Some Balls Are Held For Charity And Some For Fancy Dress

I went to two different dance parties this weekend. Two very, very, very, very, very… (I think you get my drift) different dance parties.

Last Friday I went to a dance party out at the Electric Dance Hall. I hadn’t originally planned on being there that night, but Bony was asking a bunch of us if we would go since she was going to be there, and I couldn’t say no to her. She asks so little! It turns out that the only reason that she was going was because some lady that Bony is friends with was going to be out of town, so she had asked Bony to go to the dance party to meet her husband and be her husband’s dance partner for the night since she couldn’t be there. Since Bony had recruited friends to join her at the party that night, those ladies all ended up taking turns keeping the older gentleman out on the dance floor. Pretty good deal for him, right?

Me, I guess I was just asked to be there for moral support, or something. After all, that guy probably didn’t want to dance with me, even if I am super fun to dance with. There were plenty of other ladies for me to dance with throughout the night, so I never actually had to sit out for a dance unless I actually wanted to. The party broke up earlier than I expected, with most of the attendees leaving to go home before ten-thirty even though the party was scheduled to go until eleven. When there was no one unpaired ladies left for me to dance with, I took off as well.

Then there was Saturday… I don’t even begin to know how to describe this, so just bear with me for a moment as I start at the beginning.

Saturday afternoon I had gone out to meet up with Sparkledancer for an hour or so to get in some practice time, like we usually do. She got to the studio as I’m stretching out my legs. Once she spotted me she got this hopeful look on her face, and she comes over and asks if I would do her a huge favor. There was going to be a dance party that night, and she wanted to go to it. She had asked her husband to go, but he had told her he wasn’t interested. Even after that, she still wanted to go, but she didn’t want to go by herself, so she wanted to ask if I would be a pal and go with her.

That didn’t seem like such a huge deal, so I said that I could probably clear up my schedule and go out for a few hours that night. I told her to send the details of which studio we would meet at and what time and I would let her know after I had a chance to go home after practice and move things around and I was sure I could make it. Then she looked at me hesitantly and told me that the party wasn’t actually at a studio…

Turns out that this party that she was interested in attending was a Victorian-era Christmas Ball… and they were advertising that they would give you a discount on the cover charge if you made an attempt at dressing in Victorian period attire. Also, the group that was hosting this event was known for teaching people the Waltz… but not the style of Waltz that I necessarily knew. The flyer that she showed me promised that the event would feature the dances from the Victorian era “including but not limited to quadrilles, polkas, waltzes, and those lighthearted games known as ‘Germans.’” (Yes, that is really what it said!)

Suffice to say I just kept looking back and forth between Sparkledancer and the flyer for a bit, totally unsure what to make of the whole thing. It wasn’t exactly the kind of party that I was expecting to go to, and my first thought was that I wasn’t sure that I had anything that would even vaguely resemble period attire that I could wear. So I backtracked a bit and said that I would think about it and let her know later, and we got to practicing.

When I got home that afternoon, I dug through the closet where I have been storing all the crazy outfits that I have collected over the years because of dancing to see if I had anything that would work. I did manage to find an old top hat and a cravat that I had worn for a showcase performance I had done years ago, and I figured that if I coupled that with a plain white dress shirt and a vest that it was probably the best that I could do for anything even close to period attire. But the question I was still asking myself was whether I really wanted to go to an event like this or not. So, I did what I usually do when I can’t make a decision as to whether to do something or not – I consulted the unbiased opinion of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Since I’m writing out this whole story, you can probably guess that he told me I should go.

My man!

This particular dance adventure was… well, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. This ended up being way outside of my comfort zone. I’m not even really sure why. I do a lot of dancing, of all kinds of different styles. I’ve gone to lots of costume parties over the years because of dance. I’ve even gone to a number of strange dance parties that were completely unrelated to ballroom dancing just so that I could dance at them. But this party… for whatever reason I was just not comfortable being there. Even days later as I write this, I still really don’t know why.

That being said, it was a fascinating party to attend from a people watching perspective. Utterly fascinating. Many people not only dressed in period attire, but attempted to speak and act as if they were from the period as well. I would liken it to being at a Renaissance fair, except it was the Victorian era instead of the Renaissance, and a dance party instead of a fair. I’ve only been to Renaissance fairs like twice in my life so I’m not really an expert on what goes on at those, but that is the closest approximation that I can make to try to help you understand what was going on at this event.

The big problem I ran into once I was there was the expectations that I had built in my head before I arrived at the venue. Even after reading that flyer with the crazy description that I quoted earlier, I had built it up in my head to be some sort of old-timey Waltz party. I am not usually keen on going to parties where they do one style of dance all night, but this particular party had other factors going for it that made it seem like it could have been amusing. What I found when I got there was that they didn’t ‘Waltz’ – at least, not in any sense even close to what I think of as Waltz. In fact, I counted only three songs in the first two hours that were even in some form of triple time (¾, ⅜, 6/8 or the like). I don’t really see songs that are not in triple time as being Waltzes, so why did I imagine this to be a Waltz party?

Most of the dances that they did that evening were what I would actually consider line dances. Everyone would form a big line (or two big lines or a big circle) and all do the same steps. There were a few dances that were more like Square Dancing, where the hostess would call out the names of figures and then everyone would do them. And then there were the weird “Germans” games that had been mentioned in the flyer… those were weird.

Let me mention one of those games that thoroughly confused me. Everyone got split up by sex, The men were arranged into a big circle facing inward, holding up our arms and touching our palms together, leaving space between us on either side. The ladies just lined up on one side of the room. As the game started and the music was put on, the lady at the front of the line would come forward and enter the circle of men. One man would then back out of the circle to be ‘it’ for that lady.

The game was described as being like ‘cat and mouse’ – the lady would run around inside the circle and try to duck out and back in between the men. The ‘it’ man would run around the outside of the circle and try to touch her somewhere on her body. If the guy managed to tag the lady, she stopped running and they would do some kind of dance together of the man’s choosing around the outside of the circle. He would drop her off at one of the chairs in the room after completing their circuit and return to the circle. If the guy was having a hard time catching the lady, the circle of men would take a step inward, slowly closing the circle and making it harder for the lady to get between us. Once the lady in the circle was tagged and she started dancing with the ‘it’ man, the next lady in line entered the circle and the process began anew.

This. Went. On. FOREVER. Since the game was only played with one woman at a time and there were A LOT of ladies at the party, giving every lady who wanted to play a chance consumed well over a half-hour of the party. After the first half-dozen ladies, I was totally bored. Whether I got to be the guy who was ‘it’ or not, I was bored. Maybe it was my fault. I guess my attention span has been shattered by going to normal ballroom social dances, and now I can’t focus on the same dance style for longer than one normal song anymore without getting antsy to switch things up.

Another weird thing about that night was how much the hostess liked to use the word ‘frisky’ to describe parts of the dances she was teaching. I’m sure that she was using the word to try to get a chuckle out of the attendees, but there was a side effect to her use of that word that I’m not sure if she intended. Attending the party that night were many younger people – younger than me, which makes them pretty young. Whenever the hostess would describe a part of the dance as being ‘frisky’ these younger people always seemed to take that as meaning they were allowed to be out of control for some reason.

For example, one of the dances that we did was a pretty simple quadrille where one couple would march over in time to stand in front of the couple on their right, then bow to them, then you would take hands with the new person in front of you and spin for an eight count around before marching back to your starting point. On the next eight count you were supposed to pick someone else to spin around with a few times and make it back to your spot, and then your turn was over and the couple to the right would take over and start the pattern all over. Pretty simple, right? I bet that when you picture this in your head, you are picturing a pleasant, slow dance that would have been enjoyable to Victorian-era nobility. That’s how I was picturing it as we were being taught the steps.

Well… the hostess described the spinning portions of the dance as being ‘frisky’, so suddenly the younger men at the party took the dance from a pleasant quadrille to a death-match style contest to see who could spin their lady around the most times before the eight-count was over. That made things dangerous. The floor at this venue wasn’t a nice wooden floor like they would have at a dance studio, so anyone who was wearing shoes that were more costume-appropriate didn’t have a lot of traction. My dance shoes (which I brought with me, because I had pictured the dancing being different that night) were sliding all over the place too. So we had people spinning as fast as they could while sliding all over the floor. It was nuts!

Another example was a line dance that we did where people paired off and formed two lines facing one another. The line of Followers would step toward the Leaders, then back, then go between the Leaders on their right, then the Leaders would flip around to face them. Then came the part that the hostess described as ‘frisky’ where the two Leads and two Follows at the head of the lines would take hands into a big circle and spin around a few times, then the Leads would stand in place side-by-side at the head of the line while the two Followers marched in a circle around their Lead two times. When the Follower finished marching the second circle they were supposed to take the Lead’s hand and sashay down between the lines of Leads and Follows to take their place at the end of the line, and everyone else moved up in line.

Again, it sounds nice and gentle and pleasant, and you can imagine watching people do this in a Victorian-period movie, right? Well, because the hostess used the word ‘frisky’, the circling that the two couples at the head of the line did turned into a race. First they would see how many times they could spin when all four people were holding hands. Then the ladies would run around their Leads to see who could complete their two circles the fastest. Finally, when the lady grabbed the guy’s hand, many of them ended up sprinting (not sashaying, actually sprinting) down to the end of the line as fast as they could. Nuts!

Kids these days, right?

One other interesting note about the party – unexpectedly, there was one girl in attendance that I hadn’t expected to see. She was a younger girl who has joined us out at the Electric Dance Hall for Latin Technique and Standard Technique classes for the last several years. When we finally had a few minutes to talk, she came over to say hi to Sparkledancer and I. She seemed to be at the party all by herself, so Sparkledancer asked her how she had found out about the event (turns out that she had seen the same flyer that Sparkledancer had shown me). What she said was kind of remarkable.

It turns out that this was what she had always dreamed of doing – this kind of Victorian-era reenactment dance party with all of the old-timey dancing. In fact, the whole reason that she had originally started to take ballroom dance lessons was because she had wanted to go to parties like this, but there weren’t any going on that she could find, so ballroom dancing was the next best thing. As the girl was telling Sparkledancer this, she started to get teary eyes and choke up a little, because she was so happy that she had finally found a group that held events like she had dreamed about. She had already talked to the hostess about joining their lessons during the week, and was thinking about ways to improve her costume to make it even more period appropriate. So that was really cool. I’m really happy for her that she finally found what she had been looking for. Hooray!

As for me… I can’t say that I would go back to another of these parties. It was certainly interesting, and entertaining for an evening, but it’s just not my cup of tea. As I said, I get bored doing the same dance style for long periods of time (even if the dance style is line dances), and all the dances they did that night seemed to go on forever and ever. I know that was because they wanted to give everyone a chance to participate, but it just bored me silly. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve never put a lot of energy into learning dance styles like Salsa or Argentine Tango to go to clubs where they dance those styles, because that’s all they will do all night long. I’m really happy for people who love to do that, but I’ll stick with ballroom-style social where they switch up the dance styles after every song.

So the next time someone asks me to go to a Victorian-era Ball, I’m going to have to turn them down. I did it once and got the stories out of it. That’s good enough for me!

Enough about that. Since I’ve already said a lot this week, let me finish up quickly by talking about last night’s Standard Technique class that I went to. I’m not exactly sure what was going on last night, but there were very few people hanging around at the Electric Dance Hall compared to what I usually see on a Wednesday night. For one thing, the West Coast Swing class that goes on every week only had three people in it, when usually there are at least ten or twelve. And then the only other student besides me to show up for Standard Technique was Sparkledancer. Where was everyone else last night?

In a way though, it was nice that it ended up being just the two of us – it was kind of like getting a private lesson from Lord Junior for the much, much, much lower cost of a group class. To keep things interesting for all of us, once we had decided on a dance style to work on that night (Foxtrot), Lord Junior basically pulled out the syllabus guide and started running Sparkledancer and I through the list of Silver-level figures for Foxtrot. After all, the Silver figures are more interesting than the Bronze ones, and at some point in the next few months we are going to be moving up to that level anyway, so he thought we might as well start memorizing all the figures now.

We managed to get through six of the figures during the course of the class. They were (not in this order) the Closed Telemark, the Open Telemark and Feather Ending, the Top Spin, the Hover Feather, the Hover Cross, and the “Open Telemark, Natural Turn, Outside Swivel, Feather Ending” (yes, that is all one figure). All but two of these figures I have done at some point or another in my life – probably in other Standard Technique classes, if I had to guess. I really don’t know where else I would have gone through them besides in this class.

The two figures that I can’t say that I’ve seen before that night were the Hover Cross and the Closed Telemark. Of those two, the Closed Telemark sounded the easiest – it’s just a Telemark where you finish the turn in normal dance position instead of shifting to Promenade Position like you would in an Open Telemark. Once I had tried it out, I could see why I’ve only ever done the Open Telemark before – it’s hard to turn a full 270° while remaining in dance position the whole time. I managed to get through it successfully a couple of times by the end (hooray for me!), but if I end up having to use this figure in the future I will need to put in some more practice to make it look presentable.

The Hover Cross was a different matter altogether. Unlike the Closed Telemark, where I had a basic understanding of what to do since I have done Open Telemarks in the past, I had nothing to compare the Hover Cross to mentally, so I was learning the footwork on the fly. My first few tries failed because I took the wrong steps. My next few tries failed because the sway that I was trying to do looked funny. By the ninth or tenth time I managed to figure out what I was doing to make the figure look passable, but it still felt funny to me. Maybe that was just because I didn’t really know the figure, but who knows? We moved on once I managed to make it through OK to look at something else. I’m sure I will see this figure again at some point in the future.

I’m going to leave it there for the time being. I did have a lesson with Lord Dormamu tonight, but I think if I tried to put all my notes from that lesson into this post it would get to be much too long even for me. So I’ll probably start with those next time!

This coming week has a few highlights to look forward to. There is a workshop I heard about on Saturday morning that sounds like it could be fun, and then I am going to another holiday dance party Saturday night (a normal holiday dance party, not like the one I went to last Saturday). This is probably the last specific holiday dance party I am going to go to this year. There will be other holiday parties I’m sure – since it is that time of year I would guess that all parties are vaguely holiday themed – but if I end up at one of those it will be a last-minute decision, unlike the party I’m going to this weekend which I bought a ticket to weeks ago to ensure I would have a place reserved.

Will I see you there? I hope so! If you find me, come give me a high-five. That is a less common form of greeting, so I’ll know how you found out about the party if you greet me like that. It will be our secret code.


Lightning Strikes In The Dark

A lot of people seemed to be missing this week. I would guess that the holiday today probably has something to do with that… but what do I know? All that turkey I ate must have gone to my head, stuffing it with crazy ideas. I apologize in advance if any of my words tonight end up sounding stupid. My normal high bar for proofreading before posting might not be crossed tonight.

I only did two notable dance-related things this week. The first was on Monday night when I went out to Latin Technique class. Class was smaller than it has been in recent weeks, with only four ladies showing up. One of the ladies was joining the class for the first time that night, and she was… interesting (more on that later). Four ladies is actually a pretty good ratio of women to men for Lord Junior and I to dance with, so everything we looked at in Rumba that night was done with a partner.

The choreography that we looked at that night seemed pretty familiar to me, almost like I had done it before. I could probably find out if I actually have if I wanted to go back through my notes here and see, but that sounds like it would take a lot of time, so I’m just going to leave that question a mystery. We started off by facing our partner in a one-hand hold, with the ladies pointing their left leg forward and the guys pointing the right leg back. From there we took a step forward and went into a syncopated forward check action – holding the check for half a beat longer before coming out and taking a step to the side. This put both partners parallel to each other facing inward, with the ladies off to the guy’s right side with their weight on the right leg, and guys with their weight on the left.

Next we did a set of Cuban Rocks, using them to transfer our weight to the other leg. Right at the end, the guys would do a slight rotation of the lady’s wrist to lead her to turn away from us, then we would do another forward check. Before replacing our weight the guy would use the lady’s arm to lead her to spin around quickly and face us, then bring her to step toward us while putting up her left arm. The guy would just replace his weight onto his right leg then point the left off to the side instead of taking a step, which would let the lady get into an awkwardly-close position to our bodies, that was even more awkward to be in with one lady in particular than it was with the others.

Since the guys had their left leg free, that let us lunge out to the left side while rotating our bodies so that we could use our left arm to lead the lady into a Hip Twist. As the guy stands up, he does a small chasse to the right while leading the lady to step across our body and out into Fan Position. We then led the lady into an Alemana that ended with the lady outside of us on our right. From here we released the lady’s hand and went into one Sliding Door to finish for the evening.

So the new girl… and I mention this only because it was pretty funny in hindsight… new girl was tiny. I mean, if this woman was five feet tall I would have been surprised. She was super tiny. Except in one… area… of her body. And she was wearing this sleeveless flannel shirt that had a lot of the top buttons undone so make it very clear that her ‘assets’ were quite oversized for her body. This was super awkward the first time I tried to dance with her and I had to bend my head down to look her in the face, and there was a prominent display going on when I looked from that angle. Then we did that move where the ladies come forward and stand super-close to the guy while raising their arm and it was like ‘WHAM!’ – there they were, right up close and personal.

I thought I was going to break my neck with how fast I turned my head to look away the first time that happened, and also that my cheeks might melt from how much I was blushing. At first I thought that it was just something that was unintentional – maybe she wore the same thing to class that she wore earlier in the day, and didn’t think anything of it… and just didn’t think about fastening a few more of her buttons while trying to figure out what was going on in class. You know, completely innocent, right? But later in the evening, I watched as Lord Junior assisted her with one of the figures she was having trouble with, and the lady made it very clear that this was all intentional.

As they finished that up and Lord Junior went back to addressing the rest of the ladies in class, I watched as new girl readjusted her shirt. It had moved off to one side, covering her goodies up for the first time all night. So what does she do? She moves it back to center and opens it back up to put everything on display once again. Yeah, so she was totally putting everything out there all on purpose. There was no two ways about it. That made it feel even more awkward when I danced with her…

Anyway, it seems funny to think about that now. Maybe I’m the only one who will think it’s funny. But you know what? These are my notes, so I can write down anything that I find even mildly amusing. Hooray for me!

The only other dance-related adventure I went on this week (other than practice) was to Standard Technique class on Wednesday night. Since it was the day before a holiday I thought that I might be the only person to show up for class, but actually a fair number of people actually came out for both Standard Technique and the West Coast Swing class that goes on at the Electric Dance Hall on Wednesday nights. Apparently some of us are just crazy, and would much rather spend the so-called ‘biggest bar night of the year’ learning and practicing dance…

Also surprising, guess who decided to join us in class that night? Miss ShortDress! I haven’t seen her in a really long time. It actually took me a while to remember what her name was when I saw her – I will freely admit that, I am terrible with names. She won’t ever see this, so it’s safe for me to write down that I didn’t know who she was at first. I guess that she was home from college for the holiday, and rather than spend the evening hanging out with her family she decided to come and hang out with us in class. Good for her! Dance family is way better than real family, don’t you think? 😉

Since Miss ShortDress has been studying and competing in Silver (Lord Junior asked her before class started), we did a bunch of stuff in Foxtrot that is part of the Silver-level syllabus. The choreography itself wasn’t all that many figures, but you could use it to cover a whole lot of the floor if you know how to move (like I do).

Starting out facing diagonal wall, we did a prep step into a basic Feather, than an Overturned Reverse Turn. This Reverse Turn flipped around 180° to put us backing diagonal wall before we went into a Reverse Wave. Next up we did a Back Feather, which is actually part of the Gold-level syllabus for Foxtrot, but isn’t too difficult to do if you’ve done normal Feathers enough times. After the Back Feather we went into another Reverse Wave, then flipped around by doing an Open Impetus with Feather Ending. To finish everything up, Lord Junior had us do a Top Spin at the end. The Top Spin is actually a misleading name, because it’s more like a check so you can abruptly change directions, with no spinning at all. I wonder where the name came from?

At the end of class, while I was changing back into my street shoes, I overheard Sparkledancer talking to Miss ShortDress. Apparently Miss ShortDress has been to a couple of the competitions we’ve done recently with her college ballroom team, and she’s seen us dancing. She never came over to talk to us at those events, because she didn’t think that we would remember her (which would have probably been correct for me at least, based on how well I remembered her before class started). I guess she’s been promoted this year to be the leader of her college ballroom team, so she felt it necessary to tell Sparkledancer that she and I need to “stop terrorizing her kids.” That’s a strange thing to say, right?

Well that’s all I’ve got this week. This weekend should have more exciting things going on than last weekend. There’s a dance party on Saturday night that I’m sure I’ll end up at, and I have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Saturday morning. Plus lots of practice… there’s a big event coming up a few months out that I need to be in top form for, so practice is important to get in.

I hope your holiday was fun and that you get a chance this weekend to dance off all those extra calories. Until next time!

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.

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!