the right place to create a stable platform for my partner to shape off of. In addition, she wants me to make sure to hold off on rotating my head to look at my partner until the last possible second when I am stepping with my right leg.

How many of these changes will I likely have in muscle memory before the competition? That remains to be seen. These four that I have written down are the most important changes I was told to focus on, in this order. If I can only do one, it has to be the change in my frame. If I can get two, the rotation in the Back Corte is next (we do that figure or variations of that figure a couple of times through the routine), and so on and so forth. So, now I have to find some time to practice more Tango specifically. Here’s hoping that all my other plans for Friday and Saturday night get cancelled!

Well, Sunday is the big day! I will be heading out to the Dance Death Arena once more to compete. I do have some final coaching sessions with both Sir Steven and Lord Dormamu scheduled for Saturday to get in some final notes from the two of them before the competition. Other than that, I will be sure to remember to breathe. That is the most important thing I can do during the whole competition!

Takin’ Care Of Business (It’s All Mine)

The big to-do here in the dance kingdom this past weekend was a dance party on Friday night at the Endless Dance Hall. The venue was celebrating the anniversary of their opening, so they were holding a free party for everyone to attend. There was going to be lots of free food, a bunch of cool prizes given away in a raffle throughout the night, and tons of dancing. All for free! A lot of the other dance studios in the area decided to forego their own Friday night parties because they assumed that most dancers in the Dance Kingdom would end up at the Endless Dance Hall.

Since I’m not the type to pass up a free event I would enjoy, I also ended up at the Endless Dance Hall that night. I missed the free dance lesson that they were giving that night since I got there too late, but from what little I caught when they were reviewing at the end of class looked pretty basic (which would make sense for a free class given before a free party). Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and the mood in the air was infectious as I sat down to change into my dance shoes.

I’ve always liked dancing at the Endless Dance Hall. After all, they have so much dance floor, you can really just let go and move as much as your limbs will allow you to, which is not something I get to do in many other locations. Because so much of my dance time is now spent at other dance halls in the area, it is more of a rare treat now than it once was to find myself at the Endless Dance Hall for an event of any kind. So that night I took advantage of the situation, and stretched out my legs as much as I could while I was dancing.

The funny part ended up being that, no matter how much space was available on the dance floor for people to use, everyone tended to bunch together in the same spot on the floor while dancing. If there was a Latin or Rhythm song playing, people would all be crowded around one spot on the floor really close to one-another. If it was a Standard or Smooth song, the crowd would generally flow around the floor in a big crowd much like a school of fish, with only a couple of dancers dancing outside the school. I don’t think this was intentional behavior, but I noticed it as I danced that night. I thought it was interesting behavior, which is why I’m mentioning it. Does this happen at dance parties that you attend?

Early Saturday afternoon I had scheduled a session to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer at the Fancy Dance Hall. Sir Steven was out-of-town that day, so I only had the one lesson to go to this past Saturday. Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I had made plans to get together on Sunday to work on things instead.

After getting to the studio and starting to stretch out my shoulders in preparation, Sparkledancer arrived and came to hang out where I was stretching. When Lord Dormamu saw the two of us, he excused himself from the lesson he was giving for a moment, ran over to the office in the back and came back with a sheet of paper. He brought that paper over to Sparkledancer and I, which turned out to be a flier for a competition being held nearby in early November. We were told that this was the next competition we should add to our calendars. With that, he left us to warming up while he went back to finish up his lesson.

I guess that’s an improvement, being given a month’s notice for a competition, right? I mean, the last competition Lord Dormamu told me I had to sign up for months ago, I was only given a week’s notice. So it looks like I will be adding this to my list of things to prepare for. Sigh…

Once Lord Dormamu finished everything up with his other student, we got started. We talked briefly about the competition at the end of the month. According to Lord Dormamu, there are four major points he wants Sparkledancer and I to focus on, which should be the main things we need to do in order to ‘win’:

  • No gapping
  • Footwork
  • Timing
  • Alignment

Apparently if the two of us focus on these four items, and showcase how much our movement has improved under Lord Dormamu’s recent tutelage, he thinks we should have no trouble winning the rounds that we are signed up for. I can’t say that I am nearly as confident about winning as he seems to be, but I’m going into this competition with an open mind.

We spent our time working on the Foxtrot again, continuing to look at our movement while dancing. There are a couple of specific points I was asked to work on, unrelated to the movement aspect of the dance. The first thing that we stopped to look at was the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. Last time Lord Dormamu had looked at this with me, he had told me that I needed to lean to the left more during the rotation so that my head looked like it stayed in the right place for the entire figure. This time around, while he watched me do what I had been practicing, he told me that he still didn’t entirely like the way that it looked.

I stepped through the figure a few times with him so that he could see what I was doing piece by piece. After going through it all, he told me that I should be able to fix the way the figure looks by lowering more as I come out of the Natural Turn before I go into the Closed Impetus. If I did just the Closed Impetus, everything went perfectly well, but if I started with any of the figures in the routine before the Closed Impetus, it seems like I am not lowering myself enough to start the rotation, which is what was making it look funny. I’ve got some time to practice the transition between the two figures before the competition, and I better get cracking!

We also looked at the Three Step again briefly. The figure has been going well, but now Lord Dormamu wants me to try to rotate my body even more during the figure. He told me that I should basically be able to see what is happening directly behind me if my body is rotated enough. There was this big smile on his face when he described that to me, so I don’t entirely know if he was being completely serious about me seeing where I was coming from, so I’m taking it to mean that I should rotate as much as my body can handle… for now..

At the end of our lesson, Lord Dormamu was telling us that he had to head out of the country for a while to take care of other dance business, so this would be our last time seeing him until the day before Sparkledancer and I are scheduled to compete. As he was telling us about how we should use the time to practice a lot and we would have one last run-through with him before competing, the Princess happened to walk by. With his eyes suddenly lighting up, he flagged her down and asked her if she had any time open on her schedule next weekend to work with Sparkledancer and I in his absence.

As it turns out, the Princess had planned to be at the Fancy Dance Hall next Saturday as well to take care of some business things, so she told Lord Dormamu just to put something on her calendar and we could all get together. Now I have a scary lesson next weekend to prepare for, which will be right after my lesson with Sir Steven. I hope that I don’t work too hard and get all sweaty during my lesson with Sir Steven that day, because I don’t want to offend the Princess with my sweat while I offend her with my dancing…. 🙂

On Saturday night my Royal Dance Court group was holding their monthly dance party. This month the big plan for the party involved getting Judge Dread to come out and teach for us, since he has a pretty big following that will come out to hear him give a lesson. However, we also wanted to have him come and teach a lesson in Quickstep, which is a dance style that tends to keep people away from the dance party. As I walked into the venue to help set up that night, I was curious to see whether the crowd ended up bigger than usual because of Judge Dread, or smaller than usual because of the Quickstep.

It turned out to go both ways. The class started off larger than usual, but as Judge Dread made his way through class and the figures got harder, people started to drop out and go sit along the side of the room until the class was over. Judge Dread actually broke what he was teaching in class into three separate patterns for everyone: one that was really basic, and could be used just to get anyone around the room during the song, one intermediate pattern that improved upon the basic pattern and helped make you look more impressive, and finally a more advanced pattern that actually borrowed a Tango figure to use in Quickstep to make things more challenging.

I ended up sitting out the class that night. The crowd had an even number of men and women in it as Judge Dread got started, so I wasn’t needed this time around. I sat out on a chair in the back, paying attention as best I could when people weren’t talking to me. This got to be progressively harder as the class progressed and more couples dropped out. Some of them came to sit near me and ended up talking to me. I didn’t catch the entirety of the progression used at the end of the class because I was being social instead.

The dance afterward was more fun for me, since I didn’t have to sit out from that part of the night. We had some new people come out to the party whom I hadn’t met before, so I made sure to stop by and introduce myself and see how they were doing. Once was a single gentleman, and the ladies attending the party made sure that he was doing alright. The others came as a couple, and it didn’t look like they had danced much before. They were friendly enough, but beyond that they were only interested in dancing with each other that night. Overall, the party turned out well, and I think everyone had a great time.

As I strolled into the Fancy Dance Hall on Sunday for my coaching session with Sir Steven and Sparkledancer, it occurred to me that the competition that I was preparing for was two weeks from that day. Two weeks! That’s so close! Where has all the time gone lately? Probably to dancing, I’m sure. That seems to be what I do the most of in my life right now.

The Fancy Dance Hall was much quieter that afternoon than it was when I was there the day before. Only Sir Steven and the Gatekeeper happened to be there when I walked in until Sparkledancer showed up. Sir Steven and the Gatekeeper were just finishing up a lesson, and once she was done she just hung around the studio for some reason, doing things on her laptop while Sparkledancer and I went through our lesson. She never looked at us, but I could hear her chuckling sometimes when I made jokes during our lesson, so I’m pretty sure she was somewhat paying attention to us. Weird.

We started off that day running through a four-dance round – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Quickstep. That isn’t quite the order that we will be dancing things in the competition, but it was close enough for our needs. Once we finished up those four dances, Sir Steven went back to talk about specific points in a couple of the routines that he wanted to go over again with the two of us. Waltz and Quickstep actually looked pretty good according to Sir Steven, so he wasn’t going to mess with them that day. Hooray! That left only Foxtrot and Tango to talk about.

Foxtrot was first, and there were only two points that Sir Steven wanted to make about what he saw. The first thing he wanted to point out was that he thought that the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish looked funny. I told him that I was aware of this, and that Lord Dormamu had actually talked to me about it the previous afternoon. Because I hadn’t had any real practice time with the figure since that lesson, I hadn’t really worked out how to implement the changes Lord Dormamu wanted me to do successfully quite yet. Sir Steven gave me some pointers about making sure that the lowering was done through my knee bending and rotating slightly to make the figure look better.

The second thing that he wanted to talk about was the Change of Direction at the end of the routine. The pause that Lord Dormamu wants us to do in the middle of the figure still looks awkward. We spent some time working with the shaping of the figure, using the pause to shape our bodies slowly and dramatically before starting to move again, with the hope that it would make that hold seem less strange in the middle of the figure.

Overall we only spent a short while on Foxtrot that day. Tango was our major focus, since that is still our weakest dance of the four. First thing he wanted to talk about was our Promenades – apparently while he watched us do the routine at the beginning, our Progressive Links looked really strong, but then our first step out of the link just looks… bleah (that’s a technical dance term, I’m sure). Sir Steven wanted us to make sure that we had just as much power on the first step coming out of a Progressive Link as we did during the Progressive Link itself.

We also talked about the size of the routine versus the size of the floor we compete on. With all of the work we have done with Lord Dormamu on our movement lately, when Sparkledancer and I dance the routine we are easily able to make the choreography stretch beyond the length of a competition floor. Sir Steven’s preference is for me to just throw out figures from the routine, rather than curve the routine around the floor to make all the figures fit. As he told me, the judges don’t know my choreography, so if I eliminate parts of a routine and dance confidently, it will look better than trying to keep all of the figures while taking tinier steps, or curving figures awkwardly and possibly changing the angles that certain figures begin and end with.

This Saturday is going to be crazy for me. I have two lessons scheduled, one with Sir Steven and one with the Princess, and then I have to hurry up and run home and then drive out to the big lake in the Dance Kingdom for an evening of dancing on a boat! How much fun is that going to be? Unfortunately, the boat party is totally sold out at this point, so if you don’t already have tickets, you’re going to be stuck dancing on the shore. If you do have tickets, come say hi to me at some point during the evening! On top of all of that, I really have to practice, since the competition is so close now! Will I also have time to fit in any sleep? I guess you’ll have to tune in next week to find out!