Well I’ve Got One Foot On The Platform

Last Friday night I was back in pre-competition preparation mode, and I met up with Lord Dormamu for one last run-through of everything before the weekend’s event. There were only a few things that Lord Dormamu pointed out that he wanted to see changed that night, because he knew that we would have very little time to practice before actually taking the floor in front of the judges. Mostly these points were items to file away and begin work on once we get back from the competition, to help improve our dancing going forward.

The big overall note that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on changing was the connection point that we had while in frame. He wanted to see Sparkledancer up higher, and pulled around my right hip a bit more. The changes that Sparkledancer had been making with Lady Tella were obvious to him, and he was quite pleased with the difference it was making in the amount of volume that we showed while moving, but he personally preferred the connection point to be in a different spot than what Lady Tella had been recommending. Next time that Sparkledancer gets together with Lady Tella to look at her positioning, we’ll go over the changes requested with her to see what her take on the matter is.

I also discussed with him the note that Lady Tella had given to me about trying to look more ‘haughty’ and ‘arrogant’ while I’m in frame. He thought about that for a few minutes, then told me that he understands what Lady Tella is trying to get at, but he doesn’t want me to worry about trying to convey one of those emotions through my frame and posture. Instead, he wants me to hold myself as tall as possible, but not do any weird tilting of my head, just look normal. That was quite the relief to hear, let me tell you. Have I mentioned that I don’t know how to be haughty? 🙂

After that, we ran through everything in the order that we would be doing the routines during the competition, got a few notes back on things to look at, and then ran through the dance style again before moving on to the next. Starting with the Waltz, the big item that he pointed out was the Hesitation Change. He liked the way that Lady Tella had moved Sparkledancer and gotten her to grow the volume over the course of the hesitation, but he wanted to see us put a lot of sway into the figure. A lot. When he was moving me into the position he wanted to see, I felt like my left elbow was almost going to touch my left thigh!

Aside from the Hesitation Change, he also told us that he wanted to see us slightly extend out closes at the height of all our Natural Turns to really emphasize that “perfect, beautiful moment” there. In the Double Reverse Spin he wanted to see Sparkledancer create a diagonal line from her foot to her elbow on the second step, and also have us be sure to step out of the Double Reverse Spin straight down the line of dance. Some of these notes would be easy to remember for the competition, but there was really no way to repeat them enough to make them muscle memory, so I am writing them down to work on in practice later.

Quickstep was next, and that style didn’t have much in the way of notes. As I’ve mentioned several times, our routine is pretty simple, so there isn’t a whole lot of fancy technical points we could do to make it look any different. We were told to continue working with Lady Tella so that Sparkledancer can increase the volume during the dance style even more, and hold it more consistently, but that was about it.

Our Tango had only one point, but it was kind of a big item, at least in my opinion. Somewhere along the way, with a couple of different instructors emphasizing the staccato nature of the dance and how I should always wait until the last possible moment to bring my feet together, I have taken to closing my legs with a lot of power before moving on to the next figure. Lord Dormamu told me that what he actually wanted to see was still for my feet to close together at the last moment, but they would do that because the closing action should have very little energy, moving much more slowly than I was doing. So no more ‘slamming’ my feet together – now it’s nice and gentle, while the steps before and after are sharp and fierce.

We finished our runthrough with Foxtrot, and this one, like Quickstep, didn’t have much going on that Lord Dormamu wasn’t happy with. His told us that the Foxtrot was the most obviously changed dance he can see from how things looked when we started working with him a year-and-a-half ago. That makes sense, since he told us long ago that International Foxtrot is the hardest of the Standard styles, which is why we’ve spent the most time working on this style with him early on in our competitive career. I believe the way that he phrased it during this lesson was that our Foxtrot was looking well beyond Gold level, so now we can work on making sure all our other dances are like that. If the hardest dance style is already looking that good, the rest should be easier, right?

Let’s talk about competition weekend. All of my rounds that I had signed up to actually compete in were on Sunday morning, but I was also out at the competition venue on Saturday as well. My primary reason for going there was to see if I could test out the floor a little before having to dance on it in front of the judges. Different floors have a different feel to them, which sometimes makes my shoes respond differently, so I wanted to know what I would be dealing with. Around lunch the organizers had scheduled a break so that the hard-working judges could get a little food, which was a perfect opportunity to meet with Sparkledancer in the actual competition hall to try dancing a bit.

Some of the other competitors who were there practicing talked with Sparkledancer and I and told us the same thing that I was feeling – that the floor was unusually sticky for some reason. This was one of those snap-together dance floors that you sometimes see, where they click together a bunch of wooden squares to make a floor of any size desired. Usually what I worry about when I see floors like that is getting a heel caught by one of the seams, but every seam that I tested in numerous parts of the floor was smooth and flat, so lucky for me that was something I didn’t have to contend with this time around.

Sliding my feet along the floor was a worry though. A fellow competitor that I talked to described the floor as being “one of the slowest floors” they had ever danced on, and I like that description. I could get my feet to move, but it took a lot of force to cover the same distance that I am used to covering in practice. Rotational figures were also tricky. When Sparkledancer and I tried dancing together in practice hold to test things, I started off with the Waltz, and on my first Natural Turn my left foot stuck to the floor on the second step so the figure was pulled short, and my right foot closed to my left a lot faster than I wanted because all of my momentum seemed to transfer to my right leg when my left stopped moving. Yikes! It was really good idea to head out there a day early to figure out how to work on this floor. If I hadn’t done that, I think things would have gone terribly on the day of my actual rounds.

I said that this was my primary reason for going out to the venue both days this weekend, but it wasn’t my only reason. The competition organizers had also invited a well-known West Coast Swing competitor and judge to come in and teach a class that was free for all registered competitors of the competition, and I wanted to go to that as well. What? Two back-to-back weekends with fancy West Coast Swing classes? Unpossible! But it’s true, it totally happened.

The instructor for this class spent some time showing everyone a progression of figures, and talking about his ideas on how to make the dance more interesting. The way he liked to do it, as he explained to all of us, was to always think of figures to use in West Coast Swing as multiples of two. Almost all the figures you will ever see start with the same action on beats one and two, and finish with the same action that covers the last two beats. If you keep the beginning and ending of your figures constant, you should be able to dance with most partners and be successful.

But in the middle of those two pieces, almost anything is possible, as long as you always use a number of beats that is a multiple of two. Do you want a slow and dramatic turn for the lady? You can change it from a two-beat turn to a four-beat, or an eight-beat, or a thirty-two beat turn if you want (though the lady might get bored if the turn is that slow…). That was how he thought of dancing West Coast Swing musically. It’s a different take on things from the idea I got about musicality in the last West Coast Swing class I went to, but it is still an interesting and valid point, so I thought I would mention it.

The amalgamation of figures he used to show the class these ideas was built around a basic idea, where each figure uses what most people would call its “normal” timing, and we were also shown some variations that could be thrown in if you wanted to extend the figures by two-beat increments. I’ll just list the basic figures, since there were so many variations demonstrated by the instructor for many of the figures that I could go on for pages and pages just trying to describe them all.

This pattern started off with a basic Sugar Push just to get moving. From there the man would lead the lady to do a Left-side Pass, with or without a turn thrown in depending on how advanced you were. The tricky part was that at the end the men would also turn themselves through a Waist Roll, changing hands in the process to be in Handshake Hold for the Anchor Step and beyond. The Waist Roll that the guy does needs to add in at least two more beats to the figure, so at a minimum the whole thing becomes an eight count, but you could hotdog it if you wanted and make it longer.

From there we did what the instructor called a “Surprise” Tuck Turn, which was really just a basic Tuck Turn while in Handshake Hold where the partners don’t change places in the slot. As the lady finishes her spin from that turn, the guy needs to catch her right hand with his left underneath your other arm so that now you are in a Crossed-hand Hold. In this hand position the instructor had us do what he referred to as the Hustle basic without the butterfly-arm action – basically the partners changing places in the slot with no lady’s turn for the first three beats. We repeated this Hustle basic action for the second three beats of the figure, but this time we turned the lady to unwind our arms as she moved down the slot to our former location.

The men actually didn’t change places with the women as we unwound them here, we just stepped out of the slot to the left and stayed there while we turned the women. That put the ladies into a position perpendicular to us on our right side. Now we could take the next two beats (or four, or more – however many you wanted to use, as long as it was divisible by two) to let go of their hand with our left hand and slide our right hand down to pick up their left. This would allow us to use the arm to lead the lady through a Free Spin across the slot while we moved to get back into normal dance position with her for the Anchor Step of the figure, which is where the instructor ended the pattern for the day.

On Sunday I was back at the Dance Death Arena early in the morning. My rounds weren’t the first scheduled that day, but I was in the fifth or sixth one, so I was on the floor pretty early, which is never fun. I got up at the buttcrack of dawn that morning so that I could eat some food, get ready to compete, drive out to the venue, and still have some time to stretch out and warm up with Sparkledancer before the day’s events began. That was probably the least fun thing about the day.

Overall, my rounds felt good. The results I got once the judges’ scores came back were pretty good too. I didn’t manage to sweep the results and get first place from every judge in every dance I did, so obviously I still need to work on improving my dancing and my prowess in dance politics, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the numbers that I got back I can analyze the data, along with the data from my previous competitions, and refine my practice focus and my work with my instructors to get closer to that goal.

If you’re interested in the brief version of the analysis of the results I got for this competition compared to the scores that I got at the last competition, I can tell you that I definitely show a specific area that I need to improve in – the Waltz. That is definitely the style that the scores show the most weakness in when compared to the other International Standard styles. Foxtrot is still definitely my strongest, without question. That is completely understandable though, since that is the style that Lord Dormamu has worked on the most with Sparkledancer and I, as I mentioned earlier.

The other two styles that we did in the last couple of competitions are kind of a toss-up. Tango has definitely been improving, so it has been very strong recently. Prior to that, when we didn’t work on it at all, it was obviously much worse. Quickstep just… is. We do fairly well in the Quickstep, based on the aggregate scores that I see over the last few competitions that I have pulled up here in front of me. That is good, considering that we don’t put as much time into working on the style with any of our instructors as we have with any of the other dance styles, but that also means that there is likely room for improvement in there somewhere.  The scores across the board haven’t gotten better or worse over the last few competitions. Like I said, it just is what it is. I should probably spend some more time working on Quickstep and getting some feedback on improvements I can make if I want to see any change in these scores next time I compete.

Moving on… I also want to mention briefly that I skipped Monday night’s Latin Technique class this past week to go to a different dance-related meeting. I maaaaaaaaaaaaaay have gotten myself roped into helping out with another dance nonprofit endeavor. This one is very different from the Royal Dance Court group that I am also a part of, since this dance nonprofit has a focus on helping out children, but the two definitely have similarities, which is why I think that I was asked if I would help out.

In reality, I was probably asked to help because I know a bunch of the people who are helping to run this nonprofit. Lord Dormamu works with this group, as does another dance instructor friend of mine, Indiana. You may remember her as being a part of the Royal Dance Court in the past, but then having to leave because other dance commitments took up her time? Well, this was one of those other dance commitments. Also Sparkledancer is a part of this group. And now I guess I am too, since they officially voted me in at the meeting on Monday night. Hooray for me?

What does this mean for me? I’m not sure. So far, in the meeting that I was in this past week, I just threw out some ideas I thought would be useful for the projects that they are already working on. There is a new project that Lord Dormamu wants to start for this group that he said that I am going to help him with. Because it sort-of directly relates to my non-dance career, I am considered the ‘expert’ for this project. He and I are going to have a dinner meeting next week to draw up an outline of what he is thinking for this new project, and then I can take a look at his ideas and figure out if it is even going to be feasible. That could be fun, right?

Man, I just get pulled into helping with all kinds of dance things. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to end up with my fingers in so many different aspects of the Dance Kingdom that my real name is going to be well known in the dance community soon. That’s actually kind of a scary thought. I prefer to help out and work on things in the background, and let other people take the fame. Am I going to be able to keep that up if I’m going to get really involved with every new club/group/nonprofit/council/board/gang that comes to ask for my help? Will I long for the days of anonymity in the future? We’ll have to see…

This weekend will be focused on reviewing our results from the competition and putting together a plan for going forward toward the next competition on my calendar, which I think is going to be in August. I have a lesson scheduled with Lord Dormamu, and then Sparkledancer asked me to meet up with her and Lady Tella so that they can continue working on improving her positioning and volume. I don’t know if I’m going to make it out to any other dance events this weekend though. I have some work that really needs to be done on my house, which I wasn’t able to do last weekend because I was competing, so I was hoping to make that a priority for this coming weekend. But it’s always possible that I’ll be talked into going out dancing somewhere. Apparently I’m easy to talk into doing dance-related things…

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5-4-3-2 What Are You Waiting For?

Last Saturday I did several dance-related things, with one being more thought-provoking than the others. I’ll probably spend a lot of time talking about that, as I sit here staring at this blank page and mull over what I will end up writing. Hopefully you can handle that. If not, well… I’m probably going to write about it anyway, because I find it fascinating. So nyeah. Take that.

Before that though, the first thing that I did on Saturday was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Lady Tella. The two of them had agreed to get together for a short session on Saturday to look at things, and then another short session on Thursday night for a final review of how practice has been going before Sparkledancer and I run off to the Dance Death Arena to compete next weekend. I also have a final pre-competition review with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Friday night, and then I leave on early Saturday morning to make the drive out to the venue. So many things to do!

Anyway, back to last Saturday… we started off with running through all of our competition routines in full once so that Lady Tella could see everything and pick out what we needed to go back and touch on. The dance floor was busy before our lesson started because there was some kind of children’s ballroom class going on that took up the whole floor, so aside from the stretching out I was able to do on the sidelines I walked onto the floor and performed our routines cold that morning.

Because of that, when Lady Tella came over to talk to us about what she saw, she said that overall our Waltz (which was the first one that we did) looked the weakest, while our Tango looked the strongest. That made sense to me. Tango is what Sparkledancer and I had been spending a lot of our practice time going over during the week prior to this lesson, so I can imagine that it would look more ‘practiced’ than the others.

We talked about specific notes for Waltz, Quickstep and Foxtrot during this lesson, and left out the Tango because of that. Overall for me, the only real note was to continue to try to lean back slightly to avoid looking like I am toppling over my partner at any point. I had been working during practice on pulling my upper body back slightly, especially in rotational figures, based on the note that I got from Lady Tella last time I saw her about how it looked like I was coming forward slightly in rotations. She said that it helped make me look like I was even more upright, even though my lower back muscles feel like I am leaning backward. I guess I can count this as a good thing, and work on keeping it up.

Lady Tella’s notes for Sparkledancer were a bit more in-depth, so I tried to jot down what I could. The overall takeaway was for her to continue focusing on creating more volume while the two of us are moving, which you probably guessed. For the specific dances, we started with Waltz. Lady Tella wanted Sparkledancer to think about keeping her sides long the whole time, and to lean back slightly (like I am doing), especially during rotational figures. She told us to watch our transitions to Promenade Position and to make sure that we are not dipping down on my left/Sparkledancer’s right side. Also, she told Sparkledancer to make sure that her head openings were slower, and to make sure that she takes the long way while doing it… whatever that means.

By the time we finished working through the Waltz, Lady Tella told us that it was looking much better than it had when we danced through it the first time. We promised her that on competition day we wouldn’t be taking to the floor cold, so if the issues we had were caused by that, it would be an easy fix. That just means I have to get up even earlier on competition day… no big deal, right? Who needs to sleep?

Quickstep was brief for us, since there isn’t much to it. There was a question that we had that had for Lady Tella that had come up recently in our practice about the Running Finish at the end of the first short wall. Lady Tella had told Sparkledancer to open her head at a certain point, but I was actually creating the sway in the figure at a later time, so it looked like the head opening was disconnected from the sway. When we showed it to Lady Tella, she agreed, and refined what she had told Sparkledancer so that she was now waiting until I create the sway in the figure to make the head opening action match.

We had some issues going through the Foxtrot because the staff at the Endless Dance Hall were starting to set up for an event, and they were dragging tables out onto the floor that I suddenly had to work around. It was hard to find a line of floor that was long enough to get through all the figures we wanted to look at contiguously! I wonder if they did that on purpose to try to get us to leave? We were the only dancers in the building when they started doing this…

Lady Tella wanted to have us run a portion of the routine at the beginning, so I changed the angles of several of the figures slightly to avoid running into any tables. THe way I had done that though made Lady Tella think we had a problem with our Reverse Turn with Feather Finish. However, when I managed to find a section of floor big enough to run through the figure with the right angles (which required taking smaller steps as well), the problem went away. Assuming that there won’t be a bunch of tables in the middle of the floor at the venue during the competition, we should be alright. Other than that, she wanted to make sure Sparkledancer was leaning back and keeping the volume while we were dancing the routine.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up at the fancy West Coast Swing gathering, just like I mentioned last week. A local West Coast Swing club had advertised that they were bringing in some high-level West Coast Swing coach to teach this weekend, and during the afternoon he was going to be giving four group lectures on top of private lessons. I wasn’t able to get there for all of the workshops that they were offering that day unfortunately, but I was lucky enough to make it to two of them.

Originally I had only thought about going to one of the two that afternoon – the one that promised to show me some new, fancy figures that I didn’t know. It’s been a while since I’d learned any new West Coast Swing figures, so I thought that could be fun. But later in the week I read through the description of the second class, and it peaked my interest enough that I decided to stick around for it on Saturday. Boy am I glad that I did, because the lecture that the guy gave during the class was fascinating to me, and gave me a lot to think about for the future of my own competitive dancing.

Let me write out the figures that I learned in the fancy moves class first before I start writing about the other class though, because it is likely I will go off on a tangent talking about that material, and I want to make sure to document these figures so that I won’t forget them…

We started off in closed position, which looks like the basic hold for East Coast Swing. The instructor wanted to show everyone a six-count starter step. Most people who have done West Coast Swing normally only do a four-count version – a triple step to one side, then to the other, then go into like a Sugar Push or something. The instructor had us add on two steps before the two triple steps, making it into a six count.
I know that sounds easy, but we had one gentleman in class who could not for the life of him get this down. He struggled through just the starter step with several partners, unable to overcome his many years of muscle memory that had only done a four-count starter, and then he gave up and sat out in a chair along the side for the rest of class. Talk about a rough start!

For the amalgamation we were given, we did the six-count starter and then went into a Spinning Side Pass. A Spinning Side Pass is just a Left-side Pass with a lady’s Underarm Turn thrown in. Not too tough yet, right? After that we did a more complex variation that began like a normal Whip, but at the end of the first six beats the men over rotated to put the lady into Outside Partner on our left side. On beat seven the guy would step across the lady with his right leg and on beat eight he pivots 90° to the right without changing feet to end up back in closed position just like at the beginning.

From there we went into a Sugar Push. Since the guy is perpendicular to the lady, his first step is to his left side and then he rotates before taking his next step backward, which puts him back into the normal position you’d expect for a Sugar Push. Next we did a slow and fancy Underarm Turn that had sort of a ‘peek-a-boo’ moment in the middle. This figure extends the normal Underarm Turn to an eight-count and doesn’t have the partners changing places. The guy starts with two steps back like normal, then the triple step. As you step forward on your left leg, you hold in place while bringing your left arm slowly over the lady’s head. In the middle of the rotation, her body should be bent to the side slightly with her right hip out and she should be able to face you. On beat six you finally rotate her back in front of you, and you both do your Anchor on seven and eight.

Almost done, just two more figures to go (maybe three, depending on how you look at it)! We started another Sugar Push basic, but this time we ended with something that the instructor called a ‘Rock and Go’ ending. Basically, instead of doing the Anchor portion of the Sugar Push, the guys will do a rock step and tie the next figure into the first. In our pattern, that figure was another Spinning Side Pass. The rock step became both the last two beats of the Sugar Push and the first two beats of the Spinning Side Pass at the same time. When all is said and done, these two six-count figures share two beats, so you end up with what looks like a single ten-count figure.

To wrap things up, we finished with a Same Side Whip. The figure starts out like a basic Whip, but instead of taking a step around the lady on beats three and four, the guys just step off to the left and do our triple step while she comes forward and rotates, but then we send her back the way she came from while stepping back to our starting position before the Anchor. In the process of sending the lady back, you have the option to just let her walk and rotate, or you could give her a Underarm Turn or a Tuck Turn to do, just in case you want to make things challenging for her.

OK, maybe that note about the pattern wasn’t as short as I would have hoped. I apologize.

Let’s talk about the other class now. The description of the class that intrigued me talked about learning how to dance properly with the music. I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do that was worth some of the money from my wallet, which is why I decided to attend, but what the class ended up talking about has gotten me to thinking, as I mentioned. Anyway, to set things up, during the first section of the class we were given a bit of choreography to work with – a basic pattern, and then some variations to those figures to try to throw in while we were dancing.

The basic pattern went like this: a Sugar Push, then a Left-side Tuck Turn, then a lady’s Underarm Pass, then a double-spin for the ladies of some kind (the Lead could choose to do two inside or outside turns), and finally a Whip to finish off. Pretty basic, right? We were then shown specific accents to do during each of the figures, and they were as follows:

  • Sugar Push: replace the first step with a kick-ball change
  • Left-side Tuck Turn: syncopate the timing on the first triple step while the man is out of the slot
  • Underarm Pass: both partners do a side break to the man’s right on beat five before the Anchor
  • Double spin: no changes
  • Whip: replace the first step with a kick-ball change

Again, pretty easy variations to remember, right? You could use these whenever you are dancing a West Coast Swing if you do one of these figures, and people might think that you are cool. But there is a reason that they are in there. Did you try dancing the pattern? Did you feel the reasoning? I admit that I did not see it until it was pointed out to me in the last section of the class, so if you didn’t feel it either, I’m right there with you.

The basic pattern itself is built the way it is built for a specific reason. There are four six-count figures followed by one eight-count figure. Thirty-two beats of music total, or four eight-beat measures. In most songs that you would dance West Coast Swing to, that is one musical phrase. Are you starting to see it now? If you don’t, look at the timing where each of the variations we were given were thrown in: the first beat of the Sugar Push, the third beat of the Left-side Tuck Turn, the fifth beat of the Underarm Pass, nowhere in the double spin, and the first beat of the Whip.

Musically, those line up with beat one of each of the eight beat measures in the phrase. Essentially, you are dancing and putting the more complicated variations in while you are dancing to show that you can hear each bar of the music. The double-spin, being the most complicated turn for the ladies, is specifically slotted into the pattern during a period in the phrase where there is no beat one – it starts on beat three of its eight beat measure, and finishes on beat eight. That is why it is the only figure to have no variation.

Once this was explained to all of us, we were told to go back and try dancing the pattern again, but this time to try counting along with the music in counts of eight. This threw off a lot of people, because many of us have been taught by our instructors over the years to count out the parts of the figure, not count with the music. This isn’t a bad thing when the figures line up with the measures in the music (like basic Natural and Reverse Turns in Waltz), but with a dance like West Coast Swing where we are doing six beat figures to music that is not built on six beat measures, you tend to lose something.

I had a different problem, which the instructor also mentioned to others in class. He said that some people tend to count the music they are dancing to more like how the measures are written rather than how it sounds. You may have spent time around a conductor if you were in a band or choir class in your youth, and have heard them count the music as “1,2,3,4; 2,2,3,4; 3,2,3,4” etc. That is basically how I hear music if I’m not counting it out loud. I had a lot of musical training in my youth, so that’s what I’m used to doing internally.

This presents a problem though, because it essentially gives you a beat one every count of four, rather than in counts of eight. Think about the average song that you would dance a West Coast Swing to. I like to think of slow rock songs for West Coast Swing – that’s just what I feel is the most appropriate music for the dance style. If you think about the vocalist singing above the music, generally you can hear that the first four beats are strong, while the second four are slightly softer, so the song feels like it is built in counts of eight. Examples off the top of my head from songs most of you probably know…

Give me one reason to stay here / and I’ll turn right back around.”

Black velvet / and that little boy smile.”

She could tell right away / that I was bad to the bone.”

If you can’t hear the song in your head after reading those lyrics, you can use them to look up the song and listen to it online. <Brief pause so you can listen> See what I mean? So based on that, emphasizing the first beat out of eight strongly is something you want to consider to really make it look like you are dancing with the music, not just dancing a memorized pattern. If your pattern repeats (as most patterns dancers learn do), but the pattern is not built to repeat on musical phrase (or floorcraft requirements took you off pattern briefly) and you start over at a point that is in the middle of one of those eight-beat measures, it is entirely possible that your variations will have to be on different points of the figures the second time through.

That, this instructor said, is what musicality means. And that’s the point that got me thinking. I’ve had brief discussions with several instructors that I’ve worked with about musicality in the past, but when they talk about dancing musically, they usually give examples of changing the timing of the steps in your figures. The example that comes up most is in the Waltz, where they want you to hold the step on beat two of three slightly longer than the other two beats to give it more emphasis. If you’ve done competitions in Waltz before, you may have been told this as well.

This particular example from class shown through West Coast Swing immediately brings to mind Foxtrot, for me at least. The music that is chosen for Foxtrot, while having different qualities than what I think of as a ‘West Coast Swing song’ is built the same structurally. When I am practicing Foxtrot without music playing, normally I count it in four. But is that right, or should I start thinking about them more in eight-count increments? Will I have to add in different emphasis in parts of certain figures to show that I know where the first beat of each measure is in relation to what I am doing? How would I even begin to do something like that? International Foxtrot doesn’t usually have ‘flair’ in it, you know…

The opening of my Bronze Foxtrot routine was built as follows: a simple starter step that is a count of eight, a Feather that is a count of four, a Reverse Turn with Feather Finish that is a count of eight, a Three Step that is a count of four, and a Natural Weave that is a count of eight. That is the first four eight-beat measures, much like the instructor in the West Coast Swing class put together. If you walk through the counts, you’ll see that not all of the figures start on beat one. The starter step obviously does, as does the Feather, but the Reverse Turn does not. The Feather Finish of the Reverse Turn does, however. So, do you really want to do something to show emphasis on beat one of each measure if it the emphasis subdivides a figure like that?
Another possibility: In contrast to thinking about the Foxtrot being built in eight-beat measures, I could see it to be better to think about dancing the Foxtrot by phrase instead. That would definitely provide the continuity between the figures that International Foxtrot is known for, at least during each phrase. In a competition setting though, to do that properly you would have to be sure to start the routine at the beginning of the musical phrase – if those are thirty-two beat increments, that means that I would have to be sure to start exactly on beat one of the song, or else I am waiting until beat thirty-three. Starting anywhere else means that my routine does not line up with the phrase in the song. Would the judges think that it is appropriate if I hung out at the beginning unmoving for thirty-two beats? Something about that strikes me as wrong, so I probably wouldn’t.

I’m not sure if any of this line of thinking really interests anyone else, but I find it fascinating, and could probably ramble on about it for much longer. I took a lot of music theory classes in my youth, and I hadn’t really thought about that material in a long time until after I went to this class, so now I have all these interesting connections going on in my brain that are a lot of fun for me. I’ll spare you the full force of those connections though… for now. Maybe I’ll touch on it again in the future for other dances as new revelations about musicality come to me.

Well, a weekend devoted to competition is upon me again. Even though I go through all my rounds in the time span of a few hours on one day, it always seems like the competition sucks up my whole weekend somehow. What’s up with that? This time around, I didn’t schedule anything else for this weekend, just in case. No lessons, no work stuff, no parties – the plan is just to focus on what I’ve got to do, and not worry about anything else until Monday.

Will having a clear schedule this weekend make a difference in how the competition goes? Not from the standpoint of my results, but rather from the mental and emotional drain that running around to these competition events causes? We’ll have to see! I’ll tell you all about it next week!

Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Back To The Middle And Around Again

I did a lot of things last Saturday to make up for not having any actual dance lessons the Saturday prior. For some reason I decided that having a double lesson with Lord Dormamu first thing in the morning was a good idea, and then when that was done I was talked into going to a double lesson with Lady Tella as well. Not content with just having that much on my plate for the day, I also went to a dance party that night! I feel like I wasn’t actually home at all that day..

Because of all the things I had planned to do that day, I ended up waking up early on Saturday morning to meet with Lord Dormamu. We had arranged to get together at such an early time that the Endless Dance Hall was still locked when I showed up. So much for getting there a little before my lesson to warm up. As I sat in the parking lot waiting for someone to show up and let me in, I watched a bunch of people running along the sidewalk in front of the studio, many of them wearing weighted vests. I’m pretty sure that there is some kind of fitness studio near the Endless Dance Hall that was putting on this running… thing, that was going on, because these people would run by, then run back, then run by again, then run back again, over and over.

Both Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer showed up after I had been sitting there for ten minutes or so and I finally got to go inside. After a quicker than planned warm-up, we got started by looking over our Waltz routine. Overall Lord Dormamu was pleased with how well the Waltz looked after watching what was essentially a cold run-through. He felt better about how our rising action was looking, telling us that we had definitely managed to get rid of the ‘popping’ that we had been previously been doing, but now that we have fixed that problem he wanted to see us work on the lower half of our swing through the steps.

The way that he explained it to us was like this: imagine that your height is split into ten equal sections from the floor up to your head. When we took frame at the beginning of the routine, before we even started moving with the music, the height we were holding would be the neutral or resting point, which he said was a five. If we went through the first Natural Turn in the routine, the apex of the Natural Turn would be considered a seven. Our problem was that the lowering action he was seeing from across the room was only going down to a four, so there wasn’t enough of a change between the lowest point in the figure and the apex.

What he wanted us to start working on to fix this was not just lowering more into the figures. While that would make the height of the rise versus the fall look more dynamic, Sparkledancer and I are not exactly the same height, so we would run the risk of lowering different amounts. Lord Dormamu told me that this is one of those rare instances where I actually have to adjust the action in my body slightly to press downward against Sparkledancer from my midsection, allowing me to control how much she lowers.

If I am doing this correctly, the amount that we both lower will look equal. That will prevent what he sees couples doing sometimes when he is judging, where one partner is essentially sliding their body down the front of the other because they are lowering more than their partner is. By putting me in control of how far down we go, telling Sparkledancer how far she should lower by pressing her downward with my body, she will always stay connected to me at the same point. Therefore, no risk of sliding. Pus, I’m much heavier than Sparkledancer, so there’s very little chance that she could fight against me pressing down on her, meaning that I will always get my way.

Of course, this means that from now on, if we don’t lower enough it’s going to be all my fault. No pressure there, right?

After Waltz we spent a bit of time looking over the Foxtrot. There were a few specific points that I took away from this section to focus on during practice this week. The big positive note that I was told was that my leg action is looking smoother, so the work that I have been doing during practice has been paying off. However, overall I was told that I could be keeping it lower, so that is something to spend more time working on. Then there is the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish again, which I was told was looking like it popped up a lot during the times I was going through it. I may have been rushing the first step of the figure for some reason, because if I think about it and take it slower, the issue doesn’t happen.

We also spent a bit of time looking at the Natural Weave as well, though that wasn’t for me. Lord Dormamu wasn’t happy about how Sparkledancer’s positioning looked while we were going through the figure. He gave her a few pointers to try to help, but rather than spend a whole lot of time trying to fix her himself he asked her to spend some time working with Lady Tella specifically on that figure since we were going to see her later that day. Aside from that one figure in Foxtrot, he said that we should spend the rest of our time with her having her look at Sparkledancer in the Quickstep. Our Quickstep routine is relatively simple, and we usually score extremely well in that style, so having Sparkledancer look as best as possible should keep us on top he said.

After finishing up paperwork with Lord Dormamu, we got a half-hour break and then we met up with Lady Tella. For much of this lesson, just like last time the two of them got together, I was mostly used as a male body for Lady Tella to demonstrate with or for Sparkledancer to practice with. It is good for me to be there, since the changes that Lady Tella is working with Sparkledancer on implementing end up slightly changing our center of balance, so it is good for me to be able to feel that and get used to it as it is happening, but not a whole lot of information they discuss is actually directed toward me.

When we started, Sparkledancer explained to Lady Tella that Lord Dormamu specifically wanted her to look at the Natural Weave in the Foxtrot, and then once that was done to start looking at her overall shape in the Quickstep. Lady Tella wanted to start us off by watching us go through the entire Foxtrot routine so that she could see everything in context before we pulled out just one small section to look at. After the initial run-through, I walked through the figures in the section in question with Lady Tella in practice hold, telling her the name of each figure before stepping through it. Apparently knowing the names of the figures that are in your routine is a skill most people don’t have, because Lady Tella told me that she wouldn’t have known the names if I hadn’t told her.

The ladies spent quite a bit of time working through Sparkledancer’s body position in the Natural Weave, trying to get it to look better. There wasn’t actually much there for me to do, other than stand where I was told and lead one or the other of them through the figures when needed. The only real comment that I got was that Lady Tella preferred that I put slightly more emphasis on the right-side sway during the Weave-portion of the Natural Weave. Doing so, she told me, made the movement of Sparkledancer’s head seem more natural. If I didn’t emphasize the sway enough, she said that from the outside it looks like Sparkledancer is just moving her head because she was told to, not because she is being led to.

Once everyone was happy with the way that section of Foxtrot looked and felt, we switched over to Quickstep for a bit. The girls talked through all the points where Lady Tella saw that Sparkledancer was losing her position, and parts where she wanted her to emphasize her stretch outward even more as we traveled. A couple of places we spent a lot of time on were the two Natural Spin Turns in the routine, particularly the second one. In the first corner, we have that strange, not-quite-Bronze amalgamation that Lord Dormamu gave us of a Natural Spin Turn with a Slip Pivot that has never really felt in control. Lady Tella could see that during our initial run-through, so she worked with Sparkledancer to see if she could help.

While the two of them were discussing her part, I decided to focus on keeping my third step in line with the line of dance. When we were originally taught the figure, I was coming around Sparkledancer much more on that third step, more toward diagonal wall. That meant that the Slip Pivot would have to turn 90° to finish pointing diagonal center before going into a Double Reverse Spin. That much rotation in two different directions in such a short amount of time is what causes the feeling of being out-of-control. If I reduce the step I take to go toward line of dance, the Slip Pivot only has to turn 45°, which gives Sparkledancer much more time to prepare her leg to go backward into the Heel Turn for the Double Reverse Spin. I think it helps a lot, so I’m going to keep doing it unless I’m told otherwise.

To cap things off on Saturday, I went out that night to a party being hosted at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior had put together something fancy to celebrate the holiday weekend, and had booked a local jazz band to come play music throughout the evening. That sounded like a particularly fun and interesting event to attend, so I headed out there. This also happened to be the only dance party in the whole Dance Kingdom scheduled for that night, so this is where everyone else ended up for dancing, too.

There was some time set aside right at the beginning of the night where Lord Junior planned on teaching a beginner Foxtrot lesson while the band was getting their equipment setup. I hadn’t planned on participating, so I didn’t arrive until about ten minutes after the class started. Lord Junior had a whole bunch of people in the class though, with several more women than men, so as soon as I walked in the door he called me out in the middle of whatever he was teaching and told me to put my shoes on and jump in to help.

The figures that Lord Junior was showing everyone were just the absolute basics for American Foxtrot – just the Forward Basic and Left Rock Turn. As he explained, this was only supposed to be a short beginner class and he just wanted to give all the newcomers the ability to get around the floor during a song if they wanted to give it a try. Most of the second-half of class was spent with the men rotating through partners to allow everyone to practice what they learned. When I would change partners, if I came across any lady that I didn’t recognize I would take a second to introduce myself and ask them if they had ever done this before. I had quite a few women tell me that this was their first time ever dancing Foxtrot, so this party that Lord Junior had put together obviously attracted quite a few newcomers.

During the last few rotations that Lord Junior had the class go through with the music that he was playing from his sound system, the drummer and the bass player from the band started to play along with the song that Lord Junior had chosen. He took that as a signal from the band letting him know that they were ready to go, so he wrapped up the class and turned the night over to them.

I thought that the party was fun. I spent more time just listening to the band play than I did dancing, and I’m OK with that turn of events. Most of the dancing that I did was during the few breaks that the band got throughout the evening, where Lord Junior would plug his phone into the sound system and play some songs that he thought were fun, in dance styles that the band didn’t play much, like Quickstep, Viennese Waltz or West Coast Swing.

There was one lady that was at the party though that kind of made me uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that I danced with her once in the group class as we were rotating through partners, but then I felt like she was watching me the rest of the night. Maybe she wanted to dance with me, but I was always talking to other people who I knew. Maybe she thought I was funny looking. Maybe I had something on my shirt and she really just wanted to point it out to me. I don’t know. Sparkledancer also caught her watching me, and came over to tell me at one point during the party. Of course, her take on the situation was that the lady was looking at me with “hungry eyes” because I was a single male who had some moderate skill in dance. Weird.

Aside from avoiding “hungry eyes” lady that evening, I also spent some time talking with one older gentleman during the course of the party. He was telling me a fascinating tale about two other dancers who had come to the party that night. The lady in his story was someone who is well-known in the social dance community, having been part of it for many years and serving on the boards of various dance clubs in the area during that time. The gentleman in question is a relatively recent addition to the social dance scene here. He moved to the area from somewhere else, knowing a bit about dance when he arrived, but with so many instructors and classes in the area to work with this guy has really blossomed as a social dancer.

At some point in the last year these two people started dating, and now they go out to almost every dance party in the area together. The older gentleman I was talking to told me that many of the social dancers now refer to them as the ‘Ballroom Power Couple’ because they think these two are such good dancers. Older gentleman was quick to tell me that these two were not good in the same way that I am, since he has been around when Sparkledancer and I have been practicing so he’s seen how I can dance, but this ‘Ballroom Power Couple’ is good enough to impress all the social dancers they spend time around.

Maybe I’ll have to check in on these two as time goes on… you know, to see if all that power goes to their head. That could be interesting and amusing to keep notes about, right?

Here’s a funny thing that also happened this weekend…

Last Sunday afternoon I had gone out to the Electric Dance Hall to meet up with Sparkledancer for our regular Sunday practice time. This particular Sunday afternoon, the studio was practically empty, I’m guessing because of the holiday weekend. The only people who I saw in the studio when I got there was Lord Junior and a young couple he was working with on what looked like a wedding dance, and then Sparkledancer who was sitting in a chair against the back wall putting on her shoes.

I waved hello to Lord Junior and then wandered over to put on my own dance shoes and stretch out a bit before we got started. When I stood up and looked back toward the front of the building, I caught sight of a tiny body running out toward the dance floor, yelling something to Lord Junior. It turns out that he had brought his young daughter, who I think isn’t even three years old yet, along with him that afternoon.

Since Lord Junior was teaching, he told his daughter that he was busy with the couple that he was teaching, then told her to go say hi to Sparkledancer and I instead. This excited the little girl immensely, so she turned to look over at where I was standing and stretching out my shoulders, then ran as fast as she could over to say hello. The conversation I had with her was amusing. First of all, she is super young, so her command of the English language was very basic. Secondly, she was really quiet, so even though she laughed loudly when excited, I had to lean over or crouch down near her to understand half the words coming out of her mouth.

What I learned in my conversation with this young lady is that she wants to be the Ballerina Princess. Not a Princess Ballerina – I asked to make sure I had that right, and apparently Ballerina Princess is correct, and Princess Ballerina is wrong. When Sparkledancer asked her if she knew how to dance, she told us that she really was taking ballet classes, then she showed us her best dance moves. I swear this child is already a better dancer than I am. Must be nice growing up with a parent who owns a dance studio, right?

Things got even funnier after that though. I’m not sure how it happened, but after talking about becoming the Ballerina Princess then she started talking about her dog at home… then she was telling me about the dog digging holes in the yard… then she got down on her hands and knees to show me how the dog dug holes so it could sniff worms, because apparently that’s what dogs do once the hole is dug. After that, she told me that she was a puppy, so she started crawling around the dance studio like a puppy, digging holes, sniffing worms and barking occasionally. When she came back around to Sparkledancer and I, she told us that we could play puppies with her, but since we were bigger she would be the baby puppy while Sparkledancer was the mommy puppy and I had to be the daddy puppy.

I’m not sure how we were able to be puppies and also somehow able to have her as a puppy, but I never questioned her on that. Funny. So yeah. That’s a true story that happened during dance practice this weekend.

Skipping ahead for brevity, on Wednesday night I was back out at the Electric Dance Hall for Standard Technique class. When I got there that night the Ballerina Princess was back, and this time she had her older sister with her. Sister is only a year older, so both of these girls are tiny. Their mom (Lord Junior’s wife) was wandering around the studio talking to people, so the two girls were just running around being silly. When I sat down to change into my dance shoes, both of the girls ran over to talk. The older girl was telling all of us sitting in that area all about her ballet recital over the weekend, and how she danced all by herself on stage in front of everyone while her mom was in the back. Ballerina Princess was talking about… something, but she was talking so fast and so quietly that I didn’t catch any of it, so I just smiled and nodded.

Eventually the girls got tired of standing around talking and they started running around in circles. Being the accommodating adults that we are, Sparkledancer, Veep and I, who were all sitting along the back wall, would hold out our hands so that they could high-five us as they ran by. I’m kind of jealous of how much energy that these two small girls had stored up inside them, because they just kept running as fast as their tiny legs would carry them for ten minutes straight, laughing the whole time.

When it was time for them to leave with their mother, Lord Junior came over and crouched down in the middle of the floor and held up his hands for high-fives like Sparkledancer, Veep and I. However, this was all a trick, because as soon as the girls changed direction to run over and slap his hands, he grabbed them both up and picked them up off the ground to carry them out to the car. So tricky! That meant play time was over, and it was time for class to start.

We looked at some Foxtrot this week in class, with all figures in the progression we were given coming straight from the Bronze and Silver syllabus. Starting out heading toward diagonal center, we did a Feather and then added on an Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending. I know that sounds like four different figures, but it is actually the name of one figure in the Silver-level syllabus for International Foxtrot. Go ahead, look it up! See what I mean?

When we finished the Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending we were back traveling toward diagonal center once more. Here we added on a basic Three Step and then went into a Natural Telemark to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Natural Telemark before that night. It’s another figure from the Silver-level syllabus, and this one is all rotational so you don’t have to worry about traveling anywhere. There’s a spot in the middle where you take a small side-step as the lady is turning around you, and the trick I was told here was to lower even further into my legs briefly before coming up for the Feather Finish. That slight lowering should help stop the lady’s turn so that she can prepare to start moving in a new direction for the next steps.

That’s all I want to make notes about this week. There were other things that I did, but none of them are important or amusing enough for me to care to write down. Plus, this is already long enough as-is. I hope that your week of dancing has gone as well as mine. Until next time!