Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"We're going to the super market..."

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Quickstep
CD in my car today: Pirates IV Soundtrack (has a great tango)

Those are actually lyrics to a ballroom quickstep...believe it or not. Jeff has this absolutely eclectic collection of ballroom music, and there is this one quickstep that is called "Going to the Supermarket" and goes on about turkey spam and shopping carts and who knows what else, but always has me in stitches practically before the first bar is over, and is undoubtedly the corniest quickstep on the planet. Just to mess with me Jeff decided we should dance quickstep to "my favorite song," but we couldn't even finish the long side because we were laughing too hard and it was making our connection get really bumpy! I thought we should work more on quickstep because I think it's our weakest dance, so Jeff naturally teased me about having no faith in the partnership and said he'd just show me how well we could quickstep...only we'd have to end practice if we got it perfect. So we ran it all the way through, and we never get that far normally, but when we rounded the last side I lost it because we never do the transition from the end to the beginning and I did something stupid, not sure what, but Jeff didn't lead whatever it was and it was totally my fault.

We also ran through the waltz a couple of times, which felt to both of us unusually good today; lots of power and control and very together, and we keep surprising ourselves by how much movement we're getting. Some of that may be thanks to our foxtrot self-torture exercise. I am also becoming a big fan of the left whisk, especially since Jeff has gotten much smoother with his lead for it recently and it just feels cool. I also like how I can time my run around coming out of it differently depending on the music; there was one I did kind of syncopated because I felt that it just fit musically, and it doesn't affect what Jeff is doing, so it's fun to see what works. I can't leave waltz without admitting that, much to Jeff's chagrin, I love the hover. And unfortunately it's the very last figure in our routine, which means we often don't get to it...and um, yes, Jeff usually hears about it. What can I say? It's my one big chance as a follow dancing a syllabus routine to show what I've got, in terms of extension, beautiful shape, and grace. We danced a balanced hover tonight...life is good.

Foxtrot was more of the same, but we are so much better at dancing to a metronome than when we started. Now the project is doing the exercise with our actual routine versus just a few basic steps. It's still tough though, and it's hard to make it carry over once we dance to music. I feel like it's helped us just take more time on the slows more than anything. Once we dance to normal tempo foxtrot music, a lot of the precision we get from breaking it down so minutely is lost, but I think the major concept is sticking.

Tango was just a run through, and it was okay. I'm too stiff in tango, and Jeff wasn't really breathing. Actually, I think we could both breathe more; it would help relax our dancing quite a bit.

So that was basically it for tonight, except that Jeff kept promising me that I'll have Trogdor arms because he knows I worry about developing muscular arms if I lift weights. That'll look gorgeous with my new sleeveless standard dress, won't it? Speaking of which, I spent about 5 hours yesterday making a pattern and cutting out part of a ball gown. I don't know why it had to take that long, but it did. It will all be worth it in the end though, because this dress is going to be epic.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot & Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms & back at the gym, mowed a BIG ASS lawn, & washed a mischievous super puppy.

I think it's about time I explain what all the SUPER SLOW foxtrot we've been mentioning is about.  During our last lesson with Kora we worked on foxtrot (which in retrospect may have been a mistake).  Basically it boiled down to this:  Since Sarah and I both come from fairly strong musical backgrounds, we're quite precise when it comes to staying on time/beat with the music as well as on phrase.  Naturally, that means that when beat one hits, you step down, you hold two for the slow, then step on three and four for quick, quick.  Of course with dancing you quickly learn that everything you know and do is usually wrong.  Apparently you're supposed to start moving (through the body and all that jazz) on beat one, then step down (transfer weight) on two, then continue moving through to three then step down on the "and" of three and the "and" of four (of course Kora will probably read this post and tell me I'm completely wrong, but this is how I interpreted the information given to me).

So for the last week, Sarah and I have practiced the foxtrot at deathly slow speeds.  It takes A LOT of concentration to break the habit of stepping on the down beat.  We've even enlisted the help of a metronome.  The result has left me feeling like I'm basically dancing my foxtrot off time.  Being part robot and part Asian, it just feels so wrong when you step down on the off beats.  My life consists of carefully calculated instances in everything I do and this is just sheer torture.  I have to basically calculate everything wrong by one.  So 1+1 is now equal to 3.  Sarah claims to notice a difference in the way our foxtrot moves, but honestly for me it feels exactly the same except shifted one beat late.  I guess only time and Kora will tell if this tedious practice has paid off.

While on the subject of foxtrot, and having the time because of the holiday, I thought I'd rant a little about the step Zig-Zag.  It's utterly useless and stupid.  I can't really see any reason why you'd ever want that step in any of your choreography.  Not only is it hard and awkward to lead, it's risky (women most likely won't follow it).  It also puts you of off phrase because the step is only six counts.  Now you need to come up with two extra counts somewhere else.  You might argue that the step looks fancy, but you'd be wrong.  Just to make sure I went on YouTube and looked at Mirko dancing the step.  It's nothing special.  You can barely tell he does it.  So why I ask you, does the step exist?  The bigger question is, why do people still dance it?  And the biggest question is, what the hell is it doing in my routine?!?!?  I'm sure Kora and Simeon will have something to say about this.  If they can't give me a good enough explanation, that Zig-Zag is history and in it's place (that's right, you guessed it), passing twinkles!!

To step in time, or dance in time?

Part: Follow
Dances: Foxtrot, quickstep, waltz
Calorie recharge: Pineapple smoothie

That is really the question. It's really awkward to purposely step/transfer weight on the off beat, but I think slowly the body is getting trained to move on the down beat and transfer weight on the off beat; though I might just be teaching myself to just plain dance off time, which is just weird feeling. Mirko (former world champion) does it though, so we figured we can't be so far off the beaten path. (Pun not intended!) In any case, today's practice session involved more work on our metronomic foxtrot, making more progress actually applying the concepts we've been working on in isolation to our actual routine.

Jeff promised to rant more about it, so I will only touch on it, but I really struggle with the zig-zag. It makes no sense to me from a follow's perspective...in any other step I follow the lead's body and mirror his movements so that the picture fits together, but in the zig-zag I have to purposefully not match his step pattern, even when I feel that I am led to do so, and end up feeling so out of sync and awkward! Turning my head back to the left has helped a little though, as it keeps my body in a more closed position.

We also practiced a bit of quickstep; not much to talk about there except that the rumba cross continues to be hit or miss, and even when hit, a little too precarious to be comfortable.

A waltz run through ended the practice today, our parabolic waltz, as we have come to call it. Sometimes those sweeping shapes just take a nosedive and it's all over, but today it was pretty good. It's amazing how much ground you can cover when you get the power and momentum in the right places.

Our workout before practice yielded a new term: "The One Half Rule." This means that however much weight Jeff lifts, pulls, shoves, or otherwise tortures himself with, I have to do the same with one half that amount. Most of the time it is about right, but soon enough I hope to change that. Unfortunately, he might say, I've never been known to apply that rule to my dancing. Seems like it almost goes the other way...he shapes 20 degrees, I go 40! He drives 3 feet, I drive 6...well, maybe not that bad, but you get the idea. I'm not always so great about reading the amount of power and energy I'm being given, and sometimes waiting for it, shall we say. But it's all about balance, right? We'll meet each other halfway some day, and then we'll really be a force to be reckoned with. That's what the journey is all about.

Promenade ceiling!

Part: Follow
Dances: All 5 standard

Today, our schedule involved practicing a bit before the weekly Sunday night dance party at the Washington Dance Club in Seattle. Since foxtrot music was playing, we went with that, but didn't really work so much on our usual slow exercises and mostly just ran through the routines to see if we had managed to ingrain any of the concepts we had been practicing so hard at the slower tempos. I think it has helped, but still needs a lot more work. Full speed is an entirely different animal.

In the quickstep, I'm not sure how, we somehow ended one figure in an alignment that I could only call "Promenade Ceiling." We've had good laughs in the past about our "promenade wall" in tango, where somehow we ended up charging towards the studio mirrors all canons firing, only to realize, we're not making progress along the floor here, we're just charging the audience/mirrors/empty chairs. Oops. This time, I think because of Jeff's head position and my focus on keeping my line of vision directed upward, we ended up in a promenade nicely pointed up towards the ceiling, with our heads and frame all following the alignment. Beautiful! Quickstep, ready for take off! Roger!

The dance party itself was fine, but "gentlemen were scarce, and more than one lady in want of a partner" as Elizabeth Bennett would say. That meant that Jeff got tired pretty quickly as he was in even more high demand than usual (and that's saying something!) and I didn't get as much of a cardio workout as I might otherwise have. I think in general the dances we did get in went okay; there were some issues in foxtrot and waltz where having to swivel and cross into wrong side position caused my sparkly top to snag on his shirt, causing me to pull away and break connection, but tango was better once I started to remember that I need to take much smaller steps on the insides of turns. Jeff valiantly floor crafted our way through quickstep, and I think I followed pretty well the random figures that the conditions necessitated that definitely weren't our routine, even though I think he was disappointed because of what making things up on the fly had done to our general flow, but I though he did a great job, and besides, it is terrific practice for competition conditions. In general, I think that was the real object of our social dance practice; it really gets Jeff used to changing things up when necessary to avoid collisions, and it helps me truly learn to follow since I can't rely on knowing a routine in those situations.

I am soooo thankful for the holiday tomorrow...more time to work out and get our dance practice in!

I-5 Traffic at WDC

Dances:  All but merengue, salsa, hustle, polka, and samba.
Part:  Lead
Happy Hour:  Palomino's - Sicilian Meatball Flatbread & Potatoes Gorgonzola

Well it's Sunday night so that means I was off to Washington Dance Club for some social dancing.  Sarah and I decided to show up about a hour early to get warmed up and practice for a bit.  Nothing too special there except for when I accidentally put us in promenade position facing the ceiling.  That's what happens when neither of you decide to turn your head the right way in the Fishtail in quickstep.

As the dance got underway, Sarah and I started running through our routines.  Ever since I started this whole competition thing, I made WDC the test bed for my routines.  It gives me a good chance to run through them with actual traffic.  Only problem is, the traffic there is completely unpredictable.  You get everything from couples dancing off beat, couples just standing in the middle of the floor, to teachers doing a fleckerls in the line of dance (not the middle of the floor) with students who shouldn't even be dancing the Viennese waltz to begin with.  It's like I-5 traffic, but worse.  Now the cars are just doing whatever they want.  Of course there are couples there dancing just fine as well.  Now what they say about Asian drivers is quite true, and holds no exceptions on the ballroom floor.  Me being Asian, I'm definitely a maniac and quite creative in my navigational techniques.  Honestly, I consider myself a pretty damn good driver in a crowd.  However, the WDC crowd is definitely challenging.  What's even more interesting is that prior to competition training, I rarely had any accidents or fender-benders on the floor.  Now, it's a rare occurance when I get off the floor WITHOUT hitting anyone or at some point having to come to a complete and abrupt stop.  I think all this training has made me a better dancer but a worse floor-crafter.  Does that mean it's making me a worse Asian?

Though I have to say, things are getting a little easier now.  Today was fairly successful.  Only almost got my head punched off once.  Quickstep was a total disaster from a routine standpoint, but a success from a floorcraft perspective.  As usual, there were WAY more women than men, so naturally I got pimped out.  I feel so used.  Definitely damaged goods.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I think you have your "scenery."

Part: Follow

To take it from the follow's perspective, the practice session Jeff described below was an unusually giggle inducing one, and I think is what made us realize that a lot of funny things have happened to us since we started dancing together: anything from bloody walls to schisms to break-dancing boys to diamond Viennese waltzers to jive-hungry girls and idiotic parking lot drivers and cars in line at the Canadian border.

In any case, I will just add that Jeff did indeed maintain his self-control quite admirably, and I know it must have taken no small effort, as the male psyche is hard put to it to focus elsewhere when a prancing scarcely bikini-clad female specimen of humanity rehearses the most effective way to flaunt her assets. For all that, we actually managed a decent enough practice session, including an awkward left-whisk and contra-check, held, that left me staring at my reflection sideways next to bikini girl . . . "Hi!" I couldn't help but point out to Jeff that now he "had his scenery," since he has been wont to complain about the lack thereof at our local gym compared to the veritable showcase of trophy wives that was the gym he used to frequent in the Cali Bay Area. I think he got more than he bargained for that night!

The best part lately has been our super foxtrot exercise, involving breaking the steps down into micro-beat-fractions, counting them aloud, and dancing to beats only (no music) at turtle speed. What is even crazier is that I think it is actually helping; after doing this for a while I begin to feel the smoothness of the movement, and my body begins to understand the concept of initiating movement on the beat rather than simply stepping on the beat, but it's a hard habit to break. The dance is not in the steps, it is in the movement which the steps support.

Tonight, I think I may perhaps have discovered the solution to ladies' old dance shoes looking horrid, as the flesh toned satin pumps become practice shoes and get beaten, scarred, and stained beyond belief when used for daily practice. Dye them black! I always wear black dance pants or a black or dark skirt to practice, so today I bought a bottle of black Rit dye and some of those sponge brushes, which I just used to apply the dye (mixed with a little water) to the shoes. Voila! Black satin shoes without a stain! The rips and tears don't show as much either, and I plan to recover the heels with black suede, which will be inconspicuous after the color conversion. We'll see how they look when dried tomorrow, but I think I will start doing this for all of my shoes once they are demoted to practice wear only. Another idea is to dye the shoes a darker shade of tan to hide stains, but at that point you might just as well use black. I love my Ray Rose shoes, but they are expensive to replace, so I needed to get creative about a way to make my old Supadance practice shoes look less frightening as I wear them into the ground.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Death foxtrot, women, & bikinis!

Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot
Part:  Lead

To christen this new blog of our crazy adventures in the dance world, I thought I'd start a few days back with the practice session that started it all.  It was Wednesday night, and normally Sarah and I don't practice on Wednesdays since she has choir practice (at most we'd get together and run a few rounds).  However this Wednesday we both had some extra time and decided to squeeze in an extra practice.  We met up at 24 Hour Fitness as usual and proceeded to stretch.

A little history here:  Due to a recent series of interesting and unfortunate events we had resorted to practicing at the gym.  To be honest, it has been amazing since day one.  The group exercise room measures 40'x60' of great hardwood floor and is empty in the evenings after the classes take place.  To make things even better, I had "managed" to gain access to the music system in there, so it's like having your very own private ballroom.  And since we were at the gym already, it made for great incentive and convenience to stay on top of working out to get/stay in shape.  I am able to keep my heart rate up from my weight lifting and go straight into practice.  Finally, the cherry on top of this already super awesome sundae, is the fact that it costs us nothing extra since we were paying for the gym membership to begin with.

Back to the story:
After stretching, Sarah and I danced a waltz to warm up and then proceeded to practice the foxtrot.  Our most recent lesson with Kora had focused mainly on the timing and flow of foxtrot (more on this in another post).  So there we were doing a PAINFULLY slow foxtrot (each step taking several seconds to complete), when all of a sudden the door to the room swung open and in walked two women.  Now I didn't really pay them that much attention until they started to strip off their clothes.  Eventually they ended up in fairly skimpy bikinis and proceeded to put on 3-4 inch heels.  After that, they began strutting around the short side of the room while practicing poses in front of the mirror.  I believe they were preparing for a bodybuilding competition of some kind.  Needless to say, that turned out to be one of the MOST distracting practices I've had to date.  I am proud to say however, that I did keep my cool and remained very productive throughout our session.  But I won't lie, it was a challenge and took good self control to do so.

And 5,6,7,8, slow...

"Why do you dance, Sarah?" my partner asked me once over a year ago, before we started dancing together when I was still just dipping my toes into this new and exciting way of life, as it has turned to to be for some of us.
I can truthfully say that for me dancing is about dancing, about the joy that two bodies moving as one in response to the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies of music can bring. No ulterior motives here truthfully, and though I think the dance world is fraught with them, that is all part of the path we navigate as dancers, whether it be on the social floor or in the competitive circuit.

About two months ago, Jeff and I made the decision to pursue our dance goals together. We were good friends already, have a couple of very successful and committed coaches, and the willingness and dedication to practice on a regular basis, besides the added bonus of both having a musical background, having been piano students for a number of years and approaching dance from that perspective. We also like to brag that we never fight and never will; you'll get to watch that played out here perhaps. Respectfully or teasingly, argue we do, we maintain, but never "fight." Our coaches and competitive dance friends roll their eyes...they think our day will come.

All of this has led to a basic routine of working out at the gym daily, mainly to get and stay in shape for dancing, and then practicing together for 1-2 hours most weekday evenings and social dancing on the weekends. In the ensuing weeks we found that our lessons and practice sessions have given rise to a number of ridiculous, interesting, awkward, and just plain fascinating situations and discoveries. We thought that this blog would be a fun way to share those experiences as well as chronicle our progress.

And in case anyone was wondering, we dance international style ballroom, a.k.a. international standard, comprised of waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, and quickstep. It does not include samba, merengue, or bachata, thank heaven! No, we do not perform shows (yet), no, we are not preparing for a wedding, and finally, yes, we have heard of Dancing with the Stars and no, we don't watch that show.

Ditto what Jeff said about the title. Dance is fascination; it's one of those things that draws you in and will not let you go...

Fascination it was...

Many of you know, Sarah and I have only been dancing together for roughly two months.  In this short period of time we noticed almost immediately that our practices, lessons, and social dances were quite interesting.  Experiences ranging from gut-busting laughter, being called "yucky", and the occasional argument, to epic family dramas, lock picking, and just bizarre distractions.  After a recent practice session (one of our more interesting ones which will be posted up soon) we came up with the idea to start this blog to chronicle the daily dance experiences we have.  I think it'll be a great way to keep track of our practice while giving everyone else the chance to just laugh at us.  We'll try to be good at posting up every dance related session and stay on top of it.  You'll see two posts per time, one from my point of view and one from her's.  Enjoy!

A note about the blog title:  It was Fascination
Aside from being a classic song, "Fascination" is one of the corniest, overplayed, and most covered waltzes of all time.  The opening lyrics "It was fascination..." was chosen not only for it's dance reference as a standard waltz (because we're nerds like that), but also because dance really IS fascination in the past tense.  At first it's so intriguing, elegant, and graceful.  But a bit later down the road you realize just how crazy, difficult, demoralizing, spirit-crushing, soul-sucking, money-burning, ego-bashing, ball-busting, time-depleting, gas-guzzling, and heartbreaking it really is.  They say laws and sausages are two things you never want to see being made.  They really should add dance to that list.  Competitive dance at least.  That being said, we seem to be gluttons for punishment and take it with pride and dignity.  Well sometimes...