A Break In This Routine

This past week, I tried to fit in a couple of different activities to break up the routine of doing the same things over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun with the training (for the most part) and the practicing constantly (again, for the most part), but I have to try to keep this hobby as fun as possible in order to justify the stupid amounts of money I spend on it. Sometimes you just have to go out and do things that are out of the ordinary to keep life interesting, right?

First of all, last Thursday I posted all my dance notes early so that I could go out to a West Coast Swing class that was being held. This class was at a dance studio, but it wasn’t a ballroom dance studio, which is why I had never heard of the place before. I saw their calendar on the wall when I got to the studio, and they didn’t seem to have any classes on traditional ballroom styles listed, and as I waited for the West Coast Swing class to begin there was a class in Balboa finishing up out on the dance floor. I had never seen anyone dancing Balboa before, but it looked vaguely interesting. I’m not sure where I would ever use the dance style during my normal travels, but maybe I should make myself a note to learn the basics of Balboa next summer just for fun. Maybe.

It was a good class to attend for me. I learned a figure in West Coast Swing that I think I might have seen once before, but I can’t be entirely sure so I’m going to say it was new. The instructor was also a pretty goofy guy, so the class was definitely amusing. He started the class off by having everyone warm up first by walking up and down the length of the dance floor, and then had the men and women pair off to dance through the Sugar Push basic several times with each partner.

At one point during the warmup he was saying that we could start doing some fancier moves with our partner if we wanted, but for some reason he got stuck on doing what he called the ‘Sunshine’ move instead of just adding in some simple turns. This ‘Sunshine’ move is basically bringing your hands up before doing the last triple step in the Sugar Push basic and drawing them in an arc over your head – like making a rainbow with both hands. That became a running joke for the rest of class – we were told many times during class that if we messed up our steps that the ‘Sunshine’ move was an appropriate substitute for the actual figures we were supposed to be doing.

So what did we actually cover? Well, starting from handshake hold, the men lead the lady into a Left Side Pass, but at the end we rotated her so that she ends up in something that resembled Shadow Position with our arms going over her shoulders to take both of her hands. In this position, we led her through four Sailor Shuffles going from left to right. At the end of the last Sailor Shuffle we would lead the lady through a Underarm Turn while spinning ourselves around, bringing her right arm up and over our shoulder as we turned and letting it slide down our arm to our left hand to get back to dance position. It wasn’t anything overly difficult, but it is something I didn’t know, so that adds one more West Coast Swing move to my repertoire. Hooray!

On Friday night, I headed out early to make the long trip from my house out to the High Five Dance Hall. It had been about a year since the last time I headed out there, so I figured it was about time to make another pilgrimage. After all, as a member of the Royal Dance Court, I feel like I should visit all these places on a semi-regular basis. The flyer that I had seen told me that they were planning on having a lesson on American Tango before an open dance party. Since getting to the studio is such a time commitment for me, I made sure to get out there with enough time to attend both.

Let me mention something about the High Five Dance Hall before I get into what happened at the lesson: the High Five Dance Hall is a social dance studio. As far as I can tell, they have one instructor who rents floor space who teaches students to dance competitively, but all the other instructors just teach their students to dance socially. Going back to metaphor that I used before which compared dancing to language, the instructors teach their students a lot of dance vocabulary, but only the minimum amount of dance grammar they need so that their students can be understood by partners in their classes.

With that being said, let’s talk about what happened during the American Tango lesson I attended. The progression that was covered was relatively simple, but pretty long. We started with two normal Tango Walk steps forward, and then the men would do a forward check and release the lady out into Fan. From there the men would do another check going backward while rotating the lady to come into Shadow Position.

In Shadow Position, we did another two Tango Walk steps forward, then alternating Forward Rocks before releasing the lady while turning her to the right as the men did the three-step ending of the Closed Basic (a.k.a. the “Tango close”), and we got back into dance frame with both partners doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic. With some time left over in class the instructor had us add a Link going into a Promenade Basic with the lady closing, finishing by doing the three-step ending of the Closed Basic twice in a row (like the ending of an Argentine Walk).

That all seems pretty straightforward, like something that you might learn at any other ballroom dance studio you would go to, right? Let’s talk about the things that the instructor mentioned that seemed out-of-the-ordinary to me. First off, let’s mention the Link. The instructor was teaching this step using the footwork of the Progressive Link figure from International Tango. This figure really isn’t specified on the American Tango syllabus from what I remember, but since it exists in International Tango it is fair game in American style. However, the instructor kept calling it an “Argentine Link” for some reason. I did a quick search online after the class, and I couldn’t find anything that used that figure name, so I wonder where the instructor got that name from?

Also, as you can imagine, most of the people in class were uncomfortable dancing in close contact, so what we ended up with when doing the link was the ladies being in front of the men instead of behind them in Promenade Position. The instructor caught some people like this, and told the men that they could fix that issue by pulling their right elbow backward, which would pull the lady behind them as they rotated to Promenade Position. I’m sure that many of you who studied competitive dance technique cringed slightly when reading that, but again this is a dance studio that teaches social dancing – having the men use their arms to adjust the lady will get the job done so that the next step works. I just found that to be an interesting thing that the instructor specifically recommended.

The open dance party that started after the lesson was over was… an experience. I had totally forgotten about how their parties ran since it has been a year since the last time I attended one. Their social dances have more of an open format than other parties I usually go to closer to where I live. They had someone on staff sit and run the music that night, playing a bunch of contemporary songs that you’d hear on the radio, and then people just danced whatever they wanted. No one told the attendees what dance style to do, and a lot of the songs they played seemed to have a really fast tempo for the dance styles people chose to use during the song, so to me it seemed a bit chaotic.

I would step off of the floor every couple of songs to stand near the people I came to the studio with and just watch what was going on. Oftentimes I would see a lot of people doing some sort of Two Step, either Nightclub or Country for the most part. Either version of Two Step is not something that comes up during the ballroom socials I normally attend. Other people would be doing West Coast Swing, and occasionally you would see Hustle as well. There were a few songs played that I identified as Cha-Cha, but it didn’t seem like many others picked that up, so I was one of the few people doing that on the floor. Quite often there was also some sort of line dance going on in the middle of the room at the same time, so there was a big section of the floor that was set aside for that purpose.

The person playing DJ also did not play many songs where you could dance any ballroom styles. There was one Viennese Waltz song played, and one song that most everyone did Quickstep during, but other than that there were only two or three songs played that were a Waltz, and a couple of Tango numbers, and just a few Foxtrot songs as well. During a song where people were dancing a lot of faster Swing styles, there were two couples who were out dancing the Foxtrot and traveling extremely fast. They were careening around the room with very little regard to the other couples dancing, weaving through everyone to do what looked like the fanciest figures that they knew. There were a few moments where I held my breath while watching them do that as they got really close to other dancers.

Overall, it was a fun night out doing something completely different. I spent quite a bit of time talking to and getting to know the other attendees of the party whom I had never met before. There were a few people whom I knew from seeing them around the Dance Kingdom, but most of the people who attended the party lived closer to the High Five Dance Hall so they don’t really come around to other events I attend. I will have to make a note in my calendar to try to get back out there again next year, and make this at least an annual occurrence.

I got to do even more Tango in Standard Technique class this week. Lord Junior wanted to work on one figure from International Tango with us, but also wanted to throw in some items from American Tango just to give us all something fun to do. I thought it was fun at least; I’m not entirely sure if everyone else felt the same way. There was this one lady in class who was really struggling with the concept of Shadow Position and it was pretty funny… well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with what we covered.

The figure that Lord Junior wanted to go over with us that night was the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, a Gold-level figure in International Tango (the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot is also a Gold-level figure in International Waltz and Foxtrot as well, in case you’re wondering where you’ve heard of it before). At the end of the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot, the men would just release the ladies by doing a quick checking action, allowing the lady to roll out into Fan. When she hit the line created by Fan, both partners would do a fast Brush Tap, just to add in a little extra fancy Tango styling.

From Fan position the men would start to slowly walk around the lady, which automatically leads her to go underneath our left arm. After we walked in a complete 180° arc, we would turn the ladies with our left arm so that she spins across our bodies to end up in Shadow Position with both partners facing diagonal center. From there we did an Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position, ending on the last step facing diagonal wall with a right-side lead. We could then use our left arm again to turn the lady, having her take three steps against the line of dance to get into Promenade Position with us. The men would just take two steps and fake so that we were back on the correct foot to continue. Because we were running out of time in class, we just took one step forward in Promenade Position and ended there for the night.

So the funniest part of all of that was what I alluded to earlier. There was an older lady in class who really seemed to struggle with the idea of being in Shadow Position, even after both Lord Junior and I spent extra time trying to help her through it. When I tried to dance through the Open Reverse Turn in Shadow Position with her the first few times, after every step she tried to turn around and get back into dance frame with me. Every step! I told her that she needed to keep her left arm stretched out and her back to me and just let me direct her with my hands.

I think her problem was that she kept letting her left shoulder collapse, which rotated her arm toward her body, and that caused her to start turning to face me. By the end of class I think we got that all worked out, but it was just funny to me that she seemed surprised when she would start turning to face me, so she would try to adjust her arms to get back into dance frame. Then I would stop, tell her she needed to keep her back to me again, and she would jump to fix it and smile. But the next step we would go through it all again! Luckily she did the same thing with Lord Junior, and I watched him walk through it slowly with her as well, so it wasn’t just something wrong in my lead that was causing the issue.

Let’s see, what do I have going on this coming week? Well, there’s a dance party going on Friday night at the Electric Dance Hall that I think I’ll go to. Sparkledancer is out of town until Sunday, so we moved our lesson with Sir Steven to then so that she could be there, and then we had to move our lesson with Lord Dormamu to Monday since he wasn’t going to be around on Sunday. I guess that means that Latin Technique class will be missed on Monday. Ah well, that’s what happens when people take vacations. Until next week, keep dancing!

Advertisements

To The Window, To The Wall

 When I finished up my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday morning, I felt… surprisingly good about my dancing.

  Things just seemed to start off on the correct foot that day. I got to the Fancy Dance Hall early, as usual, to warm up. Sparkledancer and I decided to spend most of our time that morning warming up with Waltz, even though we both were pretty sure that when Lord Dormamu finished up with his current lesson he was going to come over and have us work on Foxtrot. That was a correct assumption, so we ran through our entire Foxtrot routine for the first time that morning while under the scrutinizing eye of Lord Dormamu. Turns out that he thought our first run of the routine was the best that he’s ever seen us dance a Foxtrot. He even had us run through it again and got Sir Steven to stop teaching the other student he was with for a few minutes to watch us.

  I didn’t think it felt all that different from what we normally do, but Lord Dormamu was so excited! I even got one extremely positive comment that gave me something to look forward to – as I mentioned, when we started working on Foxtrot with Lord Dormamu, he was telling me that when I danced he wanted me to stay extremely low, almost like getting into a Yoga Chair Pose and then trying to dance. A month and a half ago I had compared dancing Foxtrot in that position to doing the prisyadka, and I still find that comparison to be accurate. During our lesson that day, Lord Dormamu was once again telling me that I needed to get down into the lowest squat I could while still being able to move my legs and dance the routine.

  After a couple of times running through the first part of the routine that day with Lord Dormamu pushing on my shoulders to lower me even further toward the floor, he gave me a break for a minute and told me that no matter what anyone else said about how weird it looked to be dancing Foxtrot in this manner, I needed to keep working on this technique for the time being to make my movement in Foxtrot better. He compared the technique to what he had me do with my head back in March, telling me to keep my nose in line with my sternum to ‘reset’ all the bad habits I had of moving my head around while dancing. It took a few weeks, but after he considered me to be reset to a new default, I was then told to start putting my head in the right position.

  Lord Dormamu’s comment that day was that dancing while being so low to the ground in Foxtrot is not the correct way I should dance. He knows this to be true, other judges will know this, so if I hear instructors make comments about me looking weird, they aren’t wrong. He told me that this exercise is like a doctor giving me medication to cure a sickness. Sure there might be a side effect that no one likes (i.e. me being so low to the ground), but once the sickness is cured then I won’t have to be on the medicine any longer and the side effects will go away, meaning that I will get to come up to a more reasonable height while dancing.

  That is definitely something to look forward to for me. Also… since the ‘sickness’ that he’s curing is the movement of my Foxtrot, does that make it… motion sickness?

  Why yes, I totally did just high-five myself for typing that.

  After Lord Dormamu got us through our movement drills (or got tired trying to fight against my strong legs when he was pushing me down), he had us focus on the Three Step for quite a while. He said that although it is one of the first steps in International Foxtrot that anyone learns, and it is only three steps down the line of dance, the Three Step is one of the hardest figures to master. What he asked us to do was to go slow and pause and balance with every step, giving him a chance to adjust our position if needed and really lock in the feeling of each position before moving to the next step.

  This… was harder than I would have thought. I will admit that working on the isometric portion of Yoga is not my favorite thing to do for a lot of positions. I enjoy the flow and the movement, but holding really uncomfortable positions for long periods of time is something I will actively avoid if I can get away with it. Dancing through the Three Step slow like we were was a lot like only doing the isometric portion of a Yoga routine.

  The second step was really what caused us all the problems. Lord Dormamu wanted me to work on sliding my left foot forward as much as possible in the step, so I would end up with both my left and right legs almost completely straight, still low to the ground, and also trying to twist my upper body to create the right-side sway I should have. Then on top of that, he wanted me to hold that position, maintain my balance, and add in Sparkledancer to the mix and allow her to make micro-adjustments to her position to get in her proper place without knocking me over!
  We worked on this for probably twenty minutes. Ten minutes in, Lord Dormamu got a phone call he had to take, so he left us to work on it on our own for a little while. That was probably for the best, since it allowed me to curse about what we were trying to do without him listening. When he got back and continued to watch and comment on what we were doing, he told us that this was something we should set aside time to work on during our practice sessions. He made sure to say that he realized what we were doing was terrible when going so slow (he had to go through this exercise quite a bit himself over the years), but going slowly is really the best way to practice everything.

  Finishing up, Lord Dormamu had Sparkledancer and I meet him in the office to sign the paperwork for our lesson and schedule our next session. As we were each going through our calendars to find a time that worked for all three of us, Lord Dormamu called Sir Steven in to the office as well. He took some time to go over with Sir Steven what we had just done, and told him to continue to avoid working on Foxtrot for the time being. That day he specifically wanted Sir Steven to spend time with us focusing on getting Sparkledancer to extend her body even further out away from mine to create as much volume as possible. The slight look of panic on Sparkledancer’s face when she heard that comment was enough to let me know that she was super excited about that.

  As soon as we finished with all the paperwork, Sparkledancer and I were back out on the floor to work with Sir Steven. He decided to have us work with the Waltz while working on Sparkledancer’s position while in frame. I think my Saturday was all about fun times while moving slow…

  One of the notes that I made after the lesson was over was about a story that Sir Steven told me while working on Sparkledancer’s position. Sir Steven said that I really needed to make sure that I kept myself as straight as possible when Sparkledancer is trying to create volume with her frame, and not to try to ‘help out’ by pulling my upper body away from hers. He has seen me doing that before, so he wanted to squelch the behavior before he sees me doing it again unintentionally. This behavior was something that he himself got yelled at for doing in the past, so he knows firsthand that I shouldn’t be doing it.

  The story goes that some undisclosed time ago, Sir Steven was working with the Princess on his own dancing as he was getting ready to do a competition with his professional partner. In the middle of the dance, the Princess stopped him to ask him what he was doing. Not knowing what she was talking about, he just stared at her blankly until she pointed out that he was leaning his upper body away from her during the figure they were dancing. He said that he was just trying to increase their look and volume during the step, and she just stopped him and said “We can’t both be flowers. I’m supposed to be the pretty flower opening up away from you. Are you a pretty flower?”

 From then on, the Princess would make fun of Sir Steven whenever she saw him start to lean his upper body away from his partner. There would be times he and his professional partner would be practicing, and the Princess would be in the studio doing other things and would yell out across the floor “Sir Steven, who’s the pretty flower?” to remind him to keep himself straight. And for the amusement of everyone else, I’m sure. So the warning I was given that afternoon was to keep my own frame strong and straight if I don’t want to be yelled at by the Princess when she’s around.

  One figure that we focused on in particular that afternoon was the Outside Change that is between our Progressive Chasse to Right and Chasse from Promenade Position. I guess that the way we were coming out of the Outside Change into the Chasse from Promenade Position didn’t look quite right to him. He spent some time making sure that Sparkledancer was heading straight down the line of dance for her first two steps instead of curving off to her right as I was stepping to the right to get out of her way. I spent a lot of time just standing in the position I was in at the end of the Progressive Chasse to the Right as Sir Steven went over the step with her.
  Let’s talk about Latin Technique this week instead of Standard Technique, like I did the last week. I’ve gotten particularly verbose lately when writing these posts, so I’ve decided to try my best to keep them as controlled as I can. There are just so many dance-related things that I want to remember!

  Monday night I was out at Latin Technique class as usual. Our favorite fierce Latin cat Tanya Tiger was there that night, having finally finished up her long-running obligation that had kept her away on Monday nights. To celebrate, she got to pick what we worked on that night, and she picked Samba. I personally don’t think that is much of a way to celebrate, but that’s just my personal opinion.

  The big reason that I wasn’t having much fun that night was because of my dance shoes. I have one pair of Latin shoes, and lately I only wear them for this class. I got them quite a while ago from some website that had a pair of really nice Latin shoes on clearance for 25% of normal price. The problem was that the closest size that they had of these clearance shoes was a half-size smaller than what I usually wear for my ballroom shoes. Since the deal was too good to pass up, I ordered them anyway. The left shoe fits just fine, but the right shoe is too tight. I spent the week after they showed up using all sorts of things like sticks and ice and shoe stretchers to stretch out the right shoe just a little so that it fit, but over time it slowly shrinks until one day I put on the right shoe and my big toe hurts. Then I have to stretch the shoe all over again.

  Monday night it was fairly obvious that the shoe had reached the breaking point that my foot could handle, so I need to stretch it out again. I’m kind of sick of doing this just to make the shoe usable, so I’m contemplating breaking down and ordering new Latin shoes. What holds me back is that I really only use the shoes once a week, just for Latin Technique class. They aren’t like my ballroom shoes which get used all of the time, so replacing them when they have issues is a necessity. I think that it’s finally time to bite the bullet and just order a pair in the right size though. Who knows? Maybe if my shoes fit well I will be more inclined to compete in International Latin again someday. Maybe. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that though.

  What we worked on in Samba was a set of figures that Lord Junior is starting to fit into his Samba routine with Tanya Tiger, but he modified it slightly so that we could all dance the progression without partners that night. I think he did that so that Tanya would end up with an exercise that she could use to practice without him that would help her directly with her routine. We started the progression on one end of the long wall, and those of us who really pushed out of our standing legs could get all the way to the other side when we finished so we could just turn around and go back.

  We began with a Three Step Turn to the left, ending in a sort of lunged-forward position on the left leg. From there we did some Cruzados Walks and Locks, with the Lock Steps being syncopated to make them more interesting. After two sets of the syncopated Lock Steps on the right side, we did three Samba Locks on the left side with no pause in between each one, ending once again in a lunged forward position on the left leg. We held that position for two beats of the music to allow the musical phrase to finish before the next steps.

 Here Lord Junior wanted us to do a non-syllabus figure to make things more interesting. He called the step a ‘Merengue Twist’ so that’s what I’m going to go with. It was a lot like doing a Hip Twist in Rumba or Cha-Cha, where you twist your body so that one leg ends up forward in a press line with the back foot turned perpendicularly. Lord Junior initially told us that he wanted everyone to try twisting as much as possible, so that’s what I was doing, but I felt like I was twisting so much that my front foot was crossing too far in front of my back foot, making it hard to do that step a second time. He watched me go through it once, laughed at what he saw, and told me that I was twisting waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. I backed off to where it was more comfortable and then the step was much easier. We finished up the progression after those Merengue Twists by adding few more repeating Samba Locks on the left side.

Waaaaaaaay too far, for sure.

  It’s summer, so it’s time for me to do some out-of-the-ordinary dancing. I plan on making the hour drive out to the High Five Dance Hall to attend one of their parties. I know that doesn’t seem like much of a drive for some people who have to take long trips every time they want to dance, but I have all of these other dance studios within 20-30 minutes of my house, so going to one that is twice as far doesn’t usually seem necessary. Still, I’ve been trying to get out there at least once a year to help support them and see all the dancers in that area.

  I also saw an email go out that some dance hall I have never heard of before in the area is having an Intermediate/Advanced West Coast Swing class that sounds interesting to me. It is tonight, which is why I am posting this earlier than normal so that I don’t have to worry about trying to get home after this class to finish this post up. Summer dance adventures, here I come!

Only You Have That Magic Technique

Let’s start with this past Saturday, because that’s when the interesting stuff started. I had two lessons scheduled for that afternoon – first one with Sir Steven, and then one with Lord Dormamu. This seems to be becoming a habit for me, because I’ve met with both instructors over the last couple of weeks, and I’ll be meeting with them both again next Saturday as well. At this rate my wallet is probably going to start cursing my name soon because of how empty its stomach is all of the time. Poor guy…

 With Sir Steven we worked on Waltz and Quickstep. There were only a few points I wrote down to remember from each of those. First off, the Waltz: Sir Steven thought that we were rising too much when he watched our starter step. He wanted us to stay at the same level the whole time, only rotating the body as we move side-to-side before lowering as normal to travel forward. There would be no rising until we get into the Natural Turn that follows. The next note I wrote down for Sparkledancer (because she’s the only person who actually knows me that reads and cares about my dance notes): Sir Steven wanted her to keep an eye on what she was doing in the Double Reverse Spins, to make sure that she takes a big step when she is traveling across my body before crossing her feet, and to make sure to take it slower on her last two steps.

We spent more time on Quickstep than Waltz that day. The big thing that Sir Steven pointed out to us was that we needed to watch our timing. It’s not that we were dancing the steps off beat, but we were dancing them very smoothly, like a Waltz. He wanted us to really emphasize the quick steps in each figure, more like a Tango than a Waltz or Foxtrot. We looked at our Natural Spin Turn again, and he was glad that we were coming out in the right direction this week, but now he wants us to travel more during the figure. Finally he briefly talked with us about our sway. He wanted us to only put sway into rotating figures like our Natural Spin Turn or Double Reverse Spin. During the chasses that would travel in a straight line, he wanted us to make sure to stay level the whole time, although he wanted us to be level and also stay even lower than we were.

After finishing up with Sir Steven, Sparkledancer and I didn’t actually have to wait long for our lesson with Lord Dormamu. His student who was scheduled to meet with him before my lesson ended up canceling at the last minute. I had just managed to walk over to a place, hoping to grab a bite to eat when I got the call from Lord Dormamu letting me know that we had the option to move our lesson up. Having some extra time that afternoon sounded awesome to me, so I ignored the grumbling in my stomach and rushed back to the Fancy Dance Hall as fast as my legs would carry me.

Sparkledancer was already there talking with Lord Dormamu when I got back. I quickly changed into my dance shoes and headed over to join them. As soon as I was within range, Lord Dormamu said that he wanted to start that day by looking at something in our Waltz routine briefly, something he had noticed while we were working with Sir Steven. He had us back up away from the edge of the floor and do the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change, Chasse from Promenade Position and finally the Natural Turn that would be in the corner. After going through that whole progression, it turns out that it was really the Natural Turn that he wanted to comment on.

What Lord Dormamu had noticed were two things that were both caused by the same issue: first of all, the Natural Turn was rotating too much for his liking. When he saw us dancing with Sir Steven, and then again when he had us try the shorter combination of figures for him, we tended to end the Natural Turn with me facing backing line of dance. He wanted to make sure that we ended the Natural Turn rotating 45° less, or with me facing diagonal wall against line of dance. Secondly, he told me that a wise teacher he had in his youth had told him that there should be a brief pause at the height of the rise on a Natural Turn, where absolutely all movement stops for a “beautiful moment” before you begin to lower and go into the next step. Because we were rotating too much in our Natural Turn, we didn’t have that pause at all, so he wanted to make sure that we added that in.

The cause for this issue was pretty simple for him to point out – I am a very solid piece of meat, so I am much, much heavier than Sparkledancer. When we build up momentum through the Progressive Chasse to the Right, Outside Change and Chasse from Promenade Position and then I take the outside of the rotation in the Natural Turn, the weight of my body just keeps me going, and Sparkledancer’s weight is on my right side which just adds on to what I’m doing. This means that it’s all on me to really keep my own body mass under control so that the Natural Turn stops when I hit the right amount of turn and pauses momentarily before moving on.

Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was at that moment: what about the Reverse Turn? Should I have the same pause? Am I unintentionally over-rotating there as well? I asked Lord Dormamu that very thing. He said that yes, I should have the same brief pause in a Reverse Turn, but I am already managing to put that in where he wants so we didn’t need to go back and look at that figure. Because I am rotating the other direction in a Reverse Turn and essentially trying to turn through Sparkledancer’s body, the momentum is unable to continue turning me unchecked like it does in a Natural Turn, so it isn’t an issue for me. Yay! I managed to dodge one bullet.

Finishing that, we moved on to Foxtrot. We first looked at our movement, since that has been the focus for Foxtrot over the last few weeks. Apparently that day our movement was rising too much for his liking, so to fix that he wanted us to stay down lower and keep ourselves traveling fairly evenly the whole time. He gave us a demonstration using his belt buckle as the focal point, to show us how he could travel all over the place in Foxtrot and his belt buckle stayed pretty much the same distance from the floor the entire time. Does that mean that I am going to have to start wearing belts with obnoxious buckles when I practice? I’m going to try doing it without first, and we’ll have to go from there.

Next we looked at a completely different topic, which was the sway that he wanted us to start adding into the Foxtrot while we danced. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I ended up discussing sway in two different dances in one day…

 Before we started dancing, Lord Dormamu gave us a brief lecture on the idea of sway so that we would understand the big picture of what he wanted us to work on. What he said was that first off, our sway basically makes our shoulder line work like a teeter-totter around the central focal point under our head. If we raise the right side, then like a teeter-totter the left side should go down by an equal amount, and vice-versa. Obviously this over-simplifies the idea because there’s a whole thing about not ‘breaking’ your side while doing this, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

The next idea he wanted to stress was that the sway that we do needs to be “harmonic” throughout the course of the routine. What that means is basically if we were to dance two figures in a row, like a simple Feather and a Three Step for instance, we would sway with the left side forward and up on the Feather, and the right side forward and up on the Three Step. To achieve the harmonic balance that is needed, the amount that your left side goes up when you would sway during a Feather needs to be the same amount that the right side goes up during the sway of the Three Step.

Sounds easy enough to do, right? Well, here’s the last (and arguable the most difficult) idea that Lord Dormamu told us – the sway should always be initiated naturally based on the footwork of the figure. If you are just swaying because someone told you to, then the movement looks unnatural and forced. Sway should happen in a figure whenever you go up on your toes, and it should level out when you lower down to your whole foot. For a Feather, this means that you are neutral for the first step, but as you take the second step with your left foot and roll up onto the ball of your foot, that movement should naturally make the left side of your body rise up. As you take the third step with your right foot and roll down from the ball of your foot to using your whole foot your left side should come down and level out once more. You can follow through with the movement to accentuate the sway, but you should always make it look natural, never forced.

As I digested the information, I asked if our routine had been specifically choreographed so that each figure changes from left side sway to right side sway. Initially Lord Dormamu said yes, but then he paused and started slowly looking along the edge of the room. I could see his eyes twitching as if he were watching an invisible couple dancing through the routine. Finally he looked back at me and said the answer was yes, but there was an exception he had to tell us about for the two Weaves that we had in the routine. A Weave, because it is a series of steps where you are up on the ball of your feet for more than one step, should have no sway at all. He used the Natural Weave to demonstrate this, showing how there was a left-side sway as you go through the Natural Turn at the beginning, but then the sway levels out until you get to the Feather Finish at the end of the figure and have to add in the left-side sway once more.

Whew… so that was my crazy ‘Theory of Dance’ discussion from this weekend. We spent the last few minutes of our session practicing this idea. Now that I’m putting a lot of thought into how I’m swaying, it seems way more difficult than it used to be, so it’s definitely going to require some practice on my part. I have to say that these discussions with Lord Dormamu are the most fascinating part of taking lessons from him. I feel that one thing for an instructor to just tell you to do all these things while dancing, but I personally like that Lord Dormamu actually takes the time to explain to me the theory behind how and why these techniques are the way that they are. I find it really helpful.

And now something completely different:

Saturday night I headed out to the City Dance Hall because I was asked to go to an open dance party being held there. I was told that there was going to be an American Viennese Waltz lesson before the party. These sorts of pre-party lessons involving the more complex dance styles like Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, West Coast Swing, etc. usually go one of two ways, either A) the material they cover is super simple, to encourage all people who might not know the dance style to dance, or B) the instructor is looking to have fun, and covers something completely out-of-the-ordinary to entertain both themselves and the crowd. I’m easily excited about the potential to learn something new in Viennese Waltz, so I got to the City Dance Hall early enough to join in.

This lesson ended up being option A, unfortunately. The instructor only covered three different figures, but probably not the three you are thinking of. The first thing that he showed everyone was the Reverse Turn, allowing people to travel down the line of dance. To turn corners, he showed the people basically how to do a Throw Out to get the lady into Open Fan, two Sliding Door-like movements in Cantor timing (though he didn’t talk about Cantor timing, he just told people to pass each other over three beats), and then when you got back to your original Open Fan position he had them do a Underarm Turn in Cantor Time which would rotate you the 90° needed to go down the next wall. He gave this combination some fancy French name, but I’m not going to try to spell what that was.

Before starting down the new wall, he had people do four Hesitation steps (forward, backward, left, right) to allow everyone to get back in frame before moving on. Then it was back to the Reverse Turns to begin traveling again. He didn’t have them look at the Natural Turn or Change Steps at all, so this was really meant to give everyone a way to do simple circuits around the room. The class started out pretty full of people, but by the end of the class a number of the older folks and a few beginner students had dropped out to take chairs along the side and just watch. That tends to happen a lot in Viennese Waltz classes like these, so I wasn’t too surprised by that.

After the class finished, I felt like most of what I did the rest of the night was talk rather than dance. Ms. Possible came to the party that night, and she brought her drama-filled life along with her, and was not really enjoying herself no matter how many jokes I tried to tell her. You see, Ms. Possible recently decided to try switching from dancing Pro/Am to Amateur with a gentleman that she met at a dance party. He was interested in her as more than a dance partner though. She mostly rebuffed his amorous advances, but didn’t turn him down completely. Well, things came to a head a few days ago when Ms. Possible found out that he had finally moved on and found a girlfriend. Both this guy and his new girlfriend were also at the party that night.

I guess the phrase ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ applies here. Ms. Possible and this gentleman still danced together at the party, and they still plan to compete together from what I could ascertain, but she does not seem to be happy that he has found someone. Especially considering that the new girl also dances. Is she afraid that the girlfriend will eventually take her place as his amateur competitive partner? Does she now realize that she secretly harbors romantic feelings for this gentleman? Is Ms. Possible just a bit crazy? No one can really say for sure. The gentleman in question apparently told her that she was breaking his heart whenever they danced together by leading him on, and he finally decided not to wait around for her anymore. I don’t blame him.

So that night rather than dancing I spent a lot of time listening to the discussions that people were having about this situation, and I also tried to make sure Ms. Possible was doing OK. She ended up coming to tell everyone I was standing near that she was leaving about half-an-hour into the party. I don’t know if there is anything more I could have done. Sigh… dance drama. Remember when I mentioned that expecting to have a romantic relationship with your dance partner was often a bad idea? This is a perfect example of that.

Skipping ahead a bit in the pursuit of brevity… Wednesday night I co-opted Standard Technique class because I wanted to use the class to work on sway in Foxtrot. Lord Junior had been thinking of having everyone work on some Viennese Waltz that night, but because he and I were talking about the things that I had gone over at the end of my lesson with Lord Dormamu on Saturday and it was on my mind, I asked if we could spend the time working on that concept. I’m going to count that as practice time too, since technically I was practicing things that Lord Dormamu had asked me to work on. It totally counts, right?

Lord Junior picked out three simple figures for us to use for practicing our sway, and we did them ‘by the book’ using the documented steps and sway as written in that fancy book that Lord Junior has lying on the front desk. One of these days I’m going to find out the name of that book, since I’ve looked things up in it a few times when I had questions about a step, and Lord Junior refers to how steps are done using that book all the time. Maybe I’ll even buy a copy of this book for myself someday! Then I could constantly quote passages from the book on this site! Wouldn’t that be fun?

OK, probably not fun. Informative? Educational? Annoying? Maybe one of those would be a better description.

 The first two figures that we used were the same two figures that Lord Dormamu used when demonstrating this concept to me on Saturday – a Feather and a Three Step. The sway is fairly easy for people to see and grasp in these two steps because you are essentially just walking forward in a straight line, so there is no rotation to think about at the same time. We did use a prep step at the beginning before going into the Feather, and that extra step seemed to really throw off the older gentleman who had joined us in class that night. I caught what he was doing out of the corner of my eye a few times. He was having a hard time just getting through the steps for those two figures, so he had abandoned trying to do the sway altogether.

The final step that we added was a Natural Turn, but we did this one exactly as written in the book. I have to specifically state that, because in the book the Natural Turn essentially has two sections: the first half covers the Heel Turn that the ladies do. This turn is actually a 180°, starting with the guys facing the line of dance, and ending with them backing line of dance. The second half, which Lord Junior says that no one does in the real world, involves the gentlemen taking three slow steps. The first one goes straight back down the line of dance, the second is a Heel Pull, which is essentially a fancy way for a guy to rotate, and the third step is forward heading in the new direction you turned. In our case we were using the Heel Pull to rotate around a corner, so we were turning about 135° to end facing diagonal wall on the new wall.

For the most part, the class was a good practice for me on this whole ‘harmonic balance’ sway concept. Lord Junior said after class that while he was watching I appeared to sway evenly from my left side to my right side as I changed through the figures (or in the case of the Natural Turn, halfway through the figure). Some of the ladies in class were a lot easier to practice sway with than others. For example, Bony was in class that night, and she probably almost a foot shorter than me, so I was limited in how much I could sway while dancing with her due to height difference. Sparkledancer and I are closer in height and we practice together all the time, so I was able to sway much better with her.

It was nice to have a directed practice session like that and get feedback on what I was doing. Maybe I’ll have to start asking about covering other concepts Lord Dormamu asks me to practice during Standard Technique class. It could be super helpful!

So Can I Get A Handclap?

Man, this past week has been full of all sorts of twists. If there were any more, I’d almost swear I had my left hand on blue…

Since last time I posted my notes, the first thing I did was to meet up with Sparkledancer and Sir Steven at the Fancy Dance Hall for my normal Saturday lesson. Except this week we didn’t meet up at the normal time. Apparently the Fancy Dance Hall had been rented out for the afternoon and evening by some group for a big West Coast Swing workshop and dance party extravaganza. In order to avoid being in the way when their event started, we had moved our lesson up to way-too-early o’clock on a Saturday morning so that we could be finished and gone before the event started. I’ve mentioned lots of times that I am the farthest thing from a morning person, so I can’t say that things really went perfectly for me that morning, even though I had consumed copious amounts of caffeine before arriving at the studio that day. Such is life…

I will admit honestly that what we worked on that morning is a bit fuzzy to me. I didn’t sleep all that well the night before, and with all the other things that happened that day the things I was supposed to remember from early that morning have eluded me. I know we started out by running through all of our routines except Viennese Waltz. I remember that when we finished up we looked at one corner of our Foxtrot routine again, and we worked on Tango a bit and I think also Viennese Waltz toward the end, but don’t quote me on that. Now that I’m sitting here at the end of the day trying to write everything down, I feel a bit stupid for not being able to remember exactly.

One thing I do remember (because it came up again later) was that as we were finishing up that day Sparkledancer told Sir Steven and I that she wasn’t going to be in town next weekend, so if I wanted to still come in for a lesson it would have to be on my own. Sir Steven asked me if I still wanted to do that, and I told him that I could go either way. He said that we could pencil something in, and he would ask around to see if any of the female instructors who teach at the Fancy Dance Hall would be interested in either filling in for Sparkledancer during my lesson with Sir Steven, or working on things with me on her own. I just agreed, and headed off to find a quick bite to eat (and some more caffeine) before the coaching session we were supposed to have that afternoon with one of the judges who was in town for the competition that Lord Dormamu was helping organize on Sunday.

The coaching session was something that Lord Dormamu, Sparkledancer and I had worked out via text message on Friday to find a time that worked out for everyone and to figure out what this would cost each of us. Since there was that event going on at the Fancy Dance Hall in the afternoon that had required us to move our lesson with Sir Steven to the morning, the staff at the Fancy Dance Hall had actually rented out the City Dance Hall for the afternoon so that all of their students could have coaching sessions and workshops with the judges before the competition. As I was heading over to the City Dance Hall, I couldn’t help but think that it was funny that the staff from one dance studio had rented out another dance studio to give lessons.

Just as I pulled my car into the parking lot at the City Dance Hall, I got a message from Lord Dormamu telling me that there had been a bunch of flight cancellations for one of the big airlines, and unfortunately one of those cancelled flights was the one that the judge/coach that I was scheduled to work with should have been on. So he wasn’t going to make it in time for our session. Instead, Lord Dormamu said that he would work with Sparkledancer and me instead, but he was going to be half an hour late since he had to deal with the fallout from the judge not being around on time before he got to us. Since I didn’t really want to sit by myself in the parking lot, I headed inside the City Dance Hall to wait until everyone was there.

Working with Lord Dormamu that afternoon was really good for my dance confidence levels. After Sparkledancer and I danced through our Waltz routine for him once, he told me that he could really see a difference in my posture and frame, so all the practice I was doing dancing by myself holding those cups must be paying off. I wasn’t told that I could stop doing that, but he did say that when I was dancing with Sparkledancer, I was now allowed to turn my head to face 45° to the left, and also start pulling my body to the left while she pulled her body to her left (though I am not pulling left anywhere near as dramatically as she is). Anytime I dance with Sparkledancer, this will now be my new ‘home’ position, and I should always come back to it until such a time as he tells me I need to change things again. So yay! He said I improved noticeably! Now I can move on to other things! Progress can be made!

But as much as I’d love to gloat about my own personal progress, there were still points that were given to me to work on. Lord Dormamu said that he didn’t like the way my upper body looked when I was moving backward. He said that sometimes it looked like I was leaning up chest forward as I moved backward, making it look like I was off balance. To help break that behavior, he wanted me to start leaning my upper body backward anytime I would be taking a step backward with bent knees. My knees have to be bent because that is the only way to counter-balance the weight of leaning my upper body backward. I couldn’t think of any times I’ve ever taken steps backward while my knees aren’t really bent (as if I were walking backward during the rise in the Waltz), so for now I am assuming that I will be leaning back slightly every time I take a step backward. That certainly makes it easier for me to practice.

Sparkledancer definitely got it worse than me that afternoon. Now that my posture and frame were less on Lord Dormamu’s radar, he could focus more on her and manipulate her posture and frame. He was trying to get her to pull her body even more to the left when she was in frame with me. Lord Dormamu at one point took Sparkledancer over to a chair and had her sit. He asked me to gently hold her waist in place on the chair so that she didn’t move anywhere while he pulled her upper body to the left, trying to get her spine into almost a 45° angle with her hips. Once he positioned her and let go so he could verify she could hold herself in that position, we helped her up gently so that I could take frame with her and we could dance for a while.

With things like this, it amazes me that anyone, especially me, does this for a hobby. The more I dance, the more it seems like the only way you know you are doing things right is if you are super uncomfortable. Why do we do this to ourselves?

As we were wrapping things up, Lord Dormamu told Sparkledancer and me that if we can remember the things that we had gone over that day and apply them during the competition that was going on the next day, then we should do fairly well. That stopped us in our tracks, since Sparkledancer and I hadn’t signed up to be in the competition. I told him that, and asked him if, since the competition was on the morrow, if we were too late to even consider signing up. Lord Dormamu just laughed and told me that since it was his competition, he could sign us up at the last minute if we wanted to take part. He told us to think about taking part during the morning for the heats in International Standard, and also later in the evening for the championship or scholarship rounds, and just let him know before the end of the day what we wanted to do so he could add Sparkledancer and me to the list, and he would see us early the next morning if we were going to run some of the heats.

Afterward, Sparkledancer and I stood in the parking lot for a while discussing what we should do. I still had something going on Sunday afternoon I wanted to be able to do, and the championship and scholarship rounds were scheduled to start super late in the evening on Sunday, so it seemed like our best option was to join in for just the heats in the morning. I sent Lord Dormamu a text telling him that we talked it over and would be good with doing two or three heats in each International Standard style in the morning, so whatever he thought was best he could put us down for and let us know the approximate cost at some point and we could get it paid for soon. Neither of us heard back from him that day, but he had already told us what time to show up the next morning, so I guess he just assumed we were all set.

With that, on Sunday morning I was once again awake much earlier than I would have wished so that I could be out at the Endless Dance Hall for the competition. I had not gotten a reply back from Lord Dormamu to the message I sent him Saturday afternoon, so as I walked through the door I had no idea what I was getting myself into that day (or how much it was going to cost me, for that matter). It turns out that I wasn’t the only person like that who was supposed to be competing that day. The lady at the check-in desk did not have a number or a heat sheet printed out for me, but told me I was the second person who had already shown up who had that problem. Lord Dormamu was wandering around getting things situated, so it was pretty easy to flag him down and get everything straightened out. He pulled a number out of the stack that wasn’t in use yet, handed it to me and told me to go ahead and start warming up while he put my number into the heats he wanted me to do.

As I was waiting for Lord Dormamu to finish up, I got roped into helping the Princess set out some noisemakers on all of the tables around the room. That basically means that I carried around a large box full of all the noise making props and followed her from table to table, while she just took what she wanted from the box and arranged things to her liking. I guess my strong arms are actually useful for some things in the dance world. By the time I had finished up with that and gotten back to the table where I had set my dance shoes, Lord Dormamu had delivered a note to the table with a bunch of handwritten numbers on it. That was all the information I got about the heats I was to be dancing in. The numbers told me I was dancing in three different five-dance sets spread throughout the morning. Unfortunately, I was also starting in heat one, so it was time to change gears and get ready to go!

With only a little time before the event was scheduled to start, I tracked down Sparkledancer and got to work warming up. Sparkledancer had recently found, fallen in love with and purchased a new competition dress that she had decided to debut that day, so it was important that we spend a bit of time getting used to dancing with her wearing that piece. The dress had a really unique design that made Sparkledancer stand out, so she was easy for me to find while scanning the room. Our initial practice was important for me because the bottom of her dress flared out a bit, and I wanted to make sure that hitting it with my lower legs as I took steps wasn’t weird. Everything felt good, and all too soon the DJ changed the music to signal that the opening remarks were going to begin, so Sparkledancer and I made our way toward the on-deck area to get ready to go.

In some ways, the competition went exactly as I expected. The first five-dance set of heats did not go as well as the two that we danced later in the morning. For the most part the dances were OK, but the Viennese Waltz left something to be desired, and the Foxtrot was a bit of a disaster for the first two walls. The Foxtrot was completely my fault though. In practice that morning, we had been running through each of our routines starting on the short wall, since that’s where we had room to work on things. When we began the first Foxtrot heat we were already in a corner to start on a short wall, so I figured we’d just go with that. Somehow by the end of that wall I had messed something up, so I was off for the beginning of the long wall, and I maaaaaaay have gone into an American Foxtrot Open Reverse Turn instead of an International Foxtrot Reverse Turn at one point (shhh… that’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone I did that). Still, I picked up enough from the first five dance set to make adjustments to all the routines for the next time through.

Even though the floor at the Endless Dance Hall is pretty huge, I was still finding myself compressed for space to fit all of the figures in during most of my routines. I took that as a good problem to have, since that meant Sparkledancer and I were really stretching our steps and pushing with our standing legs as we traveled. For the second and third five-dance sets I ended up cutting out some figures if I felt I was getting too close to the wall. Sparkledancer was awesome and able to follow me without me having to say anything to her when I did that, as well as the few times I had to break routine because of other couples on the floor getting in the way. See folks, that’s why I keep saying it’s important to go out social dancing: it really teaches you to properly navigate the floor and learn to adjust your steps on the fly to avoid other people. I hope someday they give out bonus points in competitions for floorcraft skills.

In a surprise twist, even though we only had three five-dance sets on our handwritten heat sheet, during one of the later five-dance sets that weren’t on my list the MC called out my name and number for the Viennese Waltz right in the middle of the set. I was a bit stunned, but they were looking right at where Sparkledancer and I were sitting, so I knew it was no mistake. Shaking off the surprise, I went out to dance. So in the end I did three full five-dance sets plus one random Viennese Waltz heat that morning.

Afterward, there was a short break as they transitioned from all the International Standard heats to American Smooth. Since I wasn’t doing anything else that day, I took the opportunity during break to change back into some street clothes and, after watching some dancing for a little while, I took off to go get some lunch with Sparkledancer to discuss how things went. If this competition is anything like the last one I did, I should get back my notes from the judges when I am at the Fancy Dance Hall for my normal lesson next weekend, so I can see what things the judges think I should focus on during practice to improve further. I feel pretty good about things though. For a competition I decided to join and then finished dancing all in less than twelve hours, it was a great experience.

Going back to something mentioned earlier, I got a text from Sir Steven the next afternoon. Apparently they had a short wrap-up meeting after the competition was over, and he had asked around with the female instructors there about working with me next Saturday. I guess the Princess actually told him she knew some things she wanted to work on with me based on what she saw me doing during the competition, so she volunteered to have a private lesson with me. Sir Steven wanted to make sure I was OK with that before putting it on the schedule officially. I’m a bit nervous to find out what she saw that would make her volunteer her limited and highly valued time to work with little old me exclusively, but I’m not stupid enough to turn down an offer like that from the Royalty. So I have something officially scheduled on Saturday now. We’ll have to see what she has to say about how I danced during the competition!

Back to more normal things… yesterday night I spent some time out at Standard Technique class working on Tango. Because Lord Junior is still studying for his upcoming advanced certification test in American Smooth, what we worked on that night involved some steps that would be American Tango, and finished up with a figure from International Tango. At the beginning of class it looked like we were going to have even numbers of Leads and Follows, but there were two ladies that showed up late that threw off the ratio. Not that I was complaining. Before class started, an older gentleman who was there for class was telling me all about his bad knees and ankles, and how he was going in for hernia surgery soon. I don’t know how I got roped into that conversation, but it was rather depressing. Luckily class was about to start when he began repeating himself, so I managed to get away before hearing the sad stories all over again.

What we ended up doing that night in class started out with both partners in Promenade Position. We took two steps in Promenade position before squaring up to our partner and taking a side step, then crossed our foot behind (the Lead’s right foot, Follow’s left) and did a Ronde with the other leg. You can lead the Follower to do this by sliding your hand down to their elbow as you take the side step and then use that hold and some rotation in your body to ‘push’ their right side backward. As you bring your foot down after the Ronde, we would take another side step in the opposite direction, release our partner’s left hand from our right, and turn to take a step forward, kind of like a Crossover Break, before rotating to face our partner again. As the Lead takes a step forward onto the right leg, we would bring the Follower back around in front of us and into closed dance frame once more.

After that whole section, which took much longer for many of the people in class to pick up than I expected, we took a page from the International Tango syllabus and did a Four Step. This would take you toward diagonal wall, but we did this as if we were in a corner, rotating slightly to finish up to come out in Promenade Position facing diagonal center on the new wall. The older fellow who told me all about his upcoming hernia surgery had trouble doing this figure in time with the music when we were doing things at full speed. He managed to finish things up a few beats behind where he should have, which wasn’t too bad, but the transitions between the figures and the speed of the steps in the Four Step were what kept getting him off time. I only got called out for having my head in the wrong place once during class, so I’m feeling pretty good about that overall. Yay me!

So what do you have on your dance plate for this weekend? I’ve only got a couple of things that I need to do. There is that lesson with the Princess on Saturday, and then on Saturday night I have a dance party hosted by my Royal Dance Court gang that I will be helping to organize. Oh yeah, I was supposed to put together a mini-speech about floorcraft to give before the social dance portion of the night. I wrote a few things down, but I never finished that up. Looks like I will be spending some time tomorrow night putting that together before I go to bed. Sigh… who needs rest anyway, right? It’s such an overrated luxury.