Come Along With Me And The Butterflies And Bees

I like holiday weekends. About half of them afford me a little extra time to myself to get some normal life stuff done. This past weekend was like that. A bunch of stuff was cancelled on Monday because of the holiday, and a dance party that was supposed to happen over the weekend got cancelled because the person running it got ill, so the weekend ended up being quieter than I had initially planned. Hooray for that. I was able to get some extra sleep for several days in a row.

But I still managed to do some dancing, because I always manage to do some dancing. Actually, humorously enough, I managed to somehow schedule multiple times to see Lord Dormamu this past week. I know I mentioned that it is hard to pin him down due to his crazy travel schedule, but he was actually in town over the weekend because of the holiday, so I was able to fit in a bit of extra time working with him and Sparkledancer on Monday afternoon since I wasn’t in the office. On top of that, we had a normal lesson scheduled on Wednesday evening already! That’s like… a lot! I’ve got the notes to prove it too!

Rather than break things down per session for the two days I worked with him, I think I’m going to combine my notes for the two coaching sessions and instead break things up by dance style. When I look back on these notes during practice, that will be far more helpful for me instead of trying to keep things chronological. I don’t really have to mention that I’m doing things this way, since these are my notes and I can do whatever I want, but I thought it might be nice to warn you ahead of time.

Let’s work back through these from the one with the least amount of notes to the ones with the most. That means that we start with Quickstep, obviously. Our Quickstep, as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t really have a whole lot to think about in it right now. The routine is mostly a combination of Chasses and Lock Steps and very few rotating figures. The real fun/work (depending on how you look at it) doesn’t start until we get to do all the figures with hopping and kicking in them. For now, the only real change that Lord Dormamu wants us to try and work into our Quickstep comes in the first corner where we have that Reverse Pivot from a Natural Spin Turn. During the checking action that connects those two pieces, he wants both Sparkledancer and I to try and work in a double head flicking action, like you’d see in Tango. Yeesh… that will be fun if I can get it, right?

Moving on to Tango, I was only given a couple of notes, though one of them was a bit more… impressionistic, I guess, rather than technical. That was the first thing that we talked about after running through the routine once. Lord Dormamu caught up to Sparkledancer and I as we were walking back and told me that he wished that I would just be more arrogant while I danced the Tango. He said that he realized that I was a nice guy, which is why I appear so calm and friendly while I dance, but that is not the spirit that the Tango is supposed to give off. Does this sound like a familiar argument?

According to Lord Dormamu, it’s easy for me to look more intimidating than other male dancers on the floor. I don’t need to do anything weird to puff myself up and try and look bigger – because of all the weightlifting that I have done over the last few years, I can already look bigger and more intimidating than other men in my rounds without even trying very hard. The problem is that I have a tendency to dance while smiling, or I will tell jokes while we’re moving and start laughing, which completely breaks the intimidation persona. Personally I don’t see this as a problem, but I have a different outlook on life than Lord Dormamu.

He told me a story about a time when he was auditioning a new partner back in the height of his competitive career. Before they started to dance a Tango, he asked how she felt about the dance. She told him that she would be able to keep up with him, so they put on some music and they danced in the serous and arrogant manner he wants me to start using to see how things would go. The audition had to end shortly thereafter so that they could pop over to the Emergency Room, because he basically broke this girl in the process of dancing that Tango.

Yeah, really. That actually happened. Don’t worry though, they made up after that incident, and ended up competing together quite successfully for years. That didn’t really make me feel better about what he was asking me to do though. I mean, you have to realize that Sparkledancer is tiny compared to me, and I am much, much stronger than Lord Dormamu… can you imagine why I may not want to just step up and dance the Tango in that fashion?

Aside from the comments on styling, we talked about doing a more advanced shaping in every Back Corte during the routine, which involves me stepping around Sparkledancer slightly more to allow her to work off me differently. During the Right-side Lunge in the first corner, Lord Dormamu cautioned Sparkledancer to make sure that during her shaping she needs to keep her shoulders open to me and avoid tipping to one side. Finally, in the Natural Promenade Turn Lord Dormamu wanted to see us flow more as we go through the rotation.

Next up we have the Waltz. The first thing that we touched on was the Natural Spin Turn. Here, he wants us to emphasize the shaping much more than we have been doing so far, and to watch the second step of the figure to make sure that it doesn’t rise too quickly while we’re thinking about other things. During the Chasse from Promenade Position, Sparkledancer was told to be careful with her footwork – she got caught taking a heel step at the wrong time. All along the short wall, Sparkledancer was told to watch her head openings, to make sure that they were nice and slow and deliberate.

The last issue in Waltz was a strange one. After the Whisk along the short wall, we go into a Chasse from Promenade Position and then right into a Natural Turn. As we were going into that Natural Turn, Lord Dormamu said that he saw me cocking my hips off to the left strangely. They got back into shape once we closed the Natural Turn, but he couldn’t figure out why I was doing that. He tried to do it with me while watching, and I didn’t do it that time, which confused him even more.

Stepping through the figure slowly with Sparkledancer, I found that the process we had been using where I closed her from Promenade Position while winding up to the left to go into the Natural Turn was pulling her across my body just enough so that her right leg ended up in front of mine. Since I have muscular legs and needed enough room to swing my leg freely to move, I had been moving my hips off to the side to give myself the room I needed without really realizing that I was doing that. So, now I’m not supposed to do that anymore. Sparkledancer isn’t really changing where she ends up while closing, so apparently I just have to force my leg to squeeze through an area where there is not enough room. I can just picture this not ending well in the long term…

Finally, let’s close with Foxtrot. For me, I still need to continue focusing on my leg actions, keeping myself lowering slightly at the end of the last step in each figure and holding at that level for the first step of the next. Most spots I am doing really well with this, but the places where Lord Dormamu isn’t quite happy yet is still the transition that happens after every Three Step, and the transition after the Change of Direction. He said if I can really fix those, everything would be beautiful. The only other small note he gave me was to start working on adding the sway back into my Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. It was taken out previously to get my Heel Turn under control, but now he says it looks like I am doing well enough to work it back in. Hooray for progress?

Sparkledancer had a few more notes to remember. First she was asked to think about keeping her hips toward me during the Feather and in the Natural Weave, which really means that she needs to be more contra-body to me. We spent some time looking specifically at the Natural Weave for her after that. The big takeaways were that she needs to move her foot more to the side during the Heel Turn at the start of the figure, and then as we come around she wants to delay her head opening until the body can’t wait any longer.

Once we got past the Natural Weave, we looked briefly at the checking action in the first corner, where Sparkledancer was asked to keep more in line with me. After that, we went back to look at her part of the Closed Impetus with Feather Finish. She was told that she needs to be sure to step around me more so that we fully rotate as much as we need to, and to think about her part of the figure much like a Natural Spin Turn in the Waltz, where she basically comes up and around me as I pivot in place.

Finally, we got to her part in the Change of Direction. Lord Dormamu already mentioned to me that I need to work on controlling my step coming out of the figure as I go into the Feather afterward, but even when I was thinking about it he saw me come up unexpectedly during the transition. We came to the realization that I was basically lowering on top of Sparkeldancer’s leg as I stepped through, which caused me to come up instinctively to protect her (and myself). To counter this, Lord Dormamu wanted Sparkledancer to move her hips back during the latter steps of the figure to make sure her legs are out of the way for safety.

Whew! You got all that? OK, well we’re moving on anyway.

I had another dance-related meeting that I had to go to this Tuesday night as well. It wasn’t a Royal Dance Court meeting, like I had to go to last week. This one was for the second dance NPO that I was talked into helping out for. Remember when that happened back in July? Yeah, that group scheduled a meeting that just happened to be exactly a week after the other dance NPO group that I am a member of scheduled a meeting. Do I have conspiracy theories running rampant in my head that tell me these two groups are working together to monopolize my Tuesdays? You bet your butts that I do, but I can’t talk about those theories right now because all my tinfoil is so far away at the moment…

This meeting ended up being really short because most of the other people that are supposed to be on the board of this organization were not able to make the meeting, and only informed the rest of us of that fact at the last minute. Silly people, letting their lives get in the way of their dance lives… who does that? Even without the others in the meeting, those of us that did attend made decisions on some ideas that the others are just going to have to live with. Only one decision has any real monetary consequence though – the others are mainly about projects already in motion and organizational things that I’m surprised no one has set up before.

Let’s start with that thought, because it really makes me shake my head in sadness. So we were talking about some grant that the organization had applied for before I was asked to join. There is all kinds of documentation that the grant people are asking to have submitted for consideration before they would award the grant, as I’m sure you could guess. Some of that documentation already exists supposedly, while other pieces of it I was told could be cobbled together in less than an hour if a couple of the people got together and worked on it.

As I was listening to these people discuss gathering the documentation and creating the missing pieces, I had to raise my hand and ask the silly question that no one had mentioned in the discussion: where is all this documentation stored, and how does everyone in the group get access to it? That got me a bunch of strange looks. Apparently the documents exist in a number of different locations and there is no way for everyone to easily get access to it all if needed for a project like this. All the files are either attached to an email in someone’s inbox, saved to their personal computer’s hard drive, or printed out sitting in a folder on their counter at home. There is no organization to this mess at all!

I just sighed and realized that this was probably something that I was going to have to put together. In this day and age, when you can easily create an account for the organization that comes with massive amounts of ‘Cloud’ (I hate that term) storage which can be shared with everyone in the group, why hadn’t someone taken the initiative and set something like that up on day one? I have the same problem with my Royal Dance Court group – the same two ladies have been in charge of the group for the last six years, and the one that kept all the records is old and doesn’t like technology. All those records are stored in crappy computer files that are hard to understand if you’re not her, or on handwritten hard copies that are kept at the lady’s house that someone would have to dig out and read through to answer questions that come up. There is no way for all of the Royal Dance Court to gain access at the moment.

At least with this NPO group (I’m going to have to think of a better name…), when I mentioned creating a shared storage drive to collect all of the documents in, they all nodded their heads like it was the greatest idea they had ever heard and told me I could go ahead and set it up. When I mentioned the same idea a long time ago at one of my Royal Dance Court meetings, the older people in that group looked at me like I was speaking Greek and told me that they didn’t want to change the way things were done, because that was the way they understood how to do everything, and also change is hard work. To me, the implication of that message is that the only way things would ever change would be if someone (like me) seized power and forcibly instituted a new way of storing records, or if the older people slowly left the group and allowed the people remaining to gradually change the way record storage is done.

So file organization is important to me, I guess is what I’m trying to say. I don’t like it when you say that you need things, but then no one knows who has what you need because you keep everything scattered to the winds. That isn’t helpful. At least here there is a chance that I can push to get everything collected into some kind of logical manner in one central location. Whether or not the others will follow the template that I put together once I release it to them all remains to be seen, but I have to at least give it a try.

Beyond that, the next most important thing that we talked about was bringing in funds. Right now, the NPO is only able to serve a handful of children simply because the budget outputs are greater than the budget inputs. That’s one of the reasons that they decided to apply for the grant. In the short term, we talked about putting together a fundraising event to bring in some extra revenue. Since Sparkledancer and I were both in the room, and we are both also members of the Royal Dance Court, one of the ideas that was thrown out was hosting a dance party, with proceeds from the night being donated to the NPO.

Dance parties are something that I have become kind of good at setting up, so I had all kinds of useful input to add to the discussion here. Between Sparkledancer and I – and the Internet on our phones – we were able to find a date that didn’t seem to have any other big dance parties scheduled yet, which happens to be the last Saturday of this month. Lord Dormamu, since he knows everyone in the dance world and happens to have their phone numbers on hand, pulled out his phone and started making a bunch of calls once we had decided on a date.

A good ballroom DJ in the area was available for that Saturday, so he had us penciled in for that night before anyone else. Yay! He left a voicemail for the guy who owns the City Dance Hall asking if we could rent out the studio for the evening. The guy happens to be a dance instructor as you might imagine, and was teaching a lesson at the time, so he sent Lord Dormamu a text saying he would call him back later to discuss. We talked about having a group class before the party, since social dancers like dance parties where they can also learn new dance steps.

Unfortunately, Lord Dormamu is going to be out of the country on that weekend, otherwise he said he would teach that class for free (that would have been an amazing deal). He thought of a dance instructor friend of his who owes him a favor, and left him a voicemail asking if he might be able to teach a dance lesson that evening before our dance party at a discounted rate. That instructor confirmed this morning that he would be able to come teach a class for us, and said he would do West Coast Swing just for fun. So hey! Now there’s a dance party going on that night. See how easy that was?

The final thing that we discussed before the meeting ended was the big fundraising gala that this NPO put on last year. As you can imagine, they want to do it again this year. This time, instead of just being a volunteer helping out on the night of the event, I am also getting to be a part of the planning phase as well. Obviously the theme proposed for this next iteration of the gala is ‘more’ – more performers, more tickets sold, more money raised, etc. etc. etc…. You get the idea.

Last year a couple of us had been asked to advise during the initial meetings about the gala from the perspective of the Royal Dance Court. One of the big suggestions that those of us who spoke for the social dance community made at that time was disregarded, and I think that was one of the reasons that there were less butts in seats during the night of the performance than there could have been. The people planning the gala, many of who are still around planning the next one, don’t understand that the average social dancer who wants to support ballroom events and charities doesn’t have the disposable income to drop $100 for what they considered the ‘cheap’ seats to the performance. A lot of social dancers are older retirees on fixed incomes, and that’s a lot of money to them. Last year, they didn’t take our suggestion to offer an even lower-priced tier of seats that those kinds of people could afford, and I think they really missed out because of that decision.

This year, that was one of the first things that both Sparkledancer and I brought up in the discussions, and since both Sparkledancer and I are still on the Royal Dance Court, we put our feet down together as we spoke out for those people again. The rest of the board members agreed (though some agreed reluctantly) with our idea. Hooray! This time there will be a much, much lower price option for seats – seats that still offer a decent view of the stage, but won’t be anywhere near $100 a pop. One lady who agreed with us said that we should take it a step further and make it so that the low price we decided on also includes the taxes and fees for the ticket, rather than having those added on after the fact. I hadn’t even thought of that, but I heartily supported the idea once it was brought up. She jotted down some notes and was going to call the venue we booked for the performance and ask what those taxes and fees come out to so that we could make the math work.

It’s going to happen, and I think it will make the show better. So yeah! Fight the power! We are the greater-ratio-of-people-with-lesser-net-worths-than-those-in-power… or something like that.

*    *    *

In closing, I want to go off topic and say this: on Monday, a dog, a human, a vampire, some bubblegum and a video game console reminded all of us that even though every adventure must end so that new adventures can begin, the most important part of all adventures are the people you experience them with. So find your friends, grab your trusty sword, and pack a backpack full of handy gear and tasty snacks – because I know you know what time it is.

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I’m Never Gonna Stop The Rain By Complaining

What kind of stuff did I get into this past week? I’m sure you are guessing that it was the dancing kind, seeing as how that’s pretty much all I write about on this site. Some of it was even fun! I know, I know, that’s crazy to think about. Dance isn’t supposed to be fun or anything…

Let’s start out with last Saturday night. It was time once again for my Royal Dance Court gang and I to host our monthly all-access dance party for anyone who is cool to come to. We had invited some hot-shot instructor in the West Coast Swing community to come out and teach a lesson for us before the dance party started. The hope was that if we got this lady to teach for us, it would entice a number of people from the West Coast Swing community to come to the party, hopefully making the dance floor overflow with people for the night.

In reality, the West Coast Swing community ended up putting on some big party on the same night as ours that was being held a few hours north, and many people from our area ended up driving up there to attend (including one of the members of my Royal Dance Court group… WTF?), so we ended up having only dancers from the ballroom community attend our party. Also, it rained pretty hard on and off throughout the party, which I’m sure kept some people away. Our final count of attendees for the evening was only a little over fifty people, which isn’t bad by any means, but just not as many as we had hoped for.

The instructor we brought in that night started off class by asking if there was anyone there who had never danced West Coast Swing before. Several ladies put up their hands, so she started off with some real basic footwork to warm everyone up – pretty much just having everyone march in place to get the feel for the timing of all the six-count West Coast Swing figures. After stepping in place for a while to music, she had the class continue marching in the same timing while traveling forward and backward, basically training them to move in a slot while stepping in time. In the last part of the warm-up, she had everyone pair off with the person across from them and do the same exercise, except one partner was now moving forward while the other moved backward, then they switched after each count of six.

With everyone warmed up, she showed everyone how to modify their footwork so that they could do the Sugar Push. During this portion of class, the instructor kept an eye on the ladies who had said that they hadn’t done West Coast Swing before to make sure that they were doing OK, but she also found some guys in the class who hadn’t raised their hands at the beginning but were struggling just to do the Sugar Push correctly, so she had to spend some time with them to help out. To be helpful, and also to even out the number of men and women in class, I ended up jumping in to dance for at that point as well.

I ended up talking to the ladies who had never done West Coast Swing before to make sure they were understanding their steps. One of those ladies told me that she had never gone out to a dance class before that night! I felt bad for her, because West Coast Swing isn’t exactly the easiest of dance styles to pick up first. Lucky for her, we spent a lot of time just getting the Sugar Push down, so she rotated through a couple of times so that I could work with her, and I think we managed to work out all the bugs.

Because the newcomers were the focus of what we were doing, the class didn’t end up covering a whole lot of material. After the Sugar Push, the instructor also showed everyone how to do a Left Side Pass. Once we got through that, she had to spend some time telling everyone about the timing for an eight-count figure in West Coast Swing before she could add on what she wanted to do next – this involved going back to everyone marching in place while the music played for a bit. When she was sure everyone had the timing down, the last figure she showed the class was the Basket Whip.

After the class finished up, the dance party commenced. There was a real storm going on by that time, complete with thunder and lightning. At one point I thought it would be funny if the storm caused a power outage, and I imagined that people in attendance would just start humming songs together while they kept dancing. The DJ would have been the one to pick and call out what songs for everyone to hum, obviously, because the scenario wouldn’t work if everyone just started humming different songs. Then it would have just been chaos! Luckily, there was no power outage and the dance party continued on all night uninterrupted.

I want to mention last Sunday momentarily, because it was funny to me. On Sunday I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for practice around noon, like we normally do. When we got to the studio, the only people that we saw there initially was a guy taking a lesson with his female instructor, who happens to be a high level competitor in the world of Shag dancing. I’ve seen this girl around from time to time on Sundays giving private lessons, but I couldn’t tell you her name for the life of me. I know I learned it at one point, but for some reason it just never stuck. I feel kind of bad about that.

So Sparkledancer and I start working on our stuff for practice, with the beach music that the Shag lesson was playing in the background. A few of the songs that come on are at a decent tempo for Foxtrot, so we’d switch to working on that style when the music fit just to keep things interesting, but mostly I am just keeping time in my head as we practice (I have a decent internal metronome from all my years spent studying and performing music). As we roll over the end of the hour into the next, another gentleman shows up at the studio who is scheduled to take a lesson with the Shag lady. When he starts warming up, now there are three Shag dancers hanging out and dancing to beach music, and then Sparkledancer and I doing ballroom off against the other wall.

A little more time passes, and then suddenly Mr. Rubber-legs enters the studio with his professional partner! Mr. Rubber-legs, as you know, is some sort of reigning Shag champion or something – I’m not entirely sure what his reign is in, but I know that he’s really good. He and his professional partner showed up apparently to get in some practice time for a competition they were planning to go to in the near future. Suddenly, my quiet day of practice had turned into a meeting of five different Shag dancers, all talking to each other and dancing along to beach music. Apparently I did not get the memo that last Sunday was actually supposed to be Shag practice day. Boy, did I feel silly!

Monday night, rather than going to Latin Technique class, I had to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer for coaching. I swear, that man is always traveling all over the known world, and sometime scheduling time to work with him is an art. Sometimes the three of us joke about getting together for lessons more frequently, but in the back of my mind I wonder if that would even be possible with the schedule that the man keeps. Finding time during the week for one block of coaching is hard enough that I think that even dreaming about fitting in two would be nothing but short of inconceivable!

Anyway… that night we started out by looking at the Waltz. Before I make note of the points that I was told to remember, I want to pat my own back for a moment. By the time we finished up the Waltz that evening, Lord Dormamu told me that if we manage to keep up our improvement in the dance style at the same rate as we have been going since we started focusing on it after the competition I did at the end of June, then in a few more weeks our Waltz should rival our Foxtrot for the position of our best dance style. That feels like a huge jump in such a short amount of time! It just goes to show that practice can really make a difference.

There were a couple of points that Lord Dormamu gave to us that we need to start incorporating into our practice. The biggest one involves all of the Natural Turns that we do throughout the routine. He told me that while the figures look really good for a student dancing in Bronze, he wants me to go beyond. From here on out, I’m supposed to wind up to my left even more than I already am on the step prior to the Natural Turn so that every one of them will have a really nice rotation going into it.

This was something that I was already doing a little at the beginning of the routine, because a Natural Turn is the first figure that I do after the starter step, which had some rotation in it already. He wants me to increase the rotation a lot during the starter step now to make it much more dramatic. The place where this wind-up action affects Sparkledancer the most is whenever we are in Promenade Position during the preceding figure, such as when we do a Whisk and then go into a Natural Turn for example.

To get the same kind of rotation in a situation like that, Sparkledancer has to close back to dance position much farther than she was closing before, because I am going to be taking all of the rotation to the right out of my body. That means that, even though we will still be moving in Outside Partner, I won’t be in any kind of Contra-Body position with her because I will be winding myself up to the left. She has to now close to me, but stay off to the right side enough that my legs can still move outside of her.

I did have to stop for a moment and ask Lord Dormamu about that. I was worried that a judge could stop and question us about what we were doing at a competition if the judge saw that we were dancing in Outside Partner but I wasn’t leading it by keeping my body rotated to the right. He told me that the only reason a judge would question what I was doing was if I was doing a figure, or a different timing of a figure, that was outside of the syllabus level I was competing in. Dancing in a position without leading it wouldn’t be a concern for them. Good to know.

There was a small note about the footwork that Lord Dormamu saw – while overall he said that our feet look much, much more grounded and precise, from where he was watching he could see that my legs and feet were closing together at a much slower pace than Sparkledancer’s were. This is pretty easy to explain, since I am so much heavier than Sparkledancer, I just naturally put more weight into the floor with my feet, so dragging them together is easier for me to slow down because of that. He wanted us to watch that and spend a little time making sure that our feet close in sync with each other. Not a major thing, but something worth noting for us to practice a little.

After we finished looking at the Waltz, Lord Dormamu wanted to watch us run through the Foxtrot. This style we only looked at for maybe ten minutes or so – it is our best, after all. He told me that the only real complaints that he had was that he thought I was raising myself up too much as I moved, and that he still wasn’t entirely pleased with the way the step looked on the first figure after my Three Steps. Being up slightly higher while I danced was easy to explain – even while we dance in the Endless Dance Hall, I still manage to run out of room because of how much I am able to move. If I lower myself down even further, my legs will be able to reach out even more and I will cover more ground, which will be bad. Sigh… I’m not going to be able to dance on any floor smaller than 10,000 sq/ft soon, I just know it!

The last thing we looked at that night was Tango. The takeaway that we talked about adding into our Tango after this session was ‘more attack’. Basically what that means is that on the first step of each figure, he wants to see me lower slightly before taking the step. The combination of lowering slightly with the push off my standing leg as I begin to move gives the step more of a pounce-like feeling when taken. As I go through the figure, I would hold myself at that slightly lowered level until I get to the end of the figure, when I can come back up to the level where I originally was. Lord Dormamu called that ‘taking a breath’.

I know that in the level of Tango I’m competing, normally the dance is supposed to travel very flat, with my hips and shoulders staying the same distance from the floor the whole time. This way of moving during each figure is the next step above that, and (from what I am told) makes it more interesting to watch. The pouncing action is supposed to be subtle – I’m not dropping down like six inches before I start moving, just enough that I can feel it, and someone watching from the outside would notice. It should make things more fun if I can get it down. I’ll be like a cat pouncing on things. I like cats.

In Standard Technique class on Wednesday night, we got to go over Tango as well. This week’s class was a lot like last week’s class that Lord Junior gave on the Waltz, where he pulled out a bunch of figures from the Silver-level Tango syllabus to build the choreography. He specifically mentioned to everyone that I would find it the most useful to go over them, because he believes that I will be working my way into Silver soon. There’s nothing like being called out in the middle of a class, right?

The figures themselves didn’t seem all that hard when chained together. Much like I mentioned last week, this bit of choreography is designed to go around a corner, so you want to start off facing diagonal wall with a bit of space to travel in between you and both walls. We started off with a Four Step, which is basically like the first three steps of an Open Reverse Turn, Lady Outside plus a fourth step where you bring your feet together and rotate to Promenade Position. That rotation to Promenade Position is actually what changes the wall you are heading down in this amalgamation, so you should be facing down a new line of dance in Promenade Position when finished.

Next up we did two back-to-back Fallaway Promenades. The second and third step of this figure travel in a curve toward the wall, which is why you needed to give yourself some room away from the back wall when you started. We over rotated the Fallaway steps so that we came out heading toward diagonal center rather than toward center like the book tells you to do. After two of these we went into a basic Open Promenade, stopping on the fourth step and then taking a step backward to lead the lady through an Outside Swivel. To finish up we added on a Promenade Link, which is the opposite of a Progressive Link (i.e. it closes you from Promenade Position to normal dance position). Since the lady closed to us by rotating ⅜ of a turn, Lord Junior said that technically this was a Reverse Promenade Link, just in case you were curious.

The hardest part of this progression seemed to be the Fallaway Promenade figure. The footwork is really easy to do, but during the whole figure you remain in Promenade Position, so the lady has to keep her head looking to the right the whole time. If the Lead accidentally rotates his body wrong while moving, or if the lady just doesn’t like looking to the right for that long, then she’s going to turn her head back to the left. The second step of the Fallaway portion of the Fallaway Promenade was where you’d usually catch the ladies rotating their heads back to the left if things felt wrong to them. Basically, from the fourth step of the Four Step until third step of the Open Promenade, you should be keeping them in Promenade Position if you’re doing things correctly.

That’s all the interesting stuff that I did in the last week. As for the coming week… I may be signed up to take part in another small competition this weekend. I know what you’re thinking – only two weeks after the last one? What are you, crazy? Yeah, sometimes I think I am. This event is all small and local though, and it’s being held at the Endless Dance Hall, so I couldn’t really pass it up. That would have made me stupid rather than crazy, right?

Even though this event is much smaller than the competition I did two weeks ago, it will actually be more meaningful than that one was to me. From what I can gather so far, all of the rounds that I will be dancing have other competitors signed up to be in them. Two weeks ago I danced completely uncontested, so this will be a nice change. Here’s hoping that things go well!

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…

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!