Prepare The Laser-Beam

During this past week, I ended up going to work with my dance coach Lord Dormamu twice in a short span of time. He will be leaving to go run around the country doing things, so if I didn’t take the opportunity to see him now I would have had to wait two weeks before seeing him again. I think he said that he was going to go give coaching lessons for a couple of days in two different major cities, go to a big competition to compete with a couple of his Pro/Am students, and also go be a judge at another big competition. All of that with no time to come home and rest in between! Sometimes I think that guy is crazy for flying around the country so much, but he seems to enjoy it.

Let’s start off by talking about the first session I had with him that was last Saturday afternoon. That day we started out by looking at the Waltz again, but this time we did manage to move on and look at a second dance style rather than getting stuck on Waltz the whole time, which was a nice change of pace. I know that our Waltz is coming along quite nicely, but sometimes you just need some variety in your life, right? For me, that variety ended up being Tango.

The main point that we spent a lot of time talking about for the Waltz that afternoon was balance. Lord Dormamu could see the effects of all of the practice that Sparkledancer and I have been doing in our Waltz going really slow, but in his eyes it looked like something was off about the first step in a number of the figures. He told us that it was as if the second and third step were solid and grounded and had substance to them, but the first steps seemed to move too fast, almost like it was floating across the floor. What he told us was that we needed to make sure that all three steps had the same look of substance to them, as if they were balanced.

I thought about it for a minute, and then I asked Lord Dormamu if what he was seeing was happening on the first step of every single figure, or if it was just happening on the first steps of figures that came after previous figures where I had held the second beat longer than the music and thus was moving faster through the third beat and the first beat of the next measure to compensate. He told me that could have been part of the problem so he would keep an eye out for that next time, but even if I was moving faster through some of the steps, I should still be able to do them in a manner that makes all steps look connected to the floor.

So can you guess what his recommendation to fix this was? Yup, it was more practice doing the steps stupidly slow. The only difference would be that now we would want to be thinking the whole time about having the same effort for all three steps of each figure to help promote that look of balance. Or four steps I suppose, in the case of chasses. Yeah, can you feel my excitement? It’s not really there. I think I’m going to develop repetitive stress injuries in my ankles from doing all of this super slow movement all the time.

The second point that came up while we were talking about the Waltz, but is really something that applies across the board for me, was my back. Last time we had gotten together, Lord Dormamu had asked me to start working on pulling the upper half of my body away from Sparkledancer while we were in frame. Remember how he compared the look he wanted us to show to a funnel? As you might guess, I have been working on this, but I still can’t bow my back as much as he wants me to, so he was pushing me to do more. I guess I am going to have to find some way to work on that safely. I used to be able to get into Wheel pose in Yoga, but I don’t think I can anymore. Hmm…
Before we finished with the Waltz we took a minute so that Lord Dormamu could review my progress with the changes he asked me to make with the Whisk. Overall the figure looks much more like he wanted – all the steps I am taking progress nicely in the same direction, giving the figure continuity from start to finish. One subtle adjustment he asked me to add to what I was doing was to rotate my upper body more as I transition into Promenade Position on the third step. I felt like I was rotating myself a lot already, but he wants me to twist up to the limit of my flexibility. That’s easy enough to figure out – twist until I can’t. Sounds so simple!

With that we got to move on to the Tango for the remainder of our session. After going through the routine once, there were a couple of overall points Lord Dormamu wanted to make about how we danced. First off, much to my chagrin, like in the Waltz earlier I was told to bow my back further when in frame for Tango. Secondly, he told both Sparkledancer and I that it looked like we were sliding a lot while we danced through the routine, and it was breaking the sharp and staccato look that Tango is known for.

His diagnosis was that he thought that we were trying to move too big through the steps, like we normally do in a Waltz or Foxtrot, and because of that there were places that we would literally slide across the floor because of the momentum that we would build up as we moved. There were a few spots where the sliding was more noticeable than others. For example, at the end of the first Natural Promenade Turn we go into another Closed Promenade. That Closed Promenade starts moving toward diagonal center and we close facing diagonal wall. As we closed the Promenade on our run-through, even after we closed our bodies and I was facing diagonal wall we still moved toward diagonal center somewhat before we came to a halt.

To that end, Lord Dormamu told me something that some famous coach he had worked with when he was young had told him about Tango (I didn’t recognize the guy’s name, but Sparkledancer did). He said that he was taught that his steps should be no wider than his shoulders. After saying that, he made a joke that obviously I would still be taking bigger steps than him if I did that because my shoulders are much wider than his are, and then punched me in the shoulder a few times while laughing.

Sometimes I think that Lord Dormamu likes to hit me because he is amazed at how solid I am. He really does hit me a lot just for fun. You can ask Sparkledancer – even she has mentioned to me before that she thinks Lord Dormamu likes to hit me a lot!

Anyway… we walked through the routine again keeping that in mind. It did help make all of our steps sharper, and surprisingly we didn’t really cut out any distance in our movement by taking steps of that size. I had thought that for sure we would, but we ended up in the same spot along the back of the floor when we finished the first long wall. Weird.

Next up he wanted to have us work on making our rotational movements, like when we would close from Promenade back into normal dance frame, sharper as well. That was another action that Lord Dormamu said sometimes he saw us gliding along the floor as we did. We went back to the figures that we talked about earlier to work on this, with the Closed Promenade after the Natural Promenade Turn. He told me that I needed to think about not traveling at all when I closed the Closed Promenade, almost like I was locked between two points as I squared up to Sparkledancer.

For some reason, when he had me try it out dancing with her, a picture of a door closing popped into my head. So that’s what I tried to do – I planted my right foot and let the left side of my body ‘close’ to Sparkledancer at the end of the Closed Promenade. Lord Dormamu came over and told me that it looked perfect, so whatever I did I should always repeat that action. I was surprised that it worked so well, so I told him about the thought that popped into my head. He grinned at me and said that a door closing was a perfect analogy, and he was going to remember that for the future. Hooray for me! Sometimes I can be super smart!

One item that he mentioned for Sparkledancer that I made a note about was that he wanted her to work on pulling herself even more around me when we are in Promenade Position. If she does so, it will really increase the distance between our heads when you look at our position either from the side or from straight on. That way, no matter what side of us a judge happens to be standing on, the amount of volume will appear to be super impressive.

One last thing that I thought was funny – at one point in our lesson, Lord Dormamu suddenly thought about laser tag, weirdly enough, so he was telling Sparkledancer and I about how much fun he remembers having the last time he went and played. That’s something I haven’t gone out and done, or even thought about, in probably… like fifteen years. Lord Dormamu then decided that going out and playing laser tag in the near future would be a lot of fun. There is a guy that he knows who also teaches dance at the Endless Dance Hall, a high-level Latin competitor that I’ve met a few times, who Lord Dormamu said he was going to talk into playing laser tag too, and then he told both Sparkledancer and I that if he was going to go, the two of us should come as well.

So… there’s a chance in the near future that I could go out and play laser tag with my dance coach. When I try to picture this happening in my head, it seems so surreal that I think it would be hilarious. That’s the crazy thing about the stuff that happens on my dance adventures – I can’t even make up stuff that’s half as funny as the stuff that actually happens. Laser tag, of all things! What in the world even brought that up in the first place?

When I went in for my second coaching session with Lord Dormamu on Wednesday night, I happened to run into the Latin instructor that Lord Dormamu said he would be inviting to play laser tag. I spent a few minutes talking to him because I thought it was funny that his name came up the last time I was at the Endless Dance Hall, and then he appeared the next time I went there. I wonder if that trick would work with anyone that I talked about at the Endless Dance Hall, or if I would specifically have to talk about a dancer in order for that person to show up. Hmm… I’ll have to try to do some science next time I am at that studio to answer that question.

Lord Dormamu hadn’t told the guy about how he was going to play laser tag at some point in the future, so that was news to him. I did hear all about how the two of them have been spending a lot of time together lately because he was helping Lord Dormamu rip apart rooms in his house and re-finish them. It started with his office, where they tore the whole thing apart down to the studs and joists, then put it all back together with new wiring, a new floor, new walls and a new ceiling. He showed me the pictures – it is a nice looking office now.

The two of them were so happy with the results that they decided to do the attic in Lord Dormamu’s house next, and then they have plans to tear apart the back wall of his house this summer to attach a whole new patio that will connect the back of the house to the edge of the pool. Just for fun, apparently. I know so much more about the design of Lord Dormamu’s house now than I could have ever imagined that I would. Who ever said that you only learn about dance when you’re at a dance studio?

Our lesson with Lord Dormamu that night focused on more of the same as the one we had on Saturday, with time spent on Waltz and Tango. I had only managed to find time to go out and practice with Sparkledancer twice between the two lessons, so the points we had worked on during the lesson on Saturday were still works in progress to me.

One item that was different that we spent time talking about at the beginning of the lesson was our upcoming competition calendar for the next couple of months. Originally, we had been planning on doing a medium-sized competition at the end of this month, then a smaller competition in March and a large competition in April. Sparkledancer had been looking over the entries for the event in January though, and based on what she could see it looked like all the people signed up for that competition were the exact same people that we had danced against when we had done the competition last year, which didn’t necessarily make it seem worth the money and the time we would have to spend driving out to the venue.
Because of that, we changed our plan to take out the event this month and replace it with a different event next month. This other competition is going to be larger and is also farther away, so we would have to fly out to get there. The advantage of this event is that, because it is in a completely different area of the Dance Kingdom than we have ever gone to before to compete, it should pit us against a completely different set of competitors. That should make for a better test of how we’re doing than going to the one this month and dancing against all the same people we’ve danced against before. So I’ll take care of booking my flight and whatnot for that this weekend. Fun times ahead, right?

One item that we worked on a lot in the Tango that evening was trying to bow my back even more while I was moving. We had talked about this on Saturday, and between the two lessons I had gotten to spend some time on my stability ball at home, trying to gently increase the amount my spine is able to bend in that manner. But I could only do so much in just a few days. No matter how much Lord Dormamu wanted me to bend yesterday, I was just hitting my physical limit.

At one point he asked Sparkledancer and I to try out something different – he had me plant my feet for the start of our routine, and then bend myself to the extreme so that my chest and head were facing toward the ceiling while putting my arms out straight to the sides. Then he had Sparkledancer come stand in front of me and wrap her arms around my neck to hold on as we started to dance.

This… was an interesting way to try to move. A lot of the steps were fine for me after a bit of adjustment in my center of balance. The place where we ultimately had to stop and reset was when we got to the first Natural Promenade Turn. As you might have guessed, it is nearly impossible for Sparkledancer to rotate around me when my arms are sticking straight out to the sides like Lord Dormamu had asked me to do, so everything we were doing just fell apart at that figure.

The point of this exercise was to show me the feeling that I was to be going for when I am finally able to spend time increasing the flexibility in my spine. Obviously I won’t be bending in quite the same way at that time, since my head needs to be upright to see where I am going when Lord Dormamu isn’t following me down the floor to keep the other dancers out of my way, but the feeling should be similar. After a couple of times dancing like this, he had me come back to the start and bring myself back upright, bowing my spine as much as I could on my own and still pulling my shoulders back somewhat so that my head was looking upward toward a point closer to the ceiling.

It wasn’t an impossible position for me to hold, but I can’t say that it was the most comfortable position I’ve ever tried to dance Tango in. Even though I felt like I was bending my spine up like a snake, Lord Dormamu told me that the look I had from his point of view was that I was standing straight and powerful. My advantage over other dancers, he said, was that I have a much bigger chest than most male dancers because of all the muscle I have. If I can bend in the way that he wants while dancing Tango, it will put all that muscle on display and look really strong and solid. So, I guess that’s the goal I am working toward. With that as a goal, in some ways it will be kind of nice that Lord Dormamu will be gone for a while. That will give me time to practice and work to get better at what he is asking.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be out doing other things in that time period! This coming Saturday is actually shaping up to be rather busy for me as far as dancing goes. Sparkledancer’s new friend (the franchise studio guy that she met on New Year’s Eve) has been begging her to go with him to any kind of dance events outside his studio. He has finally worn her down, and she has agreed to do so this weekend. As you might have gathered, she begged me to go with her so that she can pawn this guy off on me if he gets to be too much. Sigh…

As far as what I’m going to end up going to – Judge Dread will be in town on Saturday giving workshops at the Endless Dance Hall, so I will be going to hang out there. After that, there will be a social dance at the City Dance Hall on Saturday night. The group running that event is having someone come in and teach a lesson in East Coast Swing before the party starts, which sounds entertaining.

And, as always, on top of that I’m sure I will try to get some practice in on Saturday, since that is a day I try to use for practicing. It all should be a lot of fun. If you’re around this weekend, I hope to see you at one of those events!

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If Seeing Is Believing, Then This Heart Has Never Been Beating

This is going to be a much shorter post than last week. I didn’t go out and do much dancing this past week, as you might have guessed. Not because I didn’t want to, but because of the way all the holiday days fell on the calendar. A lot of things got cancelled for this week since everyone was out visiting with family. So rather than go out and have interesting dance adventures that I could write about, all I had were mental dance adventures… and some time with ice wrapped around my ankle. I don’t know what I did to it, but it has been bothering me. I think I might have landed on it funny when doing some plyometric training, but I can’t say that for sure.

Anyway, last weekend I did get to have a lesson with Lord Dormamu, so I have that to write about. Hooray! As we started off that afternoon, Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and I that he wanted to check on our progress in the Waltz, but then we would move on to work on something else. The check on our progress somehow ended up taking the whole time from start to finish though… I don’t even know how that happened. One minute he was telling us how much he can see the improvement in the actions that we were told to practice last time we met, and then he starts going over all these other bits and pieces he wants us to incorporate to make everything look slightly better. Before I know it our time was already up!

There were a couple of points of note to mention so that I remember them. First off, I was told to make yet another adjustment to my frame. Just when I start to think that I have been getting the hang of the last adjustments that I was asked to make, I get told to adjust things again. Why does he keep doing that to me? Now I’m being told that I need to work on having a slight backward tilt to my posture once again. Last week I was supposed to keep my spine as long and straight as possible – now I have to keep it as long as possible, but with a slight kink in it in my upper back as I pull my shoulder line slightly away from my partner.

The visual that Lord Dormamu gave me to help explain what he was going for was useful to put the idea into terms that I could wrap my brain around. He told me to picture Sparkledancer and I having a funnel in between us. She is already pulling her upper body up and over my right arm when she gets into frame with me. Now I need to do something similar. When both of us shape like this, as we rotate our bodies around it should stay wide at the top and then come inward toward the point where our right sides meet in body contact, just like a funnel. Can you picture it?

When doing this, it felt like I was contorting my back a lot to hold the position he was asking for. However, according to Lord Dormamu, when he watches from the outside as we travel around, it makes my posture look even straighter and stronger. I’m not exactly sure how me pulling my shoulder line away from my partner makes my body appear even straighter, but I will take his word for it. He is the one who is able to watch me from multiple angles while I dance after all. Not even recording myself can give me that kind of feedback.

The other point of note – after working through that change for a while to make sure both Sparkledancer and I were comfortable, we went back to look at the Whisk figure again. Lord Dormamu told me that he had been thinking about it, and he finally figured out a good analogy to use to describe to me what he sees as being ‘off’ about how I do the figure. I was expecting to have a serious discussion about this, since the figure seems to come up quite a bit, but the whole thing devolved into something kind of silly. Extremely useful for me, but silly. Maybe that’s actually the best way to get points across in my brain?

Lord Dormamu told me that the problem he has is that he normally pictures me as this huge, muscular fellow. When I’m dancing, I give the impression that I have a lot of power (because I actually do have a lot of power) in my legs. So he watches me and imagines that I am just this huge guy that is breaking through walls as I drive forward. He started to demonstrate this by pretending to punch through imaginary walls as he danced down the floor like something out of a movie.

Sparkledancer watched this, and then she laughed and said that I should start yelling “Oh yeah!” with every forward step I take. Yup, she totally went there.

Anyway… when it comes to the Whisk however, Lord Dormamu said it looks to him like I am running into a wall that I cannot break through. Like an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The third step of the figure looks almost like I am bouncing off backwards, which completely breaks the perception of power that I normally give off while I am traveling. That, he has finally determined, is what has been bothering him when he sees me do a Whisk. Oh no!

To counter this, we talked about a couple of things. First off, Lord Dormamu said that I can try thinking about the third step where I cross my foot behind as still traveling forward in the same direction as my second step, rather than being a step backward to cross behind. This should help keep the figure from appearing as though it breaks the frontal plane. I also asked whether I was taking too big of a step when I place my left foot behind my right. My thought was that if the left foot was too far apart from the right, when I transfer weight on it to put my heel down so I can push into the next step it will look like I am shifting backwards. Lord Dormamu told me he hadn’t noticed the step looking too big from his perspective when he watched, but that could certainly do it if that was in fact the case.

So I tried my best to think about moving forward when I take the third step and also keeping my legs as tight together as possible when I cross my foot behind. That slight change (it wasn’t much of a difference between what I was doing before, just fractions of inches) seemed to be all I needed to fix everything. I was told after we finished running through it two or three times that these were the best Whisks that I had ever done in my whole life. Hooray for me! Now all I need to do is remember all of that and do it every time and the figure should no longer be an issue for me from here on out. Oh yeah!

And that’s… all the all the important notes I made about the dancing I did this week. For real! Sparkledancer went off on vacation the day after our lesson with Lord Dormamu, so I didn’t even go out and practice with her during the week. In some ways it was kind of nice to take a break. It’s given me time to get caught up on other things in my life, and hang out with my cat, and the aforementioned icing of my ankle.

Before I finish up though, I do have one last item I want to mention: for those of you who read this and are also members of the Ballroom Village, I have once again made some changes site links. You might say that I went through the list and checked it twice… OK, maybe not quite like that. There were two new sites I added and one dead link that I removed. Since I have been sort-of unofficially maintaining this list now that the original creator has disappeared from the face of the Internet, feel free to copy the changes I made to update your own lists. And, as always, if you know any other sites that should be added just let me know and I can square that all away.

Next week should be a bit more entertaining, since there will be New Year’s Eve dance parties that I can attend and write about, and after that normal dance events should return. Plus, next Thursday will be my first post for 2019, so maybe I will be feeling reflective and ramble on about where the time has gone. That makes me sound like I’m getting old, doesn’t it? I promise, I’m not that old yet! I’m still young and spry enough to chase you around the dance floor. Just let me find my cane first… I can never remember where I set that stupid thing down… crazy kids and your rock’n’roll music, and my lawn, and the weather. Why, back in my day…!

Oh yeah. 🙂

From Now On Our Troubles Will Be Out Of Sight

Maybe I can actually keep this short this week. After all, I didn’t really do a whole lot, so there shouldn’t be much to say, right? I guess we’ll see how wordy I get by the time I finish. Let’s get started.

First thing is just a short story – Saturday afternoon I was out at the Electric Dance Hall since Sparkledancer and I had decided to meet there that day for practice. Things were going along OK for the most part, but the floor was randomly sticky in parts which made dancing super slowly while practicing our Waltz almost impossible if we happened to hit one of those sections of the floor. I guess the floor had been cleaned earlier in the day before we got there, and it must not have dried completely by the time we started. Seriously, it felt like I had to stop to re-brush my shoes a million times that day, because if I accidentally went over one of the sticky sections then my shoe would stick to the floor from then on no matter where I moved to. Sigh…

Anyway, that’s not really the interesting story, unless you like to hear about my struggles during practice. Do you? Probably not, I imagine. Near the end of our practice time Indiana arrived at the studio. She has recently worked things out with Lord Junior so that she could start teaching lessons there, so she has been trying to build up a client base around the Electric Dance Hall over the last few weeks. A new couple was meeting her there that afternoon for their first lesson, so she had come by a bit early to get everything set up for them.

Indiana and Sparkledancer got to talking a little bit while Indiana was waiting and I was off brushing my shoes (again). When I came back over to where they were standing, both of them were looking at me with big eyes, so I knew something was up that I probably wasn’t going to like. I’m sure all of you ladies know the look they were giving me – lots of ladies I’ve been friends with or dated over the years have given that look to me when they wanted something, so I assume that all ladies know how to use that same look. I’m such a sucker for it, too.
Apparently Indiana has recently started her own dance-related non-profit group. She is in the middle of putting together a show that will be kind of like a showcase performance, to use as a fundraiser for the non-profit. I’m sure you can see where this is going… Indiana has been trying to find people who would be willing to donate their time and perform in the fundraiser, and had asked Sparkledancer if she and I had anything that we would be able to perform. Oh yeah, and the show was going to be happening two weeks from that day.

This information set off all kinds of red flags in my mind, so I started to object and say that I didn’t really know any choreography that was show ready for an event in two weeks. Indiana countered and said that it would be cool if we just did one of our competition routines. I had to reject that idea, because those routines are actually super boring to watch – there is a lot of repetition because of the limited figure set they are built from. Sparkledancer asked if we could use one of our older showcase routines, which would save us from having to learn anything brand new. I thought about it, and said that idea might be possible, but I didn’t remember any of those routines off the top of my head so I would have to see if I had one on video somewhere that was a high enough quality that I could transcribe the figures from it.

When I got back home, I dug through my archive of old dance videos from both my lessons and performances. I could only find one video that was done with high enough quality where I could figure out the figures with a bit of trial and error. I sent Sparkledancer a text to let her know what I had found, and to see if she had found anything different that she had saved. She replied that she didn’t really want to do the routine that I had found, but she had some videos from the lessons on a different routine. It wasn’t anything close to the full routine, just a smattering of pieces, so she wanted to know if I had the rest. Unfortunately, using the date range on the videos, I didn’t have any pieces saved at all. All I had was a video of the performance, but it was a really grainy capture from someone’s cell phone where I couldn’t even see what was going on half the time, so that was going to be no help.

So I don’t know whether that was unlucky or lucky, but I won’t be performing on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. As I’m writing this, I actually feel kind of relieved since I know I have a lot of other things I’m supposed to be practicing. I have no idea where I would have found a bunch of extra time to work on this. Maybe next time, right?

Next up, let’s talk about Latin Technique class on Monday night. We ended up looking at Jive for the first time in a long time. Nothing that we covered that night was all that complicated, because there were two ladies in class that had never done any Jive before. In fact, a large chunk of the class was spent with Lord Junior making all of us go over the basic figure for the dance. He really wanted to emphasized the point for both the two ladies who had never done it before and the rest of us that Jive was not just East Coast Swing done fast. I’ll admit freely – that’s pretty much how I’ve always ended up doing it when I dance Jive. That’s one reason why I stopped competing in International Latin long ago.

Going over the basic in Jive really slow is always a fun exercise. The timing difference between Jive and other Swing dances is easy enough for me to nail, especially at slow speeds. Chanting “three-quarter, quarter, whole” in my head helps me remember while I’m doing it. Raising my knee up high when I’m supposed to is also pretty easy for me. I’ve got strong legs, after all. What really throws me off every time is when I start to do the lowering action with the opposite leg as I raise my knee up. For some reason, as soon as I try and combine those two movements for dance purposes, the figure just falls apart. Hilariously. I’m serious, I’ve been laughed at as people watch me try and do it, even if I’m going really slowly to try and get it right.

I like to believe that I’m fairly coordinated, so I don’t think it’s a coordination issue. I’m sure putting in some practice would help, but if I have time to practice I’m sure my coach would frown upon me using it for Jive. So, for the foreseeable future I expect that either I will continue to look hilarious, or I will leave out the lowering action so that I look passable. Or, even easier, I can just fall back to doing it like fast East Coast Swing, right? 😉

After amusing himself by watching us do the basic for a while, Lord Junior gave us a short pattern that we could work on instead to liven things up. He had us start out with a Change of Places Right to Left (which is just a Tuck Turn – why does Jive have stupid names for the figures?) followed by a Change of Places Left to Right (an Underarm Turn). At the end of the chasse to the right after the Underarm Turn, we did a checking action to start a Simple Spin. Once we connected with our partner again after the spin, the Leads would draw the lady back into Closed Dance Position and go into a Whip, which is where we finished for the night.

I’ve seen all these figures before in some variation or another over the years, so I managed to get through everything pretty well (if you ignore how funny my basic steps looked, of course). The two ladies who had never done Jive before… not so much. One of them got frustrated because she kept inadvertently adding in an extra step before the SImple Spin, putting her on the wrong foot. After the third or fourth time she did it, she started making growling noises whenever she messed up. They were loud enough for the rest of us to hear, which of course made all of us laugh. Latin Technique class is where all the funny people hang out, I guess!

Finally, yesterday night I was supposed to have a coaching session with Lord Dormamu, but I got a message from him earlier in the day letting me know that he was sick, so I got to go to Standard Technique class instead. In an odd turn of events, that night Lord Junior wanted to look at some figures from American Waltz instead of International Waltz. At the beginning of class he was telling all of us about how he had seen a lot of professionals lately adding Pivots in Shadow Position into their American Smooth routines, and though they sound easy to do, they are actually super hard. He was thinking of having all of us try some of those that night just for fun.

That never actually happened, since it was a struggle for some of the people in class just to get through the figures that led us into Shadow Position, so Lord Junior abandoned the thought of trying to do the Pivots in Shadow Position in favor of something slightly less challenging. All in all it was still a fun bit of choreography to go through, even if I never did figure out what to do with my arms when they weren’t being used to hold up my frame. There were several points where I’m pretty sure I just let my arms dangle loosely, because doing anything different with them just seemed so unnatural.

We started off in normal closed frame, then did a prep step into an Open Natural Turn. After that, the Lead would take a step back and then one to the side and hold position on the right leg while we led the Follower through a Three-Step Turn, putting them out on our right side. Next we shifted our weight to the left leg to lead the Follower to roll back in along our right arm as we rotated 180°, then rolled them back out. Lord Junior said that this Roll-In, Roll-Out move was exactly the same footwork as a figure from Cha-Cha, just adapted to Waltz timing. From here we rolled the Follower back across our right arm as the Leads brought our feet together and stepped out on our left leg behind them, putting us into Shadow Position.
It took us a while to get all the ladies comfortable with the figures just listed so that we could get into Shadow Position, which is why (as I mentioned earlier) Lord Junior didn’t even want to try having us do the Pivots in Shadow Position. Instead we did just a couple of figures to finish up the pattern. We started out with two normal Open Natural Turns, and began a third one. During the third the Lead would use the Follower’s left hand to lead them through an Outside Turn, placing that hand atop our right arm in the process to let them know we were going back into normal dance frame in Promenade Position. Once we secured their right hand in our left, we finished up by doing a Promenade Chasse, and closed with a basic Natural Turn.

Writing all about last night’s class really gets me thinking… remember when I thought that American Smooth was my thing, and I was so sure that I was super awesome at it? That seems like a million years ago now when I go through classes like this. Opening up out of frame just feels so wrong nowadays, like I have no control over what my partner is going to do as soon as I let go. I wonder if I was crazy back in the day… 🙂

This next week should be fairly quiet. A lot of people won’t be around because of the holidays, so there won’t be much dancing of note for me. I will have my coaching session with Lord Dormamu this weekend (assuming he is feeling better), so that is something to look forward to. Otherwise I should have some free time for more practice. Or studying. I have a bunch of material I have been studying for work that I could spend the extra time on. Doesn’t that sound like fun???????

So, to all of you out there – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyous Kwanzaa, etc. etc. etc.. I hope you manage to get a few days off to celebrate with people you like. Maybe even people you love, but at least with people you like.

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

How was your weekend? We ended up getting snow here, which pretty much shut down everything for a couple of days. It was sad. I went to work on Monday morning and there was only a skeleton crew of people (like me) who were willing to attempt the drive with all that scary white stuff on the ground. I think everyone else just called in afraid. I wonder if HR classifies it like calling in sick, or if they file it under another code?

So many of the dance-related things I had planned on doing this past weekend just didn’t happen because of that. So what was left? Well, there was still a party on Saturday night that I went to, which surprisingly didn’t get cancelled. I also had that lesson with Lord Dormamu last Thursday that I mentioned in my last set of notes, but didn’t actually talk about then. I had another lesson with Lord Dormamu yesterday night as well. We’ll just roll those two items together here to keep the notes concise.

I’ll start with last Saturday night then, when I went to a holiday-themed dance party out at the Endless Dance Hall. This was a big formal event, and all the tickets for the party had sold out shortly after they had gone on sale, plus there was supposedly a waiting list of people who wanted tickets if anyone decided to cancel. The weather reports throughout the day were talking about all the storms in the area, so much of the day I wasn’t sure if either A) the party would be rescheduled, or B) people who had tickets would end up staying home. Wintery weather makes people in my neck of the woods go crazy. That wasn’t going to keep me home though! I even ended up being one of the first people to show up to the party, since I had left home a bit earlier than I needed to because I was worried that people would forget how to drive in questionable weather.

I am a fan of the way that this group put together the dance party. When I was a member of the Royal Dance Court and we hosted formal parties, we always hired a catering group to make and serve the food for us. I’m not exactly sure why that was, it was just the way it had been done before I joined, and I’m sure it is the way things will continue now without my input. This group had a dedicated sub-group of volunteers that actually cooked all the food that they were serving that night. I know that this practice will fade out over time, since nowadays younger people seem to have so many more weird food allergies and special dietary needs, but for an event like this I think that it adds a nice touch. Like having a nice home-cooked meal with a ton of your friends, and then there is dancing too.

At this party they had set up a smorgasbord of snacks and appetizers on one set of  tables along the edge of the dance floor, and all the different kinds of desserts you could want on another set. These tables were out all night long, so you could have actually started your meal that night by eating dessert rather than saving them for the end. On top of those tables, they had a whole buffet line waiting in one of the small rooms that is off to the side of the ballroom where they kept the actual dinner menu. I think I ended up trying a little bit of everything that wasn’t on the dessert table that night (I’m not a huge dessert person). Everything I had was spectacular.

Once dinner was mostly consumed, the DJ started up the music and the dancing began. With the appetizer and dessert tables being so close to the dance floor, you could get snacks while you were dancing if you were still hungry. Most of the items were of the finger-food variety, which works really well for dance parties. The items that require plates to eat are left behind as the night wears on, because you can’t eat those as easily while moving around. That’s why whenever I am asked to bring food to a dance party, I always do finger food.

(Want to know a secret? Deviled eggs work really, really well. A majority of people I’ve met in my life love them, and they are super easy to eat, so you barely have to stop dancing to have one! I’ve brought deviled eggs to sooooooo many dance parties, because then I never have to worry about taking home leftovers. Hopefully this advice comes in handy for one of you!)

Because this was a holiday party, most of the music played by the DJ that night was appropriately holiday-themed. I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music when I hear it in every store as soon as Thanksgiving is over, but I enjoy it at events like this one. I can take in the songs over a relatively confined time period, and there is an activity related to the songs going on at the same time. That makes me happier than being bombarded by the same five or six Christmas songs anytime I walk into a public building or turn on a radio.

Moving on, let’s swing back to last Thursday and talk about the notes I took from my lesson that night with Lord Dormamu. That night we started out by reviewing things in our Waltz routine and then spent the bulk of our time looking at the Quickstep – something that we haven’t gone back to in a while. Lots of minor things that will need practice were covered that night. Luckily our next competition won’t be until late-January, so we’ll have time to get everything down by then (I hope).

Starting with the Waltz: the first thing that Lord Dormamu wanted me to look at was my Natural Turn. He wants me to start pulling my left hip more to the left in the figure. Doing so will shape my body into even more of an arc than I had been doing, and the effect should be that the pulling of the hip looks like it is drawing the feet together. This particular change will require a lot more practice, since if I’m not super careful it can throw Sparkledancer off-balance when I do it. That would be bad.

We still need to work on our lowering action in the Waltz as well. Lord Dormamu actually made an observation that night – he told Sparkledancer and I that he thinks that being so athletic may be partially to blame for the issue we have with the lowering, something that other students of his haven’t had to work on so much. Between the two of us he says, we have so much strength in our legs and really well-trained balance, so we are able to move a lot with each step in our Waltz without lowering before the step like we’re supposed to. Sparkledancer and I can essentially, while dancing together, hold ourselves up and lower while moving and achieve a greater distance of travel than most people. Other students need to lower themselves before they start moving to even come close to comparing to how much we can move down the floor.

This might explain why Foxtrot is our best looking dance style and many other people dislike competitive Foxtrot, because that’s essentially the crux of what you are supposed to do. However, the Waltz was designed to look different, so this strength of ours in Foxtrot is holding us back a little bit in the Waltz. Essentially, our goal at this point is to force ourselves to lower before starting to travel like everyone else does. To do this, Lord Dormamu actually told us to take our Waltz and slow it down. Once we feel like we have slowed it down a lot, then we need to slow it down some more. This will give us time to think about and force the lowering to happen at the end of beat three and continue over into the beginning of beat one. Basically we have to drill it at ‘punishment speed’ until we get it right. Joy…

With that we moved on to the Quickstep. The first thing that we talked about after running through the routine once for him was the places where he had asked us to add in actions with our heads. He said that right now it looks like our had movements are timed to the music rather than occurring because of an action in our legs, which is bad. Our goal is to have the head motions occur as the leg starts taking our weight, so if there are places where we delay the step because we are playing with the musicality (like at the end of the Natural Spin Turn), the head motions should be delayed as well. Everything has to be connected we were told, and actions have to happen for a reason beyond just ‘our coach told us to do it.’

Next up we talked about the snap back into frame after the shaping we do in the first Progressive Chasse to the Right. Lord Dormamu asked me to make this look more prominent, more like we are actually ‘snapping’ back into normal shape. This comment set off red flags in my head, telling me that I needed to think about it a bit before just doing things. I may have mentioned before that I have a lot of mass in my upper body from all the heavy weight lifting… well, Sparkledancer can’t be much more than a little over half my body mass (I don’t know how much she weighs, but it’s A LOT less than me), so if I accidentally ‘snap’ myself too hard, there’s a chance I could hurt her. So I made a mental note to make sure I don’t do something stupid like that.

Remember the strange configuration that we were given in the first corner of our Quickstep routine? I drew a picture of it waaaaay back in the day if you don’t. Well, we are changing it slightly again, because we’ve managed to make it look good enough that we are now being allowed to upgrade it to the next level. Instead of keeping all the steps in one place, we are changing the first three steps to cover what would be half of a hexagon on the floor. That would make the fourth step at the end, which is a Slip Pivot, turn for a quarter of turn instead of an eighth. Hooray for being able to make things harder, I guess…

Finally we looked at the Running Finish figure. This figure actually took us all the way back around to what we talked about at the beginning of the lesson with the Natural Turn – in every Running Finish from here on out, Lord Dormamu wants me to pull to the side more with my right hip as I take my second step just like he wanted me to pull to the side in the Waltz Natural Turn with my left. This action should look different from the Waltz though because I am down in my legs more in the Quickstep as I take the step (I am in the middle of rising in the Waltz), so I should be able to pull my hip more here. Also, while doing this I need to be sure to take a smaller step to the side to help Sparkledancer get around me. If my step is too big, it makes her work too hard.

When Sparkledancer and I met up with Lord Dormamu yesterday night, we started out once again by looking at the Waltz, but this time we finished up by looking at Foxtrot instead of Quickstep – and that was only for a few brief minutes. While many of the points that we worked on in the Waltz were just continuations on the theme that we had started with last Thursday, there were a couple of new points that we talked about that I need to make note of so that I don’t forget them.

Let’s talk about the point that I found most interesting, because that will probably take up the most space. After dancing through the routine once, Lord Dormamu told us that our lowering action was better, but still needed more work. He then asked about how we had been working on things while practicing. I told him that Sparkledancer and I had been focusing on going through the figures slowly like he had recommended to us, generally by dropping the music down to 75% – 80% of the original tempo to work with. I felt like that was really slow, since I can certainly feel the lowering action in my right ankle from so much repetition this past week. My ankle has been kind of sore lately, even though I told it to suck it up and get over it. Silly ankle… it should just listen to me!

Lord Dormamu had a different suggestion for us to try. He told us that we really should just throw out the music entirely and work on doing the actions that would fall over beats three and one as slowly as we could physically handle. Any steps that would happen on a beat two in the music (in general – not all the time) would be where we rise up, so that had nothing to do with what we were working on here and we could go through those steps faster to move on to the next one. I had to ask, since I was concerned – how would the two of us stay together and take our steps at the same time if we didn’t have a consistent beat in the background to keep us moving in sync? He laughed at me for that question and told me that this exercise would also bey bonus practice on true lead-and-follow. Hooray…

We stopped for a couple of minutes here so that Lord Dormamu could tell us about his thoughts so that we were all on the same page. Apparently, I am one of those lucky individuals that fall into the camp of ‘innately able to hear and follow musical rhythm.’Staying on time when the music is playing is not something that Lord Dormamu ever worries about with me, because I have demonstrated time and again that I can just do it without even thinking. So in an instance like this, having the music playing in the background to try to work on staying in time with a song for extra practice is not all that useful for what we are trying to accomplish by this exercise.

In contrast to what we are trying to do while practicing super slowly – where we focus on lowering down as low as we can go and moving super slowly through those steps to make sure that every action happens in the proper place – once we get to a situation where we want to put on the music (like we did during our lesson), all of the thoughts that we are keeping in mind while moving slowly then get thrown out. Completely. The idea is that we are moving super slow and repeating the movements over and over again to train the muscles in our bodies to act in that manner so that when the music is put on the actions being in muscle memory will make our bodies unconsciously attempt to mimic the movements that we are doing slowly. Even if the music is too fast for us to lower as dramatically as we can when doing things super slow, it will appear to someone watching from the outside that we are doing everything correctly.

This type of training is really only possible because I can feel the rhythm ( yeah, yeah… the same song popped into my head there too). Lord Dormamu has another Amateur couple that he trains that he told us about as a comparison. The male in that pair cannot hear musical rhythm innately. In fact, this guy really struggles with staying on time, even to this day. It has only been through hard work and countless hours of practice that they have been able to achieve the high levels of success that they have managed over the years. Lord Dormamu would never ask that gentleman to practice his figures without at least counting out the time while doing so – because that guy needs all the extra help he can get to work on the timing. For that couple, having the music on so that they can use it to keep the timing correct is always a priority.

Incidentally, this took Lord Dormamu off on a tangent where he told us about one of that guy’s children. He said that this other Lead and his wife had put their son into piano lessons when he was young, and it didn’t take long for the piano teacher to identify that the son also had trouble with keeping musical rhythm just like his father. That has Lord Dormamu convinced that being able to hear music in that way must have some genetic component to it, since not being able to hear the rhythm seems to have been passed from father to son. Interesting…

Moving on – the Lord Dormamu also told us that doing all of our practice like this would help us fix a couple of things. First of all, the lowering, as mentioned earlier. But secondly it would allow us to work on making our dancing look the way it needed to despite the bodies that both Sparkledancer and I have.

Yup, my eyebrow went up there too. Stay with me for a second…

Apparently, as Lord Dormamu explained, both Sparkledancer and I have traits that make us look different from the ‘normal’ competitive dancer. Sparkledancer looks a lot like your average dance instructor from a distance, but I guess from afar it also looks like she has really long limbs. Lord Dormamu told us that he looks the same way – his coaches over the many, many years of training he had, always told him that his limbs looked like they were really long for his body. Because of that, if the limbs look like they are not moving with the rest of the body, it is really noticeable.

For instance, when she is preparing her leg to take a step backward, if the leg shoots backward super fast to prepare for the step, suddenly it looks like there is this long leg just hanging around back there. The longer the leg, the more the leg stands out so to speak. That’s what he said these exercises would help Sparkledancer with. Slowing the leg down will alleviate that impression, because the leg won’t be extended to full length behind her to quickly.

As for me… I am just all over different. I don’t look like a dance instructor at all, according to Lord Dormamu (other than my tendency to wear black clothing while in dance studios). I look “solid” as he so delicately put it, and then proceeded to start punching me in the chest to emphasize that point. Because of all the muscle I have, I cut an imposing and distinct frame on the floor. This becomes a problem if I let my own limbs start moving too fast on me. If the Waltz is supposed to make me look like I am heavy on the floor, and my body is solid-looking, which naturally should be heavy on the floor, then if I am stepping through the routine with very light feet the whole thing just looks wrong. Moving slowly for me and relaxing a bit to allow my natural weight settle me to the floor as I move will fix all of that.

Wow. I wrote a lot more about dance theory than actual dance steps, huh? I guess that’s what I took away from this session.

The whole reason that we looked at Foxtrot at the end of the lesson was because I asked whether we needed to work on practicing slowly without music with all of our routines, or if this exercise was just limited to the Waltz. After all, I wanted to make sure that I got things right during practice over the next week before we see him again! Foxtrot was the first style that came to mind, so he wanted to have us trying running through it once in the same slow, sans-music manner to see what it looked like.

As it turns out, none of the issues we have with the look of our Waltz are apparent in the Foxtrot. It still is our best looking dance style. The only thing he cautioned us on was a few of the foot movements through the Natural Weave, but we weren’t sure if those were an actual problem or just caused by moving at an uncomfortably slow pace through the figures, so he told us to keep an eye on them in practice and we would check them again next time.

That’s all I’ve got to say this week. It was actually a lot more than I thought I was going to say. I really have to stop being so verbose… ah well, there’s always next week for that!