Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 2

Let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you are new here, be sure to go back and check out Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1 to get yourself all caught up!

Before I start in on anything new, I feel like I should reiterate the disclaimers that I posted last week, just in case anyone new here does not want to follow the above link and read them there:


DISCLAIMER #1: Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful. There is no shame in modifying your movements or using lighter weights if it helps you finish your workouts successfully.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple., which are the same rules I like to use for dancing:

  1. Safety – always rule number one. We want to get results, not get hurt!
  2. Form – form (a.k.a. technique) is crucial while exercising just like it is while dancing.
  3. Fun – having fun is what keeps you coming back to dance, right? If you apply that same line of thought to exercise, having fun will help keep you working out to improve yourself. Fun is important!

DISCLAIMER #3: Resistance training is important, even for ladies. ESPECIALLY for ladies that avoid doing resistance training altogether. You can do cardio workouts until you keel over, but it probably isn’t going to give you that toned look that you were going for. Adding in weight training will help.

If you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless your hormone levels are super messed up, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add lots of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. Period. Full stop. End of line.

Ladies can build a bunch of muscle, but to do so requires a much more meticulous level of eating than a male has to do in order to build muscle mass. Plus you would have to be eating something like one gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight you have in order to build muscle fast. And it would have to be real meat, not vegetable proteins like tofu, because eating a lot of meat will help increase your natural testosterone production, which in turn helps you develop more muscle.

Are you planning on eating that much meat? Or taking testosterone supplements? If not, you shouldn’t worry about gaining weight by building muscle through weight training. More often, women find that they lose weight through weight training because it can burn a lot more calories when you push yourself. If you find yourself gaining weight after a short period of weight training, most likely the problem is something in your diet, such as not actually sticking to your calorie goals.


With those disclaimers out of the way again, there are a couple of new areas of fitness that I want to talk about this week. I’ll start off by touching on core fitness, then spend a little time talking about balance, and finally I’ll give you some thoughts on eating to fuel all of this physical activity. Sound like a good plan to you? Let’s get started!

CORE

This is probably the area of the body that you thought I was going to do second, right? And for good reason – the core is really important for a whole lot of what happens in dancing any style. Plus, if you want to compete at high levels in Latin or Rhythm, where the guys wear shirts that seem to be unbuttoned down to their pants and the ladies wear dresses that seem to be made of little more than floss and sequins, having a strong and toned core can help give you the body confidence to throw on an outfit like that and hold your head high!

I might even be willing to make the argument that the body confidence could do more to help improve your dancing than anything else, but that’s probably a topic for a whole post all by itself…

The way a lot of people think (I was certainly guilty of this in my youth), they assumes that Core = Abs, so their instinct is to lay on the floor to do a million crunches to try and develop a six-pack. But I promise you that if you look in the mirror, you will notice that your core is shaped more like a rounded box, so to truly have a strong core you need to work on all four sides!  We already talked about the back separately, since I feel that it needs its own section, so let’s look at the other three sides of this hyperrectangle below your head, shall we?

Crunches, Et Al.
Most of the exercises that you will find to work on the front of your core (i.e. the abs) are going to be some variation of this movement, so I can’t really get away from mentioning it. Since I’m pretty sure that everyone has done at least one basic crunch before and knows what it looks like, let’s look at some more advanced variations to build on that baseline.

Remember last week when I mentioned taking a weighted plate from a barbell and holding it to your forehead while doing Cobra? How about your take that same plate and put it behind your head like a pillow and do a crunch! As before, increasing the resistance will help you build more strength than just using body weight alone.

How about you try doing crunches slowly to really feel the burn! Start off by doing three seconds as you crunch all the way up, and then three seconds to lower back down. If you’re feeling super strong, make it six seconds! Personally I wouldn’t make them any longer than that. Five crunches at six seconds up, six seconds down will already take you over a minute to finish, and you don’t want to be lying on the floor forever, right?

Oblique V-Ups
This movement is sure to work the sides of your core. Lay down on one side and bend at the waist like a V. Let your lower arm just rest on the ground – but be sure to keep it loose. Pushing up with the arm isn’t working your obliques! Take the fingertips of your upper arm and hold them at your temple so that your elbow is pointing toward the ceiling. Now bring your upper body and your legs up off the ground to try and touch your elbow to the side of your upper leg. If you can get it – great! If not, come as close as you can and try and do better each time you do this exercise.

Pause for a second at the top and then lower yourself back down to your starting position. In order to balance on your hip when you lift your upper body and legs off the floor, you may need to lean back some, and that’s OK! Just don’t lean back too far, or you risk rolling yourself onto your back. If you’re in public and you accidentally roll onto your back, try quickly rolling to your other side and starting the Oblique V-Ups – it will look like you totally planned it, and people will think you’re super smooth!

Plank Twists
This is a great movement for working your whole core. Holding a plank properly forces you to engage everything so that you don’t stick your butt up in the air, and bringing your legs underneath you really works your hip flexors and your obliques. Plus, this movement is more fun than just holding a plank without moving.
Start out by getting into a plank. Make sure it’s a good one, with your heels going back, your back and neck straight and your butt in line. Now, take one leg and bend it, raising your knee up as you twist your body to the opposite side of the leg that you are moving. Keep the leg off the floor the whole time, and try your best to get your upper thigh perpendicular with your body. Rotate the body back as you replace the leg – now you’re back in plank position. Repeat with the opposite leg, switching back and forth on each repetition.

Russian Twist
This is another move that is more synergistic in nature, working multiple sides of the core in one exercise. The rotational action here should feel really familiar to anyone who dances ballroom styles and uses figures with a lot of Contra-Body Movement (CBM).

There are multiple variations of this movement that you can do depending on your fitness level. The most basic involves sitting down, feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, and leaning backward as far as you can go while keeping your back straight and your feet on the floor. In this position, clasp your hands together like one big fist and then twist your body from side to side, striking the ground with your hands on each side as you twist back and forth.

If you feel like the basic version is too easy, the next step would be to lift your legs off the ground and hold them up so that your shins are parallel with the floor as you twist back and forth. When you feel like you’ve mastered that variation, it’s time to add some resistance. Go back to the basic setup, keeping your feet on the floor. Now take a single dumbbell and hold it in both hands. Keep the weight more toward the center of your body the whole time – the weight is used to make it harder for you to hold your body up on an angle as you twist, trying to bring your elbows as close to the floor as you can.

Once you get super strong, try combining both variations! Use the weight to add resistance against your upper body, and then lift your legs off the floor at the same time! If you get through this variation without breaking a sweat, you should feel pretty accomplished with your core fitness.

Misc.
There are lots of programs out there specifically designed to work on core strength. For example, Pilates focuses on core work quite a bit, as you might know if you’ve ever taken a class. But the amazing thing about core work is that it is incorporated into almost every workout that you do. Martial arts will help you work your core if you are doing the movements right. So does Yoga. So do even basic exercises like push-ups, where you really need to keep your core engaged the whole time to keep from having a bow in your back. You just can’t escape!

Like all other muscle groups though, you don’t want to destroy your core by working it super hard every day. It’s one thing to work the core in a secondary manner as a byproduct of working your other muscle groups – it’s another thing entirely to focus on a routine built specifically for core strengthening. Try to limit focused core work to no more than three times a week with at least a day in between to give your muscles a chance to recover.

BALANCE

I’ve been told often enough by various strangers over the years, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky that you have such good balance.’ That not really true – I had to work on it to make my balance look this good. And unless you have some kind of medical condition that upsets your body’s ability to remain stable, balance is something that you can work to improve as well.

The good news is that there are things that you can do to work on balance that aren’t as boring as standing around on one leg. I have done balance training in Yoga lots of times, but I found that a lot of the poses that they used were some variation of doing just that. Think about Tree pose, for example, or Warrior III, or Half Moon (if you don’t know what these poses are, you can find pictures online pretty easily). Holding poses like these can certainly help you improve, but as a dancer the first thing that you are usually asked to do is to be able to balance yourself while moving around. Creating the fancy lines where you are balancing in one place with little movement usually comes later.

That’s not the Tree Pose I meant!

So, I like to practice balance while doing other exercises that force me to move around! Last week I mentioned doing Single-Leg Calf Raises, which is a perfect example of this concept. You have to balance yourself on one leg, but then you are also moving your body as you perform the calf raise. Think about doing a Natural Turn in the Waltz, where you have to remain balanced as you plant one foot and rise up on your toes while drawing your other leg in to close. Tell me you can’t see the similarities!

Another exercise I mentioned previously that this concept works well with are the Lateral Raises for your shoulders. You can easily transition to standing on one leg while lifting your arms to your sides. In fact, a lot of common upper body exercises can be modified in this way – Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Shoulder Presses, and so on. Doing any of these movements while standing on one leg will help you improve the strength in your ankles and knees needed for balance, all while you also working on another body part at the same time! Plus, I personally think it is more entertaining than just standing there staring at a wall.

But balance is more than just how well the ankles and knees can hold you up – there is a lot that core strength can do as well to help improve your balance. If you stand up right now and lift one leg off the floor, do you find yourself engaging the muscles in your core to help keep your spine in one place over your standing leg? Training your core muscles to help keep your spine stable can do wonders for you!

One entertaining way that I’ve found to do this is actually through push-ups. In normal push-ups you have to keep your core engaged to help keep your spine straight while you raise and lower yourself. Now, as a challenge, how about you find a couple of medicine balls (the solid kind, not the squishy kind) and put one under each hand. That’ll make you keep your core engaged to keep from falling over!

Too easy for you? Make it one medicine ball under both hands, or find two more medicine balls for a total of four and put one under each hand AND one under each foot! If that’s still too easy, find yourself one of those bigger stability balls and try to do push-ups while gripping either side of that thing. If you’re a glutton for punishment, try putting your feet up on the stability ball while you put your hands on top of one of those medicine balls you thought were too easy earlier. Yeah, using your core to balance your body while your feet are on a stability ball and your hands on the medicine ball is hard all by itself, and on top of that I’m asking you to try doing push-ups at the same time! Not so easy anymore, is it?

My point from all this is that if you want better balance, you need to work on it, but you don’t have to be bored while doing it. Yes, Yoga certainly can be great for improving balance, and also helping you calm your mind as you get into the flow, but there are other options out there. Over the years I’ve done all of these – including Yoga – to continue challenging myself, and challenge is what helps me improve and break through my plateaus. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have good balance if you weren’t born with it – work on it and see how much better you can get!

NUTRITION

To get the results that you want out of any fitness regimen, you have to eat properly. Pure and simple. There’s no magic involved with being in shape – it’s all achievable through having a proper fitness plan and putting the right fuel into your body.

I’m going to start off by telling you the unpopular advice that you probably don’t want to hear: if you want to eat for the body you dream of, you have to eat right. That means that you should start today, go through your refrigerator and all your cupboards and THROW. OUT. ALL. THE. CRAP.

I know, it’s bad to waste food. If it makes you feel better, give it all away instead. If it’s unopened, donate it to a food pantry somewhere. If you have opened sweets, take them to work and pawn them off on your coworkers. Just get rid of it somehow. DO NOT EAT IT!

If you are looking to do something transformational with your body, like lose a large amount of weight or build up a lot of muscle, you have to eat for those results. Once you have those results you can have some of those ‘treats’ around, but until you achieve what you want it is better to not even have the temptation. Cake and ice cream? You don’t need it. Chips? How about no. Pizza? Don’t even go there. Beer, wine or liquor? Naught but empty calories. Get them all out of your house and don’t buy any more until you achieve the results you want! Even after you succeed, you should limit what you have in your house to avoid undoing everything you’ve worked so hard for.

Don’t tell me that it’s too hard. I do it all the time. I don’t eat donuts when someone at the office brings in a box to share with everyone for free. There is almost never any ‘snack foods’ at my house, even when I really want some. I will go out with friends to bars and only have water while everyone else has adult beverages. If I can do it, you can do it too! All it takes is a little willpower to make a huge difference in your dietary intake.
Now, once the crap in your house is gone, we have to do a little math. I know… not many people like math, but trust me – these are important numbers that you will want to have in mind constantly while you are training. These calculations are what works best for me, so I will be using myself as the example. If you find that these mock-up calculations don’t work for you, I would recommend seeing a specialist to get specific recommendations for your body.

The first thing we need to do is calculate your caloric baseline, or how many calories you should eat per day just to keep on keeping-on. The math is pretty simple:

If you live a sedentary lifestyle when not working out (desk job, lots of time in front of the TV), use (Current Weight) * 11

If you live a moderately active lifestyle when not working out (walk a lot, always park in the back of parking lots, play with your kids all the time), use (Current Weight) * 12

If you live an active lifestyle when not working out (never sit down all day, don’t own a TV or a couch because you are always traveling and sightseeing), use (Current Weight) * 13

For example: I have a sedentary job, where I am always at my desk or sitting in meetings when I’m at work. When I’m not at work though, I spend six days a week at the dance studio. For me, the moderate plan works best. My current weight is roughly 205lbs, so 205 * 12 = 2,460 calories per day is my baseline..

Now, we need to add in calories for your workouts. This is where it will be harder for me to give you guidance unless you are on some kind of regular workout plan where you can get approximate calorie burn estimates, but there are three principles that holds true no matter what you are doing:

  1. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn while working out (but not zero calories – you still need some fuel for the workout!).
  2. If you want to maintain your weight, you need to eat the same amount of calories you burn while working out.
  3. If you want to build muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than you burn while working out.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

My food intake for working out also factors in my rough body fat percentage (8%), and the fact that I work out six days a week with one day of rest. I am currently looking to maintain my current weight, so I am adding in 600 calories a day to fuel my workouts. 2,460 + 600 = 3,060, which I round down to 3,000 calories every day just to make my life easier.

Because I am working out six days a week, I eat the same amount of calories every day, including on my one day of rest (to give my body the fuel to repair itself). If you are not working out that frequently, your overall weekly caloric intake will look different from mine.

Now, let’s talk about what you want to eat. To make life easier, lump foods into three major categories:

Proteins – This is your primary nutrient for building muscle, because it is the only nutrient that the body can convert into muscle tissue

Carbohydrates – Carbs are not to be avoided, because these are what your body will use for fuel! Energy is essential for… well, for life. The problem with avoiding carbohydrates in your diet is that your body’s first response to get the energy it needs will be to start breaking down your muscle tissue, which is not a good thing if you want to keep those strength gains that all the exercise gives you!

Fats – another primary source for energy that your body actually requires. I know that talking about eating fats sounds terrible, but eating well does not mean eliminating fat entirely from your diet. You just have to be sure that you eat the right kinds of fats! Healthy fats will also help you fight inflammation, joint pain and muscle soreness – three problems that can keep a lot of people from going back to work out again day after day.

For me, lately my meal plans fall into two categories: a muscle building plan, and a body sculpting plan. When eating to build muscle, I have to eat a lot to fuel my cells to work hard and build back bigger. Even right now, when I am just trying to maintain my weight, I eat as if I am building muscle. My calories break down per day to roughly 25% Proteins, 60% Carbohydrates, 15% Fats.

When I finish up a phase of training and I want to burn off any excess fat accumulation to really give me that more defined look in my musculature, for a short period of time I will cut back on the calories to fuel my workouts (down to about 200 calories rather than 600) and change up my breakdown to 50% Proteins, 30% Carbohydrates, 20% Fats. This is only a short term change, usually no more than a month.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute – you’re currently eating 3,000 calories a day, and 60% off that is carbohydrates? I can’t imagine that you eat 1,800 calories worth of bread a day! That’s nuts!” Well, you would be right. The thing is, carbohydrates has to be further broken down into the major food groups that give you carbohydrates – obviously there are starches like bread, but this also includes legumes, fruits and vegetables.

These four categories should all be included in your calculations when you plan out your meals. If you only eat starches for carbohydrates, you will miss out on a lot of the dietary vitamins and minerals that your body craves! If you look at that 1,800 calories of “carbohydrates” I am eating per day, it’s actually more like 35% starches, 30% legumes, 25% fruits and 10% vegetables.

(I know that having only 10% vegetables seems really low, but if you realize that 2 cups of raw spinach, or 1 cup of raw carrots, or 1 cup of raw bell peppers is only roughly 25 calories, then you’ll see that I am actually eating a lot of plants just to hit that 10% mark every day!)

So how does this all work for you? Well, in all of the good diet plans I’ve used over the years to help fuel my workouts, the constant recommendations have always been that if you want to lose weight you want to eat a higher protein, lower carbohydrate and fat mix, and if you don’t need to lose weight and need energy to fuel your body through all your daily activities you need a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and fat mix.

If you are just starting out and have some fat to burn while you build strength, try starting off with a 40% Protein, 30% Carbohydrate and 30% Fat mix. That is a pretty safe starting range that will help you learn what how you feel. I would highly recommend going back and reevaluating your plan every 30 days. As you burn off the fat that you wanted, start converting to more carbohydrates instead of proteins. Don’t forget to recalculate your calorie intake if your weight has changed as well!

Of course, going back to my first point, that 40/30/30 mix only works if the food you’re eating is good. If you are still eating crap, even if you manage to fit the crap into the mix calorie-wise, you are not going to get the results you desire. Yes, that bag of chips on your counter is TECHNICALLY a starch, and thus a carbohydrate, but you don’t need all the extra salt and grease that’s also included in that bag! Just get rid of it!

Think about how much more satisfied you would be if you took that 300 calories from the bag of chips and instead made a salad with chickpeas (for your legumes servings) and spinach and some apple slices, with an ounce of shredded cheese thrown into the mix for a protein serving. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can sprinkle a tablespoon of crushed walnuts on top for one of your good fat servings for the day. 300 calories of a salad like that is a lot more food, so you will definitely feel more full when finished, and there will be less food regret afterward!


Sorry for making this so long again. Hopefully some of this information was useful for all of you out there. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me! If I don’t know the answer, I can usually at least point you in the right direction. I’ve been living this lifestyle for a decade now, so I’ve learned a thing or two in that time.

I’ll get back to talking about specific dance things next week, I promise. Until that time, <Insert the motivational workout tagline you like here>!
-stay with the fight
-don’t stop until you’re proud
-you don’t get the ass you want by sitting on it
-do your best, forget the rest
-keep pushing
-whatever it takes
-you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great

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Now I’m Here Blinking In The Starlight

Something funny happened over the weekend – on Sunday morning, as I was on my way out the door to meet up with Sparkledancer to practice for a while, I got a text message from Lord Dormamu. Getting a text message from him seemed a little weird since he was at a competition judging, so when my phone made the noise to tell me that I got a message from him, I was surprised. The message itself was terse, asking me if I could check a couple for him based on their competitor number and send him some information on who they were. The final line in the message was “We need to make u [sic] move more.”

After some minor Internet stalking, I was able to track down the name of the competition Lord Dormamu was judging at, and then I found the registrants so that I could pull the names of the pair dancing under the number that he sent me. Based on the events I saw their names in from past competitions, it looked like they were dancing in an age category well below me, so I wondered what it was about this couple that made him think of me for some reason. I sent the notes I made back to him, and hung around my house for a few more minutes waiting to see if he would reply. When nothing came, I started to wonder if he was in the middle of judging and had just decided to text me randomly while doing so, which just seemed really funny to me.

I took off to go practice with Sparkledancer. Once I had made it to the studio and was putting my shoes on, I finally got a reply from Lord Dormamu asking if Sparkledancer and I had danced against this couple before, which obviously we hadn’t since those kids were still dancing in the kids’ categories in the previous competitions that I had seen online. Sparkledancer decided to get into the Internet stalking game at this point, and she managed to pull up what they were entered in at the competition that Lord Dormamu was judging that weekend. It looked like the two of them were dancing in the 18+ group at this competition for the first time, which would explain why they might have flagged on Lord Dormamu’s radar.

We have a lesson with Lord Dormamu scheduled for Wednesday night, so I imagine that I will find out more about this mysterious couple that he saw at the competition and what that told him about my movement specifically. Up until that text message, the running joke with Lord Dormamu was that he thought I moved too much and I needed to pull things back to fit my steps into any ballroom smaller than the Endless Dance Hall (which is all other ballrooms that I have ever been to in my life). So the idea of trying to move more just makes my brain pop a little bit. What if I start running off the floor at the Endless Dance Hall too? Where would I even be able to go and dance if that starts to happen?

Aside from that strange little incident, the second item on the “Notable Dance Things From Last Week” list was Latin Technique class on Monday night. It was notable because Seedling came back! I had questioned whether I would ever see him again, since he had told Sparkledancer that he was reluctant to leave his current franchise studio situation, and his original complaint about that situation was that it was more expensive than he was comfortable with. I guess he has more money sitting around than he let on, because he is apparently willing to continue to spend money at the franchise and then also take classes elsewhere.

Also showing up to class that night for the first time in quite a while was Tanya Tiger! I have to point her out specifically because the story behind her being there is pretty funny – Tanya used to come to Latin Technique class all the time back in the day, up until she became unhappy with her current career path and went back to school to move into a different field. She actually finished school quite a while ago, but never returned to take class again with us when that happened.

At her last private lesson with Lord Junior, she was apparently telling him all about how she was sad that Latin Technique class was so early in the evening, because on Monday nights her significant other is out working late, so she just sits at home all alone. Since class was so early, she couldn’t get there in time after she got out of work. Lord Junior looked at her confused, and told her that Latin Technique class didn’t start at the time she mentioned… apparently she had forgotten what time class was, even though that time has never changed in all these years! Also, she used to come to the class all the time! Also, the monthly class schedule is always posted on the calendar at the studio! Ha!

So Tanya promised that she would start coming to class again to have fun with us. Welcome back! This is good for her, since she still competes with Lord Junior, and there is an event coming up that she is working toward. Actually, Lord Junior and quite a few of his Pro/Am students are deep into preparations for an upcoming competition that they are all traveling to at the end of February. Class this week was built as a medley of steps from different styles that his competitive students who were there that night needed to work on.

We started off by looking at Botafogos in Samba. Lord Junior had us do Botafogos going both forward and backward that night individually (without partners). The Backward Botafogos were new. I’ve seen them before at social dances where the technique didn’t matter, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to do them and actually care about what I look like. The forward ones went better for me, but I think that’s only because I’ve done them in Latin Technique class many times before. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Samba is not my favorite dance style. I just feel awkward trying to move my body in the ways that people who dance Samba competitively are supposed to. I believe that it’s part of the ongoing curse of my white boy hips.

Lucky for me Botafogos were all we looked at in Samba, and then we moved on to look at some Rumba. Here we specifically focused on the Closed Hip Twist releasing to Fan Position. This time we were able to work with partners, since the Closed HIp Twist works much better for the Followers if you can rely on your partner to assist with the movements. Lord Junior did have Seedling and I step through the Follower’s figures before we paired off, saying that knowing what the Followers were doing would help us lead the figures better.

Finally that evening we looked at the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward figure from Cha-Cha. We started these off facing our partner, went into an Opening Out and then did the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Right-Side Position. At the end of the three we did an Opening Out on the other side and came back with the Three Cha Cha Chas Forward in Left-Side Position. At the end we did one final Opening Out, then squared up with our partner for a basic chasse to the left. Nothing too crazy, but Lord Junior focused on pointing out things that everyone could improve on to make the steps sharper, faster and cleaner to keep up with the music when we got to full speed.

So… how do you think that Seedling felt about class this week? Lord Junior is really nice to people the first time they come to one of his technique classes, so during last week’s class he really didn’t call out Seedling for things he needed to work on. This week was a completely different story, and there were several times that Lord Junior stopped him to make corrections on what he was doing (like he does with the rest of us who have been coming to class for a while).

Do you think being corrected might have changed Seedlings views on Latin Technique class? Well, lucky for you, you don’t have to wonder! Seedling was quite willing after class was over to share his thoughts with Sparkledancer, and she thought some of them were funny enough to forward to me. And now, to continue to pay it forward, I’m going to put them here for you to see!

“My only complaint. I wish he would’ve stuck with one style of dance for the whole class. That samba preferably. It’s harder than what we do at my studio

Feel like 3 is way too much to make the technique stick”

“The Cha Cha and rumba didn’t give me much trouble except for the rumba timing and him enforcing it more than I’m used to”

“I mean it’s no [sic] enough

It’s a lot higher level and I will have to practice it to make it muscle memory

Right now I feel like I just walked into class for the first time”

That last line really brings back memories. That was pretty much exactly how I felt after the first time I went to one of Lord Junior’s advanced classes after only taking the ‘advanced’ classes at the franchise studio I started off at. I remember feeling like I had gone to all those classes, but the instructors must have been leaving out large portions of the material for some unknown reason.

Maybe, based on these musings from Seedling, he might be starting to see that dancing competitively outside of his franchise location is going to be a challenge for him. Maybe. Sparkledancer told me that she tried to explain to him that non-franchise judges like the ones at all the big-name competitions that he is dreaming of going to with his franchise instructor are not going to be forgiving to him if he focuses solely on figures as he competes through the syllabus and ignores the technique until he ‘finishes’ that. He didn’t seem phased by that at all at the time, and continued to think that his plan was flawless. But now, that last line… maybe he’s finally starting to see the light.

I guess we’ll have to see. I get the impression that Seedling will be back for more, so this probably isn’t the last time I will mention him. 🙂

Yesterday night I got to meet up with Lord Dormamu and Sparkledancer. We started out having a nice long chat about what he witnessed while judging that competition over the weekend that he was texting me during (he really was texting me during the event, he totally confessed to that), and how it related to my dancing. He also told me all about the drama going on behind the scenes with the event and the organizers, which was fascinating to hear about. The world of ballroom competition organization is kind of cut-throat business from the sounds of it!

More importantly though, we talked about the couple that he had asked me about, and what they were doing that made him think of me at the time. He told me that he was watching them dance in a smaller heat, so he was able to spend a bit more time paying attention to what they were doing. What dawned on him while watching that couple was exactly what it was about my dancing that was so different and still needed to be improved: the dynamic aspect of my movement. The way that this couple was moving – the quality of their movement, if you will – was much more dynamic and impressive than everyone else on the floor dancing against them. That is what Lord Dormamu wants to work with Sparkledancer and I over the next several weeks to improve.

We also talked about the results of that competition, which was another fascinating insight that I need to remember for when I take the floor. Despite how good the quality of the movement of this particular couple looked to Lord Dormamu, they did not end up winning those heats. Another couple actually took home the first place stickers for those rounds. I was curious what it was about that other couple who actually won that was so much better, because I thought that I should know to also work on that aspect, since I think the goal Lord Dormamu has for Sparkledancer and I is ultimately to take the top spot.

He started to tell me all about the other judges that were watching the events with him. Most everyone else on the panel that day were formerly high-level Latin champions, so he told me that the way they look at people who dance American Smooth or International Standard is very different from how he and other high-level Standard champions would judge a couple in those events. Those judges, according to him, were likely focused on picking at various small technical points – footwork, connection, etc., because they didn’t know as much about how the movement should look in International Standard. One couple taking more heel steps in the wrong places than another is an easier thing for any judge to count up and mark down rather than evaluating the way that the couple was moving together across the floor in the particular style of dance being done.

The remaining judges on the panel were all apparently ‘old and blind’ according to Lord Dormamu. One judge that he name dropped to me is supposedly in his 80s and can barely see his score sheet if he holds it up in front of his nose as he marks each couple. To a judge like that, the quality of the movement or the technical points of the dance style don’t matter as much as which competitors are the ones moving the biggest – because the bigger the couple moves, the easier they would be for that judge to see.

So… with all of this in mind, I asked what it was that we needed to focus on going forward. Well, Lord Dormamu’s answer to me was that we needed to make sure that we were better at everything. You know, nothing too challenging, right?

To begin with, Lord Dormamu was going to start working with us on making sure that our movements were as dynamic as possible so that we could easily beat couples like the one that stood out to him if we come across them in competition. That is going to be the focus of our next lesson(s) until he is satisfied with that aspect of our dancing. The technical points he told Sparkledancer and I are actually something that should be a part of all of our practice sessions to ensure that all of the points outlined in ‘the book’ are perfect for each figure. He wasn’t going to spend his time with us focusing on that because those are all written down, but he would point out any spots that he saw when we were together if either Sparkledancer or I did something wrong.

As far as moving big to be noticeable to one of the ‘old and blind’-type judges that he mentioned, that was something that Lord Dormamu admitted that I actually had an advantage over. I already move really big, covering a lot of space with each figure that I cover. I am also a pretty large guy compared to most other male dancers we come across, so my musculature is actually an advantage here because it makes me more visible. But other than the quantity of my movement and my size, there isn’t really much else we could do here to help in this situation… so for now I’m going to just hope that that’s enough!

We spent the entire time we were dancing last night working with the Waltz as our tool to discuss quality of movement. Starting out, Lord Dormamu had us go through the dance once with the music before he started talking about any specific points. When he stopped us and had us come back over, he told the two of us that everything was looking a lot better than he was expecting. I guess the work that I have been doing trying to increase the flexibility in my back is paying off, because he mentioned that as one point that made it all look much, much better than last time we were together.

The biggest change that he asked us to work on starting that night was actually for Sparkledancer. He wanted her to start really focusing on getting herself out of my way when I am moving forward. The goal is that as soon as she feels my body begin to shift, she needs to move herself backward (obviously without breaking body contact). This will prevent me from actually pushing against her body when I am ‘driving through’ as so many people have called it over the last few years.

Having her do this kind of threw me off the first time Lord Dormamu had her try with me after he was done going through the change with her. Sparkledancer doesn’t weigh a whole lot, so it has never been much of an issue for me to move myself forward while she is in front of me. I chalk that up to having strong legs. But suddenly there I was pushing myself forward using the same amount of force that I normally use, and there was no weight at all in front of me holding me back! So that amount of force almost became too much. This is definitely a change that is going to require practice this week to feel more comfortable with, in all of the dance styles.

Also, as a side effect to not having any weight pushing against me as I move forward, I cover more distance. Just what I needed… I really am going to start running myself off the floor no matter where I am dancing. It’s a real problem for me!

Quality-wise, there is a lot of focus on the two of us moving this way, all while ensuring that we are completely grounded to the floor and really into the legs. In the Waltz, that means a renewed focus on the falling action to really show the swing through the dance. This is actually easier for me to do when I am bending my back in this banana-like shape – the curve forces me to ‘sit’ when I am lowering, almost like going into a one-legged Chair Pose in Yoga (it’s one-legged since the other leg is preparing for the next step). This subtle change actually helps me control the lowering a lot better, interestingly enough.

Aside from moving through each figure slowly to ensure that our swing and sway actions looked impressive (which is a bit boring to talk about, so I’ll save you from that tedium), the only other notable fix that Lord Dormamu wanted us to work on was coming out of the Hesitation Change in the first corner and going into the Double Reverse Spin and a Reverse Turn. His problem was that the first step into the Reverse Turn looked weak, so we had to back up through the preceding steps until we found the source of the issue.

It turns out that as I was exiting the Hesitation Change, I was unintentionally squaring up my body, rather than leaving the left-side lead that I create while hesitating. Coming out of the Hesitation Change and leaving my body in the same position through the Double Reverse Spin and the Reverse Turn fixes the weakness with the first step  of the Reverse Turn that Lord Dormamu was seeing. So this was totally my fault. Now it should be fixed, and as long as I remember to always do it the right way, hopefully that takes care of that.

So yeah… that’s about it for this week. Practice is probably what I will spend much of my weekend working on, to try to get more comfortable with the changes that Lord Dormamu wants from me. Other than that, I think that a few people mentioned to me that there is a dance party on Saturday night… so I should probably make an appearance at that as well, but practicing the dynamics of my movement has got to be a priority. After all, we are only about a month off from my next competition. If I want to be ready to showcase improvement in these areas at that event, I’ve got to do the work!

Prepare The Laser-Beam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!